Episode VII was initially announced for summer (presumably May) 2015, but word on the street was that, as pre-production progressed and Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams rewrote Michael Arndt’s draft script, Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy approached Disney CEO Bob Iger for a May 2016 release date instead. Iger compromised and gave them a December 2015 date. And that was the end of that.
Except that then Harrison Ford broke his leg during filming, requiring up to six months to recover. Latino Review are today claiming that Abrams and Kennedy have approached Iger once more, looking again for a May 2016 release date. Iger, who had given the pair an extension already, this time flatly said no.
So here are my thoughts…
Firstly, December 18, 2015 is still doable. Consider the situation with the Marvel films:
- Guardians of the Galaxy started filming 13 months prior to its release this August
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier started filming 12 months prior to release
- Thor: The Dark World started filming 14 months prior to release
- Iron Man 3 started filming 12 months prior to release
- Marvel’s The Avengers started filming 13 months prior to release
And if you want a character created using performance capture, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes began filming 15 months before its release next month.
Abrams could recommence shooting in November this year and still make the December 2015 deadline. Star Wars is no longer the massive undertaking it used to be—current blockbusters have essentially been doing the special effects R&D work that used to be folded into the production schedule of the Star Wars films. And besides, the effects can continue to be worked on while filming is halted.
But that’s not the only problem here. Suspending filming for, say, five months is costly. So Abrams may need to grit his teeth and go back to concepts from the Arndt draft (such as a reduced role for Ford) if he doesn’t want costs to blow out. Another compromise may be needed, in other words: extend production by a couple of months, tweak the script, cut Ford’s role down slightly (but don’t write him out altogether), use doubles, etc. to get things ticking along in the meantime and make the December 2015 release. This sounds slightly crazy, but technology has progressed so far that a mix of CGI techniques and script tweaks should result in a film very close to what was intended.
The original trilogy had dramas related to time and financial constraints that caused great stress for George Lucas. On the other hand, The Phantom Menace took four-and-a-half years to make. I trust Kennedy to know how long they actually need to make Episode VII, but we haven’t been privy to her conversations with Iger, and for all we know, they both agreed to a strategy that will ensure that Episode VII is still a great movie while also meeting the 2015 commitment.
We may not get the movie they were intending to make, but we might just get the movie that was meant to be. It could be better for the creativity needed to make this work. And in the right hands, serendipity can be a wonderful thing.