Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Who Should Direct "Star Wars: Episode VII"

Easily the most anticipated film in the industry right now is Star Wars:  Episode VII.  Following the bombshell two weeks ago that Lucasfilm was selling to Disney, many fans have been speculating about the new film that Disney announced the same day as the acquisition.  Episode VII will be produced by Lucasfilm, with the money and final say-so coming from Disney, and George Lucas merely onboard as a creative consultant.  Just this past weekend, they announced that screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) had been hired to write the script for Episode VII, following a treatment that Arndt had written for what is now being called the Sequel Trilogy.

What's most intriguing about Arndt's involvement, is the fact that he has been working on this with Lucas and Lucasfilm for months and word had not slipped, which is a feat in-and-of itself in this ravenous internet age that a secret this big hadn't been splashed across countless webpages three months ago.  However the greatest thing about Arndt's involvement, is that it shows that Disney and Lucasfilm are taking these film's seriously.  They've hired a great screenwriter who knows how to infuse comedy, humanity, and excitement in every story he writes.  He knows when to get serious, but also understands that seriousness isn't needed all the time, the right guy to script a Star Wars adventure -- perhaps in a similar vein to the original three, and not the uber-serious prequels.  While Arndt isn't necessarily Lawrence Kasdan, he's a great screenwriter, young, with maybe a few fresh ideas to bring to the table to keep this new trilogy from feeling outdated by modern science fiction films.  Now, all we need is a director.

I personally feel we wont hear any casting news until a director is attached and a draft is done, till then, countless reports stating Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, are returning, should be taken with a grain of salt.  I could be wrong, but the next big step for Disney and Lucasfilm is to sign whoever will take George Lucas's place at the helm of the franchise.  My personal wish, Steven Spielberg, has already gone on record as saying he wouldn't do it, as have a few other directors.  Quite frankly, I don't blame any director for not wanting to jump into a franchise that is already six films in, and will be met with fan scrutiny, no matter how good it is.  Therefore, most big names, like Spielberg or James Cameron, are just wishful thinking, as well, given the recent video interview between Lucasfilm CEO, Kathleen Kennedy, and Lucas himself, they said that what they were looking for in a director was someone who is a fan of the films and already has a love for the material.  Given the people already involved, and the little I've gathered so far, I've decided to just name off a few Hollywood directors that I think would be good fits for the Star Wars universe.

The big thing I've taken into account here is that Kathleen Kennedy is now the head of Lucasfilm, and not George, and with Kennedy having worked with multiple directors throughout her decades of being a producer in Hollywood, she will more than likely have some names she's already thinking about.  To be honest, she could go with some new blood, but I almost think she might go with someone she can already trust.  Given all this, I don't think it will be Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams or Guillermo Del Toro, or any other filmmaker that fanboys are obsessed with.  Whedon is too loyal to abandon Marvel, Abrams already has Star Trek, and Del Toro, he'd probably just sign on and abandon it halfway through pre-production like he has done with countless projects, including The Hobbit.  So who will direct?  Honestly, I don't know.  I don't have some inside track or nothing, all I can do is make some educated guesses based upon what I want to see.  However, I'm not going to go with the wishlist idea, I know there's no chance anymore of Spielberg, Whedon, or Abrams, so what's the point of even pondering the notion?  Personally, I feel they'll go with seasoned hands, people who already have some experience with event films, but they're also people who don't have too much of an artist's complex to think that they have to come in and change everything, while still having enough imagination to work with what's already come before in fresh ways.  Here are the guys I'd be most jazzed about to see kick-off the new Star Wars trilogy, in no particular order:

Gary Ross
The Hunger Games' director  is the top name for me.  Gary Ross has only three films under his belt, but each film he's made is fantastic and vastly different from the last.  With The Hunger Games, Ross showed a unique talent to stay true to the source material while innovating where he felt it was needed.  He has an artist's eye, which is evident from the fabulous art direction of all his films, from Pleasantville to The Hunger Games, but most importantly, he has a history with Kathleen Kennedy, who produced his film, Seabiscuit.  Ross is an exquisite Hollywood craftsman who understands both the art and science of filmmaking, unparalleled in creating lush visuals while telling emotional, character centric stories.  The biggest drawback to Ross is that he is notorious for taking long periods of time to make his films, often rewriting scripts once he's brought onboard to feel closer to the material.  As well, Ross opted out of doing The Hunger Games' sequel, Catching Fire, because he felt he wasn't up to the task of mounting such a large scale film so soon after completing one.  Even still, Ross might see that this is as a once in a lifetime chance, and will jump on it, that's only if he doesn't continue on with Peter Pan prequel, Peter and the Starcatchers, instead.

