In the wake of actor Paul Walker’s untimely death back in November, the team behind his calling card blockbuster Fast and Furious franchise was stuck with the unfortunate task of deciding the future of the series while still mourning one of their stars. The car crash that claimed Walker’s life happened during a holiday break, with the Fast and Furious 7 cast and crew slated to return for more filming the following week, ensuring that the nasty business of actual business was going to have to infringe on the worse business of mourning. Basically – it may be crass to talk money and timing after someone dies, but deciding the fate of the billion-dollar franchise is also hugely important to the livelihood of hundreds of people involved with the series.
After weeks of back and forth, buzz, and chatter, it seems as if Universal and the rest of the Fast team have decided on a course of action that’s respectable to Walker’s memory, feasible for the production team, and compelling for the franchise’s fan. Is it the best thing Universal could do in the face of Walker’s death? Well, yes.
While still processing the news of Walker’s car accident, the Fast team reportedly met to discuss the future of the franchise. At the time, rumors that the entire film could be tossed out were met with a quite firm “no” – the show would go on, but no one knew exactly how. As our own Scott Beggs noted at the time, “the difficulty they face in proceeding without Walker is multifaceted. Obviously he was a large presence in the story, but the vehicular nature of his death also complicates (and potentially limits) what [director James] Wan and company will be able to do both concerning the story and the marketing while remaining respectful to the actor’s memory and his surviving family.”
As the team hashed out the new direction of the film, it seemed inevitable that it would be moved off its summer 2014 release date – and it was, eventually being pushed all the way to April of 2015, adding over eight months to its creation time. So what could take the majority of a year to fit into a film? Not a death – something far more cheery (well, relatively speaking).
THR reports that Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, will not be killed off, removed from, or just not mentioned in the new film – he will be “retired.” The cop turned badass car racer turned heist co-conspirator will appear in the seventh film in the franchise (Walker has starred in six of the seven Fast films, matching him with co-star Vin Diesel, who has also starred in or at least popped up in six of seven films), before being “retired” during the course of the film. The outlet shares that director Wan, screenwriter Chris Morgan, and “the studio will tweak the script and add scenes so footage of the late actor’s Brian O’Conner character can still be used — but the franchise can continue.”
As of now, “the plan is to ‘retire’ the character in a way that the studio hopes will satisfy fans of the franchise and make use of the existing footage of Walker.” Walker’s character will “remain a part of the story,” but with “tweaks” put into place that give Brian a graceful exit while still pushing the seventh film in the franchise (and the franchise as a whole) forward. Considering that Walker’s character recently became a father in the series and that the stunts and heists the crew have taken on have steadily amped up over time, it should be easy enough to write an exit for Brian that feels organic and realistic, though we expect it will also come with some serious emotional payoff.
THR also reports that “the changes will require some additional scenes to be written and shot, but the eight-month delay of release provides plenty of time.” So, yes, the franchise remains intact and safe, and 2015 will feature one hell of a new Fast feature.
Though it’s easy to scoff at the artificiality of Hollywood and its relationships, the outpouring of love for Walker was palatable, and it doesn’t seem as if anyone involved with the franchise took this decision lightly. We look forward to seeing Walker’s final spin with the crew come 2015.
Fast and Furious 7 will open on April 10, 2015.