Why J.J. Abrams Is The Single Best Pick to Direct The Next Star Wars Movie

Disney finally named their director to handle Star Wars: Episode VII – Wait, Mark Hamill Is Still Alive? Then I Guess We Have To Include Him, and surprise! It’s J.J. Abrams.

Abrams originally announced he had no interest in the movie out of loyalty to the Star Trek franchise, and yet last week, reports were confirmed that the Star Trek director was now heir to George Lucas’ vision, and held the dreams of millions of Star Wars fanatics gently in the palm of his hand.*

*Not me, though. I’m too cool for it. I’m just talking about this… ironically. Yeah, that sounds good. Ironically.

As insane as this sounds... I don’t think we’ve made enough of a big deal about this (and Star Wars make a big deal of everything). A few months ago, the idea that Lucas would cede his property to someone else and ride off into the sunset would have sounded totally ludicrous. This was a man who could not stop screwing with the films that had made him, trying not just to perfect but to update, to make the films change with him. The idea that Lucas would name a successor – or allow a corporation to do so in his place(!) – remains a fact that still hasn’t totally sunk in.

Now, even if Star Wars is not your favorite franchise – perhaps you’re a Lord of the Rings guy, or a Potterhead, a Trekker, a… whatever they call Twilight fans (“Twihards”? Is that a real thing, or just a slam?) – the fact remains Star Wars is the franchise. Other franchises land name directors (if you can call people like David Yates, Gary Ross, or Bill Condon “names”) but not with nearly the clamor we just saw once this opening was announced. It’s not just nerd cred here: directing a Star Wars movie puts you in charge of the premiere film franchise of all time. Between everything, the franchise has grossed a staggering $33 billion dollars in its lifetime just for Lucasfilm. It just sold for $4 billion dollars. Nothing comes close to that. For reference, Summit Entertainment, a company that makes a number of movies, including the Twilight films, sold for $400 million. So Twilight isn’t worth one tenth of the Star Wars franchise despite being a much more current property.

Not to mention: this is the dream job, isn’t it? To be handed over the keys to Star Wars to do whatever you want with it? David Yates was handed a "Harry Potter" book and probably told “bring this thing to screen adequately enough that we can keep hawking horrendous merchandise a while longer.” Abrams is handed a lightsaber and the endless expanse of space.

And also Mark Hamill. He’s stuck with Mark Hamill.

So, why is Abrams the right guy for the job? Three reasons...

1. He’s One Of The Best Action Directors Working Today

Right out of the gate, I feel this doesn’t get mentioned enough: Abrams is a helluva director. His IMDB directing resume features nothing but successes, all with shiny red tomatoes on Rotten Tomato: Mission Impossible 3, Super 8, Star Trek, the two-part pilot of “Lost,” a great episode of “The Office” (‘Cocktails’), and a few other scattered TV episodes. There isn’t a miss in there, and that’s rare for a newer director - normally when an young upstart gets moved to the big leagues, there are some natural missteps as they find their legs. There’s a sharp learning curve to be made, after all. The last guy to make the jump so flawlessly might be the man to whom Abrams is most often compared: Steven Spielberg.*

*I want to be clear that this is a point of comparison, not a statement of equality. We will likely never see a new director have an opening run quite like Spielberg’s Jaws/Close Encounters/Raiders/E.T. stretch, though it's worth noting that Spielberg had been directing for over 15 years by the point Jaws was released.

Also, you can't convince me this isn't Hoth.

Plus, all those films and shows have the elements we love about Star Wars already in them - they’re sharp, well-told stories with humor and big themes, and filled with giant action set pieces. When Abrams was given the Trek keys, he essentially went out and made a Star Wars movie – he eschewed the monologuing on the bridge for sprinting through exploding ship engines, and gave his hero a birth harmonized by angel choirs in the midst of a deep space battle before sticking him in Iowa, probably the closest thing he could find to Tatooine within the Trek canon. It’s the damn Star Wars opening. This stuff’s deep in his bones.

Subnote: There are a number of arguments people always make in opposition to this, but they all boil down into two groups, and I’d like to refute both of those here. 

A. One of the following is said: “Lost really fell apart in later seasons”/”I hated the ending”/”Is Han Solo gonna fight the Smoke Monster?”/”Fringe made no sense”/or some combination of “Revolution/Alcatraz/Person of Interest/Undercover/Alias/Felicity is stupid.”

