The original Star Wars trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) were Episodes IV, V, and VI -- the middle portion of what we assumed would be an epic three-trilogies saga. Now, for good or bad, George Lucas has at least given us the first three Episodes of his story (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). But will we ever live to see Episodes VII, VIII, and IX?
I've already written about my growing distaste for Star Wars adventures set in the Prequel Era. Lucas has allowed the continuation of the post-Return of the Jedi storyline in comic books, video games, and "Expanded Universe" novels. But there are no public plans for more live-action Star Wars films, at least in the foreseeable future.
If those movies ever do become a reality, what would their story be? All fans have speculated about that. My friend Vin forwarded me a great article from IGN.com that imagines what that final trilogy might be.
Personally, I always envisioned the concluding Episodes to follow the structure of the"monomyth" or "Hero's Journey" that Joseph Campbell wrote about in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which Lucas has frequently mentioned as an influental source for his mythic tales. The basic premise of the journey is evident in countless myths, religious tales, and modern adventures. You can read a good summary of it on Wikipedia and many other places (but do yourself a favor and read Campbell's original book.)
Although there are many elements in the "Hero's Journey" (all of which can be found in Star Wars, as well as The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Rocky, The Godfather, and countless other modern tales that have achieved mythic status), I see a simple variation of it repeated in the Star Wars trilogies: Discovery, Trial by Fire, and Return.
I talked a little bit about it in my essay about the Circle Theory in which I briefly examine the frequent circle motif in the Star Wars saga. I always thought of it as an intentional choice by Lucas -- part of his Campbellian inspiration. Basically, the protagonist discovers his true calling and sets off on his journey (Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy, Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy), then faces a coming-of-age trial of challenges (Anakin in the Clone Wars and Luke in his tribulations in Empire Strikes Back), concluding with a climactic transformation (or "return" -- Anakin turning into the Sith Lord Darth Vader and Luke turning into a full-fledge Jedi Knight).
So I anticipate that a third Star Wars trilogy, if it ever happens, will focus on another Skywalker (maybe a child of Anakin's daughter Leia and Han Solo, or a descendent of Luke) who also will follow the "Hero's Journey." And, if my Circle Theory is correct, it makes sense for the overall saga to have three trilogies. When viewed together, the nine movies would be a "monomyth" about Darth Vader -- the prequels are about his discovery, the middle trilogy is about his trial by fire, which means the last three movies could deal in some way with his "return" and heroic redemption (hinted at in the end of Return of the Jedi.) I'm envisioning a brand new tale that shakes the saga to its foundation, like the big revelation in Empire Strikes Back added a whole new scope and dimension to the story. (Of course, I was hoping for a similar shake-up in the prequels, which never really materialized.)
As George Lucas now focuses on television with his Clone Wars cartoons and his upcoming live action prequel TV series, (plus all the other franchised games, books, and merchandise in his LucasFilms empire), I still fear that we may never see another live action Star Wars movie. Lucas made an appearance on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. He made a reference during the interview that I felt was a window into his soul. He said something like he never expected Star Wars to get this big and pretty much take over his life. I honestly think he thought he'd have a multi-faceted career, making a bunch of movies like his peers and friends, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg. But now, Star Wars is the bulk of his life, his fortune, and his legacy. During the interview he joked that it's not a bad thing, but the subtext was there that he's almost bored with it and maybe this isn't the path he expected or even wanted. (I argue that nothing is stopping him from making those other films he might still want to make.)
I shared this thought with Vin and he replied via email: "You're right because he always says he's done with Star Wars and wants to make experimental stuff or historical stuff, yet he doesn't. What's stopping him? He's actually gotten himself to a point where I think people believe he's not a talented director...but just watch American Graffitti again. He's a great storyteller. I think in the case of Star Wars he needs to relinquish some control because the movies are too big and complex for one person to manage, let alone all the other stuff involved. And if he wants total control over something he should make smallish movies that are great, compelling stories that he can write and direct...probably rather cheaply, too. But at least something that is manageable for one person if that's what he craves."
I hope George Lucas has it in him to give us one more trilogy, and I hope he allows other talented filmmakers to share their skills, vision, and imagination like he did with Indiana Jones and the original Star Wars trilogy. The mistake he's making is thinking that Star Wars is just for kids. Kids will love it, that's a given. He just needs to embrace his original passion for the story and tell it, without worrying about the marketing elements, whether the characters will translate well as toys, whether the scenes will work when adapted for videogames, and other nonsense that has bogged down and dehumanized his epic.
I want to see Lucas conclude the Star Wars myth in style through a kickass, mindblowing final movie trilogy. I hope I live to see it.