It’s finally here. People are lining up at theaters, commercials are blasting, and toys are flying off of shelves. But this isn’t just any Holiday season, this is a Star Wars Holiday Season. To put it mildly, people are excited for The Force Awakens. And they rightly should be. This is a big deal. Star Wars is perhaps the most popular movie-based franchise of all time. The original was a gigantic blockbuster and, two trilogies later, we still can’t get enough. What’s better is that Disney stepped in and decided that we could have more. George Lucas may no longer be involved, but rest assured, the franchise is in good hands. At least, the first film is.
J.J. Abrams is a perfect fit to direct a new Star Wars film. In fact, you could say that his entire career has prepared him for this newest job. The creator of Alias went on to successfully kickstart the Mission: Impossible series before rebooting the sci-fi classic Star Trek for the big screen. It is these experiences that have groomed him to become a director of exciting and engaging big-budget films. Now he has graduated to being the man behind the first new Star Wars film since Disney purchased the rights from Lucasfilms. Sure, there are producers and studio executives who could easily overrule his decisions, but as director and contributing writer, Abrams has lots of control over the production of the newest Star Wars film. Because Abrams is a successful director, and people who have success tend not to stray from those efforts which resulted in success, one can conclude that The Force Awakens will be consistent with Abrams’ past works. In this article, we’ll talk about why that is and what you can logically expect based on his past successes.
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Abrams films so far have all been easily identifiable because they contain lense flares. Little flecks of light streaking across the screen. They are typically seen as side-effects of using certain lenses at certain angles in certain lighting situations. In the 2000’s filmmakers like Michael Bay began to purposefully keep these blemishes in their films as a stylish flair. Although he wasn’t the first, Abrams’ liked how they looked, so he frequently put them in his films. Understandably, they can be a little distracting. So much so that people have begun to complain, and Abrams has since reconsidered his love of flashy light. In fact, he has freely admitted that he previously went a bit overboard.
In other words, Abrams has had his lense flare intervention. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there will not be any lense flares in Episode 7. In fact, the trailers have thus far confirmed that there will be lense flares, but not to the scale and frequency that Abrams previously utilized. For example, look at the first shot in the third trailer. There is a glowing blue light that creates a lense flare, but it is constrained, not escaping the immediate area around the light source. In fact, the lense flares seen so far in the trailers have been small and off to the side, not taking over the screen as in Star Trek. But this isn’t to say that Abrams has changed the way he films. He has mentioned in regards to his over-use of lense flares in Star Trek Into Darkness, that he utilized the efforts of Industrial Light and Magic to reduce their effect in that film. This could also be the case in Episode 7. At least in the trailers there are many bright reflections, yet no overarching lense flares where you would expect them. This leads us to believe that Abrams has worked towards providing a clearer picture in Episode 7 as compared to his previous films. This would allow for some consistency with the picture quality of the previous Star Wars films.
Star Wars brought us the “dirty space” concept. Science fiction didn’t always have to be clean and crisp. It could be more like real life. It could be imperfect. The previous Star Wars films relayed this idea to the audience through not only the design of sets, props, and costumes, but also the way that the movies were filmed. Abrams’ reduction of lens flares is an effort to increase the dirty space aspect of the film. Lense flares are flashes, and flashes come from clean, shiny objects. Clean and shiny is not the tone you want to create with a Star Wars film (the prequel trilogy found this out the hard way), that’s just generic sci-fi. This, is something that I think Abrams understands well. You can see it in his insistence to cut down on computer-generated effects. You can see it in the way that the cinematography is clean, but not necessarily clear. The backgrounds are faded, almost hazy and dusty. This works well with the dirty space concept, and provides some similarity with the previous films (even the sequels). Above all, this speaks to Abrams’ abilities to understand the approach that is needed for a particular film, and to adapt his process accordingly. This is something I’ll talk about more in the next section.