Pssh. As if Noah needed the help. The man's a pro.

All of these are criticism of J.J. Abrams the executive producer. We need to disconnect those criticisms from J.J. Abrams the director. He has a spotty record in the former and a spotless record in the latter. But let’s talk about his producer credits anyway.

Abrams has a history of creating shows with strong, interesting premises and hints of deeper mythology, then handing those shows off to other showrunners to handle things. This is pretty standard – “ER” was created by Michael Crichton, but no one expected him to hang around and make sure that Noah Wyle was hitting his marks. The show gets the buzz of his name on the title and during promotion, and Abrams gets to make a lot of interesting sci-fi shows that otherwise wouldn’t be made without him. When things go south – as essentially every sci-fi show on broadcast television does – fair or unfair, he gets held culpable.

I'll admit, I'll have some trouble defending this.

So while you may have big problems with “Lost” (and I’ll sit here and defend “Lost” all day to you, I really will. I’ll reference classics, I’ll have charts, I’ll make flashcards. I love “Lost.”), your problems lie with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, not with Abrams. He created a visually sumptuous show with a pack of interesting characters stuck on an island with a mysterious something on it, and moved on. Whatever happened afterwards, he deserves neither the credit nor the blame.

B. “….but lens flare!”

I don’t mean to mock the critical capacity of the Internet as a whole (okay, fine, I do. I always do), but the problem with the lens flare critique is that it’s an argument without both a thesis or a conclusion. It just points out that Abrams has a recurring visual element that crops up a fair bit during Star Trek, and it’s possible to make a YouTube supercut of this fact, and it’s also possible to make fake lens flares in After Effects and Photoshop… therefore… bad! So there!

I don't normally put something with Comic Sans on my website,
but this seemed a special occasion.

Abrams has a visual style he put in place for the first Star Trek film (he also uses flares in some of his other films, though not nearly as frequently) that he explains here. The DP shines flashlights or pen lights on the camera to create flare, giving the impression of bright lights surrounding the actors, making light almost a character in the frame. He says:

I want to create the sense that, just off camera, something spectacular is happening. I love the idea that the future was so bright it couldn't be contained in the frame.  They were all done live, they weren't added later. There are something about those flares, especially in a movie that can potentially be very sterile and CG and overly controlled. There is something incredibly unpredictable and gorgeous about them.

He doesn’t mention it on the article, but it’s plain from watching the film that Abrams uses older lenses, or uncoated lenses, to increase lens flare. And the film stock he uses responds beautifully the light, giving each shot tons of character.

By the way, excessive lens flare is not unheard of for science fiction – I recall that Joss Whedon used cheaper lenses on “Firefly” to create more flare, which just must kill those who’re furious Joss wasn’t given the role instead (we’ll get to Whedon in a moment).


Man, I miss this show.

He also added handheld camera and snap zooms to the outer space sequences, all for the same reason: to avoid the rigidity of most science fiction cinematography, to give it a live, real element. And isn’t that what Lucas brought to science fiction in the first place? Who didn’t notice the fact that it really feels like you’re diving into the channel with the X-wings as they attack the Death Star?

The overwhelming thread in the complaint seems to be “I notice the lens flare, therefore it’s wrong.” No, it just means you’ve taken another step in your movie-watching – learning how a visual style affects the viewing process. Congrats, Internet, you’re learning something.

It’s no different from Tarantino’s explotation-film snap zooms, or Wes Anderson’s constant linear dollying, or Spielberg’s slow crane shots. It’s a specific style that benefits a specific sort of storytelling.

By the way, it’s also possible to make a supercut of any of these directors. Here’s Tarantino, here’s Anderson, and here’s Spielberg. Oh, and here’s another Tarantino and Anderson, just because.

Let’s move on:

2. He’s A Huge Fan

From the very beginning of his Star Trek run, Abrams always noted that he was much more of a Star Wars man than a Trekker. He ended up working with Damon Lindelof on “Lost” because Lindelof walked into the meeting wearing an original Star Wars “Bantha Tracks” shirt:


It is one sweet-ass shirt.

