WRITER’S NOTE: This is a commentary on the selection of writer-director J.J. Abrams to helm the seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise.
When news was confirmed about the choosing of a director for the next Star Wars film, it had been nearly eight years since the last movie of the franchise. 2005’s Episode III had seen Anakin Skywalker finally turn to the Dark Side as Darth Vader, setting the stage for what would have been the famous adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the Galactic Empire. The creator of the franchise, George Lucas, has decided to no longer be the guide for audiences into the universe he created. Even though Lucas (who directed the financially successful but critically derided Prequel Trilogy) wasn’t going to run the ship, he would still have the final say in who would take his place.
Lucas’ spot would go to a highly-established force in film and television, with success in different genres in both worlds.
J.J. Abrams is best known for his television acclaim – co-creating some of the most highly-acclaimed series in the last 20 years: notably the college drama Felicity, the action-oriented Alias, the epic adventure work Lost and the sci-fi drama Fringe. In the 1990s and 2000s, Abrams co-wrote and/or co-produced notable films as the Harrison Ford drama Regarding Henry, the blockbuster adventure Armageddon, and the found-footage thriller Cloverfield. He also found time to write and direct a box-office hit in the drama Super 8, produced by Steven Spielberg.
In 2006, Abrams took over a franchise when he wrote and directed Mission: Impossible 3, with Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt. The film was a critical and box office hit, but may have had difficulty becoming a bigger success due to Cruise’s off-screen behavior at the time – from publicly professing his love for Katie Holmes to an on-air standoff with Today Show host Matt Lauer over Scientology. Despite the mixed results, Abrams would produce the fourth film in the series, 2011’s worldwide smash Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Before looking to the Star Wars franchise for another entry in his filmography, Abrams would step into another science-fiction saga for a reboot. In 2009, he wrote and directed Star Trek – with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as younger versions of Kirk and Spock in a time frame that would have taken place before the days of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The critical and commercial impact of this return to the days of the Federation would lead to the launch of an upcoming sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness.
If the reaction to Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy is enough proof, the universe of Star Wars fans may be one of those factions who are hard to please. The critical and commercial derision of those three films – along with the later tinkering Lucas instituted on the original trilogy – may have caused those fans to wonder if a seventh film was even needed. Yet with Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, the opportunity for a new trilogy – and perhaps a fresh start without Lucas’ full imprint all over – started to simmer.
Star Wars fans may take solace in knowing J.J. Abrams is stepping on board to direct the seventh film. The multi-talented wunderkind has proven he could work his magic in several different genres, but action and science-fiction stories seem to be right up his alley. Yet this is a key note for Star Wars fans: Abrams has given new life to two legendary franchises, opening Star Trek and Mission: Impossible to new generations around the world. Even for those fans who are not die-hards for the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader and the rest of the Star Wars universe, his track record could be enough to entice them to give the new trilogy an opportunity to stand out.
Rebooting film franchises isn’t an easy accomplishment – for every return for James Bond, Star Trek and even Rocky, there is also needless chapters from The Matrix, Jurassic Park and The Fast and the Furious (can you say Tokyo Drift?). Yet the world of Star Wars and its fans will have the opportunity to see if another voice can guide the franchise – away from the long-running reign of its original force. With George Lucas stepping aside for J.J. Abrams, could that new voice be enough to rise to the occasion and give fanboys a reason to embrace a potential new vision? With his track record, Abrams will get a deserved opportunity to leave them impressed – and looking forward to the inevitable next two chapters.