Home > Reviews > Oh, all right, let’s talk about the STAR WARS trailer…

Oh, all right, let’s talk about the STAR WARS trailer…

Everyone else is talking about the Star Wars trailer, so I might as well put in my two cents. Not so much about the trailer itself, since you can’t tell much from a teaser trailer, but about the reactions I’ve been seeing.

First off: Okay, the crossbeam lightsaber is a bit hard to justify rationally, but let’s face it, lightsabers are not a plausible weapon to begin with. A beam of energy acting as a solid blade? How’s that supposed to work? It’s magic. Here’s the thing a lot of people don’t seem to get: Star Wars is not science fiction. Lucas has never claimed that it is. His own term for it is “space fantasy.” The reason he created it is because he couldn’t get the movie rights to Flash Gordon. The opening line of every movie, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is telling us up front that it’s a fairy tale. It’s not supposed to be a plausible universe, it’s supposed to be a wild adventure fantasy in the vein of the movie serials Lucas enjoyed as a child.

But fortunately the new movie isn’t just looking backward. No more all-white casts like in the bad old days. Our first look at the new generation of Star Wars establishes it as a diverse generation. Who cares if one of them is (at least dressed as) a Stormtrooper? What matters is that they’re there. Inclusion is a good thing, and still far too lacking in feature films.

The other main thread of complaint I keep hearing is about the fact that J.J. Abrams is directing, co-writing, and co-producing. A lot of people are expecting this to be like his Star Trek movies. Here’s why that doesn’t follow:

On Star Trek, Paramount gave Abrams and Bad Robot free rein to recreate the franchise however they wished. They’re making it on behalf of Paramount, but the “Supreme Court” of Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have had pretty much total control over it, and Abrams is the top man. Even though he’s not directing the third film, he’s still producing it, and that means the buck stops with him. But on Star Wars, Lucasfilm executive Kathleen Kennedy is the one in charge. Abrams is hired talent working for her, for Lucasfilm. He’s only directing this one movie, while Kennedy is producing the whole series, including Episodes VIII & IX (slated to be written and directed by Looper‘s Rian Johnson) and some standalone spinoffs (the first two of which are slated to be directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle‘s Josh Trank).  And he’s been hired, not to reinvent the universe his way, but to make a new installment that’s true to the existing universe, a universe that Kennedy is now in charge of maintaining and advancing. Kennedy, by the way, is the woman who’s produced most of Steven Spielberg’s films and the Back to the Future trilogy, among plenty of others. Think about that. Star Wars is now in the hands of Spielberg’s closest collaborator.

Also, Abrams made his Trek films along with the “Supreme Court” members listed above. But he’s co-written The Force Awakens along with Lawrence Kasdan, and he and Burk are producing it along with Kennedy and Kasdan. Just to be clear, that’s Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly I’m amazed I’m not hearing more chatter about that from Star Wars fans. The guy who wrote the best movie in the franchise is back. How is that not exciting?

So yes, of course, The Force Awakens is going to be an Abrams film with his voice and sensibilities, but only insofar as it meshes with Kennedy’s vision. Think of what happened to Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. He spent years developing that film, but when he couldn’t come to terms with how the Marvel Studios executives envisioned the film, he was let go. The same would’ve happened to Abrams if he’d tried to make a Star Wars film in a way that Lucasfilm and Kennedy were unhappy with. After all, this film is the foundation of a whole new series of films that Kennedy is responsible for developing and producing, and that Abrams will have no hand in beyond how he sets the stage in TFA. That tips the balance of power more toward Kennedy.

Anyway, I don’t understand the opinion some people have that Abrams’s sensibilities are inappropriate for Star Wars. His approach has always been to blend big, extravagant fantasy action with relatable, character-based drama. To me, that seems perfect for Star Wars. The problem with the prequel trilogy, with Lucas writing and directing the films himself, was that Lucas never really cared about characters. Abrams always puts characters and emotions at the center of everything, even in the midst of the big flashy action. If anything, the main problem with his series Alias was that it was too tightly focused on characters and relationships, so that all the big worldshaking spy schemes and master plans all ultimately revolved around the family lives of a few core characters to a degree that would’ve made Charles Dickens say “Okay, that’s a bit contrived.” But that’s perfect for Star Wars, a franchise where the big bad turned out to be the hero’s long-lost father and it was their family bond that ultimately saved the galaxy, and, oh, the leading lady is the hero’s sister too. SW is big, broad melodrama and has never pretended to be anything else, just as it’s never pretended to be naturalistic or scientifically plausible.

If anything, Abrams’s main shortcoming as a Star Trek director was that, while he handled the character side well enough to make the stories feel grounded, he treated the universe and its rules too fancifully. Star Trek has always at least nominally tried to be a naturalistic, plausible universe, though it’s often fallen short on the plausibility side. But Abrams has treated it more like a fantasy universe where physics works in whatever way is convenient to the plot and where starships can hop across the galaxy in seconds. In other words, he’s treated Star Trek like it was Star Wars. But now he’s doing Star Wars, and that seems like a natural fit to me.

