“Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.”
I anticipated that it wouldn’t take long after the announcement of Michael Arndt as Episode VII‘s screenwriter that we’d have a decision on the director. Well, now we know. None other than J.J. Abrams will direct Star Wars: Episode VII. In doing so, he will face the unenviable task of bringing the Star Wars franchise back to respectability after George Lucas‘ “disappointing” (I’ll be nice) prequels, and on top of that, he has to follow Return of the Jedi. Thanks to the internet, this will probably be the most scrutinized movie project of all time. That’s Death Star-sized pressure, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. That said, any director who took this job must have understood what he was getting into.
We’ll have to wait for an official announcement to find out if he’s signed up for just Episode VII, or if he’s diving in head first and committing to create an entire trilogy. I suspect he’s only down for 1 movie right now, but I would prefer he be locked up for all 3 so that potential director(s) of Episodes VIII and IX don’t have to try and mimic his style to make their films look like Episode VII. Then again, if Episode VII is a massive directorial disappointment, at least we can say someone else will be directing the follow-up(s).
As I said in my Star Wars: Episode VII speculation post back in November, Abrams would not have been my first choice (in fact, he probably wouldn’t have been in the top 10), but I’m not at all surprised he was the choice. Above all else, I just find it very odd that the same guy will have directed Star Trek and Star Wars movies. As a huge fan of both franchises since I was a kid, and as someone who appreciates the differences between the two, I feel like this is a paradox, one that should cause a tear in the space time continuum. Shouldn’t the universe implode or something? It just isn’t right. Next to any definition of “conflict of interest”, there should now be a photo of J.J. Abrams as a visual reference.
Let’s get to the point. Do I feel Abrams is capable of making a great Star Wars movie? Yes, I do. Despite his overuse of lens flares (Abrams: lens flares = Zack Snyder: slow motion), I think he’s a very competent director. He’s got “big idea” vision, understands large scale effects sequences, and aside from the lens flares, I’ve been a fan of his directorial style thus far. I love Mission: Impossible 3, I loved his first Star Trek movie (even if it didn’t feel like Star Trek), but I thought Super 8 was just okay. I’m lukewarm on what we’ve been shown of Star Trek Into Darkness thus far, but I still feel he can handle this job. He has admitted in the past that he grew up a huge Star Wars fan, and that’s a great sign. A lot of people think Abrams’ Star Trek feels more like a Star Wars movie than a Trek movie in that it’s much more action than true sci-fi, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Now he gets to do what he’s wanted to do all along.
I can only hope that the internet makes such a mockery of the lens flare issue over the coming weeks that he’ll be forced to at least think about not having lens flares shooting out of lightsabers and bouncing off of starships in his Star Wars movie.
My problems with the selection of Abrams? As I pointed out in the previous post, I think there were several more interesting candidates if the producers had thought outside the box just a little. From what we can tell (and we’ll never know the entire list of people they considered), the only people Disney and the producers approached were people who were already established, big name filmmakers. Choosing Abrams was the easy and obvious way to go, and I don’t like that the beginning of this process is based on such a lazy creative choice. If the reports are to be believed, Abrams got the gig in large part due to Steven Spielberg campaigning on his behalf to LucasFilm president (and longtime Spielberg producer) Kathleen Kennedy, who then lobbied the director to accept the job. Mr. Spielberg, god love him, needs to mind his own business and focus on winning Oscars for Lincoln. A lot of people wanted Brad Bird to direct, and I’d have been fine with that, but he has already committed to his next project and was unavailable, just like many other fanboy choices are unavailable (especially Joss Whedon, who recently admitted he’d have loved to do it if he weren’t committed to The Avengers sequel). Ben Affleck was also in the running, but as much as I love him, I don’t want his first genre movie to be something this important. Just for shiggles, here’s 5 other names off the top of my head I’d have rather seen do it: Gore Verbinski, The Wachowskis, Jonathan Liebesman, Joseph Kosinski, Roland Emmerich.
Again, despite any reservations I have, I think it’s a big deal that Abrams is a fan of Star Wars. And it’s a big deal that the screenwriter, Michael Arndt, is also a fan of Star Wars. These are good things, especially when paired together. Thankfully, one person who doesn’t seem to give a give a shit about Star Wars, George Lucas, is not making the big decisions on this project. We need it to stay that way. Until I see something that gives me pause (shitty casting decisions, a disappointing trailer, Damon Lindelof taking a pass at the third act of the script), I am inclined to give J.J. Abrams the full benefit of the doubt going forward.
It’s worth mentioning one key secondary result of this transaction. The hiring of Abrams means Michael Giacchino will likely be doing the score in place of The Great One, John Williams. This is obviously no small task, but I am on board with Giacchino taking the reins. I actually hope that Williams turns down the project if offered. He just crossed 80 years old, and he’s been there, done that. They should use Williams’ Star Wars themes to begin and end the movie, but everything new in between should be left to a new composer, and I believe Abrams’ man Giacchino is capable of rising to the challenge.
Star Wars: Episode VII is slated for release in summer, 2015, likely just a few weeks after The Avengers 2. Since Disney is releasing both films, expect them to come out at least 3 weeks apart, if not more. Regardless, I’m very happy Abrams & Arndt will have plenty of time to fine tune the script before they need to start shooting the film later this year or early 2014. Story, story, story. That’s where it all starts. If the script is no good, the movie will be no good.
UPDATE: As expected, Disney and LucasFilm have put out their official press release formally announcing Abrams as director of Episode VII. There is no mention of him directing any films after that. Also noteworthy is that Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, is one of the “consultants” on the project. That can only be good news, friends. May the Force be with Abrams, Michael Arndt, Kathleen Kennedy and everyone else involved in this project as they shape the story that will determine the future of Star Wars. For the rest of us, 2015 is but two years away. [Read the announcement here]
BONUS! They’ve already revealed the flashy new Star Wars logo!
P.S. I’ll do another post down the road about specific things I want and don’t want to see (CG Stormtroopers for one!) in Episode VII. That should be fun. Or cathartic. Or both.