Fans of the Star Wars franchise should revel as they consider the talent behind the newest production, Episode VII, slated for release in 2015. All the creative potential exists for a reimagining of the saga that recalls the shadowy, suspenseful mythology of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Many fans call the film the best of the franchise. Firstly, legendary Hollywood film composer John Williams, the creator of the Star Wars musical universe, has been hired once more. Given Williams’s founding stroke of genius for the series, and his consistent mastery of its thematic evolution, his latest contribution is cause for celebration. His is the mind behind the Star Wars title theme, the Imperial March, Princess Leia’s theme, the Throne Room theme, the “Across the Stars” love theme, the “Duel of the Fates” fight theme, and other classic cues.
Since scoring the prequel Star Wars trilogy, Williams has scored a diverse range of films including War Horse (2011), The Book Thief (2013), Lincoln (2012), and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011). These films develop themes of war, innocence, justice, and adventure. We can expect Williams’s newest approach to the Star Wars material to reflect his growth and learning since Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).
John Williams is an elder maestro and a dynamo. “Age is not so much of a concern,” he says, “because a lifetime is just simply not long enough for the study of music anyway. You’re never anywhere near finished. So the idea of retiring or putting it aside is unthinkable. There’s too much to learn.” He, the scribe of the emotional center of Star Wars, seems to live by poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous dictum in Ulysses:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Moreover, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, acting veterans of the original Star Wars, have built interesting careers since their work on George Lucas’s series.
Ford has shown a streak of compelling vulnerability in his performances in films like Witness (1985) and The Fugitive (1993). How interesting it would be to see him return to those dark places in a refashioned interpretation of Han Solo, stripped of some of the braggadocio of youth. If Solo is to survive in a new Star Wars trilogy, surely he needs a trial or two to reestablish his mettle.
Hamill, iconic for depicting Luke Skywalker’s insight into The Force, has established a successful career in voice-acting since his work on Star Wars—often voicing villains. He won plaudits for his mastery of the zany verbal cues of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, a staple of many a Millennial’s cartoon diet. There have been three performances of the killer funnyman that have passed into legend: Jack Nicholson’s, Heath Ledger’s, and Hamill’s.
“I have this absolute abandon when it came to Joker’s laugh,” Hamill says. “It’s like a musical instrument. He laughs at really inappropriate times and finds things funny that sane people do not. I wanted to make that a large part of my arsenal in terms of approaching the character. There are so many people that I pay homage to: a little Dwight Schultz [the A-Team’s ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock] here, Dracula’s Renfield there.”
Perhaps if Hamill allowed some measure of irrationality to infiltrate his performance of an elder Luke Skywalker, audiences would find new questions to ask about a well-known character. Or will Skywalker become a new Yoda, saintly and restricted to proverbs?
Actor Max von Sydow is new to Star Wars but the 85-year-old brings a distinguished cinematic heritage to his line readings. The two-time Academy Award nominee can raise the stakes of a film with a few words, as evidence by his minor role in Conan the Barbarian (1982). Like Star Wars, Conan is set in the sword-and-sorcery realm with bright lines between good and evil. Sydow delivers the most poignant line of the film as King Osric the Usurper, a grayed conqueror with a mission for Conan: “There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.”
Lastly, Episode VII deserves anticipation because it returns Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to the writer’s room, alongside series newcomer J.J. Abrams.
The fifth episode in the saga was a high point—featuring dark drama and dialogue as well as special effects. Actor James Earl Jones is a big reason for the film’s pathos. As Darth Vader, the second greatest evil in the galaxy, Jones lends an air of troubling inevitability to the Empire’s gains.
“All too easy,” Vader says when, early in their duel, he appears to trap Luke Skywalker in the hibernation chamber. Jones infuses such theatricality in the sentence that four syllables feel like an eternity. In this and other scenes, he knows precisely which words to emphasize, like a violinist applying vibrato to a note.
With his mighty vocal chords, Jones menacingly accents “power” in the famous line: “If you only knew the power of the dark side.” Elsewhere in the film, he breaks “hatred” into two nasty-sounding syllables: “Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.”
But it was Lawrence Kasdan who co-wrote the script with Leigh Brackett, according to IMDB.com. The Empire Strikes Back is theirs and James Earl Jones’s and George Lucas’s.
“‘Empire’ appeals to people, I think,” says Kasdan, “because it’s the second act of a three-act play, and everything sort of goes to hell during the movie. And when you leave, everyone is in trouble, and that is the best part of the story to write. And people responded to it. Irvin Kershner was a completely different kind of director than George, so the movie’s much darker than the first ‘Star Wars.’ It’s more edgy.”
Episode VII merits great expectations. If it focuses on the nuances of internal conflict, like The Empire Strikes Back, it may succeed in revitalizing the saga.