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A Disturbance in the Force?



Well, I have to admit that even in my wildest dreams did I see THAT one coming!

It was during breakfast on Friday, while I routinely checked my Blackberry for e-mails that I noticed I had a message from my good friend Craig Harmarty (the talented artist who created the artwork on the home page) that there was a disturbance in the Force - to quote Obi Wan: "as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened."

J.J.Abrams is set to direct the next Star Wars film!

During the day, I received several more messages by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and text about the same subject. This wasn’t going away any time soon, was it? I needed some time to think this through and figure out if any reaction, other than horror, was possible. To do this effectively, I think I need to retrace some steps and take this stage by stage.

First of all, let’s take in the news that the entire Star Wars franchise was sold to Disney.

My reaction to that is that if there’s any company in the film industry that’s ideally suited to take on and run with Star Wars, it’s the House of Mouse. That’s unarguable and cannot be disputed. When Disney bought Marvel, I thought the end of the world was nigh. The next Iron Man movie would have Hannah Montana under the armour, singing as she vanquished evil in an annoyingly wholesome way, and that The Punisher’s trademark skull symbol would have mouse ears from now on. But what actually happened?

The comics have been left to run as normal and the film they gave us was The Avengers. A film that immediately made my top ten of all time. The trailer for Iron Man 3 shows us that they’re not dropping the ball on these blockbusters in any way. So if Disney can run Marvel without destroying the integrity of the product, then Star Wars is in safe hands.

More than that, Lucas is no longer directing. And that’s a positive thing as well, in my book.

I like George Lucas. He’s a hero of mine. I admire the way he built an film empire from nothing. It’s been a long time since I saw THX 1138, but certainly American Graffiti is a film I’ve watched over and over. Star Wars itself was by any measure a magical experience for anybody who saw it back in the late seventies. When he handed the directing duties for Empire and Jedi to Irwin Winkler and Richard Marquand, it was a bold and rewarding move and Lucas’s stamp was still there, undeniably marked on every frame of film. It was his vision, realised in his way at the end of the day.

By the time The Phantom Menace came around, the criticisms were harsh and largely undeserved. The film has flaws, but also has some keynote scenes that can’t be overlooked - but in my view, Lucas himself had missed a beat creatively and visually. Rather than have ingenious physical effects, model shots and various cleverly executed puppets propel the story forward, there came an over abundance of CGI. My criticism of the prequel trilogy is based on EVERYTHING being CGI. The backgrounds, the creatures, the vehicles, the battles. And so after another trilogy, once again Star Wars ground to a halt, apparently forever apart from a seemingly interminable Clone Wars TV series.

But there was still that matter of that final trilogy.

(What final trilogy?)

Back in the days when Star Wars was just one film - called Star Wars, Lucas stated that the original concept was inspired by the old movie serials and that this was part four (to emphasise, back in the time of the original cinema release, it wasn’t "A New Hope" it was just Star Wars) and it was chosen to launch the potential franchise because it was the most action packed of the nine episodes. Essentially, we began at the middle, then we went back to the first three parts - so we’re still waiting for the end of the original saga, as promised back in the late seventies.

Though Lucas has mapped everything out and these skeletal plot lines have been in existence for over thirty five years, I don’t think that he’s the best person to direct the final parts of the saga to end all sagas, and was pretty relieved that he was passing the torch (or the light sabre) but was retaining a degree of creative control. Hell, it worked out okay the last time - right? So we have a fresh view AND a level of consistency.

I had hopes that the king of all directors, Spielberg would step up to the plate. After all, he’s been saying that he wants to direct another sci-fi feature, and his announced Robocopalypse has been postponed indefinitely.

Another great director would have been Brad Bird - director of the animated The Iron Giant, and Pixar classics The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up who proved that he can equally direct a mega budget live action movie with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. I would’ve loved to see Joss Whedon take a run, but ultimately prefer that he give his attention to The Avengers 2, also due in 2015. An unlikely name I heard repeatedly was Tarantino. (There’s hours of mindless fun to be had imagining a Star Wars movie by QT. Those Ewoks wouldn’t have stood a chance.)

Other names were bandied around, but one was conspicuously absent - than of J.J.Abrams.

I’m not as totally, absolutely against J.J.Abrams as I’m thought to be. I love his Alias TV series, but missed out on Lost - though from the complex and meandering plot lines I’ve heard - I think I’ll be purposely missing that for some time to come. His Mission: Impossible 3 certainly delivered a Bond-like movie that filled a gap that the Daniel Craig ones were not, at that point. Films he produced, like Cloverfield, became firm favourites - and then he directed Star Trek.

I can’t tell you how much as a Trekkie since the seventies, that film disappointed and offended me. (I know that the preferred term these days is "Trekker" because the term "Trekkie" is seen as frivolous and derogatory - but I’m a Trekkie, damnit. Those Trekkers are too po-faced and serious for my liking. I like some fun with my Trek.)

Star Trek is an institution. As such, it didn’t need a reboot. The reboot itself undoes over 45 years of TV history in under 2 hours. Abrams has said that he was never a Star Trek fan himself and it shows. If the reboot isn’t a revisitation of how the crew got together, then why cast actors with more than a passing resemblance to the original cast? Yes, I’m looking at Karl Urban as Dr McCoy. Yes, I’m looking at Zachary Quinto as Spock, and yes, I’m listening to Chris Pine’s purposely Shatneresque dramatic pauses in his speeches. The saving grace of the film is the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Spock...and to further confusion, he seems to be the Spock we all know from the TV series and earlier films.

Not only are the planets Vulcan and Romulus destroyed both key elements in the whole mythos, but Spock & Uhura in a relationship? What happened to Pon Farr, the seven year mating urge of the Vulcans? What about the previous captains of the Enterprise? There was a Robert April in the chair before Christopher Pike. At worst, it’s a confused mess, at best it gives myself and fellow geeks hours of heated debate. But ultimately, in my book, it didn’t work.

On paper, it sounded like an ideal match, but then so did assigning the director of The Lost Boys and Falling Down to direct a Batman movie - and we now know from bitter experience that Joel Schumacher should never have been allowed anywhere near the Batman Forever set - let alone pour salt in fans’ wounds with the truly lamentable Batman and Robin. (Of all the films in all the world to have my first name in the title, did it HAVE to be that one?)

But after the bad taste of the Star Trek reboot had started to fade, Abrams teamed up with Spielberg and a mystery project called Super 8, and when I saw that, I was totally blown away. I went on record as saying that Super 8 was my film of the year in 2011 and that notion stands.

I have to say that I’m in no way looking forward to seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness from what I’ve seen in the trailer, but I certainly WILL see it because I’m morbidly curious. Just like passing the scene of a road accident, you don’t want to look for fear of what you might see, but you can’t help yourself.

Oddly, I don’t have that reluctance for Abrams’ Star Wars movie. Paramount have treated Star Trek as a cash cow for years, but I think Disney have paid far too much for Star Wars to allow the fans to be disappointed. The billions of dollars they’ve invested means they’re after a safe bet and expect to make millions of billions back over the next several years. And it is, after all a legacy, with Lucas still minding the store and reining him in, I think Abrams can deliver. After all, Lucas reined Spielberg in on the Indiana Jones movies, Abrams directed a classic Spielberg movie in Super 8 under Spielberg’s supervision.

Yeah - all in all I’m not dreading this. Let’s see what Abrams delivers in 2015. At least he won’t have the time to make another Star Wreck.

What’s your take on this? Head over here and keep the debate going


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