Inclusion has become a “Star Wars” staple in front of the camera: Both “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” were led by female heroes and included co-leads played by minority actors. However, white males sat in the director’s chair and the hiring of J.J. Abrams to replace Colin Trevorrow as director of “Episode IX” suggests that will continue for many years to come.
J.J. Abrams is a talented filmmaker, and he’s a fine choice to close out the trilogy of films led by Daisy Ridley’s Rey. He also represents a kind of security that’s hard to resist. The director jumpstarted the new wave of “Star Wars” films with “The Force Awakens,” which earned unanimous acclaim from critics and fans on its way to over $2 billion worldwide. He knows the franchise, he’s beloved by fans, and he’s well versed in how to make a crowd-pleasing studio hit under the watchful eye of Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm.
Most of all, Abrams knows studio filmmaking like the back of his hand, which now seems to be the criteria Lucasfilm demands when picking its “Star Wars” directors. Ron Howard has replaced Chris Miller and Phil Lord on the untitled Han Solo movie, while Stephen Daldry is rumored to developing the yet-to-be-announced Obi-Wan Kenobi film. The idea that Lucasfilm would actively seek out seasoned pros for their films makes sense after the multiple PR disasters that plagued their productions in recent years. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson is now the exception who proves the rule: Less-experienced filmmakers like Miller/Lord, Trevorrow, and Gareth Edwards all had “creative differences” with Kennedy that led to production hiccups and/or director swaps.
Lucasfilm no longer wants to face these problems (who would?) and hiring veterans is a solution. It’s also one that makes the possibility of hiring a filmmaker who isn’t a white guy slim to none.
Many minority candidates were available under Lucasfilms’ former criteria. Trevorrow and Edwards came to “Star Wars” after directing one CGI-driven blockbuster each: “Jurassic World” and “Godzilla,” respectively. Under that measure, there’s no reason that Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”), Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle in Time”), Justin Lin (“Star Trek Beyond”), or F. Gary Gray (“Fate of the Furious”) shouldn’t be the subjects of pursuit. Lord/Miller had hits prior to signing on for Han Solo, but a CGI blockbuster wasn’t one of them. In that case, Antoine Fuqua, Niki Caro, Nacho Vigalando, and Michelle McLaren should all be on Lucasfilm’s rolodex.
Of course, that route didn’t work for Lucasfilm. The public flameouts revealed that no matter how many filmmakers admire the “Star Wars” universe, it’s a machine first and foremost — and it’s one that breaks down in fairly spectacular fashion when it’s not treated as a machine operated by seasoned pros.
Minorities, however, are not part of that system. That’s the ongoing fight, to make lists like “female filmmakers who could direct a blockbuster” seem simple minded because duh, of course they do. Women and minorities are still the system’s outliers, and “Star Wars” is the system within the system.