George Chrusostomou on Lucasfilm’s director dilemma…
With the recent news that Colin Trevorrow has exited Star Wars: Epiosde IX, it seems Lucasfilm may not have everything under control as much as we once thought. While we’re not at Prequel level of concern (and I’ll defend Revenge of the Sith till my throat is sore) it’s hard not to worry a bit about what the future of the Star Wars franchise has in store for us.
Sure Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a fun film that brought the magic of the Original Trilogy to a new generation of fans and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story managed to offer viewers a unique look at the Star Wars universe, whilst cleverly filling in the biggest plot hole of A New Hope. I’ll even go as far to say that it looks like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in pretty good shape, with director Rian Johnson bringing the promise of something unexpected to the newest addition of the latest trilogy to join the galaxy.
What’s become evident in recent times however is the creative conundrum that Lucasfilm appears to be having as they plan out the future of their property, with every eye focused upon the decisions they make. I previously wrote about the role of the Lucasfilm Story Group and whether they were possibly harming the quality of the Star Wars narratives that we were being offered. There may be more at play here than just this however. Perhaps the creative control that Disney and Lucasfilm are taking is too disruptive to the projects they have in production. Maybe the factory line template that they have been working on needs to be drastically changed if there is any hope of saving the intellectual property for years into the future!
It’s possible that the many prequel ideas put out by Lucasfilm (Obi-Wan, Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett and Yoda solo movies for example) may just be to test the waters with fans, to understand what will sell and what won’t. Indeed, some of these may not be pitches from the Story Group at all and could be ideas brought in by directors or writers. I think this is very unlikely to be the case though. What is much more likely is that Lucasfilm is dominating the creative conversation, producing what they believe to be the best story option, with the help of Kathleen Kennedy, and then searching for a director who shares their vision and wishes to preserve everything about their vision. There’s two things that can be said about this. Firstly, the system must work, because of the two films produced under this so far have been quality. Lucasfilm know what will be successful and know they need to get their way. But secondly, this will crush any creative ideas and in the long term kill the franchise and all the magic in it.
J.J. Abrams is the sort of director who can handle a tent-pole big blockbuster film and give it the flare that it needs whilst still following the blueprint of what a studio has asked of him. One of the major criticisms of The Force Awakens was its similarities with A New Hope, a feature undoubtedly encouraged by Lucasfilm whom must have believed that this familiarity was the key to avoiding the fate of the Prequels (sorry again for the Prequel hate!). It did not require any new visionary direction and so Abrams was the perfect fit for the purpose that the film served. Rogue One needed to be a gritty imagining of espionage and the dark side of the wars that were fought across the galaxy. For the most part director Gareth Edwards could deliver on this, producing what they mostly had on their well thought out plan. Except you can’t plan out a vision, it has to be organic. The micro-managing that ensued with Rogue One somehow did not produce a mess of a film, but the extensive re-shoots were not only costly but took away some of what Edwards might have given us. We will never know if the film he truly set out to make was better than what we got.
It is now well documented that director Rian Johnson feels he had nearly unlimited creative control for The Last Jedi, as if he was given one of the most expensive sand boxes to play in, building whatever he could think of and getting sand everywhere. Lucasfilm seemed quite happy to allow this and to clean up after him as he went. But, it has also been said that their visions were very similar and perhaps this is why Johnson has managed to have so much creative freedom. He may have free reign over the sandbox, but the sandbox given to him is exactly how Lucasfilm wants it – there’s still a story structure he has to adhere to. This is understandable for these event movies; the main trilogy coming out of Disney needs to meet the overall arc that is being created, therefore some precise planning is key. With George Lucas being the visionary linking each of the originals…. and the prequels…. there needs to be that continuity for the modern day instalments.
But please, for the love of the force, let directors do what they want with the rest of the galaxy. There’s so much untapped potential that countless directors could give life to. Han Solo: A Star Wars Story might just be the mess we though Rogue One would be, with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being unceremoniously fired from production, due to their ‘vision’ not matching that of Lucasfilm. Whilst they may have gone off the rails a bit with the comedy elements they likely introduced, this is what they had to offer, which Lucasfilm would have known upon hiring them. Now we have Ron Howard, who doesn’t bring nearly the same imaginative energy and unique skill set as Miller and Lord did to the property. Of course, we just lost Colin Trevorrow from Episode IX, a director who by all accounts should have fit the Abrams mould and yet it seems even he was too rebellious for Lucasfilm in his creativity.
So, Lucasfilm, micro-manage Episode IX as much as you want, and get any yes man that’s needed to satisfy your vision. Those who are making dream lists of potential directors with unique visions, forget it. It’s guaranteed that the director will be someone inventive enough to add a little flavour but one who will follow the blueprints like a well oiled machine. If you really want to bounce back from the creative black hole of a reputation that you are building though, scrap your Yoda and Jabba the Hutt films and bring in some directors with clear visions. Give them the creative freedom to do what they want to do and produce amazing, new, original sci-fi ideas within the Star Wars galaxy; the wider this universe can be expanded, the more interested audiences will be and the longer shelf life it will have. So stop micro-managing and start magic making.
P.S: An Edgar Wright Star Wars film… who wouldn’t pay money for that?!