By Drew Taylor | The Playlist January 25, 2013 at 10:57AM
With the news arriving yesterday that "Lost" co-creator and "Star Trek" director J.J. Abrams will take over from George Lucas and direct "Star Wars: Episode VII," the first in a planned platoon of new "Star Wars" features from Disney, it inevitably means speculation about what, exactly, such a decision will mean for the franchise.
This is, after all, a series that has been almost exclusively under the control of a single man since the original debuted back in 1977 (the two sequels from the original trilogy were directed by journeyman filmmakers under the tight authorial control of Lucas, who exerted his influence more extensively with his constant fussing on the "special editions"). So it seemed like a good moment to start to guess what a J.J. Abrams "Star Wars" joint will really look (and feel and sound) like, based on his earlier work and a general sensation of where the franchise is headed – back to a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away....By the way, in case you missed it here's five directions we suggested the series could go back when it was announced in October of last year.
It birthed a million Twitter jokes, and it is true that Abrams has a trademark visual style, but will he bring the same tools from "Star Trek" to "Star Wars"? The original films had a certain "look," it's one that isn't exactly easy to pin down – a combination of psychedelic '70s album art, pulp magazine covers, and various sci-fi conventions. (The shiny robot! The floating barge lair! A city in the clouds!) By the time the prequels rolled around, Lucas had firmly planted himself in the director's chair and any sense of visual distinction had been blasted into the deep recesses of space. Instead, Lucas relied on extensive green screen work with an emphasis on computer-generated environments, characters and creatures. While seemingly cutting edge, it made the actual human actors seem like they were walking through some elaborate videogame. Nothing felt real or emotionally identifiable – the heart got lost in the pixels. Abrams has a style he honed on both his television series (most notably "Alias," still his crowning small screen achievement) and in the three high-profile features he directed ("Mission: Impossible III," "Super 8" and "Star Trek"), and while it feels like a safe assumption that we'll see some whip pans and lens flares, we're not so sure. One of the biggest concerns among certain segments is having the same guy behind "Star Trek" taking over "Star Wars." We're sure Abrams will want to put a new visual stamp on this franchise not only to assuage fans, but to honor where the series has been while also taking it in a new direction in addition to ensuring it stands apart from Captain Kirk and the gang.
Along similar lines, one of the better aspects of Abrams' "Star Trek" is that no matter how much computer-generated embroidery was on display, a large majority of the movie was created practically. The movie utilized expansive sets that took up whole soundstages along with actual location photography, like the Budweiser bottling plant that doubled as the spaceship's engine room. He even filmed the skydiving sequence by getting Chris Pine to roll around on a mirror in the Paramount parking lot. Sure, there was a shitload of CGI, but most of that work was done for stuff that Abrams and his talented creative crew couldn't physically build, like the giant snow monster that chases Kirk down an icy hill. "Mission: Impossible III" and "Super 8" too, for all their widescreen spectacle, aren't completely bogged down by ones-and-zeroes, either. We can see Abrams returning to actual location work, ditching much of the smothering green-screen aesthetic, and insisting on props and creatures that were actually built and controlled on set. You know, like how Yoda used to be an on-set puppet before he was turned into a pin-balling tree frog with a lightsaber.