A Blend of the Past and the Future
Abrams made his way because he gave us new versions of our favorite things. He didn’t give us something we’ve seen before, but he also hasn’t reinvented the wheel. He sticks close to tradition while introducing more contemporary story elements. In film, it started with Mission: Impossible 3. He took a franchise that was basically dead and made it relevant again. Instead of trying to take the trademark elements of the franchise and insert them into his own vision like John Woo did with Mission: Impossible 2, Abrams recognized what made the first film successful and used them as the basis for the new film. This is also similar to his approach with Super 8, which was an omage to Spielberg sci-fi classics such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. Abrams, a fan of those films, took that style and that approach and made it new again. He used what came before as the foundation to build off of.
Star Trek took this approach one step further. Here, Abrams was in charge of reigniting a franchise that had a very devoted fan base. Abrams recognized how the previous films and television shows were so highly regarded that he didn’t want to discount them in any way. The reboot became an “alternate reality” which played homage to what came before but also allowed exploration in a different direction. This is similar to how he will approach Star Wars. With Episode 7 taking place 30 years after the first one, the filmmakers are first making sure not to tread on any familiar territory. There is a clear break between the previous chapter and the new one. The decision to change the names of the factions is also an indication of Abrams’ decision to break from the past, but not completely. There is enough similarity that fans will recognize The First Order as fulfilling the same space as The Empire, but now Episode 7 and the later films have more freedom to use these elements in different ways than what we have seen before.
The use of old Mr. Spock in Abrams’ two Star Trek films is another important aspect to review. Here, he takes an old, beloved character, and makes him fit into and have purpose in the new universe he created. It no way discounts what the character had accomplished before. More importantly, because we know who Mr. Spock is due to his past exploits, he becomes a reliable character. The same will be true with the original cast members returning to Episode 7. The focus of the story will be on the new characters, they need time and space to develop, but the old ones will end up adding to their legend. In this way, Abrams reveres what has come before but doesn’t just repeat past successes. He is able to recognize important traits of existing characters and then appropriately apply those traits when moving forward. He takes into account the past when looking into the future.
For example, from the end of Return of the Jedi, we know that Luke is in a very complicated place. This conflict inside of him regarding the love and hate for his father was never addressed. Now it has had 30 additional years to fester. What does that mean for the character? It’s difficult to say without any hints, but we know one thing, Abrams will use the knowledge of where the character has been before to explain where he goes in the future. With Star Trek, Abrams doesn’t reinvent characters, but he can give them additional responsibilities. Look at Scotty, for example. In the original series and films, he was mainly just the guy who fixed things. In the new films the character is much more dynamic. He has a sense of duty and rebelliousness due to his brilliance. I think this kind of expansion of existing characters will be something that we will see in Episode 7. Han Solo has the tough guy persona, but his decision to come back and fight with the rebels shows his caring side, even if he just claims he did it for the money. This is the side of the character that I think we will see more of in Episode 7. Its this complexity in a character which Abrams is able to explore. It’s a careful line to walk, expanding a character beyond what we previously knew of them without ruining fan’s appreciation of what the character had been. I think that Abrams has what it takes to examine the classic Star Wars characters carefully enough that he will bring out interesting (and unseen) new wrinkles.
Emotions Are Important
A common topic that is explored in Abrams’ films is the relationships of a family. This can be a traditional family, or a group of people working together like a close-knit family. In Mission: Impossible 3, Ethan has to watch as the agent he helped train is killed and he is powerless to stop or prevent it. Death of family members, especially parental figures is a common topic. Star Trek opens with the heroic death of Captain Kirk’s father. In Super 8, the main character struggles with the death of his father. In Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk loses another father figure in Captain Pike. These type of issues are something that Abrams has had success with in the past, and will surely be found in Episode 7.
