I sense a powerful disturbance in the force.
J.J. Abrams is not a name you should use in certain mixed company. His directing and producing in film and television has both courted and oddly simultaneously rejected certain factions of nerdom so as to earn him the ire of many. However, perhaps another source of disdain for the great bespectacled one has nothing to do with the merit of his work but the manner in which he promotes it and timeliness with which it is delivered. In the internet era we are more accustomed to being embraced by directors and film companies who so crave our attention and related business that they will practically hand-deliver us a film’s shooting script so we can know exactly what to expect (although they’ll redact the one or two big twists they cleverly hide away). Abrams, on the other hand, flatly rejects this methodology, instead opting for immense secrecy and deferring to delaying productions for however long is necessary to get it right. For example, this past May’s Star Trek Into Darkness was delayed almost a full year from its original announced release date of June 2012.
This approach is out of step with the times and not particularly popular. However, it also incredibly effective in building up anticipation, perhaps too much as the reality of his product fails to completely live up to the audience’s imagination. It also lends itself to endless amounts of speculation and insider reports from anonymous sources who are not nearly as opposed to spoiling things, such as the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous character in Star Trek Into Darkness (Khaaaaaannn!!!!).
So, perhaps J.J. Abrams was entirely the wrong person to take over the Star Wars franchise. At the time Disney purchased Lucas Arts and announced a new live-action Star Wars movie for a 2015 release as the beginning of an all new trilogy screenwriter Michael Arndt had already completed a 40-50 page story treatment. So, Disney must have felt that with a story already in place a 2015 release date was do-able with 3 years lead time. Then they hired J.J. Abrams, and all of a sudden there are insistent rumors of a troubled production, actors unwilling to join the cast, a script in disarray, and a feud between Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy. The most substantive information broke over the past two weeks:
10/24: Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) has left Star Wars: Episode VII. He had been working on the script based off his own pre-existing 40-50 page story treatment for around a year. J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had been thought to working with Arndt on the script, and in his absence will take over as the screenwriters. Arndt’s reasons for leaving are unclear other than being an in-demand writer who could make more money moving onto different projects.
10/28: JediNews reports that Harrison Ford’s reluctance to publicly indicate he has committed to taking part in Episode VII is because his demands to work on the project had not been met by Disney. The demands? He wants full approval of Han Solo’s storyline across the trilogy, and he wants Disney to commit to producing a new Indiana Jones movie. Disney’s compromise on the latter part was to commit to having a story treatment for a new Indiana Jones film completed by the end of the year. This is said to have appeased Ford, but his attachment to Episode VII remains rumored with nothing official (via BadAssDigest.com).
10/31: The Hollywood Report breaks the news that according to their sources producer Kathleen Kennedy has officially sought and been denied a delay on Episode VII. The reason for her seeking the delay is that the script is nowhere near ready, with conflicting reports about whether or not Abrams is attempting to usurp her authority on casting decisions. The reason the delay was rejected by Disney CEO Bob Iger is that the studio’s plans for a series of six new Star Wars films (a new trilogy and two origin story films) is contingent upon delivering Episode VII in 2015. Although both Kennedy and Abrams had previously indicated a commitment to getting it right and delaying if need be, the inside source in this case indicates Abrams disagrees with Kennedy’s assessment of their progress and is committed to the 2015 release window.
However, what concrete fact do we have? That Michael Arndt is no longer actively working on the screenplay, which is a notable loss considering that his most recent screenwriting efforts (Toy Story 3, Brave, Oblivion) are arguably on par if not flat out superior to Abrams’ (Super 8, Mission Impossible 3) and definitely better than Kasdan’s (Dreamcatcher, Mumford, Wyatt Earp). It’s been a looooong time since Kasdan wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. His recent track record indicates the magic may be gone. Everything else is unsubstantiated rumor, although as far as sources go The Hollywood Reporter has a solid track record.
How much of this is a J.J. Abrams veil of secrecy induced by-product of an information-starved reporting apparatus looking to create news where there is none? Or how much of this is “where there’s smoke there’s bound to be fire”? And how likely is it that this project will continue to be dogged by rumors throughout its entire production, both due to the enormity of the project (it’s a Star Wars movie!!!!) and insistence upon revealing absolutely nothing thus leading to a “you’re not telling me anything about it? Now, I have to know!” mindset.
Perhaps, though, beyond a “what does this say about how we report about and discuss movies, and how do we let promotion or lack thereof shape our expectations” conversation maybe the larger concern should be whether or not they can actually end making a good movie. As it turns out, it seems like we’re definitely only going to have to wait until 2015 to find out. That is, of course, if you trust the rumors.
May the force be with you…as you use the comments section to register any reaction you might have to this article.
- So what in the hell is going on with the release date of STAR WARS: EPISODE VII!?!? (aintitcool.com)
- One Year Later, Everything We Know About ‘Star Wars Episode VII’ (slashfilm.com)
- ‘Star Wars VII’ Due in 2015: Report (rollingstone.com)