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Why JJ Abrams Was A Bad Choice for Star Wars

Who could do more harm to Star Wars than Jar Jar Binks? J.J. Abrams could, and I think he will. The clue is in his name. Move over JJB, because Disney has hired JJA to direct the new Star Wars movie. Whilst half the world is clapping with joy at this supposedly brilliant appointment, and the Disney money men laugh all the way to the bank, where they will roll around naked in the vault, tossing gold dust over each other and shoving precious gems up their orifices, I shrug my shoulders and resign myself to watching the next bastard deformed Star Wars offspring only when it appears on broadcast TV for free. Or maybe I will I get to watch it three inches by three inches during a long haul flight (edited for rudeness and to fit the screen). Oh yeah. This fool has been stung before, and I am not shelling out for yet another overpriced cinema ticket just to discover that I am as big a sucker as all the other suckers. I have been stung before and I am not wasting more money on yet another rubbish Star Wars cash-in knock-off degraded regurgitated necrophilic shagging-over of what worked well during two-and-a-half films during a time so long ago that George Lucas still had a neck. Once bitten, twice shy, and this fool not only saw Phantom Menace on opening night, but I flew to New York to see it.

I already had my doubts when Disney paid $4bn to get a slice of hot Star Wars money action. Disney + Star Wars = Pirates of the Caribbean in Space. Then they put J.J. Abrams at the helm. Now I have to imagine something worse than Pirates of the Caribbean in Space. And I know what some people are thinking. “J.J. Abrams is really good, he’s really talented…” Bullsh*t. Here are ten reasons why J.J. Abrams stinks as the choice for Star Wars director.

1. Lost in Space

The words “J.J. Abrams” are often used alongside the words “creator of Lost“. They mean it as a compliment. Lost was loved by two kinds of people. First, there was the money pigs, who loved Lost because it generated so much cash. After all, Lost had huge audiences (plus lots of product placement for Zero Halliburton luggage). Second, Lost was loved by its huge audiences. But anyone who watched Lost to the end must be a real loser, and I can prove it. The whole plot of Lost was one big never-ending tease. Hours and hours of tease. Add them together and you ended up with weeks of tease. It was the only show on television where literally no character ever answered any questions asked by any other characters. For weeks on end. Turning into months on end. Turning into years. And what was it about? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So Lost was like an intelligence test. The test was: how quickly do you realize you are wasting your time because nothing in Lost ever gets explained? That was the test. I scored a D for ‘dunce’ because I watched it way too long. But I least I got out before the end. The only way to keep watching that show would be to do so much drugs that you have no recollection of what happened in any of the previous episodes. You would have to wake up stoned, just in time to put on Lost, enjoy the episode as a standalone experience, right up to the end where you think to yourself “hmmm… that was mysterious… I’ll watch next week to see how it gets explained.” And the next week there would be a new mystery. And the week after, a new mystery. And so on, endlessly. In other words, it was a gigantic con act. Again, the clue was in the title. When they called it “Lost”, it was a warning that you were going to lose a big chunk of your life watching a load of claptrap with no real plot or meaning. Or that you had to lose your mind if you wanted to keep watching it.

2. Serial Cheat

Abrams not only cheated in Lost, he cheats with all his stories. This is supposed to be great storytelling. It is not great storytelling. It is cheating. It means treating the audience with disdain. He turned Spock into a liar (which is meant to be impossible), Alias was a bunch of unrelenting hooey, and the tension in Armageddon depended on a phoney-baloney argument about whether a drill would break or not. So if you think J.J. Abrams is some kind of sci-fi storytelling guru, then let me quote what a real sci-fi storytelling guru has to say about telling sci-fi stories (in guru stylee). In the introduction to Asimov’s Mysteries, sci-fi giant Isaac Asimov explains that sci-fi has no limits, but it should not cheat its audience either:

There is a tendency for many people who don’t know any better to classify science fiction as just one more member of the group of specialized literatures that include mysteries, westerns, adventures, sports stories, love stories, and so on.

This has always seem odd to those who know science fiction well, for s.f. is a literary response to scientific change, and that response can run the entire gamut of the human experience. Science fiction, in other words, includes everything.

