The Sagas Continue: What We Know About Star Wars Episode VII and Star Trek 3 | Fanboys Anonymous
In the modern era, I feel that when it comes to science fiction, you basically have two big players—the "parents," as it were—and everything after them are their kids. It's a bit of an unfair comparison, and I certainly don't mean to downplay a lot of truly great sci-fi work out there. (My apologies, Whovians, Browncoats, and Battlestar Galactica (BSG) fans of the world, to name but a few.) Still, I think it is absolutely fair to say that those endeavors owe part of their successes, if not their existence, to the twin trails blazed by Star Trek and Star Wars.

Buy the complete Original Star Wars Trilogy on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon
Someone took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. 

I'd say, without question, these are the preeminent sci-fi franchises in the world today. You can argue Terminator or Alien, but as good as those stories can be, they just don't match the cultural pervasiveness and influence of the Big Two. Obviously, this is due in part to seniority—Star Trek debuted in 1966, Star Wars eleven years later, in 1977. Getting there first counts for a lot, but the manner in which their stories were told, their characters introduced, and worlds built influenced everything that would come later. Yes, they were themselves influenced by the heroic myth or by numerous talented sci-fi writers, but that's all on the page. Guided to the screen by people with vision, the stars aligned over these two properties, and decades later, they're still going strong: Star Trek released a new installment last year, Into Darkness, and everyone and their protocol droid knows that Star Wars: Episode VII is on its way, slated to drop in December 2015.

Here's what's gonna happen: I'm going to round up everything we know about Episode VII and Star Trek 3. We'll take a look at what's on the horizon for both, examine their relationship, and see if we can't make some guesses of our own as to what their futures hold.


It's been roughly a year and a half since Disney announced the impossible: George Lucas had made a deal to sell Lucasfilm, and the rights to Star Wars (as well as Indiana Jones, for those keeping score), to the Mouse House. It came hand-in-hand with the news that, yes, there would be more Star Wars. If you're anything like me, perhaps you took the news with a dash of incredulity, a generous helping of excitement, and a pinch of foreboding. For some fans, I'm sure the grief of the prequel trilogy is still too near; yet Lucas, the brainchild of the whole shebang who many (this writer included) felt had overindulged himself on said prequels, would be relegated to "creative consultant" on these new films without much direct involvement. Instead, the herculean task of getting Star Wars back out there would fall to new Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and whoever Disney would tap to direct the damn thing. As it turns out, the task would be appointed to Star Trek director J.J. Abrams.

Stream J.J. Abrams' Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness on Amazon Prime
Mind.  Blown.  *bwoooooosh*  (More on this later.)
News has trickled steadily out in the ensuing year since that first announcement. Screenwriters were hired: Michael Arndt, Academy Award-winning writer of Little Miss Sunshine as well as Toy Story 3; Lawrence Kasdan, familiar to fans as one of the writers behind Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in addition to Raiders of the Lost Ark; and Simon Kinberg, who is just on a tear right now. (Go check out my article on "The Guys Who Bring Marvel and DC to Screen" for more on his resume.) Currently, Kasdan and Abrams himself are said to be rewriting Arndt's draft with with some input from Kinberg, who may be busier penning one or more of the Star Wars spin-offs Disney has planned. Arndt is more or less done with his contribution to Star Wars, having been given a send-off by Lucasfilm.

There is no clear indication of the direction the story will take. Numerous times, Lucas has talked about the different stories he had planned within the Star Wars saga, and gone back on those statements just as frequently. He had said there would be four trilogies; he had said there were really only ever three; he had said that Return of the Jedi is the end of the series, because it closes out the Vader story. Various statements by Lucas and others in-the-know suggest that the story could focus on rebuilding the Republic dismantled by the Emperor. Lucas' biographer Dale Pollock said that he read twelve outlines for Star Wars films, encompassing the original and prequel trilogies, as well as two sequel trilogies. He stated that the outlines for episodes seven, eight, and nine—the ones we're about to get—had a lot to offer in terms of action and character, and were stories he'd love to see as films. Reportedly, these twelve outlines were part of the package deal Disney bought, so any film they produce will still have roots deep in Lucas' lore. Also, like many franchises, Star Wars has no shortage of "Expanded Universe" material from which to draw, notably the "Thrawn trilogy" novels by author Timothy Zahn. Zahn, who met with Lucas to discuss his story, noted that Lucas' "original idea" was to center the sequel trilogy on Luke's progeny, and likely Han and Leia's, as well. This echoes what others have said about the new films, and while that is material that the Expanded Universe has dealt with heavily, the filmmakers aren't drawing on any of it, opting instead for a new story.

