Why a relative newcomer should direct Star Wars: Episode VII

Feature Mark Harrison 9 Nov 2012 - 06:58
The Star Wars logo.

As lists are drawn up of dream directors for Star Wars: Episode VII, Mark argues that the biggest names might not be the most suitable...

There hasn't been a movie news story in 2012 as big as Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, and thus, Star Wars, and nor is it likely that there'll be a bigger story before the year is out. It can hardly have escaped your notice that the announcement of new films have raised a great deal of questions in the geek community. Will Luke, Leia and Han be back? Will they be played by the same actors? Will the films be better without George Lucas' writing and direction?

To that last question, there's been more focus on the directing than on the writing. Personally, I don't really see why that is. While any film can profit from a strong directorial vision, the style of Star Wars doesn't really need a massive overhaul; although Lucas' decision to direct all three of the prequels could be seen to have contributed to their poor reception, his scripts were far worse.

So, with everyone considering who'll take the director's chair on Star Wars: Episode VII, Sam Mendes has already ruled himself out while doing the publicity rounds for Skyfall. Apparently, we've forgotten that it was enough of a coup for a director of Mendes' calibre to do a James Bond film, and we've added him to that pool of dream directors that comes up whenever the helm is up for grabs on a movie that interests geeks.

You know them - the usual suspects who have done well with similar franchise properties or genre pieces, and become fan favourites. Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon have all been mentioned in excited online discourse. On paper, any one of these names would look great on a Star Wars film, but when you start to consider how any of those films would actually turn out, things are less clear-cut.

Even Spielberg, who's a friend and collaborator of Lucas, probably wouldn't be interested nowadays. Granted, it was ten years ago that he told Empire that “Star Wars is George's baby”, and things might have changed by now. In the same interview, he said that he'd actually wanted to direct a Star Wars film and Lucas wouldn't let him.

This writer can't imagine Spielberg's style meshing with the vast, established universe of Star Wars, and the same is definitely true of Nolan. There's nothing in any film directed by Nolan, who recently expressed interest in directing a Bond movie, that makes me think he's right for Star Wars, with its fantastical, family-oriented nature, and the amount of CGI required, as compared to Nolan's evident preference for practical effects.

Steven Spielberg

Whedon and Abrams are both clearly busy with the properties that they've taken over - Whedon is running stuff over at Marvel until 2015, at least, and Abrams has stakes in both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. And as a brief aside, wouldn't we all rather see Peter Jackson make a small, nasty horror film, like Bad Taste or Braindead or any of his earlier works, after he completes work on the Hobbit trilogy? Presumably he'll be tied up on continuing to make Tintin movies with Spielberg, already.

Even the lower-profile, but no less well-known directors who've been mentioned, like Kevin Smith, Brad Bird, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and David Yates (the last half of the Harry Potter series) don't quite seem right, although Bird seems like the most likely name I've yet heard. Then again, the big bit of conjecture this week was that 1952, a previously announced sci-fi project that Bird was working on with Damon Lindelof, is actually the codename for Disney's new Star Wars project.

If that's true, then Bird is a steady creative hand, but the involvement of Lindelof, following the mixed bag of screaming cats that Prometheus turned out to be, demonstrates why we should probably be more interested in who's writing the script (Michael Arndt being the likely candidate). But as there's been no confirmation or denial of the 1952 speculation, we have to give equal credence to other speculation.

The other movement from the rumour mill this week came from a story on Collider, which we reported on earlier this week, which suggested that Matthew Vaughn had dropped out of directing X-Men: Days Of Future Past, the sequel to his First Class, in order to direct Episode VII. Still, this overlooks his involvement in a new collaboration with Mark Millar, adapting his Secret Service for the big screen.

We also reported the suggestion that Colin Trevorrow is on the shortlist for Episode VII, which seems, to me, to be the most interesting suggestion thus far. With his directorial debut Safety Not Guaranteed due to appear in the UK later this year, it's impossible to say that he's the man for the job, sight unseen. And yet he seems more suitable than any of the other names that have been bandied around.


Coming back to Sam Mendes being the director of Skyfall, we can see parallels between Star Wars and Bond. Both are producer-led to some extent, and even if Lucas is stepping off a little bit, there's no way he'll be entirely hands-off; at the very least, he'll be a creative consultant and an executive producer. More than that, Disney will be looking for a return on their investment, and there is already an established tone and target audience for the series.