And yet science fiction writers seemed to be inhibited in the face of the science fiction mystery.

Back in the late 1940s, this was finally explained to me. I was told that ‘by its very nature’ science fiction would not play fair with the reader. In a science fiction story, the detective could say, ‘But as you know, Watson, ever since 2175, when all Spaniards learned to speak French, Spanish has been a dead language. How came Juan Lopez, then, to speak those significant words in Spanish?’

Or else, he could have his detective whip out an odd device and say, ‘As you know, Watson, my pocket-frannistan is perfectly capable of detecting the hidden jewel in a trice.’

Such arguments did not impress me… [Authors] stuck to the rule of being fair to the reader. Clues might be obscured, but not omitted. Essential lines of thought might be thrown out casually, but they were thrown out. The reader was remorselessly misdirected, misled, and mystified, but he was not cheated.

… the same would apply to a science fiction mystery. You don’t spring new devices on the reader and solve the mystery with them… In fact, you carefully explain all facets of the future background well in advance so the reader may have a decent chance to see the solution.

Does Abrams pass Asimov’s test? He has never tried to. And now the creator of Lost is going to bring the Star Wars franchise to an end. Expect it to end for the same reasons that Lost reached an end – not because anyone wrote an end, but because the audience was tired, the ratings fell, and the money men saw the profits were dwindling. Abrams will not add to the Star Wars legacy. He is going to bury it.

3. Cloverfield

In contrast to the last argument, this needs no elaboration. Anyone who saw the movie monstrosity Cloverfield knows damn well why they may talk about “J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost” but never describe him as “J.J. Abrams, Producer of Cloverfield“.

4. Fast Films

J.J. Abrams is to film what Colonel Sanders is to food. It may sell by the bucketload, and you may even like the taste, but the product is cheap, fast, disposable trash for lazy masses who want to feel good for while and have nothing better to do but swallow crap. Instead of telling you a wholesome, soul-nurturing story, J.J. Abrams makes mass-produced pap with a taste that nobody objects to. If there was any justice, he would signed up to make Fast and Furious 7, instead of Star Wars 7. But by the time he has finished with Star Wars, there may be nobody able to tell the difference.

5. The Star Trek Reboot was Overrated

Star Trek is an indestructible franchise. It is so rock solid, that they had a balding, ageing Brit playing a French starship captain, fighting hand to hand with the rock hard twenty-something Tom Hardy… and defeating him. And people were still bound to come back to see the next Star Trek film. But for all the nice visuals and the very good cast, the Star Trek reboot did little apart from rape the existing mythology of Star Trek. So now we have seen young Kirk and young Spock doing a young Kobayashi Maru. Why does that work? It works because the original Star Trek was successful. And it was successful because the old Kirk and the old Spock were such good characters. They were such good characters that it did not matter that they really were very old indeed. The first Star Trek film began with Kirk and Spock coming out of semi-retirement to go adventuring again! And in the second film, Bones gives Kirk a pair of reading glasses as a present – because they’re both so bloody old by then. But they still went on to make another four films after that. So the secret of the reboot is no secret at all. J.J. Abrams got a good-looking talented young guy to play Kirk, ditto for Spock, ditto for most other characters, put them on a good-looking set and surrounded them with good-looking CGI. Excuse me if I fail to see any genius with that. Oh, and he got them to act out a really lame story that was quite boring, even though it involved the destruction of not one, but two inhabited planets. (What will he do next? I half imagine Benedict Cumberbatch saying the line: “with my ray gun I will destroy the whole galaxy!!! No, wait – the whole universe!!! Mwahaha…”)

6. No Hips, Tits, Lips, or Balls.

By now, you must have noticed a recurring theme in my arguments against J.J. Abrams as a creative force. He is a risk-averse corporate puppy, which is why the money men love him so much. “So what?” you cry. Because taking risks matter. If nobody took risks, there would be no Star Trek, or Star Wars. The original Star Wars took lots of risks, of all sorts. Star Trek also took lots of risks. It was so gutsy that they put a Russian in charge of the weapons systems, ignoring the cold war between the US and the USSR. And Star Trek was responsible for the first inter-racial kiss to be shown on broadcast US television, when Kirk puckered up with Uhura.

