Thursday, January 31, 2013

5 Words of Advice for J.J. Abrams Regarding Star Wars: Episode VII



#1: Grow a Beard


   Regardless of all fears, doubts, and memories of Anakin riding some kind of space cow, I still giggled like a child when I heard about the release of a new Star Wars film.  After learning that J.J. Abrams had been chosen to direct, I actually became even more excited and hopeful. I've liked a great deal of Abrams' work  and am intrigued that a Star Wars fan is getting the chance to make a Star Wars movie. Still, as a fan myself, I have to throw my two cents in.  I recognize that J.J. Abrams isn't the only person involved with this movie, as of course film making is a collaborative effort, but since he's the director I'm throwing this advice his way.




 

1. Don't Play Mindgames

   Whether it's having been a co-creator of Lost, relying on viral marketing to hype Cloverfield, or keeping us in the dark as to the character Benedict Cumberbatch was playing in Star Trek: Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams knows how to keep secrets and play mindgames with the audience.  While that's all well and good for some of those properties, I'm not sure that Star Wars would benefit from being handled in this manner. Yeah, the Star Wars films have always had their fair share of major game changing plot reveals but when I think of Star Wars movies my first thought isn't, "Gee, I'd love a Star Wars movie where the last 5 minutes of the film reveal that Luke Skywalker actually froze to death on Hoth and everything happened in his mind," nor do I feel the need for a viral marketing promo that sends me threatening emails from Japanese scientists claiming to have invented the world's first Probe Droid. 
  Now honestly, I don't really believe that Abrams is going to do these things and try to turn Star Wars into another property which he's worked on previously.  It is simply a reminder than when working on a property with the magnitude and continuity of Star Wars, there's much less room for personal flare.  Remember this is Star Wars directed by J.J. Abrams, not J.J. Abrams' Star Wars.
There's the flare!

2. Stick to a Simple Story

   Take a second and think of the plot complexity of the original trilogy: While characters split up from time to time and there are a few subplots, overall the stories are pretty simple. Episode IV: Luke goes with Obi-Wan Kenobi to rescue Princess Leia and ends up helping defeat the Death Star. Episode V: The Rebels are scattered after an Imperial attack. Luke goes to train as a Jedi while Han and Leia evade Imperial capture. They all meet up on Cloud City but get caught in an Imperial Trap. Episode VI: The rebels go to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt and then confront the Empire in a final showdown.  Now try to explain to me the plot of Episode I or II in less words than I have typed so far in this paragraph. 
  

The red book mark is where Darth Maul first appears!
   The first two prequels (not so much  Episode III) had overly complicated plots that just bogged things down.  The original Star Wars movies were simple adventure stories at heart filled with exotic locales, exciting battles, and characters that you cared about.  They moved along at a rapid pace with clear goals in mind.  With the prequels, it seemed like Lucas tried to hard to create stories that were needlessly complex. I've seen the prequels probably at least a dozen times, but if for some reason I was captured by a tribe of killer teddy bears who wanted me to tell them the story of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, I probably couldn't even begin to talk my way through them with any semblance of coherence. 
  Just because a story is simple doesn't mean it can't be powerful, well written, and entertaining.  Keep the plot flowing, help the audience (kids or adults, hardcore fans or those new to the galaxy) to understand what's going on, what's at stake, and what the goal of our hero is. 


"And then more politicians debated the trade blockade of the planet that elected a 14 year old girl, I guess so they could harvest the Gungans and start an intergalactic seafood chain.  And then there was a whole army of clones that someone ordered and forgot about. And then the Emperor told Count Dooku to kill someone, so he hired a bounty hunter who hired another bounty huner who programmed a droid to deliver killer centipedes to her so that they could kill her...."


3. Remember the Power of non-CG Characters

   Special effects have made amazing strides not just since the original Star Wars came out in 1977, but even since Episode III was released in 2005.  CG helps directors to imagine things that don't exist whether it be worlds, super powers, or alien creatures.  CG is a powerful tool for the visual storyteller.  Gollum from Peter Jackson's the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is perhaps one of the most effective CG characters in any film ever (especially due to the wonderful performance by Andy Serkis). Still, I think there's something so unbelievably powerful about those characters who have an actual physical presence.  Honestly, do you ever look at Chewbacca, Yoda, or R2-D2 in the original trilogy and say, "My enjoyment of this film sure would be increased if that character were made of computer magic rather than hair, metal, and cloth?" Heck, no!
   Perhaps part of the allure of these characters for us as kids (and adults) was knowing that there truly was a Chewbacca out there that could give us a giant bear hug or a Yoda who could look us in the eyes and tell us "Size matters not."  I'm not arguing against using CG at all; it has made so many wonderful movie memories possible!  I am, however, asking that the power of tangible, non-CG characters and traditional effects not be forgotten in this new Star Wars galaxy. There's a place for both.

