Over the weekend J.J. Abrams was officially named as director for Star Wars VII. Details are fairly scarce as Disney and Bad Robot were painted into a corner when the rumor of Abrams involvement was leaked late last week. The internet blew up and reactions started pouring in faster than either company could handle. In the end, the only play Disney had was to officially confirm this rumor, or squash it like a bug. They chose the former.
J.J. Abrams is having a bit of a nerd renaissance at the moment. Not only is Abrams responsible for three of the last decades most popular sci-fi television shows (Alias, LOST, and Fringe) he is also the director for the current Star Trek franchise as well as producer of such movies like Cloverfield and Super 8. That is an incredible track record. What is even more impressive is that Abrams did something that many people thought was impossible: he made Star Trek new and accessible. While Star Wars has always enjoyed a healthy relationship with the viewing public at large, the idea of bringing on Abrams is a show stopper.
Incredibly, this is a pretty powerful step for Disney. There is an old saying that it is wise to “strike while the iron is hot,”and it appears as if Disney plans to fully capitalize on this concept. As of now, Abrams is in an echelon of geek/nerd royalty that few beyond those with the last name of Whedon ever enjoy (if we’re taking note, both are working for Disney at the moment). Despite what people may think of the “House that Mickey Built,” no one can deny Disney’s incredibly powerful ability to woo the cream of the crop in creative minds. For the last century Disney, has cultivated the reputation of a place where cinematic magic happens. The stars align, the heavens open, and we see miracles of modern movie making on the silver screen. They might be onto something there.
So what does this mean for fans of Star Wars? Should we batten down the hatches for a lightsaber lens flare battle royale? I’d say no. In fact, I’d ask the question: “so what if the next Star Wars movie has a bunch of lens flares?” If the only complaint we can find in the J.J. Abrams arsenal is that he likes blown out light sources, I think we’re doing far better than anyone cares to admit. I mean really, flares are nothing in the grand scheme of things.
That is why I am tentatively ecstatic over the Abrams announcement. Star Wars, at its best has always been a truly magical experience when George Lucas lets other people drive his ideas. While the man’s imagination is pure gold lets face it, he is an average to subpar director. Lucas is a big picture guy. He has wonderful visions of how a movie should look, sound and feel, but when it comes to acting, directing and writing; he needs a helping hand and that’s ok! I think we can all say Lucas has done pretty well for himself at this point.
When we think of the “best” Star Wars movie though, The Empire Strikes Back is almost universally elected. Who directed that? The late, great Irvin Kershner. “The Expanded Universe,” a series of novels, comics and games that all tie to the Star Wars mythos are handled by dozens of talented storytellers that creates a rich tapestry of tales that not even the most ambitious of writers would ever try to tackle on their own. Even on television, shows like The Clone Wars are lauded, as Star Wars at it’s best. These are all projects in which other people have their hands in the creative makeup of their individual project. The end result is a great idea that becomes greater in practice because of a keen editorial mind and ability to make the subject matter appealing to a large audience. J.J. Abrams fits this bill perfectly.
Regardless of what you may think of the man’s previous works, there are a few things I hope we can all agree on. Abrams is a driven director with a clear vision (whether we like that vision or not is another debate), he has a definite style of storytelling that has mass appeal, and he has a proven track record of making sci-fi materials that are well received and liked by large audiences. Add this together with his obvious love of Star Wars (keen fans will notice some R2 units in the recent Star Trek “reboot”) and we have a recipe for a new Star Wars movie that could potentially (dare I say it?) rival The Empire Strikes Back.
Of course, we’ll need to see the movie before that statement can be taken seriously, but the ingredients are there. And at the very least, we can finally know the answer to one of the most divisive questions in geek culture. Which is better? Star Wars or Star Trek? Finally we’ll have a director/expert who can legitimately comment on both.
PS: It’s Star Wars.