Star Wars: Changing Directors, Why it Matters

by Todd King, contributing writer
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In the world of movies, crews change their personnel all the time—but in the high-profile series of Star Wars and in other popular franchises, a change in director makes headlines. And in Star Wars news, it seems that the talk of the galaxy is about movie directors leaving and movie directors arriving. Why do we care that this movie, which hasn't started shooting yet, is getting a new director? Well, we can't help but care.

When we were kids, we didn't worry about such news and drama behind the productions; we just loved the stories and characters. While we still do, as we've grown up with the movies, we want to learn more about them. In many ways, the more we learn, the more we can appreciate them. These days, the process of movie-making isn't so mysterious, and we know a lot about what goes into the creative process. We live in the world of information and we're always listening for news because we don't want to miss something like a new preview being shown. Because we're tuned in like this, we can hardly avoid the news and drama.

We care about the stories and characters and because of that, we care about how the productions are coming together. We want the movie to be good. We invest ourselves in all the information we can get so that we appreicate, and even voice criticisms in, all that goes into the making the movie. The final product should be a place were we can enter into a world where imaginations can run wild.

I liken this appreciation to the same kind of love we have for Disney parks. As kids, we loved the rides, the atmosphere, the costumed characters, and could be transported by the magic of it all. As adults, we take a new point of view. We appreciate how all the "magic" is made with the engineering and architecture, the cast members and their work and their performances, and the technology at play that makes it all come together. We care about how the rides are put together and how new attractions will fit in. They should be places where our imaginations can run wild.

In our youth, the Magic Kingdom certainly instilled curiosity. That curiosity remains with us as we grew, becoming a desire to learn how things are made. It's still just fun to experience being in the theme parks, but we can appreciate these experiences on many levels; that's what probably keeps bringing us back. We love to go on the same rides in the same parks many times over. Plus, we bring new generations to carry on this fascination and one day they too will turn their curiosity into a passion for learning.

Then, there's nostalgia. Even though we like to see the new movies and the new theme park lands, there's still part of us that doesn't want things to change. Adding more Star Wars movies can make some of us feel that the original ones can't stand-alone anymore; that the old movies and the new movies now must stand side-by-side and that can lead to feelings that these additions threaten the franchise into becoming deluded. I'm not necessarily in this camp but at the same time, I understand how this can happen. You have the Original Trilogy and it's wonderful and unlike anything else out there. Now we have (or about to have) three trilogies and they're a bit polarizing and they are like a lot of things we've seen before. The original, from a certain point of view, becomes less special. I get it, but I don't agree.

I know that desire to go back and experience something again, exactly the way it was initially, and how it brings all the feels back, too. To share those experiences gives us a new level of joy. How can we share those same experiences with others if everything keeps changing? We live in a world of change but at the same time we resist changing ourselves. Do we have to change ourselves? Is there anything wrong with remaining the same? Allowing ourselves to make changes means leaving something behind, facing something unknown, and accepting the inevitable. I find that making those changes hurt. They hurt often and they hurt a lot. It hurts because something has gone away, has been lost. That's why we resist change, even for ourselves. Yet, I believe something good can come out of it. There is joy in the new with the outset of new journeys and new places to explore. Something new and better may appear in us. That's easy to say once the change is in the past.

After The Force Awakens had been out for a while, we got over the initial excitement and took a closer look. There were those who criticized it for being too much like the original movies where it seemed they just repeated some of the same ideas (like superweapons that destroy planets and cantinas with weird aliens). For me and others who grew up Star Wars, we wanted new characters and adventures—but not too much. We wanted to see a lot of what we had seen before so that it would feel like Star Wars again—but not too much. I think mixing this old and new seems like a clever way to help us realize what we want. It helped us bring back up the old stuff we loved just long enough to enjoy it once again. It was like going back for a visit, just long enough to say goodbye. With that touch of the old and familiar, we can then more easily accept what is new and allow ourselves to become invested in and find joy in it, and allow ourselves to change with it.

