Tue
Jan 29 2013 11:00am

J.J. Abrams, Star Wars, and the Homogenization of Geek Pop

J.J. Abrams and the Homogenization of Geek Pop

The cultural response about the appointment of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair for Star Wars: Episode VII, seems to be a begrudging, quasi-unanimous “makes sense, I guess.” Yet I would argue that this sort of half-excited, half-confused shoulder shrug from pop culture pundits and geek commentators alike actually sums up exactly why the decision is so terrible. Yes, I admit it! J.J Abrams is a logical choice. But, the idea of Abrams helming Star Wars, while likely to produce a movie that’s visually tantalizing, is boring beyond belief, to the point of being soulless. I have no doubt that the J.J. Abrams Star Wars: Episode VII will be exciting, stunning, and palpitation-inducing. I’m also fairly confident that its texture and essence will be exactly like his other work, which leads to the bad news:

The J.J. Abrams Star Wars will be too well made.

Making the case for why J.J. Abrams is a sound, reasonable choice to direct Star Wars: Episode VII isn’t too tricky, but it does have a bit of an ex post facto thing going on for it. When Star Trek came out in 2009, Abrams made it clear he was more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy, and as many have pointed out, it totally shows in his work. Star Trek (2009) is thematically not about science fiction, exploration, speculation about alien cultures, or any of the other nifty stuff that defines the spirit of Star Trek. Instead it’s a movie about destiny, good versus evil and unlikely heroes coming together. In other words, it’s the the same stuff that makes Star Wars awesome, but also what makes it really generic. I don’t have to point toward some sort of conspiracy to find evidence that Lucas employed archetypal characters and basic hero’s journey story arcs in Star Wars. The Joseph Campbell stuff as it relates to Star Wars has been pointed out, confirmed, and re-hashed to the point of nausea. Yes, we get it: Lucas (and some the folks who worked with him) have an awesome grasp of how most of us will react, psychologically speaking, to certain types of characters and story structures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those structures have inherent value, nor are they intrinsically interesting. If we’re talking about pop science fiction/fantasy, the only thing we understand about it in relation to Jungian archetypes and all the mythology stuff  is simply that IT WORKS.

So, if something works, don’t eject the warp core, right? Well, here’s where the ex posto facto problem comes in with Abrams. He did a little bit of a mash-up with Star Trek and it worked. He and his screenwriters churned out a really well-made, tightly functioning Hollywood blockbuster that looked slick as hell and evoked an overwhelming emotional response from the audience. It was also totally reliant upon nostalgia, familiar imagery which clearly resonated with fans, and appropriated themes taken from every single previous incarnation of the giant franchise. Slap a Star Wars-style story into the mix, and BOOM, you’ve got a hit. And making a hit is really, really hard, and J.J. Abrams is super-talented when it comes to making hits. But a hit is not a classic and as much as I really liked Star Trek, and will likely enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, this stuff doesn’t approach the level of being classic nor memorable. J.J. Abrams is seen as the logical choice to direct Star Wars because he mashed-up Star Trek with Star Wars, so why not just give him Star Wars proper?

Just because he was able to sneak in a Star Wars pastiche inside of Star Trek doesn’t mean he’s the right person to do real Star Wars. Plus, he’s already done it. After Spielberg successfully proved Indiana Jones was more awesome than James Bond back in the 1980s, should Cubby Broccoli have called up Spielberg and said, “Yes, sure, now you can do Bond, too, because clearly, you kind of already did.” Would you have wanted Spielberg in charge of both Indiana Jones and James Bond? No! Because too much of the same texture is boring and bad for creativity in general.

So...what about the writers? A lot of us have heard that this awesome guy Michael Arndt is writing the screenplay for Star Wars: Episode VII. (Not to mention the fact that Orci and Kurtzman did a decent job with Star Trek, right?) Well yes, the director is the director and writers are the writers, but let’s get real. George Lucas didn’t write the damn screenplay for Return of the Jedi, but he’s all over that. Furthermore, it’s not like Disney robots aren’t totally “developing the story” with J.J. Abrams and Arndt. Lucas not being involved in Episode VII is positive from an entertainment/quality perspective, but it’s actually bad from an artistic perspective.

Folks like Lucas and Spielberg were pioneers for taking the pulpy stuff they loved from the past and mixing it up with their own ideas and artistic vision. This isn’t the case with a J.J. Abrams. He’s influenced by Lucas and Spielberg. Are “original” J.J. Abrams films like Cloverfield or Super 8 truly memorable, or even all that good? I would answer with a big “no.” These films certainly don’t suck, but I can’t make a strong argument for their artistic merit in terms of originality. Having J.J. Abrams’ signature texture all over Star Trek already makes Star Trek retroactively like Star Wars. Putting Abrams’ texture on Star Wars will make Star Wars into a parody of pastiche of a copy of...Star Wars.

In his stories and novels, Philip K. Dick often created characters who got really freaked out by tightly controlled media products being created for specific public consumption. In terms of pop culture, the J.J. Abrams brand reminds me less of storytelling and more of a product. Yes, I admit to liking fast food, or even gourmet-style cheeseburgers. Star Wars has always been a kind of fast food, but with just enough substance (like a side-salad that you can eat if you want). Star Trek, at least in its correct and ideal form, never was fast food. J.J. Abrams changed that, and now with Star Wars, I think he’s poised to take away the side-salad. In terms of movie-making chops he (and Arndt) are totally at the top of their game. But what we’re talking about here is—more or less—the technical aspects of movies, featuring very little substance at all.

The assembly is perfect, but the parts are not greater than the whole. This is the main fallacy with the praise of J.J. Abrams: just because he’s good at assembling something that looks the way it should, doesn’t mean it’s good.

In a documentary about the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, John Cleese pointed out that “the problem with filmmakers is they are too concerned with film.” For me, this means it shouldn’t matter how slick or technically well made a big movie is. We shouldn’t care if the boxes are being ticked off on the Joseph Campbell/Jungian archetype chart. We shouldn’t care too much about rapid fire editing or awesome cuts. Instead, we should hope for something new and interesting that might linger in our thoughts and consciousness for longer than we’re sitting in the movie theatre. The plots and themes of several of the more recent blockbuster movies are already pretty similar—do we really want them to all look the same too?

