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May 27, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Into Darkness: A Vision for Our Future?

When we think of the future, the far future, where do you see the human race? Most would say in space; on other planets or travelling between the stars. It’s rooted in our consciousness to want go beyond the surly bonds of Earth and play around in our cosmic backyard. And since the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, we’ve been content to speculate about what we may see, who (if anyone) we might meet, and what kind of adventures we can have out there. The science-fiction genre has since produced several pop-culture juggernauts that have satisfied our wanderlust for space, the two biggest and most influential being Star Trek and Star Wars.

The elder Trek was born out of America’s Kennedy-era fascination with space, and creator Gene Roddenberry’s desire to make a show that was essentially “a Wagon Train to the stars”. Two network pitches later, Kirk, Spock, Uhura and the rest of the Enterprise crew were born. Famous for its deep philosophical plotlines and a controversial (for its time) multi-racial cast, it envisioned a utopian world where atheistic thinking remained unhindered thanks to the multiple scientific advances and alien diplomatic relations mankind had accrued over time. Since popularising science fiction on the small screen and cinema, the franchise has been ‘rebooted’ by Lost and Fringe creator J. J. Abrams. The show has since left its philosophical roots for a more action- and mystery-themed series, to mixed reception.

George Lucas took a different tack with Star Wars, reinterpreting the mythology and sci-fi of the past into a “used-future” space setting. The original trilogy, chronicling the story of Luke Skywalker, was modelled after the age-old hero myth, as defined by philosopher Joseph Campbell’s concept of the ‘hero’s journey’. The more politically focussed prequel trilogy showed a Roman-Senate-style of government being overtaken by a self-styled emperor, and eventually a feudal samurai-influenced overlord (yep, Darth Vader). The Force has its roots in Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. Han Solo is Buck Rogers on a budget. Old ideas with new twists… IN SPAAAAACE!

Lucas ended up keeping all the merchandising rights to his properties, giving him a Death Star’s worth of money from licensing and expansion into video games, toys and memorabilia. The movie franchise, however, went stagnant until 2012, when some disturbance in the Force made Lucas decide that he had enough money. After highly secretive negotiations, he decided to sign away all the Lucasfilm properties (including Star Wars) to Disney, for a tidy $4 billion sum.

Keen to test out the new toys they had been given, Disney swiftly announced that they planned to make a sequel trilogy (Episodes VII-IX) beginning in 2015, and some time later announced a director: J. J. Abrams, who had now established himself as an expert at
reinvigorating stale ‘space’ film franchises for the modern cinema-goer.

And here’s where the problem lies. One man has sway over the two biggest science-fiction universes in the history of humankind, with the potential to affect the imaginations of billions of fans-to-be decades down the line. Not to mention he is one of the few creators in
history to be his own competition.

Now, I could talk about Abrams’ over-reliance on his ‘mystery-for-the-sake-of-mystery’ brand of storytelling, or over-reliance on lens flare, but perhaps most problematic are the documented interviews in which he plainly states that he doesn’t ‘get’ Star Trek “[I]t always felt too philosophical to me…and this movie that we did, the goal was to make a movie for moviegoers, not just Star Trek fans.”

Judging by that statement and the criticisms both his Star Trek films have faced for being generic, Abrams seems content to ignore any sense of grander vision for these franchises beyond producing soulless popcorn thrillers. The potential for idea crossover here could result in both series becoming poisoned by their own blandness. Trekkies, Star Wars fans and sci-fi enthusiasts alike will have nowhere to turn for any original content.

This is the dark side of the Force. This is being in the Kobayashi Maru. This is NASA stopping any further manned missions to the moon, or Mars, or anywhere. This is the very fear not that the future is bright or cool or even interesting, but crushingly dull. This was the very thing that these series were meant to combat, but now they are the engines of their own destruction.

The thing about space and the future is that they share a common idealistic notion: that there is something beyond us out there, waiting for us. The world is not enough, and we want to go to infinity and beyond. In a time of overhauls, buy-outs and reboots, whatever happened to going where no man has gone before?

Should Darth Abrams ever lead us Into Darkness, the future will seem very bleak indeed.

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