January 25, 2013

It was announced yesterday that J.J. Abrams has been chosen to helm the as-yet untitled Star Wars sequel, providing unneeded confirmation that no one in Hollywood has any imagination. For those who don’t track these sorts of things, Abrams is also the man behind the recent Star Trek reboot, and is directing the dismally titled Star Trek Into Darkness, which will be loosed upon the unsuspecting public in May. Many nerd outlets have taken issue with the thought of so much dork-power being handed over to one man. In the science fiction universe, the swashbuckling fun of Star Wars has always been balanced by the sobriety of Star Trek—a set-up that ensured harmony throughout the fictional stars. Yesterday’s announcement is tantamount to the dissolution of the Senate by Caesar—or Emperor Palpatine, for that matter.

But does it matter? The purity of Star Wars was killed thirteen years ago, in a pod racing accident, and Abrams’ Star Trek succeeded by turning a talking franchise into an action one. Purists who rage about such perversions seem to forget that Star Trek (2013) didn’t do anything to corrupt Star Trek (1966). As Grantland pointed out yesterday, all of TNG (and DS9!) is still available on Netflix. At root, this geek rage anger is jealousy—bitterness that someone fiddled with their pastime and didn’t fall flat on their face.

If it’s schadenfreude angry nerds are after, it may be coming. When Into Darkness drops in May, I suspect that the sheen may come off of our boy J.J. It may not bomb, but what seemed fresh about his first Trek film will become stale. Without the spine that Gene Roddenberry’s morality always provided the series, Star Trek will wither into Just Another Action franchise—The Avengers with primary color uniforms. Trek will survive this. It’s survived plenty of bad movies before—ever see Nemesis? Yeesh.—and there are hundreds of hours of television available for die-hard fans to take solace in. Star Wars, I fear, is not so resilient.

Despite the massive expanded universe, that series’ enduring appeal rests on 384 minutes of Luke, Leia, and Han. George Lucas’ three prequels failed because they rested on the assumption that people are attracted to Star Wars for its mythology, its cutesy side characters, and sweeping, epic story. This is wrong. The original trilogy belongs to Han Solo—a swashbuckling rogue in the Errol Flynn mode—and it succeeds because of what it has in common with an old-fashioned movie serial. Solo is Zorro, Captain Blood, and Douglas Fairbanks all rolled into one. Chandelier-swinging fun is to Star Wars what stiff-necked morality is to Star Trek, and I don’t think Abrams will have the sense, or talent, to reproduce it.

Take Roddenberry’s moral vision out of Star Trek, and you’re left with a fun movie, despite the lens flares. But take Han Solo’s spirit out of Star Wars, and what you’ve got isn’t worth its weight in Bantha shit.

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