Of course, there’s no sense in judging a movie good or bad based on its teaser trailer. But it seems to me that fandom today is dominated by voices that look for excuses to criticize and carp, and usually those excuses don’t hold up to analysis. And that’s frustrating. Fandom is supposed to be about enjoying stuff and being excited by stuff. Fandom is love, and love should be optimistic. Even when you’ve been burned by love in the past, even when you’re afraid to take a chance on love again, it’s still important to let it give you hope.

Granted, I myself only like Star Wars rather than loving it. But I love Star Trek, and that love makes me want to see the best in it, even when it disappoints me. Because forgiveness is part of love too. I wish more fans would remember that.

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  1. December 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    You make some very good points.

    Fans are generally leery of change, too. When Pete Milligan took over X-Force, which had been a very standard Marvel tram hero comic, and made it into something that 2000 AD would have been proud of, fandom was outraged. There were death threats. But sales went up.

    I liked the new Star Trek movies, the first more than the second, although I’m not sure if they really are Star Trek as I envisage it. But, so what? People stopped watching my Star Trek, despite the (I thought) high quality of both Enterprise and Nemesis. Evidently, more Berman/Pillar/Braga ‘Trek just wasn’t going to fly. But I still have the ones that they did make, and the occasional very fine book to keep that world alive. Let the franchise live on as something else.

    • December 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      But that’s just it — I don’t see any reason to expect the SW films to change as much as the Trek franchise did. Again, Kathleen Kennedy’s the one who’s really in charge, and Lawrence Kasdan is one of the writers and producers. And their job, and Abrams’s, is to make it an authentic continuation of the existing universe. It’s totally unlike the Trek situation where Bad Robot was given license to reboot things from the ground up.

      • December 3, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        Not too authentic, I hope. Sensitivities have changed a lot. All of the twenty-somethings at work love the prequels and don’t care so much for the originals. A generation of people with poor taste, I grant you… :p

      • December 3, 2014 at 1:39 pm

        Authenticity doesn’t mean imitation. A franchise can grow and evolve in an authentic way. Kasdan has surely grown in the past 30-odd years, so surely his vision of the universe has done so as well.

        Indeed, my main problem with Star Wars Rebels is that it’s too imitative of the OT, too much about copying past glories, right down to most of the music being slightly rearranged Williams cues from the movies. It’s too derivative to be all that interesting. That’s the last thing I want from the new movies. Hopefully they’ll be more like The Clone Wars, which fit authentically into the universe defined by the films but added to them and brought new dimension and perspectives to them.

  2. December 3, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    You’ve articulated everything that has bothered me about Abrams’ Star Trek, and reassured me that Star Wars will not suck. You are Right on the Internet. Bless you.

  3. Laconicus
    December 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Besides the scientific accuracy, Abrams’ Star Trek reboot also shortchanged the morality plays that were the core of Star Trek. Abrams did include moral quandaries, but they were treated about as respectfully and realistically as the physics mentioned by the author.

    • December 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      You could say the same about most of the Trek movies. Action movies as a medium are more simplistic than a weekly television series. That’s not about Abrams, it’s intrinsic to the medium.

      I am not receptive to Abrams-bashing here. I have my issues with how he handled the Trek films, but I have issues with most of the Trek films and with Hollywood action movies in general. And I feel there’s a lot Abrams did well in Trek, and I really liked his work on Mission: Impossible. The M:I films he directed and produced are the only good ones in the franchise, because they have an honest core of characterization and emotion that grounds their action. And that makes him a far better action director than your Michael Bays or your John Woos or your George Lucases or your Zack Snyders or any of the others out there who value hollow spectacle over feeling. I don’t understand fandom’s hostility toward him, and I’m sick of people treating fandom as an excuse to hate and condemn and attack. That’s not fandom. It’s pettiness and negativity. If you read my post about fandom being a form of love and your takeaway from that was “Oh, here’s an excuse to bash Abrams some more,” then, my friend, you have totally missed my point. Take it somewhere else.

      • bonesmccoy
        January 9, 2015 at 11:02 pm

        Mr. Bennett, you may not be “receptive” to Abrams-bashing. However, the critical review of the “Abrams-verse” in the Star Trek “reboot” necessitated this blog posting. Without that critical review and the context of that criticism being applied to the Star Wars franchise, you would have no context for the posting itself.

        The comments of Laconius are reflective of many thousands of Trek fans. It’s obvious that the Trek fan base has failed to adopt the Abrams-verse. One look at the Trek and ComicCon conventions costuming shows it. What sells more and is more profitable on Ebay, Amazon, and other internet sites? TOS, TNG, or Abrams reboot uniforms? What has sold more – the TOS films, the TNG films, or the Abrams reboot?