There was something very special about Uhura. Yes, I know they made the woman the receptionist, but what a woman they chose for the role: 100% black woman. Nichelle Nichols had a serious case of hips-tits-lips-black-woman-with-the-real-fine-ass-power. And there was no hiding it, not in those costumes. If something looks good on a black woman, then Nichelle Nichols had a double helping of it. Flash forward to the ‘post-racial’ future of today. Ordinary black people are buying skin bleach, and celebs are guilty of doing the same. This is not the future that they were hoping for, when they made the original Star Trek. Yet who was cast as Uhura in the reboot? Zoë Saldana is a beautiful woman, but she was a safe conservative, mainstream choice from an industry that likes its black women to come coffee-coloured. Her svelte figure and ponytail hair also speak volumes about how Hollywood likes to play safe with beauty. In other words, it was a sell-out choice to select Saldana, when we could all have enjoyed a really big and healthy dose of good old Nicholesque busting-at-the-seams black beauty. So we know that Abrams will not push a tough artistic line, taking risks as a director, even if the ‘risk’ means staying true to the spirit of the original. Where will that leave us in Star Wars? It means the Force will become even more insipid and less religious than it has already become (in case it upsets any bible-bashers in the US) and that it will present a fight between good and evil that is pure moral caricature.

7. Simon Pegg

I like Simon Pegg. He has been good in lots of things. And I am sure there are lots of reasons why he would like to be in a Star Wars film. But Simon Pegg should not be in any Star Wars film, because if they cast him, he will play the comic relief, probably wearing an outfit that looks like the mutant lovechild of C3PO and the robot costume worn by Woody Allen in Sleeper. Pegg will end up being another ridiculously obvious character aimed at the segment of the audience whose IQ is between 80 and 100. Yup, I just wrote that, but I do not regret it. Simon Pegg gets cast as comic relief by people who want filmmaking by the numbers, which means it will be predictable and boring. And predictable and boring is not funny, except for those people who laugh at boring and predictable things (in other words, people who are a bit stupid). You know who I mean. I mean those people who think it is funny when Eddie Murphy puts on a fat suit and a dress and plays a flatulent old woman. Yeah – Disney wants them to watch Star Wars in the cinema too, so they talk on their phones and kick the back of your chair, all through the show.

Abrams has used Pegg as comic relief in Mission Impossible 3, and in Star Trek, and both times Pegg really was a lot less funny than if he was either playing a proper role with comic effect, or if he was appearing in a genuinely funny film. If Pegg is cast in Star Wars, I hope they put a custard pie in his face then shoot him during the opening scene, so we get it over with and do not have his faux funniness hanging around for the whole film, stinking it up like the stale fart from that guy who is also kicking the back of your chair. And the worst thing about casting Pegg as comic relief is that he is already a lot older than Harrison Ford was in the original Star Wars. Why does this matter? Because great humour in great adventure stories comes from characters that have an unexpected edge to them. You get great humour when you take a rouge like Han Solo and make him say “boring conversation anyway”, not from getting Pegg to put on a Scots accent and asking for “fud, real fud” whilst rubbing his belly and winking that he might be fat in twenty years’ time.

8. Genre is the Mind Killer

Time and again, J.J. Abrams has been described as a genre director of Science Fiction. Why is that praiseworthy, as opposed to damning? Alarm bells should be ringing if – as Asimov pointed out – the SF genre is treated a ghetto. The art of storytelling is universal. Character, consistency, realism are three elements where Abrams is weak, and inhabiting a Science Fiction niche is not an excuse for those weaknesses. Disney has to buy franchises because they have no ambition and cannot take risks, meaning they cannot do new and unexpected things. Hence the Disney that pioneered feature-length animation ended up being walloped by the imaginative people working at Pixar. Picking a ‘genre’ director fits with Disney’s narrow, myopic, conservative approach. Star Wars does not need a genre director. Lucas was not a genre director when he made the first film, and that turned out pretty darned well.