With that in mind—a fresh batch of Skywalkers and Solos to take the reins—almost every young actor in Hollywood has tested for a role in Episode VII. Names like Saoirse Ronan, Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Jesse Plemons have been thrown around with most debunked as rumors and none yet confirmed. Ronan, at least, confirmed she did not get the part she auditioned for, but no less a source than Abrams himself mentioned Plemons as having read for a part while the actor denied it. (Hmm.) This leaves us with returning characters, of which we have several. The trinity of the original film—Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford—have all been more or less confirmed as reprising their iconic roles in Episode VII. Unofficial rumor claims that Abrams is reworking Arndt's draft to feature these characters more, leaving the other two films in the trilogy to focus more on the newer characters, potentially a reason for Arndt's departure.

Given that, Chewbacca is likely to make a return, and casting calls for actors of seven-foot-plus stature lend credence to this likelihood. It's also a foregone conclusion that C-3PO and R2-D2 will make a return, given that they appeared in the prequel trilogy and are essentially immortal characters. Given, too, that some Jedi have attained a form of ethereal immortality, it's possible we'll even see actors from the prequel trilogy show up. Ewan McGregor has stated that he'd love to come back, so we may see some of him channeling ectoplasmic Alec Guinness; and since this is still Hollywood, which likes to bleed franchises for every fan-pleasing dollar, it's theoretically possible we'll see Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine to some degree. Both James Earl Jones and Ian McDiarmid are still alive and kicking. (I understand Jones is only Vader's voice, but that's the important part.) So what if their characters are dead? Flashbacks! Force ghosts!

Follow Anakin's early adventures in Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network
See? Everything's fixed now! 
Here's my read: Disney, Lucasfilm and Abrams know how beloved the original franchise is, and they know many were displeased with the prequel trilogy. Understandably worried about their $4 billion investment, Disney will play it safe by trading on the recognizable characters and spirit of the original trilogy, while setting up the lengthier plot lines and new characters that will carry the rest of the trilogy. The story will be based, at least in part, on outlines Lucas made of the entire Star Wars saga, and we'll get a new film every other year starting in 2015. Whether or not Disney moves ahead with a potential fourth trilogy will depend on the financial success of this one, so…yeah, we may have long years of Star Wars ahead of us in addition to the spin-off films they keep mentioning.


Unfortunately, there hasn't been much buzz about the development of the next Trek. The few things we know: Paramount is angling for a 2016 release, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. To reach that point, writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, who recently adapted the graphic novel Boilerplate for Abrams' Bad Robot production company, join Roberto Orci's efforts to bring the next Trek to screen. Orci, along with writer Alex Kurtzman, penned the first two films of the series, but Kurtzman is out on Spider-Man duty. Damon Lindelof, who produced and also had a hand in writing those same two films, is also busy with other projects; and of course, with Abrams out of the director's chair (though he'll stay on as producer), the hunt is on for who will helm the next voyage of the Enterprise.

Initial reports were that Joe Cornish, of Attack the Block fame, was being courted, but those talks ultimately went nowhere. Brad Bird, Bryan Singer, Jon M. Chu, and Rupert Wyatt have also all been mentioned, with varying degrees of probability. The studio reportedly likes Chu, who pulled their G.I. Joe franchise out of the fire. Abrams personally endorsed Wyatt, no doubt in part to his success in helping to revitalize the Planet of the Apes series. Worth noting is that Bryan Singer approached Paramount several years back with a proposal for a new Star Trek TV series, bringing the story back to the medium in which it was born. The Trek camp has been quiet for some time now, which may mean developments are forthcoming, but things are so up in the air right now, the director's chair could go to anyone.

