Ready When You Are, JJ

They’ve really done it now. It’s over. First George Lucas sold Luke, Obi Wan, Princess Leia, Han and all the others into eternal indentured servitude on the Disney Plantation. Lucas, once a man with ideas and at least a Saturday matinee kind of vision, had finally run out of steam and decided it was time to sell the farm. In one of the biggest Hollywood deals in history he sold the Star Wars franchise for a cool $4.05 billion.

jj-abramsThat was cause for alarm in itself. The warning bells started going off. What would become of the Star Wars franchise once it was in Disney’s hands? What kind of SW films would be forthcoming? Was it the end of the film series we all grew up with? What would future movies look like?

Some of us had concerns. In my blog I wrote that the deal was essentially a victory for the Empire. The rebellion had finally been crushed. But among a lot of the Star Wars faithful there was hope that good things might come of this deal.

That hope got a little shakier when it was reported in the media Jan. 24 that Disney Studios has decided on J. J. Abrams to direct the first of the new SW films. Oh, my. J.J. Abrams. Not Kerry Conran (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Not Zach Snyder (300). Not Mark Webb (The Amazing Spiderman). Not even Joss Whedon (The Avengers).

Some of them may have been too busy to have taken the job, if they were asked. But according to the report in The Wrap, none of them seem have even been considered for the job. The only other name that was under consideration was—get ready—Ben Affleck. Now that’s the first name I would have thought of to direct a major space opera epic.

I suppose Abrams has his fans. He rebooted Star Trek and directed Cloverfield, Super 8 and Mission Impossible III, and those films did well at the box office. But to me the rebooted Star Trek seemed like an over-produced juvenile version of the original film. Kind of like those Saturday morning cartoons they had a while back that featured Bugs Bunny, Porky, and Daffy’s kids.  Cloverfield was a Blair Witch version of War of the Worlds. Not very original. And Super 8 was an “homage” to Steven Spielberg with lots of lens flares, which is apparently Abrams’ trademark.

Abrams other efforts were in television as creator of Fringe, Lost, and Alias. These had appeal for those who do nothing but spend hours of their time watching television week after week, following stories that went in circles and wound up nowhere.

So, now Abrams, a mediocre director who has contributed nothing new to the science fiction film genre (only shuffled bits and pieces of it around) gets to take a whack at Star Wars. The Rebellion is truly over. I won’t even say I feel a disturbance in the force. The force is history.





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    1. Thanks for the link, Kieran. Looks like it covers almost everything.

      I see you agree that it would have been almost impossible for anyone to meet the expectations for Episode I. Makes me wonder if opinions will change with the passage of time.

      Everybody loves Joss Whedon. Why don't I? Maybe because his writing tries to please trendy demographics too much? I don't know. I did really like his script for Cabin in the Woods, though. Brilliant in fact.

  1. Lucas was never a great storyteller, or a great writer. His dialogue was pretty much crap, with the plotlines being pretty silly & simplistic if you sit down and think about them (yes, even in the original trilogy), and not very original anyway. What he did well was spectacle. It doesn't matter what your opinion of the rest of the films were, the initial trumpet blast of the theme, the intro scrolling back into infinity, and the long panning shot of the shark-like Star Destroyer chasing the blockade runner, that's pure spectacle, and you're hooked at that point despite yourself. And to be honest, even that initial spaceships-flying-past-the-camera "chase scene" is a rip-off of the scene from "2001 A Spacer Odyssey" where you first see the Discovery ( What Lucas gave us was Spaceship Eye Candy, from the Star Destroyers to the trench run on the Death Star, from the Battle of Hoth to the Rebel Attack on the Death Star II over Endor, and we loved him for it. It was when he had to put dialog and plot around all the shiny shiny that he fell down.

    To be honest though, it didn't matter how good Episode 1 was, you had people going to it who had built up star wars in their heads as the best thing ever since they went to see the originals as little kids, ain't no movie going to live up to that level of expectations. I'm not saying it (or the rest of the prequels) were actually good, but they never really had a chance no matter how good they were in their own right.