This blog does a good job of tracking down all the times Abrams has talked about Star Wars since he rose to prominence after “Lost” exploded. But in short: He first got into the movie from the Ralph McQuarrie artwork released in sci-fi magazines before Star Wars was released. He saw the original motion picture on opening day in 1977 – he would have been eleven years old. Abrams did a TED talk that included breaking down the plot of the original Star Wars. And he has this quote:

“I don’t know how many times in developing stories I have referenced the archetypes of Star Wars. It’s hard to remember breaking a story for an episode of a show, whether it was Lost, Alias or even Felicity and not feel like there was some way to reference the love triangle you felt in Episode IV or the struggle of good and evil that you have seen in all six of the films.

Star Wars is probably the most influential film of my generation. It’s the personification of good and evil and the way it opened up the world to space adventure, the way Westerns had to our parents’ generations, left an indelible imprint. So, in a way, everything that any of us does is somehow directly or indirectly affected by the experience of seeing those first three films.”

First off: this is a dude who really loves Star Wars (note how he avoids offhandedly disavowing the latter three films the way so many people feel the constant need to), but also a guy who believes the vision. The Joseph Campbell stuff, the good-and-evil stuff, he’s bought into the whole thing, the big concept Lucas was always selling: that Star Wars is an archetype, built on the oldest and grandest storytelling elements we have.

Was it a load of crap? A little bit. But we wanted to believe it, because it made these dumb children's movies we loved so much important. J.J. Abrams is supposed to be past all that, and he's defiantly not, and I love that.

But, do we want a real Star Wars fan to make this film? This brings us to:

3. He’s The Best Bet To Make This Work

There’s a dim muttering out there for “fresh blood,” based loosely on the idea that Star Wars went off the rails somewhere between "Trade Federation blockade" and "midichlorians," and we need someone to come in and mix everything up. Because Abrams has already done a fair amount of sci-fi, we already know what we'd get with him.

To some extent, that is true. It’s an Abrams movie, so there’s going to be fast cuts and explosions and dark mysteries and people getting teary as they talk intensely to someone but not quite crying and quippy dialogue and good performances from people not generally considered good actors. And possibly some father issues. Since this is Star Wars, that last one was probably a given anyway.

But past that, we don’t really know what we’re getting. Abrams isn’t one of those locked-in directors who only make one movie, no matter how many times they get behind the camera. If he was, we’d know by now. Remember how fast we saw the bottom of Brian de Palma’s bag of tricks?

I think the only thing we do know is that... the movie is probably going to be pretty good. It’s going to try to be fast, and quippy, and faithful to the original material. And it's a good bet Abrams won’t bend over backwards to “re-invent” the material to put his own stamp on it. He seems to care about what Star Wars is, and is not.

If we were to make it a numbers game, there’s probably an 70-80% chance he makes a Star Wars movie that leaves most fans generally happy. How many directors out there can you say that about?

No seriously, how many? Because I think that if I’m going to defend Abrams as the right guy for the job, I need to make the case that the other guys are the wrong guy for the job – or at least, a less astute choice than Abrams was. Let’s do that.

 

The Other Directors

This is where this post starts to get out of control.

The following is a list of every viable directorial choice that could have been made for this movie. Wait, switch that: every viable and unviable directorial choice. I looked at every director working today (as best I could), regardless of if they could have even vaguely been considered for this role, and rated their suitability.

If they aren't on this list, it probably means I didn’t even think they merited consideration. Sorry, um… Judd Apatow. Let me know if I missed anyone I shouldn’t have.

Let’s start with the obvious “no, that’s… that’s ridiculous.”

Directors Whose Styles Obviously Do Not Match
Richard Linklater, Baz Luhrmann, Tim Burton, Paul Thomas Anderson, Marty Scorsese, Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Steven Soderbergh, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, The Coen Brothers, Tom Hooper, Darren Aronofsky, Danny Boyle, Derek Cianfrance, Roman Polanski, The Duplass Brothers, Greg Mottola, Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, Terence Malick, Jason Reitman, Paul Haggis, Paul Verhoeven, Joe Wright, Spike Jonze, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Michel Gondry, David O. Russell, Cameron Crowe, Ang Lee, Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, John Lasseter.