Watch the film that influenced Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
Settle down, J.J. You had your turn. 
We know just as little about the potential story, but we can make some educated guesses. Star Trek: Into Darkness ends with the crew beginning their five-year journey—the classic mission of the Enterprise: to seek out new life, and all of that. We'll certainly find the crew in some stage of that exploration, whether part of the way through or near the end. It's a good bet, too, that the Klingons will be involved some way. They were mentioned in 2009's Star Trek, and a scene involving them was cut, so they made their debut getting butchered by Benedict Cumberbatch in Into Darkness. Remember, too, that much of that film's plot is driven by the notion that war with the Klingons is looming. "Inevitable," even, as Admiral Marcus calls it. I'm sure there are plans to include Trek's arguably most famous foes in some way, if not outright make them the main antagonists. As for our heroes, we know the cast, including Alice Eve's Carol Marcus, will return. The filmmakers have also said they'd like to bring back Cumberbatch as Khan (oops, spoiler alert)—though probably/hopefully not for this next film.

So really, compared to the bevy of info we've been steadily fed on the development of Episode VII, we know next to nothing about the next Trek movie. Add this to the fact that Abrams jumped ship and headed to Lucasfilm to helm the next Star Wars, suddenly Kirk and co. seem left in the lurch.

Full disclosure, now: I love both Trek and Wars. Trek got its hooks into me first, but there's just no denying the scope and fun of Star Wars. It's ingrained into pop culture that we geeks will forever war over which is superior, the basic notion of which I find silly. Both use different means to work toward different ends. They tell totally different kinds of stories. Star Trek is humanist, often philosophical science fiction: a vision of humanity's future, extrapolated from the times in which we live. Star Wars is epic science fantasy with elements of magic and mysticism seen in the Jedi and the Force. It takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, giving it a unique setting free from real-world rules and using recognizable analogues for the sake of storytelling. There's no Earth in Star Wars, of course; humans, sure—but from Coruscant, and the Correllian system, etc. (and Alderaan…once).

Let's Play Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG Free-To-Play
Too soon?
The relationship between the two could fill books. This, really, is where the "debate" comes from. It's fun to compare the two precisely because they walk such different paths—yet despite this, those paths have rarely crossed. For all the talk about the merits of Trek vs. Wars, they're rarely met head-to-head in the real world. Star Wars movies came out every three years from 1977–1983. Thanks to Star Wars' success, Paramount remembered they were sitting on their own sci-fi franchise with a rabid fan base. At the time, Gene Roddenberry was gearing up for a second Star Trek TV series, cleverly called Star Trek II, the pilot for which was adapted into 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture (worst subtitle ever) at Paramount's request. The sequel, Wrath of Khan, came out in 1982. Star Trek subsequently had fourteen years, from 1984–1998, of no competition from Star Wars, during which time seven films were released. The only time the two franchises met in the same year was 2002, an uneven year for both franchises: Attack of the Clones and Nemesis, the latter of which was the final Trek film until the 2009 reboot.

Perhaps inevitably, each has influenced the other to some degree. Lucas freely admitted that Star Trek was in his mind as he began creating the original Star Wars, and Roddenberry had much praise for his "rival" franchise before his death. It's widely held that Abrams brought a heavy dose of Star Wars sensibility to his work on the Star Trek films. Of course, this isn't to say zero competition exists—look anywhere for box-office data and a clear winner emerges. Star Wars has made three times as much money with half as many films, and the licensing and merchandise for Star Wars is legendary. Culturally, it's tough to tell which has been more pervasive. Star Trek is widely cited as an inspiration for gadgets like cell phones and medical equipment. "Beam me up, Scotty," and "Live long and prosper" are about as ubiquitous as "May the Force be with you," but perhaps not as well-known as "No, Luke…I am your father." Here's the thing, though: that old rivalry, whatever it may have been, is basically dead.

