If I picked one film director per day and discussed why he wouldn’t be a good fit for Star Wars: Episode VII, I probably wouldn’t get very far before the actual director is announced. Yes, the rumor mill seems to indicate that the announcement is imminent. So maybe I’ll just do a run-down of every director I can think of, with brief comment. I should note that almost every big name in Hollywood has appeared in the rumors, but it’s perhaps the few who haven’t come up who are most interesting. And a caveat: I honestly don’t think any known director is really a match for the Star Wars universe, but this doesn’t mean I don’t respect their work; I’ve just never seen a movie and thought, yeah, this guy should direct Star Wars some day.
Steven Spielberg – Would have been a practical, easy choice. He’s Lucas’s best compadre, the biggest name around, a lock at the box office, comfortable with huge productions, and yet I’m incredibly glad that we won’t see the Spielbergian Star Wars, a jaunty caper full of extreme close-ups, broken homes, and way too many little kids with chips on their shoulders.
Quentin Tarantino – No one could seriously want this, right? Least of all Tarantino himself.
James Cameron – The Terminator and Terminator 2 are classics, but where the hell did this guy’s brain go when he made Avatar? Does having a bunch of kids really ruin a man this thoroughly? Anyway, he’ll be making sequels to Avatar for the rest of his working life (and when is True Lies 2 coming out?), so sadly, he’ll be too busy to take on another big project.
Christopher Nolan – This one puzzles me most, because of the fervor of his supporters contrasted with the utter inappropriateness of his style. To Nolan’s great credit, he actually has a style. But that brooding, mind-bending labyrinth, with its abundance of weighty dialogue and obsession with suffering as a catalyst for action – does it really scream “Star Wars” to anyone?
Zack Snyder – Reportedly not interested in the job. What a shame. Now we’ll never get to see a lightsaber duel that starts with a super slow-mo shot of both combatants sword-swinging with faces locked in “scream mode,” followed by a hyperkinetic three seconds of laser-grinding saber contact, going back to slow-mo as a Jedi somersault leaps into the air, all against a stark two-color background shot through a dirty lens filter.
Alfonso Cuaron – He made the third Harry Potter movie, which was a good one. But so what?
Heavily favored by press and fanboys
Matthew Vaughn – My favorite possibility so far. X-Men: First Class was the classiest(!) X-Men movie, and though this is not saying much considering the humiliations of the Bryan Singer era, I think it’s also the best Marvel movie of all time, hands down, and I’d like to think that the powers that be at Lucasfilm and Disney have the good taste to recognize this. This doesn’t mean his movie would feel much like Star Wars, but at least it would have emotional pull.
Joss Whedon – The ardor for Whedon has cooled in the past week, and I can’t say I’m disappointed. I consider his Buffy and Angel to be great artistic achievements, but what did he have to say with The Avengers? Sure, he stuffed it as full of his trademark wisecracks as he could, but do we want everyone in Episode VII to talk like Han Solo? Or worse, to have everyone talk like Joss Whedon, which is what seems to happen with his projects.
Jon Favreau – Iron Man was refreshing, combining the gritty realism of the first act with the optimistic superheroics of the second and third acts. But he phoned it in for Iron Man 2 (one day we’ll wake up and realize that War Machine was just a bad dream), and Cowboys and Aliens was garbage, and not even ambitious garbage. I say give the man a non-speaking cameo in Episode VII, maybe as a chubby cantina alien.
Guillermo del Toro – Probably the director whose work I most despise of all time, likely because his reputation is so drastically out of proportion with his actual talent. Seriously, I’d take Danny Boyle over this guy. Well, maybe not, but to even float the suggestion is to condemn both of these charlatans.
Brad Bird – I don’t know, he’s a cartoon guy, and as cartoony as Star Wars is, and no matter how you feel about CG and green-screen, there’s a huge difference between making an animated film and a live-action one. To wit, how many directors of the one type ever successfully cross over to the other type?
J.J. Abrams – I get this, but I think it’s for all the wrong reasons. None of the stuff he’s done – Lost, Star Trek, Super 8 – is remotely like Star Wars. His Star Trek was both grand, as a movie should be, and intimate, in the best tradition of the television series, but it felt a bit caught between being a great two-part episode of a TV show and a “real” movie. Star Wars is huge in every direction, and I don’t see Abrams doing that, at least not successfully.
Ridley Scott – A real pro and a sci-fi veteran, and he’s worked memorably with Harrison Ford. I have a feeling his Star Wars would be 90% serious and 10% trashy. Not very appealing.
Robert Zemeckis – The answer to my question above. Zemeckis actually has successfully worked in both live-action and full-length animated features. I haven’t seen his latest, Flight, but I have to believe his glory years are behind him, and what he has left should be devoted to gripping domestic dramas, not space operas.
M. Night Shyamalan – Why is no one talking about Shyamalan? Okay, so his last several movies have been epic bombs, and it seems like J.J. Abrams has usurped his position as Spielberg’s heir. But to speak as an apologist, The Last Airbender was actually a quite competent children’s entertainment, and I thought Lady in the Water was a highly misunderstood movie (not good, mind you, but misunderstood). The Happening was terrible, but there are maybe five minutes in there that are genuinely menacing, with bodies being mauled by lions and eaten by lawnmowers, and treetops swishing maniacally in the wind, as if we had entered the Bizarro version of a Terrence Malick film. What Shyamalan would bring is a sensitivity to childlike wonder; or at least he might have brought that ten years ago, when he still had some discernible talent. He does have history with Disney, but I don’t think that’ll help him here.
Speaking of which . . .
Terrence Malick – I so wish we could see the Terrence Malick Star Wars. We would see more clouds than city in Cloud City. James Earl Jones would be brought in to do lengthy voice-overs, even though Vader would never be on screen. Two-thirds of the movie would be set in the marshes of Dagobah, following slimy creatures and gazing through spiraling tree branches. Roll the title crawl. Star Wars: Episode VII – Leaves of Grass.
And the rest of the peanut gallery
The rest of these are just names. Try to imagine even one single frame of a Star Wars made by:
Paul W. S. Anderson
Sofia Coppola (daughter of Lucas’s mentor!)
The Coen Brothers
* * *
In the 2002 TNT miniseries, Julius Caesar, there’s a line spoken by Jeremy Sisto, who plays Caesar, and he’s referring to either Pompey or Sulla, I don’t remember which: “Pompey/Sulla has merely done something, but I am for something.”
There are only a few directors on this list – Spielberg, Tarantino, Nolan, Shyamalan, maybe Scott – whose work consistently shows that they are “for something,” and yet none of them really seems right for Star Wars.
Honestly, my hope is that it won’t be any of the people I’ve named. In the same way that it was important to cast relative unknowns to star in both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy, I think it’s important to find a relatively young, baggage-free, and highly talented filmmaker to helm Episode VII.
I had read that Lucas originally offered the director’s chair for Episode I: The Phantom Menace to Ron Howard, but Howard was gracious enough and surely smart enough not to accept. Considering how scathingly and endlessly Lucas himself has been excoriated in the press and by critics for his Episodes I-III, is there any major director who would risk his career by taking command of what will surely be the most hyped and heavily scrutinized movie of all time? I say, let someone new take that risk and make his mark.
Yeah, that’s really going to happen.