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Lucasfilm Doesn’t Have A Creative Problem – Stop Hiring The Wrong Directors!

“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unite a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?

Sing it with me now. You ready? I’m ready. Ooh, ooh, ooh. Another one bites the dust.

In an announcement that many industry pundits saw coming – okay, regular movie fans have no idea who the hell the dude is anyway – but Colin Trevorrow has abdicated his directorship of Star Wars: Episode IX. The director was riding a huge high after he directed a little movie called Jurassic World. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Dinosaur park envisioned by rich entrepreneur actually does go haywire? Chris Pratt learning to control a pack of raptors with visual commands? Or the disaster movie that the sequel was? Regardless, I was a huge fan of the resurgence of the Jurassic Park franchise two years ago. Finally, someone found how to breathe new life into something audiences didn’t give a Tauntaun’s festering carcass about. And now he’s gone, Trevorrow and his directorial skills and his questionable writing abilities. It was just two short years ago that Kathleen Kennedy was over the moon about working with the up-and-coming visionary director. In fact, Trevorrow said in an interview;

“This is not a job or an assignment. It is a seat at a campfire, surrounded by an extraordinary group of storytellers, filmmakers, artists and craftspeople. We’ve been charged with telling new stories for a younger generation because they deserve what we all had—a mythology to call their own. We will do this by channeling something George Lucas instilled in all of us: boundless creativity, pure invention and hope.”

Uh, did Trevorrow ever bear witness to the disaster known as Howard The Duck? I mean, that lame duck of a movie wasn’t creative, lacked invention, and made me want to play Duck-Duck-Goose in traffic. Then again, I could be wrong and maybe Trevorrow has never seen Howard The Duck. (Seriously, don’t do it. Don’t!) Anyway, Trevorrow was hired based on his 2012 dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed, the same movie Spielberg used to handpick Trevorrow to direct Jurassic World. Upon his hiring everyone at Lucasfilm seemed to be quite satisfied with their slate of directors for their projects. Of course, I wonder if they realize Rian Johnson worked on Breaking Bad before branching off to work on science fiction projects? No matter. They had a group of bright young winners jacked up and ready to go.

But now, the gang’s not together anymore. In fact, only J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson endured the race and lived to speak of their experiences. Then again, they understand the necessity to work with other creative giants and not against them. Hell, Kathleen Kennedy was yodeling from the mountaintops about employing Trevorrow two years ago. Now, take a gander at the quick PR blurb Disney and Lucasfilm rushed out following the announcement;

Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Star Wars: Episode IX. Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ. We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon.

“Mutually chosen to part ways?” Yeah, like those words aren’t indicative of someone who was future endeavored. Oh no, Trevorrow left on his own accord with hugs and handshakes and polite pats on his shoulders.

Uh, no. I’m guessing his script reeked, didn’t align with what the triumvirate wanted for the next sequel, and was ousted in favor of someone who actually will work with Lucasfilm on creating an installment that won’t require you to hide under the covers bawling whilst sucking your thumb. The last thing you want in a movie, especially the tail end of a trilogy, is a flick so bleak and dismal that you run out of tissues halfway to the end and your eyes are ruby red from bawling like an infant. And with a franchise like Star Wars, I certainly have no desire to watch anything as depressing as Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Either that, or Trevorrow thought he was mightier than Kennedy and his flatulence reeked of gooey Mrs. Fields’ chocolate chip cookies.

Trevorrow isn’t the first person to be dismissed by Lucasfilm at this point. (No use in spending an entire column trying to debate this, he was canned like a temp worker at a Walmart at Christmastime.) Josh Trank too was brought aboard the Lucasfilm Train to develop a standalone film in their lucrative franchise after the auteur raised eyebrows with his darling debut Chronicle. Given how much of a train wreck Trank was on the set of the Fantastic Four reboot, including his wittle doggies inflicting $100,000 in damage at a rented house in New Orleans, Trank himself decided to leave his announced Star Wars project behind in the dust. At least Trank maintained he left on his own accord. I suspect he was urged strongly by Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan to leave the project and work on his own betterment. Whether that project was Han Solo or not we’ll never know, but still off Trank went to work on a smaller project (which he hasn’t completed at all) and some other lucky dudes came in to take over Trank’s work.

