It’s no secret that Disney’s appointment of J.J Abrams to direct ‘Star Wars VII’ was a somewhat controversial decision – especially after his recent work revitalising the ‘Star Trek’ franchise. Some fans immediately felt that it was a bad idea to place one man at the helm of the two biggest major sci-fi franchises… or that his unique visual style would lend itself to one franchise over the other.
But for those (like myself) who think J.J. Abrams is the perfect man for the job, there’s one very good example of exactly why – ‘Super 8’.
Telling the story of a bunch of kids in 1979 who set out to make their own film, we soon find that things aren’t quite as they seem. Channelling various sci-fi classics from the ’70s and ’80s, ‘Super 8’ takes us on a journey back to a time when films were made with heart and soul. It’s a homage to the films I grew up with, and a visual treat for Spielberg fans. Of course, it won’t take long before you’re comparing scenes and themes with those from the likes of ‘E.T’ and ‘Close Encounters’.
And that’s exactly why ‘Super 8’ is so important.
Paying Homage to Steven Spielberg
First things first – Spielberg himself was involved in the making of ‘Super 8’. He’s listed as producer alongside J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk, but it seems their working relationship was a lot more than that.
“It was such a privilege to work with Steven,” Abrams told Time Magazine. “We had countless story meetings before I started writing… He was encouraging and critical in the most constructive ways. And because Super 8 is a Spielberg-produced movie — literally an Amblin film — it gave me license to embrace story elements that were in the DNA of the piece.”
Of course, Spielberg’s influence can be felt throughout – from the daddy issues of the main protagonist (ever present in his seminal feel-good film, ‘E.T’) to the sweeping military cover stories that plague ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. Even the visual style is very close to those earlier films, evoking a sense of wonder in much the same way as the originals.
But what’s that got to do with Star Wars?
Let’s not forget that the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy was created during the same golden cinematic era as Spielberg’s most influential work… and that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are firm friends to this day. In many ways, their styles are rather similar and it’s no secret that the two have collaborated on a number of occasions – most significantly for the entire ‘Indiana Jones’ saga.
Why is this important? Because there are many parallels between Lucas and Spielberg’s visual style… a style which was so perfectly rekindled in Abrams’s ‘Super 8’. Recreating the magic of these earlier films – some of the first Hollywood blockbusters – Abrams proves that he has the passion as well as the technical skill to pull of this very distinctive style. I have to admit that ‘Super 8’ brings me back to my childhood, to those first encounters with Spielberg and Lucas’s rather brilliant sci-fi epics.
In many ways, it’s as though ‘Super 8’ was an audition for the eventual job of directing ‘Star Wars VII’. And if you ask me, it’s an audition that Abrams nailed.
Rekindling the Magic
The biggest reason for this is that Abrams managed to rekindle the magic of those earlier films. Science Fiction in the 70s and 80s had a certain look and feel… and that’s exactly what we’re expecting in ‘Star Wars VII’. We’ve heard time and again that Disney are keen to re-produce the look of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy – most importantly, by combining the practical effects of old-school film-making with more modern cinematic techniques.
Is J.J. Abrams the ideal person to accomplish this?
If ‘Super 8’ is anything to go by, he’s already proven that he’s a lot more than just flashy effects and signature lens flare. Throughout ‘Super 8’ the alien threat is kept shrouded in mystery – a technique that Abrams often refers to as the mystery box. It’s this unique and rather brilliant style that’s reminiscent of these classic Spielberg films. Think back to the likes of ‘E.T’ and ‘Close Encounters’ – the mystery is often what drives the story.
But more importantly, Abrams sacrifices big budget effects for the good of the film… and this is a stylistic choice that will serve him well in ‘Star Wars VII’.
On top of everything, he’s proved that he’s capable of creating a film that sits rather neatly within the scope of those earlier films… and manages to rekindle the magic both visually and thematically.
And as a ‘Star Wars’ fan himself, there’s no one better to take us into the next era of the galaxy far, far away.