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How Harrison Ford’s broken leg could affect 'Star Wars: Episode VII'

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 10 2014 4:20 p.m. MDT

Harrison Ford as Han Solo in "Star Wars."

Deseret News archives

Whether or not rumors that Han Solo is going to be the star of J.J. Abrams’ upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VII” are true, Harrison Ford has definitely been the star of the production’s recent headlines after having suffered a pretty serious injury.

On June 12, a hydraulic door on the Millennium Falcon allegedly fell on the 71-year-old actor’s leg while shooting a scene. Although at first described as an “ankle injury” in a statement released by Disney (which went on to say that, “Shooting will continue as planned while he recuperates”) and believed to be nothing more than a sprain, Ford actually broke his leg.

Following the injury, Ford was taken by helicopter to a local hospital. After the accident, he underwent surgery and his spokesman said he is “doing well and looks forward to returning to work,” according to the Mirror.

Earlier this week, Disney announced that production of "Episode VII" will be halted for two weeks but that the movie is still "on track" for its December 2015 release date, according to an Associated Press report.

Prior to that announcement, there was speculation over how much this could affect the film’s production, particularly the already tight shooting schedule that Abrams has in order to meet a December 2015 release date.

Numerous outlets reported that Ford might need up to six months to get back on his feet, and rumors swirled about what Abrams and Co. might be plotting to keep this development from seriously derailing things. Those included pushing back the release date, according to an article in the Latino Review; and drastically paring down Ford’s screen time and reworking some of his material for Oscar Isaac, according to the New York Post’s Page Six.

Reps for Disney, however, responded, saying the reduced role rumor “is categorically not true.”

Whatever does end up happening to accommodate Ford’s recovery, it’s impossible to guess how much it could affect things.

More than any other franchise, the Star Wars films aren’t just movies for fans — as evidenced by things like the whole brouhaha surrounding Lucasfilm’s statement about the relationship of the Expanded Universe to official Star Wars canon, or the “Han shot first” slogan that’s become a rallying cry for a certain slice of the overall fan base.

In the long run, even small changes to the “Episode VII” script will make a world of difference to the kinds of audience members who memorize every line and discuss every detail. More importantly, the repercussions on future films and other media could be huge.

Frankly, just the idea that any Star Wars canon could be decided based on a filmmaker’s Plan B feels wrong.

But before people panic, remember that the history of great filmmaking is one largely made up of happy accidents, serendipity and unplanned events that are taken advantage of. The classic example is “Jaws,” a film made great mostly because Steven Spielberg had to scrap a lot of his plans when everything from the location shooting to Bruce the mechanical shark refused to work.

Likewise, “Apocalypse Now” could have wound up a drastically different (and probably inferior) film on countless occasions — for instance, if everything had proceeded according to plan and George Lucas had directed it instead of Francis Ford Coppola, or if Marlon Brando hadn’t shown up too overweight to film the final confrontation as originally written, forcing Coppola to come up with something that ultimately proved far more memorable.

And, of course, the original Star Wars trilogy itself is largely the result of plans gone awry. From the cast — Lucas originally wanted Al Pacino as Han Solo and Toshiro Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi — to the special effects, a lot of what makes the Star Wars movies what they are remembered for today was as much a product of necessity as design.

That could end up being the case here, too.

And as a filmmaker who cut his teeth largely in the rushed environment of TV, Abrams is no stranger to having to MacGyver things.

Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website filminquiry.com.

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