J.J. Abrams responds to ‘Dear J.J.’ video

About a month ago, a little video called 4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again did the rounds. The four rules were as follows:

  1. The setting is the frontier
  2. The future is old
  3. The Force is mysterious
  4. Star Wars isn’t cute

We’ll get to those four rules in a second, but here’s Abrams’ response, quoted in the Telegraph:

I would say that (the website conveys) a feeling that we share very much…

I loved how Star Wars had that sense of a world far beyond the borders of what you can see and have been told—it’s one of the things it did so brilliantly.

If you watch the first movie, you don’t actually know exactly what the Empire is trying to do. They’re going to rule by fear—but you don’t know what their end game is.

The beauty of that movie was that it was an unfamiliar world, and yet you wanted to see it expand and to see where it went.

In fairness, he later added…

A lot of kids who saw all the prequels when they were young really do identify with those movies as much as my generation identified with the originals.

Note that Abrams doesn’t address the “rules” directly. What he does do, however, is relate Star Wars back to his “mystery box” concept, whereby the audience is drawn into the world by continually posing (often unanswered) questions and more generally providing hints of a larger world without going into too much detail.

So how does all of this relate to the four rules above?

The 4 Rules video is somewhat simplistic. For starters, Star Wars is not a western per se but rather a pastiche, combining samurai movies, fairy tales, Arthurian legend, war movies, swashbucklers, space adventures and yes, westerns into a genre-bending mix all its own. And there’s always been room for cuteness in Star Wars ever since Artoo-Detoo first appeared onscreen.

But the “rules” are (perhaps somewhat clumsily) trying to address a larger point, that the prequels didn’t evoke the same earthy charm and sense of wonder that drew people to Star Wars in the first place. The prequels always seemed somewhat intellectually removed, never quite engaging emotionally with the audience—the world didn’t feel as “real” or credible as it did in episodes IV-VI.

Here’s what Lawrence Kasdan had to say back in February:

There are certain pleasures that we think the saga can bring to people that they’ve been missing, and we’re hoping to bring them that, and at the same time, have them feel that it’s all new… The first three, Star Wars, Empire and Return of the Jedi are all sort of more about people than the ones that followed.

Whether you agree with that assessment or not, the 4 Rules video went viral for a reason. A lot of people feel similarly, even if they’re not sure why, and Abrams and Kasdan apparently get that on a fundamental level. It seems obvious that they won’t be turning Star Wars into an exclusively gritty space western (as the video suggests), but maybe they will return to the charm and sense of wonder that permeated the original trilogy.

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