kottke.org posts about JJ Abrams

15 thoughts about Star Wars: The Force AwakensDec 19 2015

1. There are SPOILERS in this post. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. I've only read one other review of the movie, so much of this may be stated elsewhere (and better) by others.

2. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But thinking back to The Phantom Menace, I also enjoyed that quite a bit in the same spine-tingling way. But this movie is way better than the prequels were.

3. The cast was excellent and the casting progressive. I love that the two new protagonists are a black man and a woman. "Why are you grabbing my hand?"

4. Carrie Fisher's voice has changed a lot. It suited her character.

5. By far the best part of the movie at the showing I went to didn't appear on screen. I went to a matinee at 11am and the audience was mostly adults...probably 98% over the age of 30. When Rey uses the Force to persuade the Stormtrooper to release her, a little kid's voice from the front row echoed out loudly across the entire theater: "Jedi mind trick". The place exploded in laughter. A perfect comedic moment.

6. How many times are they going to keep making the same movie though? The plots of A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens are more or less the same: a small band of resistance fighters going up against an evil superpower headed by two practitioners in the Dark Side discover a weakness in the enemy's planet-sized superweapon and destroy it with some X-wing fighters in the nick of time. Also: stolen plans in a droid, a young orphan discovering the ways of the Force, a trench run by a gifted young pilot to blow up the superweapon, a bailing-out of the X-wing fighters by the crew of the Millennium Falcon, sons/students striking down their fathers/masters, and so on. Is this part of the reason that Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the series, because it's different?

7. When Lucas made the first trilogy (and when he and Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark), he constructed it from a bunch of different sources from when he was a kid and in film school. With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams did the same thing, but instead of pulling from Flash Gordon and Kurosawa like Lucas did, he pulled from what he grew up with as a kid and in film school...Star Wars and Spielberg. In a way, The Force Awakens is a reboot of the original 1977 Star Wars, similar plot and all. And even if it isn't a true reboot, it sure does rhyme.

8. Aside: when is the Empire/First Order going to learn not to put all of their eggs in one basket? Their superweapon strategy has failed three times now. They always seem to know where the rebels are hiding, they possess overwhelming force...why don't they just defeat them through conventional means?

9. More synchronicity. When I watched the original Star Wars as an adult, one of the things I noticed is what a relatively minor character Vader is in the Empire when compared to his importance to the story and his increased power & responsibility in Empire and Jedi. He's not in command, he's not really part of the military at all, and the military leaders aren't all that impressed with The Force. It's almost almost like he's the Emperor's personal assistant. Kylo Ren's role in The Force Awakens is similar...he's not in charge (General Hux is), he's not really part of the military (although he commands troops), and according to Snoke, Ren hasn't even completed his training. (What was Vader's excuse, then? He presumably completed his training long before the events of A New Hope...what was taking him so long to gain power?)

10. The scene at the very end bugged me. Having discovered the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, the Resistance sends Ren, Chewy, and R2 to see what's up? I get the symbolism and all, but wouldn't Leia be interested in seeing her brother again? Or more persuasive in getting him to come out of retirement?

11. We're going to hear more about Rey's parentage, right? She's Luke's daughter or something? (I'm guessing not. Waaay too obvious, even for Star Wars.)

12. Speaking of parentage, why is Snoke so big? So we're not wondering if Rey is Snoke's granddaughter or something? Or is it that Snoke's hologram is big and he's normal sized? (Wookiepedia says Snoke is 7 feet tall but doesn't cite a source.)

13. If you liked this movie, you have to give the proper credit to George Lucas for allowing it to exist. He could have sat on this series until after his death and beyond. But he didn't. He sold the whole shebang to Disney and trusted Kathleen Kennedy to make more movies.

14. Ok, Kennedy. Now I want to see Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars. Wes Anderson's Star Wars. Miranda July's Star Wars. Seriously, do this. (I do not want to see Kevin Smith's Star Wars. That one you can keep.)

