JJ Abrams: Star Trek must escape the shadow of Star Wars

Yesterday in his interview with the LA Times Star Trek director JJ Abrams got people buzzing about humor, trek purists and of course…nacelles. Tonight the LA Timeshas posted the second part of their interview with Trek’s new helmer, and this time he talks about Trek’s optimism, the story, a sequel, and most interestingly – how the new film relates to that other big ‘Star’ franchise, excerpt below.


JJ on Star Trek & Star Wars
Goto the LA Times for the full interview, below is an excerpt of the discussion where self-described Star Wars fan Abrams discusses how he tried to take lessons from that other franchise while not copying it:

LA Times: "Star Wars" vs. "Star Trek" is sort of a classic Beatles vs. Stones debate for sci-fi fans of a certain age. You have said you wanted to infuse your "Trek" revival with some lessons learned from the George Lucas universe. Can you talk about that?

JJ Abrams: Well, I’m just a fan of "Star Wars." As a kid, "Star Wars" was much more my thing than "Star Trek" was. If you look at the last three "Star Wars" films and what technology allowed them to do, they covered so much terrain in terms of design, locations, characters, aliens, ships — so much of the spectacle has been done and it seems like every aspect has been covered, whether it’s geography or design of culture or weather system or character or ship type. Everything has been tapped in those movies. The challenge of doing "Star Trek" — despite the fact that it existed before "Star Wars" — is that we are clearly in the shadow of what George Lucas has done.

LA Times: How do you overcome that?

JJ Abrams:  The key to me is to not ever try to outdo them because it’s a no-win situation. Those movies are so extraordinarily rendered that it felt to me that the key to "Star Trek" was to go from the inside-out: Be as true to the characters as possible, be as real and as emotional and as exciting as possible and not be distracted by the specter of all that the "Star Wars" film accomplished. For instance, we needed to establish that there are aliens in this universe and yet I didn’t want it to feel like every scene had four new multi-colored characters in it. That is something "Star Wars" did so well with its amazing creature design. The question is how do you subtly introduce the idea that there are different species here. And to also do it differently than the ["Trek"] TV shows, which basically had someone wearing a mask sitting in a chair [in the background]. It was the balance of doing what the story needed us to do but also not feeling like we were trying to rip off or out-do what Lucas did.

LA Times: It is a challenge. There’s an early scene in your film where you have a crowded bar, music is playing and your callow young hero walks in, rubs shoulders with aliens, and then ends up in a brawl. You have to know that a chunk of your audience will be thinking about the "Star Wars" cantina scene…

JJ Abrams: That cantina scene is obviously one of the classic scenes in "Star Wars" and it was such a wonderful introduction to how amazing, how diverse and how full of possibility this "Star Wars" universe was going to be. In the subsequent films, especially the last three, so many scenes have that feeling, that they are just expanding and expanding the worlds. That was definitely something where I felt the burden of "My God, they’ve done it all." And the challenge is how do you do it where it feels real and meaningful and not like you’re borrowing from someone else. That’s just one of our challenges.


Goto the LA Times for the rest, including Abrams discussion of a possible sequel.

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Hopefully, infusing “Trek” with a little “Wars” will help it break away from the shadow of Lucas’ juggernaut franchise. Only time will tell.

God bless!

whats at “star war” ?

It will if they downplay the battle scenes from the new movie. So far it’s a dead ringer for a Revenge Of The Sith type battle.

I really hope that the Superbowl commercial doesn’t include it. In fact I’m dreading it. I want Trek to stand apart too, in the worst way. However highlighting the destruction of the Kelvin constantly does not get the job done.

Also the Ice monster scene looks vaguely reminisant of a scene from Attack Of The Clones.

Please Paramount, don’t put them in the spot!!!

Why can yall fans just wait till the movie comes out watch it in a theater an see how the story & the scenes are going maybe we fans might like the new movie I might B/C im goin to see it when it comes out it kicks ass.

He certainly gets what Star Trek is really about at it’s core.

The adventure, the optimism.

Wonder how he is going to do it, since he is making Star Trek look like Star Wars. JJ is getting to be annoying.

#6 You may just be right.
That’s why the less “Wars,” the better.
SW has been done- to death.

Now wait just a darned second,

by making Trek into Wars, Trek is going to stand out?

Space is huge, no real ship captains would ever get that close.

Lasers, phasers, disruptors, beam weapons, direct fire weapons, torpedoes, drones, seeking weapons, they are all effective at a distance.

In WW2, the tech was so poor that Dauntless fighter/bombers had to close in on Japanese ships, fly directly above them, DIVE diretly toward them, and drop their bomb at the last second and pull up all the while avoiding enemy fire.

