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Taika Waititi can’t save Star Wars unless Lucasfilm gets out of his way

Update 5/4: Disney just confirmed that Taika Waititi will be directing a new Star Wars feature film, which he’ll co-write with 1917 screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns.

The corpse of the Skywalker Saga has barely cooled down, but apparently Lucasfilm is already plotting the next era of the franchise, with The Hollywood Reporter reporting that people have approached Taika Waititi to develop a new Star Wars film.

Waititi has been on quite a run the last few years, with a string of diverse films including vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, psychedelic superhero film Thor: Ragnarok, and Jojo Rabbit, an Oscar-nominated, coming-of-age story about a member of the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend is the Fuhrer himself. He’s a dynamic director, but even if he ends up taking a job on Star Wars, it won’t matter much if the powers controlling the franchise keep stamping out any traces of creativity.

Thor: Ragnarok Image used with permission by copyright holder

Since Disney acquired Star Wars in 2012, the franchise has seen a surge of new films — one every year from 2015-19 — that have largely dominated the box office and, whether positively or negatively, cultural discourse. Despite this, production on these films has been a bumpy ride, full of director turnover and “creative differences.” And none of the new movies have had the creative spark that Star Wars used to have even at its worst — despite the many things wrong with them, the prequels at least had a distinct vision.

JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which kicked off the Star Wars renaissance in 2015, aped A New Hope in both story and style. The second film, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, drew praise for questioning the legend of the original trilogy, but still ended in largely the same place as Empire Strikes Back: The scrappy band of good guys rebels is on the back foot as the evil empire marches toward victory. Abrams returned to direct the conclusion to the sequel trilogy, 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, a film so mindlessly subservient to the original trilogy it even resurrected its villain (although some of us disagree).

If the main trilogy was meant to restore faith in the competence of the franchise, one might hope the spin-offs would have shown more flair, yet they too have largely been by-the-numbers exercises in adventure filmmaking.

solo a star wars story review
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s been a lot of production drama behind the scenes, as the franchise churned through directors. Gareth Edwards, who made a name for himself with the quirky if uneven Monsters, was originally in charge of Rogue One before Tony Gilroy was brought in for extensive reshoots and rewrites.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, directors of The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, were hired to direct the prequel Solo, but were eventually replaced by Ron Howard.

According to an extensive report by Variety, “A crew member who worked on the film … says Lord and Miller drew Kennedy’s ire for stretching days out with experimentation,” adding that “their ideas were constantly overruled … In their minds, Phil and Chris were hired to make a movie that was unexpected and would take a risk, not something that would just service the fans,” says the source. ‘They wanted it to be fresh, new, emotional, surprising and unique. These guys looked at Han as a maverick, so they wanted to make a movie about a maverick. But at every turn, when they went to take a risk, it was met with a no.’”

Solo’s watered-down final product ended up being a critical and financial disappointment (for Star Wars films, anyway), so much so that Lucasfilm put a hold on any more spin-off films as a result. Lord and Miller went on to produce the much-beloved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which Lord also wrote.

The new regime has seemed determined to remove any creativity from the new films, and that bodes poorly for any director who takes up the challenge of the next phase of films.

Waititi does have some advantages: He’s at a much bigger stage in his career than Edwards, Lord, or Miller were, and he’s already proven that he can reinvigorate a staid series with the colorful and over-the-top Ragnarok. Moreover, while the films have been a drag, the Disney+ series The Mandalorian has shown that the series doesn’t have to revisit the same characters and themes (not so coincidentally, Waititi directed the first season’s finale).

Star Wars has a whole galaxy and thousands of years of history for visionary directors to play around in, but even Waititi won’t be able to save it unless the studio lets him fly free.

Will Nicol
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Will Nicol is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends. He covers a variety of subjects, particularly emerging technologies, movies…
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