An Open Letter to J. J. Abrams: ‘Star Wars’ Ain’t ‘Star Trek’

Dear J.J. (I hope I can be so informal…):

Just wanted to let you know that I have really enjoyed your revamp of the whole Star Trek thing. Yeah, I’m one of the geeks. One of the nerds. One of the Trekkers, or Trekkies, or Trek-heads, whatever they want to call us. I was a bit too young to enjoy the original series the first time around (I was five when it premiered on NBC) but I do remember seeing bumper stickers on cars suggesting that the network “save” the show. By the time the crew of the Enterprise went cartoon, I was 12 and a huge sci-fi fan. I enjoyed these animated adventures, but it made me hungry to go back and see what came before.

I finally got that chance in high school. Along with Monty Python, The Goodies, SCTV, and various syndicated obscurities, I enjoyed a daily 4:00pm routine, sitting down in my bedroom, homework cast aside, ready to enjoy another hour long look at Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty. I started to memorize favorite episodes, learn the names of the writers and scour the bookstores for novels by same. I started to pick up the nuances that I would have never gotten as a child and finally understood the camp value of William Shatner’s mannered interpretation of heroism.

In college, things got progressively more obsessive. My roommate and I kept the same afternoon ritual, our pre-dinner entertainment almost always centering on another round of “Space Seed”, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, or “This Side of Paradise”. When The Motion Picture opened in 1979, we waiting in line for the first Friday night showing. Afterward, we debated its merits, measured out some criticism, and even hit upon a new Trek-oriented catchphrase — “V-ger wants the in-fo-mation” — to mindless chant over and over again. We all went to see it a couple of more times, even if the overall effect started to diminish, and we were glad to read that a sequel was in the works.

Oh, I need to stop here and mention something else. During my time as a growing Trek fan, I remember seeing a trailer for something called Star Wars. At first, I thought it was some kind of strange pirate movie. There was a lot of what looked like swashbuckling and weird intergalactic dogfights. I didn’t really get it, but made sure to show up opening day to check it out (science fiction…remember?). Anyway, that experience will always remain a cherished memory. George Lucas did something I wasn’t sure was possible back then. He made this 16-year-old cynical brat feel like a five-year-old again. I sat spellbound as the final raid on the Death Star tested Luke Skywalker’s mastery of the Force, holding my breath until…

I know, I know. Shut up, Bill, and get to the point.

Okay. Here it is. Star Trek is not Star Wars. I know, I know. Duh! Right? Anyway, you’re missing my point (and I am sure you probably know this, but I have to put it out there). Trek and Wars comes from two totally different places. One is thoughtful serious science fiction. The other is a massively entertaining genre mash-up between Westerns, Asian action films, and ’30s serials. Each have a devoted fanbase, but I would argue that Wars has the more vocal and vehement than the Trek world. Since I find myself more in the latter than the former, I feel I can comment. And now with social media capable of taking the cultural pulse of something in a fraction of the time, the differences between the two are beyond transparent.

Now, I bring this up for one reason: BE CAREFUL! So far, you’ve gotten away with all the Trek rebooting because… well, let’s face it… the franchise was on its last legs, commercially when you stepped in. Few cared about the continuing connected TV series and the movies weren’t making much of a splash. So you came along, took Kirk and the crew back to their roots, offered up an intriguing parallel universe where you could invent your own relationships and personality clashes, and took off, and the most brilliant thing? You kept it true enough to the source that even us die-hards have difficulty disagreeing with your choices.

This won’t happen with Star Wars. No. It won’t. Again, I am sure you know this, but it bears repeating. The Star Wars obsessives are already out in force, waiting to find fault in anything you do. Great, you’re bringing back Luke, Leia, and Han? Better do it right or there will be Messageboard Hell to pay. You see, unlike Trek, who made its big cultural splash in the ’60s only to squander some of it in the ’70s and ’80s, Wars has never suffered. Even when Lucas himself tried to kill it off with three horrific prequels, the fanbase rose up and reclaimed their childhood, and that’s the key. You are messing with people’s memories here.

Also, Trek was and is more self contained. If you were dealing with Kirk et al, and not the crew of the Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, there is a finite amount of material to work with. Wars has always interconnected everything, turning the 1977 blockbuster into one gargantuan mythos. Put it this way, ask a Trek fan what storyline they’d like to see tackled in the third film and you’re bound to get a few differing answers. Ask the same question of a Wars obsessive and they will name-check video games, comic books, novels, web series, fan fiction, TV shows, animated adventures, etc. It’s like drawing from the history of the world vs. the history of the state of Rhode Island.

And Wars fans are mean. They’re vicious. Wrong them and they will attack you in ways unheard of, even amongst the most adamant of online trolls. This means that dealing with the potential blowback from a Star Wars VII mishap will be daunting. These people are out for blood. Now, I love the series, but I am not so hopeless devoted to it that I can’t see the artistic forest for the purist trees. You can do with it what you will, but I warn you, the road won’t be as easy as it was/is with Trek. Remember, there is still a very vocal contingent slamming you for daring to stain the sainted Khan legacy. Imagine if you mess with Yoda. Or Chewbacca. Or — heaven help us — Darth Vader.

I know, I know, this will be a whole new world updated and inspired by, not directly based on, the previous Wars lore. You understand the task ahead and, besides, most of these issues have been addressed by Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), who was in charge of the story and script. All you have to do is show up, keep the action moving, and add in some of those wondrous lens flares that everyone loves so much. Still, it bears repeating — Star Wars ain’t Star Trek. One’s for thinkers. The other’s for doers. You successfully mixed, Reese’s style, some derring-do into the world of Kirk and his pals. I’m not sure a galaxy far, far away is ready for any insertion of smarts. Be careful.