Yesterday, The Wrap reported some exciting news for Star Wars fans. Love him or hate him – most likely the former – JJ Abrams has been tapped to head up the newest entry into George Lucas’ Star Wars universe.
Speculation is at a fever pitch as nerds across the globe try to predict whether or not the next film will be a hit or a failure. Spoiler alert: it’s going to make a jillion dollars no matter how good it is, thereby assuring that you will have to sit through at least two more Abrams directed Star Wars movies, no matter what.
That glaring factoid aside, there’s plenty of reasons to get genuinely excited that the man behind Lost and MI:III (it seems we’re forgetting one . . .) will be in charge of Lucas’ monumental franchise. Not to strike too contradictory a tone, but there’s lots to be scared of, too.
With all that swirling conjecture in mind, here comes our list of things to love (and fear) about JJ Abrams’ newest gig.
Pro – He’s comfortable in sci-fi
Since George Lucas abdicated the throne, JJ Abrams is perhaps the closest thing sci-fi nerds have to a living God (unless you count Joss Whedon). Almost the man’s entire career has been doused in a layer of science fiction goodness. He’s taken audiences from small town aliens to spy thrillers to the deepest reaches of space. Most of the time, he even knows what he’s doing.
Why should this news get you pumped? Because throughout his selective career in the director’s chair, Abrams has proved that he has an abiding love of the genre, and when you’re dealing with sci-fi’s most treasured property (Trekkies, you know it’s true, Star Wars is better), that kind of love and reverence is exactly what fans want to see from the guy in the big chair.
Con – One word: Felicity
You see, most people don’t know that Abrams does have one glaring non awesome credit on his resume, the show that launched his career and inflicted Keri Russell on society: Felicity. Maybe everyone hoping to see Episode VII can use this one as a selling point to any reluctant significant others.
If you don’t remember what Felicity was, just sell like so: “JJ Abrams also did this melodrama about a hapless chick with crimped hair in college or just out of college or – oh, who really cares? People slept with each other and girls liked it, so . . . Star Wars tonight?”
You can keep that one in your pocket for later.
Episodes I – III
Pro – It can’t be worse than Episodes I – III
Come on Star Wars fans, admit it, the three latest additions to the franchise were lackluster. You can try and convince bystanders that they would have made brilliant operas (just think of them with only the action scenes and John Williams’ score), but you know you’re kidding yourself. A little part of you died when Darth Vader stepped off the wrack and cried to the heavens. Vader doesn’t cry to the heavens. He brings them weeping, to their knees.
Oh, they had their high points, for sure, but if you were hoping for anything more than a little fan boy wish fulfillment (Yoda fight!), you were basically out of luck. Fans of Abrams’ work know he’s not going to phone it in like latter day, buck grabbing George Lucas. Speaking of . . .
Pro – George Lucas has totally been marginalized in favor of, you know, filmmakers
No one can argue with Lucas’ legacy. He’s a producer in the classic mold, helping some of the 70’s and 80’s best films and franchises see the light of day. While he was doing that, in his free time, he simply revolutionized the way films use special effects. He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest techies to ever grace a movie set.
But the man is a really crap director. Just check out his imdb page. Of the 19 films he claims credit for directing, 17 of them are either junk or things you’ve never heard of. That means, in his whole astonishing, amazing career, George Lucas has directed two half-way decent films. The first was American Grafitti, which is hardly memorable for anything other than being the film that launched George Lucas’ (and Harrison Ford’s) career. The second, as you most likely know, was a little film set in a galaxy far, far away – which is good, but not remotely the best film in the series.
When Star Wars fans argue over their favorite film, they inevitably argue for one of the two films in the series that Lucas did not direct. So, with the hiring of Abrams, fans have the best chance ever of seeing their beloved series not get screwed up even more than it was in the hands of its creator.
Pro – JJ Abrams knows how to put a story together
That’s another reason it’s so comforting knowing that JJ Abrams is at the helm. George Lucas cares about the bottom line. He cares about finding an audience and putting butts in the seats. JJ Abrams cares about plot and characters.
