Quick – what’s the best Star Wars movie and one of the best sequels of all time? If you said Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of The Clones, please go away to a remote cave in Tibet and reassess your entire life. If you said The Empire Strikes Back, you are of course correct. Empire remains the best of the Star Wars flicks. Yes, the purists will say that nothing tops the original, and to an extent they’re right – as a pure movie-going experience, it remains a cultural watershed. If you’re old like me and saw the original, undigitized version in the theaters as a kid, that first scene alone – the seemingly endless bulk of the Star Destroyer emerging from the top of the screen – was a trans-formative moment. But as a movie, with a script and actors and plot, Star Wars kind of sucked. (See: every scene Mark Hamill is in.) It was our first look at what would eventually become George Lucas’ most glaring weakness: the almost complete inability to take really cool concepts (Death Stars, Jedi Knights, their evil Sith adversaries, cities that cover entire planets, space bounty hunters) and marry them to good writing. (See: Boba Fett, possibly the coolest villain in the entire series, dying by falling into what looks like a giant anus with teeth. Also, midichlorians.) The exception to this? Empire. The praise heaped upon this movie is absolutely earned.
Like many of you, I was a bit skeptical when Disney, as part of their plan to eventually own everything, announced that they had brokered a deal with George Lucas to buy the whole Star Wars franchise, thus ensuring that our kids and their kids would be treated to Star Wars on the big and small screens for years to come. Great, I thought. More of this:
Pass. But then, like the hope Yoda spoke of in Empire, my disturbing lack of faith was slightly restored when word came that Michael Arndt would be penning the script to Star Wars: Episode VII. Arndt wrote the screenplays to Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine, both excellent films that relied on their strong screenplays to make them stand out. Ok. Good sign. Then last week, it was announced that Disney had found two writers to round out the next trilogy. One of the two is a guy named Simon Kinberg. I’d never heard of him, so I looked him up. His writing credits include the mediocre Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes, the terrible X-Men: The Last Stand, and the “this exists?” pilot to the Mr. and Mrs. Smith TV show. Not very inspiring.
But! The other guy? That would be Lawrence Kasdan. Lawrence Kasdan wrote (and directed) The Big Chill, so the man knows actors and dialogue. More important, he wrote and directed the vastly underrated and hugely entertaining Western Silverado. And more important than that, he wrote the screenplay to Raiders of the Lost Ark. And most important of all, Kasdan wrote the screenplay to The Empire Strikes Back.
For Star Wars fans, the addition of Kasdan is perhaps the best news yet to emerge from the Disney deal. Kasdan took Lucas’ ideas and made them into an actual movie, rather than an infomercial for the next line of Kenner toys. And with an actual script with plot twists that had real emotional heft, he managed to get great performances from the three principal actors. (In the scene above, Hamill goes from sneering contempt to revolted horror in the span of a few seconds, and it’s a pretty good bit of acting.) No word yet on how the writers will divvy up Episodes 8 and 9 – my hope is that they c0-write the two. But whatever happens, I’m sure we won’t be seeing any more of these guys.