On January 25th of 2013 Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd. officially announced that Jeffrey Jacob Abrams would be filming the first new Star Wars episode of the new era. After the jump we’ll look into why this was the best possible choice!
After D-Day 2012 the internet went crazy with hysterical Star Wars fans cyber-ventelating over the G I N O R M O U S, nerd-shattering news that we would be getting a new trilogy of movies and then some! Inhaler company profits boomed! In the early wake of this tremendous info-bomb we fans started flooding message boards of all types to re-start the hype machine, cranked right to eleven. We discussed everything under the sun with regards to the new movies to include, obviously, who would be tapped first to direct. Many hot names came up such as Rian Johnson, Neill Blompkamp, Colin Trevorrow, and Matthew Vaughn. Well-established directors were discussed as well with such tent-pole mainstays as Zack Snyder, Peter Jackson, and Steven Spielberg leading the pack. Some people, here and there, mentioned JJ Abrams, but he was by no means the fans’ first choice.
Then on January 25th of 2013 we found out that JJ was indeed the choice. This decision, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy’s first MAJOR move since the news broke, was met with mixed reviews to say the least. Most of the complaining about JJ revolved around his gratuitous use of “lens flares” in his Star Trek reboot, a conscientious style choice which fans let be known would NOT fly in their galaxy far, far away. While some fans were outright outraged, and other fans were actually excited, the overwhelming reaction was, “Meh, a safe choice.”
JJ Abrams is not merely a “safe choice,” one recommended by none other than Steven Spielberg by the way, but rather, upon closer examination, a brilliant choice! Quickly touching upon some of his various credits we find that JJ has a wide and successful array of genres to include: writing Regarding Henry (with Harrison Ford), producing the cult hits Joy Ride & Cloverfield, creating and running the popular TV shows Felicity & Alias, and of course directing Mission Impossible 3, the Spielberg homage Super 8, and the aforementioned Star Trek. There are many people in Hollywood who would sell their own mothers for those credits alone, and those just barely scratch the surface.
However, I believe JJ Abrams shines brightest in a few of his credits, to include his co-creating LOST of which he directed the first two episodes and executive produced the entire run of the show, his Star Trek reboot, and the hardly-heralded novel “S.” which he conceived with author Doug Dorst. I’ll examine these three examples in order to show why JJ is such a perfect choice to direct Star Wars Episode VII thus setting-up the Sequel Trilogy and beyond. As I briefly mentioned in my recent article about the future of the Star Wars series, JJ Abrams is Hollywood’s ultimate set-up man. JJ has co-created and produced roughly ten successful TV series. Many of his series — Alias, LOST, Person of Interest — contain(ed) many different characters with many different storylines. And His brilliance, love of mythology, and devotion to running mysteries, affectionately dubbed “JJ’s Mystery Box” concept, is keenly illustrated in LOST. Here JJ gives a TED talk, explaining his affection for the “mystery box” strategy:
LOST co-creator, and JJ’s close personal friend, Damon Lindelof spoke to Ben Lilly of TEDBlog about the mystery box concept:
BL: You’re known for telling stories that are infused with really big ideas. Is there a special challenge in making a story that doesn’t have a tidy end, or doesn’t close in all the normal ways, but maybe does get at a much bigger idea?
DL: Yeah. I believe that this idea of story or myth or this thing that Joseph Campbell writes about is sort of an inter-connective spiritual force — like The Force in Star Wars — where it doesn’t matter where you were raised, or what your background is, there are certain elements of story that totally appeal to you.When the blanks aren’t filled in for you, your own imagination tends to fill them in. That’s the storytelling that I’ve always been interested in. I certainly have suffered the slings and arrows of criticism for being too vague at times, but I always give much more credit to this sort of collective consciousness and imagination of the audience watching my story than on my own imagination.
And so there’s that idea of leaving some things up for grabs, so that you can personalize the story in your own way. There’s certainly a road that I want you to go down in my storytelling, but if you choose not to go down it, that’s very exciting for me. I feel like great TEDTalks are ones that are a little bit subject to interpretation, that do provoke further conversation — and potentially controversy. They’re the talks that, when you walk out of them, you need to instantly seek out somebody else who heard it to talk more about it, without the presence of the person who presented the idea. At that point, you’re now grafting the idea to your own psychological framework, and that’s what really great story does.
LOST was a massive series that ran six successful seasons. It contained many characters many of whom were inspired by mythological archetypes — for example Sawyer, “The con-man” was the LOST version of Han Solo — as well as philosophers — John Locke was a character whose name happened to be that of a famed philosopher. The Island itself was both an environment of mystery as well as infused with mythological powers, a character in and of itself. IF you haven’t seen LOST you owe it to yourself to watch it, OR, at the very least, the first two episodes directed by JJ Abrams. IF you don’t watch it, then just browse around the LOSTpedia for further reading into the mysteries and mythology of the phenomenon.