    Enough of the Abrams/Lucas bashing, what would have been really, REALLY interesting is if Joss Whedon had been given the job. Imagine if you will a Star Wars movie that isn't based on the main characters we love/hate, but is based in on the fringes of the Star Wars Universe, in the outer rim maybe, around a set of smugglers flying a beat-up old freighter who just happen to get dragged into the rebel alliance despite themselves. Think the old computer game "Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance" – or better yet, think "Firefly with lightsabers"! 🙂

  2. I had problems with the original Star Wars. It seemed to be a fantasy rip-off of Rice Burroughs' John Carter in Mars and Asimov's Foundation Series with Once and Future King thrown in…in other words, not very original. It was also very predictable. I put the whole thing, and probably Abrams' contribution, in the class of "bad Hollywood sci-fi." Good Hollywood sci-fi almost reduces to any movie based on Phillip K. Dick stories (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, …), although one can argue that Hollywood should leave well enough alone. The most egregious case was I, Robot. What I have learned to do is walk into the movie theater thinking, "Forget you read the book, Steve"–that way, I can enjoy the usual special effects, action, 2D-character extravaganza Hollywood usually clobbers us with.

    1. Philip K Dick movies are all one dark shade of noir. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say. But what about the sensawunda? That's what Episodes IV, V, and VI appealed to.

      Episodes I, II, and III went the noir route, with each one getting progressively darker. And the sense of wonder of the first three was lost. I think that's why they didn't satisfy the fans.

      If Abrams can return to that original flavor it might turn out better than I expect. But frankly, Star Wars was finished with Episode VI and should have ended there. At this point I can't see any reason for a continuation except for Disney to make bundles more money.

      Here's an interesting fact about Disney. Did you know that when you're in Orlando anywhere in the vicinity of Disney World, on property that Disney owns outside the park, you cannot by a stick of chewing gun in any of the convenience stores or supermarkets. The Disney Corp. doesn't want people chewing their Juicy Fruit and spitting it out on the walkways, gumming up everybody's shoes.

  3. There is a trend to use SF motifs in literary fiction these days. "The Time Traveller" the trope allows random points in a novel about the vignettes of a relationship, "Never Let Me Go," ~ the trope compresses time for literary convenience"The Road". Even some Ray Bradbury follows that form. The journey is psychological, with SF tropes the colour-able curtain. In science fiction technological or societal change, a new invention or a change in a physical constant is a key driver of the narrative. It's literature used to examine the putative impact of applied science. It's tight and modernist and there is nothing else like it.

    No one can dispute Lucas's savvy at moneymaking or the charm of some of the characters but its the tropes of SF employed to mythological ends.

    Whatever it is, the franchise is not SF. "2001" is SF. "Source Code" is SF. Even "Looper", "Twelve Monkey's" and "Moon" is SF.

    WTF "Star Wars" is, it ain't any kind of SF. It and the Dis' are a perfect match.

    1. Hi Kari,

      Well, it may not be Science Fiction in the sense that you mean it, but it IS Space Opera—a term I do not use pejoratively. And Space Opera is definitely a Science Fiction subgenre. I mean you wouldn't call it a Western, or a Mystery or a Romance would you? How would you categorize Star Trek? OR Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon?

      I think SF as a genre has a lot of flexibility as far as what it includes, and there are many subgenres that fall under its umbrella.

      Allow me a shameless plug: When my novel Jack Brand came out, and even when it was serialized in Raygun Revival, a lot of people wondered what the heck it was. If the story had been set in Arizona in the 1880s it definitely would have been called a western. I used a lot of western tropes (I just love those high falutin' literary terms, don't you?). In fact the first chapter is a mini rewrite of Comanche Station. But because its set on another planet 400 years into the future, it's considered something called a Space Western.

      I kind of like that. But my point (other than plugging the book) is that when the local book store put it on the shelf, they put it in the SF section. I mean where else would it go? And same goes for the Star Wars books. So, I respect the thought you put into your comment, but I can't agree with it. Star Wars is definitely Science Fiction at least in the broadest sense.

  4. Well, I loved Star Wars when I was nine or ten. I wanted to live on Luke's homeworld.

    But the second trilogy of movies killed my love for the SW universe. So I'm with you, John; can't work up much outrage at the upcoming Disneyfication of the franchise, since Lucas himself has soap-operafied it already. (By the way: the second trilogy was an attempt to elevate the intellectual level of the subtext? Good on you catching that, for I didn't. Guess I was blinded by all that cheap-looking CG.)

    My own theory of why SW became a cultural touchstone is sociopolitical–it enshrined the '60s counterculture fetish for guerilla armies, preferably anti-American ones; Yoda basically is Ho Chi Minh. Viewers got to cheer for the partisans without any conflicted feelings. And so from Star Wars to Avatar in one long generation. Movie-making is such a crude art these days.

    I will actually be interested to see what ideological spin J.J. puts on the next SW movies, intentionally or by default of being who he is.

