How Does J.J. Abrams Compare To George Lucas?

by Katherine Cusumano

When he took on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams surely knew that he'd be held up against the impossible standards set by George Lucas in the original trilogy (and, to a lesser extent, in the prequel trilogy). It must have been apparent, at the very least, from the flack he received when he confessed — during the making of Star Trek, no less — that he's a lifelong Wars fan, and came to Trek relatively late. Over the course of this year, as the hype around The Force Awakens has built, everyone from the media to the cast to Lucas himself has weighed in on how Abrams seems to be holding up under the pressure, and how he compares to the franchise's creator. So what's the verdict — how does J.J. Abrams compare to George Lucas?

George Lucas himself was the most recent one to compliment Abrams' work on his legacy, but he's not the first; the majority of the film's early buzz has been positive. But even setting aside testimonials from those involved with the production, it's impossible not to compare Abrams' body of work with Lucas' — including how he interacts with his team on set, the attitude and aesthetic he brings to his work, and the kinds of projects to which he attaches his name. Here's how they stack up now, based on interviews and a few well-educated theories.

1. Here's What The Cast Has To Say

Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) have both gone on the record about the differences between Lucas and Abrams' directing styles. Hamill told Blastr that "J.J. is much more upbeat — he loves the process." Daniels echoed this in The New York Daily News: "J.J. is more collaborative ... He likes to listen." Expanding on this, he explained that many of the decisions that went into the making of the original films happened before the cast even arrived on set, without any discussion with the cast members. In contrast, Abrams seems to thrive on the back-and-forth that brings a film to the screen.

2. But Star Wars Probably Won't Define Abrams' Legacy

A lifelong Star Wars fan, Abrams appears to have treated The Force Awakens with the reverence of a devotee. Daniels noted in The Guardian that "J.J. is far too respectful to suggest that he change the droid’s ways in any way," referring to his character. But Abrams also has the luxury of knowing that he's a sufficiently established filmmaker, and that Star Wars, while important for his future, won't define his legacy as a director. He has already made a name for himself as one of the creators of Lost and the man behind the Star Trek reboot. He's more likely to be known for his careful treatment of science fiction than for any single project.

In contrast, a quick browse of George Lucas's IMDb page reveals a director who could not get past his most famous creation. The American Graffiti writer/director made Star Wars in 1977, and since then, his writing credits have been overrun by the franchise and its various spinoffs, as well as work on the Indiana Jones series. There's something to be said for that kind of devotion. The Star Wars universe is internally consistent and coherent, and Lucas set up a strong framework on which Abrams can create new characters and plots to keep it moving forward.

3. Lucas Didn't Have To Confront The Same Hype As Abrams

Cast and crew alike have noted the secrecy (bordering on absurdity) at Disney surrounding details about The Force Awakens. Daniels explains that the script he received was typed in black ink on dark red paper to prevent photocopying. And when he tweeted about meeting a co-star on the film, Disney instructed him to remove the tweet immediately. The hype that has built up around the film, fostered by the aura of mystery, bears no resemblance to the release of A New Hope in 1977. "It was a daft little film and no one cared," Daniels told The Guardian. How times have changed.

4. But Lucas Also Had More Riding On Star Wars

Star Wars was, in many ways, a career-defining moment for Lucas. That explains in part why we've all been waiting for his response to Abrams' work with bated breath. Abrams told PBS that he thinks he may return to Star Trek, and that there's room for both franchises. But Star Wars quickly turned into everything for Lucas. Per the 2003 documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Lucas apparently vowed that he would turn to pornos if Star Wars failed — low production value, simple collaborations. We'll never know for sure whether this was a joke, since Lucas' film career took off immediately.

5. Their Visual Styles Are Pretty Different

Abrams has become known (and has become the butt of many jokes) for the many lens flares which shine over scenes in his productions. In contrast, Lucas's original films were grittier (partly a function of mid-'70s production values) and darker, his characters often more grotesque (yet endearingly so — think ewoks) than the sleek Star Trek aliens.

6. Abrams Has Left Out Some Fan Favorites

Chewbacca, Luke, Leia, and Han will all be back for The Force Awakens, but rumor has it that Abrams killed off Jar Jar Binks (to many fans, no great loss) and won't be resurrecting the cuddly ewoks. While they might not have been the most essential of Lucas' creations, with this decision, Abrams proves that he hasn't treated the first six films with total reverence. Lucas provided some much-needed levity to the dark Return of the Jedi with some of his sillier characters, but Abrams also often dwells in the macabre (think of that horrible scene in Into Darkness when Benedict Cumberbatch squeezes a man's head to a pulp with his bare hands.)

In just over a week, The Force Awakens will arrive in theaters. Though George Lucas has just given it his stamp of approval, it's sure to deviate a bit from the Star Wars that we know and love. As it should! Bringing a new director on board offers a fresh perspective on an old favorite, and if Lucas thinks it's okay, that's good enough for the rest of us.

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Images: Walt Disney Studios; Giphy (6)