J.J. Abrams Directing the New 'Star Wars': Exciting or Terrifying?

So long as his Star Trek affiliation doesn't destroy the known universe, there's reason for optimism.

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Reuters (Fabrizio Bensch) / Lucasfilm

Marvel vs. DC; Bond vs. Bourne; Star Trek vs. Star Wars—there are some pop-cultural divides that are not meant to bridged. And yet here we are, with J.J. Abrams, whose second Trek movie is due out in May, now announced as the director of a new Star Wars film slated for 2015, the first of a trilogy under the umbrella of Disney, which acquired Lucasfilm last year. I cannot be alone in fearing a rift in the fabric of space/time.

Apart from that unfortunate possibility, though, is the Abrams-Star Wars marriage one to be feared or celebrated?

I suppose my initial response is, relative to what? Do I wish Disney had repaid the billions that Joss Whedon made the company with The Avengers by offering him this franchise? Sure I do. (Brad Bird or Alfonso Cuaron or Rian Johnson—whose names had also come up—would have been worthy choices too, and Darren Aronofsky, interesting, to say the least.) At the same time, we dodged a bullet with Zack Snyder (or perhaps not) and apparently Ben Affleck. (Nothing against the latter, but having made a good film about people making a bad, fake Star Wars ripoff is a decidedly peculiar qualification.)

There's no doubt that Abrams is a gifted director; whether he's a capable storyteller is more open to question. If one is feeling charitable (and I suppose I am), it's easy to lay his shortcomings in the latter category at the feet of his frequent collaborators. I refer specifically to writer/producer Damon Lindelof and the screenwriting duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman—the former a maestro of lame conclusions, and the latter two maestros of lame everything. Abrams worked with Lindelof on Lost; with Orci and Kurtzman on Mission: Impossible III; and with all three on Star Trek, Cowboys & Aliens, and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness. Lest anyone doubt the narrative-annihilating abilities of these collaborators, we need look no further than the evidence of Prometheus (Lindelof) and the first two Transformers movies (Orci and Kurtzman).

Left on his own, by contrast, Abrams has offered up such modest-but-appealing entertainments as Super 8 and Cloverfield (which he produced, but did not direct). All of which is to say that a massive tent-pole franchise featuring Abrams but not (at least as far as we know) Lindelof, Orci, or Kurtzman is a novel prospect, and perhaps a promising one. It is almost certainly good news that the screenplay for Star Wars: Episode VII will be by Michael Arndt, who wrote Little Miss Sunshine and revitalized another long-dormant franchise with Toy Story 3. And although George Lucas is involved in the project (the story will evidently be based on an arc he has envisioned for decades, and he will serve as "creative consultant"), his failings have typically been of execution rather than broader vision. And he won't be running the show in any case, thank God.

So, it's on you, Abrams.

Mark me down as cautiously optimistic. Provided, that is, that the director's joint participation in Star Trek and Star Wars doesn't wind up crossing the streams and ending all life as we know it instantaneously.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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