October 31, 2012

Who will direct Star Wars Episode VII?

The chance to direct a new Star Wars feature film is simultaneously a phenomenal opportunity and one of the most poisoned chalices in cinema history. On the one hand you will be gifted with a remarkable array of creative toys to play with, all of which collectively have enormous potential for engaging drama, thrilling adventure and mind-blowing visual effects. On the other hand your work will come under ridiculous scrutiny and criticism: is your film better than the prequels? Does it live up to the original trilogy? Plus if it fails it may be considered your fault, and if it succeeds it's likely George Lucas will continue to get a lot of credit for inventing Star Wars in the first place.

Until Walt Disney Pictures officially announce a director for Episode VII there's going to be a ridiculous amount of speculation over who their choice will ultimately be. What I've done here is put up 25 names: directors that have sufficient experience to be reasonably considered for the post, and have some sort of connection to Lucasfilm, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Walt Disney or sci-fi/fantasy cinema in general. I've also tried to include all of the obvious suggestions Star Wars fans might make. They're in alphabetical order, and if it's too long to bother reading I've mentioned the most likely names to make Disney's shortlist at the very end.

There are precisely two women on this list: don't blame me, blame an industry that doesn't give women the opportunity to direct big budget Hollywood features.


J.J. Abrams
Credits: Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8.
Why he might be considered: He's worked with Disney/ABC extensively in the past, and he's demonstrated through his film work for Paramount (Mission: Impossible, Star Trek) that he can seize upon and revive entertainment properties like nobody's business.
Why he might not be considered: Right now, Abrams is Paramount's Star Trek guy. It's unlikely that Disney will want him while he's so heavily involved in a rival sci-fi franchise.
Would he do a good job?: I'm honestly not sure how I feel about an Abrams Star Wars. He's always struck me as more of a TV guy that a film guy (he produced Felicity, Lost and Alias), plus he's inordinately in love with lens flares.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very unlikely.

Andrew Adamson
Credits: Shrek, Shrek 2, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, Cirque du Soliel: Worlds Away.
Why he might be considered: Adamson has a good visual eye and has demonstrated through his two Chronicles of Narnia films that he can handle visual effects-heavy blockbusters. It doesn't hurt that his Narnia movies were produced for Walt Disney Pictures either.
Why he might not be considered: You're only as good as your last picture, and Prince Caspian severely underperformed.
Would he do a good job?: I think Adamson would do a reasonable job, but I wouldn't expect a sensational or deeply memorable film. You'd basically be getting a forgettable Summer blockbuster.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Relatively unlikely.

Mark Andrews
Credits: Brave.
Why he might be considered: Several of the names on this list are directors from Pixar Animation Studios. They're talented, they're already deep inside Walt Disney Pictures, and at least two of them (Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton) have made the jump to live-action features. With a property this valuable it makes sense for Disney to look in-house. Additionally, Andrews has prior form: he's written for the original Cartoon Network Clone Wars TV series.
Why he might not be considered: Despite working on numerous productions (Cars, Ratatouille, John Carter), Andrews has only directed one film - and it underperformed to Disney's expectations.
Would he do a good job?: Difficult to say, since I haven't actually seen Brave.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Extremely unlikely.

Kathryn Bigelow
Credits: Near Dark, Strange Days, Point Break, The Hurt Locker.
Why she might be considered: If, for some wonderful but unlikely reason, Disney decided to look for a female director, Bigelow is pretty much the only action-oriented woman behind the camera in Hollywood.
Why she might not be considered: She won't be considered: Disney wouldn't ask and Bigelow, if approached, would turn them down. She's transitioned from pulp action/horror director to hard-edged Oscar-nominated drama, and I seriously doubt she'd have the slightest interest in Star Wars. Bigelow has also never directed for a family audience in her life.
Would she do a good job?: She'd do a brilliant job, but you'd get a very un-Star Wars-esque Episode VII.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: No chance.