15. All theaters should have assigned seating. I got the exact two seats I wanted (two months ahead of time) and showed up to the theater about 10 minutes before showtime, sat down, and the lights went down soon after. So much less stress than getting there 45 minutes (or 2 hours) beforehand and playing Are These Seats Taken? with strangers.

Update: 16. Does Han's death scene reference the cantina scene w/ Greedo in Episode IV? He and Ren are both holding the lightsaber. Ren tells Han he needs to do something but doesn't know if he can go through with it. Ren asks Han to help. The lightsaber activates and Han dies. Does Han activate the lightsaber, thereby causing his death? In other words, does Han shoot first? (Bonus update: I just saw the movie again and I don't think Han activates the lightsaber. He looks too surprised and Ren definitely thrusts the saber into him.)

Update: 17. In his belated review, Chris Blattman notes the remarkable agreement on the lack of spoilers on social media:

Humanity's tacit agreement to abide by a no-spoilers-on-social-media rule was one of the greatest acts of social cooperation I have witnessed. And we used it up to keep you from learning Han Solo is killed.

Star Wars x Star Trek: The Carbonite ManeuverMay 12 2015

From an alternate universe in 1985, a Star Wars crossover with Star Trek that never happened in which Lord Vader has the Genesis Device.

Paging JJ Abrams. Mr. Abrams to the white courtesy phone please. (via @khoi)

George Lucas' Special Edition of the Star Wars: Episode VII TrailerNov 30 2014

What if George Lucas was making the new Star Wars movie instead of JJ Abrams? This recut trailer offers a glimpse of the cheesy CG madness.

So so good.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailerNov 28 2014

Here it is, the very first look at JJ Abrams' new Star Wars movie.

Not ashamed to say I felt chills down my spine when the music kicked in. Please please please let this not suck.

Update: From the teaser, it's a little early to tell whether Abrams is following these four rules to make Star Wars great again (1. The setting is the frontier. 2. The future is old. 3. The Force is mysterious. 4. Star Wars isn't cute.) but there are hints of 1&2 in there...they're still driving those old rust-bucket X-Wings and wearing beat-up helmets.

Four rules to make Star Wars great againSep 30 2013

Disney and JJ Abrams are rebooting the Star Wars franchise. This two-minute video outlines four simple rules that could make Star Wars great again.

The rules are:

1. The setting is the frontier.
2. The future is old.
3. The Force is mysterious.
4. Star Wars isn't cute.

Trailer for Star Trek into DarknessDec 06 2012

Here's the "official teaser" trailer for J.J. Abrams' Trek reboot, Star Trek into Darkness.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the villain...maybe Khan or maybe someone else. I just hope there's more to this than explosions and yelling.

Star Trek lens flaresMay 13 2009

Did you notice all the lens flares in Star Trek? JJ Abrams' rationale for them -- he refers to them as "another actor" in the movie -- is pretty interesting.

I love the idea that the future was so bright it couldn't be contained in the frame. The flares weren't just happening from on-camera light sources, they were happening off camera, and that was really the key to it. I want [to create] the sense that, just off camera, something spectacular is happening. There was always a sense of something, and also there is a really cool organic layer thats a quality of it.

Someone clever took some footage from the old series and added a bunch of lens flaring to make it look like the new film.

The result is supposed to be funny but I thought it also somewhat validated Abrams' remarks above. (via snarkmarket & waxy)

Henry Jenkins and Snarkmarket also address my biggest problem with the movie, that the cadet-to-captain thing happened way too quickly to Kirk and his crew. Jenkins' contention is that the new movie treats the Enterprise as a start-up company; Tim adds this gem of a line:

But it's not academia; it's the NBA. You give these kids the ball.

So, which NBA player is Kirk supposed to be? While not an exact comparison, I'm going to say that Kirk is Tony Parker to Spock's Tim Duncan. And Scotty = Manu Ginobli?

rating: 4.0 stars

Star TrekMay 11 2009

[Note: spoilers.] Bones did it for me. As soon as he sat down next to Kirk on the shuttle, I was hooked. Loved Star Trek, wanted to go again as soon we got out.

