Star Wars Episode VII and the Joy of Arbitrary Deadlines

C-3PO, Star Wars, exhibit

One of the many lessons we learned from the Prequels Trilogy: C-3PO wasn’t built in a day. (Photo taken at the “Star Wars: Where Science Meets the Imagination” traveling exhibit, which my wife and I saw during its stop in Indianapolis last spring. That exhibit wasn’t built in a day, either.)

Thus the head honchos at The Walt Disney Company have decreed, and thus it is written: Star Wars Episode VII shall be released to theaters on December 18, 2015. Despite pleas from director J.J. Abrams and hopefully any level-headed supporter in earshot, Disney has set this date in stone and insists that, come what may, there will be Star Wars product on the big screen no matter what.

(As a side experiment along this vein, I’m experimenting here with a timed entry. I have sixty minutes to crank out this entry from start to finish, and whatever state it’s in when minute #60 strikes, I hit “Publish” and there will be an entry about this subject no matter what. Fortunately my special effects needs are minimal and rarely outsourced.)

In order to acquiesce to Disney’s demands, Abrams and Lucasfilm have already let go of original screenwriter Michael Arndt and brought in Lawrence Kasdan, whose screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back earned it the title of Best Star Wars Film Ever. I haven’t read enough about Star Wars or George Lucas to know if he was forced to write it in the space of two months back in 1978 or 1979 or whenever he was asked. Apparently someone thinks he can type, think, restructure, or please Disney more quickly than Arndt can. I look forward to seeing what Kasdan can bring to the table after a 33-year hiatus from the SW universe, but it’s disappointing for someone like me who enjoyed Arndt’s work on Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine, and was looking forward to seeing the fruits of his escalating Hollywood opportunities. Hopefully at least a glimmer of his contributions still make it into the finished work.

(Fun trivia: this self-imposed sixty-minute session allows for no time-outs. If distractions take away from the process, that’s on me. If the dog starts making weird noises like he did a few minutes ago and I have to stop to check his vital signs, the doom is mine. I’ve logically decided to keep Facebook and Twitter closed for the duration, since either of those is usually my first makeshift recess whenever a particular piece is stumping, frustrating, or boring me. Regardless, if I keep digressing like this even without their help, I’ll get nowhere.)

Then again, with this accelerated time table in place, who knows if Kasdan’s work will even show up on the screen? If the minds behind this can’t come to an agreement on story direction, characters, or how much it should resemble the previous six films, then I can depressingly envision Disney bringing in five or six other writers to cobble the movie together piecemeal, leaving Abrams and/or his buddies of choice to stitch everything together, if this should become a situation like Lethal Weapon 3 or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, two examples (out of many movies, I’m sure) that began shooting before a script was even finished. As I recall (and please correct me if I’m wrong on this), in the case of Lethal Weapon 3 they filmed all the action sequences first, and then went back and made up a story and non-action scenes to connect the dots, like the world’s most expensive Mad Libs game. One wonders if a single person involved in that not-great film took pride in any minute of it.

(Temporary social media blackout notwithstanding, I’m leaving email open in case I hear back from my son on a question I shot him the other day, and also because the little ping of a new WordPress “Like” or “Follow” can be a nice hamster pellet, even if it turns out the reward in question comes from a spammer I’ll never see again. If he does write back, he’d better not say anything interesting. Dad has slapdash writing to do.)

Should we start a Star Wars Script Doctor Pool and take guesses as to who would be brought in to pick up the pieces if things fall apart? Who among Abrams’ circle of friends would be first in line? Damon Lindelof? Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman? Someone else from Fringe waiting for their shot at cinematic immortality? Or would Disney pull rank and send in other guys Abrams has never employed before? Imagine if, say, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were ordered to the set and commanded to do for Star Wars what they did for the entire Pirates of the Caribbean series. How many unconditional Star Wars fans would keep their hopes up and vow to cherish those results, sight unseen?

