This piece is not a reaction to the announcement of JJ Abrams and what he will or won’t bring to the new trilogy. There has already been, and will be, plenty of fanboy discussion on every corner of the web about whether or not he is the right guy for the job. The prevailing opinion seems to be that he is. But what is the director’s role in the new movie?
Kathleen Kennedy has suggested that the new Star Wars director will have a big influence on the development of the film – and with a big name like Abrams stepping up, they will definitely have to accommodate his desires. In the past, George Lucas has been the creative architect – signing off the designs, et cetera, and the director has come on board after most of the development work has been done. Notably, The Empire Strikes Back had already been written before Irvin Kershner was brought on board.
Without George Lucas, who will be ensuring that the overall series is on track? In his role as a Creative Consultant he won’t be involved day-to-day as he was as writer/producer of the classic trilogy. Having Lawrence Kasdan around as a consultant will help, but someone is needed to shape the entire new trilogy. There is no guarantee that Abrams or Michael Arndt will be around for the entire trilogy, announcements have only focused on the next film. Kathleen Kennedy doesn’t seem to be involved in the story much, and it does seem that she is the non-creative Executive Producer. Without anyone owning the vision of the entire trilogy, does it matter too much who directs?
The point there being that if JJ Abrams comes on board with his own ideas, works with Michael Arndt on developing the screenplay, and then departs after Episode VII – what next? Will it lead to a disjointed trilogy, with no-one quite being sure what the narrative through line is supposed to be? Hopefully this all unfounded concern – surely Lucasfilm must have someone in place as an overall architect of the new trilogy, who can ensure that no matter who sits in the director’s chair the films will stay on target.
It will be interesting to see how much Abrams – and those who follow him – choose to stamp their own visual style on the new movies. Will they feel deferential to Lucas, and follow the visual style he set up in the previous films, or will they want to branch out and show that Star Wars can accommodate a variety of styles? The Empire Strikes Back is shot in a distinctive style, but Kershner stayed within the realms of what Lucas had established in A New Hope.
Specifically with JJ Abrams, he showed in Super 8 how well he could pay homage to Steven Spielberg, which suggests that he would be open to doing the same and follow the style that George Lucas established. Certainly with these first three new films, it would be best to go down that route and ease fans into the idea of a continuing Star Wars rather than dive in at the deep end and make them look too distinctive.
It’s a big job that JJ Abrams has landed, and until Episode VII hits the fans will speculate and debate his merits. Let’s see if he can do what the Maker himself couldn’t, and live up to fans expectations…