There aren’t many staples of pop culture that have acquired a following the size of Star Wars. Originally conceived as a weird, little indie film by then-unknown George Lucas, the franchise has been a mainstay in our hearts since the first film debuted to acclaim back in 1977. Through all the ups and downs in its storied history, Star Wars fans remain fiercely loyal to the brand.
So followers of the galaxy far, far away are rightfully excited about returning to the universe in December 2015, when J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode 7 will mark the beginning of a new sequel trilogy picking up from where Return of the Jedi left off. Not only that, Lucasfilm is establishing several media platforms (and spin-off features) to ensure that Star Wars remains in the forefront of modern Hollywood.
With moviegoers so passionate about the series, it’s only right for Disney to target filmmakers who share that same enthusiasm to helm the new films. Anyone who has seen Abrams’ previous work knows very well that his love for Star Wars runs deep, as he’s embraced both the tone and practical effects work that made the classic trilogy beloved across the globe.
The director that will immediately follow Abrams’ footsteps, Looper helmsman Rian Johnson, is another individual from the same generation who was heavily inspired by the battle between the Rebels and the Empire. Johnson is writing and directing the forthcoming Episode 8, and he recently chatted with Terry Gilliam on the TalkHouse podcast about the creative process at this point.
Those who are aware of the ins and outs of franchise filmmaking know that there are times where the balance between what the studio wants and the director’s vision can be difficult to find. Early on in their shared cinematic universe, Marvel Studios developed a bad reputation for their (seemingly) unfriendly working conditions – scaring off potential directors (a reputation that was brought back into the spotlight when Edgar Wright left his passion project, Ant-Man).
They may be both under the Disney umbrella, but Johnson insists that the Star Wars filmmakers are not going to have their voices stifled by the powers that be at Lucasfilm, including president Kathleen Kennedy.
Here’s what he had to say:
“Kathleen and her whole creative team have been so insistent on all the filmmakers they’ve been hiring for these new movies: ‘We want you to take it and turn it into something that you really care about.’ And we’ll see how the process plays out, but so far, that’s a big part of the reason I’m in it. Because that just seems like their attitude towards it. It’s really exciting actually.”
Aside from Abrams and Johnson, Star Wars will also see new projects from Godzilla director Gareth Edwards and Chronicle filmmaker Josh Trank, who are calling the shots on the standalone spin-off adventures (rumored to be solo movies about Boba Fett and Han Solo respectively). All of the talent Lucasfilm is assembling behind the camera have made a name for themselves putting their own unique stamp on prior work – so it’s great to hear that they are able to channel their interest in the series into something they can be proud of going forward.
That being said, there’s still a game plan that’s being plotted out in advance. Lucasfilm is in the process of building an extensive multi-platform universe that will allegedly “redefine longform storytelling.” Since story details for Episode 7 come in the form of rumors and not much else, it’s impossible to say exactly what that will entail right now. But we can guess that complete directorial freedom is something that’s off the table until further notice.
Not that that’s a bad thing either. Despite their notoriety for shutting out auteurs, Marvel Studios has become a home for interesting voices (again… unless you’re Edgar Wright), allowing fresh takes from Joe and Anthony Russo as well as James Gunn to dominate the box office this year. Whenever a major Hollywood franchise like Star Wars is involved, there’s always going to be some guidelines on what directors can and cannot do, but genre films have become a sandbox for either rising or established names to play in.
We’ll have to see how successful the new Star Wars trilogy is at pulling this off, but from what we’ve seen and heard so far, it’s off to a very promising start.
Star Wars: Episode 7 will hit theaters December 18, 2015.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.