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Who should be the bad guy in the next Star Wars movie?

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 7:57 a.m. MDT

Darth Vader in Darth Vader in "Empire Strikes Back." (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

No sooner do I excoriate George Lucas in the Deseret News for mishandling his beloved space opera franchise than suddenly Lucas decides to sell his entire company to Disney for $4 billion and give it the reins to Star Wars in perpetuity. Episode VII in the series has been slated for 2015.

So I write a column, and the world changes overnight. Coincidence? You tell me. (The answer: no.)

Lucas has changed his story a number of times with regard to his cinematic intentions for the denizens of that familiar galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away. In recent years, he has insisted that the story definitively ends with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and post-Ewok, there are no more wars in the stars to be had.

But not so long ago or far away, he boasted of having at least three more movies under development, which is three fewer than he claimed to be gestating around the time the first movie — the anachronistically numbered Episode IV — was released in 1977. Back then, he insisted that Star Wars would feature no fewer than 12 installments, and Disney now looks ready to extend that number to infinity and beyond, assuming Buzz Lightyear gets a cameo in “Episode IX — Revenge of the Zurg.”

But making more Star Wars movies is going to be very difficult to do.

Don’t get me wrong. All in all, I find myself cautiously optimistic about the Star Wars torch being passed to someone who thinks Greedo didn’t shoot first. But even the most skilled screenwriter will discover that when Lucas insisted the story had nowhere else to go, he may have been far less wrong than he usually is.

Actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in episodes IV through VI, has lamented over the years that he never got the chance to bring Luke’s later adventures to life. That will likely change in Episode VII, where we can likely expect Hamill to return to the series as an older Obi-Wan/Yoda figure, only without Alec Guinness’ gravitas. But casting the hero in the ongoing adventures has never been the problem.

The biggest obstacle to satisfying future Star Wars movies will be figuring out who the bad guy should be.

J.K. Rowling, incidentally, has stated repeatedly that this is what’s preventing her from writing any more Harry Potter books: Harry’s still alive, but Voldemort isn’t. So how do you tell a story that’s as compelling as the ones that have gone before when the villain, whose fate was inextricably linked to the hero’s journey, has been permanently dispatched? Creating a new villain, and tying that villain’s history into Harry’s, and making the stakes for that battle even more compelling than the Harry/Voldemort contest is next to impossible. And even if it can be done, it’s unlikely that it will have a similar feel to what went before.

The problem is even worse with Star Wars. All six movies, including the three good ones, focused on the fate of Anakin/Darth Vader and the rise and fall of the galactic emperor. Vader redeemed himself and then died; the emperor’s been vanquished; his empire has collapsed; and the galaxy’s free. So what do you do for an encore?

There have been attempts to continue the story in novels and comics, all of which I have found unsatisfying. These tales usually focus on lesser squabbles with loyalists to the old regime, or people trying to take the emperor’s place. But they’re afterthoughts. The stakes aren’t high enough in stories that just clean up after the emperor to hold anyone’s interest.

But what do I know? Disney wouldn’t have paid $4 billion for a franchise with no future, would it?

We’ll find out soon enough; 2015 isn’t that far, far away.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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