On Thursday came the big news that none other than JJ Abrams would be helming Star Wars VII. Over the weekend, new owner of LucasFilm, Disney, released a statement, confirming the directorial choice making it official. The next Star Wars film will be directed by JJ Abrams and produced by Bad Robot. Cue the droids gone wild jokes. Now that a few days have passed and the news has had time to sink in, here are my thoughts on what the reality of a JJ Abrams Star Wars universe might mean. Like most people, I have some mixed feelings on it. On one hand, Abrams could represent a new hope to a burnt out franchise, but on the other, I have a bad feeling about this.
The Star Trek Issue
Looking at what Abrams has done to Star Trek is both encouraging and worrisome. On the surface, he has done to Trek, exactly what needs to be done to Wars. He took a franchise that had lost a lot of steam and appeal – both from the general public and the fandom – and made it fun again. He kept it feeling Trekkie, but made it something accessible at the same time. Bravo. What I don’t want, though is Star Trek and Star Wars feeling like they are somehow part of the same universe. Trek has always been closer to hard sci-fi and political drama, and Wars is closer to high fantasy than anything else. Abrams blurred the line there a bit when he brought a big shiny action oriented Star Trek to the screen, and if blurs Star Wars towards that middle as well, the two universes might end up feeling a lot alike. I’m not necessarily concerned that people will confuse the two even more than some do already, but that we could end up with one similar, but pretty good, style of space adventure rather than keep the two different and great. This article I came across articulates this point quite well, I think.
JJ Abrams loves nothing more than to create and explore mythology. You only need to watch LOST to realize that he’s quite adept at it, though not so much when it comes to pulling it all together. I’m not sure he’s the type of person who can leave well enough alone. Remember when George Lucas couldn’t leave well enough alone? He took the simple, understandable yet mysterious myth of an all powerful force and turned it into a complex yet unexciting pseudo-scientific thing that involved tiny beings living inside of you. Sounds kind of like Scientology to me, George. I’m deeply afraid that Abrams will run with this, going into the history and origins and life stories of those misunderstood Whoville residents, the Midichlorians. Don’t let them become the new smoke monster.
Part of what made Star Wars so successful was the archetypal characters. None were too complex – they were mostly established hero-types, damsal-types, anti-hero types etc. They were fun but not terribly deep. Unless you get into the Expanded Universe stuff, you really never learn much about them. Abrams loves telling you about the history of characters. Especially through flashbacks. Hopefully, without being at the expense of clear story telling, he will bring some real character development to the Star Wars universe.
While it’s not always present in his work, I think it’s safe to say that Abrams has an affinity for time travel. As far as I’m aware, that’s an element that is not part of the Star Wars mythology. If he wants to use it to go back and somehow negate the prequels, though, I think I’d be ok with it.
Abrams is a big fan of Star Wars – by his own admission, much more so than of Star Trek. It’s always a good thing to have someone who cares about a franchise take it over. He will have nothing but good intentions for where he carries this story, which can only be a good thing.
After all is said and done, Disney paid a lot of money to be able to make this movie, and plans to make many more after. They already have some top notch talent scripting the story and I can only assume they have a pretty clear vision for where things are going. Their experience with Marvel, planning things out years in advance, is going to come in handy here and they are going to do everything in their massive power to make sure that their new project is as successful as possible. That’s why I don’t think Abrams will have much flexibility with the story and where he takes this movie. I don’t think Disney will let him. At least not on the first one. I think that’s a good thing. There is an audience out there for gritty, risk taking, R-rated, niche-filling, out-there Star Wars films. I think Disney will try to appeal to those crowds, eventually. For now, they are going to play it safe and they’re going to make sure their director plays by their rules.
You know what? Every director has techniques he likes to use and even overuse. Get over it already.