JJ Abrams Heads to a Galaxy Far Far Away

For the last few months I, like many other nerds I know, have been fixating on the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney and the new film entries into the Star Wars universe. Actually fixated isn’t the right word; more like obsessed. There definitely hasn’t been a day since the news broke on October 30th that I haven’t thought about this at least once and it’s not like I haven’t had other things to focus on during that time. We’ve had three major holidays since then, I had to put my dog down, there were like a billion films released in theaters, and, oh yeah, I have a kid on the way in just over three months so the fact that Star Wars has remained such a priority in my mind is a strong indication of the level of dedication I have to this series. I might have a disease, actually. In that time, I would say the thing I have thought about most as it pertains to this subject is the question of who would direct the first film in the new series. This is because, in my mind at least, everything else about this film will fall in line with the director. I am, of course, incredibly interested in what the actual subject matter of the film will be, who will be cast in the leads, if Chewbacca will be a part of the cast (oh please oh please oh please), etc. but all of that will come together regardless. What I really needed to know, above all else, was who would be in charge of one of the seminal moments of my moviegoing career. Well, yesterday we got our answer in the form of JJ Abrams, a far bigger fish than I could have ever hoped for.

SIDE NOTE: There are people out there who have been quite snarky and whiny in their complaints about Abrams being handed this project. Comments about “lens flares” abounded on social media almost as soon as the news broke and reminded me about the dark side of social media. To those people I must say this: Today is not the day. When production on Episode VII begins, there will be plenty of occasion to lament Abram’s involvement or pine for a darker, more independent mind like Darren Aronofsky if you so choose. But today is a day for celebration because, at the very, VERY least, fanboys like myself can at least have faith that this movie will be well-made and enjoyable and not a money grabbing disaster like the last trilogy was and like many of Disney’s recent tentpole films have been.

When the news on the Disney acquisition came down, I wrote a longwinded piece on the events of the week and what it meant to the franchise. A big focus of this column was on the list of directors that could be targeted for this film. My list of the top four, all of whom I wrote off as impossible to obtain, included Abrams. Since then, I have become convinced that outside of Spielberg, Abrams was the best choice for the job (at least in the context of legitimate choices) and now that it’s actually happened, I remain convinced that this was the right way to go. There are certainly other directors who could have done an excellent job with this franchise. Brad Bird (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy), and others constitute a list of big name directors who may have been considered at one point or another and all of them would have brought certain skills to the table that might have worked quite well. Many of the film nerds I know and follow would have preferred to see the job go to a newer, riskier filmmaker like Neill Blomkamp (District 9) or Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code, and my personal number one choice in this category) but that was never going to happen because Disney wasn’t about to hand over such a huge project to someone who hasn’t handled a similar project before, especially after the failure of John Carter under the direction of Andrew Stanton.

Of all the big names that were bandied about (and seriously considered, apparently), the two that stood out for me (after Spielberg definitively turned the whole thing down) were Abrams and Ben Affleck. Affleck would have been a bolder choice, I must admit, and seeing as how he’s gotten better behind the camera with each effort and how Argo was my second favorite movie of 2012, I would have been pretty stoked about his involvement. If we were talking about a standalone Star Wars film (which is apparently in the plans once this next trilogy has concluded), Affleck would have been at the top of my list. His ability to craft and flesh out a great story would be a welcome asset to, say, a Boba Fett movie, a Young Han and Chewie movie, or an origin story about the founding of the Jedi Order (all of which should absolutely happen at some point). I hope at some point Affleck gets a chance to make one of these films. But since Disney is keen on starting their foray into the Star Wars universe with a brand new trilogy, I think Abrams makes the most sense.

For one thing, Abrams has history on his side. The Star Trek franchise was dead in the water when he came on board and completely rejuvenated it with his 2009 film that very well might be the best of the series. He showed a healthy respect for the mythology of the material while still taking steps to revamp it and give it room to breath away from the hardened rules that had been established through 40 years of exhaustive development through 10 movies and at five TV series’. His second film in the series, Into Darkness, is one of the most anticipated films of the year and looks to be incredible. Abrams is a guy who knows how to start a franchise and, more importantly, to restart a beloved franchise, a skill that will come in so very handily with Star Wars. Abrams also has a flair for sci-fi. He has produced two of the best sci-fi-related TV shows ever in Lost and Fringe and his cinematic stop off between Star Trek movies was 2011’s Super 8, a movie that I absolutely adore. On top of all that, Abrams is an incredibly smart guy (not that Affleck isn’t, of course) who understands the fanboys, from both the content and marketing standpoints. His recent bit on Conan, in which he released the first footage from Into Darkness, was a stroke of genius and served as a reminder that the guy understands his market.

In the interest of fairness, I understand the desire to see Disney go with a risky choice (which Abrams DEFINITELY isn’t) or to push the franchise in a darker direction with an edgier director. I think (and hope) that once this trilogy is over, we can look forward to something darker in a standalone, smaller budget sort of setting, which is a truly exciting proposition. But for now, let’s just revel in the glory of Disney avoiding a directing disaster (I have had nightmares about Gore Verbinski or Jon Turteltaub getting their respective hands on this project) and stealing Abrams away from the Star Trek franchise, thereby upping the odds that Episode VII will be the Star Wars film that I’ve been waiting for for almost 30 years. Now bring on the lens flares!