The news came out recently that J.J. Abrams will be directing the next Star Wars film. Given the fact that he is already heading up the Star Trek franchise, the announcement sparked a negative emotional reaction in me. What if this becomes a conflict of interest?
J.J. Abrams is one of the most respected television producers around. Despite recent flops such as Undercovers and Alcatraz, he has a slew of great deeds to his name, including Lost, Alias, Felicity, and Fringe. Revolution has potential, even if it mostly remains untapped.
Thus, as a fan of J.J.’s work, I was excited to see him make the transition into film (as long as he doesn’t leave television behind completely, which, so far, he hasn’t). I was even more enthusiastic when he took over the Star Trek franchise, having been a big fan of the TV series and movies since childhood. I knew, based on his previous work, J.J. could bring a level of complexity and excitement to the new reboot, and his casting would be impeccable.
Star Trek 2009 did almost everything I wanted it to. The new actors were almost all perfect matches for the original cast. The story honored everything that had come before it, but also began an entirely new, awesome adventure. While it did favor action a bit over message, the story was still pretty good. And while it is darker than most other Trek offerings, that trend had already become apparent for the franchise before the movie.
However, I do have some concerns now that J.J. has been will also be making the next Star Wars movie. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the Star Wars movies. But I do think Star Wars is overrated, and I don’t hold it up to same level of worship that many fans do. I have always believed that Star Trek has been far superior because of the depth of its stories; in my opinion, Star Wars movies have always been largely melodramatic, action-heavy fluff pieces.
If I have to be honest with myself, some of those complaints can also be made about the most recent Star Trek movie. It lacks the original’s larger world-view of a better humanity, trading it off for lots of battles and effects, and even a love story for Spock and Uhura. It does stay pretty faithful to what had happened before in Star Trek, but it updates the whole thing into a modern blockbuster. On the other hand, it does extend the franchise reach to a new audience of potential fans. But, I worry that as it does so, future films might lose sight of what has always made Star Trek special.
The issue is, while Star Trek has always been good at wonderful special effects sequences, the series and movies have always been more about the its commentary on humanity and our society. In Star Trek‘s futuristic world, we have outgrown the petty squabbles of our present day, and have moved on to become an evolved and resilient race.
The 2009 movie satisfies with great character development, and because of the story it pursues, it doesn’t necessarily need to go out of its way to emphasize the franchise’s idealistic vision of humanity. However, I would not like to see that integral part of that original vision diminish in favor of more action, adventure and special effects.
On the other hand, the Star Wars movies have always fit the standard blockbuster framework, so I’m sure that J.J. will do a great job with it. If nothing else, he will definitely put episodes I-III to shame. Of that, I am confident. But with both movie series under his direction, will the vision for the two series converge, making Star Wars and Star Trek feel too similar?
After all, 2009′s Star Trek already began to lean towards that Star Wars formula. It was a lot of shoot-’em-up, and it had less complicated, more evil, villains. The pacing was faster than I’m used to from Star Trek, and it lacked much introspection.
I don’t want Star Trek and Star Wars to be similar. I admit, I feel a certain superiority when arguing Trek‘s advanced plot points and messages. Were Star Wars to be that good, assuming J.J. could raise the quality of the new Star Wars to the middle ground that the 2009 Star Trek occupied, balanced between what the masses want and wonderful writing, it removes the advantage Trek has, and gives those smug Wars fans new fodder. If the opposite happens, and Star Trek is dumbed down to the level of Star Wars moving forward, continuing to push it away from its roots, the same thing will happen.