I doubt I'm going to surprise too many people by saying this, but when news broke (however unofficially) that J.J. Abrams was in line to direct one of the new Star Wars films, my reaction was one of ... curious indifference. Curious, in the sense that I wanted to give more of a damn than I did, and failed miserably.
It's not that I think he's a bad choice. If anything, he's all too fitting a choice. It's that Star Wars, like Star Trek before it, has ceased to exist for me as a cultural entity of importance.
It took a discussion with someone else to tease out of me the reasons I felt as detached as I did from this news. I don't want another Star Wars movie, I said, much as I realized I didn't want another Star Trek movie, either. What I wanted was something entirely new to come along and give me the same jolt-to-the-lobes that those things did when they were still so new the typefaces used in the ads weren't even consistent yet.
I don't say this as a way to rain on anyone else's expectations — if you're thrilled by this news, by all means be thrilled! But for me, much of the thrill evaporated a long time ago, and I sincerely wish it hadn't.
My enthusiasm for Star Wars was hijacked when I found out about Kurosawa and The Hidden Fortress, and my enthusiasm for Star Trek was smothered slowly over the course of decades as the property passed from one set of hands to another. By the time we got the prequels, and the 2009 Trek, I'd reached a point where I was mostly an onlooker at an accident rather than an enthusiastic participant. Most everything that had been interesting to me about Star Trek, or for that matter Star Wars, had long since been bled out of it. (Does anyone seriously believe the Rolling Stones still have a reason to get back into a recording studio other than to justify charging three- and four-digit prices for tickets to another tour?)
I am not longing for some Arcadia of the past where everything was better than it is today. I don't want to go back to 1977; I couldn't if I tried. Besides, those things were exceptional in that time because they represented a step foward from the present moment, not simply a reiteration of what was already extant in the culture or, worse, a step backwards. I want to see what new things can be made when we step out of the shadow of the past, a shadow we keep lengthening, it seems, through our own efforts. Here and there, we're getting such projects: Chronicle, Primer (and now Upstream Color), Looper, District 9, Source Code, most anything Guillermo del Toro breathes in the direction of, and so on. We shouldn't be stepping back into the shadow of the very things SF in the movies has been trying to distinguish itself from.