  5. Michael, I find it terribly amusing that the journalistic touchstone for Star Wars (Ep IV A New Yada yada) has become Lucas' own propaganda: he claims to have written it while inspired by Joseph Campbell's Hero Of A Thousand Faces.

    Funny – I remember reading newspaper interviews with him right before and after it was released where he stated quite unequivocally that Star Wars was the result of his not being able to get a license for Flash Gordon from King Features. So he changed some names and places and….

    But no. As we get older, we apparently discover that we had much loftier goals in our youth. Pish Posh to several billions dollars – I want to make F/l/a/s/h/ G/o/r/d/o/n/ Hero With A Thousand Faces!

  6. David,

    We're all FANS first…then we become "Fans Of…" (or NOT Fans Of).

    Rather than shutting down the conversation with negatives and directing your comments at the author, why don't you try to open up the conversation and direct your comments to the subject of the post?

  7. As someone who is frankly not a big Star Wars fan, I'd like to point out that the plot of the original Star Wars was derived from 'Hidden Fortress,' a much better Japanese movie. I'm not guessing on that, George Lucas has said so himself. If you look at George Lucas career, there is frankly a lack of evidence that in the sense of writing, plot, or direction, he ever had a vision of anything.

    George Lucas has had a way with compelling visuals and exciting the imagination, but pretty much every project that he has ever attached himself too has been either profoundly empty as far as overall meaning, or based on someone else's story idea. I don't want to trample too much on anyone's beloved movies, but when people talking about Lucas having 'vision' they are engaging in denial as of what Star Wars really is.

    The original movie came along at an interesting moment in history. It was essentially the first movie with what you could consider 'modern' special effects and some CGI, and Lucas did a great job of presenting other people's ideas. It captured the imagination of many people who tend to look at it with the same eyes as when they first saw it. It's a fun movie, and a lot of other people have stolen from Lucas style of presentation, but I think Lucas and Abrams are very much peas in a pod.

    JJ Abrams is a creature of Hollywood. He presents great pitches to Hollywood that sell well, and that's it, and Hollywood does not like complex, original plots. They like stuff they can package and sell in an advertisement, and what ultimately comes of the storyline is not important after the audience has purchased a ticket. If you look at the television series that Abrams has been involved with, they tend to start with a lot of attention and then sort of dwindle away as the storyline becomes convoluted and weird. He never sticks around long after launch, just collects his money, hires another writer to figure out how it will all end, and he's gone to his next big budget spectacular.

    I've seen all the Star Wars movies, and every single one of them ever made were simply retellings of very basic ideas that have been done well, millions of times. They had bigger budgets and more special effects, and they looked great. But lets not kid ourselves. George Lucas never had a vision of anything that lasted longer than about sixty frames of film. He isn't that guy, and it doesn't surprise me that he would sell the franchise because there was never a storyline within it that was truly his in the first place.

    1. Michael,

      It's not exactly news that Hidden Fortress was part of the inspiration for Star Wars. That's pretty well documented. But a bigger "inspiration" is actually the old Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe., but you knew that. I can't disagree with anything you said about Abrams. But your position on Lucas is one that many science fiction fans hold, and it's one that leave me baffled.

      I think anyone involved in writing science fiction or writing about it owes a huge debt to Lucas for what he did for SF films and the genre as a whole. His achievement is colossal. Okay he ran the series into the ground. But could anyone sustain the inspiration and carry such heavy expectations forward? I don't know. I'm sorry he sold the franchise. But let's give him his due.

      Getting back to JJ,Abrams, Lucas is a creative genius. He invented an entire universe that will go on probably as long as movies are made. What has Abrams ever created?

      And what happened to that Star Trek vs. Star Wars divide? I thought the Trekkies and the SW folks didn't like each other. So now what's going to happen? Will the world now be united in the wonderful world of JJ's Playhouse?

      Thanks for your comments.

      1. Honestly, I suppose that my comments on Lucas may be overstated. He had an undeniable flare for visuals, and it began even in the first part of the movie, when he gave us the rolling text describing the story so far.

        I think it probably is fair to say that Lucas is incredibly creative, but he had his own particular, narrowly defined sort of genius. He made a beautiful looking creation. In a sense, the reason that he ran the franchise into the ground eventually is because of the foundation that he built on.