It's hard to imagine any of the other, better known candidates (except perhaps Spielberg, who's already friends with Lucas) keeping their own style separate from what's been established about the series thus far. It strikes me that a more interesting Star Wars sequel would be one where someone is just learning their style. It might seem conservative to say that we don't want a film that strikes out in a new direction, but it'd be better to see incremental changes in tone than a production that's dogged by disagreement between the director, Disney and Lucasfilm.

Lucas is reportedly a fan of Safety Not Guaranteed, and met with Trevorrow, and perhaps there's nothing more to the story than that. But Trevorrow is a new director, who still has form in the genre, and while he's not a choice that fans had considered, fans don't historically have great form for anticipating this kind of thing. How many choices that were initially slated have turned out to be great, dating all the way back to Michael Keaton being cast as Batman? Heath Ledger as the Joker? Daniel Craig as Bond? Or, on the directing side, Kenneth Branagh on Thor?

In conclusion, let's look back at the original trilogy: Lucas directed Star Wars, before enlisting Irvin Kershner for The Empire Strikes Back, and Richard Marquand for Return Of The Jedi. Kershner, who arguably directed the very best Star Wars movie, was surprised to be offered the job, and told of how he asked Lucas, "Of all the younger guys around, all the hot-shots, why me?"

Lucas replied, “Well, because you know everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know, but you're not Hollywood.” There's wisdom in that reasoning, and while it would be interesting to see someone like Joss Whedon, or another celebrated genre writer take scripting duties, the best director for the future of Star Wars might be the one who is still on the way up, rather than someone reflecting on what the series has been, or someone who would be at odds with the franchise's own style.

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Disqus - noscript

Tarantino. Imagine those lightsaber duels!...

Edgar Wright? You know Simon Pegg would be on his case to get it right.

i disagree with spielberg being wrong for the role, if you look at his directing style and in minority report and the indiana jones trilogy you can see he is more than capable of an action packed sci fi epic with a fantasy, family orientated star wars. if his career has shown us anything its that he exels in all genres whether it be small in scale or epic and CG heavy.

matthew vauhgn however i think will do a brilliant job if he gets picked and is my current favourite

Totally agree. It'll be interesting to see who do they do choose and whether they give any reasons for that choice though.

My preference is for an up-and-coming director but this Star Wars. Disney are most likely going to go for a safe pair of hands or a big name director to kick things off just so that they can make a big deal out of it under the guise of restoring confidence in the franchise after the prequels.

The interesting part will be when this trilogy is over. What will they do then? Or perhaps even look at spin-offs in between each installment?

I just want someone to come along and restore the magic to the franchise.

George Miller would be excellent. Go watch Mad Max "The Road Warrior" - he understands the "Hero's Journey" archetypes that permeate the Star Wars stories...

There's a lot of films that Simon Pegg has been in that are very much "not right" though, which pains me because I love him.

Joe Cornish is the perfect choice.

The problem with a less experienced director, or a first time director, is that they can have problems maintaining creative control of a big studio tent pole like this. Look at David Fincher on Alien 3? It may require someone with a bit more clout in order to force through any degree of creative vision. As long it's not Michael Bay or Gore Verbinski I remain optimistic.

" There's nothing in any film directed by Nolan, who recently expressed interest in directing a Bond movie, that makes me think he's right for Star Wars, with its fantastical, family-oriented nature, and the amount of CGI required, as compared to Nolan's evident preference for practical effects."

There's a strong case to be made that the over use of CGI in the prequels was a contributing factor to their poor reception. The look of the original films, with that grimy 70s sci fi patina helped make everything seem believable. Look at the Falcon compared to.... who can even name any ships from the prequels? There's a reason for that. Where the Falcon and Slave I were cool as f*&@, there's something ultimately lacking in a CGI ship. It's like how CGI monsters are never as scary in films. Give me bits of plastic glued together any day.

Whilst it's obvious that CGI can help build the look of a planet, by the time the prequels came along we'd already suffered from added in monsters and rejiggered bits and pieces to no real positive effect. The only CGI I think everyone was universally in favour of was popping the real Jabba in the hanger scene, after that it was vanity.

A good story in this universe wouldn't need more than a CGI establishing shot now and again, with everything else done for real. I know it's probably more expensive to build a set than to computer generate one, but when the film comes out you see that it's money well spent.

Anyway as for directors, as long as it's not McG or Bay, I don't give a damn really, as long as Ford brings his A game if he plays Solo again, as we know he's not the biggest fan of the films.

As for the existence of a 7 (8 and 9) I'm undecided. When you watched 4-6 you thought 'hey it's Luke's story', then you see the prequels and you realise it's actually Annekin's story, so where do you realistically go now he's dead?