Shawn Levy
A director I've admired ever since I saw his remake of The Pink Panther with Steve Martin, by no means a groundbreaking film, but it was funny and faithful to the Peter Sellers' originals.  Since, Levy has gone on to more genre-oriented fare, while still staying within the family genre that he started in with his work in television and on the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.  After two Night at the Museum films and Real Steel (which I was a huge fan of, by the way), I feel that Levy has appropriately positioned himself as a director with a good sense of humor, a craftsman's eye at handling special effects, large stars, and big budgets, while retaining a naive-like heart to all of his films.  While I don't think Shawn Levy will re-invent the wheel by any means, I think he'd be highly respectful of the material and would deliver a solidly made film on time and on budget that would look good, but most importantly, would make you feel something.  His biggest drawback is that he's a studio man, not necessarily an artist, as well, he doesn't really have a prior history with either Lucas or Kennedy, though Real Steel was produced by Dreamworks and was released via Disney's Touchstone Pictures, so maybe.

Chris Columbus
Here is why Chris Columbus would be perfect for Star Wars:  the first two Harry Potter films.  Not only did Columbus prove his talent with special effects on those films, but he also proved his ability to build worlds.  He was the guy who came in and took what JK Rowling had written on the page and translated it to film, setting the template for the eight film series that was enormously successful.  While the last two films Columbus has made are lackluster to say the least, he was at one time one of the more bankable directors in Hollywood.  From the first two Home Alone movies, to Mrs. Doubtfire, to the aforementioned Harry Potter films, Columbus is just enough of an artist that his films feel like him, yet they're all accessible and viable in a commercial marketplace, the perfect guy to steer the ship of the Star Wars franchise.  Not to mention, Columbus is one of the finer screenwriters of the past few decades, having written the scripts for The Goonies, Gremlins, and Young Sherlock Holmes back in the '80s, before he was a director.  He's an ace storyteller that understands story structure and character in ways that only a screenwriter can.  My only fear is that Columbus has lost his touch, having not made a truly good or successful film since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but perhaps Star Wars:  Episode VII could be his return to form.

Joe Johnston
This may be one of the more logical choices proposed.  Johnston has a long standing history with the Star Wars franchise, having been one of the founding members of Industrial Light & Magic, working on the special effects and art direction on the first three Star Wars films.  As well, Johnston has a close relationship to George Lucas, with Lucas actually paying Johnston's tuition to go to film school in the '80s to become a director.  Since, Johnston has become one of the more solid craftsmen you could have helming your effects laden film.  From films like Honey I Shrunk the Kids to Jumanji, all the way to October Sky and Captain America:  The First Avenger, Johnston is a filmmaker who not only knows how to make fun, escapist entertainment (just look at his pulp adventure, The Rocketeer), but make it with heart and spectacle, something that Star Wars needs.  Not to mention, he's already overtly familiar with the Star Wars universe, having designed many of the design elements of the first three films, in particular, the look of Bobba Fett.  Like Shawn Levy above, Johnston isn't known for reinventing the wheel, but that isn't what I really want someone to do with this new Star Wars film.  He's a guy that already knows the style, is a great director who can also create new design elements that will fit perfectly into the already established Star Wars universe, and he has shown in the past that he is not shy about taking on a franchise that was already established by an A-list director with Jurassic Park III.  There is really no reason in my mind why Kathleen Kennedy and Disney should not be looking at Johnston as a serious contender.

Ron Howard
Another George Lucas protege, Ron Howard is the most successful filmmaker I've mentioned on this list, and that would probably be what will put the kibosh on the whole deal.  Ron Howard's a modern day mogul now, like Spielberg or Lucas, he can pick whatever he wants, and do it however he so desires, but dare we not forget that Ron Howard started out as a young filmmaker under the wings of people like Roger Corman and George Lucas.  Ron Howard developed a mentor-student like relationship with Lucas on the set of American Graffiti, which led into Lucas's involvement with Howard, on Ron Howard's '80s fantasy flick, Willow.  Ron Howard, to this day, considers Lucas a mentor, and his resume shows that he is not opposed to doing genre flicks, the biggest thing is whether or not Howard feels he has grown out of fantasy and sci-fi films.  Sure, he got his start with films like Splash!, Willow, and Cocoon, but since, the closest things he's done to those have been The DaVinci Code movies.  Howard seems to be more interested in doing human dramas nowadays than he is in dealing with magic or blasting off to other galaxies, but given Howard's relationship with Lucas, and his own prior filmography, I would not count Howard out.  Howard is an exceptional director of fantasy and science fiction whenever he so desires, and I feel he could deliver a Star Wars film that would be impressive.  He's a seasoned veteran, he knows how to tell stories in visual ways, as well as deal with actors to get good performances, but most importantly, he has clout.  Ron Howard is one of the largest figures in modern moviemaking, and I feel Howard's involvement would not only allay some fanboys' fears, into letting them know that Disney is really looking to make a quality Star Wars film, but Howard also wouldn't be afraid to tell folks like Harrison Ford if he thinks they're overacting or not, something that Ford has drastically needed in nearly all of his roles over the past decade.  Plus, imagine Clint Howard in a Star Wars film.  Maybe he could be an alien in heavy makeup or a bounty hunter.  Oh, the possibilities.

So, there you have it, there is no telling who they're courting to direct the film, but these are just who I'd most like to see give it a try.  Website, IGN, recently spoke with producer, and husband of Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, about the new Star Wars film, and he said that the list had been narrowed down to a couple directors, so hopefully we'll know soon, but for now, speculation is fun.

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