One can talk a lot of shit about how bad/flawed/annoying/delusional the Star Wars prequels were, but at least they certainly weren’t calculated and designed to appeal to exactly what the fans wanted. The flaws of the prequels prove their artistic integrity. Art should take chances, which is what Lucas was doing in 1977. But now, something like Star Wars is the status quo. And thanks to J.J. Abrams, that’s what Star Trek is now, too: a beautiful product that can do no wrong (technically speaking). If Star Wars (and Star Trek) were potential suitors for our affections, I’d argue that they’re too safe, too eager to make us happy. We happen to like nice movies, but, really, there are just not enough scoundrels in our life.

And J.J. Abrams is certainly not a scoundrel.


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.

68 comments
Lisa D.
1. Lisa D.
Speaking as a life-long, hard-core Star Wars Geek, I wholeheartedly disagree with this article. J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars? I couldn't be happier. I was really feeling down about the future of Star Wars after The Mouse took over, but this announcement has renewed my enthusiasm in a BIG WAY.
Lisa D.
2. Veejay J
They should have gone with Aronovsky(sic?). The "Black Swan" aesthetic merged with Star Wars Mythology would have been priceless
Ryan Britt
3. ryancbritt
@2 You know, Aronofsky was attached to direct The Wolverine movie for quite some time. So, actually, that's not crazy at all. And yeah, he would have been a better choice than J.J. Abrams.
Jack Flynn
4. JackofMidworld
Maybe Star Wars VII will be about a ship traveling through the Outer Rim on a mission of exploration and diplomacy, with a droid science officer, a wookie security chief, and a hot-headed Jedi for a captain?
Alex Bledsoe
5. alexbledsoe
I agree with almost everything you say here, Ryan. Oh, hell, I admit it: I agree with everything you say here.
Lisa D.
6. PaulR
I was overjoyed- I would rather a chimp direct another Star Wars movie than Lucas himself, who got lost in his own ego. I would rather a well-made souless Star Wars movie than a poorly made souless Star Wars movie, which is what the prequels were. At least Abrams will ensure some sort of standard (decent script, dialogue, acting performance, etc).
Ryan Britt
7. ryancbritt
@6 Well you know what they say, if you put an infinite amount of chimps behind infinite amounts of cameras, all of them will invent lens flare.
Natalie Zutter
8. nataliezutter
Yes, to all of this. Thank you Ryan for articulating what I've been trying to tell people when all I can say is, "I guess it's OK...?"
Lisa D.
9. joelfinkle
I'm sorry, did you just say "Star Wars Prequels" and "artistic integrity" in the same sentence? The prequels are deliberate in their marketing of product, it just happens that the product isn't the film, it's the merch.
Lisa D.
10. glorbes
I'll probably sound like an angry nerd, but I submit this in the same respecful spirit that all other opinions on the Internet are submitted. And of course, Mr. Britt, I was thoroughly entertained and engaged by reading your piece.

First of all, the movie’s script isn’t even written yet, and Abrams has been announced for, what, 3 or 4 days? We are years away from actually watching the movie, and you are providing a laundry list of reasons it will be a piece of crap…despite the fact that you are assuming the film will be well-crafted and exciting (?) So, whether the movie will be good or bad is kind of a moot point until we can all actually watch the movie. Maybe the movie will be Abrams master stroke…maybe it will be a disaster…we don’t know until we can see it. And despite what you may suggest, writing has a LOT to do with how good/meaningful/interesting the film will be.

I’m also puzzled by you making the argument that what Abrams does effectively (making movies that are well-crafted, emotional, with story and character arcs and junk) is somehow a negative. From the perspective of Lucasfilm, if you want to find a director who seems to possess the right aesthetic, is gifted in terms of working with actors, understands the need to work within a budget, and will produce an entertaining film, would you not look for someone who has done just that? From my perspective as a fan, the big plusses in Abrams favor are a belief in the use of locations and practical sets, limiting the use of CGI, and attaining an emotional connection with the audience. He also employs a lot of ‘old fashioned’ film trickery techniques, and is energetic and involved in the directing process (compare this to Lucas, who hates the traditional role of the director so much that he made the job into sitting in a chair behind a monitor while actors wander around blue and green screens). Yes Abrams is hung up on the film itself, but for god sakes so is every other freakin’ director in Hollywood! The medium demands a certain set of skills to be successful, and like you said, it’s hard to make a successful blockbuster film that people like…and Abrams has the skills. Is he workmanlike in some ways? Sure, but imagine what he can do with a script that is well-written and performed by actors who are made to feel valued and have actual environments to interact with. His films are already slick, visually dynamic (insert lens flare joke here), and well-paced…bring his other strengths plus a good script, and this thing has a chance to be something special (but we won’t know until we see it).

The last point you made about the Prequels is the real topper though…there is no artistic merit or soul to be had from those films. The plot, at its very core, is great, but Lucas fails on practically every other metric for producing an effective artistic vision. The writing is atrocious. There is no character development or realistic and relatable motivation. The movies were all produced with strict financial planning, and are essentially product and toy licensing commercials from beginning to end. You argue Abrams is simply producing a product? Lucas has been doing this since 1977 (Empire was a happy exception, but Lucas was ever so angry about Kershner and Kurtz wasting his time and money making the film ‘better than it needed to be’), and doing it with virtually no artistic consideration beyond “will this make a sweet looking toy?” Abrams at least brings his skills as a director of entertaining films. Lucas directed his joyless prequels like a CEO of a major company, and essentially filled them to the brim with product placement. As you can tell, I disagree with your belief in the artistic merit of the prequels :)
Chris Hawks
11. SaltManZ
"(Not to mention the fact that Orci and Kurtzman did a decent job with Star Trek, right?)"

