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A new hope: 15 things The A.V. Club would like to see in the new Star Wars movies

The return of the Millennium Falcon—one of the more obvious things to look forward to in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars fans are notoriously demanding from the franchise they love and, in many ways, feel ownership of, after having spent so much of their lives invested in its universe. As Disney prepares to restart the saga, beginning with December’s The Force Awakens, that demand has similarly been reinvigorated, as fans still feeling let down by the prequels have been given a new hope that the next trilogy will restore their love of the series—and this time, live up to all their impossibly detailed expectations. The A.V. Club certainly has no shortage of those demanding Star Wars fans, and as we look ahead on this May 4, Star Wars Day, these are some of the things we’re most hoping to see in the films to come.

1. A return to magic

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A long time ago, in a galaxy that once seemed much further away, the Force was a mystical element wielded by sorcerers, fighting an epic and ineffable battle of good and evil. But with the introduction of a simple, boringly ordinary blood test, The Phantom Menace ruined all of that with its “midichlorians”—a scientific explanation for a supernatural phenomenon that made being a Jedi less a magical wonder than a product of genetics and proper schooling. The Force Awakens has the chance to restore that feeling of the inexplicable, which was once the greatest power in the Star Wars universe. All it will take is a little more poetry and a whole let less pragmatism, and an understanding that in a space fantasy like Star Wars, it’s actually okay to explain things away with “a wizard did it.” [Sean O’Neal]

2. Practical effects

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J.J. Abrams spent the months leading up to The Force Awakens’ production leaking photos of himself standing next to actual, life-sized spaceships and puppets, and declaring that he would be shooting the whole thing on actual film, like the good ol’ days. For good reason: George Lucas’ sad devotion to the new religion of CGI all but sucked the life out of Star Wars, which once captured the imagination of its earthbound fans precisely for how real—and often downright dirty—everything looked. It’s that balance between the extraordinary and the believable that creates the necessary connection—and it’s why Abrams merely uttering the words “practical effects” at the Star Wars Celebration earned him a burst of applause. [Sean O’Neal]

3. A sense of place

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The first Star Wars periodically suggested a big, messy universe full of different races and species all operating and competing within a messy, overcrowded universe full of infinite stories and possibilities. Tatooine, Hoth, and Cloud City all had personalities, and the ancillary materials—novels, card games, video games, role-playing games—have seized on this idea, building out entire worlds full of details, each with their own races, politics, languages, and cultures. It always felt like the simple heroes-versus-villains business at center stage was just one small story among any number of others. But the Star Wars prequels barely ever captured this feeling: They crowd the screen with CGI critters, but almost none of them seem significant. They’re all too obviously background elements instead of individuals with stories of their own. The one exception might be the clone-manufacturing planet Kamino, which seems to have some fairly odd science, politics, and inhabitants, all of which get thrown into relief because the story actually spends significant time there. The next series could also stand to settle in individual places long enough to establish why they’re interesting as something other than a source for new character designs and different-colored backdrops. [Tasha Robinson]

4. Smarter villains

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With its roots in George Lucas’ fond memories of old Flash Gordon movies, Star Wars carries a hefty strain of adventure-serial DNA. That heritage often manifests in the movies’ villains, who tend toward the theatrical and comically vile. There’s nothing wrong with that; this is a universe where being a selfish dick is a tenet of a major religion, after all. But more often than not, Star Wars villains go beyond mere arrogance, acting in counter-productive ways that are hard to describe with any word other than “dumb” by needlessly antagonizing allies, executing subordinates for honest mistakes, and constantly indulging in elaborate set-piece executions, when a simple blaster to the head would suffice. Smarter villains make for smarter plots, better heroes, and fewer 20-minute free-for-alls in CGI gladiator rings, so here’s hoping the crew behind The Force Awakens is looking to up their bad guys’ mental games. [William Hughes]

5. Politics that make sense

It’s surprising how much George Lucas seemed to think fans flock to his big, adventure-driven space opera for the politics, from the Empire-versus-Rebels conflict to the trade blockade of Naboo to all the Galactic Senate scheming and vote-manipulation that created the Empire in the first place. The first trilogy had a metaphor that makes sense—oppressive intergalactic Goliath versus scrappy guerrilla rebels—while the subsequent films tried to get much more complicated with the stories’ political needs. Yet they never progressed beyond a fifth-grade idea of civics as a situation where everyone yells at each other until there’s one big vote, whereupon the bad guy wins. The third trilogy is going to have to focus at least a little on how the universe shakes down with the Empire decapitated. But here’s hoping that if the stories are still obsessed with rapidly changing political systems, they aren’t so cartoonishly broad. [Tasha Robinson]

