Jason at Making Star Wars has posted a very credible overview of Luke Skywalker’s arc in Episode VII, and all I can say is, “Wow!”
Without giving anything but the premise away, it seems Luke has been absent for many years, and he is now a changed man. This is absolutely the Luke we know from the original trilogy—or at least a fair (but interesting and complex) extrapolation of the character—but definitely not the static hero from the (now defunct) expanded universe.
The key in understanding this is the third phase of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. At first you have the departure from your ordinary world (Star Wars: A New Hope), followed by an initiation into a new way of being (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi); notably, the initiation phase can include an “atonement with the father”, which is really where the movies left off in 1983.
But the question then becomes, how do you return to the world of everyday, ordinary experience when you’ve been so radically transformed by the initiation? Do you learn how to marry the ordinary with the extraordinary, or do you turn your back on the everyday world of regular concerns and simply live outside the realm of mere mortals?
That seems to be the theme of Episode VII, and it really is the untold third act in this mythic space opera. My sense is that, while the prequel films weren’t necessary to understand the original trilogy, they do inform the sequel trilogy and Luke’s struggle to find the whole in the two halves of his life. Does he succeed where his father initially failed? Or is he already too far gone after all this time?
That said, this will be a true sequel to Jedi. The prequels, in a sense, will be mostly treated like tie-in material, adding further depth to the film but no knowledge of them will be needed to enjoy this new episode.
And then we have the new heroes, whose story is being told simultaneously, interlocking with Luke’s story, just as Luke’s story interlocked with Anakin’s (and Obi-Wan’s). By all accounts, this is a wonderful story that weaves all these threads together in the spirit of A New Hope and Empire. There’ll be both an honouring of the past and a moving towards the future as we see new sights, meet new friends and face new foes, all while reuniting with old friends in the process.
And that’s why, I feel, Anthony Daniels is so confident about Episode VII (as are many other people who are working on the film). It’ll be hard for it to be better than Empire simply because we’ll never recapture that moment in time. But maybe we’ll get an Empire for the 21st century: a film that delivers more Star Wars without delivering more of the same—a film that delivers mystery, wonder, pathos, adventure and excitement without treading old ground.
Maybe Episode VII is the true “new hope”…