Brad Bird
Credits: The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
Why he might be considered: He's an incredibly successful director of animated films, including at Walt Disney/Pixar, and he's made a successful transition to live-action pictures with the most recent Mission: Impossible.
Why he might not be considered: To be honest, I can't think of a good reason why he wouldn't make Disney's short-list. Furthermore, I can't see too many reasons why Bird wouldn't consider the position either.
Would he do a good job?: Bird would do a sensational job. He has a remarkably strong story sense, as evidenced by his debut feature The Iron Giant (still his masterpiece), and he directs action extremely well, as evidenced by Mission: Impossible and The Incredibles.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very likely.

Kenneth Branagh
Credits: Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Thor, Jack Ryan.
Why he might be considered: Branagh directed a pretty nifty and profitable Thor for Walt Disney and Paramount, and is currently helming Paramount's Tom Clancy reboot Jack Ryan.
Why he might not be considered: He turned down Thor's sequel because he didn't want to repeat himself - it's a reasonable bet that Disney will be looking for a director who will helm the whole trilogy, and not just the first instalment.
Would he do a good job?: He'd certainly do a much better job of the heightened, artificial dialogue style of Star Wars than Lucas ever did. I'd be pretty upbeat about a Branagh Star Wars to be honest.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Relatively unlikely.

Guillermo Del Toro
Credits: Pan's Labyrinth, Blade 2, Hellboy, Pacific Rim
Why he might be considered: He's one of the world's finest fantasy film directors, and the buzz for his giant robot movie Pacific Rim is beginning to heat up.
Why he might not be considered: Quite simply, Star Wars and Del Toro feel like a bad fit. It's two-dimensional pulp, he does visually astounding fantasy. Plus he wasted several years trying to get his Hobbit films off the ground - there's a good chance he's no longer interested in dancing to someone else's tune.
Would he do a good job?: He'd do a weird job, that's for sure. Would it be good? Probably. Would it feel like Star Wars? Probably not. I'd love to see him direct a Mass Effect adaptation, though. Or the comic book Saga.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very unlikely.

Pete Docter
Credits: Monsters Inc., Up, Untitled 2015 Pixar Feature.
Why he might be considered: Both Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton have expanded from animated to live-action features, so it stands to reason that Docter may be interested in doing the same thing. Monsters Inc was a great film with an excellent sense of pace, while Up began with what are widely considered the best 10 minutes in Pixar animated history.
Why he might not be considered: He may not be interested. He has an animated feature opening in 2015. He's never directed live-action before.
Would he do a good job?: To be honest, without his having directed live-action before, it's difficult to tell.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Relatively unlikely.

Jon Favreau
Credits: Swingers, Zathura, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens.
Why he might be considered: He's an accomplished director of visual-effects heavy blockbusters. He has strong credibility with the Comicon crowd. He was Disney's first choice to direct The Avengers. At one stage he was going to direct John Carter. He's directed Harrison Ford and - assuming that shoot went okay (I have no idea) - he might be able to tempt Ford back to play Han Solo again.
Why he might not be considered: Rather tellingly, I don't have much to say here. Cowboys and Aliens underperformed, but his next movie (Magic Kingdom) is for Disney so clearly they don't mind so much.
Would he do a good job?: He'd do a wonderful job, but don't take Iron Man's word for it - check out his underrated sci-fi family adventure Zathura.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very likely.

David Fincher
Credits: Alien 3, Seven, The Game, Fight Club, The Social Network
Why he might be considered: Kathleen Kennedy is heading Lucasfilm, and she previously produced Fincher's costly The Curious Life of Benjamin Button. Fincher has an interest in science fiction, and has prior form in franchise films (Alien 3, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Plus he's worked for Lucasfilm before (Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
Why he might not be considered: Fincher makes dark films - not just visually, but tonally as well. It's hard to imagine Disney banking their four billion dollars behind such a bleak, hard-edged director. I also sincerely doubt Fincher would do it.
Would he do a good job?: It would be visually astounding, but holy crap it would make The Empire Strikes Back look like Cool Runnings.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: None.

