The world came to a halt yesterday as word trickled out that J.J. Abrams was close to a deal to direct Star Wars: Episode VII. We’ve yet to hear any confirmation from Disney or Lucasfilm or Abrams himself (who told EW in December he’d turned down the job), so come Monday all the words spent poring over this development could be ultimately futile and we’ll all look very silly. But that’s never stopped a good outpouring of internet hyperbole before, so why should it now?
What’s most puzzling about some of the more negative reactions to the news is the seeming about-face many are taking with regards to Abrams’ handling of Star Trek. Last I checked, people were generally pretty positive about the film. There was some grumbling about the convoluted time travel device and the villains’ rather nonsensical scheme, but it wasn’t any more convoluted or nonsensical than what you’d find on a typical episode of the original series, and for the most part, the consensus seemed to be it was a fun romp with a ton of likeable characters who all got their moments to shine. Now what other franchise does that remind me of…
Now, though, it’s, “Oh, he ruined one franchise, now he’s going to ruin another.” And I’m just not seeing where he supposedly ruined Trek. In fact, the thing Abrams did with Trek that bothered a lot of purists — tossing the original timeline to basically reset the franchise — is precisely what gives me a good feeling about his involvement with Star Wars. He wasn’t afraid to go against expectations in the pursuit of what was best for his vision of a Star Trek film. He didn’t feel beholden to any backlog of continuity, or any set of demands from nit-picky fans. And yet he still managed to create a film that was true to the spirit of Trek, while feeling like its own thing rather than a simple homage.
Granted, no one’s asking him to reboot Star Wars. In fact, he’ll be asked to pick up a story that’s been sitting dormant since 1983, at least in cinematic terms; the new movies will be thankfully avoiding the vast uneven terrain of the Expanded Universe. But what he can do is bring a fresh perspective. He can offer a look from the outside to a series that has been suffering from a case of isolationism ever since George Lucas fired up the prequel machine. He may not be allowed to re-invent the formula, but he can certainly bring some new life to how that formula is presented.
Sure, the script for Super 8 was kind of a mess, but Abrams won’t be handling the script for the new Star Wars film. Oh, I’m sure he’ll have some input, but Disney seems to be very set on Abrams being the director, not the sole creative force. I hesitate to call him a director-for-hire here, but it feels more like he’s on board for his visual style and ability to work with a large cast of characters rather than his script-writing sensibilities. His stories may not always be up to snuff, but he sure does know how to tell them.
And I know people love to joke about the lens flares. Look at the image up top and you’ll see I’m in on the gag too. But think about it: Star Trek was always about a sleek, high-tech future, whereas Star Wars was always a more lived-in universe. Maybe he’ll leave the flares to Trek and tone it down for the much more subdued Star Wars palette.
But the thing that has me feeling the most positive about the possibility of Abrams on Star Wars is the nine-minute preview of Star Trek: Into Darkness that run in front of IMAX showings of The Hobbit. Because honestly, it’s the most Star Wars-y thing I’ve seen on a big screen in a long time. It’s got action, pacing, spectacle, and humor that comes from the characters rather than at their expense. Obviously, we’ll have to see if that gets sustained throughout the length of the new Trek film, but that glimpse certainly felt promising, both on the Trek and Wars fronts.
Abrams wouldn’t have been my first choice — I would still love to see Kenneth Branagh or Matthew Vaughn tackle one of these — but he’s not the first Horseman of the Apocalypse either. Yes, he can be maddening with his secrecy and his mis-direction, but I doubt he’ll be allowed to get away with that here; Disney will be beating the drum on this thing from the earliest possible opportunity. Provided Michael Arndt can deliver a solid script, I believe Abrams can turn it into an entertaining Star Wars movie. If not, well, we’ve gotten used to disappointment over the years.