“It’s why when people do sequels or rip off movies of a genre, they’re ripping off the wrong thing; you’re not supposed to rip off the shark or the monster. If you’re going to rip something off, rip off the character, rip off the stuff that matters.”
In my opinion this bit of wisdom, taken from his engaging 2007 TED Talk, sums up exactly why JJ Abrams has been at the head of some of the most critically and commercially successful film and television productions in recent memory. In an era when massive spectacle often eclipses a strong narrative, JJ Abrams has consistently delivered stories that place character interaction and emotional development ahead of special effects, which is impressive given that the guy is a sucker for explosions and lens flare.
Most people know him for his work on Lost, a show that, despite its controversial ending, remains a prime example of outstanding character development and narrative expertise. Others know him for his more recent work on the rebooted Star Trek film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness. Both films were widely successful, owing to their focus on the emotional development of their lead characters and the nuanced relationships between them. It would have been easy to go for spectacle over story but JJ pointed his admittedly lens flared camera inward and established a cast of characters that we genuinely care for. The fact the JJ was able to turn out two incredible installments of a franchise he was never even a fan of in the first place gives me great hope for his version of Star Wars, a series that he clearly harbors a great passion for.
So going back to that opening quote about ripping off “the stuff that matters,” JJ demonstrates a resonant knowledge of what makes a good sequel in the time when George Lucas had just wrapped up his lackluster Star Wars prequel trilogy (and that’s coming from someone who loves the prequel films, flaws and all.) It’s these little nuggets of truth that you can find scattered throughout JJ’s various interviews and speeches over the years that speak to his reverence and enthusiasm for the art of quality filmmaking, and that inspire the utmost confidence in any projects he tackles, no matter the size. [Star Wars: Episode VII](movie:711158) is a daunting behemoth of an undertaking that, while it is the dream job of every professional and aspiring writer/director/filmmaker/fanboy from here to Tatooine, is also a nightmare in terms of delivering a product that lives up to the Rancor-sized hype surrounding it. But if anyone can do it, it’s the man whose favorite scene in Jaws has nothing to do with the titular monster, but instead hones in on what draws us to movies and television in the first place: human interaction.
In other words, in JJ I trust.