As the Star Wars universe has continued to expand, thanks to the addition of brand-new trilogy of films and a series of standalone offerings (hi, Han Solo spin-off!), the entertainment behemoth has seemingly made it their business to add some much-needed diversity to their galaxy far, far away. The first film in their latest trilogy, last year’s “The Force Awakens,” was lead by both a female star (Daisy Ridley as Rey) and a black actor (John Boyega as Finn), and this year’s standalone feature, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” boasts its own female lead (Felicity Jones), who will go into battle alongside an impressively diverse supporting cast that includes Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker and Jiang Wen.
But behind the camera, it’s a very different picture. Every “Star Wars” film to date has been directed by a white male — from the original trilogy, all the way up to the current planned slate of standalone features — and the studio seems to be struggling to keep up with heightened demand to embrace diversity beyond casting.
In a new interview with Variety, Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy, who is also a producer on both the new trilogy and the upcoming Han Solo feature, maintains that finding a female director for their projects is a priority, though she asserts that finding the appropriate one has so far been a challenge. For Kennedy, the issue is that the “Star Wars” films are so massive that they require someone who already has plenty of experience, gender aside.
“We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success,” Kennedy told Variety. “They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.”
While that’s a fair enough assertion to make — big films need experience! — Kennedy seems to be conveniently forgetting how often Lucasfilm employs male directors who also have relatively limited experience.
Although “Force Awakens” helmer J.J. Abrams had plenty of previous blockbuster experience before he signed on for his first “Star Wars” outing, other directors in the fold have notably less filmmaking time under their belts. Consider directors Gareth Edwards and Colin Trevorrow, who both helmed major hits (“Godzilla” and “Jurassic World,” respectively) before signing on for their first “Star Wars” film, or Rian Johnson, a beloved indie voice who hit it big with his actioner “Looper.”
In all three cases, those directors made smaller films before making the jump to blockbusters and then earning their “Star Wars” stripes.
To get a blockbuster, you have to make a blockbuster, and female directors so rarely get that chance. Which is to say, why can’t “Star Wars” be that sort of jumping-off blockbuster? No matter how massive the films are — and they certainly are — the “Star Wars” universe could actually serve as a fine first blockbuster for any director, given that it comes complete with a meticulously crafted mythology, a strong backbone of heavily involved producers and executives and (typically) a stable of beloved characters to work with.
Blockbusters are hardly auteur affairs, and the “Star Wars” universe in its current incarnation is no different. You don’t get $100 million to make a film and then get set free to do whatever you want. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Variety adds that, “Kennedy says that because there haven’t been many opportunities for women to direct big movies, the Lucasfilm team is trying to identify talented helmers at the early stages of their careers.” Again, it’s a chicken and the egg problem: Blockbuster beget blockbusters. And while Kennedy is correct in her statement that few female directors have gotten the chance to direct big movies, that’s something that is changing in a major way. Look no further than names like Kathryn Bigelow, Ava Duvernay, Patty Jenkins or Jennifer Yuh Nelson for evidence to the contrary.
Kennedy, for her part, maintains that the studio is actively looking. She told Variety, “We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right.”
Here’s hoping that they’ve already started their quest, because as we’ve long noted, these kind of directors — talented, hungry, ready and, oh yeah, female — are not difficult to identify, and it certainly doesn’t require some large-scale search for talent by Kennedy and the Lucasfilm team.
As we reported in August, scads of female directors — lauded, award-winning, experienced filmmakers — are ready, willing and able to make a major blockbuster. Lake Bell may have put it best, “Do I want to make a huge studio picture that’s incredibly successful? Fuck yes, of course.”
They’re not hard to find. You just need to actually look.