But not you. There is no place for you in this universe.

4. Reward the Fans, but don't Rely on Them

   Who doesn't love fan Easter eggs in movies?  Whether it is a reference to a well loved character, someone saying a quotable line (someone in the new Star wars movie better have a bad feeling about something!), a fun cameo appearance, or following up on a minor plot element, fanboys love this kind of stuff. Seriously, it makes my day when a movie throws me a bone and rewards me for my hours and hours of dedication. That stuff is great and I have faith that Abrams will put lots of cool easter eggs in Episode VII.  What isn't so great, however, is if the movie relies so heavily on fan familiarity that it will be unapproachable to new audiences.
   Remember, there will be kids, reluctant spouses, and even casual moviegoers (whom I assume have all been living in isolation chambers) who will be going into this movie with very little to no knowledge of Star Wars, or possibly not having seen the films in years.  The new Star Wars needs to be as welcoming and accessible to a new audience as the original Star Wars was, because for many kids this might be the first Star Wars they see.  Yes, I recognize that would be bad parenting, but it's still going to happen.

Ok, this might be going too far....


5. Run things by other people!

   Woah! Isn't film by committee one of those things that is typically attributed to ruining many films?  I imagine that most film buffs hate the idea of a group of Hollywood suits sitting around deciding what audiences want to see rather than leaving it up to a visionary director. This isn't what I'm talking about here. What I'm referring to is for Abrams to surround himself with people who will give him some honest feedback about certain decisions made.  This is always a good idea.  Sure, you may have always thought that Lobot was the coolest Star Wars character ever and you've always dreamed of turning your 1,137 page fan fiction about his struggle with male pattern baldness into a three hour pseudo documentary.  Before you jump on that, run it by a few folks first.  The feedback you get might help you to create something that other people actually care about as well.
   There's one reason I bring this up: Watch any 'making of' video from one of the prequels and you'll pretty quickly get the idea that there was no one, I mean no one, who would give George Lucas any negative feedback about his ideas.  I mean, surely there was at least one person on set thinking "This whole midichlorian idea is rubbish."  Surely some reasonable person was hanging out on the set, even if he or she was just providing the catering, and happened to notice Jar-Jar Binks.  Wouldn't it have been their moral duty, like trying to stop someone from mugging your grandmother, to walk up to Lucas and say, "George, this is bull$!%^!" 
Uncle George:  What if only the greatest Jedi's wore flannel robes to symbolize their union with the Force?
Stormtrooper Lackey: Excellent idea sir, I wish I had thought of it!
Uncle George: And we'll add in plenty of fart jokes!
Stormtrooper Lackey: Brilliant,oh great beared one!

 1000s of people milled around the soundstage, never trying to stop the horror that was unfolding in front of them.  The set of Episode I was a tragedy for moviemaking in the same way that the murder of Kitty Genovese was a tragedy for humanity.  Everyone knew what was happening and no one tried to stop it.
Perhaps someday Rorshach will be inspired to make a Star Wars movie...

   Watch a 'making of' documentary from the original trilogy and you'll notice something: While Lucas was certainly the creative visionary, there were others involved in the creation of the film that tempered his ideas and helped to bring his vision to life.  My point is that Star Wars has a long history and is an integral part of the lives of so many fans.  I'm sure that like any fan, J.J. Abrams and the other folks working on the film have some cool ideas of their own. That's great! I want to see cool, new ideas. Just run them by others first.  The Jedi realised the wisdom of having a council. Go and do likewise!  I'm excited for Episode VII. I think it's clear that J.J. Abrams is a fan, just like us, only he's getting the chance to make a movie. I have a great deal of faith in the team creating the new film.  If they just take my advice, everything will turn out ok!


Piece of advice 6: Add a scene like this and no one will care how bad the movie is.


Barbecue17 is a scruffy looking nerfherder who spent his formative years pretending that he was opening the automatic doors at Target with the force. When's he's not training to be a Jedi, he writes action figure and toy reviews at ThEpicReview.com.   

Written by: Barbecue17, Epic Review Contributor

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