        He created a world of comic book villains, in which the main villain was a big scary guy who wears a cape and speaks with a voice modulator, and every succeeding major villain could essentially be identified as being inhuman and scary looking, from Emperor Palpatine to Darth Maul. You could identify the good guys from the theme music and the fact that they were all uniformly attractive, and almost always Caucasian despite a few token other characters thrown in later after some complaints were registered. It's probably one of the most shallow stories to achieve major success in all of history.

        There wasn't really much of a theme to deal with. Morality was reduced to simple concepts of black and white, with no grey to be seen anywhere.

        With that as the basic storyline, how could he not run the franchise into the ground? There was nowhere to go with the story. Frankly, even stories aimed at children can still say something, encourage some kind of growth. I never saw any of that in any of the movies.

        I'm sure a lot of his success came from the simplicity of the story. if anything larger had been stated in the story, it would have frightened certain people away, and he wanted something to appeal to everyone. Unfortunately, when you write things that simply, there really isn't that much left to say in later movies. And that essentially, is what bothers me. He aimed for financial success and not much else, and he definitely got that. He's been paid extremely well for his efforts.

        As to whether we owe him a debt for what he did for Science Fiction, frankly I don't feel indebted. Rather than rewarding people for producing unchallenging works which are entirely escapist, I tend to reserve my praise for people who produced a story that says something.

        I like to see big ideas and stories that ask questions about where we are going. I don't feel that Star Wars produced any ideas, or has resulted in any questions being asked. The legacy of Star Wars is that space opera is the 'flagship' of science fiction, and its resulted in movies I didn't like very much. Most people think that Science Fiction is defined entirely by CGI and special effects, and I think that's pretty unfortunate. I'm not grateful for that particular legacy of Star Wars at all.

        I have found a lot of Star Trek to be silly, but the thing I liked about it is that in between some bad episodes, and sometimes bad years, the various shows did give us ideas. Star Trek introduced the idea of the prime directive. It suggested just how difficult it would be to talk to a new alien culture. It brought up the idea that even communicating with a new race would be incredibly dangerous. Even the relationship between McCoy and Spock achieved a degree of complexity that you didn't really see in Star Wars, for the most part.

        Of course, now that JJ Abrams is at the helm, I'm sure that's a thing of the past, and both series will become very much alike. They will be watered down into references to old characters, big pretty space battles, and no real new ideas at all. That is the wave of the future, I guess.

        I will give Lucas the respect of saying that he could make a good visual, but I never saw a storyline to respect as such. He wanted financial success, and he's certainly gotten that, so I don't think we need to feel sorry for him. The man has been paid, that is enough.

        1. Hi Michael,

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts and continuing the discussion. I have a completely different view as to why the prequels were so bad and the series left so many people dissatisfied. I don't think it was because the stories were too simple, and the characters too black and white. I think it was just the opposite. I think, like Steve mentioned in his post, Star Wars started out basically on the level of Flash Gordon (updated and more sophisticated for today's audience) and that was great! But as the sequels came out Lucas, who I really don't believe when he said he had the whole six part saga figured out in advance, found the story was too simple to continue that way and began adding embellishments, partially influenced by Joseph Campbell.

          I thought the saga really began to take a wrong turn in The Empire Strikes Back when they decided to make Darth Vader Luke's father. It was a great dramatic twist, but did it really belong in a story based on a Saturday matinee serial. It brought all kinds of Freudian, Jungian overtones that put the story into a different orbit from where it began.

          With the prequels it just got worse. (Although I thought Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones was the best of the prequels. Obi Wan's visit to Geonosis and his encounter with Jango Fett and Boba, his clone son, and the presence of Christopher Lee elevated that particular episode above Episodes I and III).

          But getting back to my point, by Episode I Lucas's efforts to try to engineer the story into what he considered a higher, more intellectual level, basically destroyed the vital element that made the original so good. Star Wars IV: A New Hope, was just plain fun. It was titled "A New Hope", ironically enough, and for a while the series delivered on its promise. There was hope until the whole damn thing got so ponderous—"Ponderous, Man!"—-it just couldn't carry its own weight around.

          Anyway, that's my two cents worth. I'm enjoying the discussion. It's an interesting topic. Anyone else have any thoughts?

  8. Since Abrams, Lucas and Cameron are the only people to make financially successful space opera in the past decade, this whine seems to be a bit silly. You complain that Star Trek is juvenile, well Star Wars is juvenile. We're not talking Blade Runner here. Abrams can deliver both relatable characters and the spectacle of space battles. The former is what was missing from the prequel trilogy.

    I really get tired of reading self-entitled hypercritical whining from supposed fans. Why is the internet filled with you people, but you're nowhere to be found in the real world?

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