What Happens When Your Star Dies?

Last night I watched Furious Seven for the first time. I actually had a marathon of the whole series, even putting Tokyo Drift sixth, because that’s where it belongs chronologically. Last time I did a marathon of the series was in 2012, when there was just up to Fast Five, and I didn’t watch Furious 6 when it came out, so last night was my first time for that one as well. I had been wondering what they were going to do with Brian O’Conner, the late Paul Walker’s character. Last night, I found out, and I loved it.

It goes without saying that this post will contain spoilers.

On 11 September 2003, actor John Ritter passed away shortly after the filming of an episode of 8 Simple Rules. The show was only at the beginning of it’s second season, but was already enough of a hit that it wasn’t immediately cancelled. After a short break, they decided to simply kill off his character and continue. Considering this was a sitcom, and he was the main character, this was a risky move. Sure enough, the show was cancelled after the third season.

My opinion is they should have just ended it when he died. The show was never the same again, and I think the only reason it continued for as long as it did was because people wanted to give them a chance. But they lost a comedy genius and brought in David Spade. While I am a huge fan of David Spade, I don’t think he was a good replacement for John Ritter.

Sometimes simply replacing actors does work, though. Chris Farley had recorded most of his lines for Shrek when he passed away, but the studio felt having the voice of a dead comic as the star of their kids movie was a bit uncomfortable. So, they got Mike Myers. This obviously worked, otherwise we wouldn’t have Shrek: 9al One For Real This Time.

There are two recent instances I want to talk about. Cory Monteith from Glee, and Paul Walker from the Fast & Furious series. Both were handled differently, and both worked.

On 13 July 2013, Glee’s Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose. His character, Finn Hudson, was a major character from the very first episode.The writers decided to kill off the character. While initially it was announced the character would die the same way as the actor, fan backlash led to the cause of death for the character not even being given throughout the rest of the series.

Shortly before Monteith’s death, Fox had renewed the show for two more seasons, season five and six. After his death, the cast and crew didn’t want to do it anymore, but technically had to, so they decided to make season six the final season. The episode the character is paid tribute to, The Quarterback, is probably one of the most emotional things I have ever seen. The reason for this is that no one in that episode is acting, and all shots were done in one take, because the episode was very hard for them to make, as you can imagine. For me, the two most emotional scenes from the episode are when Santana sings “If I Die Young“, and the scene at the end when it finally hits Will Schuester (I’m assuming that’s the right video. I honestly can’t watch it, it’s that emotional. Because, again, not acting!!!)

The death of the character actually works if you watch the series from beginning to end. Obviously, they didn’t know Monteith was going to pass away, but knowing what you know now, it makes sense from a writing prospective that Finn’s character would be the one to die. He’s the one that held them together at the beginning, and he was the one on course to take over the Glee Club. Him dying immortalized him in the eyes of the Glee Club. So that works.

On 30 November 2013, Paul Walker died in a tragic car accident. Filming of Furious Seven was already over half completed, so the studio put a hiatus on the film to figure out what to do. Of course, they decided to write his character, Brian O’Conner, out of the series. It was already being set after Tokyo Drift, which had the death of a major character, so it’d have made sense to kill off Paul Walker’s character, to make it even more dramatic.  They easily could have done that and no one would have thought less of them for it.

But they did not do that. Cody Walker, the younger brother of Paul, filled his place for the remaining scenes. I kept expecting the character to die throughout the movie, and I think they were counting on you expecting that. Every scene features O’Conner inches from death, and he could have died any of those times. But he didn’t. They instead opted to do something different, and in my opinion more emotionally rewarding.

They gave his character a happy ending. At the end of the movie, he’s on the beach, playing with his son, his wife pregnant with their second child. Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) decided that he wanted to let Brian live his life in peace, and walk away. As he drives away O’Conner appears in a separate car so they can race one last time. As they drive, flashbacks to the previous films flash before the screen while Diesel does voiceover. In the end, O’Conner takes a different road, signifying the parting of ways. It was a very good send off, and I feel the best way they could have handled it. They easily could have killed off the character and milked it, but they didn’t, which is why I love those movies.

There will supposedly be a Furious 8, which I’m on the fence about. The ending to Furious Seven was so perfect, I think they should just end it there. At the same time, I love the writing that these movies have, and am curious to see where they take the series next.

What about other series? What if Robert Downy Jr. dies before Marvel can write off Tony Stark? Or if Ray Romano dies before they finish Ice Age 5? Or if Jim Parsons dies before the end of The Big Bang Theory?

Well, let’s just hope we don’t have to find out.

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About Trevor Boot

I’ve been officially writing since 2004, when I was 15, but I started writing for fun now and then in 2001, when I was 12. I mostly wrote short stories and poems, but then in 2008, I wrote my first novel, titled Xangsburgh. Before this, my writing never really had any direction. I would just write independent stories that had no connection with each other, so I always had to start over from scratch. With Xangsburgh, I had a fictional city I could base all my stories in, with the stories building on each other. For me, that made writing easier, because now I don’t have to start from scratch every time. I could use Sheriff Brock without having to introduce him every time. In 2011, I realized I really enjoyed taking pictures. Several of my friends would comment that my pictures were near-professional quality. So on top of my writing, I’m also an amateur photographer. In 2014, I published Xangsburgh, as well as a photo book with some of my favourite photos I have taken, and a book of poems I’ve written between 2001 and 2013.
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