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'Star Wars' & J.J. Abrams: Superfans Bonnie Burton, Tracy Duncan, & Eric Geller Weigh In

By Christian Blauvelt, Hollywood.com Staff

It's just been a few days since news first broke that J.J. Abrams will be directing Star Wars: Episode VII but fans of that Galaxy Far, Far Away everywhere are still mulling over what exactly it means for the beloved franchise. Not to mention that it's still a shock that Abrams, who relaunched that other fountainhead of geek culture, Star Trek, in 2009, is going to be involved at all, given his repeated denials that he'd ever be at the helm. So what are the fans thinking? We asked three of the biggest names in all of Star Wars fandom.

"Half of me thought, 'Of course,'" says Eric Geller, an editor at Star Wars fansite TheForce.Net, about when he heard the Abrams news. "And the other half thought, 'But he already said no!' And then the first half of me shouted down the second half because misdirection is as old as time in the movie business." Tracy Duncan, the editor and webmaster of Club Jade, a site devoted more to female Star Wars fans, agrees. "I was a little surprised when word about Abrams came down," Duncan says. "The man was involved with Star Trek, has who-knows-what-else on his plate, and most importantly, had denied it twice!"

TheForce.Net and Club Jade are possibly the two best known of all Star Wars fansites and are repositories of geeky wit and insight. Want to learn the latest scoop about anything related to the saga? Go to TheForce.Net and Club Jade. Want to take the instant temperature of Star Wars fans about how they feel regarding, say, Abrams being hired to helm Episode VII? Club Jade and TheForce.Net have you covered. But for a real Lucasfilm insider's take, you have to turn to Bonnie Burton. A senior editor and social media manager of Lucasfilm until last year, Burton is a massive force, pun intended, in Star Wars fandom. And she was decidedly less shocked that Abrams, whose Star Trek Into Darkness launches in May, would be trading Roddenberry for Lucas. "I've interviewed him many times for StarWars.com, and he always told me how much he loved Star Wars, and was inspired by the films as both a writer and director," Burton says. "In fact, when J.J. first met Damon Lindelof — who was wearing a Bantha Tracks t-shirt — he knew they would get along famously because he was part of the original Star Wars fan club. His work on Lost alone should leave no doubts of his appreciation for Star Wars and its impact on so many generations." (We concur and have rounded up 10 Star Wars-inspired moments we've discovered on Lost.)

Once the initial surprise of Abrams' involvement has passed, the next big question becomes, "What can the man who created Alias and Lost and rebooted Star Trek bring to Star Wars?" If you ask Duncan, it seems pretty clear. "Super 8 showed that Abrams has a handle on the '70s/'80s Spielberg aesthetic — I recall him actually being criticized for it a bit — that I think will serve Star Wars quite well," Duncan says. "He's not a director that's ever looked down on making popcorn movies, which Star Wars very definitely is. And he certainly seems to have a rapport with actors, which is something that this franchise has often lacked. Plus, Star Trek showed he's no slouch at action!" Star Trek and Star Wars used to be the matter and anti-matter of the geek world. Combine them in any way and a rupture in the space-time continuum would surely result. Now Abrams' Star Trek films are going to be scrutinized more than ever for how they might hint at the direction his Star Wars might take. "If you look at how he handled the classic Trek characters in the 2009 reboot, they were pretty true to their 1960s depictions," Geller says. "I think that bodes well for whatever involvement the Big Three [Luke, Han, and Leia] and their Original Trilogy friends have in Episode VII. And I liked the way Abrams made Kirk's family history a prominent part of the reboot. If the Skywalkers or Solos have kids and send them out on a mission in Episode VII, there's probably going to be an excellent parent-child dynamic to set up that action."

Abrams may also have the ability to expand Star Wars further beyond the boundary of the big screen. Lost was one of the first shows to extensively promote via social media and fake, Easter Egg-heavy tie-in websites. "He really understands transmedia, using the Internet as a way to create viral videos and interesting interactive content," Burton says. "When I interviewed him around the time Fringe first started, I asked him what he'd do online to add to the Star Wars experience, and he said, 'Online is the perfect place to have something like an interactive Senate where fans could represent different worlds and debate in character. I could see a giant Star Wars debate team tackle all the issues that the prequels dealt with and having characters from the movie moderate the discussion."

Along with his puzzle-piece storytelling, Easter Eggs, emphasis on intricate plots about family relationships, and, yes, his prominent use of lens flares, Abrams' defining aesthetic characteristic may be his ability to write and direct strong, empowered women. Star Wars has been criticized for not having as many kick-ass female characters as males. "There have been some rumors about Episode VII having a female protagonist — something that's long due — and Abrams is definitely a director who won't shy away from that," Duncan says. "I'd really like to see a Star Wars movie with more than one female lead character…And no metal bikinis!" Burton takes a more generous view of the franchise's representation of female characters. "Star Wars has always been full of strong female characters," she says. "Princess Leia isn't a wallflower. She manages to kill Jabba the Hutt with a chain all while wearing the most uncomfortable and draftiest costume ever created for a woman." But Burton also agrees that Abrams' affinity for women will fit perfectly: "J.J. completely understands that Star Wars isn't an Old Jedi Boys Club, but full of opportunities to show women as warriors, leaders and a hell of a lot more than girlfriends and wives. The women in J.J.'s previous projects like Sydney Bristow in Alias, Olivia Dunham in Fringe, and the women of Lost were all strong, savvy, brave and intelligent characters who refuse to buckle under pressure."

Since fan speculation about Star Wars is an eternal pursuit, it's not too early to begin thinking about who could direct other films beyond Episode VII — unless Abrams ends up directing the whole trilogy. Hey, if it's not too early to start thinking about 2016's presidential contenders, it's not too soon to think about who'll direct Episode VIII. Considering possible also-ran contenders for the new movie, Duncan says, "I found the early Brad Bird rumors pretty hopeful, but there are several directors I could have lived with: Matthew Vaughn, Jon Favreau, maybe even David Fincher." As for Burton, Abrams was always her top candidate for the job, but she says she would like to have seen what Joss Whedon and Guillermo del Toro could have done with the House that Lucas Built. "On a side note, I would be thrilled if John Waters decided to do a sequel to the Star Wars Holiday Special. If anyone can redefine sci-fi camp, it's Waters." See? Every Star Wars fan wants to see something a little different. Just maybe not that different.

Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt

And also follow:

Eric Geller @ericgeller

Tracy Duncan @clubjade

Bonnie Burton @bonniegrrl

[Photo Credit: Scott Kirkland/INFphoto]

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