"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." marked the introduction to an iconic franchise that's captivated the imaginations of millions for generations. From the harsh deserts of Tatooine to the sinister Death Star, a fleet of X-wings to a motley collection of droids, it's fair to say that the imagery of Star Wars has shaped the world of science fiction since the release of Episode IV in 1977.
The struggle between Imperials and Rebels sparked a vision in thousands of artists, encouraging them to immerse themselves in creativity. Mike Mayhew illustrated the Star Wars miniseries for Dark Horse, and says the original trilogy really got his creative juices flowing:
"What inspired me about the films was the amount of thought that went into designing every aspect of it. Nothing felt half-hearted." He point-blank declares his disappointment in the more recent series of prequels: "I was not a fan," he admits.
Mike says that Episode VII: The Force Awakens has the opportunity to push the boat out when it comes to its in-universe technology and designs. "I hope to see in Episode VII what I saw in the original Star Wars: something completely new. I want to feel like I did the first time I saw a TIE fighter. Its spaceship design was unlike anything I'd ever come across."
Mike also hopes the film will strengthen its legacy with homages to sci-fi film history: "I want to see a movie that celebrates cinema. That's what Star Wars did so well. It displayed an acute awareness of what had come before, referencing everything from the Errol Flynn classic Adventures of Robin Hood to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and incorporating them into a unique cinematic experience."
Freelance illustrator Tony Foti agrees: "In a lot of ways the original movie was a pastiche of what had come before. It raised the bar for the whole genre. The dedication to detail, creative use of shapes and that weathered, lived-in look are all things I’ve tried to incorporate into my art."
Mike would also like to see some more mixed and challenging characters: "I think dark, haunted characters thrive in the Star Wars universe," he says. "I was always turned off by characters who seemed to pander to the lighter side or the younger audience."
As well as the characters, the reality of the films' world appeals to others, too. "I was seven years old when I saw Star Wars for the first time. That day everything changed for me," says Carlos Valenzuela, a Star Wars mega-fan and current IDW cover artist for X-Files, "I loved all the designs, the ships, robots, landscapes. I remember drawing the X-wing fighters hundred of times!"
In the imminent feature, Carlos yearns for a strong story that deepens the Skywalkers' history: "The path of Luke becoming a senior Jedi Master would be interesting. I would love to see more Jedi training, as in The Empire Strikes Back – everyone learned so much from the wisdom of Yoda.
"I don't want JJ Abrams to bring back every character from the original trilogy without justification. Hopefully the story will call for more Boba Fett!" Tony, on the other hand, yearns for Mark Hamill to ignite his lightsaber again!
Carlos isn't a big fan of CG effects, and hopes that the new flick won't go overboard with them. "I'd love the new film to use more practical effects instead of filling everything with neat CG. With the prequels, the core elements were there but they missed the retro feel – I think mainly because of the overuse of computer-generated effects."
Official Star Wars comics cover artist Hugh Fleming completely agrees with this sentiment. "They can advance by going backwards toward a greater reliance on practical effects, building environments for actors to immerse themselves in and find the truth in their characters.
Thankfully they're going in precisely that direction. I’m in two minds about the new Stormtrooper design, but real performers in real suits go a long way to selling me on them."
With JJ Abrams at the helm, the sequel is being given the benefit of the doubt. In his capable hands, 2009's Star Trek reboot was brought back to the big screen to universal acclaim – and with fans perhaps even more zealous than those of Star Wars, this was a great achievement.
Carlos is very excited to see JJ's direction: "I trust completely in Abrams' vision. I love that special 'retro feel' that some of his movies have, particularly in Super 8. And it helps that he’s a big fan."
JJ's no JarJar
Mike also has high hopes: "JJ Abrams is about as capable as anyone. I have a lot of confidence in him. I think the new Star Wars will benefit from the association with Disney and Marvel as well. I think Marvel Studios has shown the world a thing or two about how to make thrilling, serialised action/adventure movies. I get the impression that this is setting the bar higher for Star Wars, and I think that’s a good thing."
Hugh is a little more dubious: "I've upheld a tradition – since maybe 1982 – of having bad dreams about anticipated sequels to favourite movies. I had one a few months back where I was at the premiere screening of Episode VII. The film was set in the modern day, there was no action in it whatsoever and no characters I recognised.
"Everyone wore Star Trek costumes and it was set in a Costco parking lot. So, yes, safe to say I do harbour deep-seated, fanboy anxieties about how this one's gonna go." The acclaimed Australian illustrator is looking for "just a straightforward swashbuckler with human, relatable characters, and hopefully a few fresh plot ideas – please, no Death Star 3!"
Tony has another point of view. He thinks adding to the wider universe is never a bad thing: "Even if the new films were the worst ever (and I'm positive they won't be), it's not like it would somehow ruin the original three.
"Star Wars has become a living story that every generation is adding on to," Tony continues. "By the release of the first movie, George Lucas was already planning for it to be a James Bond-type franchise, where different film makers would add their own facets to the mythology. Some parts will be great, others not so much, but I think the good bits will always be worth the duds."
We'll find out more on 18 December…
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