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A handwritten note on the new Star Wars set in Abu Dhabi shows that director JJ Abrams is fully aware of the immensity of the expectations around his latest project:

Among the cast Abrams addressed were Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in the first trilogy. But while the desert setting, lightsabers and conflict between Jedi and Sith might sound familiar, Abrams aims to take the story in unexpected directions.

“It’s great to take something like Star Wars and do something new with it,” he says. “It’s wonderful – I’m having a blast!” And no wonder. The self-confessed sci-fi geek has been handed the keys to one of the biggest franchises in cinema history – the $27-billion, three-decade-old behemoth that is Star Wars.

George Lucas may be nervous. The creator of the space opera kept an iron grip on the Star Wars universe from its debut in 1977 right up until he sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4.05bn in 2012. But Abrams’ usual approach is to tear up the rulebook – in his hands, even Star Trek suddenly became bleak and frightening, with Earth in ruins.

The new film, set 30 years after the apocalyptic finale of Return of the Jedi has been shrouded in a level of secrecy even Hollywood rarely manages. Little is known about the plot, and my gently prying questions are politely ignored. Details are instead being gradually teased out of the set – another note left by JJ last week dismissed claims that the Millennium Falcon would appear in Episode VII. Before you get too disappointed, take a look at where the note was left - on the Dejarik table from that very ship.

Perhaps even Abrams doesn’t know exactly how the story will unfold; in a YouTube interview released on May 4 (the unofficial Star Wars Day) Abrams said that he was “desperately missing his family back in California” – and still working on the script. The tinkering continues even as the cast gathers in Abu Dhabi, which – due to political tensions in the original location of Tunisia - has been chosen to stand in for Luke Skywalker’s adopted home planet of Tatooine.

 
 
 
 

Abrams says he will “honor” but not “revere” the original films, which has sent internet fans into a frenzy of speculation. There is much excitement, but fans fear change – Star Wars fans more than most.

“The Star Wars fans are some of the most passionate and committed folks around the globe,” admits Abrams. Which explains why he’s running a competition with the ultimate fanboy prize: the chance to appear Star Wars: Episode VII. His altruism goes further: “By participating in this campaign, Star Wars fans will be helping children around the world through our collaboration with UNICEF Innovation Labs and projects.”

It’s all a long way from Abrams’ deliberately cryptic TV series Lost, which propelled him to international fame. Lost was originally a standard drama about castaways before he flipped it upside down, supported by an array of fake websites designed to provoke conspiracy theories, alongside fake adverts for Oceanic Airlines. Abrams is famous for turning genres on their head.

“Lost was by design inherently a mystery, right from the beginning.” says Abrams. “By the time you got to the first ad break, you heard the noise of the smoke monster, and the cast realised they were in a world of complete craziness. After two hours, the audience knew that they were in a world of mysteries.”

 

TV is still a big part of Abrams' life. His most recent pet project, his “wholly original piece”, is a bleak TV series, Believe, which tears apart what Entertainment Week describes as Hollywood’s “signature product”: superheroes. Believe is dark, frightening, and Lycra-free.

Abrams says that superheroes have become “increasingly ubiquitous” in Hollywood – and that today’s photo-real effects technology needs to be driven by ideas, rather than films being created the other way round. Believe is much more human, the story of raising a gifted child. “The best science fiction stories use technology as a catalyst for great storytelling,” he says, “they’re not about technology.”

For his next trick, Abrams aims to make something impossible: a videogame movie that isn’t terrible. Working with Valve, creators of Half-Life and Portal, Abrams is creating films of both – and creating a game. “This is not like working with any game company – we’re working with Valve,” he says. “They are not average guys. They are not average anything. They are so smart. They don’t approach videogames the way any other company does. They have these incredibly deep, often crazy, but rich emotionally engaging stories. While Portal is a puzzle, it has this fascinating story, this history. The way the company works is unique. These guys are as much community builders and storytellers as anything.”

Storytelling, of course, is at the heart of the enduring popularity of the Star Wars saga – deeply influenced by the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, George Lucas set out to create a modern myth. He was, however, convinced he had failed – actor Richard Dreyfuss revealed that Lucas glumly thought the original would be a flop, saying “George said, ‘I made a kid's film,’ and he had wanted to make an adult film. And we all commiserated with the billionaire-to-be.”

