Friday, January 25, 2013

JJ Abrams and the Star Trek/Star Wars fusion

(props to Hahna K. for first alerting me to the existence of this image)

My old friend Dr. Steve emailed me a link to this article announcing that JJ Abrams, he of "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," and "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" fame, will be directing the new Star Wars film.

I think Abrams is a good choice to carry the Star Wars banner, despite his Trek connections and all the snarky "May the (Lens) Flare Be With You" jokes. His visual aesthetic is a gleefully kinetic combination of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's styles. Lucas has long professed a fascination with vehicles and raw speed, and this sensibility informs both his classic and his prequel Star Wars films: the Death Star trench scene from "A New Hope," the asteroid field chase in "Empire Strikes Back," the speeder bike chase on Endor in "Return of the Jedi," the podracing in "The Phantom Menace," the asteroid field redux (Kenobi versus Fett) in "Attack of the Clones," and the awesome battle scene that opens "Revenge of the Sith." Abrams will doubtless remain faithful to this boom-and-zoom tradition, but he also brings something to the table that Lucas doesn't: a better-honed sense of acting and dialogue. While I would have preferred that Lawrence Kasdan helm the new Star Wars movies, I think Abrams will do just fine as both director and idea factory.

One thing that makes me cringe, however, is the notion that the old lion, John Williams, might be jettisoned in favor of up-and-coming composer Michael Giacchino, who often works closely with Abrams and who did the music for "Star Trek." I think Giacchino is talented and versatile; I respect the amazing work he did for "The Incredibles." But his work on "Star Trek" was, overall, much less impressive to me. As I've mentioned before, the soundtrack for "Star Trek" amounts to little more than Giacchino's beating a single, 16-note leitmotif to death. If Star Wars is in for a reboot and needs a young composer to design its score, I'd rather it be Bear McCreary, the boundary-pushing (yet paradoxically humble) force of nature behind the music for the TV series "Battlestar Galactica." The Star Wars franchise, which started in the mists of prehistory back in 1977, could probably use a rejuvenating jolt of youthful creativity. McCreary, whose music contains all the gravitas missing from Giacchino's efforts, is far less likely to write a one-trick-pony score for a much-beloved cultural icon.

I trust Abrams to get a lot right with the Star Wars franchise. We'll have plenty of ship-to-ship battles, gymnastic Jedi combat (I do hope Abrams keeps the amazing Nick Gillard-- the West's fight-choreography answer to Yuen Wo-ping-- on board), snappy repartee, clashes in personality, and women in slinky outfits. I'm hoping, though, that Abrams will avoid the temptation to make more corny "Alias" references (e.g., "red matter" in "Star Trek"), and to play fast and loose with the metaphysics of this fictional realm. I wasn't entirely satisfied with his treatment of the Vulcan mind meld in 2009's "Star Trek"; I hope he won't do anything strange with the theology and philosophy of the Force. And as much as I enjoyed "Star Trek," I hope that his vision of the Star Wars universe won't include people endlessly sprinting through corridors (I'm imagining Admiral Ackbar flapping his flippers and shrieking, "It's a trap!" like an opera singer on fire). Because, God help us, Abrams loves to make his actors run: it happened in "Star Trek" and it happened again in "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol." (In that latter movie, even the aged bad guy sprints a lot. "Mission: Impossible" was directed by Brad Bird, but it was produced by Abrams.)

In all, though, I'm hopeful. I think JJ Abrams has the chops to pull off a crowd-pleasing return to the Star Wars universe. He's got a good command of story structure; a keen sense of kinetic pace and editing; a sense of humor that, while not as amusingly quirky as that of his rival Joss Whedon, still gets laughs; and a respect for the numinous that ought to do the Force justice, if his TV series "Lost" is any indication (Abrams, a polymath, also composed the theme music for that series). Will Abrams succeed in this new venture? Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future. But I'm optimistic.


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