Last night I finally got around to watching J.J.Abrams STAR TREK for a second time, and I have to say to all the Star Wars fans out there, be careful what you wish for.
I saw it in the theater and enjoyed it, although I've never felt the need to revisit it until the recent huge Star Wars announcement. As a dyed in the wool Star Wars fan who fell in love with Star Trek in a post Star Wars world, I can sense something missing from the equation that is Abrams STAR TREK, and I hope I'm wrong in fearing for the success of the new movies.
Watching STAR TREK for the first time as a Trekkie is a great viewing experience, mainly for the novelty of it. However, the second time as a regular ass viewer left something to be desired. Watching the reboot at the end of a long day, it became too easy to recline on the couch and fall asleep, dreaming along with the intergalactic cacophony on the screen. While it certainly has it's moments, there is something about the film that, to me, feels small, like a really great episode of a television production instead of an epic big screen extravaganza. I get the same vibe from Super 8, which to me is about as dynamic and exciting as an after school special. I think the whole 80's coming of age tribute thing falls flat. So when they say they're giving the reigns to new Star Wars over to J.J. I get a little nervous. That said, they already have my money and they know it, now all they need to do it make it somewhat worthwhile. So how will they do this?
One of the things I'll be looking for in the new trilogy is that the look and feel of the saga remain in tact. I realize the new blood is the thing we're excited about, but we don't need a more contemporary approach. Just give us the competently lit, moderately paced film with all the impossible dialogue and excruciatingly long stretches of exposition that I've come to expect. I am hoping Abrams tries to emulate Lucas, or even Marquand, and steers clear of any pretense of being a Kershner. STAR TREK is fun when taken as an updated and separate entry, however, this approach will not work for Star Wars. Follow The Beard's lead and maintain his style of film making. Don't try to reinvent the wheel and the end product will at least be watchable.
Another thing I'll be looking for is a story that makes sense beyond just being a vehicle for new Star Wars.
In fact, if there's a lesson to be learned from a lifelong love of Star Wars, it's that it makes no sense to endlessly speculate on the storyline, or one risks being sorely disappointed. While I feel that the prequels have aged gracefully over the past decade, am excited for the possibility of these new films tying the two trilogies together in a more cohesive manner. Sure, there's Obi-Wan and Chewie all throughout, but when we get Luke channeling Mace Windu through the Force, we will finally have something whole and complete. If Abrams can establish that type of cohesiveness I will officially be along for the ride. That said, there still isn't any real reason to continue on with these adventures within the context of the existing storyline, and whatever they devise probably isn't going to measure up to defeating the evil Galactic Empire. So the Star Wars Saga is essentially done. It becomes redundant because all the story arcs are completed, and you know what happens to your favorite character. They all start in one place and end in another, and it's all right there on screen for us to see. Well almost all principle characters have completed story arcs. There is one exception to this rule, and depending on your age group you're probably not going to like what I'm about to suggest.
By now, ten years later, it should be obvious to everyone that the only legitimate reason to make anymore Star Wars films is to reveal the fate of Jar Jar Binks. There, I said it. Loud and proud, too. Seriously, Jar Jar is the only main character whose fate is not revealed by the end of the completed saga. There were rumors of Jar Jar being revealed in the background of the Cantina scene for yet another remastered collectors edition, but that never came to pass. Perhaps he would've been seen only briefly, possibly keeping an eye on the situation. That would've been enough to satisfy his narrative. As it stands, he makes a cameo in the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, demonstrating only that he still exists somewhere, an obvious loose end in an otherwise concise storyline. I personally feel that he needed to jump out in defense of the younglings and take a lightsaber. It would have made sense in terms of the story, while also serving to satisfy the sad, pathetic army of adult fanboys who still cling to their inner child even though the thing has been dead for years and should be put in the ground. The hatred of Jar Jar and the reactionary position on the character adopted by Lucasfilm is probably the only real structural problem in all of the six films, and with new movies on the way here is the chance to rectify the situation.
The case for a prominent role for Jar Jar is simple; He's alive somewhere and he has the most direct connection to Luke out of any surviving prequel character. That's pretty much all we need, because like all supporting characters in Star Wars, Jar Jar Binks is a mechanism utilized to further propel the story. He's basically operating on the same level as Boba Fett or Darth Maul, being a character who is one dimensional and given a few scenes, but whose main purpose is to provide actions that have consequences for the protagonist. He's only in two films, yet he has more direct impact on the story than Chewbacca does in all four of his appearances. The thing about Jar Jar is, unlike Fett or Maul, his story arc doesn't get resolved. That's an opportunity for these new films to become more relevant!
Jar Jar works in the classical literature sense as well. Do you remember getting drunk with your Star Wars buddies and discussing the subtext of the films? Well, I do. I have no problem suggesting that if Threepio and Artoo are the greek chorus, than Jar Jar is by all means the holy fool. That's one of the few fresh archetypes offered in any Star Wars sequel, and more can be done with it.
Finally, millions of (now) teenaged kids love the character as one of the few interesting points in a film series that was too dark and over their heads at the time of initial release. These same kids are going to require characters from "their" Star Wars and Jar Jar is the one with the most left to resolve out of any Star Wars character in any Star Wars film, period.
Jar Jar Binks ties the whole thing together like no other character can. He could be brought forward as the rebel warrior responsible for bringing the Mon Calamari on board with the cause,or he could've gone bad, awaiting his chance for redemption. He doesn't have to be the same character that so irritated fanboys with no lives ten years ago, the point is he can be anything that will still serve the overreaching story arc without looking like yet another new character created solely to milk the cash cow. He can move the story and provide continuity without anything feeling forced. It might be a bitter pill for the resentful thirty-something goofballs, so maybe they can give him an Ewok side-kick to help remind everyone that The Phantom Menace isn't actually the worst Star Wars film..
In any case, this is the type of bold maneuver J. J. Abrams is going to have to properly execute if he wants to contribute something that doesn't follow the trend of each succeeding Star Wars sequel being less entertaining than the previous entry. It's going to take a surprising amount of creativity to make a new Star Wars film that won't be seen as being as superfluous as his STAR TREK. He'll need to lower the fan's guard and throw something truly unexpected at them, and I believe I have just offered one way to do that.
Until such time as I'm settling in at the movie theater, I'll try to remain cautiously optimistic about these new films. That means I hope they are every bit as good as the prequels.