'Star Wars': We Need to Collectively Decide Whether JJ Abrams Is the Dark Side or A New Hope for 'Episode IX'
By Alex Ungerman
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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Colin Trevorrow was supposed to direct aStar Wars movie.
Lucasfilm’s latest directorial shakeup, which has seenThe Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams returning to the helm of the series for Episode IX after Trevorrow’s departure last week, has left the fandom -- and our own Ash Crossan’s Twitter feed -- in a state of complete turmoil, as we all try to decide whether this is a positive or negative step for the franchise.
The shift has pushed back the film’s planned release to December 2019 (it was initially moved up to May), and seems to signal another move by the Disney empire against the creative vision of its scrappy, rebellious directors.
So where does that leave Abrams in this whole narrative? The studio obviously trusts him, after he successfully rebooted the franchise in 2015, and stayed on as an executive producer for the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi -- in theaters on Dec. 15 -- but when the 51-year-old filmmaker ignites his proverbial lightsaber of creative control, is that thing lighting up red or blue?
Let’s try to collectively decide that right now. Not with the Force or planet-destroying lasers, but with a pro/con list.
CON: J.J. Abrams is a “safe” choice.
Obviously, the addition of Abrams to the picture brings with it the criticisms some had after he revived the franchise with The Force Awakens -- namely, that it was a $300 million focus-grouped remake of A New Hope (more on this in a bit). It’s worth noting that this was far from the consensus of opinion. Episode VII still enjoys relatively universal acclaim, and is even “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, sitting nominally higher than Rogue One: A Star Wars Story -- the franchise’s first non-Skywalker saga movie, which offered a new perspective in the conflict between the Empire and the rebel alliance -- both in overall score and average rating.
Even so, directors often leave their special mark on a project, and if you were excited to see what Trevorrow (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed) could bring to the Star Wars you know and love, this move has to take a bit of oomph out of your excitement. With Abrams, you know what you’re getting -- and you probably already know whether you think that’s good or bad.
PRO: Not so fast on the “safe” thing.
Let’s not forget Abrams’ new era of Star Wars bucked the long-standing roster of white, male leads, featuring Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in their breakout roles, along with Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac, who rounded out the main cast of heroes.
This is important, because even with all the conversation that’s happened recently regarding Hollywood’s need to address its diversity problem, we’re less than three years removed from Boyega having to defend that a stormtrooper can be black.
Despite his deep respect for the original trilogy, it's not exactly fair to assume that Abrams won’t try to break even more ground with the upcoming film.
CON:The Force Awakens felt like a reboot of Episode IV.
*Force Awakens spoilers here*
Here’s the deal: The people who felt like The Force Awakens tracked a little too closely to A New Hope kinda had a point.
Even if you buy that the many-planet destroying Starkiller Base is different enough from the single-planet destroying Death Star, beat for beat, the two movies -- both the first of their trilogies -- run parallel in a lot of ways.
You’ve got the whole galaxy on the hunt for an adorable little droid holding onto some absolutely critical information, Rey as the desert dweller-turned hero a la Luke Skywalker and a largely unchanged structure for the Empire’s chain of command (not to mention Kylo Ren, who even looks like Darth Vader), which somehow has not learned not to leave your weapons of planetary destruction vulnerable to trench attack via rebel aircraft.
It’s entirely possible that The Force Awakens was just a jumping-off point, and The Last Jedi will take us in exciting new directions. But if the Rian Johnson-directed sequel feels like The Empire Strikes Back: Redux, we may be in for a very familiar Episode IX.
PRO: Despite the similarities, The Force Awakens stands on its own.
Fans will argue that Abrams made essentially the most clever reboot to a franchise of all time, where if you weren’t looking for it, you probably didn’t even notice it’s a reboot.
And from what we learned so far, it really doesn’t feel like Johnson is rebooting Empire Strikes Back. Plus, while he isn’t in the director’s chair, Abrams is executive producing Episode VIII, so he’s very involved with the process and therefore knows what’s going on. So before we get worried about what he’ll do with Episode IX, let’s wait and see what The Last Jedi has in store.
CON: Let’s talk creative diversity.
Despite its diverse slate of stars, which continues with Kelly Marie Tran’s casting in The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm has not made any non-white male choices in terms of directors. This is true. We’ve got Abrams, Gareth Edwards (and sort of Tony Gilroy), Johnson, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Ron Howard, Colin Trevorrow, maybe Josh Trank and now Abrams again.
To be fair, the rumor mill constantly throws directors like Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins in the mix, though neither of them have ever been officially tapped for a Star Wars feature. Diversity in the director’s chair is a bigger problem than this franchise, but at this point, only white dudes have directed Star Wars -- and that needs to change, sooner rather than later.
PRO: J.J. Abrams knows and created these new characters.
This is the biggest argument for why Abrams is the right person to bring this trilogy full circle.
If we’re really worried about the reshoots and revolving door of directors, who better to take the lead and bring us home than the guy who kicked things off in the first place? It saved the Fast & Furious franchise. Who’s to say it can’t work for the world’s greatest space opera too?
At the risk of belaboring the point, it bears repeating: With Abrams, you know what you’re getting. And that’s not always a bad thing. Isn’t that one of the things we hated about the prequels? Lucas’ unchecked vision introducing confusing new concepts and characters to the story we know and love? If nothing else, Abrams deserves the chance to fully deliver on the vision of Star Wars that Lucasfilm seems to not only endorse, but wholly adheres to.