By JILL LAWLESS
J.J. Abrams is master of one universe–and he’s about to try conquering another.
The director who rebooted “Star Trek” for a new generation, sending the USS Enterprise out again to explore strange new worlds, has also been put at the “Star Wars” helm. Soon he’ll direct a new film, the seventh, in the epic sci-fi franchise.
So while Abrams is in London to talk about his second “Trek” feature, “Star Trek Into Darkness” _ releasing in U.S. theaters on May 17–the topic inevitably drifts to a galaxy far, far away.
Just how involved, he says, remains to be seen.
Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII” is part of big plans for The Walt Disney Co., which bought George Lucas’ Lucasfilm empire last year for $4.05 billion. The company is planning three sequels and two stand-alone spinoff movies focusing on characters from the “Star Wars” universe.
Will Abrams direct the entire new trilogy? Will he be involved in any of the spinoffs? Will George Lucas play a mentoring role? He can’t say.
“I never see myself doing anything more than what’s in front of me,” Abrams said–one film, due for release in 2015 and scripted by “Little Miss Sunshine” screenwriter Michael Arndt.
But it’s a suitably energetic metaphor for the prolific creator of TV shows, including “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Lost,” director of films “Mission: Impossible III” and “Super 8″ and owner of Bad Robot, the film and television production company whose upcoming projects include a movie about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Compact and voluble, in natty black-framed spectacles and a dark jacket, 46-year-old Abrams is the epitome of the geek made good.
By his own admission, though, he has never been much of a “Star Trek” fan. Roberto Orci, a producer and writer on both Abrams’ “Star Trek” movies, says–with mock-horror–that the director “didn’t even know that Spock was half-human.”
Abrams’ distance may actually have been an asset. The “Star Trek” reboot works because it speaks to fans and newcomers alike. It’s the work of a director who was not overawed by “Star Trek’s” mythology or bogged down in its lore.
Abrams’ characters are drawn directly from the original series, led by impulsive, cocksure Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and uber-logical Vulcan first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto). But the filmmakers gave themselves freedom to play with character and plot, thanks to some alternate-universe sleight of hand.
Treats for fans of the original series are scattered about like Easter eggs–there’s the return of an iconic character, even a tribble.
If the stakes were high–first in reviving “Star Trek,” then in trying to outdo the first film’s box office tally of almost $400 million worldwide–Abrams said he didn’t notice.
For “Star Wars”–which he emphatically has loved since childhood–the stakes are even higher. Abrams knows he has to find a new way to approach material that has seeped into the global bloodstream. He also has to erase the tang of disappointment that clings to the inferior second trilogy, released between 1999 and 2005.
Abrams says his approach will be similar in some ways to the one he took on with “Star Trek.”
He is fairly certain about one thing–the worlds of `Star Wars’ and `Star Trek’ will never meet.
He hasn’t ruled out directing a third “Star Trek” film, though he acknowledges, “it feels unlikely–but it’s a very bittersweet thing to admit.”
Abrams, whose output suggests a ferocious work rate and a lack of sleep, insists he almost turned down “Star Wars” because he had enough on his plate already.
But colleagues scoff at the idea he could ever have said no to his dream job.
Pine admits to being “a little heartbroken that he won’t be back for the third to direct us, because he’s obviously gained all our trust.”
But, the actor said, “I’m excited for him and can’t wait to see what he brings to (“Star Wars”), because as a kid from the `Star Wars’ generation, it’s something near and dear to my heart. And I know what he’s capable of doing.”
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless