A Dividing Line – On JJ Abrams
Star Wars news headlines were alive and well this week, which is something that seems par for the course more often than not lately. Big changes for Episode IX were afoot, with the announcement that Colin Trevorrow is out and JJ Abrams is back in. But before we delve into the latest and semi-greatest, let’s take a glance back over the last 18 months.
Stick with me friends, it's a long one...
When it was announced that the first stand-alone Star Wars film, Rogue One, required a hefty amount of reshoots in mid-2016, fans were rightly curious. What did the executives over at Disney mean when they said that “it was tonally off with what a classic SW movie should feel like?” By now I’d surmise that fandom as a collective have come to realize that this question deserves, in and of itself, one heck of a lengthy article or a multi-series podcast study. But for the sake brevity, let’s accept that there something was off in R1 that needed fixing. And fixed it was.
In December 2016, R1 premiered and smashed box offices in true Star Wars/Disney fashion. All in all, the film earned a grand total of $1.056 billion. Now, whether you loved it, liked it, hated it or was upset that every trailer did not match the final product, the film earned its keep and then some.
As the new year rolled in, our curiosities tempered, with both fandom and official news hubs returning to a more manageable regularity. Tidbits of the Untitled Han Solo project trickled in here and there; casting announcements, an on-set photograph or two and even the occasional blogger critiquing a need for the Solo movie at all, populated the news pool. For the most part, those were the daily comings and goings. Until, of course, breaking headlines rushed to every entertainment and Star Wars blog in June of this year. All fervent chatter was due to a sudden, unsettling press release: The dual-directing team of Lord & Miller departed (re: were fired) from the film. And ever since, waters have felt more than a little choppy over at LFL’s headquarters.
After such a whirlwind story splashed across professional critics and fan-sites alike, there came the whispers of bad blood between the cast and L&M, L&M & Kathleen Kennedy and L&M and Lucasfilm. The entire situation seemed dire and stressful, but for the most part, fandom received this as well as can be expected. It was a thing that happened, a highly uncommon thing, but in the end, it is what it is.
In the week immediately following L&M’s exodus, Ron Howard was ceremoniously given the helm, and if I’m being completely honest, a sizable amount of us breathed a sigh of relief. Howard has a stellar resume and though he may be considered the safe choice, he delivers high quality storytelling paired with equally stunning visuals. This was the time when everything started to feel as though it were set right after a long, uncomfortable week of gossip and doubt.
Still, with back to back announcements bull-horning major changes on two non-saga movies, fans were – myself included – shaking our collective heads. Was it upper executive TPTB management at fault? Poor judgement in the hiring process? An overzealous leader? Fact is, no outsiders will be gifted with any true insight…but the game of supposition was fun there for a brief moment.
And just like the last time, the dust settled. Howard began posting photographs that slowly restored faith and goodwill amongst the concerned crowds. Each of his tweets spoke of a settled, streamlined set – a reassuring love letter to the fans if ever there was one.
That said, and I don’t know if anyone else had similar thoughts, after the second round of who’s-it-what’s-it behind the scenes, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And drop it did. Only not with the Han Solo project (good) and not with the upcoming highly anticipated VIII: The Last Jedi (also good). Instead it blasted its way onto the interwebs in true headlining fashion: On September 5th, 2017, there arose a new round of audible gasps, and sighs, when seemingly out of nowhere, Colin Trevorrow exited the Episode IX project.
Before I continue on I have to admit that, at best, I was lukewarm (zing) about him being chosen back in 2015. I’ve not been impressed with Trevorrow’s work and seeing as most of his films aren’t critically acclaimed – with one being so over the top that it hints to a bigger ego than a budget – I was forlorn. Yes, forlorn. Because IX is the endgame, the closer, the wrap-it-up-in-a-pretty-box-with-a-red-bow-on-top. IX determines the outcome of our favorite/non-favorite characters while maintaining a delicate system of Star Wars versus the fans. Err, I mean, Star Wars and its fans.
Suffice it to say, I wasn’t keen about LFL’s 2015 pick. And like any true SW fan, I did my due diligence complaining on the twitter (this was pre podcast days for moi) and then moved on.
But now...Colin is out!
<enter fist-pump gif here>
Alright, the gif suggestion might be over the top, but if I’ve gauged the average temperature of the SW twitterverse post-press correctly, it seems pretty obvious that he was not the choice favorite. Once again, a whisper of relief rolled in and then yes, the game of speculations resumed. People tweeted, podcasted and theorized en masse about who might take up the reins and guide our precious ship into her well-deserved harbor. Or shall I say, her docking bay.
