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For many fans of the Fast & Furious franchise, it’s going to be strange to see the films move forward without star Paul Walker, who passed away in 2013. While these are the films he’s most known for, there was a time when he was ready to walk away from them.
During a 2011 interview with the LA Times, just after Fast 5 was released and performed better than expected, Walker told the story of how he nearly turned his back on the franchise. He said:
I thought it was stale. They were talking about my involvement with the fourth one and I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Really?' Obviously, we made the first one that catered to pop culture and a youth-driven audience. But trends shift overnight with that audience. Nine years later, I really questioned if there was even an audience anymore.
Despite the fact that Furious 7 made just obscene amounts of money at the box office this past weekend, smashing all kinds of records—there is most definitely still an audience—at the stage where he had these feelings, it’s easy to understand where Walker was coming from. In 2001, The Fast and the Furious was a big hit, the 2003 sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious was less well received, and Walker doesn’t even appear in the third film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
At that point, the franchise did look like it was out of gas. Aside from a Vin Diesel cameo at the end, Tokyo Drift, at the time, had little connection to the rest of the films and felt like a tacked on addendum intended to squeeze any remaining revenue out of the name before putting it to bed. It felt like the end. Paul Walker’s reluctance to sign on for more is understandable, by that point it appeared that it had run its course.
But the greatest trick Fast & Furious ever played was totally reinvigorating the franchise after that. It wasn’t quite a reinvention, but with new director Justin Lin at the helm, and a few inventive tweaks to the timeline, it found a new life, playing to its strengths—fast cars, crazy action, and a cast with obvious chemistry. As a result, the last three installments have easily been the most fun in the series. How many other franchises out there can you legitimately say movies five, six, and seven are the best? That almost never happens.
As Fast & Furious 8 comes down the pipe, reportedly taking the show to New York and beefing up Kurt Russell’s role in the process (and maybe bringing back Eva Mendes, and if there's a god Helen Mirren), it’s going to be weird to watch without Paul Walker riding alongside Vin Diesel. If you haven’t seen Furious 7 yet, and judging by the box office results, most of you have seen it, they handle Walker’s farewell in a very touching, appropriate way, and not at all like you expect. He may have had misgivings about returning to the franchise at one point, but we’re certainly glad he did.