I’ve been following the saga to produce Star Wars Episode VII very closely and until now everything has seemed like a good sign. Ever since George Lucas decided he hated all his fans, I’ve been dying for someone to take the franchise away from him. So I was ecstatic when he sold to Disney. Especially since Disney has done such a good job shepherding Pixar (other than Cars 2), Marvel, and the Muppets. They’ve shown to be adept at handing properties over to people who care about them and producing good films.
I rejoiced further at the hiring of Michael Arndt to write the coming movie. He’s a Star Wars superfan who seems to understand the appeal of the movies better than anyone, he’s coming out of Pixar, and he’s a relatively fresh voice on the scene. Everything I could have asked for from the writer of the next Star Wars movie.
But now Disney’s announced the director is J.J. Abrams and … well, things are not looking so bright and sunny anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of J.J. Abrams, but this isn’t right for him.
1) They Should Have Gone With a New Voice
Part of the point of Episode VII is to breathe fresh life into Star Wars. In the past two decades the Star Wars brand has had set back after set back and the franchise has become stale and even painful to its fans. It needed a fresh vision to bring it back to its former glory, or at least try to.
J.J. Abrams is not the person to do that. Star Wars was revolutionary and so different from everything else on the landscape. J.J. Abrams has been involved in roughly every hour-long semi-scifi TV show to come out in the past 10 years.
Disney had a chance to be bold (like handing over The Avengers to Joss Whedon whose track record was a few cult TV shows), instead they went with the easy choice. J.J. Abrams feels like a decision suits made. “Hey, J.J. knows all about that geeky s**t. Let’s put him on it.”
2) J.J. Abrams is Boring
As a filmmaker Abrams is a little boring. Mostly because he tends to struggle with emotional connection to his characters (which is kind of important to Star Wars). But also because there’s just nothing special about his visual style.
The original Star Wars is beautiful. Everything Abrams has done looks pretty cool and handles kinetic action very well, but there’s nothing visually memorable about anything he’s done. There’s nothing particularly visually interesting about his work.
His work is also very workmanlike. He makes fun and exciting action movies, but they lack adventure and wonder, which are two touchstones of Star Wars.
If we’re looking for someone to bring new life to Star Wars with their own personal vision, Abrams is not the person to do it.
3) He Already Has Star Trek
I like what Abrams did with Star Trek and in some ways that’s his strongest argument for Star Wars. Didn’t he bring that moribund franchise back to life?
Well sort of. Star Trek was a different task. He needed to clear the decks and start over completely. And so that’s what he did. He got rid of the cluttered continuity that made new Star Trek stories impossible and made a fun action film. There was no wonder necessary.
Star Wars doesn’t need anything cleared away. It doesn’t need to start from scratch. It can just be a continuing story and still be a fresh jumping in point. There’s so much more that can be done. Middle of the road will be disappointing. Star Wars should try to be something great.
Furthermore, Star Wars and Star Trek are both so huge and so important culturally that one person should not control the vision for both, especially someone who does not possess greatness. If Star Wars and Star Trek look and feel too similar, it’s all going to start feeling monotonous and meaningless.
4) He’s Obsessed With Mysteries
I know that Abrams isn’t to blame for the build up and lack of pay off for mysteries in Lost and that most of his films actually don’t have this big overarching mystery that his TV shows do, but that’s precisely why the claim that he’s obsessed with mysteries is true.
When his films don’t have mysteries, he creates one in the marketing and build up. Every movie has some giant pointless mystery surrounding it, so everyone gets so focused on that that it distracts from the movie. If we knew who the villain was in Star Trek Into Darkness, it wouldn’t ruin the movie for us, but spending every moment of the movie wondering who he is until it’s revealed might. So might not recognizing who he is after the big reveal. All that build up for nothing.
Studies show that spoilers actually cause people to enjoy movies more. He doesn’t need to spoil it for us, but purposely being overly secretive about minor details so as to build mystery and hype around them does damage to the viewing experience (as snotty as that sounds).
I’m not claiming the new Star Wars is going to be a disaster. It isn’t. J.J. Abrams is a talented guy and more than competent. So it is true that for the first time in a long time we’re going to get a Star Wars movie that isn’t terrible. It just probably won’t be great either.
J.J. Abrams wasn’t a bad choice, he’s just not the right choice and he’s a safe choice. Maybe he’ll be great, but I’d have a lot more hope if Disney had continued swinging for the fences. Here’s hoping Arndt delivers and renders the Abrams decision meaningless (in that he’ll direct a wonderful script competently) or that I’m wrong.