Who’s hired, who’s fired, who gets to tell a Star Wars story? Not Colin Trevorrow, who was recently ousted from his duties of directing Star Wars: Episode IX.
Trevorrow was always an odd choice to direct Episode IX and his hiring didn’t generate much fan fervor (particularly when compared to Rian Johnson’s hiring to write and direct this December’s The Last Jedi). It’s no surprise, since Lucasfilm plucked him out of relative obscurity after Trevorrow won the Waldo Screenwriting Award at Sundance for his low-budget indie Safety Not Guaranteed, which he then followed up with the critically panned Jurassic World. Then, amidst muted anticipation for his Star Wars movie, his disaster third film The Book of Henry was not only roundly mocked, but also a commercial bomb.
His firing follows in the footsteps of Josh Trank, who had a promising film debut with Chronicle. The young upstart was set to direct an untitled 2019 Star Wars film, but three months before his second effort—2015’s Fantastic Four reboot—was released, he and Lucasfilm parted ways. Fantastic Four eventually tanked and Trank blasted his own film on Twitter, perhaps shedding some light on why he and Lucasfilm didn’t work out.
It’s clear that in their master plan to make Star Wars viable for future generations, Lucasfilm was banking on young creators with genre experience and enthusiasm that they could bring into the fold. Unfortunately, despite the considerable promise in each of their debuts, both directors failed spectacularly in their second outings, which begs the question: Who thought Trevorrow or Trank had the necessary experience to direct a big-budget franchise film in the first place? You can’t exactly call fired Han Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller inexperienced (they’ve helmed successful animated films and the 21 Jump Street franchise), but Lucasfilm clearly didn’t have enough of a handle on what kind of film Lord and Miller would create since they quickly brought in Ron Howard to clean up their mess.
This all makes sense. A promising young director does not possess the requisite tools to handle a franchise behemoth like Star Wars—especially one that has too many cooks in the kitchen and wants to hit every beat that’s been ingrained into summer blockbuster films, whether they click or not. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) was forced to endure months of retooling and reshoots on Rogue One, courtesy of Tony Gilroy, and even a seasoned pro like Joss Whedon expressed his woes in dealing with the strictures of Marvel films. In an interview with BuzzFeed’s Adam B. Vary, Whedon said this of making The Age of Ultron: “I feel every day like, I didn’t do enough, I didn’t do enough, I didn’t do enough. I wasn’t ready. Here’s failure. Here’s failure. Here’s compromise. Here’s compromise.”
It’s clear that a franchise-stewarding studio like Lucasfilm—similar to Warner Bros. and its 57 Joker films in various stages of development—needs to do some reevaluating. When the majority of your filmmakers are forced to leave due to “creative differences,” maybe it’s time to fix the formula. And maybe it’s time to think about who exactly you’re hiring to make these movies.
Lucasfilm is clearly trying to find the next George Lucas—a nerdy, enthusiastic white guy with an eye for space opera. But what if someone with raves from their first Sundance film isn’t the best person for the job? And why does that person always seem like the best person for the job? The firings of Trevorrow and Trank have only served to highlight the head-scratching rationale from Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy on why she has yet to hire a female director.
In an interview with Variety in 2016, Kennedy said: “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success. They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience. We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right”—which, OK, if that makes sense to you then you must speak fluent Hollywood bull. It seems that when it comes to directors with limited experience, we expect white men to be able to adapt quickly but women and directors of color somehow can’t step up to the task.
It’s no different than Patty Jenkins delivering Warner Bros. a huge hit with Wonder Woman and still not being signed on for the sequel. In this day and age, audiences respond to things that are different than what they’re used to, yet Lucasfilm appears hell-bent on keeping it business as usual. Trevorrow was met with as many open arms to the Star Wars universe as the rumored Jabba the Hutt film Variety reported about.
The most exciting parts of The Force Awakens involved Ridley, Poe Dameron, and Finn. Lucasfilm has found that diversity on screen can be rewarding. Will they ever have any behind the scenes?