A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …
Star Wars was movie magic when it was first released in the spring of 1977, and is one of the most endearing and enduring franchises to have ever be created. After Return of the Jedi left theaters in 1983, the fans of Star Wars only had comic books and novels to quench their thirst for more tales of that galaxy far, far away. Then — after 15 years — suddenly there was a new Star Wars movie: Episode 1: the Phantom Menace. That film and its successors were not a continuation of the story; these tales were the back-story to the beloved space saga, the prequels. However, the prequels have been thrashed by critics and fans alike, which led creator George Lucas to step aside and sell the rights to the films to Disney. Now, Disney has announced that a brand new Star Wars tale is set to be released in 2014 and they have hired current sci-fi guru J. J. Abrams to direct the project.
With this big switch, a new era of Star Wars has begun and I have to ask the question: does J. J. Abrams have what it takes to breathe new life into the Star Wars franchise? There is good reason to doubt, but there is also some fine reason to hope.
The first reason to doubt: Abrams declined the job when it was first offered. Among the impressive names paraded by Disney as possible candidates for director (Ben Affleck, James Cameron), Abrams was at the top of their list. Unbelievably and publicly, Abrams declined, stating that he is a huge fan of Star Wars, and that he would prefer to simply enjoy the new film rather than work on it. After negotiating with Abrams for a month, Disney got their man. Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t being a fan compel you to work on it? I believe it was the material itself that stopped J. J.
Could Abrams be intimidated by such a project? Who wouldn’t be? After all, the fans of Star Wars ripped George Lucas apart for creating the prequels. The special effects were amazing, the costumes were completely awesome and the music was once more out of this world! Yet the critical fans wanted something else — better acting, better writing, and better directing! The fans weren’t asking for anything they shouldn’t expect, and yet many of them blamed George Lucas for ruining the material. If the creator of Star Wars is vilified for every move he makes on the prequels, then what chance does poor Abrams have? Perhaps Star Wars is simply too big for anyone to get it right?
That said, there are reasons to hope. Abrams is a major success story in Hollywood these days, even among the critical sci-fi fan base. We know of Abrams’ success as a producer and writer, but what about his talent as a director? Abrams may have only directed three major motion pictures to date (Super 8, Star Trek, and Cloverfield), but these films were huge commercial successes with two of the films grossing over a combined $380,000,000 and they were well received by the sci-fi community.
There is another reason to hope that this young director can resuscitate the tale of Star Wars. Star Trek is the closest direct comparison to Star Wars, and Abrams’ current work on the latest Star Trek movies has a lot of fans buzzing with delight. He didn’t re-boot the aged Star Trek stories; he re-imagined them as a parallel universe and blew our minds in the process! I believe Abrams can direct the material because he truly respects it and doesn’t mess with what the fans really love.
Lastly, there is one more defining reason to hope that Abrams can pull this off: Disney is now behind the Star Wars juggernaut. That is something George Lucas never had. To summarize why this is important, all you have to do is look at the box office receipts from last summer. Disney spent a fortune to make The Avengers but it has become one of the highest-grossing films of all time, tripling what money they put into the film.
This new Star Wars project will be a monumental undertaking with a cultural impact far greater than any other film Abrams has worked on. He might be a bit wary of this project, but as he is a fan of the material, he will pay it due respect and usher Star Wars into a new era with great success. In the immortal words of Yoda: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”