Ron Howard
Credits: Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind.
Why he might be considered: He's on the Hollywood A-list, he brings a lot of prestige, and he's worked for Lucasfilm before (Willow).
Why he might not be considered: Like a lot of A-listers, Howard doesn't have anything to gain by making Episode VII except money. It's probably not a matter of Disney not considering Howard so much as Howard not considering Disney. Plus he's very much a serious drama director these days - would a jump back to family adventure be a retrograde career move?
Would he do a good job?: Well he wouldn't do a bad job. It's hard to say what a 21st century Ron Howard, with experience gained on the likes of A Beautiful Mind et al, would do with Star Wars.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very unlikely.

Joe Johnston
Credits: Jurassic Park III, The Rocketeer, Captain America.
Why he might be considered: A number of reasons. Firstly he has a reputation for bringing studio pictures in on budget and on time. Secondly he's recently worked with Disney on a franchise picture (Captain America). Thirdly, he's demonstrated with Jurassic Park III that he can pick up and sustain a franchise without a noticeable shift in tone.
Why he might not be considered: Captain America wasn't as huge a hit as it could have been, and there doesn't seem to be much buzz around Johnston as a director. Announcing him would feel like par for the course, rather than anything exciting.
Would he do a good job?: He'd do a functional job. The problem with many of Johnston's films is under-cooked scripts. I'd feel more comfortable with a director willing to fight for a stronger narrative and better dialogue.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Reasonably likely.

Peter Jackson
Credits: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King, King Kong, The Hobbit.
Why he might be considered: After making a widely acclaimed and beloved trilogy of fantasy films, Peter Jackson goes on more than a decade later to direct a prequel trilogy. The similarities are uncanny.
Why he might not be considered: The most obvious reason is that Jackson is unlikely to want to do it: he's in the middle of one high budget exhausting film trilogy - why would he just right into another one, and one he wouldn't have complete control over at that? Plus work on The Hobbit will likely interfere with any schedule to get Episode VII in cinemas by mid-2015.
Would he do a good job?: If you'd asked me before The Return of the King, King Kong and The Lovely Bones were released, I'd say yes. Now I would have major concerns over pacing and bloat.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: None.

Joseph Kosinski
Credits: Tron Legacy, Oblivion.
Why he might be considered: With Tron Legacy, Kosinski took a popular science fiction film and produced a visually stunning, highly entertaining sequel. To be honest, of all the live-action directors to work with Disney in the past decade Kosinski has the single-best chance to top Disney's shortlist for a Star Wars director. While his follow-up isn't with the House of Mouse, it is another science fiction film. I guarantee come 2013 Disney will be watching Oblivion's box office very closely.
Why he might not be considered: While everyone at Disney seems to agree that Tron Legacy was a great sequel, it didn't explode across the box office like other recent Disney hits (Pirates, Alice in Wonderland).
Would he do a good job?: I think he'd do a marvellous job. He's talented, interested in sci-fi and visual spectacle, plus he's young and hungry enough to make a real impact on the Star Wars universe and aesthetic.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: It's largely conditional on how Oblivion goes, but for now I'm going with very likely.

George Lucas
Credits: Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith.
Why he might be considered: Never say never. Disney might not find a director they're really enthusiastic about. Lucas might change his mind about retirement. Faced with a chance for one more film shoot, Lucas may go "what the hey" and give it one more go. Remember: Peter Jackson wasn't going to ever direct a Lord of the Rings prequel. Now he's directing three.
Why he might not be considered: He's pretty firm on retiring - he just sold his life's work for four billion dollars. If that's not an indication he's out of the picture, I'm not sure what is.
Would he do a good job?: To be fair, he did get better at directing with each prequel, but he's still a much better producer than he is a director.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very unlikely.

