Reason No. 273 why Disney's upcoming "Star Wars" sequels might not suck? Longtime "Star Wars" producer Rick McCallum is leaving Lucasfilm.
StarWars.com confirmed the rumour that McCallum, the man responsible for producing the divisive George Lucas-directed "Star Wars" prequels, will be leaving the production company after nearly 20 years. McCallum's departure comes just weeks after Disney's $4.05 billion mega deal to buy Lucas' company -- and, quite frankly, it's a step in the right direction.
The prequels are almost universally reviled by critics and fans of the original movies, and during the production of those films, it was McCallum who should have have told Lucas "this won't work" or "this is a bad idea" on countless occasions. In fact, as the producer of Episodes 1, 2, and 3, McCallum was about the only person who could have said "no" to the director when it came to things like Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, and the movies' notorious over-reliance on CGI. Saying "no" to things is basically your job when you're a producer.
Coming hot on the heels of news that original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan ("The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi") was being brought on to script one or more of the "Star Wars" sequels, McCallum's exit from Lucasfilm is just one more promising sign that Disney is taking the responsibility of the "Star Wars" franchise very seriously.
With Kasdan in and McCallum out, here are a few more things we think Disney/Lucasfilm need to do to ensure that "Episode VII," "VIII", and "IX" are a success.
Hire a director who appreciates the story and the universe
This one may seem obvious, but we can't count the number of times that Hollywood has handed off the reins of a beloved movie franchise to a filmmaker who had little or no familiarity with the previous entries in a series. That said, Disney would probably be hard pressed to find a working director who isn't at least somewhat aware of the "Star Wars" movies. Whoever they hire to direct the new trilogy needs to have a working understanding of the universe George Lucas created (yes, even the Ewoks) and the tropes that made the "Star Wars" movies great. Given their previous "geek friendly" work, leading directorial candidates Matthew Vaughn ("X-Men: First Class") and Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") certainly fit the bill.
Acknowledge the Expanded "Star Wars" Universe
Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries have created hundreds, if not thousands, of "Star Wars" stories in the years since the original trilogy was released. The "Star Wars" universe canon has expanded exponentially thanks to countless novels, comic books, video games, and animated series, so much so that creator George Lucas even had to weigh in on occasion. When an author decided that a major character needed to be killed off in the 1999 sequel novel "Vector Prime," Lucas had to sign off on loveable Wookiee Chewbacca getting the axe. He signed Chewie's death warrant! And when Lucas needed to name the Republic capitol planet for the prequels, he had to call it Coruscant, as that had been the planet's name in the novels for nearly a decade by that point. The expanded "Star Wars" universe has added many wonderful stories and characters to the galaxy far, far away. Using (or at least referencing) some of those characters, locales, or story events in the sequel films will not only please long time fans of the series, but it will also give the writers some extra material to work with.
Have a major villain that spans all three sequels
Who was the villain in the original "Star Wars" trilogy? Darth Vader, and to a lesser extent, the string-pulling Emperor. Who was the primary antagonist of the prequels? Darth Maul? Nope, he died in the first one. Count Dooku? Nah, he was killed in the opening moments of "Episode 3." Darth Sidious a.k.a. the Emperor? Oh, sort of... but the titular "Phantom Menace" was only truly revealed in the last few acts of "Revenge of the Sith." The fact is that unlike the original trilogy, the prequels didn't really have one overarching villain for the heroes to battle. It was one of the major failings of the films, and a mistake that the sequels need not repeat. Pick a big bad and make him or her the main antagonist for three films -- the stakes are simply much higher for the main characters when the villain doesn't kick the bucket every two hours.
Bring back the "used universe" look
Part of what made the original trilogy work was how lived-in all the planets and ships looked. Han Solo's Millennium Falcon was described by Luke Skywalker as "a piece of junk," and it actually looked like one in the film. The fact that the space freighter was a rickety, dented bucket of bolts -- and that it was an actual set -- made everything about it seem all the more real. Contrast that with the cold and shiny prequels -- in which almost everything was squeaky clean, plastic-y and fake-looking, thanks to green screen and computer generated sets -- and you have three movies that were almost completely at odds with their predecessors in terms of their visual design. Disney should look to the groundbreaking work of original trilogy concept designer Ralph McQuarrie, the man responsible for giving the movies their "used universe" look. If the sequels are just older versions of Luke, Han, and Leia walking around in front of green screens, then Disney's sequels are already lost. Build a set, why don't ya?!
While much of the above is probably a given, Disney must find the lack of faith in them disturbing. The House of Mouse has done a lot right so far, namely hiring acclaimed and award-winning screenwriters Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan to adapt Lucas' story treatments for the sequel trilogy. The more like the original trilogy the sequels are, the better.
However, as folks like Lucas, McCallum, and, well, pretty much anyone involved in the prequels demonstrated, a lot can go wrong when you're making a "Star Wars" movie. Die hard fans are probably about as nervous as they are excited by the prospect of the sequels, but they can take some solace in the fact that the new arrangement at Lucasfilm means that Lucas and McCallum won't have final say where it counts.