Ugh, no. I mean, yeah, it was enjoyable and all, but if you start to actually think about it at all, it all completely falls apart. These are the same guys who wrote the completely nonsensical Transformers scripts, after all.

Also, I'm a huge fan of the SW Expanded Universe, which George Lucas has pretty much zero involvement in, so him being out of the picture for EpVII doesn't bother me in the least.

In summary: SW - Lucas + Abrams - Orci/Kurtzman = YES, PLEASE.
Paul Weimer
12. PrinceJvstin
There is definitely a refuge in safety in this pick for Episode VII. From a corporate point of view, that's what they want. Reliability.

While I might want, crave and salivate at a more ambitious director, that has its own perils. Consider Sam Mendes directing Skyfall and making a not-really-Bond Bond movie...
Ryan Britt
13. ryancbritt
@10 I'm probably not wording this Lucas thing right. Here's what I mean: the Star Wars prequels are (in my opinion) honest mistakes. Not cynical ones. Objectively, that has more inherent value to me perfectly crafted products, because I see them as failed art projects, whereas something like Star Trek (2009) is a well-crafted product.

Which would I rather watch? Naturally, the perfectly crafted products. But, I guess I'm gesturing at the idea that there's something amoral about that. (Thought it is possible, we just disagree.) And yes, am I jumping the gun? You bet! :-)

@11 I think I agree with you. BUT. I think it's an amazing script. It's really, really tight and has great lines. (And is way better than some of their other work.)

@12 And yet, I think Sam Mendes did a great job!
Carl Anderson
14. Carl V. Anderson
Interesting opinion and one that I'm sure will be shared by some, despised by others. Hopefully most fans will take the respectful route if they disagree with you.

I am one who is excited about the potential this offers but will of course reserve judgment until I can take the safe route of judging the actual film when it is released.

I am not an Abrams follower in that I haven't watched everything the man has had a hand in. As much as I loved the Star Trek reboot for all the reasons you point out (some as criticisms), it is not his handling of that which makes me pleased with the Star Wars choice. It is really his film Super 8 that sold me on the idea that he is a director who makes films for me. Again, there is a big nostalgia factor here and that is what you seem to be advocating against.

I for one feel that a good team of writers and a good director can bring the right balance of nostalgia in to please the generations of fans that Star Wars has produced while at the same time pushing the brand forward. If anything Abrams' television work has shown that he is willing to take the audience on a longer journey with intertwined story lines that are not all laid out on the table like pablum for the masses.

I would actually be even more pleased if it was Abrams and his team bringing Star Wars to the small screen.

But again, I will reserve judgment and in no way fault anyone, myself included, for liking what Abrams has done so far and being excited about seeing what he does with the Star Wars franchise.
Josh Kidd
15. joshkidd
The truth that we don't want to admit is that all of the dream directors for a Star Wars movie--Darren Aronofsky, Rian Johnson, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Kathryn Bigelow--will all be doing better work because they're not doing a Star Wars movie. J.J. Abrams is the perfect choice to direct because I can't say the same for him.
Lisa D.
16. Sanagi
I think I was happier when Star Wars and Star Trek were both dead.
Shelly wb
17. shellywb
I have to say I was saddened by the choice. Homogenization is exactly my fear. Whedon would have been just as bad for the same reason. I wish they'd gone with someone unexpected.
Robert H. Bedford
18. RobB
Star Wars and Star Trek have always been different flavors and now it seems that may no longer be the case.

I'll beat the drum I've been beating since Disney bought Star Wars - GIVE STAR WARS to the PIXAR folks!!! They know good story, they know how to make smart films (Cars excluded) that bring in boat loads of cash.
Dave Thompson
19. DKT
I appreciate the perspective, Ryan, but I gotta disagree with a couple of points. First, I think you short change Abrams output just a bit.
Regardless how many of us felt about the end of LOST, the pilot episode he put together was stunning, and one of the best I've seen. It would've been interesting to have seen what LOST might have been had he stayed involved with it creatively. Still, that pilot was a great 2 hours, and one I think has stuck with a lot of people.

Additionally, between LOST and ST, we know Abrams can assemble a hell of an ensemble cast, and get them to actually emote.

I think the creative team (Abrams, Arndt, the cast they come up, and Lucas's world) easily has the potential to be the best Star Wars film in 30 years.

I hope at some point we get the weird Star Wars movies too - the Wes Anderson one, the Fincher one, the Del Toro one. But laying the ground work and starting off safe with Abrams and Company makes a whole lot of sense.
Lisa D.
20. Helen G
I... didn't think Abrams made Star Trek into Star Wars, and I say this as a life long fan of both franchises. He captured perfectly what was most important about the original Star Trek - the CHARACTERS and Rodenberry's optimistic, heroic vision of humanity. Star Trek was literally about exploration and discovery, going where 'no one had gone before', but that was always merely the lens for exploring ourselves - what drives us, what makes us human. That is 100% present in the Abrams Trek film.
Rowan Blaze
21. rowanblaze
This is what I anticipate and fear about an Abrams-directed Star Wars. Guaranteed that it will be slick and entertaining, but will it feel lived-in the way the OT felt lived-in? It was OK for Star Trek (2009) to be slick, because frankly ST has always had "slick" production values for the time. Part of the soulnessness of the SW prequels is their polish relative to the OT. If Abrams can deliver the dirty grit of Tatooine, the Deathstar trash compactor, and the swamp Dagobah, then we'll be fine. (And no I don't think we need an actual return to those locales.)
Ken Neth
22. neth
Here's the thing - the new Star Wars - they aren't for us. These movies aren't for the old-school SW fans, they are not for the legions of geeks/nerds/whatever you want to call them that populate the internet. These movies aren't for those of us who have read the entire EU. And they certainly aren't for those of who have ever debated SW vs. Star Trek.

These new movies are for the next generation of fans - the kids who are under the age of about 16. Kids who are very unlikely to to read this website, or any that those of us read and/or post to. Kids who don't know or care who is writing and directing the new SW.

