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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' predictions vs. what actually happened

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[SPOILER ALERT: Read only if you have already watched The Force Awakens.]

As part of an EW Star Wars cover package in November 2012 after the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, I wrote an article with a “five-point plan for what Lucasfilm and Disney should do to make sure The Force is strong with the new trilogy.” In it, I presented both general and specific instructions towards what they should do with the new films. The article was titled “5 Tips for Sequels That Won’t Suck.”

So how much of my advice actually made it into The Force Awakens? Let’s take a look back point-by-point at what I wrote then and what actually made it into Episode VII to see how truly strong I am in The Force:

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1. Bring back Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher as Han, Luke, and Leia — but only as supporting characters


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull serves as exhibit A on the dangers of trying to make an aging action star carry a film. Ford had previously lobbied for Han Solo to perish, so why not give the man his ”dying wish” and have Han bite it 20 minutes into Episode VII? That could act as the jumping-off point for the entire film. As for Luke, his role should be running a new Jedi Academy for precocious younglings while dispensing wisdom à la Yoda and original-trilogy Obi-Wan. (And sure, he can pick up a lightsaber in a pinch.) When it comes to Leia, we’re curious to see her new Force abilities in action, but like the other two characters, she would serve the story best in a mentor-type capacity.


Well, I nailed the Han Solo death. That’s the good news. The bad news is I had the timing all wrong. In retrospect, having it occur near the end of the film works much better in that it gives you more time to fall back in love with the character again before you kill him off. I was also half-right about Luke in that it seems he indeed did run a new Jedi Academy…before Kylo Ren saw an end to that.

In general, the movie did a great job of what I had hoped to see: old characters playing roles while also passing the lightsaber — if you will — to a new generation. Off to a good start!

2. Look to the novels for new plots


There are six Star Wars movies from which to draw inspiration when plotting out Episodes VII through IX, but there are also more than 150 expanded-universe novels, many of them filled with stories and characters that could easily make the hyperspace jump to the screen. The books that match up best with how the original actors have aged are the Legacy of the Force novels, which take place 40 years after the events in A New Hope. That series tells an intriguing tale of Han and Leia’s children, Jacen and Jaina Solo. After Jacen turns to the dark side, murdering Luke’s Force-sensitive wife, Mara Jade, and becoming Darth Caedus, Jaina must face — and eventually kill — him. Young Solos and Skywalkers abound, and with Jaina, the new films could be built around something fans have accused the other movies of lacking: a strong female protagonist.

And there are other characters from Star Wars novels who have become fan favorites and should definitely be considered for the big leagues. The blue-skinned Imperial alien strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn and the aforementioned Palpatine agent-turned-Jedi Master Mara Jade, both of whom first appeared in Timothy Zahn’s excellent Thrawn trilogy, would be particularly welcome.


Wow, I’m doing pretty well here. Again, I was on the money with telling the story of Han Solo’s son turning the Dark Side as Kylo Ren = Jacen Solo from the Star Wars novels. Nice!

The question remains: Who is Rey? Her origin story remains murky. Is she the film version of Jaina — a Solo that was separated at birth and adopted by another family on Jakku? Is she a secret Skywalker? We’ll have to wait to later episodes to find out. Regardless, I was also on point with saying they should go with a strong female protagonist for a change.

However, J.J. Abrams and company totally disregarded my Grand Admiral Thrawn plea. Too bad, as anyone that has read those Timothy Zahn novels would surely agree that Thrawn is a hell of a lot more charismatic than General Hux, the lone character in the new film that just felt kind of silly.

3. Ban all Ewoks and Gungans


Listen, Star Wars doesn’t have to go all Christopher Nolan. We don’t need another bleak, uncompromising look at a society in complete decline — that’s never been what this franchise is all about. Even the darkest (and best) of the original films, The Empire Strikes Back, still makes time for scruffy nerf-herder jokes and a scene in which Yoda and R2-D2 play tug-of-war over what appears to be a really cheap-looking lamp.

