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10 Things J.J. Abrams Needs To Do With 'Star Wars: Episode VII' To Make It Great

by Oliver Lyttelton
January 25, 2013 3:09 PM
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6. Be weird
For all his success, Abrams is not a blindingly original creator of material. His strength comes in giving new twists -- sometimes fairly out there ones -- to established genres. "Alias" was a spy thriller with sci-fi tinges. "Lost" was "Gilligan's Island" by way of "Twin Peaks," with conspiracy, mystery and an ancient battle of good vs. evil thrown in. "Fringe" was "The X-Files," but with the weirdness turned up to eleven (and a more satisfying macro-plot and emotional backbone than Mulder & Scully ever had). "Star Trek" took the classic series and added a time-travel twist. Indeed, Abrams' greatest failures ("Undercovers," "Six Degrees," "Morning Glory") have tended to come when he leans towards the conventional. And let's not forget that, while we've been inured to it over 35 years, "Star Wars" must have seemed pretty weird to begin with. Space knights fighting with laser swords and telepathic powers? A weird frog-goblin thing that speaks in messed-up syntax? A camp robot butler? The temptation would be to play it safe, but the film will be far more interesting if Abrams lets his freak flag fly to a certain degree, and throw a few surprises into the mix. Speaking of...

7. Keep a sense of mystery
Abrams has always played things close to his chest, valuing his famous "mystery box", which has allowed projects to brew quietly, leading to surprise annoucement teasers for "Cloverfield" and "Super 8" (and the same secrecy is being with "Star Trek Into Darkness" with details kept firmy under wraps). Abrams even gave some insight into why this is recently, saying :"I will sit in a meeting before a movie with 80-some people, heads of departments, and literally say that all I ask is that we preserve the experience for the viewer. Every choice we make, every costume fitting, every pad of makeup, every set that’s built — all that stuff becomes less magical if it’s discussed and revealed and pictures are posted online. I just want to make sure that when somebody sees something in a movie they didn’t watch a 60-minute behind-the-scene [video] that came out two months before. We just say up front that all the work we’re doing is about making this a special experience for the viewer; let’s preserve that as long as we can."

It's a refreshing approach, albeit frustrating for the I-want-it-now internet generation, and we'd love for Abrams to keep it up with his "Star Wars." Let's face it, it's going to have queues around the block whatever happens, so why not tread softly with the images, clips and spoilers. It'll only lead to more feverish speculation, but it should also mean that, unlike with the prequels, we won't know everything about the films going in. Hopefully, if this approach is taken, it'll also get rid of the midichlorians-aided demystification that came with the prequels. Of course that will mean he'll have to...

8. Don't cast veterans from the Bad Robot stable
Thanks to "Star Trek" (with the cast of rising stars and familiar names, carrying the movie even when the script failed it; they're about 60% of the reason that the film works), Abrams has form on this front, and the studio are likely to let him go with whoever he wants -- they're not going to want to put Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp in it anyway, they're spending enough money as it is. But just as Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were essentially unknowns back in the day, the key new roles should be taken by people with few existing associations, and that goes for actors that the director has worked with before. He can get away with casting Abrams-verse veterans like Keri Russell or Josh Holloway in small roles in a "Mission: Impossible" movie, but their presence here, for the most part, would only prove distracting. Want to give Greg Grunberg a cameo as the voice of a stormtrooper? We suppose that's just about ok. But much as we love him, seeing Simon Pegg as a wisecracking pilot is going to break the spell, when we should be getting absorbed back into the universe. There may be some exceptions to this here and there -- we can see "Fringe" actor John Noble working in a role, perhaps, partly because he's a chameleon, and partly because no one watched "Fringe," so he doesn't have the same cultural association as, say, Bradley Cooper or Hurley from "Lost." But for the most part, Abrams should seek out some new talent when the time to cast up arrives.

9. Stand up to Disney
One of the best things about the hiring of Abrams is that he's already a golden boy, one of a handful of filmmakers around who can do pretty much anything he wants. The risk was always that the studio would hire a workman, who could be pushed around to make the blandest and most profitable film possible. Abrams has an enormous amount of cache in and of himself, and that'll hopefully buy him a lot of creative leeway. He's already flexed his muscles on this front, with "Star Trek Into Darkness," forcing Paramount to push the film back a year so he could get the script right. It was a disaster for the studio in the short-term. They were left without a summer blockbuster, and went months without releasing a film (thanks to pushing back both "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "World War Z" as well), but fingers crossed, it benefited the film, and in turn will likely help Paramount out in the long-run. Now that he's at Disney, we hope he keeps it up. Whehter it's Arndt's script, casting, story, marketing, whatever -- they wanted Abrams, and so now, he should get to do it his way. As for George Lucas, who's indicated he wants to take a back seat on the film, but may yet change his mind, Abrams should of course listen respectfully to the franchise's creator, but not be afraid to ignore him if Lucas' storytelling instincts haven't improved since the last three films in the series.

10. Shoot it in IMAX
That said, there's one thing that Abrams probably won't fight the studio on, and that's making the film in 3D. Given the studio's love of the format (they've had giant billion-dollar hits in three dimensions with "Alice in Wonderland," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "The Avengers" and "Toy Story 3"), and the general economic benefits (plus the in-process conversions of the previous films), Disney are going to want the film to be released in 3D. And Abrams is likely to acquiesce, given that he's already done so on "Star Trek Into Darkness," and has been won round, saying recently: "The studio said, 'You have to make it in 3D if you're going to make it, for economic reasons. But my feeling was I didn't like 3D. I approached it very cynically. And the fact is that we've been using techniques that haven't been used before in 3D. They've figured out things. They've made enough movies now with this new process that they can understand ways to eliminate some of these problems. Things like breaking shots into zones, 3D zones, using multiple virtual cameras. A lot of this has made me a believer, whereas before I was really against it…"

But what he could do, at least, is throw us a bone and add a format that we're genuinely excited about. After "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol," which Abrams produced, shot multiple sequences in IMAX to spectacular effect, Abrams has done the same with "Star Trek Into Darkness," so it's surely not too much to hope for that we get some of his "Star Wars" in giant mega-screen vision too? Christopher Nolan and 'Ghost Protocol' have shown both the format's potential for both spectacle and increased box office revenue, and we'd be lying if the idea of IMAX-ed "Star Wars" didn't make us a little giddy. Make it happen, guys.

