On Tuesday September 5, it was announced that Colin Trevorrow was exiting as director of Star Wars: Episode IX. Whether that had anything to do with the horribly reviewed The Book of Henry or not is not for me to say, but this is arguably the biggest open seat in Hollywood right now. I’m sure plenty of directors and their agents are trying to position themselves for a shot at it.
What is important to know is that the film has a release date of May 24, 2019 already locked in. It’s also worth noting that this marks the fourth Star Wars franchise film that has undergone some kind of behind the scenes change during the pre-production/production process. Michael Arndt’s script was rewritten by Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams for The Force Awakens. On Rogue One, Tony Gilroy was brought in to oversee extensive reshoots and had equal creative say over the final cut as director Gareth Edwards. More recently, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were removed as directors of the Han Solo spinoff over “creative differences.”
It’s clear that Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan have a very particular vision for these films. As a fan of the franchise, I think this is a good thing. I want someone shepherding these projects that casts a collective vision for the cohesive whole and is protective about the name of the brand rather than just maxing out profits. There is at least the suggestion that they care.
Episode IX is the cap to this new trilogy, so finding the right replacement is vitally important. It’s also a bit of a time crunch as there is now less than two years to the release date of Episode IX. The date was not changed for the Han Solo spinoff, and Memorial Day weekend is a prime space of box office real estate, so Disney is likely very reluctant to push it back to December of 2019. They need someone who can come in and take over as seamlessly as possible. So who are the best options out there?
There are a lot of great directors out there. But obviously you’re not going to have someone like Martin Scorsese or Clint Eastwood directing a Star Wars movie. And big names like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, or David Fincher are also highly unlikely. Taikia Waititi, currently finishing up Thor: Ragnarok, has already taken his name off the board, otherwise he would have made my shortlist. So with all of that said, here are FIFTEEN directors on my wish list, ranked roughly in increasing order of their likelihood to land the gig and how excited I would be if they did.
15. George Lucas - Hahahahahahaha, just kidding!!! Although, maybe Lucas directing someone else’s script wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, as long as there is no Jar Jar or in depth discussion about the merits or lack thereof of sand. It gets everywhere, you know?
For real now…
15. Matthew Vaughn – Vaughn has proven to be adept at making fantasy (Stardust), comic book adaptations (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and cheeky action films (Layer Cake, Kingsmen: The Secret Circle and the forthcoming Kingsmen: The Golden Circle). As much as I have enjoyed literally all of his movies to date, he also has a history of dropping out of projects, which is absolutely not an option at this stage of the process.
14. Steven Spielberg – Given the relationship between Spielberg and Lucas, it’s amazing that Spielberg has never directed a Star Wars movie. Rumor was that Lucas wanted Spielberg for Return of the Jedi, which must have happened in some alternate universe. Spielberg also has the relationships with Kennedy and Kasdan for this to work. Alas, Spielberg’s slate looks pretty stocked for the next few years with two movies currently in post-production and one in pre-production and another Indy film announced, according to IMDb.
13. David Leitch/Chad Stahelski – This is the duo behind John Wick. Leitch branched out to make Atomic Blonde while Stahelski made John Wick: Chapter 2. Both are stunt men turned action director. It’s a pretty safe bet that they could produce some of the best lightsaber fights we’ve ever seen and some truly epic space battles. Sadly, both have future projects lined up. Leitch is directing Deadpool 2 and Stahelski is handling John Wick 3.
12. Michelle MacLaren – There bound to be plenty of these lists about who should fill Trevorrow’s shoes as director, and a link will be made between this high profile opening and the lack of female directors working in Hollywood. And MacLaren’s name will be mentioned by nearly everyone who says a female director should get the shot. However, MacLaren should be considered not because she is a female director, but because she is long overdue to get any feature directing gig at this point. She is without debate one of the best directors working in TV right now, having done episodes of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Westworld, and the upcoming HBO show The Deuce. Ultimately, it’s hard to give the biggest franchise in the world to a first time movie director, even if shows like Game of Thrones are like making a mini-movie.
11. Scott Derrickson – Derrickson is a director who worked his way up through the horror ranks to landing the director’s chair for Doctor Strange. Strange featured some fantastic visuals and a solid story, plus it’s a Marvel film, which falls under the Disney banner, like LucasFilm. He is also a great and thoughtful follow on Twitter, where he demonstrated a clear passion and dedication to the character of Doctor Strange. He currently has three projects lined up, but only one is in pre-production, which is the pilot for the TV adaptation of Snowpiercer.
