OK, so Eric shot me a text this morning saying that Kathleen Kennedy and the powers-that-be at Lucasfilm have pulled the trigger in bringing back JJ Abrams for the directing and co-writing duties on the as-yet-untitled Episode IX. I have mixed emotions on this, and I truly think this is the ONLY choice they could’ve made that would equally divide the fanbase into three parts – the ones overcome with joy, the ones who are glad for anyone but Trevorrow, and the ones thoroughly bummed in Lucasfilm’s seeming lack of vision and flexibility when it comes to hiring filmmakers and writers to play in the Star Wars universe, at least as we know it today.
I’m going to say I’m in the middle third. I have been very vocal on our podcast, The Exhaust Port, with many guests in regards to my feelings about Colin Trevorrow and his (lack of) ability to pull off Episode IX. This reached a fever-pitch for me when Carrie Fisher passed away, as story-wise there would be an unexpected twist (and a huge one, at that) that would have to be dealt with head-on, by a filmmaker and writer who could juggle the emotions of Lucasfilm, the cast & crew, and the fanbase with the ultimate goal in mind – the STORY! I’ve never wavered from the stance that the story should come first, and I have been very vocal (although in the minority) about wanting Leia’s role recast and shot creatively for IX, as the story comes first for me. I just don’t see how they are going to give meaningful closure to Kylo Ren’s story arc without Leia’s presence. Having said that, it remains to be seen how Rian Johnson has handled it, and I’ve said many times he is as imaginary a filmmaker that’s ever played in the SW universe, so if anyone could pull it off it’s him. Which brings me to….
Damn, I really wanted Rian to write and direct Episode IX. And yes, I am well aware that I haven’t laid eyes on any substantial footage from The Last Jedi, and neither have you (probably). However, call it a gut feeling – The Last Jedi is going to rock, mark it down and feel free to call me out if by December 16th that’s not the general consensus. He just GETS IT. I truly thought it was a done deal, and that he was going to step in (if you listen to almost any episode of The Exhaust Port you already know I had bet big on it — including the interviews from last weekend’s Wake Forest ComicCon that I haven’t dropped yet, so yes, I’ll sound dumb if you don’t follow the site. Whatever). Having said that, I thought the only thing that might have held him back would be straight-up Star Wars fatigue. I mean, the dude would’ve had to go from writing and directing The Last Jedi, straight into writing and pre-production of Episode IX (which I’m sure is well under way, and has been for a while), to press and the release of TLJ, right into filming EpIX in January. That’s a lot, even for a self-proclaimed huge Star Wars fan. Don’t worry, Rian will be back, just not as soon as many of us (including myself) wanted.
So if not Rian, then who? I knew JJ was the obvious choice. He accomplished the #1 goal of Lucasfilm and Disney with The Force Awakens. That goal being to make a hugely successful film that not only united fans but introduced the Star Wars saga to a new generation of fans. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the most third most critically acclaimed SW film of all time (via Rotten Tomatoes, with a very high 92% score, just 1% below A New Hope). So yes, JJ was the obvious choice from the beginning and it’s safe money he’s been working with Kathleen Kennedy & the Lucasfilm story group as well as ILM for the better part of the past month. I’m also willing to bet that he had the same caveat he had before coming onboard for The Force Awakens – he had to write it. So goodbye to not only Trevorrow and his writing collaborator Derek Connolly (probably for the best), and to the recently-announced (as in a little over a month ago) Jack Thorne. Thorne was brought in to ‘polish’ up on what Trevorrow and Connolly had come up with, but the writing was on the wall (no pun intended). Trevorrow and Connolly were done, as we have predicted on our podcast many times. And too bad, so sad to Jack Thorne, you’re just the odd man out (Michael Arndt, anyone?).
So who will co-write with Abrams? Oscar winning screenwriter (Argo, 2013) Chris Terrio. For me, this is the silver lining. Yes, you could point to his more recent work, such as Batman V Superman (a film which I rather like, but I know where most of you reading this fall, and that’s cool), but he’s the most accomplished writer awards-wise to work on Star Wars to date, and my hope is that he reels in some of JJ’s whimsical senses and helps bring closure to what stands to be the very best trilogy of the Star Wars saga. Yes, I said that. I really believe if handled properly the sequel trilogy SHOULD go down as the best and most consistent of the three trilogies – including the original one. Not to be long-winded, but if you listen to The Exhaust Port (and if you aren’t, what are you doing with your days and nights??) you know my feeling on Return of the Jedi, so this shouldn’t be a surprise….. Let me summarize some hopes and fears via bullet points below, then I’ll let you get back to your day:
- HOPE – JJ leaves some of the familiarity from The Force Awakens behind, embracing new design elements in a similar vein that Johnson seemingly has (again, without seeing the whole film it’s hard to say, but it’s a safe bet based on what little we have seen). Rian is a self-proclaimed fan of the Star Wars prequels, and Abrams is not. That’s a big deal for me, as well as a lot of fans (more than people think). And while that didn’t matter as much for TFA, but matters more and more as we round out the sequel trilogy. The design and story from this era matter and I hope he feels like he’s in a safe enough position to acknowledge that now.
- HOPE – the Leia situation resolves itself to all our satisfactions. This is easier said than done, but say what you will, Abrams is the most capable director and writer of handling this, possibly second only to Rian Johnson. He worked closely with Carrie on TFA, and the entirety of the cast and crew seemed to love him – especially the queen bee herself, Kathleen Kennedy. He knows this is a huge deal, and I have to give him credit for taking up the challenge. I think this will work out just fine. However, if not…
- FEAR – Kylo Ren / Ben Solo’s story arc doesn’t get satisfactory closure. This is a big deal, as to the best of all available knowledge he is the ONLY Skywalker in the new generation. Bear in mind that KK and the powers-that-be at Lucasfilm have stated time and again that the saga films revolved around the Skywalker family. His arc is as important as Rey’s, and therefore must be treated as such. This ties back to my last point, and while may seem a little contradictory, I think you all see where I’m going with this. Blow Leia, and you blow Kylo, thus blowing the trilogy’s only real redemption story (unless Luke really has gone bonkers, which I’m not buying).
- FEAR – three words – STARKILLER BASE TWO. Please, for all that is holy in the Whills, hold yourself back on this, JJ. We all know you wanna do it, we do. And we know that Star Wars is all about ‘rhyming’, so technically you have a built-in excuse (since there was a Death Star II in Return of the Jedi, just in case you don’t get what I’m saying). Just don’t go there. For me, Starkiller Base is one of the worst and dumbest ideas ever put onto celluloid and screen in the history of Star Wars, and we need to forget about superweapons for a long while. Focus on the story – it’s so ripe and good. Just trust in it.
- FEAR – lack of nuance and closure. JJ makes beautiful, well directed and acted films. Absolutely nobody would ever argue that. However, one could argue he struggles with the subtle nuance that the trilogy needs for our core characters to bring all of their arcs to a close. And I’m not just talking about Leia, Kylo, Rey, and Luke. Let’s not forget we still have Finn & Poe, Snoke & Hux, not to mention Chewbacca and the droids, the Forcebacks and Knights of Ren. There is a lot to handle. And true, some of this could get wrapped up in The Last Jedi, and I wouldn’t doubt that, but there will be a lot left for the director and writer of Episode IX to not just tidy up but to expand on.
In closing, I’m not overly bummed at this choice, and quite frankly after typing all of this it seems JJ Abrams was probably the logical choice all along. Just no Starkiller Base, please.
UPDATED —� per the official Star Wars Twitter account, the release date of Star Wars: Episode IX has been pushed back to December 20th, 2019.