The big film news this week was the news that a director had at last been selected to direct STAR WARS EPISODE VII. Many names - Steven Spielberg, Joss Whedon, Brad Bird - were rumoured as being in the frame. Then, it was finally officially revealed that it was J.J. Abrams being awarded the director’s chair.
OK, no bad thing - Abrams is a card-carrying SF fanboy. On TV, amongst many other series, he had created (or co-created) ALIAS, LOST, FRINGE and REVOLUTION. When it comes to film, he’s proved before (MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE III, STAR TREK) that he can take on, and invigorate, a film franchise needing a creative boost.
On paper, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is the safest pair of hands to launch the next STAR WARS trilogy.
In practice, however, I’m not so sure. The reason lies in what Abrams himself once admitted - that whilst he used to like STAR TREK as a kid, it always took second place to STAR WARS in his heart.
Is that so bad? I think it could be. Abrams may be too close to the subject, too enamoured to take chances, to make an outstanding sequel. As further evidence, look at his last released film, SUPER 8. As I mentioned in my review at the time, Abrams is so clearly besotted in that film with Steven Spielberg’s approach to movie-making, he apes it throughout. There is no distinctive Abrams directorial signature - just an admittedly well-made photocopy of Spielberg’s.
It’s not the first time in recent years that what seems like an obvious choice for a project has turned out to be its main stumbling block. Case in point: Bryan Singer. A few years back, Singer was hot off cult classic THE USUAL SUSPECTS and two highly-regarded and commercially successful X-MEN flicks. Such was the appeal of rebooting Superman for a new generation, Singer promptly dropped the third X-MEN film project he was in negotiations to direct, in order to helm a new Man Of Steel movie. The result - 2006’s SUPERMAN RETURNS - was clearly a labour of love for Singer. However, as Singer himself admits, the film was dragged down by being far too nostalgic and reverential of Richard Donner’s original.
So - if not Abrams, who else? Personally, I’d have preferred a more objective, less obvious choice as director. It’s generally accepted that the best STAR WARS entry in the saga so far is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Despite being an old friend of George Lucas’, director Irvin Kershner wasn’t head over heels in love with the subject matter. Kershner’s distance from the first film, significantly, meant that EMPIRE took chances. The big action sequences - the Hoth ground battle and the asteroid chase - are front loaded into the first half of the film. There’s the cliffhanger ending, leaving audiences dangling for three years to find out the fates of their favourite characters. Compare EMPIRE to any of the other films in the series and you can see it’s been cut from a different - superior - cloth.
If Abrams can make a STAR WARS sequel that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, I’ll gladly admit to being wrong in my concerns.
STAR WARS EPISODE 7 will arrive in 2015.