Published on January 30th, 2013 | by PJ Montgomery2
Is Abrams the man for Star Wars?
Geeks the world over are rejoicing over the recent announcement that JJ Abrams is the man who will be bringing us Star Wars Episode VII: The Whatever It’s Going To Be Called. Most people seem to be more than happy with this choice, despite the almost endless parade of lens flare comments. So why has this news got me thinking “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”? I like Abrams, I’m a fan of some of his previous work, while other things he’s done have left me cold. There is the argument that what Star Wars needs is fresh blood, that the franchise needs reinvigorating, in much the same way that Abrams reinvigorated Star Trek, but will the same trick work twice? Does anything in Abrams’ back catalogue suggest that he’s the man for Star Wars? Let’s investigate.
JJ Abrams’ spy show was arguably his first big hit, also making stars of both Jennifer Garner and Bradley Cooper. It ran for five seasons, and attracted big name guest stars like Christian Slater, David Cronenberg and Quentin Tarantino. It boasts among its fans one Tom Cruise, who recruited Abrams for the Mission Impossible franchise off the back of what he saw on Alias. The show’s protagonist, Garner’s Sydney Bristow, had some major family issues, having to frequently go up against her own mother, and was the center of a prophecy which was a only a tiny part of a whole lot of mystical mumbo jumbo which ran through the show. She also got involved in some slickly choreographed fight scenes. Any of this sounding vaguely familiar? While the differences are many, Alias and Star Wars do share some DNA right at their very core. If Abrams got it right with Alias (and this writer is a huge fan, still holding it up as possibly the best thing Abrams has done), then maybe he’ll be fine with Star Wars? Well, yes and no. Alias was not without its flaws, often becoming hideously overcomplicated and bloated by its own mythology, with the odd bout of trying to be too clever for its own good. If you persevered, there were pay offs, and there was enough intrigue and action (and Jennifer Garner in revealing outfits) to keep your interest, but it wasn’t always easy to be an Alias fan. However, Abrams managed to get through all of that, and at the end of the shows run, we had an entertaining five seasons of TV that’s well worth checking out. Would Abrams overcomplicate Star Wars? Possibly, but then, George Lucas gave us the opening crawl to the Phantom Menace, featuring the Trade Federation, tax issues, blockades and yawn, when do the lightsaber fights happen George, so it’s not like Abrams complicating things would be the worst thing to ever happen. Of everything in Abrams’ back catalogue, it’s probably Alias which is the biggest argument in favour of him taking the reins on Star Wars.
The infamous show which started with so much promise, before becoming muddied by too many questions, and not enough answers. Fans began switching off in droves when it became clear that the writers had no idea what they were doing. I was a defender of the show, until there came a point during the shows fifth or sixth season where I missed an episode. And miss one episode of Lost, and you are well and truly, er, lost. So, I gave up on it. And found that I honestly didn’t care. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t going to find out the eventual fates of Jack, Kate, Sawyer and co. I still don’t know what happened at the end, and I’m still not that interested. Despite some clever twists here and there (the flashbacks unexpectedly becoming flash forwards was a stroke of genius), it wasn’t enough, and Lost continued to struggle to connect with anyone other than the die hard fans. But can all of this be laid at Abrams’ feet? While he was credited as executive producer for the entire run of the series, other than writing and directing the pilot episode, Abrams was largely hands off, with the lion’s share of the showrunning being left up to Damon Lindelof, whose Prometheus script shared many of the issues that Lost had throughout its run. Using Lost as a barometer for how Abrams may tackle Star Wars might seem a tad unfair at this point, but there are still rumours that Lindelof will be involved with the script for Episode VII. If he is, then we’re all doomed.
MI:III is probably the strongest of the Mission Impossible films so far. It features some bravura action pieces, a brilliant bad guy in the shape of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and a Tom Cruise who’s clearly having a blast making it. It was Cruise who asked for Abrams to write and direct MI:III, and it proved to be a canny decision. Abrams took what he had learned on Alias, and made it bigger. But this is also the films biggest issue. To those who had watched all of Alias, everything in MI:III felt just a bit… familiar. Many of the situations and characters in the film seemed to be lifted almost wholesale from the TV show, including Cruise’s Ethan Hunt having to lie to his wife about what he really does for a living, and if Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn wasn’t just a thinly-veiled take on Kevin Weisman’s Marshall Flinkman, then I’m Yoda. Still, despite being Alias: The Movie under a different name, MI:III was a lot of fun, and proved that Abrams could handle action on the big screen scale ably. Abrams is still with the Mission Impossible franchise, producing the fourth film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and already attached in a similar capacity to the upcoming Mission Impossible V. Which means Abrams is spreading himself among three major film franchises. Is that really a good idea?