(Not surprisingly, these digressions are more fun to write, so I’m actually writing them out of order. I have a vague outline in my head for the actual Star Wars parts, some of which I’ve set down in fragments as placeholders to flesh out if time permits and thoughts expand. If. Possibly a big if. No idea yet.)

Everyone knows artists love deadlines. Nothing inspires flummoxed desperation, creative corner-cutting, and surprise writer’s block like high-pressure accountability tactics. That’s a handy skill set for related fields in which fixed client expectations are involved, if you don’t mind that sort of thing. And to be fair, no competent company owner wants their new advertising campaign to be delivered “when it feels right”. Temperamental artists who can only work their magic under specific conditions avoid such jobs for a reason, or at least I’d think they would.

Relevant example in front of me: after several years with art in mind as the most attractive career track, my own son decided this year not to major in art after all because he disliked the idea of turning a passion into a chore. I can’t blame him, but it’s people like him who make Disney bean-counters cry.

(I imagine filmmakers have their own diversions, time management issues, and unforeseen calamities that interfere with their work days. A shame that big-budget major-st)

Remember how George Lucas himself used to take three years between films? As the IP holder it was his right to set his own schedule, but he was relatively generous compared to this current, Lucas-free situation. It seems a shame to me to see Star Wars films subject to the same rigorous standards as other, less special action blockbusters, most of whom owe a debt to Lucas for pioneering this level of spectacle in the first place. It forces us to admit to a new reality in which all future Star Wars films are no different from other $200 million flicks/figurative carnival attractions/attractions/merchandising machines. That’s sobering, souring, or just Not Right. Can’t decide which.

(I actually began this piece with a ninety-minute time limit in mind. Like any small-minded executive, I’ve just realized that I can do the same work in sixty. I’ve now gone back and rewritten those references, and made things that much harder on myself, and with only seven minutes to go. So much for proofreading, adding extra tags, or even seeing if anything makes much sense. But the deadline will be met! That matters more than anything! Because reasons!)

Ultimately — and maybe it’s just me — I don’t really need Star Wars products to be cranked out in regularly timed doses like prescription pills. There’s the Star Wars Expanded Universe (of which my wife remains a longtime aficionado), Dark Horse’s stable of comics (those can be fun, especially Brian Wood’s current, impressive series), and, y’know, just rewatching the old ones if we run across them while channel-flipping. We’re not completely out of ways to enjoy Star Wars in any capacity.

It’s nice that they want to treat us to a continuation, even if it’s just because Disney wants all our monies. If they have to churn them out in assembly-line style, I’d prefer they not suck. I’m not convinced that anyone will benefit in a fulfilling way from Disney’s insistence that their cash must flow at a specific pace and at a certain level and with movies perfectly spaced whether they’re the best they could possibly be, Or Else.

If that’s the price we have to pay for new Star Wars big-screen product, I have a hard time accepting that the future of Star Wars will remain a fixture on my ever-shortening Absolute Must-See List. If you’re gonna make a film as if it’s a disposable good, I’m gonna think of it disposably.

(…and time’s up.)

4 responses

  1. For the record: this was written November 8, 2013, from 9:35 p.m. to 10:35 p.m. EST. I had the link for the photo up in another browser tab, but everything else, from title to tags, was written in the space of that single hour, as vowed. I think I’ll wait till tomorrow before I reread it and see how many thoughts I failed to flesh out or outright skipped unknowingly…


  2. The news about Lawrence Kasdan writing the script is interesting. If there is anything this new Star Wars needs most, it is a shot of the original heart and soul of the old Star Wars—for what it’s worth. Ultimately, I don’t really care. However, I am open to this new project. Disney wants to court people like me, along with all the hardcore fans.


    • I’d love to see a renewed sense of heart in future films — once they decide who our main characters will be, anyway. At this point it’s too early to tell if we’ll have a new couple to root for, or the old folks to sympathize with in their twilight years…


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