As someone who was raised on the original trilogy, disgusted by the pequels, etc. I have reservations about the choices of writers and directors that we keep hearing about. Though I'll still remain cautiously optimistic until I see direct reason to think otherwise. But the father in me who looks at my 5-year old son using a wrapping paper tube as his lightsaber...I'm crazy excited. I can't wait to see what he and the next generation of fans make of these new Star Wars. These are Star Wars will be his - I already had mine.
Lisa D.
23. AvT
I mostly agree, except I think this essay undersells Star Wars.Yes, Lucas used Jung/Campbell archetypes very effectively, but that's not what made Star Wars cool. Tatooine, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C3P0, the Death Star, it's the original creative elements that made Star Wars memorable, the verisimilitude created by depth (or at least the illusion of depth).

Too many times, Abrams sacrifices setting in favor of the sudden twist. Without depth, character motivations lack credibility, we just don't care much about them. Fans want to know more, or feel there is more to know. Too many times, Abrams just throws out surprises without underlying reasons, and then has had to cobble together absurd rationalizations after the fact. By comparison, Lucas may have hit a few wrong notes, but the level of detail always seemed authentic; Lucas never had to resort to deus ex machina.
Lisa D.
24. AlanMorlock
See I don't really want a more ambitious director to work with Star Wars because quite frankly, those people whould be out there making new things. As you say, Star Wars has long become the new status quo, there's nothing risky about it.
Lisa D.
25. Earl Rogers
I see that one thing hasn't changed about geek culture, Ryan: Deciding a film will totally suck before it's even been made.

Yeesh.

Flashbacks to late 2001, when the news that the Raimi Spider-Man film would feature organic webs had the fanboys having conniptions, convinced this would ruin Spidey forever. And guess what? Those are the very same fanboys who are bashing Webb's Amazing reboot as detracting from the TIMELESS MASTERPIECE that were the first two Raimi films.

Fans never change. They always love complaining.
Lisa D.
26. Lsana
While it's somewhat tangential to the post, thank you for articulating why I don't care for Abrams's Star Trek: he made the standard hero's journey story without ever giving me a reason to care about the hero beyond nostalgia. Change the names of the characters from Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to Ken, Stan, and Mack and I feel the whole thing would fall apart.

I fear something similar with Star Wars. You can put all the elements in, but without something magic that makes us care, those elements don't come together into a great movie. I'll read the reviews when VII comes out, and if they're good, I'll probably go see it. But I'm not getting excited.
Liz J
27. Ellisande
@18 LOL. Andrew Stanton blew that one up all on his own. He even had experience with space stuff as the WALL-E director and ... he made John Carter. I don't hate the film, but come on, no way Disney's going to let a director with no experience with live-action take on EpVII after that debacle.

But really it comes down to experience. And yes, I guess "safe" is kind of a bad word, but otoh, for every Sam Mendes' Skyfall , there's also an Ang Lee Hulk or a John Carter. Ang Lee and Stanton are both fine directors that made bad films because they didn't know what they were doing with the material. And Disney can't afford another John Carter experimental disaster, especially not with a marquee property like Star Wars.

Yes, Abrams has made slick, popular films. he's a competent director, who can deal with ensembles, special effects, budgets, and the media (and if you don't think that last one is vital for a project like this... lol). But that's not why he got the job, IMO. It's because he achieved something else they're going to need for EPVII, and it's something I don't think people are giving him enough credit for: he took an old, nostalgia-laden property, that many people said should be left to dust and was irrelevant for today, and he made the Reboot something new audiences wanted to see.

Because the thing is, Disney isn't making this for any of us who watched Star Wars when we were kids and love how it was made on such a shoestring that they couldn't reshoot the Stormtrooper bonking his head. Those days aren't coming back. Disney wants/needs to bring in new fans and new kids who have no idea what Star Wars looks like on the big screen. And Abrams did that with Star Trek, and they hope that he can do the same with EpVII.

I don't know if he can, but I do know he's also one of the few directors who can handle the immense pressure and scrutiny this movie is already under and the likelihood that there'll be a loud group of people who will hate everything about it, no matter what. And that's a pretty valudable skill, too.
Lisa D.
28. Contrarian
Maaan, ever since this has been announced all I see is a lot of Abrams bashing. And I get it, to an extent, the LOST finale, the FRINGE finale were terrible, but, I have enjoyed his movies, (Super8, Cloverfield, even Star Trek). So I'm excited. I'm also excited for my son, who will be 6 in 2015, and my daughter, who will be 8 and both love Ep. IV, V, VI, I and II (haven't let them watch III yet, other than a few parts).
What I don't understand is the hate for Abrams and all the genre people lining up to go down on Joss Whedon.
Some one explain that to me?
Lisa D.
29. blknight18
I think you are not looking at it from the perspective of the slew of Star Wars movies this is going to launch. Yes, Abrams is safer than Del Toro and Aronofsky. But this isn't the only upcoming Star Wars movie. This is just to re-launch the franchise. So I'd much rather have someone I know will produce an entertaining, moving, solid work, because that makes it more likely they go for more of an "Empire Strikes Back" for Ep. 8. The 'dream' directors for folks can get on 8 and 9, or in the movies that follow 9. Remember that rumor about the Zach snyder star wars samurai-type movie? That one wasn't true, but Disney purchased Star Wars to make a bunch of movies from the franchise. If you can make 4 movies from Hunger games, 5 from Twilight, 8 from the closest thing to Star Wars in terms of cultural dominance, Harry Potter, I bet Disney expects to have double digit star wars films over the next 20-30 years. So let Abrams do his thing, produce a fun A- Episode 7, and then maybe swing for the fences in Ep. 8, or 9, or in a stand alone SW flick after that, or maybe a 2-parter after that, etc.
Lisa D.
30. ColdDrake
Star Wars fans should be grateful that someone as talented as Abrams is taking on Ep7 after Lucas dragged his own creation through the gutter. Abrams has already proven he can make a fun space adventure and reinvigorate a disgraced franchise. I hope and expect he can repeat that here and make me a fan again. He's the perfect man to relaunch this universe. His films are highly commercial, but SW and Disney always have been. The difference is they're generally not commercial in an obnoxious way like the prequels were.
Steve Hussey
31. deihbhussey
Quite a few of my friends have been commenting excitedly about JJ Abrams & Star Wars and they've been surprised at my lack of enthusiasm, or more aptly put, they find my lack of faith disturbing.

