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J.J. Abrams Is Definitely Still Directing the New Star Wars Movie…Probably

Well, that got out of hand pretty fast.  Yesterday, Devin Faraci at BadAssDigest.com published a report claiming to have the inside scoop on who might script the next Star Trek movie (more on that in a minute).  In that same report, Faraci openly wondered why it was that he was still hearing rumors that J.J. Abrams was contemplating quitting his gig as director of Star Wars: Episode 7 due to production disputes with Disney.  Here it is:

“Speaking of losing jobs… why is it that I keep hearing tons of rumors that JJ Abrams is on the verge of dropping out of Star Wars? This has been something I’ve heard for a while now, and from multiple insiders. I know that he didn’t want to shoot the movie in England and was overruled, but that happened a while ago. This weekend at Comic Con I continued to hear these whispers. No director for Trek 3 has been found yet – might Abrams end up coming back after all, leaving Star Wars to someone else? I’m expecting Star Wars news out of the German Star Wars Celebration at the end of the month – if there is some sort of announcement of a title or casting and Abrams isn’t there, start wondering.”

Faraci is a 10 year veteran of web writing who has on occasion gotten the inside scoop on stories.  In this instance, he was not citing any specific source or claiming to break news.  Instead, it seemed more like a stream-of-consciousness musing.  Unfortunately, as far as the internet was concerned this amounted to yelling “Han shot first!” into a room full of Star Wars fans.  The story got picked up and spread as genuine news so fast that LucasFilm actually had to issue a statement, albeit a rather brief one (from DenofGeek.com):

“There is no truth to the rumour.  JJ is having a great time working on the script and is looking forward to going into production next year.”

DarthVader
They also followed up the statement with, “So cut it out you bunch of nerds or else we’ll stick Vader on you, and not that wimpy, Padme-loving Hayden Christensen version. We mean the real one…the good one!”

Yet there are still those who aren’t buying it.  Why?  Abrams admitted in an interview that he was not too keen on relocating his family (wife, 3 kids) to London, England for the planned 6 month shoot, but that was part of the deal before he took the gig.  Why?  LucasFilm’s new boss Kathleen Kennedy had already negotiated to at least partially film in London, the exact reason being tradition (all six prior films shot at least partially in the London) or budget (cheaper to film there than in California) or a combination of the two or an honest admission that we actually have no idea because they haven’t said.  It was reported last month that the exact location for Episode 7’s filming is to be Pinewood Shepperton Studios, beginning in early 2014.

However, way back in January The Hollywood Reporter indicated that Abrams actually initially turned down the job as director, with the mandated move to London being partially responsible.  He’s apparently barely ever had to film outside of Los Angeles let alone the entire state of California meaning his family, including teenage children, have never been uprooted before.  Directing Star Wars may be his lifelong dream come true, but it’s not his kids dream come true to leave all their friends behind for 6 months.  In that same THR story, it was revealed that Abrams initially only joined the project as a consultant.  They talked him to transitioning from that to being the director, but Kennedy acknowledged that due to the trepidation over the move as well as time commitments to Star Trek and various Bad Robot-produced TV projects it was still possible Abrams could revert back to simply being a consultant at some point.

Other than that, there is a “it’s been quiet…maybe a little too quiet” mindset taking shape.  When the film was announced, there was quite a bit of news coming out about cast (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford back in reduced roles) and screenplay (being written by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Arndt).  However, ever since Abrams was hired as director this past January there has been a Darth Vader-like death grip placed on news.

vader-with-the-mind-throttling
General-Audience: But, Lord Vader-Abrams, all I wanted to do was start a rumor about Jonathan Rhys Meyers being considered for a lead role in Star Wars 7.
Vader-Abrams: I find your lack of faith in my process disturbing!

This is in keeping with Abrams’ prior films, which he is notoriously secretive about (arguably to a fault, e.g., the decision to hide the obvious with Star Trek Into Darkness).  However, now that everybody has the thought of Abrams contemplating leaving in their head that secrecy suddenly looks more like a tell-tale sign of a troubled production.

Plus, there is the matter of Star Trek.  Into Darkness slightly under-performed at the box office this Summer, for reasons argued elsewhere on this site, but it ended up with a combined worldwide gross of $448.6 million on a budget of $190 million which meets the “did it double its production budget? If yes, it made a profit” rule of success.  That should be enough to get a sequel made, and one of the film’s producers, Bryan Burk, told Digital Spy that Paramount would like to have a sequel out in time for the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series in 2016.  That would mean it would need to go into production in 2015, which is exactly the time that Star Wars: Episode 7 is supposed to come out.  New Spock, Zachary Quinto, made splashes last week when he proclaimed the new Star Trek would go into production next year with Abrams back as director.  That seemed to align with earlier interviews from cast and crew indicating Abrams’s involvement with Star Wars did not necessarily mean he was out as director for a third Star Trek film.  However, the timeline was way off, and the story quickly refuted by Into Darkness co-writer/producer Robert Orci.  

jj_abrams_star_wars_star_trek_crossovers
I do believe that Abrams goes home everyday, walks in the door and drops to his knees to dramatically yell “They’re tearing me apart!” Marlon Brando style.

Abrams doing both a new Star Wars and Star Trek next year will not happen, even if he pulls a Spielberg (who directed E.T. at the same time he Executive Produced/un-officially directed Poltergeist).  If he finishes Star Wars 7 on schedule, Abrams could maybe do a new Star Trek in 2015 for a 2016 release.  However, that would likely overlap with the post-production of Episode 7 and definitely the promotion of it.  Moreover, both Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy have indicated they would absolutely push Episode 7 back if the story wasn’t ready in time meaning we should not be viewing its Summer 2015 window as a Doctor Who-like fixed point in time which cannot be changed.

The most likely option is that LucasFilms should be believed – Abrams is committed to doing the best Star Wars 7 possible (or simply can’t resist the opportunity to blind the world with endless lens flares keyed off of bright lightsabers).  If Paramount wants a new Star Trek soon they will probably move on from Abrams, whose production company, Bad Robot, will still be involved though.  It’s possible they could promote someone from within the Bad Robot ranks to be the new director.  Speaking of which, the part of Faraci’s report receiving less attention is the news that the third Star Trek film will likely have new screenwriters.  Into Darkness screenwriters Robert Orci and and Alex Kurtzman are reportedly returning as producers, but Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz will take over as writers.  Who are they?  They are the credited writers of the first Thor movie and X-Men: First Class, and have worked with Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman in the past as writer/producers on Fringe.

With all of this speculation there is one definite answer to a question posed by most cynics, “Is there any chance, regardless of director drama, that they just choose to abandon this whole proposed new trilogy and finally let Star Wars and, by extension my childhood, die?”  The answer to that is a resounding no.  Episode 7 is still happening; Disney paid George Lucas way too much for LucasFilms for it not to happen.  Whether or not it should is, well, an entirely different issue.

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