Today, we launch cruise missiles from the comfort of our homes, in our jammies. Punk nose kids who failed high school but excel at video games launch hellfire missiles from predator drones in San Bernadino at targets in Afghanistan.

I repeat, STARSHIPS capable of translight speeds will be powerful enough to engage the enemy light years away.

There should be nothing in Trek that resembles a WW2 dogfight. Leave that to idiots who cant write, cant think, and steal all their ideas from movies that have already been made.

Lucas admits he stole everything and the dialog is lifted from WW2 movies. Remember when Gene threatened to sue Lucas for infringing on Trek? Now JJ wants to steal from Lucas?

Oy Gestalt

The last three Star Wars movies sucked. They were visually appearing, but the stories and characters were lacking.

This is from someone who loved the first two Star Wars movies (the originals,) and found The Return of the Jedi to be nominal.

You got a point on that one

Somehow I don’t see myself being too entertained by watching a ship sitting in the middle of screen firing at an unseen opponent. These things require dramatic license.

I think JJ makes a good point, and I don’t really see the concern that Trek is being turned into Star Wars just because it looks different and exciting.

He certainly makes a point that Trek must step away from Star Wars, but it should also (and this is a point a lot of the fanboys and canon freaks refuse to admit) step away – to a certain extent – from previous Star Trek efforts.

I don’t want this new movie to be Trek’s equivalent of a Jar Jar Binks introduction – should that happen, fans will assuredly be so vocal that JJ will wish he was “Lost.”

The problem is that Abrams is damned whatever he does. Often the same people saying ‘they don’t want to see so and so in it’ would be the same people saying ‘I want to see so and so in it’ if it wasn’t there, just because they want to complain.

And saying ‘It’s become Star Wars!’ because a couple of scenes just happen to have a vague similarity is insulting, self-righteous snobbery of a kind that seems to have overrun sci-fi fandom a lot recently.

If it has a battle scene, it’s star wars.
If it goes gritty, it’s BSG.
If it’s got a deserty-looking planet, it’s Firefly.
If it’s got time travel, it’s Doctor Who.
If someone’s writing it, it’s Transformers.

Hell, I could claim they’re stealing scenes from any movie ever written just from the same kind of ‘vague feeling’ people are claiming they’re getting about it being Star Wars.

And hold on just a minute, do people not want new people to become Star Trek fans? Is the fandom to be closed off to anyone new because they might have an idea… DIFFERENT to us? Heaven forbid a program about exploring strange new worlds might allow people to have positive or negative opinions contrary to one’s own. The very thought. A show about originality, but we can’t let it be original in any way that strays from what you want it to be.



I see we have a long way to go.

“Wonder how he is going to do it, since he is making Star Trek look like Star Wars. JJ is getting to be annoying”….well so much for optimism.

ok how is star trek looking like star wars…oh yeah space battles, that NEVER happens in the trek universe! Maybe that is something we must check. Time travel, ..not in star wars… EARTH not in star wars. UMMM vulcans, orion women and gasp the enterprise nope not star wars. A giant drill not in star wars but not in star trek either…hmmmm something a lil different. The last time i saw a giant drilling machine was in one of the matrix movies egads! It is star trek being more like the matrix! Look one thing is always constant in the world of creative thought…nothing is entirely original. So we can compare 2 minute scenes to every popular movie ever seen or we can just see the movie. Hey there may be some similarities with star wars with the excellent space battles, however I believe there is more trek. And there are enough sci fi nods to make people make a comparison to all sci fi movies. imo

Thanks Anthony for providing links to the full Abrams’ interviews with the Times. I’ve long been a fan of his work (as a straight guy over 30, I even enjoyed Felicity) and was pleased he was given the reigns for TREK. His work on Alias, Lost, and as a filmmaker on MI: III tapped into both a pop cult sensibility and a strong recognition of how Story is driven by Character and I hope that sensibility will be on fine display in May (and I say that personally while having problems with what increasingly sounds like an “alternate reality” story that will set the stage for the stories to follow). I appreciate what he says about STAR WARS as I’m as my much a fan of Lucas’ universe as I am of TREK (and am regularly pissed off by the unintelligent comments about those films that appear somewhat regularly on this otherwise fine site); he recognizes how deeply Lucas’ vision in all 6 movies has lodged itself in the public imagination and I believe he can work that perception with his smarts into something both honest-TREK and Abrams-ish (and I’m basically a ST purist).

Oh, and though they’re not doing one this week, I’m surprised no one has pointed out the Friday TV Club reviews of TOS over at The AV Club/The Onion. It’s a lot of fun.

This guy’s got it. He knows what he’s talking about and he knows how to make something entertaining. The entire idea of Star Trek makes it totally different from Star Wars. Just because a Star Trek movie has a lot of action and excitement does not make it Star Wars. If it did, then I suppose every action movie would be called Star Wars then, right?

