Friday, March 15, 2013

Sequel Speculation: Blast from the past

Not so secret if it's published in a book...
I've already speculated a bit about the role of political dilemmas in the upcoming Sequel Trilogy. In a new article, Michael Kaminski, author of the delightful The Secret History of Star Wars, takes a look at the evolution of George Lucas' thinking about the Sequel Trilogy since the mid-1970s. A few statements stick out for fans of politics.

First, in a 1980 interview, Lucas explicitly stated that the sequels would revolve around "the rebuilding of the Republic." This suggests that the trilogy would not only be set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, but also that the political struggle would take center stage. It's not clear if the story treatments Lucas wrote before the sale to Disney includes the rebuilding of the Republic as a focus. However, as EW has already noted, director JJ Abrams is not known for telling stories with a political bent. Moreover, the first of the Sequel Trilogy seems like it will take place 35-45 years after Return of the Jedi, which is probably too long after the Emperor's death for the galaxy to still be rebuilding. While nation-building is a long process, will the Galaxy Far, Far Away still be "rebuilding the Republic" after such a long time?

Kaminski's article includes several other statements from Lucas that hint at the tone of the sequels:
... in 1983 stated to [Time] magazine that thematically it would be about "the necessity for moral choices and the wisdom needed to distinguish right from wrong,"...
Moral ambiguity and the necessity for choices in the name of good, Jedi knighthood, and the passing on of knowledge would play key roles in the sequels, according to Lucas' previously-quoted statements.
Of course, as Kaminski points out, the Prequel Trilogy already featured a political situation deep in moral ambiguity. however, in the prequels, the moral ambiguity was often part of the ambiance, while Anakin Skywalker and Palpatine often made morally wrong decisions. Our knowledge of Vader's fate and Palpatine's role as the future emperor colored our perceptions such that we view all of their decisions as wrong. By contrast, the other stars of the prequels, Obi-Wan and Padmé, don't really ever make any morally ambiguous decisions. They are generally "good", even if they don't live happily ever after.

By contrast, it seems Lucas' statements about the sequels point to something else and potentially much more interesting for the sequels. Lucas seems to be saying that the "good guys," including Luke and Leia, are the ones making those decisions. In this case, there is room for genuine moral ambiguity, or situations which viewers themselves find morally uncertain. There would even be potential for viewers to question decisions made by the Big Three. Imagine Luke deciding to intervene in politics (much as Saba does in the Fate of the Jedi novels)! Or Leia sponsoring a bill to centralize political power and fight against regional rebellions.

Broadly speaking, it's still possible that the Sequel Trilogy will delve into issues of moral ambiguity. Thus far, there is no obvious villain in the new movies (no Sith), and the heroes will likely be part of the government, not fighting against it. The will likely have to make decisions from a position of power. However, it is not yet clear how Disney will handle the Star Wars franchise (aside from canceling the Clone Wars). Does Disney really want to take the franchise into "morally ambiguous" places? Will Disney risk sullying the squeaky clean images of Luke, Han, and Leia?

Finally, in a more recent 2005 interview with MTV, Lucas stated:
Han and Leia probably did get married. They settled down. She became a senator, and they got a nice little house with a white picket fence. Han Solo is out there cooking burgers on the grill. Is that a movie? I don't think so." 
Lucas was obviously responding somewhat tongue-in-cheek here. Nonetheless, his comment on Leia as a senator is interesting. It suggests that he views her role as a more political character rather than as an action hero (much as I'd argued in ). While this certainly isn't totally out of the blue, it's easily the most definitive statement Lucas has made about any of the characters post-ROTJ. Perhaps I'm reading too much into the statement, but it's also interesting that Lucas says that Leia would become a "senator," not "chief of state" or "chancellor" or some other position at the head of the government. While Disney's Sequel Trilogy certainly won't be a political thriller, it will be interesting to see if we get a sense of whether Leia had a post-ROTJ political career, and if so how far it went.

As with any sequel speculation, we must add the caveat that this is all speculation - although hopefully informed speculation. Kaminski's article provides some interesting historical perspective, but Lucas has been known to change his mind, from time to time. As Yoda said, "Always in motion is the future."

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