Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Reboot Master

I decided not to try to add to the litany of lamentations regarding the final Star Wars trilogy installment, The Rise of Skywalker, but instead to comment on some aspects of the work of director J.J. Abrams that have been running through my head of late. It feels odd to focus on a director when most of the problem is with the script, but I have a friend I saw recently who works at Disney that gave me some insights with a touch of insider viewpoint. Apparently, there were contractual obligations to give the directors of this trilogy full creative control. Since George had spent his career fighting for this for his movies, I would not be surprised if that came from his side of the deal. But it does explain why the story went in such different directions under different directors, and why we can focus on those directors when we critique those stories. On that topic I will only point to Disney's own biggest mistake, which was that they did not map out the story on paper for all three movies before they started, as Mr. Lucas had always done. My friend tells me they rushed into The Force Awakens production in order to make the merchandising schedule for Christmas. If true, then that fact alone solidifies the accusation that Disney put the cash value of the franchise before the artistic integrity. But I digress - let's get back to Mr. Abrams.

I've always believed that Abrams is a bona fide fan of certain science fiction franchises, including Star Trek and Star Wars. But in his efforts to continue those franchises, it seems he does not have a good understanding of what constitutes good science fiction. He insists on taking old stories and retelling them again in a different context. Something he himself has referred to as the "reboot". Let's look at the Star Trek movies. In the first film, he takes elements and characters from the original series and changes the timeline so that he can start over with them. It is in some ways a clever script that tries to fill in gaps about Christopher Pike and the Kobyashi Maru test, but that came from other writers. The second installment, Into Darkness, tries to create a parallel story to The Wrath of Khan, even introducing Khan himself in a different timeline. The legendary exchange between Kirk and Spock at the end of the original movie is also duplicated to some extent, but with the essential emotional cost removed. I don't understand the point of this type of parallelism other than some cheap nostalgia, or even creative laziness. But it does illustrate my point about Abrams. He may be a fan of the work of others in this genre, but he just doesn't get it as a creator in the genre. One of the most essential aspects of good science fiction is that it introduces new ideas and concepts. It makes us think and look at things in ways we never may have thought of. This kind of story telling takes real effort and imagination and is why I love it so much. It is tougher even than the fantasy genre because it must remain grounded in reality in order to work its magic. Simply re-telling old stories in a different way is not creating science fiction. It is only trampling on the work of those that came before.

This leads up to the inevitable result of putting J.J. Abrams in charge of the final Star Wars trilogy. Some will fault Disney for switching directors mid stream, and rightly so, but we should also point out that even if Abrams had done all three films, they would have just been "reboots" of the original trilogy. We know this now that the final movie has been released under his wing. The Force Awakens is an obvious rework of A New Hope. You can see that Abrams intention for the second movie was to have Rey train under Luke in a remote location, just like Luke trained under Yoda in the second act of ESB. And when he returns for the third movie, Abrams brings back Emperor Palpatine for the third act final conflict, just as he was there to oversee the final act in ROTJ. One official interview revealed that idea as coming straight from Abrams, thus proving that his only contribution to the story is to re-tell the originals. At the end of the day, Disney put the story in the hands of someone who couldn't deliver. His track record in the genre should have clued them in.

I feel a bit sad to post a mostly negative entry without a lot of substance, but I also hope it can add to the rest of the voices out there trying to process it all. If you are not a Star Wars fan then just ignore and move on to then next post.

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