Every other day, a new remake gets announced, and while the life cycles of intellectual properties continue to get shorter (or maybe just move faster), human beings are still stubbornly aging at the same slow pace as ever. As a result, movies are now getting remade in a time frame when the people who remember them coming out the first time are still considered (or still consider themselves) to be “young.”
Next year, Sam Raimi’s seminal 80s horror classic Evil Dead has a remake out, and later that same year Raimi himself is producing the remake of Poltergeist – a film that came out one year after Evil Dead. In a similar vein, Raimi was also the director of Spider-Man, which was (pointlessly) rebooted back to zero this past summer a mere five years after Spider-Man 3.
It seems increasingly certain that I won’t have to wait until I’m an old man to see most of the important major movies I grew up on dragged back out with new angles and younger stars. A Terminator remake has been nearly greenlit numerous times, for example, and allegedly the intervention of Steven Spielberg himself is the lone thing that’s been holding back a Jaws remake. It won’t be long before someone asks if Indiana Jones really needs to be Harrison Ford, and after that someone will say The Words: Star Wars.
Would that really be such a bad thing?
The list of arguments against starting The Holy Trilogy over is long. It’d be pointless. It was the movie/series of its time. The characters and their attendant actors are too iconic. It’d be a canon-fracturing tangent in a franchise already too rife with them. It’d be better to just think up a new space opera franchise. And the biggest, most compelling one of all: “IT’S STAR WARS!“
All sound reasons, the majority of which I can agree with. But, for the sake of argument, I can think of at least four reasons why it might not be the worst idea ever.
We Already Know What Happens
This could easily be another reason to not remake it, but hear me out. In the original version of Star Wars, most of the main characters are sketched (by design, mind you) a bit thin. Apart from the sort-of complicated Han Solo, the principal cast gained its dimensionality in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
In a remake, it would be virtually impossible for the characters to not be affected by the filmmaker’s foreknowledge of shadings like Luke and Leia’s true relationship to Vader, the severity of the threat Han is living under regarding Jabba the Hutt and especially the full truth of what occurred between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker. In the right hands, this is the stuff that potentially increases dramatic resonance.
We Already Know What Works
Today, the generally accepted Star Wars aesthetic is that of a futuristic samurai movie set in outer space, framed mostly by how increasingly important lightsabers and Force combat became in the sequels and how important they became in the prequels. But the original film is all about the “glamorous” warfighting of the era in which it was made: fighter pilots. Strip away the sci-fi/fantasy trappings and Star Wars is a story about a simple farm boy who summons the bygone warrior ethos of his father’s era to help him realize his dreams of joining the Air Force.
Today, unlike in 1977, we know both how compelling a visual the lightsaber duels can be and how to properly choreograph them, which could add more possibilities for scenes of Luke’s training and possibly lend a new kind of iconography to Vader and Obi-Wan’s rematch.
War Has Changed
The biggest misconception, in my mind, about Star Wars was that it was the beginning of New Hollywood deliberately moving away from the engaged, socially-conscious films that had defined it and toward the simple-minded blockbuster pop mythology that would come to rule in the looming Reagan years. What this reading ignores is that, thematically, Star Wars was every bit the personal expression of the Baby Boom generation’s conflicted feelings of admiration for the “good war” fought by their fathers and the “bad war” slogging to a close in Vietnam as depicted in fellow late 70s smash Apocalypse Now.
But whereas Apocalypse had reconciled that inner conflict by descending into madness, Star Wars did so by slipping into fantasy. The War of the title is very much like World War II (I wonder if it’s reasonable to extrapolate that Luke, Leia and Han can be read as personifications of The U.S., Western Europe and the USSR respectively …) but fought by the Boomers’ idealized vision of themselves: plucky, rebellious and empowered not by nationalistic zeal but by an Eastern-inflected philosophy of personal enlightenment, capped off by the Space Nazis being blasted out of the sky by a Guthrie-esque wide-eyed farm boy who guides his missile via Zen meditation.
But if Luke Skywalker is the quintessential would-be war hero of the 70’s, what does the Luke of the 21st Century – the Luke of the post-9/11 world, really – look like? Heck, what does the nightmare of The Empire look like to a world whose young men and women of soldiering age are increasingly of a generation that never knew a world under authentic “evil empires” like The Nazis or Soviet Union?
Finding that out, and seeing what kind of new themes it brings to the material, might be worth it right there.
It Might Protect The Originals
Unless he is no longer among the living or the lucid when it gets underway, the one sure prediction about a hypothetical Star Wars remake is that George Lucas would be in charge. He may not insist upon directing it himself, as Red Tails seemed to indicate that he’s again comfortable with someone else at least sitting in the chair, but make no mistake – he’d be calling the shots.
Here’s why that might be a good thing.
It’s no secret by now that, whatever he may or may not have felt about them originally, Lucas remains less than thrilled with the original Trilogy and has with each successive revisitation sought to bring it more in line with the newer sensibilities of the prequels over which he exercised more complete control. If nothing else, would the prospect of simply making A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi all over again from the ground up not sound like something he’d be interested in doing? And maybe, just maybe, if he was finally able to make Star Wars in what he considers the right way … might he not be more inclined to finally just leave the originals unmolested?
…Probably not, no.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.