Frank Marshall
Credits: Alive, Arachnophobia, Congo.
Why he might be considered: He's married to the executive producer (Kathleen Kennedy). He's worked extensively for Lucasfilm as a producer on Indiana Jones.
Why he might not be considered: He's married to the executive producer. Congo.
Would he do a good job?: Hey I love Congo as a guilty pleasure, but I don't want to enjoy Episode VII as a guilty pleasure. I just want it to be a pleasure.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: None.

Rob Marshall
Credits: Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Why he might be considered: Best known for his excellent musical Chicago, Rob Marshall surprised quite a few people by taking over from Gore Verbinski as director of Pirates of the Caribbean - a task he achieved in style (and with a solid profit for Disney).
Why he might not be considered: He is actually a reasonable choice for Disney to make - it will depend on his take on the material they give him and his interest in science fiction. Disney may also want him to helm another Pirates film, although with Star Wars and Avengers 2 on the slate for 2015 it seems unlikely they'll push Pirates 5 for the same year.
Would he do a good job?: Yes, I think he really would. He's got a very nice visual eye that's attractive without being flashy.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Very likely.

M. Night Shyamalan
Credits: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender.
Why he might be considered: He has a history with Kathleen Kennedy, and has a brilliant visual sense. He's also broken away from exclusively directing his own scripts and working for studios on franchise pictures - as evidenced by The Last Airbender.
Why he might not be considered: Several reasons, but the three biggies would be this: firstly, The Last Airbender wasn't very good and didn't make any money; secondly, Shyamalan split with Disney on very acrimonious terms back when they refused to greenlight Lady in the Water (he took it to Warner Bros instead); thirdly, a string of unpopular, widely ridiculed films have left Shyamalan with a pretty negative reputation with audiences.
Would he do a good job?: Despite all of the above, yes I absolutely think he would.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Relatively unlikely.

Steven Spielberg
Credits: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Why he might be considered: Well first up, Spielberg gets offered pretty much every single big budget blockbuster that Hollywood makes. Star Wars will be no exception.
Why he might not be considered: It's not so much a matter of whether or not Disney will consider him, the issue is that Spielberg himself is very unlikely to be interested. He's always maintained a healthy distance from Star Wars (aside from a little uncredited action direction on one of the prequels) and is increasingly disinterested in making action-heavy Summer blockbusters.
Would he do a good job?: If Jurassic Park Spielberg turns up to direct? Sure. If Minority Report/War of the Worlds/any Spielberg film post-1997 Spielberg turns up? It'll be 20 minutes too long, narratively unfocused and have a disappointing ending.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: None.

Andrew Stanton
Credits: A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, John Carter.
Why he might be considered:
Why he might not be considered: John Carter lost Walt Disney Pictures a really big pile of money and got extremely harsh reviews. Is Disney willing to risk it's $4b investment on giving Stanton another shot?
Would he do a good job?: As one of the few people to absolutely adore John Carter, I'd have to say yes. Like his Pixar co-workers, Stanton has an exceptionally strong grasp of story and character, and has demonstrated through John Carter impressive skills in combining CGI and live-action and managing enormous production budgets.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Reasonably likely.

Gore Verbinski
Credits: Pirates of the Caribbean, Mouse Hunt, The Lone Ranger.
Why he might be considered: For one thing, Verbinski's three Pirates of the Caribbean movies made a massive amount of money. He also worked closely with Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic while making them. I think it would be unimaginable that Verbinski wasn't among the first three or four directors that Disney approaches.
Why he might not be considered: Verbinski's kind of on an edge. He's too successful to still be considered an up-and-comer, yet he's not so much of a household name that he can pick his own projects and expect the studios to come to him. It could go either way: it's probably more a case of whether or not Verbinski wants to make it and whether or not Disney give him the budget he wants.
Would he do a good job?: Based on the amazing worldbuilding and visual spectacle of his Pirates films, I'd have to go with an unqualified and enthused yes.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Reasonably likely.

