We finally watched STAR TREK the other night, and when the credits rolled, I turned to Robert and Vanessa and proclaimed: “George Lucas is in trouble!” I never really thought that STAR TREK would become an integral part of the debate, but here we are. The plot thickens, as they say. Granted, the STAR WARS vs. STAR TREK tug of war has been around for decades; but it (seemingly) didn’t really have much to do with George Lucas. At least, not until now. Ironically, a day before J.J. Abrams blew me away with his extraordinary franchise reboot, I was reviewing interview footage of George Lucas, and found an interesting bit from an early screening of REVENGE OF THE SITH. I’ll spare you the juicy details, but, in a nutshell, George made it very clear that he had no intention to hand over the franchise to talented new directors, and that STAR WARS was definitely OVER.
Okay, so we know that’s not true, because STAR WARS has since infiltrated our television screens (with STAR TREK now taking centerstage in movie theaters across the country, the ironies abound). But that’s beside the point. The real issue at stake here is that STAR WARS always appeared to have the upper hand. For some reason, it was always cooler to be a STAR WARS fan.
I think what J.J. Abrams is showing us here is that anything can be remade, reinvented, revisited successfully; and if there’s a fanbase hungry for it, then the box office results will speak for themselves (in less than a week, STAR TREK grossed $116 million worldwide, easily surpassing every previous film from the franchise). Heck, we saw the same thing happen not too long ago with Marc Forster/Daniel Craig in CASINO ROYALE and Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale/Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT. It was pretty evident that James Bond and Batman needed a shot in the arm, and you have to give enormous credit to the creative teams behind those franchises for taking risks, and, yes, taking the chance to alienate certain fans. But the reality is this: fans hunger for new interpretations of their favorite stories and characters; and I believe that we will continue to purchase tickets for a chance to watch the next incarnation of Spiderman, Neo, or Luke Skywalker.
So what exactly isn’t getting through to George Lucas? I’m not trying to make the argument that George is done and that he shouldn’t make another film for the rest of his life (in fact, I’d pay good money to see the next GL experimental film). But, even if he’s not quite ready to let go yet, why not give a chance to the likes of Zack Snyder, Quentin Tarantino, or, why not, Takashi Miike, to take a shot at the STAR WARS universe? Wouldn’t that be something? It only takes a phone call, George. And can you imagine any of them say “thanks, but no thanks, old man”? That’s how powerful his legacy really is.
Watching STAR TREK, how beautiful and big and fresh it was, served as a glaring reminder to me that fans will remain faithful to a franchise, as long as the makers are willing to take risks, and are not afraid to violate the sanctity of the rules established at a time when these rules actually used to make sense. I’m not afraid to say this: in my opinion, STAR WARS has become stale. And unless George does something about it, we’ll have to watch in awe as STAR TREK, for the first time, really, gains the upper hand. Am I saying that George is ruining his legacy? My answer to this question is actually fairly complicated, so the simple answer is: no, how can you ruin your legacy when you’ve created something like STAR WARS? What I’m saying, like many fans of my generation, is that George is playing it too safe; and that unless he recognizes the importance of rebooting his franchise in some way by injecting new talent and fresh perspectives into his proprietary universe (at the risk of breaking the Continuity Bible), there’s a strong chance that the fans will continue to vent their frustrations, and that they might even, decades from now, become genuinely disinterested in a world that shaped, if not defined, their childhood.
And that would be a tragedy.