This past Monday the Unmistakably Star Wars podcast crew spent upwards of thirty-some minutes chatting on this topic; each of us pitching names of who is apt enough to take on the enormous task at hand. It was reaffirming, and comforting that most of us, if not all (forgive my memory!), went with women directors as our first options. For no other reason than inviting a reasonable, progressive addition to a world where changes are still crawling.
But just like the Falcon goes from 0–+186k MPS, Star Wars announced on Tuesday, 9/10, that JJ Abrams was re-upped to direct and co-write Episode IX.
Responses, opinions and articles came swift and sure, with a clear cut line slashing its way through the heart of fandom as a result. Some people cheered, others shed unhappy tears. Some felt ‘meh’ about it while a few folks were outright angry. It was as varied a reaction as anyone has ever seen, and yet, I couldn’t help but personally feel pulled in a few directions.
On one hand, I was, and still am, cheerily happy that JJ is returning; his work on The Force Awakens was the catalyst that reignited my love for Star Wars after the long-dormant period post-prequels. He breathed life into SW’ legendary characters while paving incredible pathways for new ones. And his successful catalog of directing, producing, and writing some the best tv shows and movies is nothing short of stellar: TFA, MI: (multi), Star Trek (multi), Fringe, Lost, 11.22.63, and so on.
He's also right there alongside Ron Howard in terms of being a veteran in the business; yes, he’s the safe choice, given his success with VII, but he also intimately knows these characters, having been there with them from day one. That's a huge plus to me.
Still, there’s been plenty of talk of him not being a ‘closer,’ or incapable of wrapping up the series with a solid ending. If I have to name any fear with him that stands at the forefront, that would be the dominant one. However, I sense a lot of that judgement is misplaced on account of his ridiculously esoteric work on Lost. But let me pause a moment to share a quick fact to counter that opinion: Damon Lindelof was the spearhead for Lost – even apologized for its failures on a recent episode of the Nerdist Podcast with Chris Hardwick.
Yet Lost, in essence, lost itself. It had themes that fit absolutely nowhere, plot lines that died shallow, unfulfilled deaths long after people remembered they were even there, and a series finale that really, I’m sort of unsure about to this day But it was captivating and different at its start (with JJ). I was able to connect and feel something every time I played the part of the viewer, which is one the main goals of immersing ourselves into anything, yes?
Anyway, it’s due to this long, vast history of Abrams’ work on both big and small screens that I have faith in Episode IX again. I trust that he knows when to call for a full stop, or when to expand. Trust that the ending will feel complete, even if there arises an outcome I may not have foreseen or ultimately agree with.
The only real frustration I have with JJ's return is a sentiment that’s been echoed daily both pre and post news release: Where are the women in Star Wars? More specifically, where are the women in leadership positions in Star Wars? JJ is, of course, not a woman and so the news that a female will never direct any part of Rey’s journey is sobering at best. (Credit to Amy Wishman for posting excellent insight about this on her twitter!)
I know someone could make the argument that Kathleen Kennedy is, for all intents and purposes, the woman in leadership above all, and you’d be right. She is. But that doesn’t dismiss the failure to hire a female to tell a female's story alongside other females in similar positions. One right doesn’t undo the inadequacies of the deeply-seeded disparities in this industry. It works to help and further the cause, of course, but her role can only extend so far. At the end of the day, KK is one woman, one.
All of that is to put out there that women know women. Had someone like Patty Jenkins or Michelle MacLaren been circled or approached, we could have experienced an entirely new direction with character angles never explored before. And truthfully, that would have been brilliant to see. In actively selecting a woman to direct a Star Wars film would be a huge step, though her role is not limited to merely an advancement for XX's in the business. It would add genuine depth to the varied perspectives I mentioned earlier that we’ve simply not seen prior to now.
At the moment, Rey’s character is an untapped well, and despite the fact that I have high hopes, expectations and anticipation for VIII, the bottom line is this: Rey is being predominantly visualized, and realized, through the eyes and minds of men.
This news at its core is both relieving and difficult; giving a hearty wave to Colin has been pleasing to me for the franchise but as a woman, to see the progress made in the universe already – what with Rey, Leia, Padme, Ahsoka, and KK as some of the incredible examples paving the way – but still have the bone-deep frustration over an unbroken glass ceiling is tough. And given this recent bout, it doesn’t appear as though it will break anytime in the near future.
In closing, I have faith in KK and JJ but there still exists a huge gap that is to remain unfulfilled for now. If there is to be a sequel to the sequels, perhaps the tides will have changed ever-so and we’ll have a she where before there’s only been a he.