With the news of Star Wars changing hands we now look forward to the future of the franchise and the new movies that will come from it. To some, Disney buying LucasFilm is saving a dying franchise in hopes of making a good Star Wars film, arguably something that hasn't been done in decades. To others, it's a disturbing opportunity for a large company to walk in and ruin their childhood and walk out with bags of money. Disney has to find a subtle balance between offering up fan service but also putting their own mark on the Star Wars franchise. To best understand where to go from here you have to find out where this all came from.
If you go back and watch documentaries or behind the scenes footage or commentaries about the very first Star Wars film, now called A New Hope, they shed a very ugly light on the film's making. It was a mess. Lucas' vision didn't match what the studio wanted and soon his film went over budget and over time. It turned into a muddled science fiction movie barely saved by crafty editing, groundbreaking special effects, and an unforgettable score. All of the faults and mistakes lay in the lap of series de-facto director and writer George Lucas, but so do its victories. He sat in the editing bay pouring over different cuts, he formed the companies that invented those new special effects and sounds, and he was the only man forcing this space opera on everybody who just said no.
Empire Strikes Back then blew everything out of the water. A movie that set the world on fire returned but without its now seminal director and instead was helmed by Irvin Kershner. Lucas was mainly a creative coordinator and producer, ensuring the movie didn't go off the deep end, and no character grew in the wrong direction or change his story. Return of the Jedi also didn't have Lucas at it's helm but found him more in control with this trilogy's production waning, but also personally saw the end of his marriage at the same time.
Years later the prequels came about, some would say to make money Lucas lost in his divorce years ago. Others would argue it was to finish Darth Vader's story arc from promising Jedi Knight to terrifying and sad Sith Lord. All this makes Star Wars what it is. The strange back stories of Lucas watching Buck Rogers serials that formed into a behemoth on film. And now that story continues for the first time in the hands of Mickey Mouse.
Disney is a giant among content creators. Pixar, Marvel, and a deluge of Disney intellectual properties and parks that place itself in a unique opportunity to have a chance to make a good Star Wars film. But what makes a Star Wars film great? What quality can create Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi and what absence of said quality creates Attack of the Clones?
Calling the new film Episode 7 already implies a lot. I assume this means it takes place post Return of the Jedi and that means no Darth Vader (spoilers!). But does this mean there will be Luke Skywalker? Han Solo? Perhaps even Leia and Han's kids? Maybe even a clone Emperor (actually happens)? The story already has a treatment, written by Lucas, and a lot of those stories have already been written in books, comics, and video games. The most important question is what should we see. What content will make Episode 7 successful? What will make it a redefining experience for everyone who goes to movies like the original was?
The first answer is one that avoids all the problems and make this numbered as a sequel, a prequel. Go back hundreds or thousands of years and set the movie in a time when both Jedi and Sith numbered more than two. Imagine a war between nothing but force users and lightsaber wielders. You keep the keys to any Star Wars universe: the force, lightsabers, the fight between good and evil. With so much of the time before the movies unexplored, especially when compared to the time after the movies, you could place the movies where you want. You can invent your own story, characters, and with some help make it all fit in the existing massive Star Wars universe.
A problem still exists however. Those of us who were kids when the original films were released no film afterward will ever replace the nostalgia that you remember so fondly. No film that doesn't have Ben Kenobi, or Chewbacca, or Boba Fett isn't worth your time or money. Those of us who were kids between the original set and the prequels were told of the lore of Star Wars and if you were like me the prequels felt like your own Star Wars films made just for you, with or without disappointment. The things that make Star Wars would be missing by zapping the story back centuries.
The second answer is to overlay it within the current set of films. If you played Shadow of the Empire, a video game for the N64 system, you know that there are some stories to tell within and between the movies. I can recall the line "bounty hunter on Ord Mandell" from one of the films, referring to something that happened between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Telling those stories, misadventures of the Rebellion, could be something the old fans would enjoy. But that means casting a Luke (assuming he's in the story), spotting the Millennium Falcon fly off in the background, and horrible potential for gaudy crossover with the other films. A little bit of knowing nods to super fans is a thin line that needs to be walked carefully and is easy to trip over.
There is no clear answer anymore. There are too many sets of fans, too many points of entry, too many "this is my Star Wars or nothing is" to make something like the original or prequel trilogy ever again. The best solution that will still only have you fall short and have blogs filled with your mistakes, is to gather a room with a small team of dedicated Star Wars writers. Let them spit something out within context of the universe that can still feel like it's own thing.
Disney buying LucasFilm is a great business decision and nearly a bargain. But to deal with the legion of fans and hope to only market the property to kids is a mistake. This franchise isn't a park maker, it's a movie savior. So let's see if the mouse has what it takes when the man who made it all couldn't.