‘Star Wars’ and the disappearance of Michael Arndt

The internet blew up today. I suppose it does every day. But today one of the topics granted the pop culture status of “trending” was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It earned this because a second teaser trailer was dropped this afternoon. Personally, I found this trailer a little more inspired than the last one, released in December. But it still failed to get me at all Star Wars levels of stoked. I have a few reservations about the content of the advertisements. But the bulk of my discontentment revolves around some behind the scenes shuffling that those who don’t listen quite closely enough might have easily missed.

What I’m talking about here is writing. In October of 2012, George Lucas sold the rights to Star Wars. By that time screenwriter Michael Arndt had already begun work on the new film. Three months later J. J. Abrams (Star TrekSuper 8) was announced as the director. Then in October of the following year, Arndt was removed from scripting duties and replaced by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).

Abrams is very much  a corporate Hollywood machine. I’ve never considered him particularly talented even though he has made a few decent films. The last two Star Trek films weren’t bad. But at best his films feel like they fill out a checklist of necessary qualities without actually sparking any life in them. This is a little ironic because his Godfather in the industry is none other than nostalgia master Steven Spielberg.

As a child, J. J. Abrams and his friend Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) sent some super 8 short films to Spielberg. The auteur then sent his own childhood films to Abrams and Reeves to edit and organize so he could watch them without having to dig through whatever else his family might have filmed growing up. This was Abrams’ in for the industry. As a colleague of George Lucas and filmmaker of a similar era and style, Spielberg’s tie  to Abrams does  make him a logical choice. Rumor has it that Lucas hand picked him. This at least seems to have spread like wildfire across the internet. But I can’t find it tracing back to a legitimate source and I’m not sure I buy it. Even if he did though, this kind of logic feels more like a technicality than a legitimate qualification.

The fact that Abrams directed Star Trek obviously played a role in him earning the job. But I still think that Abrams’ work (specifically the Star Trek films) is consistently cold and distant from its characters. His films are full of fast zooms, lens flares, and big ass booms. They are well done and often a step or two ahead of the average blockbuster. But I think the corporate, almost plastic feel of his films is almost dead opposite the experience of watching an old Star Wars or a Spielberg. And Star Wars has a spiritual component in the Force that I just can’t imagine Abrams being able to pull off.

And Arndt, who it seems was pushed off of the project, was absolutely perfect for it. Many of the announcements about the upcoming reboot have been on point. The cast of the original trilogy is returning (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fischer, and Mark Hamill), John Williams is back, they are shooting it on film instead of digital, they are using puppets instead of CGI, the list goes on. But the best and most exciting aspect of the entire project for me was Michael Arndt. Having worked on Toy Story 3 (which is amazing, by the way), he proved that he could write very similar material that plays successfully to a similar audience as Star Wars, and that he could pick up a pre-existing franchise and match it stylistically.

When Arndt was removed, Abrams made the following statement to Deadline:

“It became clear that given the time frame and given the process and the way the thing was going that working with Larry in this way was going to get us where we need to be and when we needed to be. Working with Larry Kasdan, especially on a Star Wars movie is kind of unbeatable….

Working with Michael was a wonderful experience and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of his or adore him more, He’s a wonderful guy and was incredibly helpful in the process. [This event] doesn’t preclude working with Michael again in the future, he is one of the best writers around.”

It all seems a little fuzzy. Apparently, as Hollywood Reporter claims, there was a dispute regarding which characters to emphasize in the new franchise. Apparently Arndt’s script was about the children of Luke, Leia, and Han. This was to be the next generation. Just as Obi Wan progressed in the prequels from a young hero to the old advisor, so would the former protagonists in the new films evolve. Abrams and Kasdan wanted to make the seventh film an adventure centered around the old crew. Abrams won out. What I find curious is that MoviePilot reports Lucas was on Arndt’s side in this debate. This goes very much against the theory that he hand picked Abrams.

I personally do not care who the film is about (though I think Arndt’s way makes more sense). But I do care about quality. And I know that Arndt is an incredibly talented writer and a great fit for this project. Abrams was one of the writers on Armageddon. Need I say more?

Because it was still the intention on Abrams’ part that the eighth and ninth films be about the offspring of the old crew, it was thought that perhaps Arndt’s work would shift to those films. But then this news hit and that theory went out the window. So Arndt is just totally out of the picture. And because no one that works on a Star Wars film can talk about a Star Wars film, he hasn’t said much about the whole ordeal.

The new trailer is pretty good, I guess. But I will say that it offers one fast zoom, a couple of classic J. J. screen flares, and one too many booms. So I’m not bouncing off my walls about this yet; I’m definitely hesitant. I’m also surprised there isn’t more Jedi theme in this ad.


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