The Star Wars remake project, part 1

In high school in the early 1980’s, I once got into a debate with a teacher as to which was the better movie, Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I of course was a total Star Wars fanboy, deaf to the teacher’s arguments in favor of 2001. I believe the gist of my own argument was, “Star Wars is the top-grossing movie of all time and 2001 is incomprehensible; you’re obviously wrong (you hippie).”

Now that I’m a recovering Star Wars nerd — and have also long since developed the sophistication to comprehend 2001 — I can easily see how 2001 is in many ways the better film, although in some important ways the two aren’t really comparable.

Despite George Lucas’s later claims to the contrary — to wit, that he was designing a mythic archetypal saga — Star Wars was meant first and last to be popcorny escapism. Of course it succeeded wildly, not least of all because of the pop-culture doldrums of the mid-1970’s, and changed the whole movie business, to the extent that rich storytelling and character development became scarce for a long while, sacrificed to spectacle and bombast. It took years for significant amounts of grownup content to return to movie (and TV) screens.

All of which has been said before, but perhaps this is new: the idea to remake Star Wars as a good movie by today’s standards. That means crackling dialogue, emotional beats, character arcs, and even topical relevance.

Topical relevance? You bet. The story of Star Wars is the story of a once-enlightened republic gone corrupt, then brought to its knees by a small, ill-equipped band of guerrilla fighters. Any resemblance to the United States vs. Iraq, Israel vs. Hezbollah, etc. may originally have been incidental but now screams “allegory.” That the heroes of the story are the allegorical equivalent of terrorists (so-called by the superpower; in story and in life they call themselves freedom fighters) will give the remake a slightly subversive agenda. That’s a bonus. Our job will be to make this allegory clear without allowing it to overpower the story.

I say “our job” because I am inviting public participation via the comment feature of this blog. In this installment I am laying out what I consider to be the requirements of the remake. In part 2 I will describe some of the problems with the existing Star Wars that I hope to address in the remake, such as an over-reliance on coincidence and Luke’s passivity. Part 3 will present the backstory. Part 4 will propose character arcs. Part 5 will introduce a story outline, and later parts will develop key scenes. Each post will incorporate any feedback I get from the earlier ones. Maybe one day we’ll actually film the thing. More likely this effort will be squashed like a bug under the legal thumb of Lucasarts. Even more likely is that I’ll lose interest, but we’ll see. Well begun is half done.

Now for the record, let’s take a look at the core of the original movie — those elements we need to keep in order to qualify as a remake and not a ripoff:

A beautiful princess, nominally a functionary of the corrupt government but secretly a rebel spy, obtains some key intelligence. Expecting capture, she entrusts it to an unlikely emissary who is able to escape unsuspected. The emissary is instructed to seek a former military ally but is intercepted by a bored farmboy with dreams of adventure. When he learns a beautiful princess is in peril his desire to leave his dreary home intensifies, but not until (a) he hooks up with the military man and (b) the government destroys his home in a search for the emissary is he moved to act. They seek to convey the emissary (and his intelligence) to officials of the rebellion, but are waylaid into an opportunity to rescue the princess, which they do after many adventures. Finally the intelligence is delivered to the rebellion, which uses it to score an important military victory.

With some modifications, I think this is a fine framework to start from, and Luke is still a good choice for a main character, though we can make him better.

Notice that everyone’s favorite character, Han Solo, is missing. He is not integral to the plot when formulated this way. (Ben Kenobi could have had his own spaceship and not needed to hire a pilot.) I do still expect to need the character — I’ll explain why in a future post — and integrating him into the story better than before is one of the problems with the existing Star Wars that I’ll discuss in the next installment.

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