The cultural response about the appointment of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair for Star Wars: Episode VII, seems to be a begrudging, quasi-unanimous “makes sense, I guess.” Yet I would argue that this sort of half-excited, half-confused shoulder shrug from pop culture pundits and geek commentators alike actually sums up exactly why the decision is so terrible. Yes, I admit it! J.J Abrams is a logical choice. But, the idea of Abrams helming Star Wars, while likely to produce a movie that’s visually tantalizing, is boring beyond belief, to the point of being soulless. I have no doubt that the J.J. Abrams Star Wars: Episode VII will be exciting, stunning, and palpitation-inducing. I’m also fairly confident that its texture and essence will be exactly like his other work, which leads to the bad news:
The J.J. Abrams Star Wars will be too well made.
Making the case for why J.J. Abrams is a sound, reasonable choice to directStar Wars: Episode VII isn’t too tricky, but it does have a bit of an ex post facto thing going on for it. When Star Trek came out in 2009, Abrams made it clear he was more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy, and as many have pointed out, it totally shows in his work. Star Trek (2009) is thematically not about science fiction, exploration, speculation about alien cultures, or any of the other nifty stuff that defines the spirit of Star Trek. Instead it’s a movie about destiny, good versus evil and unlikely heroes coming together. In other words, it’s the the same stuff that makes Star Wars awesome, but also what makes it really generic. I don’t have to point toward some sort of conspiracy to find evidence that Lucas employed archetypal characters and basic hero’s journey story arcs in Star Wars. The Joseph Campbell stuff as it relates to Star Wars has been pointed out, confirmed, and re-hashed to the point of nausea. Yes, we get it: Lucas (and some the folks who worked with him) have an awesome grasp of how most of us will react, psychologically speaking, to certain types of characters and story structures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those structures have inherent value, nor are they intrinsically interesting. If we’re talking about pop science fiction/fantasy, the only thing we understand about it in relation to Jungian archetypes and all the mythology stuff is simply that IT WORKS.
So, if something works, don’t eject the warp core, right? Well, here’s where the ex posto facto problem comes in with Abrams. He did a little bit of a mash-up with Star Trek and it worked. He and his screenwriters churned out a really well-made, tightly functioning Hollywood blockbuster that looked slick as hell and evoked an overwhelming emotional response from the audience. It was also totally reliant upon nostalgia, familiar imagery which clearly resonated with fans, and appropriated themes taken from every single previous incarnation of the giant franchise. Slap a Star Wars-style story into the mix, and BOOM, you’ve got a hit. And making a hit is really, really hard, and J.J. Abrams is super-talented when it comes to making hits. But a hit is not a classic and as much as I really liked Star Trek, and will likely enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, this stuff doesn’t approach the level of being classic nor memorable. J.J. Abrams is seen as the logical choice to direct Star Wars because he mashed-up Star Trek with Star Wars, so why not just give him Star Wars proper?
Just because he was able to sneak in a Star Wars pastiche inside of Star Trekdoesn’t mean he’s the right person to do real Star Wars. Plus, he’s alreadydone it. After Spielberg successfully proved Indiana Jones was more awesome than James Bond back in the 1980s, should Cubby Broccoli have called up Spielberg and said, “Yes, sure, now you can do Bond, too, because clearly, you kind of already did.” Would you have wanted Spielberg in charge of both Indiana Jones and James Bond? No! Because too much of the same texture is boring and bad for creativity in general.
So…what about the writers? A lot of us have heard that this awesome guy Michael Arndt is writing the screenplay for Star Wars: Episode VII. (Not to mention the fact that Orci and Kurtzman did a decent job with Star Trek, right?) Well yes, the director is the director and writers are the writers, but let’s get real. George Lucas didn’t write the damn screenplay for Return of the Jedi, but he’s all over that. Furthermore, it’s not like Disney robots aren’t totally “developing the story” with J.J. Abrams and Arndt. Lucas not being involved in Episode VII is positive from an entertainment/quality perspective, but it’s actually bad from an artistic perspective.
Folks like Lucas and Spielberg were pioneers for taking the pulpy stuff they loved from the past and mixing it up with their own ideas and artistic vision. This isn’t the case with a J.J. Abrams. He’s influenced by Lucas and Spielberg. Are “original” J.J. Abrams films like Cloverfield or Super 8 truly memorable, or even all that good? I would answer with a big “no.” These films certainly don’t suck, but I can’t make a strong argument for their artistic merit in terms of originality. Having J.J. Abrams’ signature texture all over Star Trek already makes Star Trek retroactively like Star Wars. Putting Abrams’ texture on Star Wars will make Star Wars into a parody of pastiche of a copy of…Star Wars.
