Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

A new Star Wars film? Ahhhh! My ears, my ears! The news BURNS!

Now, here’s something we didn’t know we needed. Surprising most industry watchers, Disney has confirmed that it has acquired Lucasfilm. After forking out over $4 billion for George Lucas’s production company, Das Maus Haus now owns the rights to the …

Tue, Oct 30, 2012, 22:35

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Now, here’s something we didn’t know we needed. Surprising most industry watchers, Disney has confirmed that it has acquired Lucasfilm. After forking out over $4 billion for George Lucas’s production company, Das Maus Haus now owns the rights to the  horribly lucrative Star Wars franchise. Would they leave well alone? Would a penniless alcoholic pause before sucking meths from a fetid sock?  In less time than it takes for a crocodile to snatch a passing wildebeest, the folk at Disney quickly confirmed that they would, indeed, be oozing a seventh Star Wars film into production. Bob Iger, the company’s version of The Emperor, announced that the new picture would arrive in 2015 and that sequels would emerge every two or three years thereafter. Lucas will stay on as a consultant.

In such situations, it is only fair to adopt a straight face and observe that there is, of course, every chance the new films could turn out to be masterpieces. Perhaps, Disney will hire Michael Haneke to bring Austrian austerity to the latest batch of space operas. Maybe, they’ll ask Terrence Malick to heighten the mystical dimensions. Ha ha!

To be slightly less frivolous, Disney will hope to bring a quality genre director such as Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon to the party. That last director, having just finished The Avengers for Marvel Entertainment — a subsidiary of Disney — is already on the payroll. So he might actually oblige.

Never forget. Never forget. Never forget.

But why would Nolan or Whedon want to sully their reputations with such a compromised franchise? It seems very unlikely, given how sacred the original works are, that any director will be permitted to aggressively reboot the franchise.  The new man will, surely, have to work within Lucas’s universe as it now stands. What a squalid cosmos that is. Over a decade after the original, modestly diverting trilogy came to a halt, Lucas set about soiling his own legacy with a truly horrible trio of pretentious, leaden, self-important cinematic analgesics. The Phantom Menace could only have been more boring if it had been enacted through the medium of tableau vivant. The challenge for any future film-maker is to find some way of keeping one foot in the prequel camp, another foot in the original, jocular universe and a third foot in… Well, you see the difficulty.

What are the options? Well, as every former space cadet knows, Lucas originally intended to make nine films composed of three trilogies. After completing the prequels, he would move on to a series of follow-ups to the (real) first three films.  Disney is unlikely to encourage the recovery of that particular baton. Just three more films? The huge success of the latest Bond film — the 23rd in that series — demonstrates that, if the public are willing, a franchise can be exploited for as long as the universe exists. Moreover, any new director will surely do everything possible to escape the template that shaped The Phantom Menace.

None of this matters very much. The depressing truth is that, despite those much chewed-over crises at the box office, it seems close to inconceivable that the new films could fail to rake in billions and run for decades. Most everybody hated The Phantom Menace, but the second two films in the prequel trilogy — Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith — still went on to run up stratospheric sales. It is dallying in only faint hyperbole to suggest that, had Sith consisted of nothing else but cats vomiting on tulips, the picture would still have made billions. The name alone sells the product. Fanatical enthusiasts on the internet do the promotional legwork for the studios.

Hollywood has always been addicted to sequels and remakes. But the inclination to reboot, subdivide and clone has got completely out of hand in recent years. We only have one book left to adapt in our fantasy sequence! What will we do? Split the film in two, of course. It worked for Harry Potter and, barring global annihilation, it’s about to work for Twilight. Actually, forget bifurcation. Why not make like Peter Jackson — currently working on The Hobbit trilogy — and split your final adaptation into three parts? We are gradually working our way towards an asymptotic infinity of constituent parts.

Rather amazingly, a full three films in the current 2012 top 10 do not count as reboots, sequels or remakes. Brave will probably remain a singleton. But the other two — The Hunger Games and Ted — are already marked down for sequels and the bifurcation technique will be applied to the final book in Suzanne Collins‘s Hunger Games trilogy. Last year, only one picture met the above criterion and that was an adaption of a very familiar TV series: The Smurfs. In short, we are rapidly heading towards a movie environment that — at the top end, anyway — is entirely averse to risk.

Here’s the worry about Star Wars. Why would Disney bother to make the new film any good when it knows it can generate a fortune with a movie that reeks of dead fish? Heck, they’ve already proved the point. The Pirates of the Caribbean flicks declined in quality throughout their sordid reign of maritime terror. Nobody cared. Millions still turned up to watch Johnny Depp do his increasingly tired impersonation of a more than usually confused Tommy Cooper.

For too long, bores have compared the commercial end of the movie business to the fast-food industry. But that cliché now does look genuinely appropriate. Go to McDonald’s anywhere in the world — at any point in the year — and you will get the same burger. In the future, you will have a similar non-choice at the cinema: The Star Wars Happy Snack; The Pirates Fun Bucket; The Transformers Dipper Surprise. It’s enough to make you puke. It’s enough to make you wish it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.