Lucasfilm’s Star Wars movie revival has not exactly been going smoothly thus far.
While Rogue One somehow turned into a not entirely terrible movie through a process of lengthy reshoots and last minute edits, the past few months in particular suggest that the studio might not necessarily get so lucky with subsequent films.
There’s a limit to the number of directors that can depart from a franchise at crucial moments before everything starts looking a little the worse for wear, and Star Wars has reached that point. With Colin Trevorrow no longer directing Episode IX, Disney needs a nice, safe bet for the final movie in the current Star Wars trilogy.
JJ Abrams is a safe bet. The director is not known for pushing boundaries or experimentation; instead, he’s good at two things: setting up “Mystery Boxes”, and exactly copying movies that have come before.
So what if Episode IX won’t be revolutionary or original? That’s not what Lucasfilm is after. The studio wants a solid, enjoyable movie that borrows from previous Star Wars adventures in order to deliver something nostalgic from a proven formula. JJ Abrams is the logical choice.
There’s just one problem – the Mystery Box. Lucasfilm wants JJ Abrams to make a very by-the-numbers Star Wars movie, and that he can do. But the other half of his reputation comes from hiding secrets from the audience, promising to reveal all at a later date.
Two years after the release of The Force Awakens, we’re all still wondering who Rey’s parents are, and who Supreme Leader Snoke actually is. JJ Abrams’ storytelling style involves deliberately withholding information from the audience in order to amp up the intrigue and suspense.
The big problem is that Abrams very rarely manages to deliver on his initial mysteries. Lost ended up fizzling out as viewer were left disappointed by a show that seemed to promise so much, only to end with a whimper and a halfhearted explanation that didn’t do justice to the story up to that point.
Ditto movies like Super 8 and Cloverfield, which make a big deal about keeping information secret from the audience, largely because the actual story – big scary monsters doing stuff – is fairly uninspired.
It almost seemed like Abrams choosing to only direct the first movie in the new Star Wars saga might have been an attempt to leave before he had to do any of the actual work, fostering the blame onto someone else if it turned out that people didn’t like the ultimate solutions to his Mystery Boxes.
Now, that decision has come back to bite all of us, as Abrams is put in the uncomfortable position of having to provide a definitive third act for a major movie franchise, despite being legendarily terrible at wrapping up a story in a meaningful way.
So don’t expect Episode IX to actually deliver an enjoyable, satisfying conclusion to the story of Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke Skywalker. Instead, knowing Abrams, this will become an exercise in treading water, setting up further sequels that will inevitably come at some point down the line, while borrowing from Return of the Jedi beat for beat in a desperate attempt to make audiences happy.
Look forward to Kylo Ren’s return to the Light Side of the Force, to some kind of giant slug monster, and to an army of Not Ewoks beating the Not Empire to stop the construction of Not Starkiller Base/the Death Star 2/the Star Forge, or whatever other big bad macguffin the plucky heroes have to destroy in order to definitively save the day.
Here’s hoping we’re all wrong about JJ Abrams. Perhaps, if we’re very lucky, he has some incredibly hitherto unused talent for making original, inventive Part Three movies that don’t just rehash things we’ve seen a million times before.
Otherwise, you might as well stay home and watch Revenge of the Sith rather than going to watch a predictably familiar premise play out again with brand new actors.