I tried to dispense with all of these at once, so I wouldn’t have to break them down individually. I think it’s fairly obvious why all of these names wouldn’t work. If you see any of these names and think, “no, I think Eli Roth would be a perfect fit as the Star Wars director!”, seek medical help.

This is not to say I wouldn’t love to see any of these people make a Star Wars movie. If we could have dozens of Star Wars movies, and Tarantino and Burton and Russell and Anderson and the Coen brothers all went off and did their own spins on this universe, I’d be ecstatic. Most of those movies would probably be terrible, but who cares? I’m already having trouble typing because my keyboard’s all slimy from when I started drooling right after I typed “dozens of Star Wars movaldasfijofjfjosjkfd[.[l[ll[l[l[l’.’////////;’/ ah, there it goes again.

Now, let’s get more specific. Let’s talk about the good action directors.

 

Good Action Directors

Directors Whose Style is Tight, Intense Handheld Shots
Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker), Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Pierre Morel (Taken).

All of these directors have worked outside this style to varying effect, but mostly they’ve shown great skill when shakily photographing U.S. Marines, or shirtless football players, or Matt Damon running, and little skills elsewhere. No one wants another Battleship.

Directors Who Make Visually Compelling But Empty-Headed Summer Movies.
Roland Emmerich
(2012, The Day After Tomorrow), Joel Schumacher (the Batman that had Schwarzenegger and the Bat-nipples), Michael Bay (Transformers), Len Wiseman (Underworld), Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), Shaun Levy (Real Steel), McG (Charlie’s Angels), D.J. Caruso (I Am Number 4), John Woo (Mission Impossible 2 – you know, the one with the doves and the Limp Bizkit score).

Never forget.Don’t need to say much here. All these guys have had their shot to step into more intellectual work, all of them have failed. Remember The Island? The Number 23? Terminator Salvation? Exactly.

Okay, who’s left? Let’s break ‘em down one by one, from least to most likely.

David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises) – Let’s just say it’s unlikely a guy who made a movie about people who have sex during car crashes gets the next Star Wars gig.

Peter Weir (Master and Commander, The Truman Show) – Peter Weir is only on this list because I told a guy on Facebook I'd include him. He basically stopped directing after Master and Commander, the reception of which was probably a rough experience for him. Great movie, but I think the studio was expecting to be more of a fun, escapist romp than it ended up being, like Pirates of the Caribbean. Speaking of…

Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) – You don’t hand a sequel to a guy who proved he can’t handle sequels.

Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) – He’s directed one movie so far. Let’s see how good Iron Man 3 is before we go jumping to conclusions.

A Guy Ritchie Jedi Council would probably be a lot more interesting, though.

Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Snatch) – “Oy! This tossah ‘as a lightsaber!” “Saw off ‘is fingahs, Charlie!

Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita) – Hasn’t directed anything not-terrible since The Fifth Element. Which came out in 1997.

Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto) – Don’t laugh. Those are some well-directed films. Oh… well, yeah, you’re right.

Tony Scott (Top Gun, Déjà Vu, Man on Fire) – He’s dead, and he’s still more likely to direct this film than Mel Gibson. Let’s try his brother!

Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner, Prometheus) – He’d say no. And I'm not just saying that from my vast experience of working Ridley-adjacent and occasionally running into him in the break room*! This isn't his thing at all. Have you seen his vision of the future? It’s hella dark.

*I'll shoehorn that fact in any way I can. I have no shame.

Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, “The Walking Dead”) – And his is even darker.

Sure, it's not his fault. But we can't take any chances here.

Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Dreamgirls)Pros: has love-triangle experience. Cons: has the stink of failing to get Taylor Lautner to emote all over him.

Robert Zemekis (Back To The Future, Forrest Gump, The Polar Express) – A famously exacting director who’s disappeared into the world of motion capture the last several years. Plus, Back To The Future came out in 1985. That was a long time ago. I don’t think he’s that guy who showed us how Michael J. Fox invented rock'n'roll anymore.

Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead) – Obviously loves the material, but some people are much better at being referential than they are capable of recreating the thing that caused them so much joy in the first place. Not a slam.

Andy & Larry Wachowski (The Matrix, Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas) – Well, they certainly aren’t getting this after Cloud Atlas, I can tell you that

James Mangold (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma) – I like Mangold fine. Not much of a buzz factor here, nor much to recommend him for this gig.

