Article first published as Trek Vs. Wars: A Conflict of Interest? on Blogcritics.
The news came out recently that J.J. Abrams will be directing the next Star Wars film. Given the fact that he is already heading up the Star Trek franchise, the announcement sparked a negative emotional reaction in me. What if this becomes a conflict of interest?
J.J. Abrams is one of the most respected television producers around. Despite recent flops such as Undercovers and Alcatraz, he has a slew of great deeds to his name, including Lost, Alias, Felicity, and Fringe. Revolution has potential, even if it mostly remains untapped.
Thus, as a fan of J.J.'s work, I was excited to see him make the transition into film (as long as he doesn't leave television behind completely, which, so far, he hasn't). I was even more enthusiastic when he took over the Star Trek franchise, having been a big fan of the TV series and movies since childhood. I knew, based on his previous work, J.J. could bring a level of complexity and excitement to the new reboot, and his casting would be impeccable.
Star Trek 2009 did almost everything I wanted it to. The new actors were almost all perfect matches for the original cast. The story honored everything that had come before it, but also began an entirely new, awesome adventure. While it did favor action a bit over message, the story was still pretty good. And while it is darker than most other Trek offerings, that trend had already become apparent for the franchise before the movie.
However, I do have some concerns now that J.J. has been will also be making the next Star Wars movie. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the Star Wars movies. But I do think Star Wars is overrated, and I don't hold it up to same level of worship that many fans do. I have always believed that Star Trek has been far superior because of the depth of its stories; in my opinion, Star Wars movies have always been largely melodramatic, action-heavy fluff pieces.
If I have to be honest with myself, some of those complaints can also be made about the most recent Star Trek movie. It lacks the original's larger world-view of a better humanity, trading it off for lots of battles and effects, and even a love story for Spock and Uhura. It does stay pretty faithful to what had happened before in Star Trek, but it updates the whole thing into a modern blockbuster. On the other hand, it does extend the franchise reach to a new audience of potential fans. But, I worry that as it does so, future films might lose sight of what has always made Star Trek special.
The issue is, while Star Trek has always been good at wonderful special effects sequences, the series and movies have always been more about the its commentary on humanity and our society. In Star Trek's futuristic world, we have outgrown the petty squabbles of our present day, and have moved on to become an evolved and resilient race.
The 2009 movie satisfies with great character development, and because of the story it pursues, it doesn't necessarily need to go out of its way to emphasize the franchise's idealistic vision of humanity. However, I would not like to see that integral part of that original vision diminish in favor of more action, adventure and special effects.
On the other hand, the Star Wars movies have always fit the standard blockbuster framework, so I'm sure that J.J. will do a great job with it. If nothing else, he will definitely put episodes I-III to shame. Of that, I am confident. But with both movie series under his direction, will the vision for the two series converge, making Star Wars and Star Trek feel too similar?
After all, 2009's Star Trek already began to lean towards that Star Wars formula. It was a lot of shoot-'em-up, and it had less complicated, more evil, villains. The pacing was faster than I'm used to from Star Trek, and it lacked much introspection.
I don't want Star Trek and Star Wars to be similar. I admit, I feel a certain superiority when arguing Trek's advanced plot points and messages. Were Star Wars to be that good, assuming J.J. could raise the quality of the new Star Wars to the middle ground that the 2009 Star Trek occupied, balanced between what the masses want and wonderful writing, it removes the advantage Trek has, and gives those smug Wars fans new fodder. If the opposite happens, and Star Trek is dumbed down to the level of Star Wars moving forward, continuing to push it away from its roots, the same thing will happen.
I am concerned that J.J. will, intentionally or not, keep nudging Star Trek from its original vision. Who's to say it won't go further once his time becomes divided between the two, with the worlds merging in his head?
They are both sci-fi adventures full of aliens. Even though one supposedly happened a long time ago in a galaxy far away, to paraphrase, it looks futuristic enough to be confused with our not-too-distant future to the untrained eye. It wouldn't be that hard to make a lot of the same choices when developing the projects, and end up with two very similar film series. I don't think he'll use the same actors or sets, but with the gleaming white new Enterprise reminding me of Star Wars spaceships, there could be a similar color scheme and visual component.
Maybe I'm being too hard on J.J. As I said, I am a fan of his work, and it's not like all of the television series he works on end up the same. He could find ways to differentiate the two, and take them in completely different directions. I am just concerned because of early signs of Star Trek's evolution, and because of his stated preferences, that it might happen in this case.
I also worry that his work on Wars will distract him from Trek. After all, Wars is bound to get more attention. Will that mean he won't give Trek 13 his full efforts, instead focusing on Wars 7? Also, J.J. is reportedly one of those people who favor Wars over Trek, which worries me.
Yes, it is possible to be a fan of both, but most people who are favor one over the other. I hope that J.J. keeps in mind the fundamental differences between both series, and doesn't make them interchangeable. The best way to do that is to deepen the next Star Trek story back to the levels of morality tale it once achieved. This spring, we'll find out if that has happened, as Star Trek Into Darkness is released. Based on what I've seen so far, I'm optimistic.
I guess what this argument boils down to is emotion. Both franchises evoke strong feelings from their fans, and since Star Wars already has the popularity, I want Star Trek to keep the quality superiority. It is a bit petty, to be sure, but I very much hope J.J. takes this into account, keeping in mind what has set the two series apart in the past, and maintaining that divide. Because he is a Wars devotee, I worry he doesn't have the same perspective on Star Trek that trekkies have, and thus won't protect the franchise with the same ferocity a real fan would.
To many, the premise of this entire column will seem ridiculous or trivial. But for those of us who have always kept a candle burning for Star Trek, please J.J., we beg of you: Keep Trek better. Its fate is in your hands.
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