Consider, if you will, what a really different director might do to rejuvenate Star Wars. Skyfall, the latest Bond film, did not have a genre director. Sam Mendes has directed everything from Shakespearian theatre to musicals to American Beauty. The Bond producers took the attitude that Mendes’ range of ability would bring something fresh to Bond’s action adventures – and they seem to have been right. If Mendes could do that for the Bond franchise, then other directors could do something similar for Star Wars. Just imagine what kind of film we might have if a more radical choice is made – somebody like Steven Soderbergh or Edgar Wright (though Wright has the disadvantage that he would still cast Simon Pegg).

If I could pick anyone to direct a Star Wars film, it would be the Taiwanese genius Ang Lee. Ang Lee seems to be able to do anything and everything. That means infinite possibilities for what he could achieve if let loose with the budget and scale of the Star Wars universe. The first Ang Lee film I saw was The Wedding Banquet, made in 1993. It is a brilliant drama-comedy-romance, that cuts through dividing lines of nationality and sexual orientation. Although I loved the film, nobody could have anticipated he would go on to nail the family and traditional values represented in Eat Drink Man Woman, Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility, martial arts and wirework in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, gay cowboys and beautiful landscapes in Brokeback Mountain, and 3D CGI tigers in Life of Pi. But he has done all that. And if he can do all that, he could bring together drama, action, fighting choreography, comedy, romance and 3D computer graphics and put them all into the next Star Wars film. Or you could have J.J. Abrams (creator of Lost and director of Star Trek). I know which I would prefer.

9. Joss Whedon

If you have to pick a genre director, at least pick the best genre director. Whedon has proven he can keep the most difficult fans happy, wield together incredibly huge stories and make them workable, and he is great with action. He can deliver big budget CGI-laden films, and he has proven he converts them into much bigger box office takings. Best of all, he handles humour really well (no need for Simon Pegg in his films). Also, I find it hard to believe that Whedon would have turned down the chance to direct Star Wars. Whedon is the fanboy that all fanboys and fangirls love, and he has balls big enough to sometimes go against what his studio bosses want, in order to get the best results for the audience… but maybe those are two reasons why Disney would prefer a more pliable director. Disney wants safe and it wants broad appeal, without realizing that they risk ending up with bland mush that satisfies nobody.

10. All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

Even when Lost was at its popular peak, it was not the best SF on television. Like Whedon, I thought the reimagined Battlestar Galactica was incomparable in the sophistication of its storytelling. Whilst Lost put up mirrors to give the illusion of depth, most notably by naming characters after the philosophers John Locke and J.J. Rousseau (it seems there are JJ’s everywhere), Battlestar Galactica was throttling the viewers with its sheer audacity, describing struggles for survival between monotheists and polytheists, questioning what is life and if we have souls, and smuggling chunks of Nietzsche into its ‘sacred texts’. One of its recurring themes was that everything is a recurring theme – which sounds a lot like Nietzsche. But, contrary to this message within the story, the best thing about Battlestar Galactica was that it had an end. The characters get on a spaceship when their world is destroyed, so they travel to Earth, and then they arrive. The end. The end really is the end. Okay… there is a tiny little postscript which implies our Earth is heading for destruction, thus starting the cycle again. But all in all, Battlestar Galactica was a story by people who knew that stories need a beginning and an end, even if written over the arc of several seasons. Star Wars is no less deserving of having a proper end, especially as its beginning has been ruined. The final scenes of Return of the Jedi do that job. Unfortunately, being rich was not enough for George Lucas, so after adding a flaccid start and a pant-bustingly slack middle-aged spread to the franchise, he has sold the dying body to Disney so they can butt-fuck a few more dollars out of it.

With Abrams, and his proven ability to create parallel timelines, Hollywood really can rape the same idea over and over forever, meaning that our great great great grandchildren will not only be forced to take their kids to see yet more Star Wars films, they will also be taking them to see the latest in vampire, zombie and spiderman sequels/remakes/reboots. But even the best ideas run their course and need to be laid to rest. We want our memories of Star Wars to be like beautiful young Anakin Skywalker, and not to see them disfigured and twisted, like Darth Vader was. Good stories have an end, and for Star Wars, that will not come soon enough.

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