"I don’t want things to change." – Anakin Skywalker

"But you can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting." – Shmi Skywalker

As for the director, Colin Trevorrow leaving, this came as a surprise to me. After the Rogue One reshoots last year and the departure of Lord and Miller from the Han Solo movie (and Ron Howard as their replacement), however, this shouldn't have been such a shock. I should have not been so sure that our primary saga episodes would be free of these kinds of issues.

To me it seems that Lucasfilm—and by extension, Disney—came into this Star Wars plan with the idea to give a lot of freedom to the directors they were to choose. I believe they thought that with the different directors for each of the Original Trilogy episodes, with the guiding force of George Lucas, the movies were given character and distinctiveness, making them the strongest of the films in the saga. They may have wanted to carry that idea on that each of the movies in this Sequel Trilogy would have some liberty to take the stories into exciting new directions, with Lucasfilm as their guiding force. It seems Lucasfilm has backed away from this ambitious idea after witnessing directors, perhaps, taking too many liberties in their filmmaking.

It is said Lord and Miller were not following Kasdan's Han Solo script as strictly as Kasdan wished and were failing to make the movie match his vision. They were apparently taking too many liberties with the screenplay and were therefore let go. There were two visions fighting it out and that can create a movie with theming problems.

With Rogue One, it was said the reshoots were necessary to change a lot of the tone of the movie, but director Gareth Edwards wasn't fired over these supposed issues—it seemed to be a case of mutual collaboration. The end result, in my opinion, was a great success, except that I can't shake the feeling that the lead role of Jyn Erso became downplayed as it seemed we didn't delve quite deep enough into her psyche. The weight of the film was shared across Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, and K2-SO, instead of Jyn herself. That's not a bad thing, just not what I expected.

Now for Episode IX, I don't know what to think except that Lucasfilm and Disney have become more keen on recognizing the signs of things not going they way they intend. The Rogue One reshoots were late into production, the Han Solo change-up came about in the middle, and this shakeup is before any filming has commenced. Lucasfilm seems to be learning about itself as it is going along under its new leadership. I believe the consciousness of the company is figuring out its identity. Sure, they let Trevorrow be in the director's role since they began preproduction, but it is better to make the split now than halfway along the movie-making. I don't have any issues with Trevorrow or the films he has made and I think he probably would have been fine for Star Wars.

I still like the idea of giving a bit of autonomy to the directors because too much oversight can stifle creativity. However, I also like the idea of a more singular vision to things but at the same time not having some sort of corporate oversight with business suits and board rooms deciding what really makes a Star Wars movie. My problem would be if Lucasfilm and Disney promised these directors some level of clairvoyance and then backed out that idea. If that was the case, and Trevorrow was just seeing his vision through, then perhaps it wasn't fair. But Lucasfilm, represented by Kathleen Kennedy, does need to ensure its vision is fulfilled. It all comes down to collaboration at the highest levels and if that's not working, changes will be made. I get the feeling this won't be the last time either.

So, who should the new director be? By the time this article is published an announcement will probably have been made on the matter (see below). A lot of fans have said Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi should get the chair again since it seems that movie's production has gone swimmingly. A few other names have been tossed around and they're good choices. I think it would be interesteing if Spielberg got the gig due to his history with Lucas and the fact that he was almost director of Return of the Jedi and I see it as completing the circle if were there. But Spielberg's a long shot since he's fairly busy ... and yet, I think he'd make time for Star Wars. Although Lawrence Kasdan says he's done after the Han Solo project, he's not unfamiliar with the director's chair. These are all safe choices and seems to me the kind Disney and Lucasfilm would like. After all, they picked Ron Howard for Han Solo and he's been in the Disney/Lucasflim family before. Regardless of the final choice, I remain as always, optimistic. I just want a great Star Wars movie.

