Tom Jolliffe on why Taika Waititi is the man to bring the force back to Star Wars, but Disney needs to let him loose…
In a week that has seen Nic Cage cast as Joe Exotic, we also have Taika Waititi signing on to direct a Star Wars movie. Suddenly a slow few weeks of news (understandably) has become very interesting.
Here’s where I stand on Star Wars at the moment…I’m a long time fan. I was weened on the Original Trilogy. I hated the Prequels. Yep, I was basically Simon Pegg in Spaced. The Force Awakens came out and though it stuck vehemently to a tried and tested formula, and essentially remade the original film, it was an enjoyable nostalgia fest and well made. I didn’t like The Last Jedi but I particularly hated a general sense of overbearing vitriol that came from certain corners of Star Wars fandom.
Rian Johnson’s film may not have been great, and moved somewhat away from expectations, but it (and indeed he as a filmmaker) did not deserve some of the ridiculous abuse. In fact Star Wars stopped being fun. Rogue One was a mess because they didn’t abide by the vision of a director they hired in the first place. Solo similarly ended up being flaccid an uninteresting because again, Disney hired potentially engaging choices (Chris Lord and Phil Miller), did an about turn (seriously Disney, how would you not know what to expect?) and went for a late and safe choice in Ron Howard.
These films have still made money, but none have lived up to the monumental business that Star Wars: The Force Awakens did. The thing is, The Force Awakens was clearly defined. It had a director who knew what he wanted to do (and yes, okay, that was to remake A New Hope). Johnson came and tore the pages up, didn’t fancy certain characters and undid much of what Abrams started. As I say, Disney didn’t back the visions of Solo or Rogue One, so you get safe and haphazard respectively. By the time we get to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, all the expectation and fun of this property has been sapped. Fans turned up out of obligation rather than passion to see a shit-show of cobbled car crash ideas, all smooshed together like a toddler going ape-shit with play-doh. Star Wars faded like a broken lightsaber and many of us have been sapped of the will to care.
The Mandalorian has kept a semblance of interest and fire for adventures in a galaxy far, far away. The reputed Johnson trilogy of original films in the universe, disconnected from icon canon, seems dead in the water given the animosity between himself and fans. What do you do to re-ignite interest in Star Wars as a cinematic enterprise? You need to get in a director who is popular, riding high and who can potentially do something engaging and fresh. Nothing is known exactly about the project, but I would say it’s potentially safe to assume we’re now done with the Skywalker story and those connections. Maybe the odd passing crossover reference may appear, but really, is fan appeasement for the sake of fan appeasement always good? The key will be, taking ideas, creating new and engaging characters and do something that feels different from the formula, but uniquely enjoyable. Johnson’s film as an example could have worked but it was lacking one key ingredient that the originals all had…a sense of fun and wonder. It was a dull film.
Waititi has already shown his gift for enjoyable big screen quirk. Thor: Ragnarok is probably the most overtly enjoyable and uncomplicated of Marvel films. It feels fairly contained without grinding to persistent halts to shoehorn in guest appearances from other avengers. Hulk is of course there, but he’s integral and it plays on a long standing kinship/rivalry between Thor and Hulk. Above all it was a lot of fun. It was unashamedly quirky, it had the audacity to have Jeff Goldblum as a villain and play it so unshakably Goldblum. The film also had a lot of Waititi’s trademark humour.
There’s a chance for Disney here, to make amends for booting Lord and Miller out of their Solo gig because their comical vision was deemed too much. Well, this is the thing – maybe audiences will respond better to it. If you bring in Waititi you have to let him sprinkle his magic over the project. He’s got a good co-writer working in unison too in Krysty Wilson-Cairns, to perhaps keep structure and order, but Waititi will inject fun. At the same time, he has this gift among all this absurdist, quirky humour to make characters sincere, likeable and people (or creatures) we root for.
In his native New Zealand producing great indie works like Boy, What We Do In The Shadows and The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, he’s shown a real gift for telling these engaging stories with likeable characters. He can do great lovable rogues, he can do fantastic underdogs, and coming of age. These are things that work well in a this universe. Just don’t hold him back, because he needs carte blanche. The future of Star Wars as a theatrical money spinner may just depend on it. If you hire him, you know what he’s good at so let him do it Mickey. Go big, or go home.
Do you think Taika Waititi is a good choice for Star Wars? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Twitter page @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/