I was shocked to see the reports that J.J. Abrams had been recruited to direct the planned Star Wars sequel. Unlike Christopher Rosen, I'm still hoping that the news is wrong, and that Abrams is just the latest target of the misinformed speculation that has already had Ben Affleck, Matthew Vaughan, Joss Whedon and others lined up for the job.
That isn't because Abrams doesn't have the required talent or vision. Nobody could plausibly dispute his position as the planet's leading science fiction film-maker. In other circumstances, he is a dream choice forStar Wars VII: the biggest job in sci-fi going to the director with the best possible credentials. In fact, most Star Wars fans probably wish he'd been around when the prequel trilogy was being put together.
There's just one problem: Star Trek. It is simply impossible to overlook the fact that Abrams is currently heading the Star Trek franchise, having directed a widely acclaimed reboot and now preparing for the release of the follow-up. Surely the two jobs are incompatible?
Star Wars and Star Trek, as anyone with a passing interest in galactic affairs should know, are the yin and yang of science fiction. Star Wars is action, conflict and spirituality. Star Trek is discussion, exploration and reason. In the typical Star Wars scene we see religiously-driven Jedi knights plunging lightsabers into the hearts of their enemies. In the typical Star Trek scene we see them debate the pros and cons of liberal interventionism over a game of 3D chess.
Fans of both franchises might take issue with those exaggerated characterisations, and in reality the two have much in common. In particular, Star Trek movies - as opposed to the television series - have become more and more oriented toward military confrontation over time. Abrams' own 2009 Star Trek is a prime example of this: the plot really had no philosophical bent to it, based as it was on the random appearance in Federation space of a revenge-driven Romulan with a big ship and time to kill. Still, the fundamental point remains. Star Wars and Star Trek are supposed to be different. They are different by design.
Even if they were not so distinct in outlook, it is troubling to see both franchises placed in the hands of one man. This is like Alex Ferguson becoming manager of Manchester City as well as Manchester United. He might go out of his way to make the teams play with contrasting styles, using different types of player. But half the fun of football is watching two managers trying to outwit each other. Likewise, one of the most exciting things about the prospect of Star Wars VII is seeing if someone can do for Star Wars what Abrams did for Star Trek. Knowing that it will be Abrams again makes it much less interesting.
It makes sense for Disney, who bought Lucasfilm with the obvious intention of making a large amount of money out of Star Wars. All other directors would have been measured against Abrams' high standards and near-impeccable record, and been found wanting. Disney did not buy a hugely profitable brand because they wanted to take a commercial risk. But creatively speaking, this move makes little sense at all. It is just about possible to like both Star Wars and Star Trek. But to direct them both, while maintaining a degree of artistic integrity? I doubt it.