Why JJ Abrams is the best thing to happen to Star Wars in a long time

Film critic Christy Lemire on why the departure of George Lucas from the Star Wars helm might be a vast improvement

This may sound sacrilegious to the legions of hardcore Star Wars fans, but having JJ Abrams direct Episode VII will be a vast improvement and the best thing to happen to the franchise in a very long time.

Yes, it was incredibly cool in 2005's Episode III — Revenge of the Sith to see the completion of Anakin Skywalker's transformation from plucky, love-struck teen to the embodiment of all that is deeply evil in the galaxy as Darth Vader — to hear him take that first raspy breath from beneath the iconic black helmet. But George Lucas' prequels were, for the most part, soulless, airless affairs and a far cry from the imagination and rough-hewn, can-do thrills of his original trilogy.

You don't go to a Star Wars movie — and watch it 18,000 times, then camp out in front of a theatre with your homemade light saber and Yoda sleeping bag waiting for the next one — for the smart, complex dialogue or well-drawn characters. But with Abrams at the helm and Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine screenwriter Michael Arndt crafting the script, there is some hope (a new hope, if you will) that the series finally will be infused with a deeper sense of humanity.

Lucas was correct in calling Abrams "an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film" in announcing the selection of a director in a late-night news release on Friday. And when he told the world in October that he was selling his Lucasfilm empire, including the lucrative and beloved "Star Wars" franchise, to The Walt Disney Co. for $4.05bn, Abrams was at the top of many fans' lists of dream directors.

He certainly was at the top of mine when I pondered what sort of fit various filmmakers might be for this material. Back then, I wrote that Abrams was "the most obvious choice, really. His sci-fi bona fides were already beyond reproach, and he solidified them with his reimagining of the Star Trek franchise in 2009. ... This just makes sense all around."

It's true. If you look at the way he handled the redo of that other revered space series, it might provide some clues as to what his "Star Wars" might look like. Abrams clearly aimed to please the broadest possible audience by remaining faithful to the Star Trek mythology in some ways while shaking it up in others; the film made nearly $386m worldwide and the follow-up, the 3-D Star Trek Into Darkness, is due out 17 May. Some fans were thrilled that he would boldly go to such daring places while some purists balked at the vast departures he took. And that might be true of the response Episode VII will get in 2015, when it's scheduled to come out; people tend to get proprietary when they're so emotionally invested in the stories like this.

Abrams' Super 8 from 2011 is another great example of his grasp of, and reverence for, the wonder that can accompany the best science fiction experiences. His homage to late-'70s, early-'80s Steven Spielberg productions is full of childhood innocence and the excitement of storytelling. And as he demonstrated with these films as well as his contribution to another beloved franchise, 2006's Mission: Impossible III, the man knows how to direct an action sequence. He also happened to work with Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound on post-production on all the films he's directed, so a comfort level already exists from an effects perspective.

He's a busy guy these days, though. Between steering these two massive franchises, he also has many other projects in the works through his production company, Bad Robot. Among them: a recently announced biopic of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, a possible Cloverfield sequel and the post-apocalyptic television series Revolution. As talented and visionary as he is, who knows how good of a juggler he'll be?

But Star Wars' influence on Abrams is well-documented, which is cause for optimism; he probably won't come up with some all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza with Jar Jar Binks at the center. And he spoke of it as recently as Saturday night at the Producers Guild Awards, where he accepted the Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television for the groundbreaking series he created, including Felicity, Alias and Lost.

He said being chosen to direct Episode VII is "as surreal as it is exciting." Asked what kind of spin he might put on such well-established material, he acknowledged that it was early in the process, but said: "I want to do the fans proud. I want to make sure the story is something that touches people. And we're just getting started. I'm very excited."

Others in the industry already are excited, as well. "Modern Family" co-star Eric Stonestreet said at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday night that he was looking forward to Abrams' "Star Wars" based on the success of his "Star Trek."

"I have faith," Stonestreet said. "I'm hoping JJ does JJ, because nobody else is doing it that well."

AP

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence