After a couple of weeks of loving on the slew of Justice League possibilities unlocked by rumors of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale's involvement, this week the Geek Beat is heading back to that galaxy far, far away. With the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney in the waning months of 2012, the idea of there even being an Episode VII in the Star Wars saga is still a little tricky to believe, even though we've had confirmation of its development for months now.
Although, when the news finally came down from George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy, there was a sect of Star Wars fandom that finally felt vindicated: those that knew Lucas had plans for a sequel trilogy but were dismissed in recent years as little more than hopeful fanboys. The road to the inevitable Star Wars sequel trilogy has been one that extends as far back as 1975 and 1976, when Lucas was talking with the man that would help novelize his creation. It goes even further back, when production on the film we know today as Episode IV was taking shape in the African nation of Tunisia.
Imagining Your Chickens Before They've Hatched
I think it's pretty safe to say that one of the primary reasons that George Lucas is a household name worldwide is because of the man's imagination. The entire world of Star Wars sprung from a hole in his brain, and the resulting tidal wave of popularity and inspiration for millions of people (including the filmmakers of today, like Episode VII director J.J. Abrams) is something that hasn't been replicated often.
Even before the resulting popularity, though, when Lucas was talking to author Alan Dean Foster about the novelization for the first film in late 1975, Lucas told Foster about his grand plans for an entire saga of Star Wars films that seemed impossible at the time. Foster recounted the conversation with Lucas in a recently posted blog on the official Star Wars site. Foster recounts what Lucas told him:
"I want to have Luke kiss the princess in the second book. In the third book, I want the story just about the soap opera of the Skywalker family, which ends with the destruction of the Empire. Then someday I want to do the backstory of Kenobi as a young man – a story of the Jedi and how the Emperor eventually takes over and turns the whole thing from a Republic into an Empire, and tricks all the Jedi and kills them. The whole battle where Luke’s father gets killed. That would be impossible to do, but it’s great to dream about.”
In 1976 during the first phase of principal photography on the first film, well before the cast and crew knew they were a part of an extraordinary juggernaut, they were stuck in the sands of Tunisia shooting a weird film that had robots, wizards and little, creepy, hooded aliens. George Lucas's imagination was still taking him to heights that even the cast of the original film thought were lofty at best.
According to Mark Hamill, Lucas laid out his thoughts of a staggering four trilogies in the Star Wars universe. In a 2004 interview, Hamill described how Lucas would be giving the young actor job security through at least the 2010s.
"You know, when I first did this, it was four trilogies,” Hamill said. “Twelve movies! Out on the desert, anytime between setups… lots of free time. And George was talking about this whole thing… ‘Um, how’d you like to be in Episode IX?’ ‘When is that going to be?’ ‘2011.’ […] I said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘You’ll just be like a cameo. You’ll be like Obi-Wan handing the lightsaber down to the next new hope.’"
Of course, some kind of miracle would have had to happen to get to even a second film, much less a 12th. Well, fortunately for Mr. Lucas, that's exactly what happened. Any Star Wars fan worth their salt knows that May of 1977 brought about not only one of the single most influential cinematic occurrences of the 20th century, but a merchandising juggernaut that at that point was unmatched. Because Lucas retained all of the licenses for Star Wars merchandise, he quickly became a very, very wealthy man and would begin to pursue production on what would become The Empire Strikes Back largely out of his own pocket.
Certain Planning After a Hit
It was not long into the scouting process for Empire that Lucas sat down with TIME Magazine for an update on his vision for Star Wars' future, and it was there that even more details came out for sequel trilogies, and how much of it was made possible by his extraordinary share of merchandising profits. The article detailed this:
"Star Wars I seems likely to ring up anywhere between $300 million and $400 million around the world, making it the biggest grosser in film history. An additional $200 million or so will come from toys, records and the myriad of other Star Wars gadgets and gimmicks. Anticipating his share, an estimated $80 million, Lucas has set up four corporations: Star Wars Corp. will make Star Wars II and the 10, count 'em, 10 other planned sequels..."
The divulging didn't end there, either. Throughout the 1980s, Lucas would go on to be rather open about the fact that there were supposed to be more trilogies. Instead of four, it was whittled to three, and for that decade it seemed that Lucas stuck to that story above all others. After the release of Empire, Lucas told a reporter from Rolling Stone in the June 1980 issue that there were seven further films to make, and that he was in the process of outlining them at that time. In Prevue Magazine from fall of that year, Lucas told graphic artist Jim Steranko about his entire conception of Star Wars, including what will presumably become the sequel films. It all started with a process of trimming the fat. Lucas said,
"So, I took the screenplay and divided it into three stories, and rewrote the first one. As I was writing, I came up with some ideas for a film about robots, with no humans in it. When I got to working on the Wookiee, I thought of a film just about Wookiees, nothing else. So, for a time, I had a couple of odd movies with just those characters. Then, I had the other two films, which were essentially split into three parts each, two trilogies. When the smoke cleared, I said, 'This is really great. I'll do another trilogy that takes place after this.'
"I had three trilogies of nine films, and then another couple of odd films. Essentially, there were 12 films." He then added that he had "eliminated the odd movies, because they really don't have anything to do with the Star Wars saga. ... I'm just going to keep it pure. It's a nine-part saga that has a beginning, a middle and an end. It progresses over a period of about 50 or 60years with about 20 years between trilogies, each trilogy taking about six or seven years."
Backpedaling on Sequels and Focusing on I-III
Throughout the late 1980s on into the '90s, Lucas would back off a little bit from saying that there would be three trilogies. By the early '90s it seemed that he had made up his mind on creating the backstories for the original film, what would eventually become the dense and partially reviled prequel trilogy. Although he made mention of a sequel trilogy in a foreword to another book by Alan Dean Foster, Lucas would go on for years to claim that not only would there not be a third trilogy, but that there was never going to be.
In an interview in Vanity Fair, Lucas was directly asked about the continuation beyond Return of the Jedi, and told the reporter interviewing him, "I will not do seven, eight and nine. [The prequels] is all there is." He further put the nail in the coffin in an interview promoting the release of the original films on DVD for the first time in September of 2004, when he said, "There is no VII, VIII, IX. There never has been. ... The story was originally intended to be IV, V and VI. But I had a backstory which I found fascinating, and now you've got the full story from beginning to end. There really isn't any more."
Well.. .going into detail about what happened next would be redundant. Suffice it to say that the best-laid plans, going back to 1975, are likely going to have a big payoff. If there's ever been a master of the "long game" when it comes to making sequels in a beloved franchise, I think it's safe to say that George Lucas is the undisputed champion of the world.
My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop
A month ago, in Batman Incorporated #8, the son of Bruce Wayne fell in battle against one of Batman's deadliest new enemies. This week, DC releases Batman Incorporated #9 by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, and according to the preview released by the publisher to comics news sites everywhere, the viciousness of the Dark Knight goes unleashed. Batman's already a guy that deals with death in a very... unique way. For him it's productive, but for most people it's pretty extreme. When that death extends to one of the last remnants of his own flesh and blood, there's a time for mourning, and a time for putting every criminal around you in traction (as he did in the brilliant Batman and Robin #18).
With Morrison's six-year Batman epic winding down in the next few months, every remaining issue of Incorporated is going to count for something since the mad Scotsman is bringing it all home. It's not too often that a comic book death can mean much today, but he's pulled it off in my humble opinion, now he just has to keep the momentum going.
Thanks for checking in this week on the Geek Beat! We'll see you here next time in seven days.
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday and the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown every other Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.