J.J. Abrams has already been at the forefront of one iconic sci-fi franchise, after he helmed both the 2009 Star Trek reboot and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. However, not even that experience could prepare him for the monumental task of calling the shots on a project in another major series: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, Episode VII has been at the top of several most-anticipated lists, and everyone is eager to see what the director has in store.
Outside of persisting plot rumors, the only official bit of information fans have gotten to chew on is a teaser trailer that was released a few months ago, giving viewers a taste of the look and feel of the new film. As expected, the preview generated quite the response, with fans speculating over the identity of new characters, the status of old ones, and the practicality of a cross guard lightsaber.
While at the Visual Effects Society Awards, Abrams spoke with Collider, where he spent some time discussing the upcoming Star Wars installment. The first order of business was explaining Kylo Ren's choice of weaponry, which has been the subject of much debate in the movie community. Abrams revealed that he has received countless emails from both defenders and detractors of the design, and also stated that the production team was aware of its potential complications well before it was implemented:
"It was a number of conversations [that led to the design]. It was a sketch that became a whole thing and, you know, this was not done without a lot of conversation and it’s fun to see people have the conversation that we had, but in reverse.”
It shouldn't come as any surprise to observers that the pros and cons of the new lightsaber were weighed during the pre-production phase - given that this is a huge motion picture, after all. After seeing the sword in a brief clip, it is easy to come to a rushed judgment about why it would or wouldn't work, but until we actually see it in action, we have to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. Everyone working on The Force Awakens seems to understand the gravity of the project, so at this stage it's doubtful that they'd intentionally do something to sabotage it.
One of the ways Abrams and his team are looking to bring Star Wars back to its glory days is by incorporating as many practical effects as possible. Behind-the-scenes looks have showcased that everything from aliens to spaceships have been built from real-world materials as opposed to digitally. Since the scale of this movie is quite large, some CGI work is to be expected, but Abrams felt that it was crucial to mix the two styles:
“There are obviously an enormous amount of CG effects in the film, and I can’t wait for you to see the combination. But it was very important that we build as many sets as we could and that the film have a tangible, sort of authentic quality that you believed that these things were actually happening in a real space with real sunlight, if it was an exterior scene, or if we could build a big portion of a scene and not have anything be blue screen, do it where we could. It was a very important piece of work.”
An aspect of the original trilogy that many fans appreciated was the fact that the environments had a "lived-in" look, which made it easier for audiences to accept that these strange planets were places that could actually exist. This was largely credited to the usage of practical effects such as models and real sets, so it's pleasing to hear that Abrams is using that filmmaking style to bring the galaxy far, far away back to life. He's always felt this is the best manner in which to make a movie, so hopefully the results will justify the means.
Even though Abrams (for obvious reasons) had to pass on the directing job for the upcoming Star Trek 3, he is still serving as a producer on the third installment of the rebooted series. That film has had a troubled road to production, with one-time director Roberto Orci being replaced by Justin Lin, and cast member Simon Pegg being called upon to rewrite the screenplay. On the outside, things look somewhat shaky, but Abrams has reassuring words for the Trekkies as well:
“[Pegg] and I had talked quite a bit about story, he had a lot of wonderful ideas. It just sort of felt obvious that he would be a wonderful person to work on the story and help craft the story, so he’s working on it.”
Of course, Abrams isn't going to publicly bash his longtime collaborator, so it's not a shock that he had nothing but positive things to say about Pegg's thoughts on the Star Trek 3 narrative. Despite his bias, it is promising that Abrams is enthusiastic about the ideas being tossed around. Based off the critical response of the first two films, he knows what works well in that world, and Star Trek 3 is at a point where it could honestly use any good press that it can get. Ideally, Abrams' faith in Pegg isn't misplaced, and the Star Trek brand can continue to flourish amidst an ever-changing Hollywood landscape.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters December 18, 2015. Star Trek 3 will be released on July 8, 2016.
"The Force Awakens" Artwork by DeAeRO @ DeviantArt