A certain point-of-view: When will Star Wars get a female director?

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Sep 12, 2017

The news is out: Star Wars: Episode IX will now mark the return of director J.J. Abrams, who has signed on as writer and director for the film following the departure of Colin Trevorrow. It's a fine choice; Abrams was obviously extremely successful with The Force Awakens, both financially and critically, and the continuity of director will help both on the studio side and with the actors in the film. Here at SYFY WIRE, we think Abrams may be the best way to help the entire brand or franchise of Star Wars, in fact.

But when Trevorrow's ouster was announced, our imaginations ran wild. We thought about women and people of color, about diverging points of view and life experiences that could make a new Star Wars film just that -- new. While the third episode of a trilogy that is also the ninth episode of an overarching story may not be the best, logistically speaking, time to take a risk, it does leave us thinking: When will our favorite franchise from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away get a female point of view behind the camera?

With that in mind, two of our Star Wars experts, Lucas Siegel and Shana O'Neil (bonafides: both lifelong fans, contributors to, and people who can out-quote you on Clone Wars, Rebels, and so on), sat down to talk about the future of the franchise, and when that might see a certain female point of view.

Lucas: First off, I think both of us can agree, J.J. Abrams is a great choice for Star Wars: Episode IX. He makes sense, especially given everything we've seen happen at Lucasfilm in the last few months, the fact that this IS a trilogy, and his relationships with crew and maybe more importantly cast will help a lot along the way, right?

Shana: I won't say he's a "great" choice, but I think he's the logical choice given the last few months at Lucasfilm and his relationships. Plus he's already worked with Rian, so it'll be a smooth transition back. And given the recent past and the questions people have been throwing around about Kathleen Kennedy's management of Lucasfilm, it makes sense (BTW, I think all that talk is BS, as I've said in other places).

Lucas: (BTW, agreed. Her successes speak for themselves). Well, yes, a logical choice, a choice that makes total sense is a better way to phrase it. Like I've seen said on Twitter, you don't have to make a big change just to make a big change; if that doesn't serve the vision, it makes sense to avoid it.

However, the fact remains: We were all kinda hoping a woman would get a chance to put her stamp on Rey and her story, and Star Wars in general.

Shana: Personally, I don't have an attachment to a female director because of how it relates to Rey. I honestly hadn't even thought about it, because I feel Rey's been well served thus far.

That said, I do think it's time for a female director. Beyond time. If things had gone smoothly and directors hadn't been named for all three films in the trilogy, I think it would have happened. If I have an issue with Kennedy's management, it was the locking in of three directors that early.

Lucas: Yeah, clearly announcing directors ahead of time, or that far ahead of time was a mistake.

Shana: If J.J. had done the first and Rian the second without being all announced ahead of time, I think there would be more room for the conversation. In this case, the slate was announced and left people going, "Three more white dudes? Really?"

Lucas: I think the biggest thing that Lucasfilm's executive staff (Kennedy, the Story Group, etc.) had to learn was they were there to fulfill a vision they came up with, first, as keepers of the franchise, and then hand it off to a director. That's what I feel like I learned over the last year or so, and it's perfectly fine that there was a learning curve there. If it had been an easy transition I would've been much more worried.

Shana: The thing is, Lucasfilm has never done this before. They've never had this many films planned, in production, and being released in this short a time. The goal of releasing a Star Wars movie a year means you have to be on your game, and I'm not convinced the Star Wars universe is built for that sort of momentum.

All of this said, what I really hope is that they'll hire a woman to write and direct one of the stand-alones. Give a woman a chance to really build a vision of the Star Wars universe from a perspective we've never seen before.

Lucas: So when do you think they WILL bring in a female writer/director? At this point, not only is the demand there, but the conversation must at least be a little bit of a distraction internally. It's clear it's something fans want, male and female fans, fans of all stripes. And it's important to Star Wars (or any franchise) as a whole to get more diverse voices out there, to make the story more whole. I feel like we're closing in on a breaking point where they need to announce a Star Wars Story movie with a woman, to serve the public and their own interests.

Shana: If I had to take a guess, I'd say within the next year. Get both The Last Jedi and the Han Solo movie into theaters, get Episode IX in production and then there's time to do that. Of course, I'm horribly pragmatic about these things.

Lucas: Haha, yes, that's the problem with working in the industry; we start to analyze even our fondest hopes.

Shana: But if Star Wars fans want a female director, then part of what we have to do is support more female directors overall. People floated Patty Jenkins' name for Episode IX, but she's locked for Wonder Woman 2. Ava's busy. The Wachowskis are working on Sense8.

There are other female directors out there, but we've heard anecdotes about how men and women approach certain things, especially jobs. Men are more likely to apply for a job even if they don't have the necessary experience, where women are less likely to dive in and go for it unless they think they're super qualified. I think there are reasons for that, but if we're going to buck the status quo, we're gonna need to do something about that.

Lucas: So let me ask you this ... What, specifically, to you, makes you want a woman director in Star Wars? What would that do to change the franchise in a positive way for you (I know this might seem obvious, but it's worth laying out the specifics, I think)?

Shana: First and foremost, I think it's way past time. Women make up over half of the population, and there's a huge female fanbase for Star Wars.

Personally, as someone who's been a fan since 1977 and who's been told since she first joined Twitter that geek girls don't exist and that women don't like Star Wars, I'd like to see a woman make a Star Wars movie and kick all sorts of ass with it.

Lucas: Yeah, having that Jenkins/Gadot/Wonder Woman moment within Star Wars would rock.

Shana: Both J.J. and Rian have worked hard to bring more diversity and gender parity to Star Wars, but a women has a different perspective. J.J. credits Ava for one of the best moments in The Force Awakens (Rey's private reflection in the Force while fighting Kylo Ren). Patty Jenkins had to fight tooth and nail to get the No Man's Land scene into Wonder Woman, and it became easily the most celebrated scene in superhero movies this year. Something about the way both of those women saw something made a moment a MOMENT.

Women parse things in different ways. They look at life through a different lens and bring different experience to the game. I want to see that in Star Wars.

Of course, I also want to see Dave Filoni direct a Star Wars movie, but that's a conversation for another day (laughs).

Lucas: Absolutely agree. I'd like to add that as an avid reader and viewer of all the Star Wars stuff outside of the movies, where we have gotten a female perspective a few times, at least, it helps to enrich the franchise for me. Getting a look at how a woman sees war, loyalty, underlying relationships, is all only going to make us understand the franchise as a whole better.

Shana: Exactly. The books are a fantastic example.

Lucas: Okay, my last question for you: Dream scenario, what character and/or era would you like explored by a female writer/director? Dream pick! Go!

Shana: Aghhhhhhh! No fair! Okay … saying Hera Syndulla is too easy. Because I want a live-action Kanera movie. But that's too easy (and I want Dave to direct it). So I'll say … Kathryn Bigelow and I'd love a story we haven't seen on screen yet set in or before the Original Trilogy, from the Empire's point of view.

Lucas: Okay, interesting, I can dig that.

Shana: I think she'd make a Star Wars Story unlike anything we've seen. How about you?

Lucas: My instant two thoughts: a Doctor Aphra and Sana Starros (from the comics) adventure movie, directed by Ava DuVernay. Yes, that would put it in the "Dark Times" era, which I know I've railed about not wanting too much more of elsewhere, but the characters are too great to not explore further.

Shana: Oooh. That's a female buddy flick I can get behind.

Lucas: My second choice would be an Old Republic movie, set long before the rise of the Empire, with a female head of the Jedi council; the Republic had a millennium of peace -- tell me about that, tell me about how someone led the Jedi through that time, when the Sith were in hiding and the galaxy thrived. No particular director choice there, though it's something I feel like two popular choices, Michelle MacLaren and Patty Jenkins, could both tackle it nicely.

Shana: When you say "Old Republic," it just makes me want to see Revan on screen.

Lucas: Well, this particular pitch would be well past Revan, but yes, a Revan/Bastilla Shan movie would do me just fine, too! (laughs)

Shana: Great, now I'm gonna be thinking about that all day. Jerk. Here's what I will say: There are a lot of stories to tell out there. And different perspectives are going to be necessary to keep things from feeling like they're being churned out.

Lucas: In any case, we have a lot to look forward to from Star Wars, and asking it to continue to grow with diverse characters and voices is not saying we're not happy with the franchise. We love it so much, and we want it to keep finding ways to be even better. Hopefully the future is bright for the galaxy far, far away.

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