J.J. Abrams did something kinda crazy with the film though. He took the entire Star Trek canon and tossed it out the window. Because of the whole time travel thing, the events that occurred in The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, DS9, and the previous 10 movies will not happen. Which means that in terms of sequels to this film, the slate is pretty much clean for Abrams or whomever he passes it off to.

Well. Almost. Events in this alternate timeline unfold differently but the same. Even though the USS Kelvin was destroyed with Kirk's father aboard, Kirk and the rest of the gang somehow all still end up on the Enterprise. But the destruction of an entire planet and 6 billion people should have a somewhat larger effect going forward.

Also worth noting is how the time travel in Trek compares with that on Lost, a show Abrams co-created and currently executive produces. On Lost (so far), the universe is deterministic: no matter who travels when, not much changes. Time travel can affect little details here and there, but the big events unfold the same way each time and every character remembers events unfolding in the same way, no matter when they are on the timeline. Star Trek's universe is not that way; characters before time travel events remember events unfolding differently. According to the older Spock, the Romulan ship going back in time changed things. Kirk knew his dad, Vulcan wasn't sucked into a black hole, etc.

On the excellent Bad Astronomy blog, Phil Plait doesn't cover the time travel aspect of the film but reviews the rest of the science in the film.

And yeah, we do hear ships whoosh as they go to warp and all that, but that's what we expect to hear, having evolved in an atmosphere which whooshes when things fly past us. I'd prefer that we hear nothing, but I accept that as a filmmaker's prerogative to make the audience comfortable.

But I'll add that for years I have complained about sounds in space, saying that done correctly, making things silent can add drama. That sentiment was proven here; the sudden silence as we leave the ship and fly into space with the doomed crewmember is really eerie and unsettling.

In the NY Times, David Hajdu tackles time travel of a different kind, arguing that the original Star Trek was not about science or the future; it was a nostalgic lens through which to view pop culture.

"Star Trek" was an early manifestation of our contemporary absorption with the pop culture of the past. The show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, was a gifted hack writer for TV Westerns like "Have Gun, Will Travel" and cop shows like "Highway Patrol," and "Star Trek," though set in a nominally stylized future, was essentially a Western cop show. In fact, Roddenberry pitched the series to NBC as "Wagon Train" to the stars; and, as Captain Kirk noted in his log, the ship would venture out on "patrol," cruising the galaxy like a city beat.

You keep using that word...Apr 21 2009

From a promotional email sent out by Wired Magazine:

For a limited-time, subscribe to WIRED and get the Mystery Issue guaranteed!* Edited by J.J. Abrams, co-creator of Lost and director of the new Star Trek movie, this issue is sure to be like no other.

*while supplies last

Guaranteed? Inconceivable! And speaking of that issue of Wired, be prepared to read a bunch about how it is going to save print media by moving the crossword from the games page into the entire rest of the magazine.

So, as Mr. Bevacqua wrote on his blog, he spent the next several days following the hidden clues he believed he'd found, using Morse code, alternative computer keyboard layouts and even electrician's wiring codes to solve the covert brainteasers. Finally he was directed to a hidden Web site, from which he sent an e-mail message to a secret account. A short while later he learned that he was the first Wired reader to solve an extensive hidden puzzle embedded throughout the magazine.

(thx, lloyd)

Trailer for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movieNov 17 2008

You might have seen the grainy cockeyed bootleg trailer over the weekend but now the real deal is up on Apple's site in various HD-grade qualities: the second trailer for J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek movie. From Wikipedia:

It is the eleventh Star Trek film and features the main characters of the original Star Trek series, who are portrayed by a new cast. It follows James T. Kirk enrolling at Starfleet Academy, his first meeting with Spock, and their battles with Romulans from the future, who are interfering with history.

I'm not a proponent of the idea that any Trek is good Trek so I really want to hate this movie but it looks kind of awesome. At least f'ing McG didn't direct.

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