Yet the problem with his Star Trek reboot was that the dialogue and in-jokes shared by Kirk et al made them into caricatures of their past selves. As a result, the film didn't really carry the same emotional resonance I gleamed from pre-Abrams Star Trek. No matter how many times I re-watch the various Trek iterations, I always find joy and happiness while watching them. The emotional weight of them keeps them new and refreshing even while I quote along. I found no such enjoyment with Star Trek (2009). I've watched it 3 times and gained less enjoyment each time. I'm not saying that makes it bad, but I do feel it lacks any kind of soul.

It's entirely possible I will enjoy an Abrams Star Wars film, but will I actually love it as a continuing part of my life or will it be another hollywood blockbuster that I watch & enjoy once after which time I cease to care about it at all? If so, does that mean that I will lose some of the enjoyment I gain from the Expanding Universe post-Return of the Jedi? Will I have a hard time reading books about my favorite core Star Wars characters as a result of them rubbing me the wrong way if they are turned into fake copies of their glorious selves? I already have a hard time reading almost anything pre-Battle of Yavin following my viewing of the prequels. The few exceptions are the really really good ones that steered away from the central characters in the movies (e.g.: Shatterpoint, Outbound Flight).
Noneo Yourbusiness
32. Longtimefan
So what you are saying is that JJ Abrams is the IKEA of filmmaking?

It looks good and it functions and every college student will like it but it is production disgused as art without being quirky or unique.

Perhaps I am just projecting. :)

I generally do not like Abrams.
Noneo Yourbusiness
33. Longtimefan
@ 22 Neth,

I will have to disagree with the sentiment that "the new Star Wars - they aren't for us."

As I am not dead yet I would have to say that I would still be part of the audience that wants to see new Star Wars and new (better) Star Trek.

We do not have to live in the past to make new things but sometimes new for the sake of new is not going to capture the same charm that films which have become standards embody.

If they are not trying to gain previous viewers as well as new veiwers then they should not remake or reimagine old material and just make new unique things.

Telling a previous generation of fans they are no longer relevant is boorish. Which is the nature of the young when raised by those who forgot to teach them manners.
Lisa D.
34. Just Good Sense
So much to dispute. But first, I agree with Ryan for the most part. Hiring Abrams is par for the homogenization of the top shelf nerd properties. They are industries now and their manufacture has become pretty much completely soulless.

The shame is, it's the audience's fault. Look at the chatter since Ep. VII was announced. "Hire Abrams!" "Hire Whedon!" "Hire Bird!" "Round up the usual suspects!" Blehh. (Anyway, you know what name director should have gotten the nod? Kevin Smith. Only guy with a resume I can think of who really would bring some soul to it, because he's one who would have something to prove.) Better a complete unknown, with just a movie or two under his or her belt, to bring a real fresh eye to the universe. It's a shame that'll never happen.

About this idea that the new movie should be "for someone": It should be for the filmmaker, that's who it should be for. Star Wars was special because it was made by this 30 year old guy with one basement budget dystopian snoozer and one low budget period piece hit under his belt. He was a hungry dude with a story to tell. No one was clamoring for it; it was all for him. As soon as he started trying to make a movie "for" someone else, we got Ewoks.

Last thing. These sentences in an otherwise well written piece struck me as particularly dumb: "Yes, we get it: Lucas... (has) an awesome grasp of how most of us will react, psychologically speaking, to certain types of characters and story structures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those structures have inherent value, nor are they intrinsically interesting." Inside-out wrong. Those structures have inherent value exactly because of how most of us will react, psychologically speaking, to certain types of characters and story structures. And because of that, they are inherently interesting. 's true since caveperson days; will be until the end of time.
Lisa D.
35. Just Good Sense
Eh. That "particularly dumb" thing was uncalled for. Sorry, RB.
Lisa D.
36. Nik_the_Heratik
Your article had a lot of good points about why the new movie could fall flat, which is very important in terms of managing expectations. However, I think you were pretty much dead wrong about the prequals. There were "honest" mistakes made, but the entire endeavor was aimed more towards marketing than actual storytelling. The franchise sat for 20 years. If Lucas was really interested in star wars stories, he could have come up with something in that time period.

What we ended up with was a lazy attempt at a story that could have been much better if Lucas had brought in someone who could still direct actors and another writer to take his ideas and turn them into a decent script. But he wasn't interested in putting together those two things. IDK, maybe he just assumed he still had the chops to do it all in spite of the amount of rust he'd collected, or maybe he figured to wouldn't change the revenues much so why bother.

In any case, I think the next round has much more potential than anything since Empire because: 1) there is much more studio support and studio pressure for success. Disney spent a huge chunk of money and they can't allow it to fail as it could basically sink their live action movie division for years.

2) The world builders at LucasFilm are still there and still making the movie. Lucas may not know how to handle actors that well, but he knows artists and that part of the prequals was still top-notch. JJ's editing with the right effects people have the potential to make something really cool.
Marc Gioglio
37. Fuzzix
Perhaps the new movies, under Abrams unerring hands can take the droids back in time to influence Anakin so he does not turn to the dark side. You know, a fresh reboot to the series. That shouldn't be the whole plot though, just the intor. The plot should focus on a pampered Luke and Leia, and a Han that most definitely would not shoot first (if ever).

