Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, Abrams has apparently come to a similar decision as he is walking away from Star Trek to do Star Wars: Episode 7. When that news broke, I do believe I felt the anguished cries of millions of Trekkers, yelling out, as if something horrible had just happened.
Yet, I do not know if I should be exhilarated or disgusted by this development. Fans of Star Wars could do far worse than J.J. Abrams.
But, my central concern is that Star Wars, now already in the hands of Disney, will further devolve into a mess of meaning--a collection of lightsabers, hyperdrives, and The Force--what is all sorts of flash but nothing of substance. The precedent is not a good one: Abrams did this to Star Trek with his reboot.
There, Gene Roddenberry's vision was reduced to a roller coaster ride that made maximum bank by dumbing down the franchise in order to appeal to a "broader" audience of tweens, and those who want their popular culture to be a truly disposable work of pseudo individualized, assembly line, ephemeral mass culture. As I wrote about in an essay (which I did not post at the time...if enough folks ask, I will share it here) about what J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek revealed about race in the age of Obama, if anything he makes entertaining movies. But, with the exception of Super 8, his movies are rather apolitical, and lack any meaningful social commentary beyond the obvious. The absence of explicit politics in Abrams' (then) new Star Trek is ironically how the movie does its political work.
On this point I wrote:
As an example of the politics as popular culture, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek signals a deep anxiety and malaise about the legitimacy of politics in the early 21st century. At present, as geopolitical arrangements are shifting, global publics are increasingly plagued by crisis and worry, and familiar social arrangements are threatened by catastrophes both man made and natural, a desire for escapist entertainment is a sign of a deep and collective exhaustion. Ultimately, Abrams’ new Star Trek is political to the degree that it speaks to this anxiety, as well as in how it creates a future where race no longer matters—all the while racial inequality remains highly relevant and potent as a social force in the present.I love Star Wars. It has meant a great deal to me personally and professionally. I acknowledge that the series has to move forward in order to remain a cultural benchmark. I do not doubt that Star Wars will remain relevant as it is ultimately a centuries-old story of the hero's quest updated for a contemporary audience.
But, if the reactions of my students to Star Wars is any indication--and I am not that much older than they are--there is a huge chasm between those born in the hip hop and Facebook generations. Many of them have never even seen Star Wars in any of its iterations. My hope is that Abrams can remedy this cultural gap while also keeping the core essence of Lucas' morality tale and epic story alive.
Star Wars is at a crossroads. Disney can grow and expand the franchise with exciting projects such as a retelling of The Seven Samurai in the Star Wars universe. Or they can surrender to the worst impulses of marketing and cross genre borrowing by taking cues from Star Wars extended universe novels that either feature zombies, or are homages to movies like Oceans 11.
Abrams' Star Trek reboot was an almost shot for shot and tonal remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. Who knows, maybe Star Trek was actually J.J. Abrams' audition reel in disguise?
What would you like to see in Abrams' Star Wars? An evil Luke? A female protagonist? Should the New Republic be corrupted from within, rotting like a great oak? Would you introduce an extended universe character such as Thrawn?