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Gaming | Film | TV

Is JJ Abrams really the man for Episode VII?

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Disney has some serious talent lined up for its upcoming Star Wars films. Also, JJ Abrams.

Despite complaints of franchise fatigue from the moment Disney announced they were going to make more Star Wars films, the future of the Galaxy Far, Far Away is looking surprisingly appealing. The spin-off origin stories are still a dubious proposition, but since Josh Trank and Gareth Edwards are lined up to direct two of them they seem a lot more viable. And now it’s been announced that Rian Johnson is going to direct Episodes VIII and IX, reinforcing the notion that they’re following the Marvel template of letting talented, individualistic directors do their thing.

It’s not that JJ Abrams is a bad director, it’s just that he’s probably the most overrated director currently working

It does beg the question of why they’ve signed JJ Abrams up to perform the actual resurrection. Between all the talent they’ve recruited, starting out with Abrams seems like Marvel starting their Avengers project with The Incredible Hulk. It’s not that he’s a bad director, it’s just that he’s probably the most overrated director currently working. His films to date have been reasonably entertaining and nothing else: amusing summer diversions that toe the party line and are promptly forgotten about on leaving the cinema.

The reason for his recruitment is almost certainly his resurrection of the Star Trek franchise, which was admittedly quite successful, if not the world-beating triumph everyone seems to think it was. Leaving aside the fact that putting one person in charge of Wars and Trek is a bit like making one person Pope and Dalai Lama, his Treks weren’t without problems. The first one was a lot of fun, but Into Darkness’s plot was a total shambles, and it completely wasted the potential in the rebooted universe by essentially remaking The Wrath of Khan.

Into Darkness

Abrams’ Star Trek is emblematic of the current state of big-screen science fiction: pretty and flashy with nothing of substance underneath, designed to draw crowds and nothing else. At the risk of being too critical, though, they’re not bad films. They’re fine. Abrams’s direction is fine, and Episode VII will probably be fine as well. But when it comes to Star Wars, particularly Episode VII, the film that Disney presumably hope will start off another Avengers-style moneymaking juggernaut, “fine” isn’t good enough. It’s Star Wars. It should be awesome. Why not put the actually interesting directors in charge on the linchpin of the resurrection plan?

Disney have signed up some of the best young sci-fi directors for the later films in the franchise. Why not put them on the first one?

Disney have signed up some of the best young directors of current science fiction for the later films in the franchise. Why not put them on the first one? Chronicle, Monsters and Looper were all vastly superior to Abrams’s Star Trek films, and were far more than just shiny action movies. To not use them on arguably the most important film of the bunch is just a waste of talent. It could simply be that Abrams is the biggest name, although Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla and Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four could potentially change that. Disney might just want a name people will recognise on the poster, a name associated with diverting, moderately entertaining films. Abrams isn’t in any way remarkable as a director, but he has reliably and consistently produced decent films.

After the prequels, maybe Disney just wanted a safe pair of hands which wouldn’t rock the boat, wouldn’t take risks, and would just make a safe Star Wars film to lay the groundwork for more engaging stuff later on. That would certainly support the rumours that Episode VII has been rewritten so that Luke, Han and Leia are the main characters again. That’s understandable, up to a point. If all they want to do is draw the crowds with a nostalgia trip helmed by a reliable, inoffensive director so they can hoard up money to spend on later, potentially riskier (ha!) films, it would actually be sort of admirable, in a strange way.

Read more: Star Wars, and the commodification of nostalgia

Kirk & Carol

But then, it doesn’t matter whose name is on the poster, because everyone and their dog is going to see Episode VII on opening weekend: if any film is guaranteed to earn a billion dollars, this is it. Then again, because Star Wars is such a massive property, surely it’s the best franchise in the world to take risks with? If they’d put Trank, Edwards or Johnson on Episode VII, it would probably be a far more interesting film, it wouldn’t necessarily be the studio-friendly pap Abrams seems to have made his speciality, and it would still make a billion dollars because it’s Star Wars.

Why not take a chance on it? The franchise needs reinvigorating, so why not give it to a director who might actually have something new to say about Star Wars? All indications about Episode VII are that it’s going to appeal to nostalgia rather than forge a fresh path, and a fresh start is exactly what Star Wars needs right now. There is a huge amount of potential for exciting, innovative science fiction in this relaunched franchise. It’s just a pity that it looks like we’ll have to sit through Episode VII to get there.

Read more: New Star Wars cast members: Their best moments in clips

Featured image: Lucasfilm

Inset images: Paramount; Paramount


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