Monday, May 11, 2015

Why JJ Abrams Doesn't Understand Star Wars

The trailer for Star Wars VII was played before The Avengers: Age of Ultron, so I saw it (it was the short teaser trailer). So now I have to deal with what I saw, even though I didn't want to.

The Power of Setting

I noticed something almost immediately about the trailer. It didn't feel like Star Wars. It didn't match the tone of the original trilogy. Sure it has better effects. Sure it has a Stormtrooper of color. Sure it has a quillioned lightsaber. But none of those things were the problem. 

The problem has to do with JJ not understanding (or rejecting) the genre of the original trilogy (I'm going to ignore the prequels for this post). 

The setting of a movie is more than just where the characters interact. The setting of a movie is the entire tone of the film. It's the lighting (I hope there aren't all of the lens flares in SW7), the camera angles, and even the wipes between scenes. 

Cheesey Wipes

The heading for this section makes me think of a terrible cleaning product or a terrible food product. But don't let that distract you. A big part of the setting in the original Star Wars was the scene wipes (the transitions from one scene to the next). There were wipes from one side of the screen to the other, from top to bottom, from the middle out, and the clock wipe that might be my favorite. 

It looks a little bit like George Lucas got a new version of PowerPoint and was playing with all the transitions. It looks cheesey. It looks like a Space Opera (which, for the record, is what George was trying to make). 

But when you look at JJ's trailer (which you shouldn't do, unless you're subjected to it before a movie in the theater) you see mostly black screens between the scenes (and a few smash-cuts where there's no transition at all). It's a modern, blockbuster, action-movie style of trailer. It's not Space Opera. It's not Star Wars. 

Why I Care (and Why You Should Care)

I care because I really love Star Wars. I care because I want these movies to be amazing. I care because the tone and genre of the movies has been so much a part of what sets them apart from all the rest of the space-action movies that have existed since 1977. 

I also care because the way in which a story is told is almost as important as the story that's being told. If Schindler's List had been shot in the style of film noir, it wouldn't have had the same impact that it did. If The Princess Bride had been shot with the wide, sweeping vistas of Lawrence of Arabia the film wouldn't have become a classic. 

As I tell stories I try to match the tone to the subject. I've written mythological stories that have an almost biblical tone to the words. I've written action stories that drop jokes and explosions with equal abandon. As I sit down to write each story I think about the tone, the choice of words, the amount and type of description, and even the transition between scenes. 

I think JJ might make great movies, but from the very little I've seen so far, I don't think he's making Space Opera, which is at the heart of Star Wars. 

He doesn't get the tone of the original (or he doesn't care). What we get may be fun, it may have lightsabers and wookies, and it most certainly will have my butt in a seat on opening day. But I don't think it will be the same Space Opera that we all fell in love with nearly forty years ago. 

4 comments:

  1. Hi! I followed you over here from the QueryTracker forums, where I'm CillanXC. As a fellow Star Wars fan, I just had to throw in my two cents...

    To be fair, trailers are often edited by different editors than the ones who actually edit the film itself--and probably, for marketing purposes, deliberately meant to look like every other recent flashy action movie trailer. JJ Abrams probably has little to no control over how the trailer was cut and who cut it. It could be that the scene transitions in the finished film are entirely different. :-)

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    1. I really hope you're right. It would be sad for something so integral to the Star Wars setting to be lost.

      But judging from JJ's take on Star Trek I don't see a lot of passion for continuity with the source material.

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    2. I actually loved his Star Trek movies (apart from the excessive lens flares), but I'm not a Trekkie at all, so that probably explains that. Most of the Trekkies I know can't stand them. Star Wars is my one real fandom, so I'll be able to empathize with the Trekkies if he messes this up. :-)

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    3. JJ made good action movies in the Star Trek universe. But Star Trek has never really been about the action as much as the SciFi world and characters.

      To me it feels like the homogenization of film genres.

      I'll be happy if I'm wrong though.

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