The found footage giant monster movie, written by Cabin in the Woods director, Drew Goddard, and directed by Matt Reeves, boasted Abrams as a producer, as well as the man behind the original concept. Cloverfield was one of the better found footage films of the last decade, despite some paper thin characters who you really struggled to get behind. The monster itself was well realised, and the destruction of New York City as seen through a handheld video camera felt real and effective. There are still rumours of a sequel doing the rounds, but to be honest, the only way this should be approved are if the word “Cloverfield” in the title is preceded by the words “Godzilla Versus”. But I digress. There isn’t much in Cloverfield which can give us a clue about what Abrams would do with Star Wars, except the monster itself. Star Wars is no stranger to big monster aliens attacking our heroes, whether it’s the dianoga in the Death Star trash compactor, the giant space worm trying to eat the Millenium Falcon, the Rancor battling Luke Skywalker, or the Sarlacc, trying to eat everybody. If Abrams doesn’t bring some big monster fun to his Star Wars, then he’s made a grave mistake.
Apparently, Fringe was wildly popular among the geek set while it was on TV. A lot of people watched and enjoyed it every week, until it left our screens recently, never to return. Probably. But I couldn’t tell you why, as I got really bored halfway through the first season, and gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed John Noble’s turn as Walter Bishop, but there was nothing else to keep me coming back. The show felt like it was going nowhere, and I simply stopped caring. A number of people have told me I should go back and try it again, push through the first season and watch it get good. But I shouldn’t have to. There are plenty of things I enjoy watching which are good from the start which I’d much rather get behind. Abrams likes a plot which burns slowly, but for my money, Fringe was barely simmering. I didn’t want another Lost situation, so I left it. If Abrams brings the sort of pacing we saw in Fringe to Star Wars, then he’ll be setting up plot developments which won’t get resolved until Episode XVIII, at the earliest, and who has the time to wait for that? And yes, I know I’m in for a kicking now from Fringe fans.
All hail JJ Abrams, the saviour of Star Trek! Except… Was he? Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Star Trek, but it isn’t perfect. Abrams just gets some of the beats wrong. Kirk’s besting of the Kobyashi Maru test is legendary among Trek fans, and for the scene to be little more than a throw away joke here feels wrong. And as for the scene in which Kirk is chases across a frozen tundra by a couple of CGI monsters, it simply comes across as pointless, as if JJ said “I haven’t had anything go boom for five minutes” and lazily slapped in a section which feels more like Star Wars (yes, I know) than Star Trek. But, that said, he did get a lot right. The film is cast perfectly, the Enterprise looks amazing, it’s exciting, and Leonard Nimoy’s appearance was a real crowd pleaser. It also manages to be (mostly) respectful of what has gone before while still doing its own thing. That’s a tough balance to get right. Still, Trek is at its best when it also makes you think, and using the future setting to tell stories about politics, prejudice, war… stories about what it is to be human. Not to say it can’t simply be a fun ride on occasion. Look at First Contact or The Wrath of Khan, both of which are excellent Trek movies which are quite action heavy. But, crucially, The Wrath of Khan is also about revenge, ageing, friendship, death and rebirth. Another high point of the Trek franchise, at least when it comes to the films, is The Undiscovered Country, which centres on a peace treaty with the Klingon Empire and a political assassination plot. It has a couple of action beats here and there, but mostly, The Undiscovered Country could best be described as a political thriller. In space. Star Trek didn’t feature any of this, and concentrated on exciting space battles and fight scenes. The trailers for Star Trek Into Darkness (which is still an awful title) don’t really tell us whether we’re getting more of the same, or something a bit more… well, Star Trek. Yes, the Rick Berman and Brannon Braga years were well passed their sell-by date, and fresh blood was needed to make Trek viable again. Which is what Manny Coto was doing on Enterprise before it was cancelled, and finished with the disastrous Berman/Braga episode “These Are The Voyages…” But before this, the final season of Enterprise was revitalising the franchise, in a similar manner to what Abrams did on the big screen, while still remaining Star Trek. There’s a concern that Abrams will be turning Trek into a purely action-oriented series, which may bring in the money, but isn’t what Star Trek fans want. However, some will say that it IS what Star Wars needs.
But again, Abrams isn’t leaving the Star Trek franchise either, already signed on to be involved in a third movie. So, we have one man bringing us Mission Impossible, Star Trek and Star Wars in the next few years. It seems like too much work for one man. But none of this has really addressed the question: Is JJ Abrams the right man to bring Star Wars back as the force (sorry) it deserves to be?
The honest answer is, I don’t know. I don’t think Abrams is the right choice for Star Wars, but I honestly can’t tell you exactly why. It just doesn’t mesh in my head. I’ll be more than happy for him to prove me wrong, and will be be queueing up to see Star Wars Episode VII in the cinema alongside everyone else. I just don’t want to be hurt again.