Although the new film is set three decades after the first trilogy, it’s not clear whether the world of Star Wars has evolved as quickly as ours – but Abrams says that he is now writing in a world which is already “science fiction”. He intends to exploit those advances not to astound – but to engage.

“Technology has given us this amazing ability, we can create things that are photo real,” he says. “You can show and do anything that you can imagine. Now that we have got to that place - and Alfonso Cuaron showed that with Gravity - you’re faced with this question, ‘What are we going to show? What makes it emotional?’”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The rash of science fiction films in recent years is not simply a reaction to this ‘limitless’ effects of technology, Abrams says – it is a reflection of our own world, and in particular how smartphones are dehumanising us.

“Sci-fi has been with us for as long as there has been science,” he says, “Look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which used the science of that time. But we’re now interacting with technology so deeply every day, there’s more accessibility to those stories.”

“Increasingly we’re looking at that metal and glass thing in the palm of our hands, as opposed to the eyes of the people we are sitting with. Science fiction is happening in our daily lives – separation from humanity. Any normal social experience we have ever known has been hijacked by technology,” he says.

Despite portraying bleak futures - such as Portal’s empty, ghostly facility, or Star Wars’s galaxy at war, Abrams says he is optimistic about the future.

“I would like to think that I am an optimist about the future,” he says. “I think it’s sometimes difficult to remain bullish about the future, when you see the state that certain people live in, certain conflicts, the disparity between the haves and have-nots, the brutality of wars and terrorism, it is a daunting thing to be bright and shiny about where we are going. By nature I am a romantic about where things are going. There’s a need for hope - and that’s something I hope comes through in the stories we are telling.”

Believe is available to download from iTunes

 
 
09.06.2014
Feature:  

JJ Abrams on Star Wars Episode VII

Star Wars Director JJ Abrams

A handwritten note on the new Star Wars set in Abu Dhabi shows that director JJ Abrams is fully aware of the immensity of the expectations around his latest project:

JJ Abrams note on Star Wars set

Among the cast Abrams addressed were Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in the first trilogy. But while the desert setting, lightsabers and conflict between Jedi and Sith might sound familiar, Abrams aims to take the story in unexpected directions.

“It’s great to take something like Star Wars and do something new with it,” he says. “It’s wonderful – I’m having a blast!” And no wonder. The self-confessed sci-fi geek has been handed the keys to one of the biggest franchises in cinema history – the $27-billion, three-decade-old behemoth that is Star Wars.

Star Wars cast

George Lucas may be nervous. The creator of the space opera kept an iron grip on the Star Wars universe from its debut in 1977 right up until he sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4.05bn in 2012. But Abrams’ usual approach is to tear up the rulebook – in his hands, even Star Trek suddenly became bleak and frightening, with Earth in ruins.

The new film, set 30 years after the apocalyptic finale of Return of the Jedi has been shrouded in a level of secrecy even Hollywood rarely manages. Little is known about the plot, and my gently prying questions are politely ignored. Details are instead being gradually teased out of the set – another note signed by JJ last week dismissed claims that the Millennium Falcon would appear in Episode VII. Before you get too disappointed, take a look at where the note was left – on the Dejarik table from that very ship.

Perhaps even Abrams doesn’t know exactly how the story will unfold; in a YouTube interview released on May 4 (the unofficial Star Wars Day) Abrams said that he was “desperately missing his family back in California” – and still working on the script. The tinkering continues even as the cast gathers in Abu Dhabi, which – due to political tensions in the original location of Tunisia – has been chosen to stand in for Luke Skywalker’s adopted home planet of Tatooine.

Abrams says he will “honor” but not “revere” the original films, which has sent internet fans into a frenzy of speculation. There is much excitement, but fans fear change – Star Wars fans more than most.

“The Star Wars fans are some of the most passionate and committed folks around the globe,” admits Abrams. Which explains why he’s running a competition with the ultimate fanboy prize: the chance to appear Star Wars: Episode VII. His altruism goes further: “By participating in this campaign, Star Wars fans will be helping children around the world through our collaboration with UNICEF Innovation Labs and projects.”

