J.J. Abrams, the director tasked with bringing Star Wars back to the top of the crowded franchise heap, has always been happy to borrow. When he set out to make a new Star Trek and drag that moribund cinematic franchise back into blockbuster territory, he cheerfully swapped in some very familiar visual language to help it over the hill. Early on in the film, James Kirk (Chris Pine), nursing a desire to transcend his farmboy life, rides a motorcycle to see the U.S.S. Enterprise being built at a shipyard, and gazes up at it longingly. Star Wars fans would connect the scene to one at the beginning of the first 1977 film, when Luke Skywalker wistfully watches the dual suns of his home planet set; Star Trek's producers even called the scene "our Tatooine moment." Abrams has never exactly been a visionary artist, but he's a master of elevating the familiar—a fact made clear in the previews of his new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.
In those twin scenes of Kirk and Luke looking out into the unknown, the visuals and the swelling music behind them tell the whole story. In turning Star Trek into an egocentric hero's journey about Kirk's origins in the captain's chair, Abrams upended many a traditional Trek fan's conception of the franchise, and his films have never been fully embraced by that fan base. But 2009's Star Trek also made $385 million at the worldwide box office, compared with $67 million for its predecessor, 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. Star Trek's first trailer also ends with a glimpse at a dynamic space battle, the likes of which one might find in, well, a certain George Lucas film.
Now, Abrams has the reins to those films, and he got a rapturous reception at last week's "Star Wars Celebration" convention, where he premiered the second teaser to The Force Awakens, the series' seventh "episode." It might be too much to call the Star Wars franchise moribund, but after Lucas' prequel trilogy, its future seemed dire. Lucasfilm's surprise sale to Disney in 2012, which placed Star Wars in the hands of producer Kathleen Kennedy, set it up as a moneymaker for years to come, but it had been hard to know what the Lucas-less sequels would look like until Kennedy hired Abrams to spearhead them.