TBonz! Haven’t seen you since Lower Decks! Hi…

This interview makes me far less comfortable than the priors… I am concerned how much he talks up the newer trilogy over the earlier. Modern Star Wars with its style over substance is not what I want to see emulated in my Star Trek. Hopefully it’s just me being too sensitive over my beloved Trek.

Just as long as JJ doesn’t get sucked into the trap of depending on special effects to make the movie interesting, instead of just telling the story with a little extra thrown in. Lucas in his last three films depended so much on effects, he lost the interest in the people and story in the films. The last film they did is a prime example of too much effects. Just tell a good story and allow the effects to help it flow, not take over the film entirely.

More evidence that the film coming out next may is Star Wars Episode VII

The problem with the Star Wars Prequels, in my opinion, INCLUDES the design… there is layer upon layer of detail in there and overuse of color that is simply there to stimulate visually… but there is no focus. No dramatic compositions that did the heavy lifting of subtle storytelling in the first two films… Now, there is hardly any time to sit still and enjoy a vista, because the camera is constantly flying around and the film is cutting back and forth so as not to bore younger audience members.

I’m seeing some of this visual mishmash in the new Trek… and I’m hoping it won’t distract from the experience.

When the heck did Star Wars get a monopoly, copyright, etc. on big special effects?!? Heaven forbid we should get a realistic look of what happening outside of the ship. Star Trek has always been about the characters, but honestly, people are not going to go see the movie if there aren’t many big special effects.

24, agree 100%. One of the things I loved about the original SW films was the fantastic model work and set construction. You could see the wear and tear on the objects, and that told you that these things exist in the physical world. They have substance, they have history- both within the fictional universe and in the “real world”. Then you go to the prequels, which, while being fantastic computer-rendered effects, lack that ‘real-world’ feeling you get when you watch the AT-AT get blown to bits in Empire Strikes Back, or when you feel immersed in the situation Luke and company are in when they’re about to be executed by Jabba in RotJ. You’re not distracted by how shiny the environment is; it blends seamlessly within that universe, and it pulls the viewer in without them ever realizing it.

re:24. darendoc – January 30, 2009

You hit several nails on the head there.

Trying not to out do anyone to me seems to be the right thing to do. When ever there is someone trying to make it bigger and bigger, is it really worth it? The objective should be trying to tell a story as best as possible.

Yup. Im there with you #24. I was trying to say all that myself. Too much special effects and not enough story.

I just wish they’d go back to using models in these movies. They always looked more real to me then anything I’ve ever seen with their computer effects.


And let us not forget Space: 1999 did Star Wars BEFORE Star Wars, blowing up uncounted Eagles in space, of which they had limited (yet somehow endless) supply. In fact it is those very sfx folks who went on to do Star Wars. And 1999 had a definite Star Trek legacy, they even shared an executive producer. So if anything Star Wars ripped off Trek utilizing 1999’s advanced sfx. Of course Star Wars ripped off WWII so did Roddenberry who was there! … unlike Lucas. I knew lots of kids who became fans of Star Wars first, but that’s only because it beat Trek to the punch and exposed a new generation of kids to SciFi before Paramount got their act together. That’s the whole reason STTMP was even made, to compete with SW. But it was too late … ST paled in comparison and was far too cerebral in comparison, in much the same way Space: 1999 failed to replace Trek.

The comparison is ludicrous anyway. Star Wars has a huge fantasy component that Trek never had and never will. The fact that both universes have aliens and battles is moot as a basis for similarity. Now, if Dr. McCoy whips out his new medical scanner and finds it now has a laser sword built-in, well then you know JJ’s gone too far.

Well, JJ just couldn’t be more wrong on this one.

Trek cannot be about aliens and effects and showing off cosmic minutia and mysticism.

Trek is about HUMANS. Humans exploring the frontier. People like you and me, like the pioneers, like the pilgrims. The movie needs to be about the lives and challenges of the pioneers and pilgrims, not the tribal rituals of the Indians and the migration of the buffalo!

“The HUMAN Adventure is just beginning….”. It’s about the adventure and journeys of HUMANs. What happens to us, where we go.

Trying to copy Star Wars and any other SF is going to kill Trek. They should be looking towards westerns and explorer stories for inspiration. Any successful Trek story should be able to be told on a Wagon Train or on Columbus’s ship. Whatever aliens or challenges they find are just MacGuffins, redressed for the era. Keep the focus on the CREW and not the set dressing.

Sorry #24 but you’re patently wrong.

