On Tuesday, Disney announced that Colin Trevorrow would no longer be directing the ninth episode of the Star Wars saga. Trevorrow, who’s best known as the director of Jurassic World, apparently had a vision that Disney just wouldn’t get on board with, and they gave him the boot. That’s how these things work. If Disney wants one thing and the director has another thing in mind, Disney wins. Just ask the guys (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) they fired from the standalone young Han Solo movie. Actually, you probably can’t, since they almost certainly signed non-disclosure agreements. But if you could ask, they’d probably say the same thing.
In their place, Disney hired Ron Howard, the directorial version of safety scissors. He’ll do the job, and there’s no risk of anyone getting hurt. I know that sounds like an insult, but it’s meant only as kind of an insult. Howard knows his way around a big budget, and his resume is dotted with some truly great films. He will shepherd the project capably, and the movie will probably be, at worst, totally fine.
But there’s probably a ceiling on the Han Solo movie now that there wouldn’t have been with Lord and Miller at the helm. In their hands, the film could’ve been a disaster, but it also could’ve been something special. In Howard’s, the possibility of a catastrophe probably goes away, but it’s likely that the possibility of transcendence does as well.
Howard is a safe choice, in other words, and though safety is valued highly by studio executives, it doesn’t do anything to get me more excited about seeing young Han Solo in action.
Which brings me back to Episode IX and Colin Trevorrow.
Though he’s considerably younger than Howard, Trevorrow was a similarly safe choice. Compared to The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, whose previous work (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper) has showcased a subtle hand and inventive approaches to narrative, Trevorrow is as vanilla as it gets.
Frankly, I’m glad he’s gone, and excited that Disney might take this opportunity to hand the next (last?) chapter in the Skywalker family story to somebody who might do something different with it.
I have someone in mind, but I’ll start by eliminating a few names. (For the record, I’ve seen all of these names listed by one publication or another as possibilities. I’m not just pulling these out of thin air.) Of the “serious” filmmaker crowd: David Lynch is too weird, Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright and Steve McQueen too insistent on writing their own material. Ava DuVernay is busy with A Wrinkle in Time. Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Guillermo Del Toro, and Christopher Nolan need more control than Disney would ever be willing to give them.
Of the blockbuster action directors, Spielberg is too close to George Lucas (who mustn’t be allowed within 100 miles of the set), Patty Jenkins will be doing Wonder Woman 2, James Gunn will be doing Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Joss Whedon will be doing Batgirl (while also being a huge creep, apparently), Michael Bay is the worst filmmaker ever, and Zach Snyder is somehow worse than that.
Which leaves who, exactly? Brad Bird? Stick to animation. J.J. Abrams? I believe him when he says one Star Wars film was enough.
There are a lot of names on a lot of people’s lists, of course, but when I heard that Trevorrow was out, one name jumped to the top of mine. 48 hours later, it’s still there.
I’m sure that for every person reading this who thought, “yes!” when they read that name, there were fifteen more who thought, “who?”
I understand why. Michelle MacLaren has never directed a feature film, and there’s no obvious link between her previous work and helming billion dollar sci-fi blockbuster. But she’s the perfect choice for three reasons.
- She can be trusted with beloved properties.
If, by chance, you have heard of Michelle MacLaren, it’s likely because of her work on Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The X-Files, and The Walking Dead. MacLaren has directed episodes of each of those series, all of which are among the most acclaimed of all-time, and all of which have legions of demanding fans. What’s more, the quality of the episodes she directed has been excellent. It might seem that TV — even prestige TV with a big budget — is a world away from Star Wars, but whoever Disney picks is going to have to recognize the tremendous responsibility that comes with directing one of these movies. Whoever they pick can’t wilt under the pressure. MacLaren won’t.
- She is a master of action.
Those excellent episodes of those all-time great TV shows I mentioned? They were great in large part because major stuff happened in them, and MacLaren was there making sure it went down in the most tense and thrilling way possible. When I see MacLaren’s name on something, I know I’m getting a killer action sequence at some point, and I know that it’s going to make sense inside the larger story. That’s a tough balance to pull off, but it will be absolutely necessary in a movie that’s sure to feature more than a few enormous space battles and intricate lightsaber fights.
If you’re not convinced, just watch these:
Like I said, she knows how to do action.
- She’s comfortable with other people’s writing and input.
The directors that Disney has quibbled with (and eventually fired) had one thing in common: they were insistent on sticking to their visions for the project and couldn’t work within the limits the studio had set for them. On the surface, this is laudable, but let’s not kid each other; Star Wars is a multi-billion dollar film franchise, which, by the time Episode IX lands in theaters, will consist of at least 10 other movies. When you agree to direct a Star Wars movie, you have to be willing to share the creative control with the people guarding the franchise’s larger trajectory. MacLaren’s experience operating within the framework TV shows created by other people means that she can bring her own touch to the project, but won’t clash with the studio heads in the process.
Listen, I know this isn’t likely. MacLaren is far from a household name, and without a movie under her belt, inheriting the keys to the Star Wars kingdom probably isn’t in the cards. That said, she was in line to direct Wonder Woman, but was replaced by Patty Jenkins. I liked Jenkins’ effort well enough, but I still rue the fact that MacLaren didn’t get a chance to work her magic.
Getting the chance to tackle Star Wars, though? That would go a long way toward making me (and I’m guessing Michelle MacLaren) feel better.