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Monday 11 December 2017

By George! They're back

George! They're back

Ever since Disney bought the rights to Star Wars off George Lucas late last year for a cool $4bn (€3.09bn), the internet has been awash with frantic speculation about what's going to happen next.

Fans of the franchise have been somewhat ambivalent about the news that three new Star Wars films will be made by Disney, with the first due for release as soon as 2015.

Pessimists are worried that Disney will debase the Star Wars legacy in a cheap bid to make money, with one fan website declaring the franchise "creatively brain-dead" because Lucas is no longer involved.

But they're forgetting that Lucas has already debased his own legacy with the dreary and humourless second trilogy of Stars Wars sequels released between 1999 and 2005.

Besides, there are reasons to be hopeful about Disney's intentions in regard to the most celebrated film series of all.

They've made a huge investment in the brand, and won't want to go down in history as the people who trashed Star Wars. The studio will also be anxious to make amends for their last foray into sci-fi, the $250m (€193.15m) box office flop, John Carter.

Besides, there are strong indications they're intent on getting the new films exactly right, and the fact that they've hired JJ Abrams to direct the first one is most encouraging.

Abrams did a brilliant job of rebooting another iconic space opera with his 2009 action film Star Trek.

Most encouraging of all, though, is the news that Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford look set to reprise their roles in the new movies. George Lucas all but confirmed that they will in a recent interview with Bloomberg News.

After spilling the beans live on air, Lucas added "maybe I'm not supposed to say that. I think they want to announce them with some big whoop-de-do, but we were negotiating with them".

The presence of Ford, Fisher and Hamill will hugely boost the kudos of the Disney Star Wars revival, and evoke the glory days of the late 1970s.

None of the three actors was particularly well known when they appeared in the 1977 opener, but within weeks of its release they were all huge stars.

They reprised their roles in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), but once George Lucas called a temporary halt to the series, the Star Wars ensemble parted ways, and their subsequent careers have panned out very differently.

Carrie Fisher was just 21 when she was cast in the pivotal role of Princess Leia in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. With her slinky costumes and distinctive double-bun hairstyle, Fisher's Princess Leia became the adored pin-up of millions of teenage boys, and a glittering movie career seemed to beckon.

Behind the scenes, though, Fisher's life was rather less rosy. The child of actress Debbie Reynolds and 1950s pop idol Eddie Fisher, Carrie was one when her father walked out on them. Thereafter, her bereft mother hit the bottle, and Carrie was raised in chaos.

By the time she was shooting The Empire Strikes Back, Fisher was battling a serious cocaine habit. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and has struggled with her health, and weight.

She was also deeply ambivalent about working in Hollywood.

She followed the last Star Wars film with a string of feeble comedies, and didn't help her cause by turning down a few plum parts, including the role of Sarah Connor in Terminator. She was very good as a treacherous friend in Woody Allen's Hannah and her Sisters, and had a decent supporting role in When Harry Met Sally. But by the end of the 1980s, she was no longer an A-list star.

It was writing that came to her rescue. In 1987 she published her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, a thinly fictionalised account of her disastrous childhood. It was later turned into a hit film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.

She has since written a string of successful books, and approaches her checkered movie career with bluff good humour. When she heard about the new Star Wars films, Fisher remarked wryly, "I'm now a Disney princess!"

For all her travails, however, Carrie Fisher fared much better after Star Wars than her co-star Mark Hamill.

A fresh-faced Californian with Swedish heritage, Hamill was plucked from obscurity to play the role of Luke Skywalker, a farmer's son who's destined for big things.

In many ways he was the star of the original Star Wars trilogy, but by the time Return of the Jedi came out he'd become so closely identified with Luke Skywalker that no one wanted to cast him as anything else.

By the mid-80s he found himself unable to find any film work at all, and took to the stage, acquitting himself well in Broadway productions of Amadeus and The Elephant Man.

He's done voice work for various animated TV shows, and written comic book novels. But if he does, as expected, appear in the new Disney Star Wars film, it will be his first major film role in many years. Hamill is philosophical about his career. "You know how there are some stars who know how to market themselves?" he has said. "I don't have that."

Harrison Ford seems to. The oldest of the three Star Wars principals, Ford was in his mid-30s when George Lucas cast him as the dashing space pirate Han Solo. The film was a lifeline for Ford, because his acting career had stalled and he was working as a carpenter and joiner when he first met Lucas.

It could be argued that Ford was the magic ingredient that made the original Star Wars films work. His character's cynicism and wit acted as a refreshing counterpoint to Lucas's sometimes pompous space mysticism.

By the time the first Star Wars trilogy came to an end in 1983, however, Ford was already synonymous with another iconic action character – Indiana Jones, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Since then he's proved himself a remarkably capable leading man in films like Witness, The Fugitive, Clear and Present Danger and Presumed Innocent.

Now 70, Ford has scaled back his film work, and in the past has been dismissive about the possibility of reprising the role of Han Solo.

"I have outgrown that character," he said a few years back. He has clearly been persuaded to change his mind.

pwhitington@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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