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6. Intergalactic sleaze

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Star Wars isn’t known for being especially sexual or violent, but it gets a welcome dose of weirdness from its less morally upright characters, who even at their worst don’t quite reach Sith-like levels of evil. Jabba The Hutt is the most famous, of course, and the prequels kept that tradition alive with both Watto, the slave-owning gambling addict, and Dexter Jettster, the friendly but not particularly heroic diner cook who provides Obi-Wan with crucial below-board information. Hopefully Abrams and company will continue hinting at that sleazy, morally gray underbelly beneath the series’ black-and-white, good-versus-evil dynamic. They don’t need to throw in a Total Recall-style triple-breasted prostitute or anything, but more weird aliens who prioritize their own petty self-interests over an intergalactic struggle would certainly be welcome. [Jesse Hassenger]

7. A balance between original characters and the new kids

To date, both of The Force Awakens’ trailers play to fond memories of the original trilogy: Darth Vader’s charred helmet. The roar of the Millennium Falcon. “Chewie, we’re home.” It’s always nice to reconnect with old friends, but the next trilogy will live or die on its ability to introduce new characters worth caring about. To that end, The Force Awakens must ride the divide between the dark-side pull of nostalgia and the light-side thrill of discovery, integrating Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewbacca into a world that actually belongs to scavenger Rey, stormtrooper Finn, and pilot Poe Dameron. (That’s not to mention the elements of The Force Awakens that are still subject to speculation, like how Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max Von Sydow factor into the new story.) With no destinies to build toward and the Expanded Universe conveniently waved away, Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are a wide-open sandbox for the new class of Star Wars heroes and villains to play in. They’ll have to share that sandbox with the old-timers, but the old-timers should be just as mindful not to litter the virgin landscape with bombed-out Star Destroyers. [Erik Adams]

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8. Prequel characters interacting with original trilogy characters

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It’s fashionable to try ignoring the less-beloved prequels—and to hope The Force Awakens does the same. But they exist, and beyond the fact that a lot of younger Star Wars fans love them, they add inventive details to the Star Wars universe. It would be a kick to see some of those prequel creations crossing paths with characters from the original trilogy. While that’s logistically impossible in many cases due to the passage of time, there are minor characters of indeterminate age that could pop up. Watto could still be kicking around (Wookieepedia says Toydarians can live almost 100 years!), maybe turning up to haggle with Daisy Ridley’s desert scavenger character. Or maybe Ben Quadinaros quit pod-racing, then opened up his own business dealing spaceship parts to Han Solo? Or imagine an elderly Jar Jar sitting on a porch, reminiscing about the old days with a thoroughly irritated C-3PO. [Jesse Hassenger]

9. Meaningful interactions between its female characters

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At Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy emphasized that the new films would feature a lot of “really strong women.” And with Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o, and Gwendoline Christie signed on to The Force Awakens, and Felicity Jones starring in the standalone Star Wars: Rogue One, the revived franchise has already dramatically multiplied the number of female leads in Star Wars history. Now the trick is to make sure these “really strong women” aren’t isolated in their own plots. According to J.J. Abrams, he wants his film to feel “authentic,” and one way to do that is with genuine female relationships. So in addition to revisiting the Luke/Han friendship, and delving into the complex paternal drama inherent in the story, these new films should also take the opportunity to explore mother/daughter bonds, begrudging female friendships, and loyal sisterhoods. [Caroline Siede]

10. Emotional subtext in the dialogue

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One of the series’ great lines is Han Solo replying to Leia’s “I love you” with a smug “I know” as he descends into flash-freezing limbo—a line that not coincidentally diverged from George Lucas’ script. Lucas had written Han’s response as “I love you, too,” but the line in the movie is so great because Han is saying “I love you, too” without saying it, in a way that’s true to the character. Compare this sentimental high point to the emotional climax in Revenge Of The Sith, when the newly helmeted Darth Vader mourns the death of his wife by jutting his arms out and screaming, “NOOOOO!” Abrams’ Star Wars would do well to remember that language has the ability to convey more than one sentiment at once—and when dialogue takes advantage of this, the result tends to be humane characters with depth that an audience can embrace. [John Teti]

