Unsurprisingly, I think it’s promising news that JJ Abrams is going to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
Since there’s no officially confirmation yet and I haven’t personally confirmed things with any of the involved parties, I’m taking on faith that Lucas Shaw broke the biggest film news of the very young year. If his story is accurate, then Abrams has the job. Done deal. Signed. That’s the specific language of his story, and the five billion sites that have also “confirmed” the story (ie posted The Wrap’s story) are reporting this as done. Closed. This is happening.
Okay, so let’s take it as 100% accurate right now. Somewhere in LA, Abrams is wrapping up post-production on “Star Trek Into Darkness,” approving FX shots and listening to tweaks on the sound mix and making sure it’s as tight as it’s going to get, and at the same time, he’s got Michael Arndt’s treatment (or script pages at this point for all I know) bouncing around in his head, and he’s already dreaming about what he’s going to do with “Star Wars.”
That is a fairly unprecedented moment in terms of one filmmaker standing astride an entire corner of pop culture at the same time. I know that other filmmakers wanted the job. I’ve heard reports of one filmmaker pushing as a contractual point a promise that he could make all three films, something that may have led to that person negotiating himself right out of the running. I’ve heard rumors about names both big and small, but so much of it seemed to be part truth, part speculation, part outright wishing that I’ve been waiting, trying to crack the wall of silence just like pretty much every other reporter in town. Abrams discussed the possibility of him directing the film with Empire, and at that point, it sounded like he had ruled out the job completely.
When I spoke to Abrams about “Star Trek” for the first time, back in 2008, a big part of our conversation was about “Star Wars” and how that had been the real center of his creative life as a kid. He was a “Star Wars” fan, not a “Star Trek” fan, and when I mention that, I’m sure there are “Star Trek” fans who make a sound like someone kicked them in the giblets. It always seemed like a good thing the way he talked about it, since he didn’t feel like he was afraid to experiment with “Star Trek.” He liked the archetypes of the original series, and he liked the toys that exist for a storyteller in the “Star Trek” world, but he did not feel overwhelmed by the idea of tweaking all of that, breaking it in order to build something different with it. He said that “Star Wars” was a very different thing to him, something he had strong love for. He was a fan first, and he said that “Star Wars” just plain meant more to him.
So the idea that he went from the fairly firm “No, thanks” of that Empire piece to taking the job must mean that something persuaded him, and having spoken with him enough times over the years, I’m guessing it was the story. He must have finally read whatever Michael Arndt pitched to Disney and Lucasfilm, and it must have made him feel confident that when he finishes with whatever it is he’s signing on to direct, whether that’s one film or a whole trilogy, he will have made something that honors and expands “Star Wars” in a way that he would want to see as a fan.
Honestly, can we ask anything else of any filmmaker working with these types of properties? If I were Abrams, just based on the seven hours or so since this news first broke, I would have all Internet capability disabled on my end for the entire time he’s in production. The immediate response to almost any announcement like this is cynical, and in this case, people seem to have made their minds up about Abrams already, good and bad. Certainly my attitudes about his work have changed over the years, but I’d argue so has his work. I would hope that whoever landed this job, the main response from fandom would be a sincere “Good luck,” because I don’t want to sit in a theater disappointed in 2015. I want this next chapter of “Star Wars” to be something that I share with my “Star Wars” loving kids, something that we all get to be excited about, a worthwhile new piece of this giant tapestry of space opera.
The biggest bummer for me about the way this news broke is that today has been a travel day. I’ve been in the Salt Lake City airport, I’ve been on a plane, I’ve been in the FlyAway bus… and this entire time, I’ve wanted to get home just so I can see the faces of Toshi and Allen when I tell them who is making the film. Toshi had a moment at the premiere of “Real Steel,” when he was standing in line with me, and we realized it was JJ Abrams and his family standing in front of us. The 2009 “Star Trek” is one of the two or three most watched films of Toshi’s young life as a film fan, and when I said hello to Abrams, Toshi took the chance to thank Abrams for the “Star Trek” film he made. I saw Abrams react to meeting a young fan who loves this take on this iconic property, and I saw how pleased he was to hear how much of an impression it made.
I don’t think anyone needs to tell Abrams how many millions of Toshis there are out there who love “Star Wars” with that same whole-hearted passion, and all of them are more than happy to trust that whatever it is that got Abrams to say yes is going to speak to them the same way when it arrives in theaters in 2015. No pressure at all, right? He’s just got a chance to redeem this dearly beloved property for disillusioned fans while also pleasing the faithful who still immerse themselves in that galaxy far, far away every week with new “Clone Wars” episodes and every time a new book or a comic comes out.
I look forward to watching him try.