In addition to news about Star Wars: Rogue One and an exclusive Drew Struzan poster for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was announced at D23 that Colin Trevorrow would be directing Star Wars Episode IX. Trevorrow’s two other directing credits are Safety Not Guaranteed and Jurassic World. Trevorrow joins J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson as the directors of this new Star Wars trilogy.
Trevorrow is simultaneously a good choice (Disney’s banking on the success of Jurassic World) and an out-of-left-field choice (this is only Trevorrow’s third film). This seems to match a recent trend of indie filmmakers being quickly catapulted to tent-pole filmmaking. Star Wars: Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, for example, went from Monsters to Godzilla. Another example: the Russo Brothers, who went from indies and television to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War, and the two Infinity Gauntlet movies.
This got me thinking about the trouble surrounding Josh Trank on Fantastic Four, and what this particular fast-tracking trend from indie-filmmaker-to-competent-journeyman-director might mean.
I feel sort of bad bringing up Josh Trank, but it’s necessary. Trank was attached to direct a standalone Star Wars film until a few months ago. Trank says he voluntarily left Star Wars so he could pursue a small, original project away from public scrutiny. Speculation among film journos (notably The Hollywood Reporter) is that Trank was fired from the gig, partly due to clashes with Fantastic Four screenwriter Simon Kinberg, though largely due to unprofessional behavior.
Kinberg is an executive producer on Star Wars: Rebels and wrote the Star Wars spin-off film that Trank was supposed to direct. (Oddly, Kinberg hasn’t caught that much grief for writing Fantastic Four.) There have been multiple reports on Trank’s troubled Fantastic Four production. New stories of on-set chaos cropped up in the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, one of which alleges that Trank and actor Miles Teller almost came to blows. Fox bears a lot of the blame for the fiasco behind the scenes of Fantastic Four, but Trank’s got to wear the movie as an albatross for the rest of his career (or what’s left of it).
While Trank’s first journey into blockbuster filmmaking feels like a cautionary tale, Trevorrow’s been extremely fortunate by contrast. Jurassic World has earned $1.6 billion worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Now he’s doing Star Wars. If Trank really was ousted because of his difficulties mounting a big film, this might be considered a vote of confidence in Trevorrow’s skills with large-scale storytelling and an agreeable temperament for tent-pole filmmaking.
While I’ve been noticing more and more indie directors being promoted to major films, this leap from indie-to-tent-pole isn’t unprecedented. The Wachowskis went from the low-budget noir of Bound to The Matrix, Christopher Nolan went from moody character-driven dramas to Batman Begins. Rian Johnson, who’s directing Star Wars Episode VIII, also fits in this tradition, and ditto Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. As much as some people clamor for big names on big movies, sometimes the big movies are a type of proving ground for new names or filmmakers who’ve distinguished themselves working on a smaller scale. (Think of Sam Raimi when he came to Spider-Man.)
Then again, there’s a cynical take on signing indie directors to blockbusters. Studios hire young, hungry filmmakers to become journeymen or journeywomen rather than directors with a distinct sensibility. Their job, in short, is to do the studio’s bidding. I wonder how much Marc Webb fits that description, having gone from (500) Days of Summer to the two ill-fated Amazing Spider-Man films for Sony. Jon Watts, the director of the recent indie thriller Cop Car, has been tapped to helm the reboot of Spider-Man for the Marvel Cinematic Universe--it’s only his third film. And of course, directors with more clout or a particular style often clash with studios over vision. In the MCU alone (which seems to be run more by Kevin Feige than any individual directors), Joss Whedon felt broken by compromises he made while doing Avengers: Age of Ultron, Edgar Wright left Ant-Man over creative difference, and Selma director Ava DuVernay declined Black Panther since she wouldn’t have enough control over the character or the project. (Think of Sam Raimi when he made Spider-Man 3.)
Trevorrow’s hire may be a sign of the MCU model being used for these Star Wars films, with Lucasfilm president and producer Kathleen Kennedy serving as the new trilogy’s unifying voice. Kennedy may be the key creative force behind the scenes, guiding a shared vision, molding the new Star Wars universe through her hiring choices and years of experience in the industry. (Kennedy, in an interesting coincidence, was attached as a producer to the fourth Jurassic Park film until 2013, which is when she took the reins of Star Wars for Disney.) This is just speculation for now, but we should have a better understanding of how the new Star Wars series is being crafted in the next few months.
As for Trevorrow, we’ll find out how he does on Star Wars Episode IX in December 2019.