Unless you have been hiding under the proverbial rock (which seems like both a bad and dangerous hiding spot) you probably heard the big movie news this week: J.J. Abrams is set to direct Star Wars Episode VII. A few months back when the new Star Wars trilogy was announced, I was admittedly upset. I haven’t completely changed my mind on the matter, but I do think that this directorial announcement says a lot about the current state of our pop culture atmosphere, especially when it comes to science fiction and big budget movie franchises.
First let us analyze the choice in director for this new Star Wars film. J.J. Abrams, like many creators from his generation, was touched and inspired by Star Wars when he was growing up. George Lucas (among other directors of his time) have a very clear influence on Abrams’ work. During promotion for 2009’s Star Trek reboot, Abrams frequently stated that he has always been more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan, and the success of that film is arguably due to the “Star Wars approach” he took to the material. To put it one way, J.J. Abrams taking over the reigns to Star Wars is like when Katie Holmes married Tom Cruise, her childhood crush. (Let’s hope that Abrams’ relationship with Star Wars ends up better than Holmes’…)
Since the news broke of Abrams’ new gig, many of us pop culture freaks have been using our overactive imaginations to picture what kind of Star Wars film we will get from the creator of this modern master of mystery. While theorizing and speculation is always fun, I find it fascinating that people aren’t looking at the more obvious, almost paradoxical issue. The issue being that we now live in a world where one single man is in the unique position of planning the directions for two very popular and very lucrative opposing film franchises. For decades there has been a rivalry between Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans, a rivalry that has always been heavily ridiculed by the “average” American movie-goer. This rivalry may still exist, but it is not as hyped as it once was because we now live in a culture dominated by the nerds. A little more than a decade ago, Spider-Man began the onslaught of superhero films that continues to this day, slowly removing the stigma attached to superheroes and comic books. In the past five years alone Iron Man became a household name, there was a Star Trek movie that was a critical and financial success and one of the most popular shows on television right now is based on a comic book series that was only introduced in 2003 (The Walking Dead.) Whether people realize it or not, “geek culture” has snuck up on them and infiltrated their lives. People who have never picked up a comic book still pack into movie theaters to see a Wolverine movie, even if it is god-awful. There is a whole new subset of “movie only” fans who have an entire continuity structure based off of those films.
This idea of “The Revenge of the Nerds” is by no means new territory, but there is no denying that the Hollywood reboot/bastardization machine has brought scores of new fans into the fold. With this perspective, Abrams’ involvement in both Star Trek and Star Wars is just the latest event in the covert Nerd Civil Rights movement. There is of course a larger discussion to be had about the Hollywood production machine that will eventually hit critical mass with its prequels, sequels and reboots. But for right now I think it’s nice to see this gradual entertainment shift as a bridge between the oppressed and the oppressed. If nothing else, at least now the stereotypical geek getting a swirly can have a short conversation with his jock captor about The Dark Knight Rises afterwards.