Don’t know about you, but I’m still reeling from the “J.J. Abrams to direct Star Wars: Episode VII” announcement. Finally, Hollywood got one right. Here’s my initial thoughts on the big news, along with some quotes from Abrams and others on his new gig.
First things first, credit where it’s due: the exclusive news was first broken last week by Lucas Shaw at TheWrap. Various other outlets quickly verified it with their own “inside reports,” so by the time Lucasfilm commented on it, the news was known by pretty much everyone that cares.
Just when we wondered if anything could top the biggest geek news of 2012 — Disney buying Lucasfilm and fast-tracking a new Star Wars movie for 2015 — word came down that the man who reinvented the Star Trek empire had signed on the dotted line to direct the first entry in the next Star Wars trilogy. J.J. Abrams + Star Wars. Can the universe survive this profound confluence of all that’s geeky? (Do we really care if it doesn’t?)
After hearing the news — the impossibly brilliant, unthinkably awesome news that couldn’t possibly be real and yet it is — I needed a moment to jump around my house in a glee-filled, foaming-at-the-mouth geeky stupor. Didn’t you? In the words of Pixar animator Austin Madison, “It’s as if a million nerds cried out in jubilation and were suddenly hopeful.” Well said, Mr. Madison.
What we know about Episode VII at this point is very little: Disney is producing it for a 2015 release. It’s the start of a new trilogy, with a story based on notes and ideas from George Lucas (but, thank God, not a script written by him). Screenwriter Michael Arndt of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 wrote the script. And it’s rumored to be set at least as long after Return of the Jedi (20+ years) as the original trilogy was to the prequels. And given Abrams’ penchant for defcon-level secrecy, it’s unlikely we’ll find out much else until opening day.
Since Kathleen Kennedy took over Lucasfilm, she’s been showing some very savvy knowledge of what the fans love and want when it comes to Star Wars. Such as bringing in fan-favorite writers Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg to help craft the story. Abrams’ appointment is just the latest confirmation that she’s not interested in simply churning out another money-maker; she cares enough to ensure that Star Wars VII is something the fans will adore. (And it’s just good sense. We were all burned so hard by the prequels. We’re not willing to settle for more garbage, are we?)
J.J. Abrams has professed his love for Star Wars throughout his entire career, citing it as one of the biggest influences on him as a storyteller and filmmaker, though in the past he’d denied any willingness to take on the franchise. (One can’t argue that there was plenty of Star Wars-sized spectacle in his Star Trek.) Though he’s currently working post-production on Star Trek Into Darkness, his follow-up to the series reboot, it looks like Kennedy was able to change his mind.
The snarky lens flare jokes may be running rampant all over Twitter, but once that nonsense dies down… Sure, there are several directors capable of delivering a truly great Star Wars movie. But J.J. Abrams will create a brilliant one. He’s not just a terrific storyteller. He’s one of us. He’s a geek! Neither of these things outweighs the other — he’s got the perfect balance of both smart filmmaking and heartfelt adoration for the original trilogy. He knows exactly what being a Star Wars fan means, he knows how to give us what we want, and he was just given the keys to the Star Wars kingdom!
For his part, Abrams is predictably excited and overwhelmed. “To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor,” he says in the official Lucasfilm press release. “I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid.”
Lucas says, “I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.” Kathleen Kennedy adds, “It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie. J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”
ILM’s legendary Dennis Muren, who worked with Abrams on Star Trek and Super 8, says, “He puts everything he has into his work. He totally immerses himself. He’s got such a visual eye, which is so important to the Star Wars films. It seems that a lot of the same things that were in George when he made the first Star Wars films are also in J.J. I think he’s going to fit into the other movies perfectly, with the energy that J.J. has. We’re kick-starting Star Wars again with dynamite. It will knock people out, including the people who get to work on it. I think it’s a great choice.”
Sound designer and editor Ben Burtt, says, “J.J represents the next generation of filmmakers from those that were making Star Wars when I started,” said Ben Burtt. “When he was a teen, he was a fan of Star Wars, and a great deal of his love for movies came out of his reaction to that first Star Wars film. You feel that he’s already invested so many years in it, and he’s going to propel it forward in a new way. In other words, you’re having a fan who has grown up and developed tremendous directorial skills finding himself at the steering wheel to take the franchise into the next stage. I feel like I’m there watching history turn over from one era to another.”
Man. 2015 just got so much further away.