Andy and Lana Wachowski
Credits: Bound, The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas.
Why they might be considered: In 1999 their science fiction epic The Matrix stole the zeitgeist from under The Phantom Menace's nose. They have exceptional skill with effects-heavy blockbusters.
Why they might not be considered: The Wachowskis dance to their own tune and write their own projects. Unless they're big Star Wars nuts (I have no idea whether they are or not) it seems unfeasible they'd consider the project.
Would they do a good job?: I'm finding it difficult to imagine it actually.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: None.

Joss Whedon
Credits: Serenity, The Avengers.
Why he might be considered: His last film grossed a billion dollars for Walt Disney Pictures. He's overwhelmingly popular with fans - particularly the important Comicon crowd.
Why he might not be considered: He's currently acting as a creative supervisor for Marvel's slate of upcoming films, and it's likely Marvel (and Disney) will want to keep him where he is. He'd also be their top pick to direct The Avengers 2, and he can't direct two films at the same time.
Would he do a good job?: No. Whedon's gift is for self-aware, metatextual revisions of well-trodden texts, with generous helpings of snark and bathos. Star Wars is the poster child for well-trodden texts, with generous helpings of earnest fantasy and sub-Campbellian mythical bollocks. It would be sending a post-modernist to do a modernist's job.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: None. Okay, let's say very unlikely - it's possible Disney would try to shift him from Marvel to Lucasfilm, but it's difficult to believe that they would.

David Yates
Credits: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and II.
Why he might be considered: Yates directed the entire second half of the Harry Potter saga for Warner Bros to widespread acclaim and enormous box office returns. He has demonstrated himself to be a major talent in terms of adapting other people's work, operating on huge budgets with significant special effects and satisfying a particularly picky fan base.
Why he might not be considered: Yates has a first-look deal with Warner Bros that may preclude Disney from hiring him. Then again, if they're willing to pay $4b for Star Wars, what's an extra few million to buy out the contract of their preferred director?
Would he do a good job?: I think he'd do a wonderful job. Any faults in the final four Potters were faults in the novels.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Reasonably likely. He's the right blend of prestige and freshness Disney should be looking for.

Robert Zemeckis
Credits: Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Contact, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away.
Why he might be considered: He is a demonstrated and superb filmmaker of science fiction films and an innovative user of digital and visual effects.
Why he might not be considered: Disney banked a lot on Zemeckis' Imagemovers animation studio, and got financially burned in the process: Mars Needs Moms lost the company more than $100 million. Zemeckis accused Disney of sabotaging the release of his own animated film (A Christmas Carol) to ensure better box office for their own in-house project (Tangled).
Would he do a good job?: Almost certainly. He's got one of the best eyes for camera movement in Hollywood, and an exceptionally strong sense of narrative and pace.
Likelihood of getting the gig?: Extremely unlikely.

So, in summary, my guesses for Star Wars Episode VII are as follows:

  • Front-runners: Brad Bird, Jon Favreau, Joseph Kosinski, Rob Marshall
  • Potential options: Joe Johnston, Andrew Stanton, Gore Verbinski, David Yates
  • Unlikely to happen: Andrew Adamson, Kenneth Branagh, Pete Docter, M. Night Shyamalan
  • Not going to happen: J.J. Abrams, Mark Andrews, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo Del Toro, David Fincher, Ron Howard, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg, Andy and Lana Wachowski, Joss Whedon, Robert Zemeckis.

2 comments:

  1. An interesting list. I reckon Alfonso Cuaron would be great (admittedly just based on Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men), but hasn't done much lately it seems. Christopher Nolan would have a shot as well. Tarantino!

    Of the ones listed: Fincher, Bigelow, Del Toro or Yates would be my picks, but I agree that's more about my idea of those directors than Star Wars itself.

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  2. Christopher Nolan doesn't strike me as the type to leap straight into another major studio franchise - particularly one that won't give him half the creative freedom Warner Bros gave him with Batman.

    Cuaron would be a great choice.

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