McGinnis/Beard: The Light and Dark Side of JJ AbramsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As the world knows by now, filmmaker JJ Abrams has been named as the director of the upcoming seventh “Star Wars” film being made by Disney studios. Our resident pop culture point/counter-point duo debates the merits of the move.
Jeff McGinnis: So now JJ Abrams gets to play with all the toys. The former “Alias” and “Lost” creator, who rebooted “Star Trek” to widespread critical and audience acclaim a few years ago, has now been handed the keys to perhaps the most important sci-fi franchise of all: “Star Wars.” For fans still stinging after the little-lauded prequel trilogy, this news has seemed too good to be true, a few jokes about lens flares aside.
But I have to be honest — I’m not thrilled. It’s not that I don’t have faith in Abrams as a creator and talent, because I do. But I’m not convinced he knows how to play with other creators’ universes without rebuilding them in his own image. And with the most popular and beloved pop culture franchise ever created at his command, will we get a true continuation of this universe, or will we see Abrams rewrite the rules? And if he does, how will people react?
Jim Beard: Abrams was hired because he’s Abrams, obviously, but you have to wonder if they wanted “the name” or the vision – or maybe it’s both. I agree with you that superimposing his own brand over Star Wars’ may be a questionable thing to do, because, ultimately, when that happens you get something else entirely. The next question would be, “is it something we’d want to see?” I think we can all agree that you can never recapture the maverick magic of 1977 and George Lucas’ almost-accidental capturing of a vibe and verve that thrilled just about everyone on the planet, but I’m not sure anybody really has an idea of what we hope to get out of this as fans. Abrams can deliver quality, sure, but can he submerge enough of himself, enough of what makes his films “his,” that we can see the Star Wars through the lens flare?
JEFF: Based on the available evidence, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that Abrams’ influence will be pretty evident. The thing that struck me most about his “Star Trek” reboot was how it was a very entertaining and well-made non-”Star Trek” movie. Oh, it had the basic premise and the characters — in name, anyway — but the soul of the enterprise (pun totally intended) was missing.
What made Gene Roddenberry’s original show so compelling were the very distinct characters he crafted and how, like the very best sci-fi stories, “Star Trek” used its fanciful setting to tell stories relevant to modern life. There was so much more going on than simply telling an exciting story. I found these factors absent in Abrams’ reboot, which made it plain quickly that the director would be tearing down the universe Roddenberry created and rebuilding it in his own image. Will he do the same to “Star Wars,” and if so, how will fans react?
JIM: The soul of the enterprise – that’s a phrase that really strikes me here, because much of Star Wars’ charm – and success – in the beginning was George Lucas building something from the ground up. He put together a “garage band” factory of creative types who all wanted to do something different – much the same way that Walt Disney built his first animation studio. The result was magic, the kind that can’t be repeated. Then, lightning struck twice with a sequel that defied convention: it was as good as if not better than the original. Abrams has a hard row to hoe. He has a megalithic studio/owner to please, more than one generation of fans and the critics. I hate to be so negative, but he’s almost doomed from the get-go. Lucas was out to, basically, please himself, and the hell with outside expectations. JJ’s arena is dynamically different.
JEFF: An excellent point. But then again, George Lucas himself operated with relatively complete autonomy while making the prequel trilogy, and we saw how the public reacted to that. “Star Wars” is such a beloved franchise that it may be impossible to please everyone. So maybe the best option for Disney and everyone involved was to find a creative head who could take it his own way. I can’t see Abrams signing up without some promise of creative freedom. Maybe — just maybe — he’s enough of a fan that he can keep his own ego in check and make something that fans can embrace. I hope he does.
JIM: He may want and expect freedom, but he’s working for Disney and Disney walks a fairly narrow path of parameters for their product.
I sincerely hope, like you, that this new film, this new era of Star Wars, is something we can look upon and compliment it not only for its faithfulness to its source material, but also as something that seems fresh. I know that might sound like I’m at odds with my feelings about Abrams, but the whole deal could crumble like a house of ill-placed cards. I won’t cheer if it fails, please note; I want more Star Wars as much as the next fan. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a New Hope we have on our hands.