The Case Against J.J. Abrams Directing Episode VII

· Films & Video Games

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for all my life. Like everyone else, I’ve seen my favorite franchise suffer from one self-inflicted injury after another at the hands of an obsessive compulsive deranged billionaire. From the moment Greedo fired the first shot to videogame cancers like The Force Unleashed, it felt like marveling at a gorgeous statue – whose imperfections only make it more beautiful, only to find the sculptor still chiseling and chiseling until the former beauty and glory exists only in memory and what stands before you is nothing more than an engorged and hollowed out monstrosity bearing the same name as the thing you hold dear to your heart.

When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars film franchise from Lucasfilm and announced that they would make a new trilogy, starting with Episode VII, as well as an independent (spinoff?) franchise of Star Wars films at the same time, separate from the trilogy, I was actually excited.

Episode VIIIt felt like a fresh start, a chance to something new and creative; perhaps return to the roots of Star Wars’ greatness and present opportunity to the next generation to become Star Wars fans themselves.

For a while, it seemed like they were doing everything right. They brought Lawrence Kazdan back to write Episodes VIII and IX. They brought Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) to write Episode VII. They said George Lucas would NOT direct the movies. And they deliberated over a list of directors for a long time.

Notable directors on that list included Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class), Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), and Rian Johnson (Looper). Any one of those choice would have been great.

Instead, the job was presented to J.J. Abrams, creator of sci-fi/mystery thriller TV series and infamous lens flare addict (on par with Michael Bay). Abrams, at first, turned it down. Then about a month later, he accepted. Gee, I wonder what changed $ his $ mind…$$$$$.

That’s the first problem. No individual should ever have to be bribed into accepting a job directing something as notoriously beloved as Star Wars. It’s not just another job. This is the kind of project you lend aid to because you have an actual vision to bring to life.

Star Wars lens flaresStar Wars is a moneymaking machine like no other. The prequels proved that no matter how terrible a movie it is, it’s going to sell if it has the brand name Star Wars attached to it. What made it great in the first place was the fact that it was revolutionary. George Lucas went big and bold or he went home. Abrams is the opposite. He’s safe… uninteresting. He won’t do anything to royally screw up the franchise. But he won’t elevate it either. And Star Wars is not something you play a safe card on, especially after all the money Disney has spent acquiring the rights to it.

Now, I don’t hate J.J. Abrams. I liked Mission Impossible III a lot. I respect his work on Lost and Alias, and heck, I even liked his 2009 Apple-store reboot of the Star Trek franchise. And I’m looking forward to the next one.

I can even picture some of Abrams’ directing sensibilities working well with certain aspects of Star Wars. He does mystery very well and knows how to market nostalgia.

But that’s the second problem. Super 8 is a good movie, but its sole purpose is to remind us that E.T. is an even better movie. If the pattern of Abrams’ filmography is to tell us anything about the man’s directing notions, it would not be outlandish to presume that Abrams’ version of Episode VII will do its part to ensure that we be reminded of how awesome the original Star Wars trilogy is.

After bad special editions, bad prequels, bad videogames, and bad DVD changes, WE DO NOT NEED TO BE REMINDED THAT THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS TRILOGY IS AWESOME.

Some Star Wars fans remain on their high horse and have vowed to never be happy ever again, no matter how great the next item turns out to be. But for the rest of us, the dead horse franchise pummeling has grievously lowered our expectations to the point that the next Star Wars film need only be better than Episode II for us to finally be happy. Not three months ago, we were given news that brought more excitement and anticipation than the presidential election.

Yet the best they seemingly could come up with was to recruit a second rate writer/director to reignite the biggest science fiction franchise in history.

Now I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu beacuse now we come to the third problem. The director of the first film intended to breathe life back into the biggest sci-fi franchise in history should not be the same person who directed the first film intended to breathe life back into the other biggest sci-fi franchise in history.

For better or for worse, Abrams is inseparably tied to the Star Trek franchise. By itself, that ought to destroy his candidacy. Not because nothing associated with Star Trek can ever be associated with Star Wars; but because the situation is too similar. And yet the franchises are almost opposite.

Star Trek, while dark and serious in many parts, bases itself on an inherently optimistic premise – that in the future, humanity will sort out all of its problems and civilization will eliminate poverty and hunger. From there, we have nowhere to go except back to space. So off to space we go. The possibilities are endless.

Conversely, Star Wars is a show set in the past. Oh sure, it looks futuristic and awesome, but the films have politically allegorical and deep philosophical components that are essential to making them work. The original trilogy is a mythic representation of man verses institution. It’s more immediate and passionate, but it’s still a subject with a different breed of intelligence.

Star Trek Star Wars

The idea of two massive polar opposite franchises that are Star Trek and Star Wars processing through the same creative filter, when there are so many others to choose from, is an unconscionably bad one.

More importantly, going back to the pattern of J.J. Abrams’ filmography, he has shown no signs of comprehension or reception to the greater and more intellectual themes that Star Wars requires. This is not a job you can give to just anyone, not even someone who directed some sci-fi/mystery movies that did well at the box office. Don’t forget about what happened to the X-Men film franchise the moment they recruited a safe and careless director (Brett Ratner) to take the helm for X3.

Abrams Star WarsFilms can survive bad structure, bad sound, bad special effects, and even bad acting. But it can’t survive a director who doesn’t understand or is ill-suited to the material – particularly material like Star Wars. J.J. Abrams, while versatile in his talents, and by no means a bad director, is not a good enough choice to direct a film that will require the kind of unique intellectual passion that Star Wars requires. We have it in us to demand better.

They say that as of now, J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII is a “done deal”. For the sake of the film… and the franchise, I really hope not.

–        Vivek

P.S. There’s a chance, that Episode VII turns out to be awesome and for Abrams to be the one to credit for it, in which case I would be forced to eat my words. Should that happen, I will happily admit that I was wrong and will likely never doubt Abrams again.

2 Comments

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  1. Nick Powell

    I agree completely on your thoughts and even though I’m not a Star Wars fan, the thought of him completely rehashing something as a reminder of the past is a bad sign. I really wish that Disney brought in someone that’s not the biggest fan of the franchise, that way a new eye and direction could be the filter. I know you wrote this before ST2 came out, but after that, I’m even more worried we’ll just get the same thing as before, but “twisted” the slightest to appear original. How that fits into the Star Wars universe I am not entirely sure, but it’s definitely something to be fearful of. You and I had plenty of words on Abrams online, and I’m pretty sure we feel the same way.

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