        Then, there are the fan films. Do you see anyone clamoring for more Abrams-verse Trek or do you see fan base building TOS sets and doing TNG era productions? I see the later and am left wondering why after nearly 20 years of fan adoration that Viacom, CBS, and Paramount have never capitalized on these things to produce more of what the fans want.

        Instead, these short-sighted executives pander to redone audio tracks on DVD’s that are 25 years old but remastered in VHS, DVD NTSC, DVD Blueray, and what’s next- 4k?

        You have to wonder when the suits will figure out that the fan films like Star Trek Continues are on to something. I see better viewership on STC in the opening nights than some 4K or 8K movies in the Indy cinema.

        Even so, the suits pass the reigns to people who clearly have no concept of the premise of the franchise originally. And, in this way, it is most aggravating to me a sci-fi consumer.

        To discuss this in the context of Star Wars, one could criticize aspects of the prequels. But, I will not accept the criticism of Lucas as being disinterested in the characters. That was not the point of the film. If you think the film is about the love between Han and Leia, you are missing the entire point of the franchise. The point of the film is a struggle about technology and the inner humanity of the hero (Luke in the original trilogy and Anakin in the prior).

        On Kennedy, I share your optimism in her credentials but I am also skeptical of the next trilogy’s thematics. My guess is that you are correct in that the characters will be fleshed out to a greater extent. But, examination of the characters misses the point of the first two trilogies, which is the interplay between technology and man.

        The reason Lucas never had to flesh out the relationships between the human characters is that relationships between people, robots, and man v. machine are examined.

        My guess is that this entire dynamic will be missing from Abrams treatment. He did not impress me with his insight on Trek and Roddenberry. I know many who are not confident in his treatment on Star Wars. I hope you are correct and that Kennedy will be a stabilizing factor that help maintain the focus. But, I am also unsure.

        As my favorite characters all once said, “I have a bad feeling about this…”

        And, yet, it will be too late for Chewie to reverse all engines.

        May the force be with you and thanks for your posting of your intriguing and thought provoking blog.

      • January 9, 2015 at 11:42 pm

        I’m sorry, but for all that the fiercest Abrams critics insist that they represent the voice of the fanbase, the undeniable fact is that the Abrams films are the most financially successful and critically well-received films in the entire franchise. And frankly, as someone who has been a Star Trek fan for over 40 years and who likes the Abrams movies (aside from certain excesses), I resent the anti-Abrams camp’s insistence that they speak for all fans. The only person anyone is entitled to speak for is oneself.

        And the fan film comparison is really not fair. Classic Trek has over 700 hours’ worth of content to inspire fan-fiction creators, while the new universe only has 4 hours of content. It’s still young, still new, still finding itself. Fan love takes time — especially due to the need for the first flush of fan hate to cool. I’ve seen a number of people in recent years mentioning how they like Enterprise better now than they did the first time around, because they’ve learned to deal with the fact that it’s not what they expected and were thus able to judge it and like it for what it is. Heck, I’m one of those people.

        Also, who makes fan films about a series that’s currently in production? Fan fiction and film are driven by the desire to fill a void — to compensate for an absence or flesh out something unexplored in the original. So of course a series that’s in active production isn’t going to generate as many fan films as one that’s been gone for decades.

        If you ask me, Abrams understood the premise of ST in a way that fan-film creators generally don’t. He understood that it’s not about nostalgia, it’s about being modern and cutting-edge. The original show redefined SFTV and pushed the envelope. Nostalgia for it can be fun and pleasant, fine for paying tribute to the original, but it’s not the right way to follow in its footsteps as an actual professional creation. That demands freshness and an embrace of the new. Heck, one of the most legitimate widespread criticisms of Into Darkness is that it was too much of an exercise in nostalgia.

        And no, the point of Star Wars was not a struggle between technology and humanity. It was about making a substitute for Flash Gordon when Lucas couldn’t get the license. It was about paying tribute to the old movies and serials Lucas grew up watching. Unlike Trek, it was never anything but an exercise in nostalgia, and it was never intended to be particularly deep or thought-provoking. It’s meant to appeal to a child’s sense of wonder — and sense of fun. Too many fans today have lost touch with that side of themselves, I think.

  4. December 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    By the way, this post’s been up for maybe six hours and it’s already generated more hits than my site has ever gotten on a single day, and is in the top 12 of my most-read posts ever. Apparently someone linked to it on Twitter. So thanks for that, whoever you are. I knew this post would probably generate some traffic for my blog, but I had no idea it would be this much.

    So, welcome, new readers! Feel free to look around the rest of the blog! Or visit my homepage and learn about my books:

    http://home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett/

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