Early on in the Star Wars VIII production, director Rian Johnson discussed some of the movies that he pulled influence from while writing the script. The two that were biggest influences were 12 O’Clock High and Letters Never Sent. Unfortunately I have not gotten around to watching Letters Never Sent, but I have seen 12 O’Clock High. Knowing that this is one of the movies influencing Star Wars VIII, let’s launch into speculative territory and figure out what it tells us about the movie.
Possible speculative spoilers to follow
12 O’Clock High came out in 1949 and told the story of a fictional B-17 bomber group in England during World War II. Colonel Keith Davenport commands the group. The men of the group love and respect Davenport whose command style focuses on spending time with the men. However, because Davenport is so close to his men, he fails to discipline them, leading the group to rapidly become ineffective. High Command replaces Davenport with General Frank Savage (wonderfully played by Gregory Peck) who clamps down on the group. The men despise Savage, but become one of the most effective groups in the theater. Overtime Savage warms up the men, but during a mission over Germany becomes catatonic from the stress and PTSD.
The movie is an interesting movie, especially for the 40s. While most war movies at the time featured brave, infallible soldiers, 12 O’Clock High showed characters who were gradually worn down by the pressures of the war. It is possibly the first post-war movie to really examine PTSD and what combat can do to a person. The movie was so realistic that the United States armed forces used it as a training tool.
In the movie we see two different styles of leadership. Davenport’s style is good for the men, but bad for the war effort and bad for the commander. He becomes so close to the men that he no longer is fit for command. Savage’s style is bad for morale, but effectively distances the commander from his men, which is something that must happen in a war setting. Ultimately both styles have their positives and negatives, and it is up to the viewer to decide which one is better.
What does this tell us about Star Wars VIII.
Early leaks have revealed that one of the new cast members, Laura Dern, will play a Resistance commander who has it out for Poe Dameron. This implies that Leia Organa will end up incapacitated in some way early in the movie, especially since that would mirror 12 O’Clock High. In The Force Awakens we saw that Leia was very personally involved with the troops under her command and took on a motherly role for them, similar to Colonel Davenport. I suspect that this closeness gets her injured or mentally unfit early on. Not only would this allow new characters to come to the foreground, it would also put less focus on Carrie Fisher’s acting, which is not at its best.
With Leia out of the way, Laura Dern’s character can take command of the Resistance. I suspect that she will be a hard-line commander similar to General Savage. She will probably have it out for Poe Dameron, viewing him as brash and insubordinate. In 12 O’Clock High, Savage assigns all the problem crew to one B-17 named Leper Colony. Dern’s character might do a similar thing to Dameron’s Black Squadron, sending it out on dangerous missions and viewing it as a problem squadron.
By the end of the movie I bet that Dern’s character gets overwhelmed by the pressures or killed, leaving command of the Resistance open to Poe. This would be a good character arc for Poe. In The Force Awakens he did not have much of an arc and I would like to see him grow in this movie. Having him take command of the Resistance would give him an arc of accepting his responsibility, mirroring the path that both Finn and Rey are taking.
Besides the thematic elements, Johnson using 12 O’Clock High as an influence shows us that we should expect some sweet space battles. 12 O’Clock High was also influential in its depiction of aerial combat, using real footage of bombing missions inter-cut with cockpit shots of the characters. Johnson has already tweeted an image of an X-wing set with a pilot in it.
The markings on the pilot’s helmet are not Poe’s, but are this character’s:
So it looks like we are going to see Black Squadron back in action. Hopefully that means we are going to see some bigger battles than just an X-wing vs. TIE Fighter dogfight. There is no reason for me to believe that this is going to happen other than inferences from Johnson’s film influences. Also I just want a big space battle.
We might also get to see a real view of what war does to people. This has always been missing from Star Wars. Even in Empire Strikes Back, the darkest of the original trilogy, we never get the impression that fighting the Empire is much of a strain on the main characters. Even after suffering a withering defeat at Hoth, Han and Leia go right back to making sarcastic quips at each other. They never seem too effected by the war. Hopefully in Star Wars VIII we will get to see what war and PTSD does to people, especially our main characters.
Those are my theories. We will see what actually happens come December 2017. Until now, get pumped for Rogue One.