J.J. Abrams to (further) destroy another franchise

It was shocking enough when LucasFilm announced last October that it was selling the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion to none other than Disney, who would produce three more movies as sequels to the original trilogy. The horror of that news was leavened by the rational hope that even Disney probably couldn’t do worse to Star Wars than what Lucas himself did by deciding to make the prequels. Surely the negotiations were short.

What is more shocking is yesterday’s rumour, comfirmed today, that it will be J.J. Abrams directing the first of these sequels, Episode VII. Since it’s totally unclear what this movie would even be about — Luke’s Exclusive Interview: Why My Dad Wasn’t So Bad; or Dismantling Remaining Star Destroyers, A Field Guide; or What To Expect When Leia’s Expecting — Abrams should have wide latitude to find ways to gratuitously blow things up and have aliens fight each other. Abrams is the perfect candidate to marry the poor screenwriting that has been the hallmark of the more recent Star Wars films with the senseless action and obvious plot holes associated with most recent box office smashes.

The decision is particularly piquant since it was Abrams who helmed the 2009 reboot of an even older franchise with the latest Star Trek feature film. Tensions between Star Trek and Star Wars fans struggling to establish their own superiority have run high for a generation, most recently featuring an embarrassing cat fight between William Shatner and Carrie Fisher, so it is surprising indeed that the same director would work on both franchises. The only reasonable conclusion is that Abrams will destroy Star Wars (to the extent that’s still possible) just like he did with Star Trek.

While I’m on my soap box, and to justify that claim, let’s talk about that Star Trek reboot. After a promising start, the film descended into aimless action scenes. Sulu fences on a collapsing orbital platform before the entire planet of Vulcan is destroyed — because that’s not gratuitous or unoriginal — by revenge-gripped time-traveling Romulans. How was this done? Unclear. All we know is that ‘Red Matter’ is the culprit, whatever that is. Somehow Ambassador Spock managed to join his half-blood cousins in their time travel escapades to teach Scotty — slapstick king of the film — the deus ex machina he would himself later invent as a proper engineer. You see, Kirk needed to rejoin an Enterprise from which he had been ejected in order to save the day and preserve an alternate timeline that Abrams can continue to abuse. There was just no other way to pull this off; certainly not with better writing. Also, Spock and Uhura managed to neck in the transporter room along the way. Spock’s emotions were on display the whole time in fact; there was no shred of the internal chaos that defined his character in the original series. Just lots of bang bang.

The film, in sum, was an exercise in reusing character names invented 40 years ago to sell a totally reinvented filmic universe substantiated by little more than a poorly written action film plot with holes big enough to fly the Enterprise through. It barely tipped its hat to scifi with a wry smile while targeting a young audience trained to value special effects above all else. The heart of a complex generational franchise was ripped to shreds to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The nuance and moral plays of the series was nowhere to be found.

Perhaps most unsettling for me was how well-liked the film was. I’ve tried to explain the above to many people and my criticism is always shrugged off. Non-fans invariably come back with “Well, I liked it” or “It was an enjoyable action film so get over it.” But even as an action film it was objectively bad! And as a supposed Star Trek movie, it was simply unacceptable.

And that, my friends, is now the immediate future of Star Wars. To be fair, it has always been merchandised shamelessly, and Lucas himself has always been more moneymaking machine than man: remember how he raped Indy? But Abrams, with Disney’s help, is poised to become more powerful than we could ever imagine. All I can advise a true fan is to hide your feelings deep: they do you credit, but they can be made to serve the Emperor.

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