It’s all a long way from Abrams’ deliberately cryptic TV series Lost, which propelled him to international fame. Lost was originally a standard drama about castaways before he flipped it upside down, supported by an array of fake websites designed to provoke conspiracy theories, alongside fake adverts for Oceanic Airlines. Abrams is famous for turning genres on their head.

“Lost was by design inherently a mystery, right from the beginning.” says Abrams. “By the time you got to the first ad break, you heard the noise of the smoke monster, and the cast realised they were in a world of complete craziness. After two hours, the audience knew that they were in a world of mysteries.”

Star Wars quote

TV is still a big part of Abrams’ life. His most recent pet project, his “wholly original piece”, is a bleak TV series, Believe, which tears apart what Entertainment Week describes as Hollywood’s “signature product”: superheroes. Believe is dark, frightening, and Lycra-free.

Abrams says that superheroes have become “increasingly ubiquitous” in Hollywood – and that today’s photo-real effects technology needs to be driven by ideas, rather than films being created the other way round. Believe is much more human, the story of raising a gifted child. “The best science fiction stories use technology as a catalyst for great storytelling,” he says, “they’re not about technology.”

For his next trick, Abrams aims to make something impossible: a videogame movie that isn’t terrible. Working with Valve, creators of Half-Life and Portal, Abrams is creating films of both – and creating a game. “This is not like working with any game company – we’re working with Valve,” he says. “They are not average guys. They are not average anything. They are so smart. They don’t approach videogames the way any other company does. They have these incredibly deep, often crazy, but rich emotionally engaging stories. While Portal is a puzzle, it has this fascinating story, this history. The way the company works is unique. These guys are as much community builders and storytellers as anything.”

Storytelling, of course, is at the heart of the enduring popularity of the Star Wars saga – deeply influenced by the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, George Lucas set out to create a modern myth. He was, however, convinced he had failed – actor Richard Dreyfuss revealed that Lucas glumly thought the original would be a flop, saying “George said, ‘I made a kid’s film,’ and he had wanted to make an adult film. And we all commiserated with the billionaire-to-be.”

Although the new film is set three decades after the first trilogy, it’s not clear whether the world of Star Wars has evolved as quickly as ours – but Abrams says that he is now writing in a world which is already “science fiction”. He intends to exploit those advances not to astound – but to engage.

“Technology has given us this amazing ability, we can create things that are photo real,” he says. “You can show and do anything that you can imagine. Now that we have got to that place – and Alfonso Cuaron showed that with Gravity – you’re faced with this question, ‘What are we going to show? What makes it emotional?’”

Star Wars quote 2

The rash of science fiction films in recent years is not simply a reaction to this ‘limitless’ effects of technology, Abrams says – it is a reflection of our own world, and in particular how smartphones are dehumanising us.

“Sci-fi has been with us for as long as there has been science,” he says, “Look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which used the science of that time. But we’re now interacting with technology so deeply every day, there’s more accessibility to those stories.”

“Increasingly we’re looking at that metal and glass thing in the palm of our hands, as opposed to the eyes of the people we are sitting with. Science fiction is happening in our daily lives – separation from humanity. Any normal social experience we have ever known has been hijacked by technology,” he says.

Despite portraying bleak futures – such as Portal’s empty, ghostly facility, or Star Wars’s galaxy at war, Abrams says he is optimistic about the future.

“I would like to think that I am an optimist about the future,” he says. “I think it’s sometimes difficult to remain bullish about the future, when you see the state that certain people live in, certain conflicts, the disparity between the haves and have-nots, the brutality of wars and terrorism, it is a daunting thing to be bright and shiny about where we are going. By nature I am a romantic about where things are going. There’s a need for hope – and that’s something I hope comes through in the stories we are telling.”

Believe is available to download from iTunes 

Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Vadim Sadovski / Shutterstock.com
Photo: David James / Starwars.com.com
Photo: Marques / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Lucasfilm / 20th Century Fox / Kobal Collection
Photo: Bad Robot / Esperanto Filmo / Warner Bros. TV / Kobal Collection
Photo: Lucasfilm / Kobal Collection / Hamshere, Keith
Photo: Lucasfilm / Kobal Collection / 20th Century Fox
Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
 
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