Of Lightsabers and Lens Flares

J.J. Arabs has officially signed on to direct the next Star Wars film.

First, let me state the obvious: he will probably do a lot better than Lucas did on the prequels. That said, I have to say that his work on Star Trek is pretty much like a hot girl cosplaying a character she knows nothing about. It’s slick, attractive and sexy, but there’s something missing. Abrams nailed the relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy and delivered a thrilling action story, but he missed on one of the best (and hardest) things about Star Trek: in the end, it’s about learning to settle differences without violence. In the original series, Kirk went out of his way to avoid killing whenever possible. He spared the Gorn, refused to shoot a man in cold blood (Wyatt Earp, actually, go fig) and never once during the entire three seasons did he kill a klingon captain. The flashy explody stuff came much later, with “Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek III”. Not surprisingly, other than “Khan”, the best of the movies were “The Voyage Home”, which was about whales, and “The Undiscovered Country”, which was about brokering a peace with the Klingons. Star Trek at its heart is about finding a way to make peace.

Now witness this bit of dialogue from Abrams:

Spock: Captain, what are you doing?
Kirk: Spock, showing them compassion might go a long way to promoting peace between us and the Romulans. It’s logic, I thought you’d like that.
Spock: No, not really. Not this time.
Nero: I would rather suffer the end of Romulus a thousand times. I would rather die in agony, than accept assistance from you!
Kirk: You got it. Arm phasers, fire everything we’ve got.

So much for the quality of mercy. Sure, there’s a kind of halfhearted attempt, but the end is so bloodthirsty that it undercuts it completely.

Compare this to a scene from the original series:

Kirk: We are standing by to beam your survivors aboard. Prepare to abandon your vessel.
Romulan Commander: No…no…it is not our way. I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend.
Kirk: What purpose will it serve to die?
Romulan Commander: We are creatures of duty, Captain. I have lived my life by it. Just one more duty to perform.

What worries me the most about Abrams and Star Wars is that while he does deliver on action, he falls short on heart. One of the elements that has been missing from the prequels is the wisdom of Obi-Wan and Yoda. There are no scenes where the young warrior gains greater understanding. Yoda’s speech before he raises Luke’s fighter is a prime example of what I’m talking about. I’m afraid that in Abram’s hands we will get what we’ve always gotten: a flashy, fun popcorn movie that turns one of the most compelling elements of the series into a form of magic. No wisdom, no enlightenment, only a cool way of throwing stuff around. Granted, Abrams will still deliver a quality film, but it won’t be perfect, and it might just miss out on a large part of what made Star Wars so interesting.


About Geek Squirrel

Author, Poet, and fan of all things geek. View all posts by Geek Squirrel

One response to “Of Lightsabers and Lens Flares

  • Craig

    The thing is, the old Trek was getting stale. Call ir rather, maybe, ossified, or perhaps it was a genre all its own. But it needed a rethink.

    You’re right that it’s missing heart, but that’s not the heart it’s missing. Star Trek was about wisdom and the quest to make a better world, and in that way, it was set in the gooey gel of the 1960”s: Married to progress, social consciousness, self-criticism and skeptical doubt. These were particular values of a particular cultural subset in a particular age.

    They aren’t aging well. Some might argue that they weren’t even wholly apt for the time. I personally think they were well-placed.

    But Trek has put distance between itself and this.

    ST; TOS was true Sci-Fi, in the liberal-50’s/60’s mold. Despite its often weak storylines and pale interpretations of sci-fi themes, it was the bona-fide, genuine article much of the time, with camaraderie thrown in. JJ Abrams’ ST lacked any true Sci Fi: it was pure, unadulterated Space Opera. To be fair, you could argue that it left the sci fi to the establishers, so now that the ST genre is more or less its own animal, Space Opera was acceptable. On the other hand, ST:TMP was a return to the purer Sci-Fi roots of ST:TOS, you could say the first attempt to “do it properly” as they hadn’t had the budget or the scripts in 1966-67, but it was largely considered a failure. Its attempt to out-2001 2001 wasn’t epic so much as it was misplaced.

    ST2 was a return to a better combination of sci-fi and space opera. Unsurprisingly, it was by far and away the best Trek movie ever made; the most true to the original, and also the most repeatedly watchable. It ages well. The second was ST: The Undiscovered Country, of course, though it wasn’t quite as close to the mark.

    – ST:TNG was more of the same, but when it got out of its awful teething pains, by about 3-4th season, it matured into a “Well, maybe we don’t know what utopia is” frame of mind, “So let’s just try to keep the boat level.” It remained true to the original, and when it dealt with threats (the Romulans, the Borg, etc.), it was from a “What does this make US?” perspective. This was why the Borg were so threatening: it wasn’t that they were an enemy – there were plenty of those – or even that they seemed unstoppable. It was the destruction of the self, of the quest to be better, by replacing it with a “Better” that was external. Also, it was a stinging intictment of where left-wing or social thought had progressed since the 1960’s, into a kind of “progressive totalitarianism”. This was especially apt during the ideologically crazy 90’s.

    – DS9 was, in many ways, the best series, with the greatest character exploration. It also veered sharply away from the almost simplistic utopianism of ST:TNG. In this, there was drama, there were good guys and bad guys, but good guys who gave way to bad guys and bad guys it was hard to hate. Black and white shaded to grey; and it was definitely Space Opera at its best. That said, there was something noble about the whole enterprise. You felt it when you watched it. This was no mere vehicle for ideas, the characters just along for the ride (a la 1950-60 sci fi); this was an exploration of human character done for TV. Not Shakespeare, but in the same spirit.

    – Voyager was an attempt to get back to the original, by clearly frustrated writers. It was, at best, disjointed, with false chumminess and nostalgia written all over it.

    – ST: Enterprise was a genuine attempt to get back to the original spirit, but it was self-consiously moralistic and, to be brief, tried too hard. And it failed.

    So JJ Abram’s Space Opera was … what?

    You said it best on FB: It pillaged Star Trek rather than adding to it. That said, there was much to admire.

    What was missing was the earnest attempt to increase the scope of StarTrek. Abrams didn’t do anything new. He didn’t ADD or even attempt to add, the way other attempts had been made.

    I should note that though we can resent Abrams for this, many of those other attempts were of mixed success – at best. So Abrams can’t relaly be blamed for trying to re-boot a franchise that was, effectively, moribund.

    As much as we hate to admit it, it was. It had become Canon. As such, it was no longer living – like a museum filled with beautiful art, … it was no longer a living tradition.

    Star Wars is in much more dire straits. And it was ALWAYS space opera of the most pure essence – in fact, it defined the entire genre. Abrams has much less to pillage here.

    In fact, he could do it a huge service by ignoring everything from Return of the Jedi on. The last thing we need are more ewoks.

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