10. Edgar Wright – Wright, fresh off of his biggest financial achievement as a director, Baby Driver, has been making movies for a long time now that show a knowledge and love of pop culture. Star Wars is a huge part of pop culture. He could absolutely make a Star Wars movie work, I believe. However, I think he is also used to a certain level of creative control, as demonstrated by his departure from Ant-Man. It would be a fascinating choice, but one that probably doesn’t have the best odds. This is a pipe dream.
9. Jeff Nichols – A personal favorite of mine, Nichols is probably not even on the radar of LucasFilm. However, he is a director who is growing in stature and recognition, similar to how Rian Johnson was before he was announced as director for The Last Jedi. Nichols showed a lot of sci-fi promise with 2016’s Midnight Special. His characters have emotional depth to them. But he hasn’t done much to indicate that he is interested in anything beyond personal stories about everyday people. According to IMDb, though, his slate is completely clean right now.
8. Patty Jenkins – Why would she make sense? Two words: Wonder Woman. Why wouldn’t she do it? Three words: Wonder Woman sequel. Given that Wonder Woman is second only to Beauty and the Beast at the box office this year, having eclipsed the $400 million mark, it makes sense that Jenkins would be brought back for the sequel if she was interested in it. Indeed, word this past month was that she and the studio were close to an agreement. Given this opening, I imagine that Warner Bros. would be willing to give her whatever she wanted to make sure she came back rather than leave. She could/should totally use it as leverage, especially since she has no feature films officially lined up next.
7. Matt Reeves – If we’re looking for people who can handle a franchise and take over the reins for someone else, why not Matt Reeves? He took over the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy for its last two installments and knocked them both out of the park. Those films featured extensive CGI work and location filming as opposed to green screen. So he has shown capability with what would be required for a project like Episode IX. What could rule him out? Timing. He is slated to direct The Batman for Warner Bros. That’s a pretty high profile job to cast off for the job with the highest profile. Not unheard of, though.
6. Tony Gilroy – Gilroy has to be speculated on, if for no other reason than he was brought in to help out with the significant reshoots of Rogue One. So there is clearly a level of trust and compatibility that exists there with Kasdan and Kennedy. He’s a very good screenwriter and has shown flashes of brilliance as a director. He is also not very prolific as a director, so his availability seems more likely than it does for others.
5. Lawrence Kasdan – If you are having creative differences with several directors and you are one of the people overseeing Star Wars as a whole, at what point does it make sense for you to just grab the reins and take control yourself? After all, you know what you want, right? It’s unlikely that there would be creative differences between Kennedy and Kasdan with their director is Kasdan is the director. The only downside is that Kasdan’s last semi-prominent directorial effort was 2003’s Dreamcatcher.
4. Ava DuVernay – DuVernay has been a hot name in Hollywood for the last few years, due to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the paucity of female directors working in Hollywood. Selma was a breakthrough film for her and she’s in post-production on A Wrinkle in Time, an adaptation of a beloved children’s novel that looks bold and promising. And Disney just happens to be the studio behind that movie. The only downside is that A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t open until March 9, meaning there is likely months of post-production still to be done.
3. Gareth Evans – This is my out-of-the-box pick. I mentioned that the lightsaber fights would be epic if Leitch and Stahelski directed Episode IX, but if you want the potential for some truly next-level, melting-in-your-seat Jedi action in Episode IX, look no further than Evans, the man who directed The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berendal. For my money, they’re the best action movies of the decade, maybe of the century so far. I think it would be fascinating to see someone like Evans get a shot at directing Episode IX, having the budget to expand his palette as a director and deliver the goods in a unique way. It’s not a safe choice, but it’s definitely bold and audacious.
2. Someone from the Pixar Bullpen – If you are looking for stability and a good “in-house” replacement, why not look to Pixar and their stable of directors? John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Lee Unkrich all have experience with Disney. Bird, and Stanton have even directed live action films before. Granted, John Carter and Tomorrowland were mixed results at best, but Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was a success. Given Pixar’s mostly stellar track record, any of these guys could be a suitable person to step in at this point.
1. Rian Johnson – Just give it to him. Please, please, please. He’s already directing The Last Jedi. He’s clearly someone that Kasdan and Kennedy trust. There’s been no inkling of any disruptions with the production of The Last Jedi. All of the cast have been raving about what he brought to the table for Episode VIII. He was going to help with the transition from his film to Trevorrow’s anyway. He’s already written a treatment for Episode IX. This almost makes too much sense to happen, right? The only thing I can see preventing this is if he just doesn’t want to commit another two years of his life to this franchise, which he has been working on for the last three years. As the late John Hurt’s character said in Contact, “First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?” I ask, why have one Rian Johnson Star Wars movie when you have two at twice the price?