Wars Trek: Eight Thoughts on JJ Abrams directing ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

JJ Abrams Star Wars Episode VII
1: I’m surprised that it’s actually happening. My first reaction to the rumours that JJ Abrams might be directing Star Wars: Episode VII was “That’s weird.” My second was “Didn’t he say he’d turned it down?” My third, eventually, was “I bet this is one of those rumours that turns out to be false.” Just occasionally, it seems the Internet can prove me wrong.

2: It’s a choice that’s simultaneously understandable, a little odd, and almost a little too obvious. Alongside Joss Whedon, Abrams was one of the first directors touted by fans for Star Wars, simply because of his 2009 Trek reboot, which almost immediately seemed to make him unlikely to do it. He’s proved himself able to handle a big, technically complex blockbuster with heavy levels of special effects. He’s also able to handle character well, something not every candidate could manage (Hello, Zack Snyder). The fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot shared so much storytelling DNA with Star Wars makes this all feel like one of those fandom wish-fulfilment “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if ****** got to direct it?” dreams that’s somehow spilled out into reality. But he’s signed. It’s official.

3: The countdown begins now to the point where Disney announce a release date shift from 2015 to 2016. Abrams is still in post-production on Star Trek: Into Darkness, and then he’ll have major press commitments around the release. If the 2015 release is stuck to, that gives him just over two years for all the pre-production, shooting the film, and the post-production – for a blockbuster, that’s a pretty tight turnaround, and while they can be made to a tight schedule, the end results often aren’t pretty. Many blockbusters have been ruined by sticking to a release date over everything (often meaning that shooting starts without a script in place), but with so much riding on this, I’m pretty sure Disney aren’t going to force Abrams to rush what’s likely to be an epic production schedule (especially in terms of post-production and CGI effects work). I’d also lay bets on that being part of the deal – I doubt Abrams would have signed to do something like this if he didn’t also get the power to do it *right*.

4: He’s a fan. It’s one of the resons he quoted for originally turning it down, but Abrams is a dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fan, which means anyone worrying about Episode VII being slathered in lens-flare can probably relax. I’m sure it’ll look slick as hell, but I also suspect he’s going to stick a lot closer to the visual style of the original movies. Not being a fan of Trek before he hopped onboard the reboot meant he went about reviving the franchise in a very deliberate way (admittedly, one I didn’t always agree with), giving it a very new and fresh identity, with aspects of the classic version of Trek woven in. I suspect Abrams’s Star Wars will be a lot more faithful to what’s come before.

5: He’s capable of being an amazing director, but Abrams has yet to make a film I’ve wholeheartedly loved. Mission: Impossible III is great fun, but light as a feather and essentially plays as a feature-length episode of Alias (Abrams’s hilariously convoluted female-led TV spy-saga) with Tom Cruise as a lead, a blockbuster budget, and fewer over-the-top costumes and wigs. Star Trek is great fun, but has a plot that shatters into pieces if you so much as breathe on it, and also sacrifices a bit *too* much of Trek’s sense of intellectual SF adventure in favour of wham-bam action and STUFF! BLOWING! UP! Super 8 is frustratingly close to being an outstanding movie – when it’s being a homage to the Amblin movies that Abrams grew up with, it’s heartfelt, beautifully played and genuinely moving. However, when it veers left into Stephen King territory, it ends up drowning out the quieter (and stronger) emotional content in favour of horror-movie shocks, an alien that’s both an evil chomp-monster and a misunderstood tragic figure, and even more STUFF! BLOWING! UP! It’s especially frustrating when Abrams’s television work has almost always been stunning – especially the pilot episode of ‘Lost’, which still stands up as an awesome and adventurous piece of television. I’m hoping that maybe taking on Star Wars will make Abrams push that little bit further, and produce something that really does pay off the talent and storytelling I saw in all those jaw-dropping early episodes of Alias.

6: Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens, Star Trek) are not writing this film, and I can’t begin to describe how happy this makes me – especially as they seemed joined at the hip with Abrams. Other people are worried at the idea that Damon Lindelof may get involved thanks to his Abrams connection, a worry mainly rooted in him getting lots of the blame for people’s disappointment with Prometheus – but (a) most of the blame for Prometheus’s undeniable flaws have to be piled at Ridley Scott’s door, and (b) screenwriter Michael Arndt is already at work, and if whatever he’s done is presumably good enough to play into changing Abrams’s mind, I’m hopeful that we may be in good hands. (And whatever happens, any of the screenwriters will have to work very hard to best some of the insanely creaky writing in the prequels).

7: Thanks to a rumour that directorial contender Matthew Vaughan would have cast Chloe Moretz in a pivotal role, it’s very possible that there’s a significant role for a young female lead. If Abrams isn’t on the phone to his Super 8 star Elle Fanning right now, then the man’s a fool…

8: Ultimately, I can live with JJ Abrams directing Star Wars, but it doesn’t fill me with an immense surge of excitement either. We’ll get a damn efficient crowd-pleasing SF blockbuster, and I can almost guarantee there’ll be a sense of character and life back in the celluloid Star Wars universe that hasn’t been there for a while, but there’s still no guarantees that it’s going to be anything other than a pretty SF blockbuster with kick-ass setpieces. Abrams is unlikely to serve up a turkey, but he isn’t the bold and interesting or left-field choice they could have gone for, and he isn’t a director with an approach I would absolutely love to see tackle a Star Wars movie. (I know it’s a foolish dream and it’s ultra-unlikely to happen, but a Star Wars film directed by David Fincher would send my inner geek into meltdown). But I do think Abrams is a solid choice, and there’s potential for greatness there (as well as the potential for it all to go a bit wrong, as well). Whatever happens, despite previous disappointments, the prospect of new Star Wars movies still has me intrigued. For now, there’s life in the old Saga yet…

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