I don't get what the whole deal is with this abrams guy is, but I have honestly not seen anything that I could say I liked from this guy. His utter destruction of the Star Trek universe (to the apparent delight of many) has really turned me off to movies in general.
Lisa D.
38. Cecrow
Ironically, while capturing my "meh" reaction very well, your putting this into words has given me the ability to consider the other side. Wrap up all you've said in a box labelled credentials, set it aside, then look at what really matters. Abrams has respect for the material? Check. Adoration for the genre? Check. Knows what made the original trilogy tick? Check. Is this his dream job? Check. The old guard is supportive and in his corner (Lucas, Kasdan, Muren)? Check. Add my vote to the "wait and see" crowd, at the very least. Imagine what the Internet would have been saying in 1978 when Irvin Kershner was announced.
Jean Shea
39. JMShea
I too was disappointed to hear Abrams signed on to do the next "Star Wars." My reasons are not so deeply examined as Mr. Britts. As story-telling goes, they both are good stories, and I like both, but I've always liked the Star Trek franchise better.

Mr. Britt's column has made me wonder why that is. I realized my reasons are not as deep. They are right there in the franchise title. Do I like a story that is a trek — a journey or search where no one has gone before, or one that is about wars — battles and conflicts, light-sabre rattling. Those starting points send the story in a completely different directions.

I was extremely disappointed to hear he got a hold of Star Trek, given my disappointment with "Lost." But to be fair, he had left the show to a room full of writers, and they quickly embodied the show's title.

My worry with Star Trek was that I didn't think he could connect with the Trek universe, and I think he acknowledged he had a big sell job ahead of him. That said, I can't say I was disappointed. There were nits and picks, of course, but overall, I think he got it. I was eager to see whether he held onto it in his latest Trek out in May. However, his jumping ship to Star Wars has had the effect of throwing water on the upcoming Trek film. Makes me think he didn't really care all that much about it anyway.
Francisco Guimaraes
40. franksands
Actually George Lucas was *not* all over Return of the Jedi because he did not direct it and only contributed to the screenplay written by Lawrence Kasdan. As a matter of fact, Lucas only directed A New Hope.
Alan Brown
41. AlanBrown
When I was young, we had a saying at sea, "Sailor's aren't happy unless they're bitchin'." I think the internet has turned us all into sailors. If someone decides to extend a much loved series, we worry they will probably ruin it. If a director makes a movie that everyone loves and makes tons of money, the director has sold out and is no longer our darling. If someone writes a sequel, it is just not living up to the original. It is like a corrosive soup of negativity.
I myself am perfectly willing to give Mr. Abrams the benefit of the doubt. He has made some good solid films that I have enjoyed watching. And there is some benefit to experience. If he is like most of us, he will improve as he gets more practice, and learns more about his craft. He has also made some very diverse films, and there is no reason he will make the exact type of film when directing the new Star Wars that he has made in the past. I wish him all the best.
Lisa D.
42. Michael M. Hughes
Abrams killed Star Trek by turning it into a lens-flared, explosion-packed, focus-group-approved piece of drivel. Big ideas? Innovative stories? No way. People want SFX "blockbusters" with so much dizzying crap flying around on the screen they won't notice a lousy script and a lack of substance.

Star Wars is dead, and has been dead, so I really don't care if he J.J. Abramsifies it. It's a corpse that people refuse to bury even though it's been stinking up the place like a Jar-Jar Binks fart since Lucas unwisely returned to that galaxy far, far away. Expect abundant lens flare, frenetic editing, plenty of fan-boner shout-outs to past incarnations, all atop a soulless piece of homogenized and ephemeral by-the-numbers entertainment. And people will flock to it by the millions and Abrams will be infinitely richer and so on and so forth. I'd rather stay home and read a book.
Lisa D.
43. Michael M. Hughes
Wait—take back everything I just wrote. I can see how an Abramsified Star Wars can work. Here it goes:

At the end of the film, everyone is in some sort of ecumenical purgatory, laughing and hugging and kissing and making up for their rotten behavior, all fuzzy focus and golden hues. And there's a baby, too, maybe a Wookie baby. Then we get it—they're all dead! It was all some sort of dead person dream!

Go for it, J.J.!
Lisa D.
44. Gking
Brilliant piece. This generation will produce what it knows. They are locked into a stumbled upon "western" formula that made sense for its generation. The next generation will produce even more fantastic ideas, perhaps based upon what currently ails the planet, terrorism.
Lisa D.
45. Gerry M. Allen
Disney was always going to be a disaster for Star Wars. While Mr. Lucas ran the show with a consistent vision of the SW universe (@40, please read any number of items about Mr. Lucas' work ethics and you will see he is "all over" every production with his name above the title), Disney has only a corporate vision -- money is everything. The choice of director and writer for the next SW shows that.
I cannot say if I will see the next film. I did see the new Star Trek and felt sympathy for Roddenberry and his grave-rolling. I'll pass on Darkness.
Lisa D.
47. Doc Singleton
I was always a Star Wars fan, with some interest in Star Trek, but in 2009, Star Trek took the title of my favorite. The reason for this was the way that Abrams did it. You're right that he made it a little less hard sci-fi than it had ben, but lets face it, Star Trek IV and V (not to mention later ones) had already done that. What Abrams did was make it relevant to a new generation.

For a guy who identifies more with a younger generation than either of these IPs was written for, Abrams gives an opportunity for me to truly identify with the characters. Its hard for a guy who grew up surrounded by computers to look at Star Trek of old and be impressed by the sci-fi that has already become science fact. It's also hard to overlook the telltale styles (bellbottoms!) of the 70's that were still present even in the movies made into the 80's. It's also hard for me to look at Star Wars as anything more than a fairy tale in space, though I still love the originals!

I think that Abrams will be able to make Star Wars attractive to the 20-40 y/o geek who had long since outgrown Jarjar when he came onto the scene and was to young to really connect with Luke and his 70's style everything. The fact that Lucas created an classic is true, but it was a classic because of the story and execution, and he prooved that he couldn't repeat it when he made the prequels. I say we lay off Abrams and let him try, he definately can't do worse than the whiny Anikan and blubbering JarJar, and he'll probably do much better!
Philip Wardlow
48. PhilipWardlow
I think its ridiculous that Ryan Brit the writer of this article
begrudingly praises JJ Abrams Star Trek movie along with belittling us, the viewer, like we dont know what we like or should like in a movie....like were all stupid cavemen watching a movie for the first time.