In his stories and novels, Philip K. Dick often created characters who got really freaked out by tightly controlled media products being created for specific public consumption. In terms of pop culture, the J.J. Abrams brand reminds me less of storytelling and more of a product. Yes, I admit to liking fast food, or even gourmet-style cheeseburgers. Star Wars has always been a kind of fast food, but with just enough substance (like a side-salad that you can eat if you want). Star Trek, at least in its correct and ideal form, never was fast food. J.J. Abrams changed that, and now with Star Wars, I think he’s poised to take away the side-salad. In terms of movie-making chops he (and Arndt) are totally at the top of their game. But what we’re talking about here is—more or less—the technical aspects of movies, featuring very little substance at all.
I’m a fan of Abrams work; especially the now ended Fringe ( I didn’t care for the final season though ). And I plan on watching the next Trek when it comes out.
But I think I might agree with this reviewer’s assessment however; Abrams treatment of the 2009 rebooted Trek was very Star Wars-like so Disney’s version of the franchise with the hiring of Abrams could have an homogenizing affect on the genre.
The special effects will be sure to please I bet!
As I troll across the InnerTubes, I occassionaly run across an interesting website that features a possibly good story about UFOs, the government and the CIA.
Robby Graham’s site, Silver Screen Saucers, has an interesting post about a CIA operative who has written a book that is supposedly vetted by the CIA itself.
And it’s questionable validity:
Chase Brandon, a thirty-five year veteran of the CIA, will tonight appear as a guest on Coast to Coast AM with John B. Wells. Many listeners will no doubt be unfamiliar with Brandon and his career with the CIA, but his name has passed my lips literally thousands of times over the past several years.Brandon spent twenty-five years in the Agency’s elite Clandestine Service as an undercover, covert operations officer. His foreign assignments involved international terrorism, counterinsurgency, global narcotics trafficking and weapons smuggling. He was also an Agency foreign political affairs analyst, Presidential briefer to Bill Clinton and an instructor in paramilitary and espionage tactics at multiple secret CIA training camps.Brandon is perhaps best known as the CIA’s former Entertainment Liaison Officer – a position that required him to establish working relationships with many of the biggest names in Hollywood and to provide advice to filmmakers on matters of “accuracy and authenticity” with regard to the CIA’s image onscreen. He was – though he prefers to phrase it more sympathetically – the CIA’s chief frontline propagandist in Hollywood. He advised on countless films and TV series – often uncredited – quietly shaping scripts, characters and concepts.As a great deal of my academic research has been focused on cinematic propaganda efforts, Brandon’s activities in Hollywood naturally have been of considerable interest to me and I have spent many hours discussing with colleagues and writing about the CIA’s role in Hollywood and the influence wielded by Chase Brandon and other CIA advisors in the entertainment industry.The CIA/Hollywood relationship is a sordid one, and it predates the start of the Agency’s “official” involvement in Tinseltown by four decades. You can read about this relationship in Professor Tricia Jenkins’ excellent new book, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes film and Television, and I’ll be exploring the CIA/Hollywood symbiosis in great detail in the context of the UFO phenomenon in my forthcoming book, Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood’s UFO Movies.With Chase Brandon’s credentials in mind, the UFO community is set to engage in furious debate about this CIA man’s first novel, which is now on sale and is titled The Cryptos Conundrum. It is a “fictional” book dealing with the UFO/ET issue, specifically with the Roswell crash and cover-up. This marks the first time ever that any retired CIA operative has written a book (presented either as fact or fiction) on the UFO topic that has received the Agency’s official stamp of approval. On that basis alone, it’s a must-read.On the first page of the book, a bold, underlined notice reads:This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.But, of course, classified information can’t technically be disclosed if it is presented as fiction. Brandon is gleefully aware of this, and selects as his first quote of the book a musing by Francis Bacon:“Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.”I’ve read Brandon’s novel. Obviously, it’s intriguing, to say the least, and Brandon clearly wants it to be seen to contain many truths, despite its “fiction” label. Does Brandon have ‘inside’ information on UFOs? It is my assessment that, yes, probably he does. Some. The circles he’s walked in during his career would almost certainly have made him privy to UFO-related chatter; to whispers and suggestions, if not hard evidence. This is not to say the information Brandon might have is true. Most of what he “knows” is likely based on what he’s been told, not on what he’s seen [UPDATE: even though he claims to have seen proof of Roswell with his own eyes]. More than anything, what readers should remember when reading Brandon’s tantalising book is that the author is a trained expert in propaganda and psychological warfare. Buy his book, then, but don’t buy into it.