They’re both “Star Wars” movies.
Fine, that may be a slight exaggeration. (You, with the Spock ears: Please unpinch your fingers and slowly back away from my neck.) J.J. Abrams, director of both “Trek” reboots, has maintained much of the core DNA from the ’60s television series and the many films and television offshoots it inspired. But these newer movies have attracted the interest of a far wider audience — including viewers who would prefer to pilot the Millennium Falcon instead of the Starship Enterprise — because their genetic material contains the same molecules that made George Lucas’s “Star Wars” episodes such exciting, game-changing and, yes, exceedingly lucrative cinematic flights of sci-fi fantasy.
The best “Star Wars” movies — obviously, we’re talking original trilogy here — provoke visceral, emotional responses. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi teaching Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force, Lucas trained us to embrace the instinctive, punch-in-the-gut pleasures of popcorn adventure. In the new “Star Trek” films, there are still elements of the Gene Roddenberry saga’s cerebral tendencies. But these Abrams-ified creations — with their crackly Han Solo-esque banter and heroes forced to put out fresh, intergalactic fires every five minutes — understand that people come to the multiplex to have fun. And these movies are not embarrassed to admit they really, really want you to have fun.
In both “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Abrams, his writers and co-producers — who collaborated on such TV shows as “Alias,” “Lost” and “Fringe” — bring a crucial, fresh element to the series: a constant sense of forward momentum. Like the “Star Wars” installments, these movies gleefully zip from one plot point to the next in a way that other “Star Treks” did not. Those were just pictures; in Abrams’s hands, the “Star Trek” films are motion pictures.
Take the opening scene of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which immediately thrusts the audience onto the red planet Nibiru, where Kirk and Bones must madly dash to escape from massive monsters and a swarm of natives, all while a volcano threatens to erupt and spew smoking, lava-drenched rocks in their direction. It’s a pulse-racing sequence that calls to mind the beginning of “The Empire Strikes Back,” which placed Luke Skywalker in immediate wampa peril on the ice planet Hoth.
It’s no secret: At heart, Abrams is a “Star Wars” guy. During an appearance earlier this week on the “Today” show, he confessed, as he had in previous interviews, that he “was never a huge fan” of “Star Trek” growing up but that “ ‘Star Wars’ is something I really did love as a kid.”
For his next big project, Abrams will tackle “Star Wars: Episode VII,” an especially intriguing prospect. One must assume that he’ll apply many of the lessons and techniques he learned from his Skywalkered-up “Trek” films to that daunting, er, enterprise. And one hopes that Abrams once again will prove that it’s possible to simultaneously explore strange new worlds and harness the power of the Force, then make a movie that just flat-out, boldly goes.
Chaney is a freelance writer.