Even the most loyal Star Wars fan, the kind who gets a Jar Jar tattoo, but in a place where no one can see it, had to be pleasantly surprised by The Force Awakens. It’s a testament to how far the franchise had sunk, from The Trilogy, to quote the only scene I remember from Clerks 2, to the lowercase CGI apocalypse of a trilogy that is The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. This is the first Star Wars Day since the nerd holiday became “official” that Lucas-philes can feel proud of the most recent film, and excited about what’s to come. That’s how good Episode VII is.
Take more risks
The chief criticism of The Force Awakens is also the thing many fans liked about it the most: it’s a rehash of Episode IV (the narrative similarities are striking). I’d go further and say act one is Episode IV, act two is Episode V, and act three has shades of Episode VI. And that’s fine! Episode VII needed to remind viewers of what they loved about Star Wars, while simultaneously telling a new story — The Force Awakens pulled this off wonderfully; it’s old but new, familiar but alien. J.J. Abrams set the ball on a tee after George Lucas struck out. Now it’s up to writer and director Rian Johnson, of Brick, Looper, and Breaking Bad fame, to hit it out of the park, by being as different from The Force Awakens as the charmingly scrappy Episode IV is to the dark and moody Episode V. The signs are promising. John Boyega said that Episode VIII will be “much darker,” as it should be, while Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan added that Johnson is “going to make some weird thing” that won’t be like “anything that’s ever been in Star Wars.” Be different, be weird.
Give General Hux and Captain Phasma more depth
Meanwhile, my biggest problem with The Force Awakens was the bad guys and girl. Not so much Kylo Ren, whose wildly unpredictable and moody performance by Adam Driver was a highlight, but the shouty General Hux, vaguely sinister Supreme Leader Snoke, and supremely disappointing Captain Phasma. You don’t cast Brienne of Tarth, and do nothing with her. But that’s exactly what happened. I’ll give the Force Awakens writers some leniency here, because there were a lot of new characters to introduce, but Johnson won’t have that excuse for Episode VIII (even with the “like a villain” addition of Benicio Del Toro). Hux should stop chewing scenery, and Snoke needs to start being more than just Kylo’s “evil Yoda.” As of now, neither of them can be characterized as anything other than “bad.” Also, no more Death Star(killer)s.
Listen to GLAAD
The Force Awakens made major strides when it came to diversity, with the three leads being played by a woman, a black man, and a Guatemalan-American. Episode VIII can do even better. It’s time for an openly gay character, or to quote a recent study by GLAAD, which gave Disney a “Failing” grade for its lack of LGBT characters, “Novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written into the [films].” Make FinnPoe official, and you’ll kill two diversity birds with one progressive rock.
Remember that it’s about Rey, Finn, and Poe, not Luke
It’s been five months since The Force Awakens was released, and it’s going to be another 19 months (good god, Princess Lemon) before Episode VIII comes out in December 2017. That’s a lot of time to theorize about, among other things, the identity of Rey’s parents and why Luke pulled a Ben Kenobi and exiled himself on Ahch-To. Johnson shouldn’t spend too much of it thinking about Luke, though. The Force Awakens was the proverbial passing of the lightsaber from a strange old hermit, General Organa, and a dead man to Rey, Finn, and Poe, from adults still arguing about who shot first to kids who don’t care. The movies may take place “a long time ago,” but Episode VIII should be focused on the future. Rey has more pronounced Jedi skills than Luke did when he visited Dagobah, but if he wants to be her Yoda, that’s fine. Johnson shouldn’t let nostalgia cloud his judgement, though — it’s Rey’s story.
R2-D2 and BB-8, not R2-D2 and C-3PO
C-3PO is marginally important in Episode IV (although he doesn’t matter compared to the real hero in the Star Wars saga, R5-D4), but he gets in the way in Episode V and especially Episode VI. Poor Chewbacca has to carry that whiny droid on his back. C-3PO barely appears in The Force Awakens, which is just as well, because no one needs to hear him complain about his red arm (even if it is a tragic story). Were I writing the script for Episode VIII, I’d Jar Jar him out of the movie, and make BB-8 R2-D2’s new best friend. Like this:
I anxiously await the inevitable BB-8/R2-D2 spinoff. Episode IX!