Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Difference in the Stars

What forthcoming movie with "Star" in the title dumped its first screenwriter and story ideas, and was being written in a hurry up to its deadline, even as the rest of the production was clamoring for information so sets could be built etc.?

If you're a Trek movie fan, you're probably thinking of recent interviews by Simon Pegg, now co-writer of its next movie as well as actor in it.  But apparently this also describes the new Star Wars film, coming out this December.

That however is where the resemblance between these two projects pretty much ends.  How they differ is interesting and maybe illuminating.

The promotional machinery for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is getting into gear, not only with teaser trailers but with appearances on the convention circuit.  Some of the movie's actors--both new and beloved from the classic "middle" three films (but first three released)--have made appearances, along with executives like Kathleen Kennedy.  But the star of those shows and clearly the new face of the franchise is the film's director, J.J. Abrams.

The next Star Trek film has yet to go into production (scheduled for this summer) for its release in 2016, and so promotional machinery hasn't been engaged.  But it's still eerily quiet.  And it suggests this question: who exactly is the face of the Star Trek franchise?  Or even the active half--the Paramount movie?  Or the face of Star Trek in general?

For a generation of course it was Gene Roddenberry, and then when there was a lot of Star Trek on TV it hardly mattered, because the cast of TNG for example were active leaders, and Rick Berman was visible when needed, and the original series stars were making Trek movies.  After the Trek business was divided between CBS and Paramount, the only active projects were the Paramount films, and the face of them was...J.J. Abrams.

He was producer, he was director and had his hands in the scripts.  One of the writers, Roberto Orci, maintained a very visible presence on fan boards and Twitter.  Abrams had the smarts to bring Leonard Nimoy aboard his movies, which added cred and continuity.

Now Orci is out of the picture in more ways than one (and may have damaged his ability to represent Trek by a pattern of let's say controversial comments and responses to fans and writers on the Internet,) and Star Trek has suffered the enormous loss of Leonard Nimoy.  And J.J. Abrams, whose company is still pretty much in charge of the next movie, is busy on his other job.  His face is on another movie with Star in the title.

So basically, as an ongoing project, Star Trek has no face.  Or apparent leader.  Or much in the way of continuity.

Continuity is certainly something that Star Wars has, and is making an important part of its promotions.  While Star Trek has a hot director who has apparently never directed anything like a Star Trek movie before,  and two writers who have never written anything like a Star Trek movie before, and have never worked together before either, the new Star Wars movie was written by Abrams with Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back.

No one knows if any actors from Star Trek's past will appear in the next movie.  It seems doubtful, even though its release on Trek's 50th anniversary would make it pretty appropriate. In fact the Paramount film seems to have spurned offers of participation by past Trek icons.  Star Wars however has three beloved human actors and several other beloved characters which we can safely guess are featured prominently.

 This includes a bona fide Hollywood star in Harrison Ford, who has coincidentally enhanced his Hans Solo stature by becoming a real world hero: he piloted a crashing plane to safety and without endangering others, with what other pilots describe as perfect skill, including precise knowledge of that specific and rare aircraft.

Meanwhile, J-Trek has a group of attractive actors who appeared in the past two films, but beyond fandom are not really associated with their Trek roles, and aren't major presences on the Trek convention circuit.  Several of them are in other prominent films and franchises, which is great for their careers, but does not create an iconic presence for Star Trek.  Two films is probably not enough anyway to create that kind of presence.  No matter how many movies and plays Patrick Stewart does, he will always be Jean Luc Picard, and not only to Star Trek fans at conventions.  William Shatner has assumed more of a leadership role in representing Trek among fans, but gets little love from its corporate masters.

Morever, J.J. Abrams never was accepted as the face of all of Trek.  He was J-Trek, and perhaps that's all he tried to be. But by embracing Star Wars past, including the actual actors as well as the original characters, he's become the emblem of Star Wars as a whole, the heir apparent to George Lucas.

Months from now, when the next Trek film is finished or closer to it, its director and cowriters and stars will trot around the convention circuit hoping to hype excitement--who knows, maybe the currently unengaged J.J. will be prominent among them.  In the meantime, judging from a YouTube or two I've seen of Abrams etc. Star Wars appearances, the kind and quality of fandom that Star Trek pioneered is being reconstituted elsewhere.  I take particular note of the Star Wars Force for Change project that raises money for UNICEF--a lot of money.  It's the kind of thing Star Trek fandom used to do, although I'm not aware of such official organization and support (Disney kicked in a million bucks to get it started.)

Trek fans are obviously still involved in worthy projects, like supporting LeVar Burton's efforts on behalf of Reading Rainbow.  But most of what I see on the Internet is about products.  Star Trek as a living enterprise appears to be floundering, and with it perhaps the essential value, its soul.

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