He then goes and admits to the flaws of the Star Wars pre-quels and defends them by calling them artistic while in the same breath beats up on Abrams with his Philiosophical stick of what makes a movie a good movie....if we say its a good effing movie its a good effing movie...a duck is a duck ia duck people... formula aside.....I sure as hell enjoyed Super 8,, Cloverfield, Star Trek a whole helleva a lot more than the Star Wars Pre-quels...what kinda formula was that....hmm let's put as must CGI into this movie as we can and see if we can fool the audience into thinking its actually good.. Ryan Brit should have written an article about who would have been better to helm this film as the director for this particular movie and make his case that way rather than beating up on a good director with no real opinion behind it to back it up. Nuff said
Lisa D.
49. Rbtroj
@10 glorbes - where is your blog? I would very much like to read you on a regular basis. I thought your comment was excellent.
Lisa D.
50. tobbAddol
One thing though, the success of the original Star Wars movies had very little to do with George Lucas. Sure, it could be argued that he was the man with the vision, and I'm sure that without him the movies wouldn't have been what they were (or at all, for that matter.) But there were so many other talented writers and creative people involved in making Star Wars what it was. The problem with the prequels is that Lucas got to do everything himself. And the fact of the matter is that he's not very good at it. He also overused the whole "Hero's Journey" concept in those movies. Something that was used effectively and in moderation in the earlier movies became a standardized formula to be followed exactly in the later ones.

So here's to hoping that J.J. Abrams together with a team of skilled writers can make the Star Wars sequels what they should be.
Lisa D.
51. gordonemanuel
I think that Star Wars has already fallen into being a parody, pastiche of itself. When you look back now, A New Hope set the bar for the level of (filmic) artistic deapth, fast forward to Return of the Jedi and the franchise had fallen into catering more for pure entertainment, bar a hand full of redeming scenes.
Mostly downhill from there..
JJ Abrhams does deliver a nice amount of entertainment, and may not be set in his ways creatively speaking.
It's the Disney aspect that's a disapointing prospect for me.

G
steve cook
52. scook
Are “original” J.J. Abrams films like Cloverfield or Super 8 truly memorable, or even all that good? I would answer with a big “no.” These films certainly don’t suck,
After the last three movies, "not sucking" would be a vast improvement.
Lisa D.
53. CellatSea
I agree with your points, Sir. When they first started tossing around Mr. Abrams as the new director, my family all kind of held our collective breaths, hoping that perhaps it wasn't true.

And then it was. :|

Unlike a lot of people, I feel that Abrams' rebooted Star Trek was...not good. While it was a great sci-fi movie, it wasn't Star Trek. It was missing the character interactions, the feeling of it. I'd never been able to quite frame my problems with it properly, but your critique of it as a fantasy-type storyline is spot-on. It wasn't true to Roddenberry's original concept of space as this universal equalizer and the future being full of hope and promise, it was another story about an angry, messed-up guy living up to his potential...sigh.

Re: Star Wars, I worry a lot about what Abrams thinks he will be allowed to do here. I actually liked his original stuff (Cloverfield and Super 8 were really fun films and I've watched each more than once) but I don't think he can truly do justice to this material. And this is putting aside all of my other issues with what the heck they're going to do script-wise taking into account the EU and the travesty of its later stuff...maybe if they stick to Heir to the Empire or the Thrawn trilogy?

Tl;DR, Abrams is the director the fandom wants, but not the one it needs. I personally would have been happy to see Ben Affleck direct...
Lisa D.
54. Jolm Lemon
Great work, well thought. The fast food metaphor is excellent. I would like to know how Abrams feels about all this...
Lisa D.
55. wrog
but at least [the Star Wars prequels] certainly weren’t calculated and designed to appeal to exactly what the fans wanted.
[/i][/i][/i]Actually they were. The problem was that the targeted fans in question were all 8 years old.
Robert Folsom
56. robwired
The Star Wars prequels did not have to be made. Lucas said in an interview with Leonard Maltin that he was going to tell the back story of Darth Vader. But back stories don't have to be told; it is essential to the writer that he or she has a back story to flesh out the story being told. J. Michael Straczynski had a back story for Babylon 5 and a story of what happens after so that his characters had their histories. It's a good writer's technique. It doesn't mean, "Let's milk this cash cow."
The original Star Wars trilogy is canon. That's not to say other films can't be made, but those that have been made will not become part of the canon.
The same can be said about Episode VII, a poster of which shows a Mark Hamill in hooded Jedi master robe. Bringing back actors from the first trilogy is sure to get more people into theater seats. I might even go (I did not and would not see Episode II and III).
Abrams can't seem to let go of a time travel story line, something he does not do very well. Lost did not benefit by it and neither did his Star Trek. When you get Abrams, you get what he is trying to work out with
Sisyphean effort. At least Ridley Scott, with Prometheus, revisited Alien ideas with a good narrative, even if it fell short of the origin myth.
Morgan Gendel
57. Morgan_Gendel
Ryan -- nice analysis. What worries me most is that I think it is impossible to do anything that could please die-hard STAR WARS fans such as myself ("Inner Light" notwithstanding -- but even fans of that know it was an aberration and I'm not a true Trek fan). To put it into terms I know you will appreciate: it's like issuing "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love": We Beatles fans LOVED hearing the boys sing together again on new material, but no way it could ever recapture the glory of the Beatles years. For whatever reason we all loved STAR WARS so much, it's been done. It can't be reconjured. But that being said, wouldn't someone like Rian Johnson ("Looper") come closer to nailing the emotions and futuro quirkiness of it all? Just a thought...
PS - Lucas and Larry Kasdan are both credited on the Jedi screenplay.
Lisa D.
58. j.l. mummerth
so what he`s saying is that a clunky , slow 70`s type film is what`s needed ! the last three films were crap ! this may be just what is needed to breath some life back into the franchise !
William Fettes
59. Wolfmage
Whilst Britt makes several valid points, I believe this piece could have benefited significantly from an editor to cull the meandering introduction that says very little and also to help refine the arguments in the body of the piece which are often taken beyond what they can support.