Compare Karl Urban's performance of Bones to DeForest Kelly's in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness
You know the line. 
Why, you ask? (I'm gonna pretend you asked.) It's because now both franchises have passed out of the hands of their original creators. Roddenberry died in 1991 after helping to develop each of the "original series" films and the spin-off series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The one constant figure for the remaining Trek films, all featuring the Next Generation cast, was Rick Berman, a producer on that TV series who worked with Roddenberry in the early days of developing it. He was often accompanied by Brannon Braga and, for one film each, Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller. Once the new Star Trek film series was announced, all of these names disappeared in favor of the, if you will, next generation of filmmakers that would carry on the new story. Exactly the same thing is happening now with Star Wars. For much of Roddenberry's later years with Star Trek, he was touted as "executive consultant," which sounds really similar to the role Lucas is said to be playing with the new Star Wars films.

You know, I've gone on long enough already; I'll just cut to it. Having Abrams on both sets of the sci-fi franchises is a bad idea. This isn't a comment on his abilities; it's about a distinctive style that I'm afraid will reduce both franchises to the same basic kinds of movies. The whole reason the two could coexist in the first place is because they were different. Roddenberry pitched his initial vision for Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the stars," or "Horatio Hornblower in space." He wanted to tell adventure stories about humanity exploring the next frontier, what we encounter out there and what it can do to us. It was this very spirit that rendered Abrams mostly uninterested in the series. He called it "too philosophical" for him, which basically means there weren't enough explosions for his taste. Subsequently, that's what we got in the rebooted series, melded with some recognizable Trek of old. This isn't to say he's totally screwed up the new films; I think there's plenty to like about them. I recognize, too, that movies have different demands than an ongoing TV show, and vice versa. For example, Leonard Nimoy had eighty episodes to forge Spock before the character appeared in a movie. His character arc had time and room to grow, time that Zachary Quinto didn't have. Thus, Quinto's is a more passionate Spock: his emotions are closer to the surface and are easier to rouse because the filmmakers want to get the point across quickly in a two-hour movie with seven main characters. Plus, y'know, alternate timeline and everything.

Watch J.J. Abrams' Star Trek on Netflix
And space magic!
I was initially disappointed to hear that Abrams was departing from Trek for Wars, because I felt the transition to a new director could be jarring for the flow and feel of the series. Now, though, I think it's great that new blood is coming into the next Trek film. New writers and a new director: it's possibly the best thing that could have happened to both franchises. Abrams took on the Trek gig because he essentially wanted to make his Star Wars. Now he gets the chance, and Star Trek doesn't have to be a stand-in anymore; it can relax back into its own skin. Directing Star Wars: Episode VII is a chance for Abrams to make the sci-fi action movie he always wanted to make, free of actual science and filled with big set pieces and characters with a galaxy in the balance. This leaves Trek to re-route its course, if you will. With two-thirds of the original writing team gone, the onus is on the newbies stepping in to differentiate Nu-Trek from Nu-Wars. While I enjoy the injection of action and energy brought by the reboot team, and while I have been critical of the series' tendency to lean over much on the prior continuity, a look backward to the kinds of stories told in original Trek could do wonders for the new. 

We're now coming to a point where Star Trek and Star Wars are going to compete more directly than ever before, and for at least one film each they're going to do it while sharing one major creative force. Even though Abrams is only producing Trek 3, and it's likely that his involvement will be minimal, his fingerprints will still be all over the next film in the pre-production work that's already been done and in the influence of the prior two films. It isn't good for either franchise, or for Abrams, to be involved with both. Whatever he produces with Episode VII will inevitably be compared to his work on Star Trek and Into Darkness, and, similarly, Star Trek 3 will be compared to Episode VII. These two franchises thrive because of their differences, and I'm afraid one or the other (let's be real, probably Star Trek) will suffer unduly for the potential similarities. The best way to ensure the quality, and existence, of both franchises is to make sure they don't become carbon copies of one another. We know what Star Wars feels like, and it's building on familiar, beloved territory. Hand in glove; we know what to expect. Conversely, the exciting thing about Trek now is that it's fresher. Nothing is set in stone. This is a chance for the new Trek filmmakers to explore strange new worlds, because the new series was made different from it's predecessor by design. It's still developing, still growing, and can still become just about anything it wants to.

So sound off, Fanboys and Fangirls—got thoughts on Episode VII or the next Trek? Love or hate how both series are developing? Annoyed that I failed to mention Stargate or Farscape until the very end? Leave it all below.

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