I said that the other day and got shot down by everyone on here! Haha

There's only one sensible choice: Mr. Plinkett.

Well, we're already used to the FILMS being out of order, so it'd wouldn't take much of a stretch for long-term fans to get used to non-linear storytelling within a single film. Interesting choice that I'd be interested in but, realistically, I don't think he's the man for a family-oriented adventure with staunch moral certainty. In a perfect world, for me, it'd definitely happen, though!

I can't believe that everybody's STILL hasn't mentioned Neill Blomkamp. He should be first choice, and yet he's not even mentioned in an article like this? For shame!

I'm probably alone in this, but I'd love to see Tim Burton's Star Wars...

I second this comment above all, great points!

Problem with a first time or new director is the fact it is a Star Wars film -the shear pressure, the effects, the set pieces, the charaterisation (that needs to be put back in) and more importantly it could destroy a career. However - Richard Marquand wasn't well known and that film was a superb success (depending on ur views on ewoks). But I doubt he directed it without input from Lucas.

What we need here is a good director with enough experience.
My top picks?
Steven Spielberg - he directed the pre-vis cut of Ep 3 and everything that worked in that film is down to his vision.
Jim Cameron would be interesting and maybe he would stop making Star Smurfs!
Martin Campbell - best proven modern Bond director.

Yeah top 3 there! You need someone who has faced a ffranchise - maybe for Ep7 to secure the new trilogy - then bring in fresh blood for eps 8 & 9?

I vote Stephen Herek! The Mighty Ducks remains one of the best films ever, they even named an actual NHL team after them. Imagine if he was given the chance to achieve the same with Star Wars, you could use your air miles to go on holiday on the Millennium Falcon.

Johnny Depp in Star Wars... I don't even know what to think about that!

That last quote is now very close to my heart

Loved District 9, can't wait for Elysium. Sp. simply, Blomkamp doesn't need it, if he continues his line in original sci-fi- as massive as it is, Star Wars would need him more than he needed it. With the expectation that the series has new tricks up its sleeve, I'd rather see it go to a relative newcomer. Thanks for the comment though! Only forgot Blomkamp cos this is the first time I've seen his name thrown into the ring...

That George Miller is long long gone. He would have been a great choice for Return of the Jedi, but not now.

PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON! It's time he do a GENRE film, and he's about the best director out there right now.

I was thinking exactly this the other day. Please, for the love of all things great and small, can we have practical sets for our actors to use in the new Star Wars? The Total Recall remake managed to build fantastic sets that looked wonderfully lived in, so it can be done in this day and age. I'll be so disappointed if we get another greenscreen Star Wars movie...

Spielberg has said he turned down Harry Potter on the basis that there was no challenge, that it was a license to print money. Surely it will be the same with Star Wars? And whilst I like SOME of Martin Campbell's films, he has also done some terrible ones (Green Lantern, the Zorros)...

Yep, as much as I like Tim's earlier work I think you are right.

The problem in my view is the 2015 release date.

Rotten tomatoes audience ratings

serenity 89%

phantom menace 62%

attack of the clones 66%

revenge of the sith 65%

Give it to Joss along with the time to script it. The prequels failed due to the crummy dialogue and the lack of reveals .
Joss has shown he can recreate the dialogue that made Han the center of the series as well as being able to script a plot.

Sam Raimi...?

Peter Jackson or Chris Nolan. Period. There aren't any other choices

Starwars in a more dark direction? Some real "Sith feel" ... M. Night Shyamalan ...or s that a bridge to far y'all?

Just not Nolan. That guy is dull. I think Clint Eastwood is the best choice. Who else to direct an action packed, over the hill space western other than the master of steel gazes , himself?

Miller isn't available, the new 'Mad Max' film has only wrapped, or about to wrap shooting, and will be in post-production well into next year sometime, and it remains to be seen if he still has it... anyone remember the lamentable '...Beyond Thunderdome'?

That being said, Miller - circa early 1980's - absolutely had it in spades, and would have been ideal to helm 'Return of the Jedi'...that is, if George Lucas had given him the time and (relative) artistic freedom to do it right, and he didn't with Richard Marquand, so I guess that says it all.

In 1977 Lucas did a interview and told about his idea for Star Wars. It was to be a 9 stories about the droids.

For some reason Star Wars geek face turn white when I mention Uwe Boll! loll Kidding aside I only see Peter Jackson that could take it on and not screw it up.

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