I contend that LOST is precisely why Kathleen Kennedy pushed to get Abrams. In my last article I argued that Disney will continue the franchise, the current series that is, beyond Episode IX and I stand by that belief. Disney is right now in the process of implementing a “soft reboot” the way almost every other franchise cannot do — by passing on the torch to a new generation of heroes and villains with the blessing and participation of the original generation. Disney/LFL has, no doubt, gone through great expense and painstaking care in bringing back the Big 3 — Ford, Fisher and Hamill — as well as Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew to assure a pleasurable transition that we die-hard-core fans would both love and appreciate. They have spent countless months, while scouring many countries and states, searching for just the right talent to carry-on the saga going forward. All of this has been overseen by JJ Abrams, a man well-groomed for launching or even re-launching series, which brings us to Star Trek.
The 2009 Trek reboot was both extremely difficult in the sense that Paramount wanted to revive the franchise with fresh faces, but also NOT alienate its core fanbase. Extremely difficult task! JJ Abrams and Bad Robot took on the reboot challenge and succeeded with flying colors. Personally speaking, never really big Trek fan, I found the new movies to be extremely enjoyable space adventures that had a dash more mythology thrown in. AND the series, which is now projected to go on for the foreseeable future has been developed properly. JJ has introduced alot of major players — the Enterprise and her crew, Kirk’s major love-interest in Carol Marcus and Kirk’s major villain in Kahn — and storylines with the brewing war between the Romulans, Klingons and Federation. In other words, they are everything Paramount hoped they would be!
“But Star Wars is a ship of a different color,” you say. And you’d be correct. Again, as I already stated, JJ has illustrated his mastery of mythology with the show LOST. To a certain extent there was a certain mythology with Alias as well. BUT, lest anyone have any doubts whatsoever about JJ’s adoration and knowledge of myth then look no further than the book he collaborated on with Doug Dorst. I am currently reading the book “S.” (Ship of Theseus) and I can tell you first-hand that it is loaded with all the elements that make JJ both brilliant and great (if there’s really any difference between the two.) The Book — an interactive experience really — is shrouded in mystery from the first page as there is some doubt as to who its author is = Mystery Box, complete with clues and everything! The book is really two stories in one as we follow along with a couple of readers who exchange notes back and forth throughout the pages. Then there’s the mythology/philosophy as “Ship of Theseus” pertains to the ancient Greek legend of Theseus famed for defeating the minotaur. His ship even spawned the famous thought experiment by the same name. So, while this is a book, it is working on multiple different levels at once in a purely enjoyable, if not entirely genius conception.
Genius, talent, awards, and accolades aside, a movie production like a ship needs a good captain. This is where JJ has especially shined during the year plus of Episode VII production. Initially, the first major waves the ship had to endure was the script itself, wherein it was rumored (and never confirmed) that there was a battle of ideology over where the script headed — Original Cast moreover New Cast or vice versa. JJ’s side, apparently more focus on the original cast, won over. AND this is the correct decision simply for the fact that this moment, this opportunity in history is once in a lifetime, to be able to bring in the majority of the major cast and have them serve as connective tissue for the series moving forward.
Then we all know about the mishap with Harrison Ford while filming on the Millennium Falcon set. JJ’s friend and fellow director Matt Reeves spoke recently to MTV News about the Star Wars production which bodes well for the fans:
“I will say this: I haven’t seen him this excited or this nervous in a very long time,” Reeves told MTV’s Josh Horowitz during the Happy Sad Confused podcast. “And when he gets that level of fear, it means he’s about to do something exciting.”
Writer, producer, director, creator, artist, genius, set-up man! Yes, emphatically YES to each and every one of those descriptors, JJ Abrams is without a doubt all of them and more. Abrams brings a technically sound, FILMED production, a passion for practical FX enhanced by CGI, and adaptive style to the table. His understanding and love of philosophy, mythology, and psychology have made him the master story-teller he is today and the BEST possible choice for the present and future of Star Wars. Where George Lucas has created the foundations and the bedrock, read “sandbox,” for others to play, JJ Abrams is the perfect creator to re-launch the saga into the untold reaches of the future. He is carefully setting up the characters, mysteries, conflicts, and storylines that will carry the saga forward unto perpetuity.
While I laud Abrams and all his many talents, he is not alone in this exciting new era. JJ is currently working with a large and talented group of story-tellers, collaborators, who are all working in concert to realize the full scope of the Star Wars mythos. In “E7 Closer Look Part II,” I will take a closer look at the Star Wars brain-trust.