I’ve often said to friends, family members, and those I pass on the street that I’m happy J.J. Abrams left the Star Trek franchise in favor of Star Wars. He admitted not being a fan of Trek in contrast to his dedication to George Lucas’s answer to not securing the rights to Flash Gordon (just as Willow was his response to not being able to make The Lord of the Rings).
Look, I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, a greater fan than Trek in my youth. It was only when I got older that I learned to appreciate their distinctions and recognize how Trek was clearly superior. Being a colossal general science fiction fanatic, I consider myself somewhat unbiased in the quality of various franchises, even the ones I keep close to my heart (my favorite was Alien, and look how that turned out). Star Wars is a whimsical pulp fantasy whose greatest strengths lie in its spectacle. Star Trek is a goofy wagon train setting used as the launching point to create ambitious stories in a science fiction setting. Star Wars generally looked better while Star Trek was better written. I also made the declaration recently that Star Trek became good in spite of its fans while Star Wars became good because of its fans. Star Trek can hold the claim of inspiring a generation of scientists and engineers while Star Wars only holds the claim to inspiring a generation of filmmakers and computer graphics artists.
Taking all that into consideration, J.J. Abrams has always been about the spectacle; the proof is in the Star Trek films he churned out. While the first was a delightfully light but thin slice of cinema, the second was a painful reminder why that franchise was in the wrong hands. So to say I was originally optimistic about J.J. directing Star Wars, it was because it WAS a franchise he liked, and his desire for grandiosity would be a good fit.
And then I started reading about his plans for the franchise. I had hoped for the J.J. Abrams of Star Trek; instead we’re apparently getting the nostalgic Super 8 J.J. Abrams. Feeling like the cock of the walk, J.J. had the original first script written by Michael Arndt—based on George Lucas’s notes for the sequel trilogy—scrapped and decided to reteam with Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence (Dreamcatcher) Kasden, a writer who hasn’t written a successful film since 1995’s The Bodyguard and whose last two films were box office bombs, to script a new film which brought back the original (and let’s be honest now, elderly) cast from the first trilogy. I was all for a proper send-off but each trilogy should have its own group of primary characters, and spending one of the trilogy’s films as a farewell tastes as unnecessary as Star Trek Generations (I never said that franchise was without sin). Yet these aren’t the biggest issues I have with Abram’s approach to the franchise; it’s with his apparent obsession for nostalgia.
It’s been confirmed J.J. is shooting the next film on traditional film over the more logical approach of taking advantage of the modern marvels of digital filmmaking. Those that decry this advancement are the same group of morons who still insist that manual gearboxes on cars are more true to the spirit of driving. I’ll remember that the next time I blow your doors off on the line with my dual clutch with launch control. Even more than that is the rumor that Abrams plans to utilize more traditional visual effects in an attempt to recreate the visual style of the old films.
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way, the original trilogy was shot on 35mm using traditional optical effects and physical models because those were the only options back then. And the effects for Star Wars were groundbreaking—the flagship demonstration of what the newly formed Industrial Light and Magic could do. It was on the forefront of visual effects, a trend they kept on top of for almost 40 years. Digital effects and digital films are the wave the future—the final scene of The Aviator ricocheting around my skull. The fact that the last trilogy was a disappointment had nothing to do with how the film looked or what film stock they used. It was badly written…but it looked fantastic. The fact that Lucas lost his touch as a writer (he did have it, watch THX 1138) didn’t detract from his eye for detail or his instinct for hiring the best the industry could provide.
I didn’t even mention the fact that the Expanded Universe is basically being punted to the garbage in totality…you know what, that’s a good thing. It’s about the only rumor I’ve read which I actually agree with. Most of the Expanded Universe is crap anyway. What I’m saying is that J.J. Abrams is focusing on the wrong strengths of Star Wars. He should take what made the old films strong—their flamboyance and pulp storylines—and write something to honor the fans within those confines. Focusing on some misguided attempt to recapture the old series will only make us want to pop the old films into our players again and settle on the realization that the franchise probably should have remained with three films.