One of the biggest things to drop this week in film news is the official announcement that J.J. Abrams will be directing the next installment of Star Wars. While the interwebs and blogospheres are still atwitter with this news coming to light, the number one question that everyone will soon be asking (if not already) is if he can handle both Star Wars and Star Trek. Without a doubt J.J. Abrams is a talented director; that much is hard to contest. And if he were at the helm of only one I’m sure he could handle it with the style and nuance that we’ve become accustomed. He’s already proven as much with his first Star Trek outing, reinvigorating an aging franchise for a new generation and making a boatload of money in the process. As we await its sequel this May, Star Trek Into Darkness, time will tell if the universe he’s started to rebuild truly has legs or was just a one off success. My money is on the former. And while Star Wars is an entirely different beast altogether, I’m sure he’d have been just as up to the task. But to do both — that is still something of a mystery. Mind you, he’s not writing these movies, only directing them. But even still, the success or failure of these franchises rest on one thing that I believe is the most paramount to consider — the foundations from which these next stories will come from.
Star Wars and Star Trek have both established a vast universe in which their stories play out. However, in terms of official canonical storytelling, Star Wars only has 6 movies from which to pick up from. I discount all the other media that’s spawned from them because they’re far less in the public consciousness. Still a wealth to draw upon but not necessarily relatable to the general public. In that sense, there is a much more specific and narrowed bandwidth where this story can take place and ultimately go. The major arcs are already established, Episode VII just has to continue them.
Star Trek, however, was a television show before anything else, and has since established itself into a multi-series of shows, as well as a handful of movies. One way to look at this would be that the entirety of the Star Trek franchise is fair game or that none of it is. There’s so much out there, with hordes of people having watched at least some, maybe all of them, that you have the freedom to pick and choose what may work best. Existing storylines could be developed or something entirely new could be created and it would work just as well, assuming things are done properly.
Again, J.J. Abrams is not writing these movies, but as the producer and director, and just considering who he is, you can be damn sure he’s going to have a lot of sway. So which universe lends itself to his brand of storytelling more? Where is he best suited or could one actually benefit from the other? Personally, I think he’ll be able to do both. I think where he lacks in one area he’ll be able to shine in the other. He’s already proven himself, at least once before on Star Trek, in telling a new story that somewhat re-establishes a known one. He’s a fan of mystery and intriguing if not demanding plots. With the space to work with on Star Trek he was able to breathe new life. At the same time, fans and critics alike would probably agree one of his biggest shortcomings is sometimes taking that too far. In making his stories compelling he’s always in danger of the complicated becoming convoluted. I think this is where Star Wars will benefit. With the reins someone placed on him to stay within a more confined and already established story arc there’s less of a chance the twists and turns will get away from him. And if we can believe that the final three Star Wars installments finally completes the Skywalker opera [we’ll see] then the world/universe is pre-defined that much more. Think of it not as a limitation, but a guiding focus.
Speaking of which, Star Wars was very much always a space opera. It was melodramatic and overwrought at times. J.J. Abrams is known for that kind of sentimentality. One needs to only look at his back catalogue of soapy television shows to see that. A perfect fit for Star Wars. And yet, he’s also clearly a fan of sci-fi and catastrophic phenomena. He’s not only about the feelings and the relationships but can also do big action set pieces that are informed by their environment. Again, I refer you to his work history. And in the cold, harsh realities of space, where the pragmatism and command structure under a captain in the face of adversity is all that keeps his crew safe, J.J. Abrams will still shine with clinical lens flare precision.
I think both are in good hands to tell you the truth. There’s a reason Star Trek and Star Wars are what they are and have the fans that they do. I believe J.J. Abrams understands them both because he is both himself. He cuts to the core of what makes both these franchises so respectively great in their own ways. At the very least it’ll keep him from getting tired of playing in the same space for too long. They’re so different and the same that I think the bounce from one to the other will serve both well in the long run. You want someone seasoned but still brings fresh eyes. You want the best of both worlds but when can you ever actually have that? How about the guy who’ll be living in both worlds then?