Star Wars | The ultimate poisoned chalice for film directors?

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It’s one of the biggest film franchises on the planet, but given the pitfalls and vocal fandom, Star Wars might also be the trickiest for filmmakers to navigate…

Star Wars fans seldom unanimously agree on much, but they know what they hate. And while all fandoms can be difficult – and sometimes quite scary – beasts to placate, lovers of Star Wars seem particularly difficult to please. The franchise is now almost 47 years old, and if there’s one consistent thing that can be said about the series, it’s that it can be a tough gig for filmmakers.

Let’s start with George Lucas. The quietly visionary filmmaker was still in his early 30s when he made the original Star Wars all those years ago, and the pressures of directing it were such that, even when it was met with widespread acclaim and huge ticket sales, he couldn’t bring himself to personally oversee the making of the sequel. Instead, he turned to an old friend, Irvin Kershner, to take on the role of director for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

When it was time to make a third film to complete the trilogy, Kershner wasn’t up for returning, and so the previously obscure Welsh filmmaker Richard Marquand agreed to direct. (This was after a number of high-profile directors, including David Lynch and David Cronenberg, had turned the gig down.)

Opinions about 1983’s Return Of The Jedi seem to have softened in the decades since, but this writer’s just about old enough to remember that, at the time, it was regarded as a disappointment in some quarters. When it comes to contemporary fan reactions, this forum provides a flavour of the kinds of complaints I recall reading about or hearing in playgrounds at the time.

Common beefs included: the bits in Jabba’s palace looked like The Muppet Show; the Empire was brought down by teddy bears; introducing another Death Star felt like a lazy rehash of the first film… and so on, and so on. (For what it’s worth, I love Return Of The Jedi.)

In fact, if you only paid attention to the most negative reactions to each entry released so far in the Star Wars franchise, and laid them out as bullet points, they’d look something like this:

  • Star Wars (1977): Seemed great at the time, but the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back made it look retrospectively worse.
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980): The franchise high point, but its abrupt cliffhanger ending made it feel like a middle chapter rather than a complete story in its own right.
  • The Return Of The Jedi (1983): Teddy bears – WTF, George? (See above.)
  • The Phantom Menace (1999): Too much chat about taxation and trade routes, Jar Jar was annoying. Saw it in the cinema five times, though.
  • Attack Of The Clones (2002): Oh GOD.
  • Revenge Of The Sith (2005): ‘She has lost the will to live.’ Really, George?
  • The Force Awakens (2015): Leaned too hard on fan nostalgia. Too much like A New Hope. Go away, Rey.
  • Rogue One (2016): Leaned too hard on fan nostalgia.
  • The Last Jedi (2017): Ignored all the things set up in The Force Awakens, which we didn’t like anyway. Rey still hasn’t gone away.
  • Solo (2018): Leaned too hard on fan nostalgia.
  • Rise Of Skywalker (2019): Ignored all the things set up in The Last Jedi, which we didn’t like anyway. Also leaned too hard on fan nostalgia.

All of which might help explain why Lucasfilm has spent the past five years and counting not making Star Wars movies. It’s weird to think, in fact, that seven filmmakers have successfully shot and released a Star Wars film (George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, JJ Abrams, Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson, Ron Howard), but at least as many directors have either been fired or had their projects fall apart.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller were ushered off the set of Solo and replaced by Ron Howard. Patty Jenkins, Colin Trevorrow, Josh Trank and James Mangold (more on him later) all had Star Wars movies in the works at one point, and none of them happened. Last year, Guillermo del Toro revealed that he once had a Jabba the Hutt film in the works.

Even the filmmakers who’ve managed to make and release a Star Wars film haven’t exactly been burnished by the experience. Gareth Edwards’ brush with the franchise proved so punishing that he didn’t make another film for almost seven years – he returned with The Creator in 2023.

As exciting as it must be to get the opportunity to make a Star Wars film, then, it’s also a job that’s fraught with peril. Will your vision line up with what Lucasfilm executives have in mind? Will it wither on the vine after months if not years in development, like Patty Jenkins’ Rogue Squadron? Will the film be repeatedly rewritten and reshot, as Rogue One and Rise Of Skywalker were? Will fans like what you’ve made, or will you merely succeed in making them angry?

Some Star Wars filmmakers even manage to provoke anger before they’ve shot a frame of footage. Take Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for example, who was announced as the first ever female director of a Star Wars film last year. Within weeks of that announcement, an old quote of hers was dredged up – “I enjoy making men uncomfortable” – which was immediately seized on by a small yet vocal subset of fans.

“They’re ruining Star Wars again,” one viral TikTok video read. Never mind that Obaid-Chinoy made those comments almost a decade ago, or that she was talking about a documentary she’d made rather than a space-fantasy franchise.

Looking ahead to the future of Star Wars in cinemas, and things still look strangely clouded for such a big, lucrative franchise. Obaid-Chinoy’s Star Wars film was originally set for release in December 2025, but has since been pushed back to May 2026; to date, it doesn’t have an official title, but it’s set to bring back Daisy Ridley’s Rey, which is sure to please Star Wars fans everywhere (see those bullet points above).

There’s also a second Star Wars film currently scheduled for 2026, but this one’s even more nebulous. Is this the project being worked on by James Mangold (who previously worked on a Boba Fett spin-off, which became a TV show instead)? Or is it the one Taika Waititi’s been working on for years? Or Dave Filoni’s film? Or something else entirely? To date, Lucasfilm hasn’t confirmed.

One project that does have an official title, though, is The Mandalorian And Grogu, announced on the 9th January and due to go into production this year. Tellingly, perhaps, it’s a spin-off (or perhaps continuation) of Disney+ series The Mandalorian, which, in the midst of all the mixed reactions to Lucasfilm’s movies, is one of the best-received offerings the studio has put out over the past decade. The film will be directed by Jon Favreau who, given he was the showrunner of the original series, arguably makes him a safe pair of hands.

Putting Grogu up there in the title is also a cunning, crowd-pleasing move. Because if there’s at least one thing most Star Wars can agree on, it’s that they love the adorable little green fella.

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