Three weeks ago, the notion of new Star Wars feature films was preposterously absurd. A new Star Wars movie that wasn’t animated or some kind of meta-fictional fan thing was about as a likely as...well, I’m sure C-3PO can tell me the odds. But an actual sequel to Return of the Jedi wasn’t even a thought in our minds until the startling news that Lucas was selling Star Wars to Disney and they were immediately going to make an Episode VII. Since then, the news keeps coming: the screenwriter has been confirmed. Lucas may have over-sight on the script after all. Everyone in the galaxy has an opinion!
But what’s the biggest challenge for the movie? It’s not expanded-universe continuity, interference from Lucas, or big casting. The most vexing thing about a new Star Wars is that it must introduce new characters. And worst of all, they have to seem familiar and be brand new at the same time.
Though the prequel trilogy is correctly assessed as being a complete failure, the characters do actually change and things do actually happen. A shared defining characteristic of both existing Star Wars trilogies is this: characters begin in one place and ending up in a totally different place by the third film.
Luke, Leia, and Han are not the same people they are at the start of A New Hope as they are in Return of the Jedi. And Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Padme are similarly completely different. (Well, Padme’s dead, but you get it.) Many popular genre franchises like Star Trek, or superhero movies, or spy movies tend to try to keep characters in recognizable states. Sure, many things happen to the Enterprise crew during the course of the Star Trek movies, but other than being older, Kirk, Spock and Bones are not wildly different characters by The Undiscovered Country than they were in the original TV show. Similarly, in the Sam Rami Spider-Man movies, a lot of stuff happens to Peter Parker, but he always ends up about the same at the end as where he started. The biggest change he undergoes is in the first one; when he becomes Spider-Man.
Star Wars isn’t like that at all. Whether it’s the ascent of Luke Skywalker or the decent of Anakin Skywalker, these stories work because there are big changes. And with Return of the Jedi, both of those big character storylines are resolved. Politically and logistically, there is certainly some cleanup all those people will have to do, which has been exhaustively depicted in the expanded universe novels and comic books. The latest vague statements from the powers-that-be seem to indicate Episode VII will take place a good period of time after Return of the Jedi. How far? 50 years? 100 years? Another rumor claims Episode VII will be about Luke Skywalker. If true, it’s a huge mistake. Mark Hamill is great, but he’s too old to carry a movie. The final classic Star Trek films in the are charming, but the cast looked terrible and were hard to believe as action stars.
If Luke, Han, Leia or Lando are in Episode VII it would need to be in a similar capacity—at least emotionally—as Leonard Nimoy was for the 2009 Star Trek re-boot. But really, we’re satisfied with where those characters ended up, at least cinematically. Sure, thinking about their lives after Return of the Jedi is interesting, but that’s what those novels are for. Noticeably, most Star Wars novels would not make good Star Wars movies, because the classic characters in those Star Wars novels STAY THE SAME. The only characters that change are new people, indigenous to the expanded universe. People like Kyp Durron, Jacen Solo, Mara Jade, etc, all go through changes. But I’ve got news for everyone: no one is going to write a movie about Kyp Durron, Jacen Solo, Mara Jade, Corran Horn, or any of these other jokers. They’re going to need to come up with new people.
Which is actually quite daunting if you think about it. I’ve got opinions about how to at least approach every major sequel/reboot of a big geek franchise. But this is sort of baffling. In a way, the prequels had it easy: Anakin and Obi-Wan’s characters and arcs were pre-set. Padme needed to be kind of like Leia, and that’s about it. But what now? Do you create characters who remind us of Luke, Leia, Han, Lando and Chewie? I think the answer is no, but yes a little bit. The approach I think make sense with brand new Star Wars characters is to think about Star Trek. But not Star Trek movies, instead, Star Trek TV.
When Gene Roddenberry launched Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was a huge gamble. Captain Picard is nothing like Captain Kirk. There is not direct analog for Spock. Sure Data’s close, but he serves a different function. Spock was confident and in charge, Data was a child. There’s no “Scotty” character. Instead, the good characters on Star Trek: TNG are unique, brand new characters. And though I probably prefer Kirk and Spock, Picard and Data were genuine characters who were not derivative of classic Trek. They were new! This is the only way Star Was can precede. It has to be Star Wars: The Next Generation. The new Trek imitated Star Wars in 2009, so now, perhaps an exchange of creative energy is in order and Star Wars can re-invent its characters Trek-style.
The people who populate these new movies might not need to be even related to the Skywalkers, Solos, Kenobis or Calrissians. I know it seems wrong to have Star Wars without a Skywalker, but it once also seemed wrong to do Star Trek without Kirk. The new Star Wars needs a clean slate. Its fictional galaxy is so rich and diverse that certainly new characters can be conjured from it. But these people must be BIG. They must have big problems and big arcs. They come from Star Wars, so certainly they will feel like Star Wars people. And if we’re not going to call them Skywalker or Solo, then what?
Well, Lucas originally wrote about somebody with the last name “Starkiller.” Sounds like a good place to start to me! Only question now—who’s gonna play her?
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.