Last Friday Lucasfilm announced the name of the writer/director for Star Wars Episode VIII, and in doing so caused the tide of expectation to swell and further overwhelm the cultural sandbags of the Prequel trilogy. The man who made the Rainmaker, the builder of Brick and the third Brother Bloom Rian Johnson is a savvy choice to take over from Abrams in the director’s chair, I don’t say this because I tweeted this obvious thought two weeks previously…

Disney clearly know what they are doing. While there was a palpable sense of relief when JJ Abrams was announced as the director of Episode VII the internet rumour mill had already thrown up enough names into the project’s orbit to make Abrams seem like a safe, almost unimaginative, choice. Perhaps Disney feared the Phantom Menace effect and brought Abrams on board specifically because of his success in re-establishing Star Trek. Following Star Trek it appeared to be an appropriately logical progression for him. For him to take on all three Star Wars films was not, so who would be next?

Last year I had the chance to speak with Johnson on the legacy of Looper and what that film’s success meant for him and his future projects. I rarely quote from my own work but he said something which adds weight to the response some fans have had to the news.

The next thing I’m doing is also sci-fi but it’s very different to Looper, I had a really great time working in science fiction and the next thing which grabbed me was also from there. Tonally and otherwise it’s very different from Looper but I’m still in the middle of writing and you never know until you’ve finished exactly what you’ve got. The thing I love doing is telling my own stories, at least for now.

I then asked him outright if directed the new Star Wars films was something he’d go for,

I love big franchise movies and some of our best filmmakers out there are making them, but for me right now I’m writing my next thing. It’s just the coolest thing for me to be able to make my own movies and tell my own stories.

The humility of that response is just one of the reasons Johnson has such a thriving fanbase, and once the announcement was made last week a familiar sentiment was echoed online. I’ll quote Da7e Gonzales from Latino-Review as his tweet summed up the thoughts of many.

For fans of Johnson’s work the goal is surely for him to make another film; though not necessarily a Star Wars film, so I can understand the sentiment. When the news broke that Gareth Edwards was slated as the director of the the first Star Wars spin-off film, Disney’s plan became clear. Just as Legendary had done with Edwards (this news was heralded in the shadow of a massive box office haul for Edwards’ Godzilla), as Universal had done with Colin Trevorrow and Sony with Marc Webb, those commanding the big studio franchises were plucking successful indie directors for their reboots and revisitings. The fear behind the emotion displayed in the tweet about and those who echo it is that of directors with stunning original visions being lost in the franchise machine, chewed up or stomped underfoot by the monsters they are trying to tame.

Gareth Edwards Star Wars

Critically Godzilla didn’t match the commercial success but Edwards made a good fist of his first blockbuster, certainly it was a massive step up from the bedroom-based production of Monsters. When the news was announced that Edwards would be joining the select group of directors thrown the keys to the greatest sci-fi kingdom in cinema there was, again, relief. This was suddenly tempered by the confirmation from Legendary pictures that Edwards’ sojourn in the galaxy far, far away would not preclude him from his duties on the Godzilla sequel. They had their man, and they wanted everyone to know they wanted him home by nightfall.

Two other directorial voices are going through this process right now. Colin Trevorrow’s ascension to the dizzy heights of Jurassic World may be a dream come true for the director and it is a remarkable leap from the Sundance darling Safety Not Guaranteed. Being guided by Spielberg won’t hurt Trevorrow just as Johnson having the ear of Abrams is no bad thing. (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb is another indie director caught up in a franchise typhoon and the shortcomings of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may by a sign that he has no air to breathe creatively in that environment. It doesn’t bode well for the third film, the tendrils of the forthcoming Spider-Man movie universe may yet take hold and drag down its flagship. In their desperation for an Avengers-style series let us hope that Webb isn’t lost.

Marc Webb

Johnson’s previous form is a hotchpotch of dazzling narrative turns, characters jumping from the page and the screen flooding us with charisma, all captured with an inventive and effective visual hold. More importantly they are fun. His sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom, disappointed some but it was a very hard film to sell. A globe-jaunting crime caper with multiple long cons twisting into a dizzying journey in and out of the lives of two brothers. With the Star Wars news I’m confident that many more people who skipped Bloom will discover it and find much to love. This is just one beneficial side-effect from the recent news. Those bemoaning Johnson’s decision to go with the Disney money can and should take solace in the fact that for many Bloom will serve as ‘the new Rian Johnson film’.

And with their new movie universe Disney and Lucasfilm have the right idea. It was the same idea which made the inital Star Wars trilogy such a success: one person to oversee, others to bring it to the screen. The plentiful Behind-the-scenes footage on the numerous Star Wars Prequel DVDs offered a dreary insight into the world of a man to whom no-one said the word ‘no’ and the results are now movie legend, or rather a cinematic cautionary tale. Marc Webb is a fine director, as is Colin Trevorrow, as are all the names mentioned in this article; if we’re lucky then we’ll see many, many great films from them all in the future. Don’t fear the blockbuster. It is the chance to see directors we love tell stories in worlds we love.

Episode VIII may well be the biggest film Johnson directs but it won’t be his last. How many directors, writers and actors have we seen wading through the murky big-money multiplex-targeted dross in order that they make money enough for their own personal projects. I can’t guarantee the success of Episode VIII (though it is a fairly safe bet), I also can’t imagine anyone kicking Johnson out of bed when it comes to his next, non Star Wars, film. I would imagine for all of these directors, Abrams aside, the ability to get a film made at all is cause for celebration. Let’s hope their fans share that emotion.

At the very least we can hope for a Banjo version of the Imperial March to play as the credits roll, right?


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