Signs of interest from Harrison Ford send ‘Star Wars’ fandom into hyperspace

We’re going to see Luke Skywalker again… right?

I’m not sure how old you were in 1999, but for those of us who were first generation “Star Wars” kids, there has never been anything like it in terms of hype.  The crazy part is that a good 50% of the hype had nothing to do with the studio and everything to do with our own expectations and a powerful sense of nostalgia.  By the time “The Phantom Menace” opened, I’m convinced that even the single greatest movie ever made would have been a disappointment simply because of the weight of expectation.

One thing that made it hard to accept the prequels as real “Star Wars” films was the lack of familiar faces.  Sure, the characters were related to other characters or they were younger versions, but for the most part, you’re talking about a brand-new cast, and one of the basic mandates of a sequel is giving the audience more of the thing they’ve already enjoyed.  As a result, there is a chance that all of that crushing, vocal “Phantom Menace” frenzy is just going to look like a warm-up to the deafening buzz as we build to the release of a true sequel to the original trilogy, complete with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and, yes, Han Solo.

I know many fans, including my longtime friend and conspirator in all things “Star Wars” related Scott Swan, who would rather not see Harrison Ford return to the role at all because they’re convinced it would be disappointing.  You can’t really blame them for their skepticism, either.  Because of the powerful impact his work has had on me, you’ll never catch me flat out dismissing Harrison Ford, but it’s hard to defend the work of the last decade as being the equal to the work he did when he was younger.  Han Solo has such a great swagger, such a cocksure sense of who he is and where he fits in the universe, and much of the pleasure of watching him over the three films is seeing how he responds when he gets knocked down a peg. If “Star Wars” is going to return to these three, I want to see a real evolution of who they were, and not just an imitation that’s trying to recapture a magic that is based at least in part on the arrogance of youth.

I’ll admit, I’m curious to see if he really will get paid enough to play both Rick Deckard and Han Solo again.  And more than that, I’m curious which Harrison Ford will show up.  There’s a great movie star named Harrison Ford, and he may be my favorite early ’80s movie star.  Holy cow, that guy was fun.  Then there’s “pay me my quote and I promise not to tell you how much I hate your film” Harrison Ford.  And finally, there’s Damn Fine Actor Harrison Ford, who rarely seems to be rewarded for his very best work.  Do I think there could be something great about seeing Han Solo on the big screen again?  Especially if he was paired with a much older but still awesome Wookie, who remains my favorite character in the original trilogy?  Maybe.  But it scares me just the same.

We are in the very early days of this thing in public, but behind the scenes, Lucasfilm has been gearing up on this new “Star Wars” trilogy for a while.  That 2015 release date they’ve set is going to require them to start pushing the entire operation forward, and soon.  They’re going to have to announce a director and a writer soon, and I hear that both of those searches have been underway for a while now.  Damon Lindelof tweeted, “It should be Lawrence Kasdan” last night, and I think that’s a very direct and elegant solution to getting the voice right.  After all, Kasdan is a very big part of why “Empire” and “Raiders” packed such a dynamic one-two punch in 1980 and 1981.  He understood how to write smart-ass pulp perfectly, and I think he’d be a great collaborator for them to bring back.  It would be an exciting announcement, the sort of announcement that would send a specific message about how they were planning to put the band back together, as it were.

The scary thing about dealing with Luke Skywalker again, at this age, is that if you give the fans what they say they want and they still don’t like it, what more is there for you to try?  When I think of the over-the-top decade-long tantrums that some (not all) have thrown since the release of the prequels, I get physically tense thinking about how much shriller and angrier it will be if they make terrible movies set after “Jedi.”  Disney shelled out that $4 billion for a reason, and they’re looking at a long-term strategy here, and I think it’s fascinating that the riskiest game plan is also the most creatively rewarding one, and the one with the highest possibility of a long-term reward.  Short-term thinking is “we put Luke, Leia and Han back together and have a trilogy about Luke trying to restart the Jedi Order and wrestling with the Dark Side that has always haunted his family” because it keeps the Universe small.  It continues to suggest that the Skywalkers are the most interesting family to have ever been born in the “Star Wars” universe.  The long-term thinking is “get a bunch of new voices in here, people who grew up on ‘Star Wars’ and who know what they want to see and then turn them loose.  Smaller budgets, shared assets, a streamlined production process, and freedom to explore every crazy corner of one of the richest and densest imagined worlds in modern culture”, and leave the nostalgia where it belongs… in the past.

I don’t doubt that Harrison Ford is willing to be wooed.  I don’t doubt that by the time they roll cameras on “Episode VII,” they’ll be shelling out something on the order of $80 million in salary alone if they want the three leads to all return.  I have no doubt we’ll get the familiar this time because that’s the safest way for Disney to plant a flag.

I just think there’s room for them to dream bigger, and I hope Kathleen Kennedy and whoever is now involved on the Disney end of things realize just how infinite a toybox they’ve been given to play with.