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An Open Letter to the Director of Star Wars Episode 7

January 15, 2013

Yesterday Joe Carnahan, director of THE GREY, SMOKING ACES, NARC — and as of yesterday morning my favorite director — tweeted the following:

That’s right. Who wants to touch me.

While he might have meant just involving us in any potential saber action, that doesn’t strike me as a move requiring particular bravery on the part of the studios. I think he meant giving us the you’d-think-would-be-coveted-but-has-been-turned-down-by-all-the-big-names directing gig.

First off: yo, Disney/LFL. We’ll totally do it. It’s not that crazy. We’ll be working with ILM, with you guys, you’ve already got a great writer and I’m sure you’d team us up with a great DP and a great AD, and the experience and talent of the crew will more than make up for whatever we may lack. If you can’t get a name to draw the crowds, you know people would show up curious to see what the YouTube kids came out with.

Yeah, snowball’s chance, but had to put that out there. Shy people get nothing, right?

At any rate, irrespective of the probability that this could ever happen, I couldn’t help daydreaming about it, and in so doing, considering what the best approach could possibly be to a film with such high expectations. Looking at it from the perspective of a filmmaker and, more importantly, from that of a fan.

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at articulating my thoughts and feelings on movies, and so I thought I would share with you, yet-to-be-named director of Episode 7, what I — and, I think, others like me — want you to know about the task ahead of you.

After the negative fan reactions to Episode 1, many people made the claim that, well, with a movie that hotly anticipated, there was no way it could ever have lived up to the fans’ expectations. And, two-and-change years before the unveiling of Episode 7, we’ve already got folks tempering their expectations saying the same thing. There’s no way it can be as great as they can’t help hoping it will be. There’s no way it can do anything other than disappoint.

I don’t agree with them.

Here’s the most important thing for you to know: we, the fans, want you to succeed. The internet is… well, you know. Scum, villainy, etc. So you’re gonna get a lot of hate coming at your face once your name goes out in the world, no matter who you are. But the truth is that there is nothing fans of Star Wars want more than to love the film you’re going to make. Despite how it may sound in the comment threads of various film blogs (and I suggest you avoid them), deep down, we’re on your side. We’re rooting for you.

You’re going to hear that the fans want the new movies to be like the original trilogy, and we do. That sounds like a tall order, but it’s really not. All it means is we want back the sense of adventure, the sense of fun, lacking from the very somber, convoluted-plot-driven prequels.

If you do try to listen to what the fans want, try to separate out what they are actually asking for, versus the specific execution they suggest. Yoda fought with a lightsaber in ATTACK OF THE CLONES because fans said they wanted to see Yoda fight with a lightsaber — but what they really wanted was to see what made Yoda the greatest Jedi of all time. Which, in actuality, had nothing to do with his swordsmanship (as even Yoda himself basically says in EMPIRE).

So, for example, you’re going to hear fans clamoring for the original characters — Luke, Leia, Han — to return. And while that would, indeed, be super cool (and if they’ll do it we’ll totally take it), what we’re really asking for is the kind of characters they represent. Characters who are human, who have personality, who are memorable and distinct. We love the original trilogy because watching it feels like going on an adventure with some of our dearest friends, we know their quirks and foibles, and love them not in spite of their flaws but because of them.

Where the prequels fell short of fan hopes, in my estimation, has nothing to do with their scope, their scale, their action, their visual effects. Obviously these aspects completely outstripped anything in the original films. But they feel like a history lecture, populated by larger-than-life mythological figures for whom it would be easy for us to rattle off a complete chronology of what they do, but an impossible task to describe who they are.

When it comes down to it, we want to meet some new friends. Because for all that people (like me) can delve into the worldbuilding minutiae of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, for all that we talk about the trench run or the speeder chase, it was never really about those things. It wasn’t about the history of the Jedi, or the lightsaber fights, or the space battles. We loved those things because we loved the characters we were experiencing them with. Give us characters to fall in love with again, and you can practically do no wrong. We’ll follow them to hell and back or just watch them eat a meal together. Throw them into peril and, more than just being impressed by the visuals I’m sure you and ILM will deliver, we’ll care.

That’s all we want from you. Really. The worst mistake you can make will be to approach this thinking you have something to prove. You don’t have to show off. You don’t have to convince us you have the chops to direct action or visual effects. Just introduce us to our new best friends. It’s the simplest, and most difficult, thing for a filmmaker to do. But it’s the only one that truly matters.

Good luck. Or, if you prefer — and if you’re the one with this gig, you probably should — may the Force be with you.

Oh, and one more thing. While I meant what I said above about the lightsaber fights not being what really mattered, if it so happens that the new adventure calls for them… please feel free to get in touch.

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