George Lucas has been talking up his Tuskegee Airmen drama Red Tails since 1988, a time when comparing it to Tucker: A Man And His Dream actually meant something to the general population. Over the intervening 20-odd years, of course, Lucas has been busy opening up new locations in his Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, leaving him little time to concern himself with the relatively smaller true story about African-American pilots in World War II—and thus lending the project some kind of mythological aura. (Adding to that: The fact that director Anthony Hemingway had to leave to work on Treme during reshoots, leading to speculation that Lucas himself may have handled certain sequences.) Now, after over two decades of discussion, Red Tails finally has a January release date, a trailer, and a whole lot of strange, built-up expectation for what sounds like a pretty standard-issue WWII drama.
In fact, it sounds like the HBO film The Tuskegee Airmen, which beat Lucas to the punch way back in 1996. Confusing matters somewhat, Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in both—you just can’t make a Tuskegee Airman movie without Cuba Gooding Jr.—but Red Tails replaces Laurence Fishburne with Terrence Howard as its chosen articulator of steely resolve, and of course, amps up the dogfight action with a whole lot of Industrial Light And Magic. The contemporizing doesn’t stop there, with the under-fire-in-more-ways-than-one squadron now comprised of familiar faces from the world of music like Ne-Yo, cast members of The Wire like Andre Royo, Michael B. Jordan, and Tristan Wilds, and people who occupy a Venn Diagram overlap of the two like Method Man. Bryan Cranston tags along to add extra saltiness, and why yes, that is Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney, reenlisting to serve his country after all these years.