The prequels are, if anything,even more carefully and ornately designed than the original films (and the original STAR WARS still stands as my favorite film). Lucas has always had a “graphic” sense of film that all his critics have never appreciated — the things you seem to criticize most , the color scheme and composition are paid an almost fetishistic attention in all six films, particularly the prequels…. in Episode I there’s a distinctly formal Kurasawa sense to almost every image right down to a shot of Padme/Amidala shifting her eyes while otherwise remaining absolutely still… the white on white clone factory in II makes everything almost transparent while the plot manifestations remain cloaked in secrecy…. the red, black, and gray color scheme throughout III (a film as nearly great as EMPIRE)… take a closer look and study the images and the sound design — I have high hpes for TREK since so many of those involved with the Prequels, Guyett and Burtt, are involved.

I don’t know… I just don’t know.


Like it (33) or loathe it (24), production design seemed the last and only element of filmmaking that got any real attention in the Star Wars prequels. Otherwise it was down the rabbit hole with ever less interesting intricacies of obscure Lucas lore (mitochondrians, anyone?). Abrams’ talk about character makes me hope he’s not falling into that trap.

Mitochlorians. Forgive me.

I’ll take great Star Trek over great Star Wars any day. By every measure great Star Trek is superior, except special effects, and that’s no big deal.

I’m not buying it that Star Trek is in the “shadows” of anything.

#24 & #33

Couldn’t be more RIGHT!!

The biggest flaw with Star Wars is it’s over produced attention to visual detail in lieu of focusing on the story, the characters & their portrayal.

When I saw JJ sitting down for coffee with Lucas, I knew we were in trouble here.

George Lucas is a mediocre effects producer & a terrible director, his advise should only be taken as a “what not to do” list.

Why couldn’t they give this to Peter Jackson or Quentin Tarantino; someone who knows how to make a genre film!

Star Wars is for children.

#38- Exactly. Star Wars appeals more to kids and Star Trek was always more for adults. That’s the difference.

35. I respect your opinion but watching the entire 6 film SW series recently amazed me with its assured, cohesive storytelling. As much as the sound and fury amazes, Lucas tells a great story with a stunning kineticism and a strangely poetic sense of cinematic rhyme and thematic redemption. Criticize the films as much as you want but they are distinctly unconventional blockbusters, as much as they unintentionally set the paradigm for crappy Hollywood movies, and I find them involving in the way that only pure cinema can, on both a dream-like and dirt-under-the-fingernails epic scale.

39. That’s just dumb and reductive. And I love ST.


“Star Trek must escape the shadow of Star Wars”

JJ!!!! You got the guy who works of Star Wars Designs to make the new Enterprise. Pine says he is making Kirk more like Han Solo!

Nero is a guy (In the Comics and the movie) Who Starts out as a good guy and stuff happens to make him bad. Sound like Anakin Skywalker.

So you want to turn Trek into Star Wars (Which you seem to love) and that is how you are going to take trek out of the shadows of Star Wars.

Oh and for people who will say wait and see the movie. Let me tell you this. One if you pay and see the movie..Guess WHAT! Its too late, they have your money. You think they care what you have to say then. They got paid!

I don’t think the comparisons between Star Wars and Star Trek are apt.

These shows have their individual identities- mythologies built around a very different storytelling scheme. Yes, they both take place in outer space, but that’s really about it. There is no either/or thing to address. I hope J.J. doesn’t give Star Wars too much thought in creating this movie.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
If JJ thinks that the last three Star Wars movies were better than the originals, he doesn’t even get Star Wars, much less Star Trek.

Star Trek is science fiction. Star Wars is fantasy with a bunch of technology.

46- SChaos1701 is dead on. Science Fiction versus Space Fantasy.

This was NOT JJ’s best interview on this subject.

32. Odkin

Did you even read the entire interview? Because whatever you think you read, it wasn’t that. Everything that you just said Star Trek is about JJ said in the interview. Seriously, are you just dumb?

JJ is answering the questions that were asked to him. If he gets asked about the aliens, he’s going to talk about the aliens. If he gets asked about the story, he talks about the story. Nowhere in that interview does it say that he focused the movie on effects, aliens, and stuff. He was merely talking about it because thats what he was asked to talk about. He has stated NUMEROUS times that the key to a movie is the story and how everything else is just secondary.

Something that I have been discovering recently is that Trek fans seem to be either intellectuals or complete dumb-dumbs.

Oh. and regarding JJ’s comments on the last three Star Wars movies, he was referring to the last three in the SERIES, not the last three made.

The visuals on the last three Star Wars movies were spectacular, of course, but there was little emotional investment of the kind found in the three original movies. They became just a lot of pretty pictures that I didn’t care much about.
And #40, the cohesive storytelling you write about I just did not see. The way they literally tacked on Darth Vader, Tarkin, and the Death Star at the end was really jarring and clumsy, and anything but cohesive.
Again, if this is what JJ holds up as a shining example, Star Trek is potentially in much worse shape than I initially thought.