P.S. The original "Star Wars" was only a touch over two hours, so let's try to keep it closer to that than the 150-minute mark.

Anything else you think the new film needs? Let us know in the comments section.

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  • DownhillDude | January 30, 2013 12:49 PMReply

    Totally f'ing disagree on #3. Keep the fanboy faith,and don't mess with canon. JJ totally messed up Star Trek (stupid prick). Of course, even Lucas himself has been messing with canon, with his stupid reworks and enhancements of the originals. Something along the lines of the original or ESB will be awesome.

    ...and for the love of God, NO JAR JAR OR EWOKS!!!

  • MarvelisGod | January 29, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    Make that shit like the Avengers!

  • MarvelisGod | January 29, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    Make that shit like the Avengers!

  • MarvelisGod | January 29, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    Make that shit like the Avengers!

  • MarvelisGod | January 29, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    Make that shit like the Avengers!

  • Dayton King | January 29, 2013 5:11 PM

    You must be, like, sixteen years old.

  • Dayton King | January 29, 2013 5:10 PM

    You must be, like, sixteen years old.

  • olly | January 27, 2013 11:51 AMReply

    I agree on ensuring there's plenty of comedy. Cumberbatch is a great comic actor so I'd hope JJ continues his love affair with Cumberbatch in Star Wars VII.

    I'm glad JJ isnt a big fan of 3D. Hopefully it will be used with care (which he's doing with Star Trek).

  • DG | January 26, 2013 11:50 PMReply

    Agree with no 3-D but not just for this. No 3-D for anything ever again

  • JenT | January 26, 2013 6:35 PMReply

    Great Advice, I agree that Taking Time to make the Script just right WILL be Worth it, Please please please go slow. Now I want to know how can Anyone Top Vader? Will our new Baddie wear a Cape? A Mask?, I am 47yrs old & So TOTALLY want to be a 'Smuggler in Space' in my next Life!(or this one!?) Also, When can the DieHard Fans set up a Tent to start waiting for Opening Day?? LOL--- May The Force Be With Us, Always!

  • Sharona | January 26, 2013 5:39 PMReply

    Can we just forget everything about doing this in 3-D? That just makes it corny and hokey and puts it in the schmaltz category. Just. The. Movie. PLEASE.

  • dave | January 26, 2013 11:49 AMReply

    Fuck off you cunt bandit. Its Alec Guiness not Ewen McGregor who says the famous line. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • DHE | January 26, 2013 10:32 AMReply

    Maybe out of topic but please can Edgar Wright direct the next Star Trek

  • MJ | January 26, 2013 12:20 AMReply

    Other than cameos for Keri Russell & Greg Grunberg in his first movie & Holloway's in Ghost Protocol Abrams hasn't shown himself to be like Nolan & reuse actors so I'd guess that fear is unfounded.

  • Ray H | January 25, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    #8 - While I mostly agree, I don't see the harm in cameos. Obviously everyone loves SW and would it be that bad to let them share in the universe. I agree it'd be sorta distracting to see the Hurley and Greg Grunberg pop up, but I can totally see Simon Pegg playing an Imperial Officer (granted, I guess they won't exist anymore).

  • TheoC | January 25, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    Robert Pattinson as a wise sexy wookie?

  • TheoC | January 25, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    Great list.Nice work. I agree with preventing the spell from being broken thing, I lost my shit when I saw Jimmy Smits JIMMY FUCKING LA LAW NYPD BLUE SMITS in one of those trade embargo movies.

  • M J Whiting | January 25, 2013 5:10 PMReply

    Hire unknowns to do music.

  • alish | January 25, 2013 4:29 PMReply

    The most important thing the new movie needs is CHARACTERS.


  • Mongoosecmr | January 25, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    8 is spot on. The last thing I want is the new Star Wars to be a star vehicle. Keep some veteran character actors for small roles or villains, but find up and comers for the big stuff. It should feel like a fresh experience

  • hank | January 25, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    it's make it or break it time, JJ

  • casualsuede | January 25, 2013 3:40 PMReply

    This goes with comment #5, but the thing that killed alot of star wars was the fact it was too familiar with earth popular culture. Did we need a howard cosell speaking annoucer in the pod race? Did we need a grease line cook with a plumber butt when Obi Wan is trying to find out that dart? Did we need a race of bumbling idiots that seem to insult the Jamaican culture?

    The cool thing about Star Wars was that it looked ALIEN and I loved, in the first series, how their advanced technology looked worn out to a degree, as if being in the Empire meant that life outside it was hard.

  • cattt | January 25, 2013 5:52 PM

    That's a good point and it's one of the million reasons why the prequels didn't work. To me Star Wars trilogy is kinda like a Jim Henson movie, those creature masks and outfits are brilliant. You wouldn't CGI The Muppets, why would they do that to Star Wars?

  • Tim | January 25, 2013 3:49 PM

    absolutely - this seems to be a problem with a lot of the CGI-heavy sci-fi stuff coming out nowadays. I feel like it probably comes from children's animated movies, where each talking animal aligns with a different human stereotype

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