Not surprisingly, the Internet exploded yesterday (1/24/13) with the leaked announcement that J.J. Abrams was going to direct the next Star Wars film—Episode VII if you’re keeping count—scheduled to come out in 2015.
Also predictably, this news was instantly controversial. Abrams has been a polarizing filmmaker and TV creator. His work has been very successful, yet he has also been the target of online venom from many hard-core science fiction fans.
The reason? Two words: Star Trek.
Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film was a huge hit and achieved the remarkable feat of reviving what was pretty much a dead franchise. After 10 films (ending with the 2002 flop Nemesis) and four spin-off TV series (wrapping with the end of Enterprise in 2005) Star Trek had pretty much run out of gas as a viable commercial entity. There were no new films or TV series on the horizon until Abrams rebooted the series with a film that took the classic characters of the original TV show (Kirk, Spock, etc.) back to their roots, recasting young actors, ramping up the action, and starting a new storyline that young generations could get with on the ground floor without foreknowledge of 10 movies and hundreds of TV episodes.
Star Trek worked—it was critically acclaimed and a huge financial success for Paramount—but it also alienated a small but vocal minority of Trek loyalists, as its storyline was both a prequel (showing the characters as young people) and a reboot, as it set the Enterprise crew on a new course for fresh adventures.
To its haters, this was sacrilege. Abrams and his writers had violated years of continuity. Stuff that happened in the old shows now never happened—at least in this new timeline. The planet Vulcan was gone. Spock and Uhura were now an item. Kirk was no longer William Shatner. Things had changed—and would remain changed for films to come—and some die-hard Trekkers hated it.
Flash-forward to 2013. Abrams’ second Star Trek film, Into Darkness, is set to come out this summer, and these same die-hards hate it already—even before they’ve seen it. Why? Because it’s by Abrams and crew. Yet anticipation is high for the film, which will very likely be another blockbuster. And I’d bet that 99 percent of those very vocal haters will go see it—maybe just so they can hate it.
And in two years, I’ll bet they—and the Star Wars fans who have joined in the anti-Abrams choir—will go see Episode VII too.
And they’ve already started hating! Check out social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and you’re sure to find plenty of threads discussing the news of Abrams getting Star Wars. While many reactions are positive about the news (along the lines of “Sure, he did a good job with Star Trek, why not? Let’s see what he can do.”), there are plenty of haters already spewing venom. I watched one thread yesterday and counted how many entries it took before a mention of “lens flares”—one of the prime touch points of the anti-Abrams choir. It took six.
Let’s talk about lens flares for a sec. This is a reference to the photographic effect, used heavily in Abrams’ Star Trek film, in which the camera catches a “flare” of light as if it’s focusing on a star. My guess is it was used to give the film a sense of reality, as if this really was photographed in space, documentary-style. Whatever; it didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me when I watch the film on Blu-ray.
But “lens flares” has become the resounding cry of Abrams haters. Go to the SyFy channel’s excellent Web site, blastr.com, on any given day, and if there’s a story about an Abrams-related project (and he’s still producing TV and developing other films in addition to his work with these franchises), odds are the dreaded “lens flares” will pop up really quickly.
My thought? GET OVER IT. It may have been funny for about five days back in 2009 when people first starting picking on it, but at this point it’s the genre cinema equivalent to yelling “Free Bird!” or “more cowbell” at a rock show—it got old a long time ago, hasn’t been funny for a long time, and now it’s ancient history.
And even if you’re a lens flare hater, get used to it, because they’ll probably show up in Into Darkness and we may see them in Episode VII as well.
Which gets us back to Star Wars and J.J. taking the reins. As a fan of his work (yes, I loved Lost and will be glad to explain the ending to you, and by the way, he didn’t have much to do with it anyway after the first season; oh, and Alias was pretty sweet too), I’m greatly looking forward to see what he does with the property.
