With the news arriving yesterday that “Lost” co-creator and “Star Trek” director J.J. Abrams will take over from George Lucas and direct “Star Wars: Episode VII,” the first in a planned platoon of new “Star Wars” features from Disney, it inevitably means speculation about what, exactly, such a decision will mean for the franchise.
This is, after all, a series that has been almost exclusively under the control of a single man since the original debuted back in 1977 (the two sequels from the original trilogy were directed by journeyman filmmakers under the tight authorial control of Lucas, who exerted his influence more extensively with his constant fussing on the “special editions”). So it seemed like a good moment to start to guess what a J.J. Abrams “Star Wars” joint will really look (and feel and sound) like, based on his earlier work and a general sensation of where the franchise is headed – back to a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away….By the way, in case you missed it here’s five directions we suggested the series could go back when it was announced in October of last year.
Lots of lens flares and whip pans? Maybe not so fast.
It birthed a million Twitter jokes, and it is true that Abrams has a trademark visual style, but will he bring the same tools from “Star Trek” to “Star Wars“? The original films had a certain “look,” it’s one that isn’t exactly easy to pin down – a combination of psychedelic ’70s album art, pulp magazine covers, and various sci-fi conventions. (The shiny robot! The floating barge lair! A city in the clouds!) By the time the prequels rolled around, Lucas had firmly planted himself in the director’s chair and any sense of visual distinction had been blasted into the deep recesses of space. Instead, Lucas relied on extensive green screen work with an emphasis on computer-generated environments, characters and creatures. While seemingly cutting edge, it made the actual human actors seem like they were walking through some elaborate videogame. Nothing felt real or emotionally identifiable – the heart got lost in the pixels. Abrams has a style he honed on both his television series (most notably “Alias,” still his crowning small screen achievement) and in the three high-profile features he directed (“Mission: Impossible III,” “Super 8” and “Star Trek”), and while it feels like a safe assumption that we’ll see some whip pans and lens flares, we’re not so sure. One of the biggest concerns among certain segments is having the same guy behind “Star Trek” taking over “Star Wars.” We’re sure Abrams will want to put a new visual stamp on this franchise not only to assuage fans, but to honor where the series has been while also taking it in a new direction in addition to ensuring it stands apart from Captain Kirk and the gang.
Along similar lines, one of the better aspects of Abrams’ “Star Trek” is that no matter how much computer-generated embroidery was on display, a large majority of the movie was created practically. The movie utilized expansive sets that took up whole soundstages along with actual location photography, like the Budweiser bottling plant that doubled as the spaceship’s engine room. He even filmed the skydiving sequence by getting Chris Pine to roll around on a mirror in the Paramount parking lot. Sure, there was a shitload of CGI, but most of that work was done for stuff that Abrams and his talented creative crew couldn’t physically build, like the giant snow monster that chases Kirk down an icy hill. “Mission: Impossible III” and “Super 8” too, for all their widescreen spectacle, aren’t completely bogged down by ones-and-zeroes, either. We can see Abrams returning to actual location work, ditching much of the smothering green-screen aesthetic, and insisting on props and creatures that were actually built and controlled on set. You know, like how Yoda used to be an on-set puppet before he was turned into a pin-balling tree frog with a lightsaber.
Michael Giacchino does John Williams.
Again. It’s getting on eight years since John Williams, the composer of all six “Star Wars” movies to date, wrote a score for anyone but Steven Spielberg (2005’s “Memoirs Of A Geisha“). Williams will be close to 85 years old when this new film is being finalized and there’s a high probability he’ll actually be really-for-real retired by that point. But it’s possible that Abrams may not even go back to that well at all. Michael Giacchino, Abrams’ longtime composer, will certainly do a bang-up job if he’s called for the gig. The musical groundwork has already be laid, as the films will undoubtedly utilize the famous themes that are hummed the world over. What Giacchino will do is fill in the gaps, creating music that harkens back to the beloved original score while striking new, thematically appropriate ground. For Abrams’ “Super 8,” Giacchino created a dew-dipped score that lovingly recalled Williams’ most adored work, and Giacchino already has a longstanding history with Disney having worked extensively with Pixar and scored a number of the parent company’s films, like last year’s decidedly “Star Wars”-y “John Carter.” He’s already the “Star Wars” musical heir apparent anyway; last year he created new music based on Williams’ original compositions for the recently revised Star Tours attraction at Disneyland in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.
A lovable rogue or kick-ass female character will take center stage.
One of the things that was sorely missing from the new films was a character that exemplified the devil-may-care spirit embodied by lovable rascal Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who starred in one of Abrams’ first-produced screenplays, “Regarding Henry“) in the original trilogy. While it’s unknown whether or not Solo (or, by extension, Ford) will be returning to the franchise, since Michael Arndt‘s script remains a mystery box few have opened, it was pretty clear to anyone who isn’t George Lucas that this was a huge issue with the prequels, and something that Abrams will be quick to address. This is the kind of character, after all, that Abrams is obviously fascinated by, the most notable example being the conman Sawyer (Josh Holloway) in “Lost.” That said, rumors have suggested that Arndt’s script has a female lead (Matthew Vaughn was said to be pitching the idea of Chloe Moretz when he was in the running), and thanks to his TV stable of “Felicity,” “Alias,” “Fringe” and “Lost,” among others, Abrams has form in that regard. Some kind of combination of the two seems likely, but don’t expect a bland Luke Skywalker type to be the main character.
Lots of monsters.
Monsters are a hallmark of Abrams’ oeuvre – everything from the Abrams-conceived “Cloverfield” to “Star Trek” to “Super 8” to “Lost” have had some manner of thing that goes bump in the night. “Star Wars,” obviously, will be no different. We are positively giddy at the idea of Abrams populating a Mos Eisley Cantina-type bar with his decidedly whacked-out take on intergalactic creatures. We would be very surprised if his go-to creature designer Neville Page wasn’t one of the first people Abrams called after he got the job. As the prequels wore on, their aliens, robots and creatures became blander and more anonymous, failing to stand out from their equally phony backgrounds. If there’s one person to make the “Star Wars” monster mash really shimmy, it’s Abrams, who will insist on imaginative design work and an emphasis on practical, on-set critters, though we hope that he stays mostly away from the “Cloverfield”/”Super 8” template for the beasties.
Thoughts? What do you think Abrams can bring to the table that will help redefine “Star Wars”? Will he play safely within the parameters of the franchise or will he making some bold changes? Just how much creative leeway will he get and will Lucas really and truly keep his nose out of it? Lots of questions, but we’ll find out in about two years. “Star Wars: Episode VII” is scheduled to hit theaters in 2015.