While attention is, understandably, mostly on J.J. Abrams's newest film Star Trek Into Darkness, which opened this week, I'm suddenly more interested in his next film, 2015's Star Wars: Episode VII. Obviously we don't know anything about the movie yet, but there are some aspects of Into Darkness that might give us some hints. Not about the plot, obviously, but about the style. Judging by what he's done with Into Darkness, a J.J. Abrams Star Wars could actually be quite good.
I know we Star Wars fans will forever be scarred by the unholy nightmare that was the prequel trilogy, so the idea of any other movie potentially further sullying the precious original three is horrifying, but bear with me. Though he makes some narrative mistakes here and there, seemingly caving to baser instincts, Abrams's Star Trek films are sleek and fun, he creates engaging worlds and deftly manipulates their physics. They are, though, a little too sleek at times, there's an almost robotic quality to them that makes me think that Abrams, who admits to not being much of a Star Trek fan, will do better when his heart is really in it. He likes Star Wars and Star Wars offers more room to breathe. With Star Trek, Abrams had to reinvent an origin story, while working within some rather strict framework. But with Star Wars he's simply continuing a story, there is no rebooting there, he has far fewer things to simply recreate. That's a good thing.
There's a playfulness to Abrams's movies that I suspect will work much better in the Star Wars universe. Into Darkness opens with a riotous chase sequence that feels straight out of the Star Wars playbook, a Han and Chewie caper if ever there was one. It's looser, more madcap than the typical Star Trek tale. The movie is clever, too, having fun with silly-looking aliens and the insanities of space adventure. It's never full-on Mos Eisley or asteroid monster, but that's because that's not what Star Trek does. But Star Wars does! Of course Star Wars is serious too, but in an operatic way. It's melodrama, not the interior moral conflicts of Kirk and Spock. Abrams, for all his cool technical mastery, is a pop opera kind of a guy; he's a Spielbergite, someone more concerned with awe than reason.
I like too that Star Wars exists in an entirely different galaxy. Abrams is good at grounding his Star Trek films in some sort of recognizable reality, but I'm more curious to see what he does with something that has nothing to do with Earth. Of course he won't be creating an aesthetic from whole cloth, that was already done for him 35 years ago, but there are more opportunities for wild flights of fancy and imagination with Star Wars and, if nothing else, I'm excited to see what that looks like. It could be a mess! That is a distinct possibility. But I suspect that, as he showed with Super 8, he has a good eye for the fantastical.
I'm also heartened that Abrams's frequent writing partners Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof are not currently attached to Episode VII at the moment. Abrams needs to shake it up a bit, film other people's words, keep himself on his creative toes. Sure the current credited screenwriter Michael Arndt was on the committee that wrote the muddled Oblivion, but if he's not simply a link in the rewrite chain, maybe something clearer and more fully realized will come out. Though, of course, this thing is going to have studio hands all over it no matter what. It's Disney for crying out loud.
Which really should be our biggest concern about Star Wars, corporate business that is largely out of Abrams's hands. Filmmaking-wise, I'm finding myself more bullish about Abrams's prospects than anticipated. Into Darkness plays like he's gearing up, getting himself into space mode before leaving orbit and rocketing off. If he can tone down the sleekness, the coolness, just a little bit — Star Wars is a little too earnest to be cool — then I think he might be the ideal man for the job. He's smart and has good taste (for the most part) and this is source material he likes. I know this could all end in Phantom Menace-esque carnage, but for now I'm feeling a new hope.
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