Who Are These Guys? Why Lucasfilm Chose These 'Star Wars' Directors
by Alex Billington
June 23, 2014
Here they are. Meet the directors of the next three Star Wars movies, after J.J. Abrams finishes up Star Wars: Episode VII. At first it was impossible to believe that they were even making another three Star Wars movies, continuing the original trilogy. Then it was even crazier to hear Lucasfilm is planning stand-alone movies in the Star Wars universe to bring us one every year. That will be demanding, and no one director would be able to accomplish that alone. But it gets even wilder when we learn it's these three filmmakers who have landed the coveted, impossible-to-get job of directing new Star Wars movies. Dream come true? Yes. So who are they? Why did they choose them? Meet Josh Trank, Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson.
In the early days of this new era of Star Wars announcements, big names like Spielberg were being thrown around. J.J. Abrams, coming off of two Star Trek movies, landed the job of bringing us the first in the new trilogy - Episode VII, filming now. Other names like Zack Snyder have been mentioned, but he's off helping Warner Bros bring Justice League to the big screen. Marvel, on the other hand, is snatching up a lot of talented young directors as well, between James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy and Scott Derrickson on Dr. Strange (though they lost the very talented Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, but that's the way it goes). So Lucasfilm has been reaching out to the impressive, "new" crop of filmmakers - and they are very talented.
I say "new" because in all reality, these guys have been around for a while. Rian Johnson's first film, Brick, premiered at Sundance back in 2005. However, they're new compared to folks like Spielberg and Coppola and DePalma. But that doesn't matter. They're still great directors. Full disclosure: I know all of these guys. They're die-hard movies fans just like me and you, and I've followed their careers (and helped champion them) when their early work needed it. I've interviewed Trank, Edwards and Johnson previously and would say, without a doubt, that these three guys deserve the job. They're hard-working and passionate, they have a strong vision and they know how to make unique movies, which is exactly how they got the job in the end.
It should be said that all three of these guys are Star Wars fans and, no question, they grew up with Star Wars (just like most of us did when were kids, whether on VHS or on the big screen). They wouldn't be so interested in directing a Star Wars movie if they weren't big fans who understand the universe and why it's so amazing to begin with. That is a key asset and an important mentality to have, and thankfully that's just the starting point for these three. There's so much more to them and their potential to exceed expectations. So, even if you know these three guys already, I thought it was worth taking a quick look at who they are…
Josh Trank (Chronicle, Fantastic Four)
Who? Josh Trank. Age? 29 years old. Movies so far: Chronicle, Fantastic Four (due out in 2015). He's directing: a standalone movie, but we're not sure which one it is yet, or what it will be about. Why he's awesome? Have you seen Chronicle? If not, watch that, you'll understand. We haven't seen Fantastic Four yet, but I've got a good feeling Trank is one of those filmmakers who will have one hell of an amazing career. Commenting on joining the Lucasfilm family, Kathleen Kennedy stated: "He is such an incredible talent and has a great imagination and sense of innovation. That makes him perfectly suited to Star Wars, and for this new slate of movies that reach beyond the core characters and storylines of Episodes I through IX."
While we can keep referencing Chronicle and The Fantastic Four, it might actually be Josh's old Star Wars fan-film that helped him land this job. Titled Stabbing at Leia's 22nd Birthday, the one-and-a-half-minute short documents a lightsaber stabbing at a birthday party. It's short, but badass, and is just a hint at the kind of style that we saw more of in Chronicle. If he can bring more of that intimate, young-teens-messing-around-at-parties vibe to a standalone movie, it might make for a great young Jedis feature. But that's just one idea, and it's that kind of potential (and the success of Chronicle) that makes him the perfect guy to bring us a Star Wars movie unlike anything we've seen before. Watch my interview with Josh from 2012.
Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla)
Who? Gareth Edwards. Age? 39 years old. Movies so far: Monsters, Godzilla (2014). He's directing: a standalone movie with a script written by Gary Whitta (of The Book of Eli, After Earth), another very talented geek who is perfect to bring some new energy this universe. This will be the first standalone movie, in theaters December 2016, following the debut of Episode VII in 2015. Why he's awesome? Have you seen Godzilla? If not, watch that, you'll understand. Gareth's understanding of the cinematic experience is remarkable, and the way he integrates visual effects into the story is what makes him stand out. I'm a huge fan of both Monsters and Godzilla, and I think his visual prowess in those movies speaks entirely for itself.
Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull on why he chose Gareth Edwards for Godzilla from our interview:
"I'd say it was the confluence of a couple things. I was blown away by Monsters. Then when I found out not only how much it cost, but how clever you would have to be in your choices. Not just like, 'All right. He did the effects on his laptop,' but the cinematic choices you would have to make to tell that story for a couple hundred thousand dollars to me were really intriguing. So we asked him to come in and meet with me. And we right away hit it off. He was just so smart about the way that he would talk about things and approach them. Not only was he a fan of Godzilla, but we geeked out about Amblin movies from Steven [Spielberg]."
That says it all. Edwards is a refreshing new filmmaker, and while not everyone loves Godzilla or Monsters, he has gained my respect through his two movies so far and I can't wait to see how much he messes with Star Wars next. In my review of Monsters way back at Cannes 2010, I wrote: "The effects were seamless and looked great, which is even more amazing considering I learned later that Edwards did them all on his computer by himself. There really is so much to admire and appreciate and love about this and it's as close to near perfection as we'll get…" This praise got him the Godzilla job, and the rest is history. My hope is that Gareth continues to maintain his enthusiasm while making more unforgettable sci-fi movies for us to enjoy.
Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper)
Who? Rian Johnson. Age? 40 years old. Movies so far: Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper. He's directing: Star Wars: Episode VIII, and maybe Episode IX, but that is to-be-determined. He's also writing the script for Episode VIII, and also IX. Which means they are very much his films. Why he's awesome? Have you seen Looper? If not, watch that, you'll understand. No, seriously. Looper is just plain awesome. I love that movie. But I also adore Brick, and The Brothers Bloom, too. Each one for its own reasons, and sometimes it took multiple viewings to really warm up and appreciate all the depth in his films. He's not really a mainstream director, which is why this seems like an odd choice, but it might be an inspired choice.
Rian is a lovable film nerd. He knows more about cinema than most people, he attended USC's School of Cinematic Arts, and one of his places in Los Angeles was located blocks from the New Beverly Cinema so he could stop by there and see films often. His first film, Brick, shows he has an understanding of characters and dialogue, and is the breakout role for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His second film, The Brothers Bloom, is a crime comedy adventure that shows he is capable of setting up and playing with a story that keeps viewers on edge. And his third film, Looper, shows that he is as adept at telling science fiction stories as he is any other genre, while at the same time giving us something completely original. Which one is your favorite?
Upon making the announcement, Johnson tweeted Scott Glenn's prayer from The Right Stuff - watch here. Our friends at SlashFilm posted an audio clip of Johnson reviewing J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, further showing that he's the right man for the job. He will bring his originality, and his innovative sensibilities, to the Star Wars universe and it's going to be so exciting to see what he comes up with. Ohh and we can't forget that Johnson also directed that "Breaking Bad" episode we all love, titled "Ozymandias". All of this makes him the perfect man for the job. He's beloved by critics and fans, he knows cinema, he knows how to tell great stories, and he'll be taking over Star Wars after J.J. Abrams is done. Let's see what you've got, Mr. Johnson.
One other interesting note is that, so far, Lucasfilm has only hired male directors for Star Wars. One tweet recently called out for a female director, but it's really about if there is any one of them that would be a good fit for a Star Wars story. Perhaps someone like Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) or Lexi Alexander (Punisher: War Zone) or even Michelle MacLaren ("Breaking Bad", "Game of Thrones") would work? It all depends on what exactly Lucasfilm and Disney are looking for, what the story/script is about, and if their sensibilities as a director fit within the universe. That said, I wouldn't say I'm unhappy with these director picks so far, and I don't think it's necessary to complain when it's all about their individual capabilities as a leader and director than anything else. Don't forget, Kathleen Kennedy is steering the ship at Lucasfilm.
Speaking of Kathleen Kennedy, I noticed her at the premiere screening of Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity at the Telluride Film Festival last year. (Maybe there's still hope for a Cuarón-directed Star Wars one day?) She's out there, attending film festivals, supporting filmmakers, searching for filmmakers, getting to know what the industry is like and what other artists are doing. That's how they find these guys, that's why they chose them. Yes, each one of them did have a big sci-fi hit as their last feature (remember: in Hollywood this is important) but at the same time, they're three guys who deserve to be given the keys to a universe as grand and exciting as this one. Trust in them, as I do, and hopefully they will show us their own exhilarating vision of the Star Wars universe. I'm excited to see how they'll be pushing sci-fi and Star Wars in their own ways.
If Disney sticks with this setup, there's at least two more directors yet to be announced - one for Episode IX (unless Rian Johnson gets that again) and one for the other standalone film. Plus (as we learned with Edgar Wright), anything could happen along the way, and nothing is 100% official in Hollywood until shooting is underway. It might be worth mentioning that one reason Disney/Lucasfilm is going after the younger, newer crop of filmmakers is that they're a bit easier to manage, and they don't cost as much, as with other more experienced directors. Disney can get a better deal, and they know everyone will be happy to work together and no one will be as frantic about final cut as David Fincher. That said, in the long run it doesn't really matter because it really is all about the final execution, and if they can put together an outstanding movie.
For now, I'm very optimistic, and I think they've made the right choice in Trank, Edwards and Johnson. While I've heard a few complaints about the lack of "original" movies we'll get from Johnson and Trank now that they're making movies for Hollywood, I think that's missing the point. If these guys said "yes" to this job, that means they're already confident we are going to see their "original" version of Star Wars, whether that be in a standalone movie or as part of the new trilogy. Whether or not it's a story set in the Star Wars universe, we're still going to get another new Rian Johnson movie in a few years, that's what I'm the most excited about. To see how his version turns out, what he adds to this universe. May the Force be with them.
[Other directors I'd love to see make a Star Wars movie: Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Neill Blomkamp, William Eubank (of The Signal), Wes Ball (of The Maze Runner), Colin Trevorrow, Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, the Wachowskis, Edgar Wright and Sam Mendes.]
To end, it's best to recap and recommend all of these directors' past films: Monsters from Gareth Edwards, Chronicle from Josh Trank, and Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper from Rian Johnson. Watch those films, follow these filmmakers, and keep alert for the latest Star Wars updates right here on FirstShowing.