However — whether in the interest of juicing toy sales or dumbing down the content for younger viewers — the films have also displayed a famously nasty habit of introducing cutesy alien critters who serve no purpose other than to annoy every audience member over the age of 10. This needs to stop. Perhaps that surly barkeep who wouldn’t let C-3PO into the Mos Eisley cantina had the right idea after all. If only we could hire him to ban Wicket the Ewok, Jar Jar Binks, and any other characters who exist solely for juvenile comic relief from the new films. They are all hereby banished.

Lucasfilm should look to a movie from another Disney-owned studio, Marvel, for a successful blueprint on how to make a movie that appeals to all ages without alienating older viewers: The Avengers. That film managed to find laughs without a kooky sidekick while also combining light popcorn fare with high-stakes action. The lesson: There’s a way to reel in the tykes without turning off the people who actually pay for the tickets.


Abrams totally nailed the comedic tone of the film, Yes, BB-8 verges on overly cutesy at times, but not in an annoying Gungan-esque way. And the laughs from John Boyega’s Finn or Stormtroopers retreating hastily as Kylo Ren has a temper tantrum played to all ages. Thankfully, Episode VII was indeed an Ewok- and Gungan-free zone. In short, Abrams made a movie kids could enjoy that wouldn’t have adults groaning.

4. Go easy on the phony-baloney bluescreen, please


Planets seen in the Star Wars prequels, like Mustafar, Utapau, and Kamino, were painstakingly created with superrich detail using the finest computer technology available. Which was exactly the issue. They looked nifty but felt fake — as did many of the interior locales, such as the Geonosian droid factory. That’s what happens when so much acting is done in front of giant blue- and greenscreens.

We’re not bagging completely on CGI. There are certainly times when such technology can expand the scope and scale of environments to an impressive degree. But if those environments don’t feel real to begin with, then you have a problem. Here’s hoping the new Star Wars films use CGI as a means, not an end. The unrelenting desert of Tatooine, the desolate frozen plains of Hoth, and the murky swamps of Dagobah all feel like real places instead of overblown computer programs.


The producers really took this one to heart as they consciously tried to replicate original trilogy planets like Tatooine and Hoth by…well, basically giving us a new Tatooine (Jakku) and Hoth (the snow-covered Starkiller Base). Since the planets actually felt real, so did the story. This is one of the most underrated successes of the new film — that every environment did not feel as if it was built in a computer, even if some parts actually were.

Man, I am absolutely on fire with this advice I dispensed three years before the film even came out. I am like a freakin’ Jedi here with all this stuff coming true! What could possibly go wrong now?

5. Pay another visit to the underworld


What fans want most from the new films is for them to be…well, cool. What was the coolest part of Return of the Jedi? The visit to Jabba’s palace and subsequent sail-barge battle. And who is considered the coolest of all Star Wars characters? Silent but deadly bounty hunter Boba Fett. If Disney wants to reenergize the franchise, the company should focus on the ”wretched hive of scum and villainy” known as the criminal underworld. Especially when there is so much more scum and villainy to explore!

Steve Perry’s book Shadows of the Empire introduced readers to the nefarious Black Sun organization, led by charismatic criminal mastermind Prince Xizor, who was at one time the third-most-powerful person in the galaxy after the Emperor and Darth Vader. And while purists don’t consider the animated Clone Wars series to be fertile ground for inspiration, toothpick-chewing bounty hunter Cad Bane has managed to transcend the cartoon with a look and feel straight out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western. (Bane will have aged out by the time of the new films, but his offspring or another one of his Duro species could make for a formidable presence indeed.)

Don’t forget, Han Solo was once a smuggler himself. He went on the run after jettisoning Jabba’s cargo and failing to repay the Hutt for the losses. Perhaps the underworld will finally catch up to him in Episode VII. Hopefully about 20 minutes in.


Okay, this one was a HUGE swing and a miss. Sure, we had those shady dudes that showed up on Han Solo’s cargo freighter and got eaten, but that was the extent of any sort of organized criminal activity in The Force Awakens. Of course, it appears a stand-alone Boba Fett movie is on the way so that world will most likely be explored in-depth in his backstory tale. Still, kind of a bummer to go out on this note after nailing the first four. I guess I need to go seek out Luke Skywalker and get some training before I tell anyone what to do in Episode VIII.