Abrams brings fandom, secrecy to 'Star Wars' universe
05:00 AM, Jan 28, 2013
Sorry, Darth Vader. J.J. Abrams is now the face of the Star Wars empire.
The Force gained a new creative leader, Trekkies lost one and Abrams expands his own sci-fi pop-culture résumé as the director of Star Wars: Episode VII, tentatively arriving in theaters like a massive Imperial Star Destroyer in 2015.
Disney, which acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion last fall, officially tapped Abrams as the filmmaker for at least the first of a trilogy of films that will add to the expansive intergalactic franchise George Lucas created with the original 1977 Star Wars.
Abrams, co-creator of TV’s Lost and director of the 2009Star Trek reboot movie (and the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, due in May), garnered the Lucas seal of approval. In a statement released Friday, the Star Wars icon called Abrams “an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film, and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.”
What, exactly, does Abrams bring to that legacy? For Eric Geller of the Star Wars fansite TheForce.Net, it’s twofold: Abrams is a lifelong Star Wars fan himself so he knows the territory well, plus his success with Star Trek proves he has an ability to give an outer-space franchise new cinematic life.
“He made the 2009 Star Trek about Kirk and his father and that family dynamic, but he also gave it a lot of action,” Geller says. “It was familiar but it was also a departure from what had grown stale. And that’s promising. You’re going to be sitting there watching a movie that’ll feel like Star Wars, but on the other hand it won’t feel like a repeat of what you’re used to.”
Not that that would be a bad thing, at least in terms of box office. The 1977 Star Wars film grossed more than $775 million globally and ranks sixth on the all-time domestic chart. Just above it in fifth place: 1999’sStar Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. Lucas’ three prequels earned a combined $2.5 billion worldwide.
Add in the Abrams factor his Star Trek pulled in $385 million and it’s a match made in geek heaven, says Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.
“Expect Episode VII to easily surpass $1 billion worldwide, and if it truly has the Force with it, we could be talking Avatar numbers,” Bock says of director James Cameron’s all-time box office champ at $2.8 billion. “One thing’s for sure: With Disney and Lucasfilm joining forces, when all is said and done, Star Wars will be the top-grossing franchise of all time, as it should be.”
Abrams and Star Wars seem guaranteed to bring in big bucks, but any director with a solid grasp on large-budget sci-fi would have been a good choice to follow Lucas, “who clearly lost touch long ago,” says Neil Miller, founder and publisher of FilmSchoolRejects.com.
But what makes Abrams a lightsaber cut above the rest is that he also is one of the premiere guys making mega-movies now, Miller adds. “He’s got a sense of scale, and as he proved with Star Trek, a great reverence for what has come before. He’s also not unlike you and I, but that geek has a camera and a fair amount of money to play with.”
Peter Sciretta, editor in chief of Slashfilm.com, feels Abrams is a perfect fit because he came from the world of TV he also created Felicity, Alias and Fringe, among others and his greatest asset isn’t huge action sequences or shocking twists.
Instead, Sciretta says, “it’s the ability to get the audience to care about the characters on a much deeper level. Lucas’ Star Wars characters were iconic but not much more than archetypes that may have now been copied over and over to become film stereotypes. Abrams will be able to bring a deeper connection to the characters and moments in Episode VII.”
Since news broke last week, fanboys have been asking if Abrams already has done his version of Star Wars with the Star Trek reboot. They question whether his style including a tendency to use lens flares, a camera trick with light flashes to add drama to a scene will match the “classical” nature of Star Wars, Sciretta says.
“His Episode VII will have to be much different than his Trek film. Also, I do think Abrams realizes that this will not be a J.J. Abrams film, this will be a Star Wars movie. We may get lens flares, but it will definitely be more minimal.”
The director’s also bringing the stigma of “J.J. Abrams, mystery man,” says Miller, referring to Abrams’ penchant for shrouding details throughout the production process. So, don’t expect moments like the big “I am your father” reveal from The Empire Strikes Back to leak prematurely.
That penchant for secrecy is something Star Wars fans might not take to right away, Miller says. Devin Faraci of the pop-culture site Badassdigest.com agrees, adding that Disney and Lucasfilm may not be on board with that approach.
“Abrams is a better marketer than he is a filmmaker, and he has very specific ideas about how to market his stuff,” Faraci explains. “They will want to re-assure audiences that Abrams is doing old-school Star Wars, not the prequels, and they’ll need to release lots of information for that to happen.”
Lucas cemented his geek-god status with the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia in his original trilogy, but he caught a lot of flak from fans for the Star Wars prequels that followed Anakin Skywalker from little kid to his embracing of the “dark side” of the Force as Darth Vader.
Many blamed the much-maligned Jar-Jar Binks and other negative aspects on Lucas having too much creative control, but Abrams has a strong council around him to work with, Geller says.
Lawrence Kasdan is a creative consultant on Episode VII after having been a writer on two of the original-trilogy films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Plus, Kathleen Kennedy, who has had a long partnership with Lucas confidante Steven Spielberg, is executive producer on the new film and, as of last fall, the president of Lucasfilm.
“The driving force of all things Star Wars will be Kathleen Kennedy,” Faraci says. “Abrams will be given freedom to play within the parameters dictated by her and by Disney. Unlike Star Trek, where Paramount let him do whatever he wanted with their toys, Star Wars will be closely guarded.”
Adds Geller: “Given how many conversations she’s had with George Lucas, I wouldn’t be surprised if she serves as a conduit of George’s wisdom to Mr. Abrams.”
She was also the key to signing Abrams, who initially turned down the offer because he was too much of a Star Wars fan and too involved with Star Trek, Sciretta says. “Honestly, the only filmmaker who may have been a better fit for this film is Steven Spielberg, and from what I’ve heard Kathleen approached him first and he strongly recommended Abrams for the job and was very instrumental in making this happen.”
And what of Star Trek’s future? A whole loyal fan base is probably wondering right now.
Abrams is committed to producing a third Star Trek film, and “I think Paramount is going to be like the low-self-esteem girl whose boyfriend wants an open relationship: They’re going to just accept it,” Faraci says. “Trekkies know that Abrams didn’t like their franchise, and now they see he was just using it until something better came along.”
He and Miller think that this move may reignite the old Star Wars/Star Trek debates, although Sciretta figures more Star Wars fans will be buying Star Trek Into Darkness tickets now.
Geller believes now is the time to bring everyone together: “This is probably the clearest connection ever between the two franchises, and this is actually an opportunity to put to rest the myth that there’s a hatred between the two.”
Miller says that Abrams’ involvement in Star Wars could set the stage for both it and Star Trek to live long and prosper.
“Like Star Wars, the Star Trek universe has plenty of fans that have grown up to become talented, influential filmmakers,” he says. “Assuming Into Darkness does well, there will be more quality Trek in the future, even if it comes with a different director.”