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J.J. Abrams to Direct Star Wars: Episode VII - Here's Why We're Optimistic

By Chris Chiarella

There are Star Trek fans and there are Star Wars fans, and never the twain shall meet... right?  Perhaps not any more.  After much speculation among the fan community and more behind-the-scenes wrangling than we will ever know, Disney/Lucasfilm has revealed that filmmaker J.J. Abrams (director of the recent Star Trek reboot) has been named the director of the upcoming feature length film in the Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode VII.

Episode VII will pick up after the events of 1983's Return of the Jedi--wherein (30-year-old Spoiler Alert!) those plucky Rebels finally managed to defeat the tyrannical Empire--kicking off what is expected to be not just a new chapter but a new trilogy for the beloved science-fantasy franchise.  In fact, if Disney's statement in their original Lucasfilm acquisition announcement is still accurate, we may see feature length Star Wars films every 2 to 3 years for the foreseeable future.

As had been previously announced, Academy Award winner Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) has been hired to write the screenplay. With the scripts for Toy Story 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire under his belt, Mr. Arndt has become quite the go-to A-list sequel scribe. Abrams' producing partner Bryan Burk and his Bad Robot production company have also been tapped.

Said Galactic Poobah George Lucas himself, "I've consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He's an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn't be in better hands." Although mostly retired and no longer the owner of his self-titled Lucasfilm Ltd., Mr. L. will be a consultant on the ongoing franchise that he created. Also consulting will be writers Lawrence Kasdan (Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes).

Mr. Abrams' résumé is no less impressive, from early high-profile writing gigs on movies such as Armageddon to creating or co-creating popular TV series such as LOST, to setting the record for the biggest budget ever given to a first-time feature film director, with Mission: Impossible III. And of course in 2009, Abrams directed a spectacular, wildly popular reimagining of the entire Star Trek mythos for the big screen. He has made no secret about his fondness for Star Wars since his formative years. Despite some apparent reticence when last year's Lucasfilm sale and saga relaunch were announced, the deal is now official, and he couldn't be happier: "I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid."

Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren, ASC, whose long Star Wars tenure dates back to 1977's first and still best of the bunch, worked with Mr. A. on Super 8, his previous film, and had this to say: "He puts everything he has into his work. He totally immerses himself. He's got such a visual eye, which is so important to the Star Wars films. It seems that a lot of the same things that were in George when he made the first Star Wars films are also in J.J. I think he's going to fit into the other movies perfectly, with the energy that J.J. has. We're kick-starting Star Wars again with dynamite. It will knock people out, including the people who get to work on it. I think it's a great choice."

Ben Burtt, who won a Special Achievement Oscar for Star Wars as well as two more of the statues, was sound designer and sound editor on Star Trek and Super 8. "J.J represents the next generation of filmmakers from those that were making Star Wars when I started. When he was a teen, he was a fan of Star Wars, and a great deal of his love for movies came out of his reaction of that first Star Wars film. You feel that he's already invested so many years in it, and he's going to propel it forward in a new way. In other words, you're having a fan who has grown up and developed tremendous directorial skills finding himself at the steering wheel to take the franchise into the next stage. I feel like I'm there watching history turn over from one era to another."

Burtt's apprentice and now an Oscar nominee himself, Matthew Wood also grew up as a Star Wars fan before earning the opportunity to work on the prequels, and the Blu-rays. "Working with (J.J. on Super 8), it was so obvious to me that J.J. and I have the same nostalgic love of that era. Now we have someone from that generation who is going to be at the helm of the Star Wars franchise that I've known and worked on, so it's a great circle."

Anyone who has seen Super 8 knows what they're talking about, as the movie is set in the late '70s and the main character is a youngster obsessed with movies, especially science fiction, and he fancies himself a budding director. Similarly, keen observers will note the influence of Star Wars on 2009's Star Trek, from more obvious examples such as the planet-destroying über-weapon and last-second rescues to subtle touches like the way Kirk ditches his hometown ride before heading off to interplanetary adventure. It's just that sort of affectionate attention to detail that has me cautiously optimistic that J.J. might just be the best man for the job.

But will he be able to keep his signature lens flares under control?

J.J. Abrams' next movie, the Trek reboot sequel Star Trek into Darkness, opens on May 17.

What did you think?

View all articles by Chris Chiarella
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