Sunday, March 06, 2016

Captain's Log: New Trek Series, Old Star Wars

A flurry of news on the upcoming Star Trek series on the CBS pay site: Bryan Fuller, writer for Deep Space 9 and Voyager, is the showrunner.  Nicholas Meyer, writer and director of several Trek movies, is consulting producer and staff writer.  And GR's son Rod Roddenberry is executive producer, along with the COO of his Roddenberry Entertainment,  Trevor Roth.   Alex Kurtzman, of the NuTrek regime is also an exec producer, along with tv producer Heather Kadin.

Roddenberry said in a press release: “Moral dilemmas, human issues, complex characters, and a genuine sense of optimism: These are the cornerstones of Star Trek and are what have made it such an influential and beloved franchise for the last 50 years.”   Meyer mentioned his Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as a key to the direction of political comment.

At the same time, Fuller and Meyer emphasized that the series would be "different."  The initial press release indicated that it won't be about characters from past Star Trek shows.  (It should be noted however that "executive producer" and "consulting producer" can mean a lot of things in television.)

I still stand by my first prediction: that it is likely to be set in the 25th century or beyond, in the "prime" or GR timeline. Or possibly between TOS and TNG, but in that timeline. The CBS pay site is clearly building around Star Trek, and it is showing other TV series in the GR Star Trek universe.  So staying in the GR/TV timeline would make all kinds of sense, from "branding" consistency to a feedback effect from show to show to providing the new series with the depth of history.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if Nick Sagan were brought aboard, assuming he's available.  And I say once again, they'd be crazy not to at least ask Jonathan Frakes to direct and consult, and Levar Burton if he's still interested in directing.

On the Star Wars front, a fascinating pattern continues to play out.  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was an immediate blockbuster by any standards.  The opening reviews were mostly glowing and the fans were ecstatic.

Much was made of J.J. Abrams decision to go old school and avoid CGI where he could, in contrast to George Lucas in the previous three Star Wars films (now the first three in the chronology.) Abrams also brought back the beloved stars of the first trilogy (now Episodes 4-6), and introduced a new generation of characters, more diverse than the last. These new actors also got good reviews (mostly) and good fan reaction.

This film's gigantic global success, and the decisions made in contrast to Lucas's last three films (as well as Disney's rejection of his proposed storyline for this and subsequent episodes in what he'd initially envisioned as a 9 film series) seemed a melancholy repudiation of the old guy who created the Star Wars universe.

 But then the coverage took some odd turns.  A couple of Los Angeles Times writers wondered at length whether they'd all been taken in by the hype.  And then emerged: George Lucas.

In hype-related statements, he'd professed enthusiasm for the movie and Disney's plans for much more Star Wars.  But  then in an interview by Charlie Rose, George Lucas said he didn't much like The Force Awakens, and made some awkward joke about Disney being "white slavers" who kidnapped his children (meaning Star Wars.) Very soon he backtracked both on that comment and his opinion of the movie.

Not long afterwards Bryan Curtis in the New Yorker, noted that the conventional wisdom was that fans were glad to see Lucas exiled from new Star Wars.  But...

"Then the new movie came out, and a strange thing happened. Even as critics saluted “The Force Awakens” and fans turned it into a billion-dollar hit, both camps have come scurrying to the feet of Lucas, the master, rather than Abrams, the apprentice. To call what’s happening a full-blown critical reĆ«valuation is perhaps going too far. It’s more like a reawakening. For the first time in a more than a decade people are talking about Lucas with something other than withering contempt."

Even his reviled prequels (Episodes 1-3), Curtis wrote, were now being seen as "noble failures."  But Curtis' colleague at the New Yorker Richard Brody went further than that.  He wrote in ecstatic praise of two films in the more recent Lucas trilogy, Attack of the Clones and especially Revenge of the Sith.  (It's perhaps worth mentioning that though their reputation became fairly low, that trilogy was also successful with filmgoers worldwide.)

So people were talking about George Lucas in positive terms again. However as time went on, J.J. Abrams did not fare as well. "It took a unique—well, derivative—sequel to create an atmosphere in which Lucas could be viewed in a new light," Curtis wrote. "The biggest reason Lucas looks better is because “The Force Awakens” is an admission that, thirty-eight years later, the original can’t be topped."

The 'derivative' notion gradually became elaborated. Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times was perhaps the first to complain that The Force Awakened was maybe too much like Episodes 4-6.  Others pointed out resemblances in the story to Episode IV: A New Hope, the one that was once called just Star Wars.  Most recently, a Wired article described the findings of a computer science professor who did a data analysis that showed intricate mirroring that another site somewhat sarcastically headlined as Data conclusively proves that The Force Awakens is just A New Hope.

All this might be deja vu for Star Trek fans, who saw lots of resemblances between the villain of Abrams' Star Trek and Khan in The Wrath of Khan.  And then of course lots more resemblances between The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Abrams reportedly first refused to do this Star Wars film because he didn't want to become known as the maker of sequels.  But does he make sequels?  Or does he make remakes?  None of this invalidates the movies he does make, and both the differences and similarities to these previous films have meaning. Obviously millions of people like these films.  But the Star Wars experience may help clarify responses to the recent Star Trek films that have evaded definition.

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