Star Wars fans are no strangers to pitchforks and flaming sticks (or for that matter billboards) of opinion. So when news breaks, be it the slightest picture or the craziest Snoke theory (which by the way really does suck), everyone has an opinion.
But sometimes opinions just aren’t enough. Sometimes we need Star Wars (read: Lucasfilm) to look in the mirror and really consider if the way things are is best for business. As is the case with the hiring and firing of directors that seems to be a trend of late.
First, though, let’s set some ground rules, and some basic premises, before reflecting:
1- The new films are making a bazillion dollars (not adjusted for inflation), so opinions of The Force Awakens being a remake of the original Star Wars are irrelevant. The film, along with Rogue One, were very successful.
2- Most people are not obsessed with Star Wars like you fine readers and myself. At best, casual fans, as we shall call them for convenience, might see news of a director being fired in their Twitter feed. They won’t click the link though. At worst, they don’t even know who George Lucas is, let alone Gareth Edwards, Josh Trank, or Colin Trevorrow. They just care about going to a movie and having a good laugh, a bit of excitement, and maybe a feeling of hope or two.
Now, those considered, we have to really ask if Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm are running as tight of a ship as most of us would hope. When the story group was first announced and the idea of Lucasfilm going from the vision of one primary person to a collaborative effort, most fans were ecstatic. What better way to be creative than a giant session of Star Wars fans working together to tell the story of Star Wars, right?
For the most part this has worked really, really well. As said before, both films that have been released have been successful. The novels, for the most part, have been well received. Even the comics, while derided by a lot of fans, have had their moments.
One thing of note is that in almost every interview with an author of new canon Star Wars novel, said author will say some form of, “I got all the creative freedom I could have asked for. There were things I could touch, and things I couldn’t, but the interaction with Lucasfilm was great.” It is quite possible that the authors are speaking purely in an attempt to get more work, but with so many authors saying the same basic bullet points, it seems more than likely what they are saying is true.
Interestingly, Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, has said basically the same thing of his film. His counterparts, however, have been particularly silent. Even more interestingly, Rian’s counterparts have been on a slaughtering line over and over. Same parameters, different outcome.
It is really hard (read: impossible) to pass judgement until seeing the final film, but history, as it so often does, provides us some groundwork to understand where we currently stand. With the original trilogy, George Lucas worked in more collaboration than most people would like to admit. A New Hope was edited and cut together primarily by George’s then wife, Maria. The Empire Strikes Back, largely accepted as the best of the Star Wars films, was a great example of collaboration between Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, Irvin Kershner, and, of course, Lucas. Return of the Jedi, while not as much of a collaboration as Empire, got a lot of input from directors, editors, and even actors.
In contrast, the prequels did not have the air of collaboration of its predecessors. George Lucas, intentionally or not, was surrounded by “yes men.” He was, after all, George “Creator of All Things Good” Lucas, and while the prequels are good films, and are gaining more and more support, the original trilogy clearly surpasses the prequel films in every area of storytelling.
The lesson here is important. When George collaborated, three of the best films of all time were made. Without that back and forth, three great films were still made, but lacked the impact and lore of the collaborative film. Looking at Lucasfilm now, doesn’t that beg for collaboration above individuality?
No. Yes. Actually both.
The truth hidden in the shadows is that, at the end of the day, George was still lord and ruler of all things Star Wars. He lead the ship. Others rowed, and now and again gave advice about the tides and winds. But if Lucas said to turn starboard, you turned starboard. If George said to turn port, you turned port.
That idea, philosophy, or whatever you want to deem it, might be exactly what Lucasfilm needs. The Force Awakens had JJ Abrams primarily leading the ship, given the reigns by Kathleen Kennedy. But without a doubt the film was a collaborative effort, including the aforementioned Kasdan. Rebels, likewise, is being led primarily by Dave Filoni, in collaboration with many others; some of the best Star Wars storytelling to date is happening on that show (i.e. “Twilight of the Apprentice”).
While Rogue One certainly provides an argument for all collaboration all the time, almost every other piece of Star Wars storytelling since Disney bought Lucasfilm (forgetting Aftermath and Heir to the Jedi, for obvious reasons most people never wanting to think of these two again) argues that a strong leader heading the ship is the key to finding the hidden treasure, the “it” if you will, that makes Star Wars Star Wars.
With the recent firing, or mutually split, or whatever the hell happened behind the scenes on Episode IX, of Colin Trevorrow, it really is time for Lucasfilm to look in the mirror and ask if the way they are working now is best for the present and future of Star Wars. Now, mistake this not, Kathleen Kennedy is a phenomenal head to the company. She is not the problem, neither are most people working for Lucasfilm. The problem is that freedom, complete and total, is given to directors like Trank, Lord and Miller, and Trevorrow, and then snatched away like the last piece of birthday cake.
The answer, as it always is, will come only when we see the finished product. Won’t it? Reshoots, rewrites, firing, etc., matter not if a good, or better yet a great, film is produced (or so the argument goes). Kennedy is walking a fine line here when it comes to the fan base. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, and I’m an idiot. The reality is that we as fans are no longer going to be fooled. Something is amiss at Lucasfilm, and it needs to be handled. Quickly.
Is the answer not announcing things until later? As Obi-Wan would say, “Possibly.” Is the answer having Filoni, Kennedy, Abrams, or another step into the role Lucas once played? Possibly. No matter what they do, the argument will be that the ends will justify the means, but how many times can millions of fan voices cry out in terror be suddenly silenced with a good film.
I guess we’ll find out on May 24, 2019. Until then, we are just chasing our own tail.