The announcement of Rian Johnson as the writer/director of “Star Wars Episode VIII” is exciting for a number of reasons, not least of which is because it indicates something about the way Lucasfilm views the sequel trilogy.
If I were to guess, I would say Marvel isn't going to hire many more writer/directors in the future, even if James Gunn and Joss Whedon both crush it with “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and “Avengers: Age Of Ultron.” The fall-out from the “Ant-Man” situation has been fairly brutal, and while I'm curious to see what Peyton Reed and Adam McKay make of the project they're inheriting, the loss of the Edgar Wright version is just plain going to sting.
Lucasfilm's making these announcements in a flurry right now, it seems, and it's because they have to if these movies are all going to hit the amazing schedule that they've announced of one new “Star Wars” film every year. JJ Abrams is neck-deep in “Episode VII” right now, and while I'm sure everyone involved would love to be able to just take their time and focus on that one movie and get it done and polished and in theaters, they can't. It's not coming out until December of 2015, so if they plan to have a December 2016 film, they need Gareth Edwards to be working right now. If they want “Episode VIII” to be in theaters for December 2017, then Rian is probably already deep into the script process. He'd have to be. And then, for 2018, presumably Josh Trank is geared up to start working towards the film he's making, whichever of the spin-offs it's going to be.
The interesting thing about “Star Wars” movies is that Lucasfilm is going to be making so many of these that there's going to be something of a television atmosphere to it, and I don't mean that in any sort of derogatory way. At this point, there should be no stigma at all about television considering the way something like “Game Of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” or “The Walking Dead” look and the way they dig deep into character and theme. What I mean when I say that is that a show like those shows creates a world that each new director steps into for their episode, telling a story set against this larger canvass. Their job isn't to build the entire thing from scratch, but more to make sure that this particular chapter is told in the best, most complete way possible, and I think it's quite telling that some of the finest episodes of “Breaking Bad” were directed by… oh, yeah… Rian Johnson.
I love his features. I think “The Brothers Bloom” is tremendously underrated. I think “Looper” is a sensational bit of world-building that serves a larger emotional story. Johnson's feature films alone would qualify him for the gig, but I'm willing to bet that the “Breaking Bad” experience didn't hurt. To that end, I think there's a fascinating choice that people are floating tonight on Twitter for who might be right to step up for “Episode IX,” and even though she hasn't directed a feature before, she would seem to me to be a great choice given her resume so far.
Michelle MacLaren is a veteran of all three of the shows I mentioned above. She's got four “Game of Thrones” episodes to her name, three “Walking Dead” episodes, and a total of 11 episodes of “Breaking Bad,” some of which are among the finest hours the shows each had to offer. The suggestion that she would be a good choice for “Episode IX” is not just a longshot attempt to throw a woman's name in the mix. She is a smart, visually muscular director who has great taste in terms of performance, and she has proven that she can step into an established world and do something that feels complete, like a whole story and not just a slice of TV. She can certainly handle modern visual effects with aplomb, but she doesn't seem particularly reliant upon them, which might be exactly the right sort of person to hire for the series.
And if not her, then who? I know that the Deadline story says that Johnson's doing both “Episode VIII” and “Episode IX,” but for the reasons I cited above, it makes more sense if they have a new filmmaker on each of the main trilogy chapters. I like that Johnson's working with his producer, Ram Bergman, who is going to be part of the “Star Wars” process. Bergman's a guy who knows how to stretch a dollar about as far as I am willing to bet it will stretch, so he should help Johnson delivers something massive on a very controlled budget and schedule.
However it shakes out, I find the “Star Wars” choices really compelling and cool so far, and it makes me want to see what these movies are going to be.
“Star Wars: Episode VII” will be in theaters December 18, 2015.