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How to Reboot a Franchise

23 Nov, 2009 By: John Latchem

Star Wars made Hollywood history when it was released in 1977, and its influence hasn’t exactly let up since then. George Lucas’ space epic has become the textbook model for how to make and market a franchise.

It’s not hard to imagine those tasked with re-launching “Star Trek” would turn to “Star Wars” for inspiration. In fact, director J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, recently released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, is practically a blow-by-blow remake of Star Wars.

Consider — you have the eager but directionless farmboy who yearns for adventure but is haunted by memories of his father. When he finally makes it into space, he has to take out an evil machine that can destroy planets. There’s even a scene with an old mentor who saves the young hero (on an ice planet, no less), gives him instructions on how to meet his destiny, and then announces they must go their separate ways.

Granted, Star Wars is dealing with motifs and themes that are common to mythological archetypes dating back hundreds of years. It wasn’t until I saw the extras on the Blu-ray when I realized just how blatant Abrams and his team were being. In the making-of featurette, there’s actually a chapter called “What Can We Learn From Star Wars?” Part of the strategy included bringing in longtime "Star Wars" sound designer Ben Burtt to do sound effects for Star Trek (Spock's future ship looks and sounds like it came right out of the "Star Wars" prequels).

And in the commentary, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman describe in detail how they wanted to copy the structure of Star Wars: Episode IV.

The results are obvious. Not only is this Trek much faster in pace than its methodical predecessors, but it also has earned the most money of any film in the franchise.

But if you really want to know how much the filmmakers had Star Wars on the mind when making the new Star Trek, then check out this Easter Egg at the 47:39 mark of the film. Pause it just when it cuts to the viewscreen and keep an eye on the space just above Sulu’s head as you advance the image frame-by-frame.

Yep, that’s R2-D2 floating through the debris. Those guys at Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic are such kidders.

It isn’t the first time Star Wars' and Star Trek’s destinies have intertwined. The success of Star Wars in 1977 motivated Paramount to abandon its attempts to revive the series and instead make an effects-heavy feature film (though Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with its endless sweeping shots of various starships, seems more tonally similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey).

In the mid-1990s, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” introduced a war storyline that seemed to borrow elements from the “Star Wars” model (including a religious element similar to The Force), albeit played out over a much longer narrative.

Lucas, for his part, seemed to take a jab at “Star Trek” in 1999’s The Phantom Menace, referring to the bad guys in the film as a Federation (the line “We may have to accept Federation control for a while” seems like a reference to the proliferation of “Trek” shows after Return of the Jedi).

“Stargate” and “Battlestar Galactica” be damned, the realm of sci-fi is certain to be dominated by these two great franchises for ages to come.

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