It’s getting close to a year since the announcement of the Star Wars franchise being bought up by Disney and a little over six months since J.J. Abrams was announced to be the director of the upcoming Episode VII. Since these and other announcements seem to now be set in stone after a recent rumor of his departure has been shot down, it’s high time to admit I find this to be a poor choice. Extremely poor, in fact. Okay, I suppose it’s best for me to admit now that I’m definitely not the biggest fan of…almost anything with his name on it, be it him helming the director’s chair or whatever else his name is plastered on to act as the main selling point. And before I get to the rant part of this blog—and perhaps rub a few the wrong way, let’s try to understand the scope of what he’ll be involved in to see why I hate this decision.
Picture this for a moment: the two most influential, ubiquitous franchises based in the science-fiction genre that have catapulted the dreams and ambitions of millions upon millions of people across the globe is now (currently) under the final say-so of one person. Let that sink in for a moment. When you consider just how far-reaching the narrative and aesthetic design choices finalized by him will inhabit the collective subconscious for even more millions to come, the question of whether or not he deserves that honor comes to the forefront of my anticipations for this upcoming film, and the trilogy in general.
Of course, I DO understand that this wasn’t some out-of-the-blue pick—unfortunately. Abrams has been in the industry for quite some time now and has climbed the ladder of success to prove his worth like many other filmmakers. But within that timeframe, there’s really not much in his filmography that suggests a mark of true greatness when it’s all said and done (admittedly, Lost is one of my favorite TV shows in recent memory). That isn’t to suggest his recent stuff is bad in any way, but when it comes to all of his feature-length films he’s directed there’s simply nothing there in there. What I mean by this is outside of his rather dull and ostentatious notion that surprising the audience is what drives him (watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watc... ) I honestly can’t find any sort of fire that provides the grand-scale ideas, the beliefs that frame him, and/or the fears that ignite his creative process like so many other past and present visionaries.
When this world-turning news of having a new Star Wars trilogy without Lucas’ direct involvement came about, my interest was amplified not because of this aging franchise being out of “The Devil’s [Lucas’] hands” for good (personal note: I actually liked two of the prequel films) but rather the possibility of what a new craftsman would do with such an imaginative universe and the boundless possibilities within it. Having the once-in-a-lifetime chance of starting a widely-popular franchise anew procured Disney the chance to make such a daring choice of who’s going to head the project without the risk of losing any money whatsoever. Since I’m just off from seeing Elysium, let’s pretend Neill Blomkamp was announced as the director. Despite not being in the industry as long and climbing the ladder to super-stardom like Abrams did, I wouldn’t find myself asking if Blomkamp deserves the honor because I understand what fuels his creative process and the refreshing look he’s brought as a result. Heck, even the likes of certain directors in respectable animated films of late or even low-budget commercials/music videos would probably mirror closer to the unhinged and ferocious yearning of George Lucas—the one of yesteryear, at least. Here was a young creative thinker who came out of a pet project in THX-1138, created the high school genre as we know it today, and then takes one of the greatest risks of that film era to paint this rich fantasy canvas—arguably the richest in the film industry—instilled with so many cultural obsessions at the time.
This isn’t to say I think Abrams will do a terrible job; however, I do think it’ll be something much more hurtful: passable. There probably won’t be a new crazy idea like Jar Jar and everything imbued in the originals will probably be there to some superficial capacity…and then that might be it. No kind of grand-scope ideal or personality outside of his signature mystery mark listed above. I may come off as crazy here, but perhaps another rerun of something like Lucas’ prequel vision may be more interesting. Hold the pitchforks! I may sit disparate from other Star Wars fans to the quality of the films but we can all at least admit the hilarious impact it’s had since then. The only way something of this caliber can hold such attention for so many that we will still bring up Episode I nearly fourteen years later, and will continually bring it up for decades to come, is because of some crazy stimulation by the mad-doctor side of Lucas’ vision that resulted in one of the most mesmerizing nosedives to a glut of Star Wars fandom.
Even outside of nitpicking Blomkamp, just pluck any other big-name Hollywood director that repetitively draws from some kind of thematic or aesthetic fixation. I could rant about Oliver Stone’s eye-rolling political statements and paranoid behavior (see: Secret History of America) for quite a while, but I can also respect that being the lifeblood for his iconic original works. Now, I know Abrams hasn’t had AS much of his time devoted towards original screenplays but instead adaptations for feature length films, but his first attempt with Super 8 was kind of a dud when it came to inspiration. What started off as a rather well-acted love letter to 80’s Spielberg devolved once that insipid “surprise” hinted at in the commercials came into play, making the original intention OF the movie feel rather empty.
Even for the Star Trek reboot, the promising idea of re-doing the entire structure to one of the most beloved franchises in nerd culture brought us regurgitated character traits and Kirk being more of a knock-off of Top Gun’s Maverick. And what does Into Darkness accomplish? Outside of an excellent Cumberbatch performance and some extra characters, Kirk and Spock reacquire their same arcs from the last film and the plot is needlessly convoluted and sometimes rather dumb. This doesn’t mean I came away disgusted in those new films, just that I believe they deserved better. But I guess the real question comes down to us. Do we, the fans, deserve better?
In comparison to the wild approaches seen in years past, it seems like fans’ expectations have shifted from cheering on dares from the publishing side who make brazen director choices that would push the envelope to something much more safe and manufactured. Abrams may be an adequate filmmaker but I honestly believe he also falls into the latter category. Now, examine that in comparison to the choice for Peter Jackson helming The Lord of the Rings or several risky endeavors made for Marvel Phase 1. Movies that stay true to their origins yet have the unmistakable signature of the auteur behind it. Are we slowly becoming content with design-by-committee approaches over risky—even totally absurd—artistic vision because of its inherent harmlessness? Given this current choice, it’s starting to seem that way.