11. An avoidance of pure fan service

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The last time J.J. Abrams resurrected an old franchise, the results were profitable, but not exactly artistically satisfying. Star Trek was a zippy movie bogged down by a sloppy script and some cringe-inducing bad comedy, but at least it tried to establish something of its own identity. Star Trek Into Darkness, however, suffered from an apparent obsession with nods to the original series that made no sense in context, presumably driven by the assumption that bringing in a character whose name people remembered was the same thing as telling a good story. There’s no doubt that the new Star Wars movies will have some fan-pleasing nods to the original trilogy (someone will say, “I have a bad feeling about this”), but here’s hoping those nods are limited, unobtrusive, and don’t distract from whatever real story The Force Awakens is trying to tell. Bringing back a series with this passionate a fan base must present certain challenges, but the desire to placate that base shouldn’t stand in the way of creating something new. [Zack Handlen]

12. Questioning sacred cows

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In its gleeful attempts to be a fast, fun, throwback sci-fi story, Star Wars runs into some philosophical issues. In all its film incarnations, it’s taken criticism for being aristocratic, with power being passed through the blood of a chosen few. It’s also utterly convinced in the value of the Force, but the only positive uses it ever shows for its awesomely powerful magic is stopping other people from using it as a weapon of mass destruction. The new Star Wars could stand to acknowledge, respond to, or subvert its most questionable themes, even—especially—if that’s done in a pulpy way. Expanded Universe stories like Knights Of The Old Republic II, for example, directly questioned the value of the Force, and were all the better for it. And what’s been promised of Rogue One—a film not centered on Jedi—makes it sound like Disney is willing to examine to Star Wars universe through lenses other than having its most powerful magical family fight each other for dominance, which bodes well for the future. [Rowan Kaiser]

13. A little lightheartedness

The original Star Wars had a healthy balance between the serious and the silly, offsetting the earnestness of the hero’s journey with Han’s wisecracks, C-3PO’s fussiness, and Yoda’s occasional goofiness. The prequels had much less of this playfulness, attempting to put all its comic relief in the unfunny Jar Jar Binks, and creating a dismal romance between Anakin and Padmé that contained none of the crackling levity found in Leia and Han’s relationship. Most modern blockbusters since have had a grimy Dark Knight mentality, taking the breeziness out of adventures in favor of grim ruminations on human nature. But The Force Awakens could use a dose of that old-fashioned lightheartedness—never forgetting the light side while telling a story of the Dark Side. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

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14. Explicit connections to cinema history

George Lucas has always been pretty forthright about his influences. The filmmaker didn’t create his galaxy far, far away from nothingness; he drew on memories from the old movies he watched in his youth, borrowing general elements (the desert landscapes of John Ford and David Lean are obvious touchstones) and explicit plot points (A New Hope is practically a sci-fi remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, with bumbling droids instead of bumbling peasants). Likewise, J.J. Abrams has admitted to growing up on Lucas’ original trilogy, and it’s heartening to watch the second trailer for The Force Awakens and see how much he seems to have recaptured the spirit of those movies. But here’s also hoping that the guy feels license to nod to more than just other Star Wars films. Surely, there’s a whole universe of cinematic favorites Abrams could weave into his episode, reawakening the true force of this franchise—the way it blends old tropes and archetypes into pure, escapist fun. [A.A. Dowd]

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15. An aura of mystery

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The original Star Wars trilogy hinted at a broader mythology that held fans’ attention well beyond the movies. What were the Clone Wars? Where did Boba Fett come from? Where’s Tosche Station, and how can they offer such low, low prices on power converters? The prequels tried to give us as many boring answers to these as possible, all while failing to create any new mysteries of their own—this despite a thousand-generation history of the Jedi to draw upon. With the new trilogy, J.J. Abrams has a unique opportunity to tell a new, larger story that’s still missing pieces the audience has yet to discover, hinting at the awesomeness to be found in the galaxies beyond the Skywalkers et al. It’s a chance to collapse our view of the Star Wars universe back to an intriguing peephole. [Mike Vago]

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