That would be Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the hive minds behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street. They were tasked with telling a story about a very wet-behind-the-ears Han Solo, his trusted companion Chewbacca, and his best friend Lando Calrissian. Again, the film had the right cast in place and supposedly the right script too. Then, out of the blue one day, the world awoke to find Lucasfilm had “parted ways” with Lord and Miller. Apparently the directors clashed heavily with both Kennedy and Kasdan over the direction and voice of Han Solo. Kasdan’s been involved with Star Wars for years. He knows how he wants the pizza to be made. Kennedy too. And if those two wanted New York-style instead of Chicago-style, then Lord and Miller weren’t doing the recipe right. At all. Once reports surfaced that the directors clashed with Kennedy over the script (which Kasdan scripted with one of his sons) and the tone, then everything clicked into place. Lord and Miller thrive on improvisation. Kennedy and Kasdan don’t.

Plus they were rumored to be turning Solo into a mile-a-minute jokester ala Ace Ventura. And we wonder why they parted ways with Lucasfilm. And who replaces two guys who operate on the fringe and somehow created a space pirate Ace Ventura? Why, Richie Cunningham himself, Ron Howard. And somehow, Han Solo actually seems like it’ll come together quite nicely too and delivered on time for audiences to see.

Let’s face the facts here. This really is not a big a deal as the likes of Variety, Rolling Stone, Hollywood Reporter, and countless others have made. In just one week’s time a holy host of columns have been written dissecting that Lucasfilm has a problem with directors. The visions being put into the scripts and into the movies just aren’t getting it done. No one’s following the script that the Star Wars overlords have envisioned!

No, duh. Of course the work others have put into various Star Wars films in the last two years hasn’t been up to snuff. I do think other columnists are on the right path with their thinking, but not going the whole distance. For example, look at Gareth Edwards. He directed the very first one-off in franchise history, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He went off, made his movie armed with a gritty bombastic script with an immensely talented cast, but when the time came for reshoots last August Edwards found himself on the sidelines while writer/director Tony Gilroy stepped in. Gilroy rejiggered the ending, which Edwards would later admit was a bit long in the tooth and needed to be streamlined. So – that’s right – Edwards couldn’t think of how to alter some of the scenes in the third act, since he owned the entire movie’s production. Gilroy came up with the changes with Edwards’ involvement, not just in the shadows but in collaboration. Gilory was available to do the shooting, since Edwards was working on editing. You mean to tell me another writer/director helped a fellow writer/director to see a different point of view? No, no, tell me it ain’t so! It can’t be true.

Well, guess what? It is. See – Steven Spielberg on Poltergeist. (Okay, maybe not, since Spielberg’s arguably the real director of that horror masterpiece and not Tobe Hooper.)

These directors have one job – take the words of the script, work with those who make up the Jedi Illuminati at Lucasfilm, and create a movie that’ll please both the die-hards and casual movie-goers. That’s all they gotta do. Yeah yeah, fine, The Force Awakens at times felt like a remake of the first Star Wars movie. Anyone will admit this. We do live in a time where Millennials aren’t even aware of Knight Rider or The A-Team. (And that should be criminal. Outright criminal.) So yeah, some nods were necessary for audiences new and old. They weren’t enough to be a full distraction but a clever wink at times. But The Force Awakens is a production that worked because Abrams, as wild and fantastic a storyteller he is, worked with Kennedy and Kasdan to make the franchise’s resurgence possible. Amazing what can happen when minds work together, not against.

