Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rian Johnson to Direct "Star Wars: Episode VIII"

Well, Disney and Lucasfilm are literally wasting no time with Star Wars.  After the one-two punch of Godzilla's Gareth Edwards and Chronicle's Josh Trank being named as the directors of the first two spin-off films in the franchise, we've now got word that Looper director, Rian Johnson, will be directing the next Star Wars episode after Episode VII, Episode VIII.  My first thought is disappointment that J.J. Abrams wont be back in the director's chair beyond Episode VII, but second and most importantly, it shows that Disney and Lucasfilm are serious here about wanting a new Star Wars film every year starting in December 2015.

Currently, this very well may be the best time ever to be a Star Wars fan, I mean, just a little over two years ago we were being told that there would never, ever be new Star Wars movies, and here we are now, only a year and a half away from the start of a new trilogy and a plethora of promised spin-off films.   Given that we are steadily growing closer and closer to Episode VII, and given Disney's desire to have a new Star Wars movie in theaters every year, in order for all of these movies to get in production and be ready for their presumed release dates of 2016, 2017, and 2018, they need to start filming soon, which is why it has been such a busy month for Star Wars announcements.  In truth, these spin-offs and Episode VII - IX, have been in development ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm.

It is safe to assume that at the very least, these first two spin-offs being done by Edwards and Trank, already have at least a draft or two of their scripts already written, and that Episode VIII has a rough treatment of some sorts.  We've known for a long time that The Empire Strikes Back screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, and X-Men: Days of Future Past screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, had formed a Star Wars brain trust with J.J. Abrams and had not only hashed out the finer points of the new trilogy based upon George Lucas's notes that were sold to Disney, but they were also writing the first two spin-off films.  This has all been known since their involvement was first announced almost two years ago now.  The main question is if this is all going to be Star Wars overload.

At this current juncture, I am not entirely sure how I feel about the idea of these spin-off films.  While it's cool to think about a film purely about Boba Fett, Yoda, or Han Solo, so many of those characters work because they aren't the sole focus of the story.  In many ways, I still feel that the idea of the spin-off films is a little too much, and I've felt that since they were first announced.  I would much rather Disney and Lucasfilm pour all of their energy into making these new episodes in the larger story be the best films they can be, rather than trying to justify their $2 billion purchase of Lucasfilm with as many box office hits as possible.  Will audiences turn up for a Boba Fett film?  Will they turn up for a Yoda film?  I don't know, but one thing I can say is that it is clear that Lucasfilm and Disney are intent on injecting new blood into the Star Wars series.

Think about it, all four directors of the next four Star Wars films were all kids when the very first Star Wars came out in theaters.  Ever since the beginning of this acquisition, it has been very clear that the new management at Lucasfilm were intent on recapturing the feel of the original trilogy from the Seventies and Eighties, and I think this is a sign of that intention.  J.J. Abrams was the first one to step in, and his major geek cred doing similar types of movies really allayed a lot of fans' fears, letting them know that Episode VII was arguably in the best hands possible.

Now, in just the past month, we've gotten word of Gareth Edwards, Josh Trank, and now, Rian Johnson, all jumping to hyperspace to make their own Star Wars films.  While you could definitely argue that none of these three directors have the credibility of J.J. Abrams, they all have an apparent love and understanding of the sci-fi genre and the Star Wars franchise, and that is always a good place to start when looking for the creative talent to bring new chapters to life.  I mean, Edwards proved he is a blockbuster maestro in the Spielberg mold after Godzilla (which is probably what got him the gig), and Trank really blew people away with his found footage superhero flick, Chronicle.  Then, there is Johnson, the newest guy to join their ranks, and the only one of the three to actually be directing a major Star Wars episode.

When I first went online and saw the news that Rian Johnson was going to direct Episode VIII, I was a little upset by it, not because I think Johnson is a bad filmmaker, but because Abrams isn't going to be directing the sequel.  Perhaps the rumored two year turn around between the two episodes is why Abrams is not doing Episode VIII, but it kind of feels a little like the security blanket has been whipped away.  If there is anyone in the current state of moviemaking who can be considered a true successor to Spielberg and Lucas, it's J.J. Abrams, and his involvement in Episode VII has really been like a safety net for me, and without him for Episode VIII, I'm unsure.  Then there's always the concern that Johnson has never done a film of this scale, hype, or innocence before, and whether or not he can pull it off.  Don't get me wrong, Looper was a pretty good movie, and The Brothers Bloom is a fun little comedy crime caper, but all of Johnson's films thus far have been fairly adult in subject matter and whether or not people want to admit, Star Wars is an all ages brand.  Will Johnson be able to deliver some of the warmer moments that the franchise is known for?  I guess time will tell, but I am pulling for him, because I want the best Star Wars films possible.

Ultimately, until all of these new Star Wars films are released, we don't know how good any of them will or wont be.  While so many fans are happy that George Lucas is no longer actively involved in the franchise, I've got to say that when he was there all the time as producer, it gave everything an assuredness that it would all still feel like Star Wars.  There is no assuredness at this point because almost everyone working on these films has never done Star Wars before.  Perhaps that's what this series needs in order to stay fresh going into the future, but I just hope that in their desires to turn Star Wars into the new Marvel Universe, that the fun of Star Wars isn't lost in cliched stories and subpar films.  While many fans will argue what I'm about to say, in my opinion, there has never been a bad Star Wars film, and I don't want there to ever be one.  These are films that have always been made with great care and an eye towards story and character first, so let's see that continue.

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