We shouldn't be surprised that just about every announcement concerning the forthcoming Star Wars movie, including the on-again-off-again rumours of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher returning to the holy land, has been met with fan backlash. (As of press time Thursday they were on again – with creator George Lucas stopping just short of confirming to Bloomberg Businessweek that all three were signed on for the next instalment.)
This is what fans do and, since the Internet provided them with a most formidable instrument of collective power, this is their job: to protect their objects of love and obsession from intrusion, corruption and impure alteration, and to make any who would consider perpetrating such outrages very, very wary.
But let's put aside whatever feelings you may have about the return of the old guard for just a moment. There is no better news for Star Wars fans than the one-two punch that a), George Lucas is retreating from the Empire (selling the name and franchise rights to the Disney Company late last year) and b), that J.J. Abrams is getting behind the wheel.
On the first point: The primary reason that the last three Star Wars movies were so awful was precisely because Lucas was the supreme creative being behind them. On the second: Abrams, director of bracingly fun Star Trek and Mission: Impossible reboots over the past few years, and maker of the supremely effective vintage Spielberg homage Super 8, has got something Lucas doesn't and that every Star Wars fan should welcome with fully extended lightsabres: a fan's touch. He seems to get what it is about certain concepts that make people elevate them as objects of almost sacred devotion, and he knows how to tap those elements while sandblasting them free of corrosion and dust. He's one of us.
While we don't know exactly what Abrams's Star Wars movie (slated for release in summer 2015), will be about, we can be reasonably sure that it won't be The Phantom Menace or either of its Lucas-made lachrymose follow-ups. Which is to say it probably won't be boring, concerned with the paralyzing intricacies of imagined intergalactic parliamentary procedure, or populated with characters who will make you thankful you live in a world Jar Jar Binks does not.
The fact is, the 21st-century has so far been very, very good to the age-old Hollywood process of finding new ways to re-animate old corpses, as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Sam Mendes's recent James Bond jump-starter Skyfall, Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Abrams's own résumé attest. And in each case the revival of the corpse has been possible because the original creators have left the building and their successors have been permitted to more or less freely return to the original appeal of the concepts and burnish these in the light of contemporary technology and attitudes. Simply put, they've been movies for fans, and the difference has been stark: the dead brought back to life to not only walk but jump, fly and kick ass.
Not all, or arguably any, of these movies has been perfect, but then again not all, or arguably any, of the movies they revived were perfect either. What they have done is demonstrate sensitivity to original appeal. And I think this was probably the real reason why George Lucas stepped down from the throne last year (along with more money than God, that is): He understood that he had lost touch with what his fans loved about what he had created, and for it to continue in its founding spirit, its founder had to withdraw. The Force was no longer with him, it had passed to those he inspired. Like, maybe, just maybe, J.J. Abrams.