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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Film |
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Wanted: Star Wars Film Director (Fixed Term, 3–6 Months at the Most)

Salient touches on some pretty hot topics politically, socially, and culturally, so I thought I’d add to the mix by discussing the absolute shit-storm that has been going on behind closed doors at Lucasfilm, the production company in charge of Star Wars films, over the past few years. The franchise has had four directors quit or be fired in two years. What this means is that in the bland, homogenised wasteland that has become blockbuster season, one of the most reliable and original series on the planet is in serious jeopardy in terms of its risk taking and creativity. But first, let’s flash back to 2015 when The Force Awakens was nearly upon us, and a slate of films with attached directors were equally imminent.

Part of this slate was a Boba Fett stand-alone film, and Josh Trank, director of the excellent Chronicle, was attached to direct. Admittedly, he also directed that year’s Fantastic Four, which was a flaming trash fire of cinema. There are reports that he repeatedly turned up drunk on set for the latter, resulting in him being swiftly kicked off the Boba Fett project. At the time it also seemed like no big deal, given that the movie had not even entered pre-production. What started to raise alarm bells was the news of the extensive reshoots conducted in mid-2016 for the Gareth Edwards-directed Rogue One, the first stand-alone Star Wars film.

Rogue One is an enjoyable film, but it’s nowhere near the “Saving Private Ryan of Star Wars” it was anticipated to be. To me, it’s not even a very emotionally engaging movie. Part of this is due to the fact that Lucasfilm, headed by Kathleen Kennedy, was displeased with Edwards’ cut of the film, and a major reshoot and re-edit was carried out without the director. The third act was changed the most, with a reportedly gritty beach battle being replaced with a convoluted plot in which characters die strangely separate from each other. The final act had virtually no emotional weight or satisfaction, largely because the character arcs that were begun earlier in the film went nowhere by the end of it. However, the film was plenty Star Wars-esque, and was a financial success, so all remained well.

Then around two months ago came the news that Christopher Miller and Phil Lord had been fired from the production of the untitled Han Solo film, the difference this time being they had five weeks shooting still to go. Directors leaving in pre-production and post-production is one thing, but I’ve trawled the internet for cases of directors being fired during production, and there are scarcely any, let alone on a project as large scale as a Star Wars film. Reportedly, Kathleen Kennedy and co. were displeased with the assembly cut coming together under the pair, and their visions did not align. My question therefore is this: if Lucasfilm were not on board with Lord and Miller’s vision prior to the start of filming, why did they hire them in the first place? On the one hand, it’s curious that that the directors of 21 and 22 Jump Street were given a Star Wars project at all, and when reports came that they were disregarding the script in favour of improvising with the actors, surely Lucasfilm had no right to be surprised? But then, allegedly the cast and crew broke into applause when news broke that the directors had been fired, so how much fun could they really have been having?

Anyway, without losing any breath whatsoever, Ron Howard was hired to finish those five weeks, as well as another five weeks of reshoots and the post-production. He’s a good director, but undoubtedly a very, very safe choice as well. I (unjustifiably) loath the Tom Hanks Da Vinci Code movies, but he directed A Beautiful Mind and I personally love Rush from 2013, so I’ll hold out and wait to see what the project yields.

Finally, it was recently announced that Colin Trevorrow was “mutually” parting ways with Lucasfilm, stepping down from directing Episode IX. This is the most mixed bag in terms of news, but I think it’s the last nail in the coffin for the collaboration and artistic vision on these films. Trank was fired because he was deemed risky, Edwards was fired because the product he turned out did not please the higher ups, and Lord and Miller were fired in mid-creation of a product the higher ups were displeased with. Now Trevorrow has left the project prior to pre-production, with the rumours suggesting that Lucasfilm lost faith in the director. This theory has potential; his last two films, Jurassic World and The Book of Henry, are not exactly the kind of films that scream “Star Wars” or even “semi-artistic vision”. LucasFilm may have seen dollar signs with Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, but it seems they’ve just realised that he doesn’t have the artistic capabilities to bring in both the box office as well as the critical reviews. But for God’s sake, surely when you’re screening a director for a project you take all these into account? You find out their vision? Or you find out if they have a vision at all?

What all of these cases mean overall is that Star Wars, and the producers and executives that manage the films’ production, are hiring and firing directors at will, with little to no regard for the individual’s vision. I’m not even the biggest Star Wars fan, but I know that the franchise began from unruly and unorthodox thinking. In fact A New Hope and Jaws, made one year apart, were essentially made on the basis of turning up in the morning, assessing which props and effects were actually working, and going from there. Now the studio won’t even let the directors come up with their own ideas, let alone realise them. Blockbusters are becoming increasingly homogenous, trying to appeal to as many people as possible, and it would be truly heartbreaking to see Star Wars go the same way. If they keep following the route they are now, all that can happen is that Star Wars will become diluted, aimless, and an exercise in production design with no underlying meaning or characters. It’d be a sad day when that happens, but I will be happily disproven by any and all of the projects I have pre-emptively judged.

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