Big reason: He’s not George Lucas. As someone who’s old enough to have seen all of the three original Star Wars movies in theaters when they first came out, I can say I’m a lifelong fan of the franchise and have enormous respect for Lucas’ work and the universe he created.
But the three prequels he directed and largely wrote? Meh. I was not a fan of The Phantom Menace (yeah, it’s easy to pick on Jar Jar, but there were there plenty of other things wrong there too. Bratty Anakin? A blah story? Midichorians? Wha?) Attack of the Clones was an unmemorable yawn to me. Revenge of the Sith was better, but so dark, mired in unnecessary Empire politics, and there was that horrid Darth Vader “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” moment.
My thought on the prequel trilogy was the films were a case of a creator with absolute power and no one to tell him if something was off. Running his own studio, Lucas could make whatever he wanted with absolute creative control. This can be a good thing, but I felt like some judicious editing, tightened-up story points and better casting in some cases could have resulted in better films. And they also fell victim to a pitfall of all prequels: If we know the ending going in, there’s little drama or suspense; it’s more about seeing how we get there.
Lucas surprised the industry last year with the announcement that he was selling his company, and with it Star Wars, to Disney. I felt this was good news, as not only did it mean the development of new films in the franchise, but also that these films would be driven by new writers and directors, bringing a fresh perspective to the property that the prequels lacked—much like the perspective Abrams brought to Star Trek.
Seems like Disney felt that way too, as the studio is reportedly giving the keys to the kingdom to Abrams. This has raised the question: Will Abrams give up working on future Star Trek films to do Star Wars? Answer: Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s possible he’ll do both, although I wouldn’t count on him doing a new Star Trek film until after 2015. There’s no hard and fast rule that you can’t guide two franchises, even the two most iconic sci-fi franchises in history. Maybe he will leave Star Trek to other hands. Only time will tell on that one.
It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s an outcry for Joss Whedon to take over Star Trek—or replace Abrams on Star Wars, for that matter. Whedon, who wrote and directed the No. 1 film of 2012, The Avengers—is the polar opposite of Abrams to the small but vocal sci-fi minority. Just as in the eyes of this group Abrams can do no right, so, too, Whedon can do no wrong. Look for Whedon items on the blastr site, and you’ll see unbridled affection. To these folks, Whedon should direct everything (and everything should star his “Firefly” leading man, Nathan Fillion). I’m not knocking Whedon—Avengers was the bomb and The Cabin in the Woods was really cool—but he’s had his share of missteps, like anyone. Anyone remember the “Dollhouse” series? Me neither. Whedon is busy making billions for Marvel, which Disney also bought a few years back, so it’s doubtful he’d have the time to play in the Star Wars sandbox if he was even interested.
So that’s not happening. You’ll have to live with Mr. Lens Flare.
And I, for one, will go out on a limb, and probably invoke plenty of flaming, in saying I think Star Wars is in good hands. I think Abrams really is the Spielberg of our generation—a true storyteller who crafts films and TV with heart and character as well as action and adventure (and yes, lens flares). Anyone who saw his 2011 homage to Spielberg’s work, Super 8, knows he’s an able disciple of the Lucas/Spielberg era.
And he’s going to have a hell of a support team on this one—Lucas’ producer, Kathleen Kennedy, is now heading up Lucasfilm under Disney to ensure continued fidelity to the auteur’s vision; and Lucas himself will still consult on films to come, which will be based on his story treatments.
Haters are going to hate, I suppose, even though they’ll most likely camp out to be the first in line to see Episode VII in 2015. I’ll see you there. I won’t be sleeping in a tent in front of the theater, but I’m greatly looking forward to what Abrams and Lucasfilm come up with. Will it be great? Disappointing? Who knows? We sit in judgment of that question every time the lights go down and a film begins. That’s the adventure, folks, so let’s be patient, stay positive, and enjoy the journey as we hear tidbits about production and story and casting and all of the cool things that will be the new Star Wars.
Even if there are lens flares.