Why Star Wars IX suddenly needs a new director, and who it might be

On Tuesday, Disney announced that Star Wars Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow and Walt Disney had “mutually parted ways” with one another and that a new director (and presumably a new writer) would be selected to film the final movie in the newest trilogy.

Let’s roll the tape to see just how the meeting went down…

That’s about right.

This “shakeup” (as the insiders are terming it) is the third such directorial shuffle since Disney purchased Lucasfilm and kicked off a new Star Wars movie universe. In fact, almost every production thus far has had one precarious moment or another.

Episode VII was delayed from May to December, after a page-one rewrite was ordered, following the firing of original writer Michael Arndt. Director JJ Abrams was also a reluctant hire; despite Star Wars basically being his own personal holy grail, Abrams was hesitant to commit to the film, on the fear that he’d screw it up (he didn’t).

Rogue One ran into some big post-production problems as Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy was reportedly unhappy with what was supposed to be the “final cut” presented by director Gareth Edwards. Extensive reshoots (beyond the usual) were completed, apparently with Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy sitting in the director’s chair. Gilroy also rewrote the script after the original writer, Chris Weitz, finished his “final draft” months before production began and was not invited continue his involvement once the movie started shooting. Whew. At least the movie turned out great.

Other than the empty threat of a writer’s strike, Episode VIII was produced without a hitch. Post-production is almost finished and all reports are that the film will move the story forward in a satisfying and surprising way. Let’s call that the exception that proves the rule.

Let’s not forget about Josh Trank, who was hired to direct a future stand-alone Star Wars movie (perhaps the long-rumored Boba Fett/Bounty Hunter-focused film), but who crashed and burned while shooting “the worst Fantastic Four movie ever and yes I’ve seen Roger Corman’s version.” After a meltdown that included rumored fights with actors (and I don’t mean shouting matches), drunken stupors and trashed sets, Fantastic Four producer Simon Kinberg took over the film in post-production, directed some (poor) re-shoots and salvaged what he could of the movie. After that he swore never to work with the man again. Kinberg is also one of the producers of Star Wars Rebels and of the would-be Josh Trank-helmed movie. After Fantastic Four, Trank was out and the movie he was to film has yet to be revealed in any capacity.

The still-untitled Han Solo movie has been a fiasco too, even when you set aside the lukewarm response from fans whenever the movie is brought up. Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were brought in after their big success turning movies that should have stumbled (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie) into critically-acclaimed hits. Their M.O. is comedy–more of a “wink-and-nod” satire brand of comedy, to be specific—and the duo seemed an odd choice to helm a movie about everyone’s favorite space pirate scoundrel.

On the other hand, look at Anthony and Joe Russo: They started out as TV directors famous for their work on Arrested Development and Community before being chosen by Disney to helm Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now they’re directing arguably the biggest action movie of all time, next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. So maybe Kathleen Kennedy was hoping for a similar outside-the-box home run. It became apparent early on that their brand of comedy was not yielding to the Han Solo story but was actually horning in on it and creating a jarring clash of styles. After refusing to tweak their approach, they were canned and veteran Ron Howard was brought in to finish the production. It’ll likely be his name at the top of the credits. This has been the biggest Hollywood/insider story of the bunch…until now.

Fans have been either expecting or hoping (or both) that Colin Trevorrow would get the ax from almost the moment he was hired.

Trevorrow made his name with a low-budget sci-fi/rom-com film entitled Safety Not Guaranteed, about a time traveler who puts out a want-ad for a co-pilot. It’s a charming little movie and it put him on the radar as a filmmaker to watch. He got his first big break when he was hired to write and direct the Jurassic Park reboot, Jurassic World. The film was a huge hit, the biggest money-maker of the franchise and second-biggest film of the year (behind The Force Awakens), but it was also a divisive one with critics. In time the movie has come to be more criticized than praised, with many pointing out the thin screenplay, retreated elements from the original film, and some boneheaded plot-contrivances. Nevertheless, Hollywood is a business and Trevorrow showed he knew how to make a franchise movie and make it a hit. He was hired to work on Episode IX shortly after Jurassic World was released.

Rian Johnson is the anti-Trevorrow. He made his name directing a few episodes of the hit TV show Breaking Bad (including the penultimate episode, “Ozymandias,” which is—in this writer’s opinion—one of the finest hours of drama ever produced for television). He also directed a trippy, action sci-fi film Looper, about a time traveler tasked with hunting down…himself. For all the hype and excitement that Johnson has stirred up around “his” Star Wars movie, Trevorrow has received nothing but angst from fans during the pre-production of “his” Star Wars movie.

With all the previous shake-ups, and the fact that Rian Johnson has been as constant as the northern star to fans, it’s no wonder that some have been hoping that he’d take over Episode IX and send Trevorrow to the curb. Everyone at Lucasfilm insisted that Episode IX was Colin’s movie, however, and that no changes were needed. And then two things happened:

Carrie Fisher died in December of 2016, and Book of Henry was released in June of 2017.

Fisher’s death, it goes without saying, crushed the hearts of fans around the world. From a storytelling perspective, however, it also created a lot of problems for the conclusion of this so-called “sequel trilogy.” Fisher’s role in The Last Jedi was finished, long before she died, and obviously there’s no way to rewrite her part now in any extensive way, since there’d be no way to reshoot any scenes featuring her. You could use a stand-in, but it would be painfully obvious. You could use CGI, but it would be painfully tacky (and thankfully that option has been ruled out entirely by Lucasfilm execs). The only option was to re-write Episode IX in such a way as to give closure to the Princess Leia character. That means changing whatever role she was originally set to have in the finale of the trilogy; apparently it was a crucial role too.

