Rebooting Star Wars Is a Great Idea, Actually

Matthew Vaughn has a new movie coming out (Argylle) and interviewers are almost certain to ask him more about his thoughts on Star Wars—which means you’ll be seeing a lot more headlines about Vaughn’s blasphemous views.

For those who missed it, Vaughn said a while ago that he would love to direct a Star Wars movie, but only if he could retell the story of the Skywalker family. To Vaughn’s mind, the story of Luke and his dad is the story of Star Wars, and it deserves to be rebooted, the same way Batman and Spider-Man already have been.

He’s right, of course.

I know there’s a lot of reflexive skepticism around the idea of reboots, and I have contributed to that in the past myself. Some reboots do feel like cynical cash grabs, or attempts to rehash for the umpteenth time a story that has already been told perfectly well. That said, nobody would want Batman to be stuck forever in the Tim Burton-Joel Schumacher continuity, with every Batman film required to call back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze. I’m actually quite pleased that we got the Nolan trilogy and The Batman.

How do you know if a reboot is necessary? There are probably a bunch of factors. Like, how long has it been since this story was last told? Are there aspects of the earlier telling that now feel dated or even problematic? Did the original version brush over key parts of the story that a newer telling could explore in greater depth? Most importantly, perhaps, is there a potential that a new refreshed continuity can prove fertile and give rise to an exciting new set of stories?

All of these factors weigh heavily in favor of rebooting Star Wars—with the exception of the length of time since the last installment. We have definitely not been starved for Star Wars content of late, especially on television. That said, there hasn’t been a Star Wars film since 2019.

Still, on balance, the saga of Anakin and Luke is crying out for a fresh retelling. It’s nearly fifty years since Mark Hamill first appeared as Luke Skywalker, and filmmaking has, to put it mildly, changed a lot since then. The prequels and the original trilogy are full of important events which George Lucas brushed over or simply ignored. Some of this was because Lucas just didn’t care about it—but a lot of the backstory became hopelessly tangled after the retcon in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.

I would actually love to see a series of movies that took these characters’ emotional journeys more seriously. From Anakin’s harsh childhood to his introduction to the Jedi to his romance with Padmé and his fall from grace, there’s so much rich material that the prequels were unable to explore in much depth. Anakin Skywalker ought to be an Aristotelian (or Shakespearean?) tragic figure: a noble man who is brought down by a tragic flaw. (You certainly glimpse some of this in the Clone Wars animated series.)

And then you get the original trilogy, where a lot of those inconsistencies pop up. Why doesn’t Darth Vader ever notice a kid named Luke Skywalker living with his relatives on his old family farm? Why doesn’t he notice that Senator Organa has a daughter who seems uncommonly strong in the Force?

I’ve written about this before, but I would love a version of the Original Trilogy that focuses more heavily on the central question about Luke Skywalker: Will he go bad, the same way his father did? This is a theme that comes up from time to time in those three films, but it deserves a much deeper examination.

Most of all though, I would really welcome a new film series that took the female characters of the saga, especially Padmé and Leia, more seriously. Why does Padmé like Anakin anyway? Isn’t it kinda weird that she knew him as a little kid first? In general, she deserves a stronger character arc (the kind of stuff the Clone Wars animated show dipped into), and of course a much better death. And meanwhile, to my mind, Leia is as much a protagonist of the original trilogy as Luke—but her feelings are often swept under the rug, including when her family and friends are murdered by the Death Star. The Empire Strikes Back drops some tantalizing hints that Leia has the potential to be as powerful a Jedi as Luke, but nothing much ever comes of it, apart from a few cool moments in The Last Jedi. Even as a child, I remember being disappointed at Leia’s lack of mastery of the Force in Return of the Jedi.

Also, a rebooted original trilogy could do so much more with Lando Calrissian! 

And what if even a hint of the political sophistication we see in Andor could find its way into a retelling of the prequels and original trilogy? Exploring how a democratic society can fall prey to fascism—and the ways that people continue to resist fascism until it is finally banished—is one of the coolest ideas George Lucas ever had. But I believe it could be explored with more depth, both of ideology and of feeling, in a rebooted version.

The original Star Wars was not just a product of its own time—it was a crucible of nostalgia. George Lucas was looking back on the movie serials of his youth, as well as World War II movies, Westerns, and Samurai films, and borrowing liberally from them. I love the original Star Wars, but many of its shortcomings come simply from its strong connection to 1940s and 1950s culture, and all of the assumptions that went with it.

As always, it’s worth pointing out that any Star Wars reboot would not erase the original, which would still be there for anyone who wanted to watch it.

Bear in mind that the original Star Wars has already been retold in other media, with some versions making an effort to explore the characters in greater depth. (There have been novelizations and comics adaptations, including a comic based on Lucas’ original unfilmed script.) Most notably, National Public Radio adapted the Original Trilogy for radio in the early ’80s, with A New Hope turning into thirteen half-hour episodes. (George Lucas sold the radio rights to Star Wars to his local NPR affiliate for $1.) These radio plays (which you can pretty easily find on YouTube) take a lot more time to explain the characters and their motivations, and provide some hint as to the places a new version might go. It takes a full hour to get to the start of A New Hope!

So when journalists ask Matthew Vaughn to clarify his comments about wanting to reboot Star Wars, I hope he doesn’t shy away from what he said. I hope he doubles down, in fact. Rebooting Star Wars is not only a good idea, it is absolutely going to happen at some point. Disney has invested too much in this property to ignore such an obvious opportunity.

That said, I do disagree with one aspect of Vaughn’s comments: I don’t think the Skywalker family is the only interesting part of Star Wars. I still wish that ancient, distant galaxy would spend more time exploring the stories of people who’ve never even heard of the Skywalkers—or even the Jedi. Star Wars would not be nearly as popular as they are today if people weren’t in love with this expansive, immersive setting—and I would love to see Star Wars take more risks and explore more far-flung corners of the galaxy. I’m ridiculously stoked to watch The Acolyte, the brand new Star Wars show from Leslye Headland, which apparently takes place long before the prequels.

But if it’s a choice between recasting Luke Skywalker and seeing Mark Hamill’s face digitally de-aged or recreated using CG, I know which one I’d prefer. As long as Star Wars continues to tell stories that weave in and around the nine films of the Skywalker Saga, why not just retell the story itself? icon-paragraph-end

This article was originally published at Happy Dancing, Charlie Jane Anders’ newsletter, available on Buttondown.

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