Listen, Kathleen. No, you don’t know who I am. I’m even more certain you don’t know who Fan Fest News is. (You should, and you better recognize. Just kidding, love your work!) Warner Brothers is already in enough hot water for their director conga line with their gestating slate of DC Comics movies. In comes one, out goes another. Will he direct? Won’t he? Will Affleck be Batman? Wait, Affleck quit? Snyder sucks, Whedon’s better. Whedon completed reconfigured Justice League!? Affleck’s Batman script is no good? Matt Reeves wants to do a Nolan Batman? Who’s directing Suicide Squad 2? Who’s the Joker? Which Joker movie is better? Oh God, I’ve got cross-eyed, hold the phone. Okay, let’s summarize in a more coherent manner. There’s a slew of projects that were announced with directors, only to later see said directors walk away into the sunset and be replaced. And that’s the direction that Lucasfilm seems to be moving with their latest slate of Star Wars sagas. They continue to hire directors who are on the rise but are hard to control, hard to manage, yet easy to dismiss without breaking a sweat.

Though, and this shouldn’t surprise you at all, Trevorrow actually did see his own ego overshadow his welcome to Star Wars. Surprised? I’m not. Hence why when Lucasfilm announced Trevorrow was “stepping down,” I didn’t jump atop a bridge and threaten to jump into the warm waters below, no no. As with Trank before him, someone thought he had just opened the Arc of the Covenant and possessed the power of God at his fingertips. Yes, Spielberg had hired him personally to shoot Jurassic World. Was that film’s success due to the director? Absolutely not. Jurassic World was a smash success because of the acting, the thrills, and the script – not because Trevorrow was a maestro behind the camera. And as we all have come to learn, Kathleen Kennedy isn’t the type of person you belittle. She’s been a Hollywood power player for over thirty years now. I’ve got a feeling Kennedy was trying to discuss ideas for Episode IX and, somewhere along the line, Trevorrow thought he knew what was best and probably crossed the line. Kennedy is fast developing a reputation of evoking the spirit of the great honey badger. Kennedy won’t handle anyone’s egotism and has no remorse in future endeavoring problem children. Trevorrow sniffed what he was shoveling, Kennedy ousted him from Lucasfilm, and didn’t even break a sweat.

So – who can replace Trevorrow? Well, really, a rubber duckie could helm Star Wars: Episode IX and everyone would be happy. But honestly, while Rian Johnson should be the one to finish the job, that plan was never in the cards for him. In fact, and I’m thankful this is official finally rather than spending a paragraph speculating, but J.J. Abrams is returning to write and direct Star Wars: Episode IX. Just as the way things should be. Sure, fanboys around the world will storm into their basements and protest angrily online with fists as meaty as Big Mac’s hoisted in the air. But they’ll get over it. Abrams is the man responsible for the franchise’s grand return to the forefront of cinema and, personally, I felt The Force Awakens was mightily well done. I’ve watched his film over thirty times, always leaving the channel onwhen I see the film is screening on Starz. I can’t help it. Since I missed out on enjoying the original trilogy as a child, The Force Awakens was that experience for me as a 31 year old, able to sit in atheater like I was 5 years old all over and to be awash with glee by the opening crawl.

My faith remains intact with Lucasfilm. Kathleen Kennedy’s been in this business long enough to know what is the right executive decision to pursue. Just because all of these up-and-coming directors buy into their own hype – Josh Trank, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, now Colin Trevorrow – doesn’t mean she needs to sit on her hands and be overtaken by little kids on power trips. So far, the Star Wars film have seemed to found their footing. Announcing their film slate just a couple of short years ago may have been a tad foolhardy, placing bets on young hot directors who were gaining steaming. Sometimes, that plan backfires and studios need to move tactically to cover their bases. (Funny – Marvel Studios announces projects but never writers and directors. Hmm, maybe more studios could try that approach instead?) Regardless, Lucasfilm will bounce back. Han Solo will get completed in time for Memorial Day. Abrams, alongside co-writer Chris Terrio, will bring us a wholesome and satisfying conclusion to the latest trilogy. Just, please. Kathleen? Next time, think before you hire. Save yourselves the PR nightmares to follow.

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Jerrold Reber

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Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel, cult 80's and 90's television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and...holy overload. He's still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a a blue police box.