For example, while it’s true that mastery of filmic techniques doesn’t beget a good film, Britt takes this eminently reasonable point and stretches it too far. That is, he actually seems to suggest that technical mastery is likely to crowd out the possibility of a good film. That is not persuasive, because though you always have some zero sum decisions around resources and time, you can't characterise the whole enterprise like that and there's no evidence marshalled that precludes films having both a heart and soul AND technical competence, particularly when you have the flexibility of a large budget.

I mean, you need close attention to both elements to succeed as a really good film, so dismissing the technical aspects completely as a distraction smacks of indie elitism. It's also odd when you consider that the original Star Wars films were a triumph of technology, with the new pioneering techniques employed by Lucas being central to their appeal and staying power.

Another example of Britt over-taxing his arguments is the mention of the prequels. It’s certainly true that fan-service pandering isn’t artistically brave, and that the prequels failed to cater to either the modern zeitgeist or to the now grown-up audience of the originals. But that doesn’t at all mean they were, therefore, brave and artistically independent. That’s a straightforward logical fallacy. It is equally plausible to argue that Lucas simply tried to pander and failed – meaning he created neither a savvy consumer-focus-tested piece of popular mediocrity, nor a brave artistic piece that failed to garner mainstream acceptance. I mean, if ever there was a character that was obviously manufactured to tick boxes in relation to kids it was Jar Jar Binks – so this is a very silly self-evidently false argument to make.
Alan Brown
60. AlanBrown
Seems more than a few of the subsequent posts were written to validate my 'corrosive soup of negativity' point. ;-)
Chelsea Rash
61. Crashwriter
@55: (quote)but at least the Star Wars prequels] certainly weren’t calculated and designed to appeal to exactly what the fans wanted. (/quote)
Actually they were. The problem was that the targeted fans in question were all 8 years old.
Sad but true. I was nine when Episode I came out and went Star Wars-crazy for the next couple of years. But when Attack of the Clones came out, I was a severely disappointed twelve year-old. I had aged out of the target audience.

You can say this for Abrams: his usual target audience is at least into their teens. Like a couple of posters up-thread, I'm actually fine with a generic blockbuster for Episode VII, provided that kicks the franchise into a Harry Potter-like run where new directors can hop on board for later films. The first two Potter films were soulless disasters, but the series made up for that by maturing into something quite good later on.
A. E. Kalquist
62. AEKalquist
I disagree with this article, too.
There is nothing wrong at all with trying to write a story or film a movie that will be a "hit". I appreciate it when creators check off all those boxes. I want a story to have meaning and I want an ending that makes sense and is satisfying. I loved the new Star Trek movie and I'm not a huge Star Trek fan.

You assume that writing something with artistic merit and writing something that makes a lot of money are mutually exclusive. They're not.
Daniel Bastion
63. Daniel Bastion
I think JJ Abrams is a competent director, and he will probably do a good job with it.
Lisa D.
64. Kennith
I'm going to disagree with the author of the article. I liked what Aabrams did to Star Trek. Star Trek would have died thanks to Brannon Braga and he saved it. I think he will save Star Wars, I love George Lucas for creating Star Wars but he nearly destroyed the saga with Episode I, II and III and I think JJ will return it to the legend it was originally was.
Lisa D.
66. Michael Pullmann
Because before now, "Star Wars" has been the epitome of substance and artistic integrity.
Lisa D.
69. ScruffyExaminer
By the way, you know Jung was full of s**t, right? Campbell was a very nice man. Also full of s**t. And don't even get me started on Freud, the nut.

Archetypes are about as useful as Aristotelean physics.
Lisa D.
70. John Publics
JJ Abhams sucks, and is giving the hackery treatment to the originals.

I dont know what is more disappointing, that fact, or the fact that there are millions of ignorant fools who will insipdly pay their 10$ and queue up to watch the gutting of an excellent franchise

JJ Abrhams is basically Uwe Boll
Lisa D.
71. Jonathan Birch
Been reading through some of the comments, and most of the sentiments expressed seem to be divided between optimism and cautious disappointment.

My two cents: The LOST pilot was aired when I was about 11. At first I thought, "Wow, an AIRPLANE CRASH!" and "What?! A hideous monster in the jungle? Awesome!" But then when you look at it critically, it really becomes sort of ridiculous.

Then along came Mission Impossible III. After MI:II, it was a breath of fresh air. But rewatching it, it's not all that different from the second one. It's still got a ridiculous plot, hammy villain, and Tom Cruise. It just looks a lot slicker and more refined than John Woo's version.

Then Cloverfield. Essentially, Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. It was a good time, but becomes implausible the more you think about it.

Super 8 fell apart in the second half when it turned out that, no, JJ really didn't have a very noteworthy story to tell after all.

Star Trek was also a good time at the theaters, but it relies on too many convenient plot contrivances and "stuff blows up real good" to really be considered in the spirit of Star Trek.

My problem with JJ is this. All his films essentially boil down to, "Everything is at stake, the hero will be tested to the limit, it will be the most intense thing you've seen since last year." I understand that the original Star Wars was about all that on the surface level, but it also had deeper implications with the King Arthur myth, buddhist/taoist perspectives, and redemption. It's a tale as old as the hills, but had enough fresh creative vision behind it in the creation of this new universe to give it significance for the movie-going public. JJ Abrams, to me, is not interested in myth or fantasy. He is interested in the surface aspect of Star Wars, and that's why I believe he is going to turn it into a pastiche (very well made, no doubt) of what the originals were all about.
Lisa D.
72. phreak9
the problem with Eps 1,2, an 3 is that they were aimed at a younger audience and had too much corny looking CGI which may have been done to cartoon it up for the aimed at younger audience. Lucas tried to double down on his audeince numbers and failed

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment