Spoiler warning: read if you've seen Star Trek: Into Darkness
When JJ Abrams was announced earlier this year as the surprise director of the new Star Wars film following Disney's $4bn buyout of George Lucas's gently disintegrating space opera empire in October, there were few dissenting voices to be heard. Here was a director who had taken rival sci-fi film series Star Trek and reinvigorated the whole affair with some much-needed razzmatazz, in the process transforming a saga that had been a niche concern for decades into a must-see proposition for anyone remotely interested in big-budget spectacle-heavy film-making. This was after turning round the Mission: Impossible series following John Woo's dumb second instalment with the sinisterly superior Mission: Impossible III in 2006, and reminding us all what the term "Spielbergian" ought to represent with the wide-eyed and gorgeously heartfelt ET paean Super 8 two years ago.
This week it emerged that Abrams is beginning to put his team together for Star Wars: Episode VII, and he's already recruited Star Trek's costume designer, Michael Kaplan, to venture into the new universe. Might this be the first of many crossovers? If so, let this post serve as a cautionary note.
Abrams' latest film, Star Trek Into Darkness, has been rightly praised by the critics. Like its predecessor, the film has been ruthlessly trimmed of all unnecessary fat to ensure the final product keeps viewers glued to the screen from the opening scene to the final credits. The talky stuff that has always been the lifeblood of this series now plays out at breakneck speed, while the crew of the Enterprise are running from weird-looking natives of a primitive planet or trying to set off a world-saving gadget at the centre of an erupting volcano. There's so much going on in these films that it is at times almost impossible to keep track of the logic of what's going on in front of one's eyes. The first film, 2009's Star Trek, also had more than its fair share of gargantuan plot holes: one particularly juicy one was Kirk getting marooned on a freezing planet as punishment for challenging Spock's authority rather than – you know – simply put in a cell on board the Enterprise. This is, of course, is later hugely convenient when our hero bumps into Scotty and Spock Prime, who just happen to be exactly the people he needs to get back on board the Enterprise, wrongfoot Spock and take down villain Nero.
Star Trek Into Darkness – perhaps unsurprisingly, given it was written by Damon Lindelof (of Lost and Prometheus fame) – takes the series' plot-hole fetishisation to all new levels. Why is the Starfleet command so poorly defended that villain John Harrison/Khan can turn up in a combat-armed airship and blow the bejesus out of its top officers through thinly reinforced glass? Given that this is presumably the equivalent of the US Pentagon in the supremely sophisticated 23rd century, don't they have some sort of early warning system for this type of thing? Furthermore, how did Khan get hold of the special medicine that saved the life of the Starfleet officer's dying daughter and got him in a position to make the attack in the first place, presuming that it was not available to the general population? Oh and another for good measure: at one point in Into Darkness we see Kirk contacting Scotty from a handset even though the recently resigned chief engineer is in a nightclub on Earth and the Enterprise's captain is billions of miles away on (if I recall correctly) another planet. And yet, later on, Scotty turns up unannounced to save the day by causing a power outage on an unmarked Federation ship which is threatening Kirk and his crew. Why did he not phone ahead to reveal his plan? None of these holes ruined Star Trek Into Darkness for me – I even survived the more outrageous Prometheus – but I certainly would have preferred the movie to hang together more effectively from a logic perspective.
Lindelof is not involved (thank goodness) in Star Wars. But Abrams nevertheless needs to get a grip on this predilection towards ramming countless exciting plot twists into his films at the cost of coherency. Just because Lost, which both Abrams and Lindelof were involved in, got away with flagging up gazillions of intriguing mysteries without explaining more than half a dozen of them over the course of its six seasons on telly does not mean such laziness should be allowed to leak out into the wider entertainment universe. Lindelof very nearly ruined Prometheus with his infuriating lack of attention to detail, after all.
Toy Story 3's Michael Arndt, who is writing Star Wars: Episode VII, ought to be a safe pair of hands. The screewriter has described the climactic denouement of 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope as an example of screenwriting perfection for the way it brings together the character arcs of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo for an "insanely great ending" which leaves the audience in a euphoric state. If the new Star Wars hopes to replicate such brilliance, it must avoid falling into the pattern Abrams' other space saga appears to be slipping further and further into. As Admiral Ackbar himself said so memorably: "It's a trap!"
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010