J.J. Abrams to Direct Episode IX, by Tyler Smith
After the recent dismissal of Colin Trevorrow from Star Wars: Episode IX, many were wondering which fiery young upstart Disney would pick to take his place. It was announced today that J.J. Abrams, the director of The Force Awakens, would be taking on the project. This has been met with various responses online. Some see it as a step in the right direction, especially considering how many were particularly wary of Trevorrow’s involvement with the project. However, there has also been a bit of an uproar, with people saying that it was a boring, safe choice that will bring nothing new to the series and others commenting that it will actively ruin the latest trilogy.
As somebody who thought The Force Awakens was perfectly fine – and occasionally quite enjoyable – I’m not particularly upset with the choice, nor am I really surprised. Yes, it is safe, but it’s also the latest in a long line of safe choices in the history of Star Wars. While Rogue One‘s Gareth Edwards’ being something of an outlier – which makes sense, as that film falls outside the standard “chapter” format of the series – the history of the Star Wars franchise is an authorial mess, even dating back to the original trilogy. In many ways, the series seems to be structured more like a television program, with a show runner making most of the decisions and the directorial duties farmed out to more malleable artists. The Star Wars series has never felt much like an auteurist paradise, where each individual director puts their mark on the series (one should look to the Alien films for that). Instead, the series can be seen as split into two eras: the George Lucas era and the Disney era. This despite the fact that George Lucas did not actually direct The Empire Strikes Back – seen by many as the best of the series – or Return of the Jedi.
And, as the series was passed along to Disney, it appears that safety is what we should expect. With the recent parting of ways of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the Han Solo film, Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, and now Colin Trevorrow from Episode IX, it’s obvious that Disney values predictability above all else (with all due respect to Ron Howard, a dependable journeyman). Sure, it would be fun to see the series take a few more risks in the future, but this series was never really about that in the first place. It was about each film playing its part in realizing the larger vision. And, as that vision passed from a single artist (albeit a deeply flawed one) to an entire corporation, I think it’s safe to say that the Star Wars series – once so vital to the landscape and history of film – will become just another franchise, with good entries and bad.
Within that rather depressing framework, we could do a lot worse than a capable director like J.J. Abrams, who at least approaches his material with enthusiasm and vitality.