For our George Lucas – J.J. Abrams director matchup we’ve graded them each on five categories: Script Writing, Comedic Flair, Action Sequences, Casting/Actors and “The Big Picture.” Read below to see who scored the best!
When it comes to a head to head battle of the directors, there is no question that a J.J. Abrams bout versus Star Wars creator George Lucas is the current fight of the century.
From the director’s chair, this is the equivalent of Mohammed Ali v. Joe Frazier, two heavy-weight champions who went toe-to-toe for three bouts in the early 1970s. You know, back before light sabers were invented and all that.
Abrams, of course, has only one Star Wars film to his credit, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is battering down box office records as we speak. It is headed at a gallop towards the all-time worldwide record of $2.8 billion, set by James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009.
Still, to be fair, we have to review more films than one. So, while we open up the Abrams portfolio to include movies like Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Mission Impossible III (2006), Star Trek (2009) and Super 8 (2011).
Then, to even up the match, Lucas has some non-Star Wars films to consider, including one of my favorite comedies: American Graffiti (1973) and four Star Wars films, including the renamed Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope (1977) and three others: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
OK – Let’s have at it:
Lucas has 17 feature film scripts to his credit, including American Graffiti, four Star Wars films and Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the Crystal Skull and, well, let’s face it, Lucas is no William Shakespeare. His jokes are usually hackneyed and stale, but he pulls them off with his talents at theatrics. He has great timing, I’ll give him that. As a writer, let’s give him a solid B.
Abrams’ writing is both more pithy and wittier than Lucas. With nine scripts to his credit, he has shown a much wider range of talent than Lucas, writing high torque action films and moving dramas, like Regarding Henry (1991, staring Harrison Ford) about a man recovering his speech and mobility after a shooting. Score: B plus.
Lucas B | Abrams’ B +
Lucas has made some funny films. The aforementioned American Graffiti is a classic. The humor is subtle and touching. He has a distinct flair for adolescent humor, but when is humor not at least a little bit adolescent? Still, with C3PO, Jar-Jar Binks, the entire first Star Wars film notched on his belt, let’s Lucas an A minus for comedic flair.
Abrams’ shows with Star Wars: The Force Awakens that he can breathe new life into the franchise and he did this with a one-two combo of action and comedy. His jokes were verbal and visual, including great creatures and a classic robot with BB-8.
Lucas A – | Abrams B +
Star Wars has always relied on packing a wallop with action scenes, but it is safe to say Abrams took the bull by the horns with this year’s masterpiece. After all, we are now in the post-Transformers era and those films defined the term non-stop when it came to sustained action sequences.
Transformers set the bar that much higher for audience expectations. An action film used to be a bumpy ride; now they are veritable roller coasters with just a few dips in their – and not to many of those.
Any-who. On actions sequences, Lucas gets a fine A minus score, but Abrams gets an A plus. Action sequences, after all, is where these guys live.
Lucas A – | Abrams A +
It has to be said that with a George Lucas film casting and acting are not the man’s forte. In fact, they often seem like an afterthought.
Yes, Lucas has bragging rights for launching the career of Hollywood’s biggest ever box office draw in Harrison Ford, who stars in four of the top 11 highest grossing films in the United States, when figures are adjusted for inflation. (Three Star Wars, one Indiana Jones film.) But, Lucas has also been able to cast and direct a few abominable actors, who helped make Star Wars a clownish spectacle in many moments.
Not to name names, but Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer and Hayden Christensen have all caused me to wince more than once on the big screen, while Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson and were plug-ins to fill holes in the screen, adding little to the big Star Wars picture.
Abrams, however, is being hailed for his casting prowess. He may have launched two bonafide Hollywood careers with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in John Boyega and Daisy Ridley. Further, his standout casting instincts brought us the ensemble masterpiece Super 8 and many other fine films.
Abrams: A + | Lucas: C –
The Big Picture
It is unfair to judge Lucas and Abrams in the so-called category of the Big Picture. Lucas, it can be said, invented the Star Wars universe. It has a culture, a sense of history, rock star level heroes and the world’s most recognizable evil doer in Darth Vader. His inventions include inventions. The light saber, the personable droid, Jar-Jar Binks, Jabba the Hut, Yoda. There is almost no end to the space-oriented Star Wars universe.
And yet, truth be told, Star Wars started as little more than a Muppet-like cowboys and Indians shoot ’em up that took place in outer space. It was more cute and funny than anything else.
Abrams is much more of a big picture director, who knows how to put many, many moving pieces into orbit and spin them all in different directions and have the scenes come together right at the end. He can block out action sequences, keep the dialogue going at a frenetic pace and throw in some humor along the way.
However, it is also unfair to compare Lucas of 1977 with Abrams of 2015. Abrams has so many Big Picture masters to thank for his education – Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay and Peter Jackson to name just three. Furthermore, they have all learned from George Lucas. Without George Lucas there would be no Force. Plain and simple.
Score on Big Picture: Abrams A – | Lucas: A +