Alias, Lost, Fringe, all these shows are held together by intricate, operatic plotlines and anchored in reality by deeply written, relatable characters. Further, even when his shows are met with confusion (Lost) or complaints (Fringe), Abrams is renowned (or notorious depending on your perspective) for ignoring his critics and preserving the story at hand. Lots of times, it even works out in the end.
Con – ‘Alias’, ‘Super-8’, and big parts of ‘Fringe’ are straight awful
Sometimes strictly adhering to your idea makes you a champion and sometimes it makes you the man responsible for season 4 of Fringe. The rest of the show is pretty incredible, in case you’re wondering, but then there’s the case of that one, terrible, awful season.
Adding to that atrocity, fans know that JJ Abrams loves him some science fiction (we just said as much a few slides ago). That’s a double edged sword, however. Abrams’ reverence for science fiction and its cinematic masters (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, end of list) has led him into some less-than-appealing territory. Specifically, 2011’s yawntastic Super 8, an overblown love note to Spielberg’s childhood making movies with his super 8 camera.
Pro – Say what you will about the company itself, Disney can do movies good
We could validate the above statement with one silly title: “Walt Disney’s Marvel’s the Avengers”. And why shouldn’t everyone have wanted their name on that movie. It freaking rocked. Unless you’re minus any amount of whimsy, you loved last year’s highest grossing film. You know why? Because Disney buys properties, hires really talented people to work on them, and then drowns them in money.
Corporate greed (and possible racism) aside, this is a fantastic business model for anyone who likes spending time in an alternate Universe. The mouse house might have a slightly shady corporate history, but they brought us Pixar, they’re going to slather us in Marvel goodness, and now they want to bring the same eye for quality to Star Wars. Say that in a way that doesn’t sound miraculous.
Pro – he’s proven he can re-invent an established franchise with positive results
Come on, you knew the Star Trek comparison was coming. While there were some who didn’t care for it, they were in the minority. For the most part, Abrams’ film is considered the best Star Trek film ever made (yes, even better than Wrath of Khan). For a fan base as finicky as Trekkers, that’s high praise.
Add to that Abrams’ ingenuity in creating a fresh Star Trek Universe that allows him to expand (boldly, one might even say) into unknown territory while still relying on the tropes and characters that audiences love, and you’re looking at the potential for a Star Wars that is at once reliable and startlingly original.
Star Trek v. Star Wars
Pro – this generation will have a definitive answer for which one is better, Star Trek or Star Wars
Like music fans deciding the value of Elvis versus the Beatles, so too do nerds have to make a divisive choice in taste: which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars? In years past, this conversation has been mired in unquantifiable minutia. Do you like the philosophical outpourings of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, or do you hew closer to the mythic archetypes in Star Wars.
Having both franchises see a fresh take from the same man, with a script by, most likely, the same scribes (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman write all of Abrams’ stuff), fans of both franchises will only have the weight of their individual franchise’s mythos to decide which takes the prize.
Con – The man can’t direct action scenes (starring lens flare and hand-held camera)
This is a big one. You can’t argue that JJ Abrams knows how to craft a story, that he loves the genre and the characters that inhabit it. Unfortunately, there are some technical gripes that have followed Abrams around throughout his career. One of those, his penchant for lens flare, is well documented.
While we’re terrified about being blinded by the light ricocheting off a lightsaber, what more worrisome is the simple fact that the guy just can’t direct an action scene. It’s clear that he loves action, and is obsessed with getting his audience to feel like they’re actually dodging phaser fire. Sadly, this most often translates into a poorly edited mess of handheld shots that are supposed to look like the Bourne movies without all the precision.
It’s in this area that Abrams might want to tone down the creativity. Star Wars films are action-packed, but by and large, that action is the result of a mostly stationary camera and beautiful choreography playing out like a ballet. It’s not a $200 million movie that looks like it was shot on a Sony Handicam.