A couple of weeks ago, Disney/LucasFilms announced that Colin Trevorrow was booted as the director of Star Wars: Episode 9 (scheduled for 2019) after the Jurassic World and The Book of Henry helmer was given that coveted slot two years ago. So out of the 5 Star Wars movies set to be released since 2015, they’ve ousted 3 out of the 5 directors (or, technically, 4 out of the 6). At least we get Porg!
However, the constant booting of directors due to “creative differences” highlights an even greater problem throughout the LucasFilms brand – an inability to look towards the future because of their myopic obsession with the past. So what is actually going on with LucasFilms? Time for some unfounded speculation.
Last Tuesday, less than a week after Trevorrow’s ousting, it was announced that J.J. Abrams (director of The Force Awakens) is returning to write and helm Episode 9. In all honesty, he’s probably the best choice. With the behind the scenes turmoil that seems to be defining almost every Star Wars film (remember, they scrapped Michael Arndt’s original script for TFA after giving it to Abrams), giving it to someone who has proven himself as understanding and delivering what both LucasFilms and general audiences want is the smartest decision. It’s also the safest decision.
Yet playing it safe seems to be the mission statement for LucasFilms or, more specifically, its president, Kathleen Kennedy. She’s the driving force behind the Disney deal and all its upcoming movies. She is LucasFilms’ Kevin Feige, the singular voice behind all these films. She might also be the biggest detriment to the entire brand. This isn’t meant to denigrate her or her accomplishments as a producer (she’s been part of LucasFilms since Raiders of the Lost Ark), but it’s become increasingly obvious that her dedication to what was is keeping Star Wars from reaching new heights.
(While I fully admit that it’s unfair to blame any single person for these issues – Kennedy has people she must answer to as well – there are too many, and too frequent, reports that make it clear that the buck stops with her. Even this recent article from Vulture, where an “insider” tries to put the blame for recurring failures on young directors like Treverrow and former Han Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller who “believe a lot of their own hype. And don’t want to play by the rules,” instead encourages the opposite reading and makes it clear where – or rather, with whom – the problem actually lies.)
Most of Kennedy’s choices reflect this. Any time the franchise tries to do something new or different, she panics and returns to the nostalgia well. Despite how the Internet turned on it over the past year, The Force Awakens was a fine movie and okay as a retread of A New Hope – it got us where we need be – but it was still a retread of A New Hope. When we expand into the Anthology Stories, the issues become even more apparent. Whatever Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One wanted to be is irrelevant (my earlier tangent here). Maybe it could have been a quality dark sci-fi war drama, but instead it ended up being destroyed due to editing. To our eternal blame, we were willing to look past it because our eyes bled with Star Wars Easter Eggs. It didn’t matter how clumsily they were shoehorned in, or how tonally inconsistent it was (within itself and with A New Hope), or how it’s a narrative mess (shouldn’t the Kyber Crystals have played some role at some point?), it got great reviews and did great box office because we got Darth Vader swinging a lightsaber and the two Mos Eisley Cantina guys. Though without its paltry surface callbacks, would the film hold up in the slightest?
Everything we know about Star Wars‘ future plans continue to show its sickening dependence on the past. The Han Solo solo movie was a bad idea from the start (my earlier tangent here), but at least original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have proven themselves clever at exceeding expectations. Unfortunately, they were accused of experimenting with the more comedic elements of the story, so off they go in favor of the older, more reliable, more studio friendly Ron Howard. He knows that all he has to do is capture the script by Lawrence Kasdan who wrote The Empire Strikes Back (and not much else of note since…), and Kennedy can trust that he’d play her game. According to the latest reports, we’re even getting another Darth Vader cameo. We slobbered over him in Rogue One, why shouldn’t they ring that bell again and again and again? What’s missing? Unique visions from people who grew up with Star Wars and want to do something new with it.
The Story after that? Allegedly an Obi-Wan movie. Billy Elliot‘s Stephen Daldry is slated to direct (or at least ‘develop’), which has people believing it’ll be a quieter, character driven drama about one of the last Jedi Knights. Does anyone really believe this will be the case? A pensive old man contemplating his life on a desert planet? Nothing LucasFilms has done has indicated that’s what they’re interested in at all. And that’s not what the majority of the audience would want either – especially right after Episode 9. They’d want the adventure and space battles and lightsaber fights and more Darth Vader and more Jabba the Hutt. And that’s what they’ll get, regardless of how it cheapens the sacrifice of Obi-Wan or how pointless his story will be to the overall Star Wars lore.
After that? A Jabba movie? Boba Fett movie? Both of these rumors pop up regularly. What doesn’t hit the rumor mill? Anything outside of the Original Trilogy. There’s a 20 year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. After Episode 9, there will be an endless expanse of time with which they can play. Instead, everything we’ve heard makes it seem likely that LucasFilms will keep going back to a very narrow section of the past because that’s known, reliable, and easily marketable.
But Star Wars is not all for LucasFilms. They have another property that will suffer from the same exact problems, if not more so. Jump to Page 2 for Indiana Jones.