NO SPOILERS FOR LAST JEDI, I PROMISE.
I watched The Last Jedi yesterday. Long story short: probably my favorite Star Wars movie after The Empire Strikes back. Rian Johnson managed to elevate the universe and the story of the new trilogy to a surprising level, raised the bar of quality for all SW movies to come. So I truly enjoyed it. I didn’t expect to after the last two films but I did.
Anyway, let’s get back to my favorite dead horse: Star Trek.
I’m kidding, slightly, but Trek and Wars share a common element now: two films directed by J.J. Abrams each. And while Episode IX is not filming yet and doesn’t even have a title, Last Jedi and Star Trek Beyond both have the dubious honor of following in the footsteps of a J.J. Abrams directed movie that really turned me off on the respective franchise.
Star Trek 2009 was the first in the new Kelvinverse and that movie was alright, I suppose. I talked about it before, but after some back and forth and how much or how little I liked it, I eventually settled on it being a necessary movie that didn’t reinvent the wheel but was necessary to bring the franchise back in the public eye. I thought that Abrams was a director who made rollercoaster movies: thrill rides when you’re on them but kinda boring and predictable when just looking at them from the distance. Oh well, there were worst films.
Next up was Star Trek Into Darkness, a film I have railed against before. But here’s the biggest issue: it’s the most useless of all the films. It really didn’t need to exist. It’s Star Wars counterpart is probably Rogue One, another movie that didn’t need to exist, and one that also has huge quality problems in its two halves, just reversed from ID. Again Abrams didn’t elevate the material and the favor he had built up for bringing Star Trek back quickly evaporated because it clearly was just a cash grab with no thought put into it. It didn’t help that he surrounds himself with mediocre writers and producers like Orci, Kurtzmann, and Lindeloff who he is unable to control, be it in content or quality. Once more a movie where his insane pacing leaves you too exhausted to look at the shiny keys to notice the plot holes until the second time round.
At that point I had thought this was maybe how Trek movies had to be made. I was in the same position after Force Awakens and Rogue One. Either you get a hyperactive sugar-rush of a movie that cuts out all the character development and quiet moments with endless action, or you get Rogue One, which bores you to death for an hour and a bit before getting to the actual Rogue One-ing of the story.
Enter Beyond and The Last Jedi. Both films stuck with the dubious honor of fixing the problems started by its predecessors and both pulling off a spectacular job all things considered. The problems the films are still stuck with are all holdovers from the previous installments in the franchise: the character development feels very abrupt from the last film, almost to the point of being complete rewrites. But in these cases it’s okay because they are much more compelling this way. The story of Last Jedi also still stands on wooden legs as the stakes of the new status quo aren’t explained very well. Apparently the New Republic fell over the course of a long weekend and now the Resistance is back to being the underdog instead of the government. Oh well, growing pains.
And while both Beyond and Last Jedi made me excited again for the franchises now that they fixed the issues with the previous ones, Star Wars also has the dubious honor of now being handed back to JJ Abrams. While the Star Trek Kelvinverse films now basically continue as high budget episodes of the TV show in the Prime timeline, arguably having subtly retconned everything new and returned us to everything that worked about the old universe, the deep characterization and excellent plotting of Last Jedi, will most likely not survive the transition back to Abrams.
JJ Abrams is known for many things, subtly is not one of those elements. Abrams has proven time and time again that he is willing to cut characterization for more explosions, basically making him Michael Bay with a steady cam and slightly nerdier franchises. Last Jedi had shorter action beats and a slightly longer runtime but was thus able to have a surprising amount of storytelling, characterization, and acting-based scenes. For me that’s a wise trade-off in the long run. It will help make Last Jedi age more gracefully, same as Empire Strikes Back did compared to the other two, which were received much better on release than nowadays.
Two years later and people are already backpeddling on the quality of Force Awakens, waking up the shallow characterization and special effects-heavy breakneck pacing. Never mind the fact that Abrams has never delivered a satisfying conclusion to a story in his life, I’m worried about Episode IX. Mark my words: while it will win in the eyes of fans at first for the amount of action, flashy bits, and elements lifted from previous films, it will be just as shallow as Force Awakens was in the end. I hope I’m wrong, but what I’ve seen so far has left me worried.