As I mentioned above, the end of Return of the Jedi has a big impact on the major characters. Luke defeats Vader, but in those moments he may have lost something. Surely, the psychological trauma of having killed your own father, a father you never had the chance to know, is significant. Will we see this conflict consume Luke? With few clues, it is hard to say. But what’s certain so far is that he is not the hero we left off with in Return of the Jedi. Something has happened, and that will have a big impact on the story overall. From the trailer it appears that Rylo Ken looks up to Vader like a father figure. He vows to continue on in Vader’s ways. In this way, it is like he has lost a father and is working to carry on his legacy. Does that mean that there won’t be any other parental-figure deaths in Episode 7? I don’t think so. I think that the death of a major character could play an important role in the future of the franchise. A major character dying or a person that is important to a major character is an impactful moment in all of Abrams’ films. In fact, both Star Trek and Super 8 begin with the death of a parent. This is an event that establishes a tone and drives the main characters to do what they do. It is something Abrams strongly believes in as an effective storytelling tool, and Episode 7 could likely continue this trend.
Consistency in Evolution
Abrams is nothing but consistent in his own approach to film, but he also values consistency with what has come before. In Mission: Impossible 3, he uses a lot of the techniques and ideas that were previously used in the first two films. There’s the homage to the repelling scene in the first film which was carried forward into the second. There’s the voice modifiers used to trick enemy agents. In Super 8, Abrams makes sure you know he is channeling Spielberg films. He shows us the Spielberg face several times, films through reflections just like Spielberg, and even makes his lense flares seem like modern interpretations of Spielberg’s oversaturated light technique. In Star Trek, there’s less consistency in plot (except for Into Darkness) because of the new series taking place along an alternate timeline, but there are other consistencies with what has come before. The Enterprise, for example, is new and spiffy, but almost retro in design. The costumes, the hairstyles, and makeup are all based on those of the original TV series.
Abrams will bring similarity to the new Star Wars film as well. We’ve already seen a lot of it. Unlike the prequel trilogy, the spaceships and vehicles feel familiar. They are based on what has come before. The new Tie-Fighter and X-Wings look very similar to the old ones. The Millennium Falcon has minimal changes. The Starkiller Base is the new Death Star. Costumes too channel the original trilogy with slight changes for modernity. Look at Poe Damaeron’s fighter pilot costume. Look at Rey’s costume and its similarities to both Luke’s original look from Tatooine in A New Hope and Anakin’s look in The Phantom Menace. On top of this, we have new characters in familiar roles. Kylo Ren is the new Vader. Domhnall Gleeson plays a character that seems to be similar to Grand Moff Tarkin.
These similarities could reveal more than just an homage to what has come in the past. Consider that both Episode 1 and Episode 4 have a character stranded on Tatooine who goes on to have grander adventures. In Episode 7, there is no Tatooine, but Jakku serves the same purpose. Rey appears to be stranded here with higher aspirations, much like Luke and Anakin. Since Anakin came to be the main character of the first trilogy and Luke the main character for the second, Rey will be the main character in the third. And since both Anakin and Luke later turned out to have incredible powers, you can assume that Rey will follow in those footsteps. This leaves one to believe that Rey is a daughter of either Luke or Leia. Because Han Solo seems to be in a caring mood and Luke is nowhere to be found, I’m guessing she is Luke’s daughter. Again, just speculation, but look at some clues Abrams has provided. Consider her speeder’s similarity in design and color to that of Luke’s landspeeder. Also consider that Luke’s journey began with R2D2, and Rey’s companion is BB-8. There’s also the fact that Abrams has said they purposefully did not give the character a last name.
Domhnall Gleeson’s casting as a high-level First Order operative also reveals some clues. If we assume that Abrams is trying to maintain many elements in Episode 7 that were in Episode 4 for consistency and audience appreciation, it seems odd that this character is played by a younger actor. The reason is probably two-fold. First, the character is supposed to be highly motivated and ruthless. He got to this position not completely because he earned it, but because he took it. This sets up a formidable adversary. Second, it shows Abrams’ decision that the new trilogy be based around younger characters. This is much like his approach with Star Trek. A new chapter means new faces. He doesn’t want the series to rely on the older characters. With both the protagonists and antagonists being young, we can clearly see that this is a new era, not just a continuation of the adventures of the past characters.
Read this for other things to look for in Episode 7: