Star Wars: Dissecting the director changes in a galaxy far, far away

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Sep 5, 2017

Another day, another directorial change for a Star Wars movie. That may be how some fans are starting to feel at this point. After all, since Lucasfilm started making Star Wars films again after being purchased by Disney, they've announced six directors, and only two of them have made their films from start to finish. That's a significant statistic.

The latest, of course, is the news that Colin Trevorrow, announced in 2015 as the director of Star Wars: Episode IX, will no longer be directing the film. In an official statement posted on, Lucasfilm and Trevorrow are said to "have mutually chosen to part ways" on the movie, as their "visions for the project differ."

Changes Made So Far

In the days since Star Wars was announced to be returning to the big screen with a new sequel trilogy and what were then called "anthology" films, this is only the latest in a series of director changes. The most public and remarkable one, of course, came at the start of summer 2017, when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were taken out of the directors' chairs of the Han Solo movie, midway through filming it. Veteran director Ron Howard was brought in to finish the movie.

But this goes back further. 2016 hit and the first Star Wars Story film, Rogue One, was credited with only one director, Gareth Edwards, who still did all the press for the finished product (and was praised by Lucasfilm execs for his work on the film), but was also widely reported as having assistance in rewrites and reshoots by Tony Gilroy (whose brother, John, was also brought in to help edit the film). While that was far from a co-director credit, it did reportedly drastically change the original vision for the final act of the film.

Josh Trank, meanwhile, was announced as directing a Star Wars Story film that had no title or even main character revealed. Just a day before a scheduled appearance at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2015, Lucasfilm announced he would no longer be attending due to a personal matter. A few days later, it was announced that Trank was no longer on the film, and it was later revealed that his film was entirely shelved, at least temporarily, from production (rumor has it the movie was a Boba Fett solo film).

On the plus side, director J.J. Abrams and writer/director Rian Johnson, both the originally announced talent on their respective films, have had basically worry-free interactions with Lucasfilm, bringing Star Wars: The Force Awakens to a $2 billion-plus box office haul and Star Wars: The Last Jedi to a most-anticipated ranking for this year, respectively.


What's (likely) going on?

Lucasfilm is protecting their property. Look, after selling the company to Disney for four billion dollars, it's natural that Disney and Lucasfilm would want to look out for Star Wars and make it the very best they believe it can be. That meant putting Kathleen Kennedy in charge as the Lucasfilm president, and giving her the power to hold a creative vision for the company. Kennedy, in turn, put together the "Story Group," a group of executives that would help make sure the whole of Star Wars had a look and feel (and continuity) that jived, no matter where you saw it -- in theaters, in animation, in comic books, in novels, in video games, or some as-yet-discovered multimedia vision.

Since they came on board, Kennedy and her team have demonstrated a love for and the capability to guide Star Wars through the immense success of the property. There's no denying that, with critical acclaim, financial success, and just general pop culture impact. What other property has an entire weekend set aside just for the release of its toys? So, in making tough calls, like changing directors ahead of time, bringing in assistance, or even making shifts mid-filming, they're trying to guide Star Wars into its next, and still fledgling, era. Remember that this property has so much more than films to its name (not the least of which being the Star Wars theme parks opening at both Disney parks in the U.S. in 2019), and thus needs a principal guiding force (no pun intended) behind it.


What's (likely) next?

A new director will be hired, who will go through extreme vetting with Lucasfilm, and have all the cards laid out on the table ahead of time. With Star Wars: Episode IX already having been pre-produced at many levels, and the first two films of the trilogy well in-hand, it will be much easier for Lucasfilm to bring aboard a director with whom they share a vision. That statement may sound a little dry and generic upon first read, but it does make sense -- they have a vision they want and need to reach, and they need someone who can do that. At this stage, Lucasfilm needs a director that can follow their lead and vision, while also putting his or her own creative stamp on the franchise.

The hope from the very vocal fanbase, at least if twitter is any indication, is that we'll see some diversity put into the director's chair, and get a different perspective on Star Wars this time around. Whether that's a female director, like Ava DuVernay or Patty Jenkins, or even a male director of color like Jordan Peele, a voice that's underheard in the Star Wars galaxy taking the helm of the final movie in the Sequel trilogy (and possibly the final movie in the Skywalker Saga) would make a lot of fans happy.

Should fans worry?

No, fans really shouldn't worry. While there's a certain level of "your mileage may vary" to any film, there's no denying that Star Wars has been immensely successful under the current leadership. They've had two feature films: The Force Awakens with a 92% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and $2 billion worldwide, and Rogue One with an 85% certified fresh and over $1 billion worldwide (both with very high fan-ratings, as well, in every measurable metric). Star Wars Rebels is a creative success for Disney XD, and fills convention halls with thousands of fans of all ages. The Star Wars toy industry brought in $700 million in 2015 -- before a new film had even been launched, and $760 million in 2016. If Lucasfilm at this point thinks a shift is best, the numbers prove they know what they're doing.

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