UPDATE: On September 12, 2017 Lucasfilm announced that J. J. Abrams would return as director for Episode IX. So, I didn't predict that it would be Abrams but I did have the feeling they would play it safe after all the drama. Abrams was always enthusiastic about Star Wars and even stated he would love to direct another one if given the chance. I think it will turn out to be a good choice as long as they are willing to get out of their comfort zones and push the limits for the sequel trilogy's finale. After the big setup of characters and plot from The Force Awakens, this will give Abrams a unique opportunity to follow-through with many ideas he started with on his first Star Wars film. I think that in itself is interesting enough. As for the internet already crying out that he will just remake Return of the Jedi, I do believe they will hear the criticisms against that idea and will hopefully heed those criticisms. It was always going to be a tough challenge to balance new ideas with familiar ideas but I do believe Abrams and Disney and Lucasfilm have the determination to get it right. Plus, they have the time to do it because the film has been delayed back to December 20, 2019. As The Last Jedi approaches, we greatly anticipate the unfolding of this new saga and put our hopes and trust in filmmakers to both try and meet our expecations and give us impactful surprises.

Comments

  1. By Jimbo996

    Both new sequels were disappointments. There were no memorial characters and plotlines. Seems like they took the mythologies of the original trilogy and blasted right through it. Sadly, I felt fhere was a change in tone of Star Wars. I thought Disney wanted to buy Star Wars to attract boys to a heavily girl driven princess in Disneyland theme park. Instead, they feminized the property. Now, the echoes of Princess Leia is matched with the new female fighters. Sigh.

    The turmoil is reflected with how they want the Star Wars to be bland and female focused.

  2. By foxtwin

    I disagree; I was not disappointed by The Force Awakens (which is the only sequel so far, not two as you mention - Rogue One was not a sequel).

    "no memorial characters and plotlines" - Assuming you mean "memorable" characters and plotlines, Rey and Kylo Ren are particularly memorable. Rey with her awakening powers and sense of justice, Kylo Ren with his out-of-control emotions and warped sense of justice, and also Finn with his hasty attitude driven by strong convictions. These are all memorable to me--and original. Plotlines? This one is shaky because yes, there were a few similarities to past films, but that is not a unique issue to the saga: Return of the Jedi had its fair share of borrowed ideas including a Death Star that needed blown up, Jabba's Palace being an updated Cantina, R2D2 getting disabled at a critical moment, Han/Leia reversing "I love you/I know," and more. But Force Awakens mixed a bit of old but also new stories that had a defecting Stormtrooper, an old Han grown to be less skeptical, battles that took place on the ground/flying low, a villain so unstable and insecure that he's a threat to everything around him, a scavenger drawn into a world where she doesn't quite understand what's happening, etc. All quite memorable to me.

    Yes, there was a change in tone. But there was a change from the originals and the prequels as well and that made many fans split--the prequels had a cleaner look, plot motivations were arguably thinner, there was more emphasis on political dealings, and there was a significantly more gruesome tone at the end of Episode III, etc. So, a change of tone is also not new to Star Wars either. So, only now you are bothered by a change in tone? Only now you're bothered because it is "girl driven" and "feminized" and "female focused"? Star Wars is about good fighting evil and that fight being told in a fantasy setting on many different levels: good/evil within ourselves, good/evil amongst our family, good/evil in the larger world. And those battles have been fought by men, women, aliens, and droids from the beginning.

  3. By cstephens

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    Sadly, I felt fhere was a change in tone of Star Wars. I thought Disney wanted to buy Star Wars to attract boys to a heavily girl driven princess in Disneyland theme park. Instead, they feminized the property. Now, the echoes of Princess Leia is matched with the new female fighters. Sigh.

    The turmoil is reflected with how they want the Star Wars to be bland and female focused.

    Wait, there are girls in Star Wars? That's horrible. No one cares about them. People were always playing with Luke and Han. No one wanted to play with Leia dolls. Did they even make them? Girls are boring. Why would anyone bother to put them in a Star Wars movie? I bet they're even going to make the new Han Solo movie about a girl.

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