And then there’s Book of Henry. What is that, you ask? It’s no surprise that most have not heard of the movie as it was a massive flop. Not only that, but it was hated by critics. They didn’t just think the movie was a misfire, they went out of their way to crucify it. British newspaper The Guardian called it “catastrophically awful.” There was a lot of hate to go around, but much of the attacks were laid at the feet of the director. The movie is unfocused, badly shot, poorly acted and tonally inconsistent.

As a result of Book of Henry‘s failure, the worry among fans was that Treverrow might fail to stick the landing with the new trilogy, and bungle the Princess Leia farewell (he was set to pen the movie too, although Jack Thorne had recently been brought in to help with rewrites). It was enough for fans to take up their torches and pitchforks and march on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at DisneyLand and demand he be tarred and feathered.

They’ll settle for a firing, I suppose.

So now Treverrow is out, and the question becomes…who replaces him?

Let’s look at the options:

NOT HAPPENING

George Lucas is not happening.

For a million reasons plus four billion more, George Lucas is not returning to direct Episode IX. Lucas probably wouldn’t even take the gig if offered, certainly not since it would mean coming back to the “white slavers” (his words) he sold his baby too in the first place.

Steven Spielberg is not happening.

It was surprising to this writer when Ron Howard was brought in to finish the Han Solo movie. He seemed almost “too” big and “too” conventional to tackle a Star Wars movie, especially considering the other directors Kennedy had hired to work on Star Wars movies thus far. He’ll probably knock it out of the park, but still it seemed at the time a surprising move. Spielberg would be a similar hire, on a much bigger scale. Spielberg is one of only a handful of directors whose name alone is enough to sell a movie. Obviously he’d be a big get, but no: If for no other reason than loyalty to his best friend George, it’s not happening. He didn’t even agree to direct Episode I for fear of messing up his friend’s legacy; no way he’d come in and direct after he sold the thing.

JJ Abrams is not happening.

He’d be a safe choice. He’s proven he can do it, having turned in the biggest movie of the franchise (second-biggest after you adjust for inflation) and the biggest movie is US film history. But he’s snowed under with a half-dozen other projects, and seems just superstitious enough not to tempt fate by (A) putting other movie commitments on hold, and (B) trying to score a royal flush twice in a row. He barely agreed to make the first movie in the new trilogy; it’s not reasonable to think he’d agree to come back this late in pre-production.

MAYBE

Tony Gilroy may be the guy.

He’d be an outside choice, but he did step in and essentially direct 20% of Rogue One. He’s an accomplished writer (having penned most of the Bourne movies as well as the criminally underrated Jake Gyllenhaal-led Nightcrawler film), and of course Michael Clayton (which he wrote and directed) was nominated for every award under the sun. He’d be a big name to get, and has already played in the shallow end of the Star Wars pool. Is it likely? No, but if it happened it wouldn’t be a shock; it’d actually make sense.

Patty Jenkins or Ava Marie DuVernay may be the gal.

Both are (1) great directors and (2) women, in that order. Kathleen Kennedy has said that one of her emphases with Lucasfilm is using the genre movies at her disposal to bring more young girls into fandom. The fact that the central hero of the new trilogy is a woman, as was the hero of Rogue One, is certainly no coincidence. The next step would be hiring a woman to direct one of the films. Jenkins is coming off a brilliant Wonder Woman movie that currently sits at #2 on this year’s Box Office. DuVernay has not really dabbled in the action/adventure genre, but Selma was a huge hit with critics and she’s currently putting finishing touches on next year’s A Wrinkle in Time (produced by Walt Disney). So unlike Jenkins, who might not be able to work the movie in with her commitment to WB’s Wonder Woman sequel, DuVernay is already in the Disney family and will be free to work. Is either name likely to get the gig? No, but if it happened it wouldn’t be a shock; it’d actually make sense.

MOST-LIKELY

Rian Johnson is the next director until someone else is announced.

This just seems like a no-brainer. Johnson has made an amazing Star Wars movie already (by all insider accounts), and is an accomplished writer who wrote Episode VIII and contributed a draft of Episode IX (that Treverrow either used or didn’t use when he wrote his screenplay, depending on who you ask). Who better to hire to write and direct the follow-up (not to mention be able to handle the delicate, fitting farewell to Princess Leia) than the guy who has been living in the universe for the past few years? He would have fan support and studio confidence. That’s a one-two combination that’s hard to come by these days. The only practical reason why it won’t happen is if Johnson just flat-out says no. But do we really believe that the man who has said he’d love to “do another one anytime” won’t agree to step up and help land this plane the right way?

As of right now, bet on Johnson to be the next director, and you might even put money on the movie being bumped to Christmas of 2019, too.

We’ll keep you up to date as the story develops.

Tags

  • matthew martin

    Forget what I said about JJ. Turns out his schedule isn’t that full after all!

    • callmeishmael

      Ha, well now it’s full since he has Episode IX to direct! I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear he’d be returning to direct. I always find it disconcerting when directors are changed (constantly) in a franchise. I don’t think Johnson or Gilroy would have been bad choices though, just not as great as JJ.

  • CultAddicted

    I don’t really care who they pick as long as it sticks to the origins of the film. I was a little afraid of J.J. Abrams but he did a great job. I’m just hoping that the Star Wars movies have the same success as the old ones.

  • Cyn

    I wonder if it will even happen at all. Carrie Fisher’s passing changed everything and I’m not sure fans will hang on. I’ll see it if this thing ever comes out, but I’m not holding my breath. I’d like to see a woman become the director. Change things up a bit.

  • SyFyFanatic

    I can’t wait to see how this actually comes out. Since Carrie’s death, that really hosed up the story line. Rewrites, new directors, and miscellaneous objections, all factor in. I just hope that it is as great as it was meant to be.

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