Andrew Adamson (Shrek, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe) – When researching this, I discovered that Adamson directed the new Cirque de Soleil movie. So how come James Cameron was getting all the credit? Seems unfair. Anyway, Prince Caspian didn’t do well, so Adamson will never get another franchise. That’s the way it goes.

Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) Just misplayed his hand as Hunger Games director after an good-but-spotty first movie, and got kicked out as director. Those guys make comebacks with daring indie movies, not sci-fi powerhouses.

Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I Am Legend) No one really knows who this guy is. But at least he hasn't gotten kicked out of the Hunger Games franchise. Yet.

Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind)Good Ron Howard focuses on the realistic (Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon). Bad Ron Howard tries the supernatural (Willow, The Da Vinci Code, Cocoon). Oh, man, Cocoon. I forgot about how bad Cocoon is.

The Kitsch Era. I miss it already.

Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns) – The conventional wisdom is that Singer got his chance with the last Superman film and blew it. I have really affection for the most recent Superman, but I get where they’re coming from. And Jack the Giant Slayer doesn’t look so great. Enjoying this brief Nicholas Hoult-as-leading-man stretch, though! He's the new Taylor Kitsch.

David Fincher (The Social Network, Se7en, Fight Club) – The only reason I didn’t put him in the very first group is that his is a name that got bandied around when the Star Wars job opened up. For some reason, people were excited about this.

Do you know dark David Fincher is? David Fincher is crazy dark. He’s the creator of “House of Cards” on Netflix, which premieres today. In the opening scene, Kevin Spacey strangles a puppy to death. He’s that guy. It would be amazing to see, but it would also probably be the worst children’s film in history

No, it definitely would be.

Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, 500 Days of Summer) – We all saw the most recent Spider-Man, right? It was… fine. I had hardly any problems with it. Good for you, Marc. Keep doing your thing.

Sam Raimi (Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3) – We all saw the Spider-Man before that one, right? It was… not good. Sorry, Sam.

Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro) – He’s no stranger to dying franchises in need of new direction: he actually saved the Bond franchise twice, and directed what’s probably the best Bond movie of all time. But then we all remember Green Lantern, and… well, I guess the less said about that the better.

I'd have to get this moment removed from my memory, Eternal Sunshine-style.

James Cameron (Terminator 2, Aliens, Avatar, Titanic) – Hear me out: this is not a bad pick. He’s directed two of the best sequels of all time, and he’s shown the ability to jump into a pre-existing franchise (Alien) and take it in a daring new direction. He’s directed two movies that were at one point the biggest movies of all time. He’s a visionary when it comes to marrying CGI and film. Still… I think we can all agree this would never happen. This is a man who was convinced that Titanic was the greatest movie of all time.

Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) – Whether you’re a fan of Jackson’s work or not, I think we can mostly agree on this: he’s shown great expertise adapting Tolkien’s work to the screen, and considerably less expertise elsewhere. This doesn’t seem like his thing.

Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) – Just proved he could move into a franchise and produce something memorable, but Mendes’ taste runs to sadness and pain. He makes a Bond movie, and he makes a sad, introspective Bond movie (Skyfall), where Bond thinks about his parents a lot (spoiler alert!). He does a war movie, and it’s a war movie with no fight scenes, just soldiers being unhappy (Jarhead). He makes a movie about the suburbs, and the suburbs become the worst place in the world (American Beauty). Then he makes another movie about the same thing (Revolutionary Road), just in case we missed it the first time. I do not want to see what he does with the Star Wars universe.

Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) – No one threw this name out there, but I kind of like this pick. He rescued the Harry Potter franchise when it was going off the rails, and added tons of imagination to what had previously been a collection of by-the-book adaptations. And he just finished a sci-fi movie with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. His view of the future does seem pretty dystopian, though, and he doesn’t seem to work all that often.

Okay, let’s hit all the up-and-comers at one time:

The Up-and-Comers
Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick, The Brothers Bloom), Drew Goddard (The Cabin In The Woods), Duncan Jones (Source Code, Moon), Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield), Neill Blomkamp (District 9)

I like all these guys at least somewhat (I've been a Rian Johnson fan for a very long time). They all have potential. They just haven’t gotten the at-bats yet to prove that they can handle a gig of this magnitude.

Marc Forster did a bang-up job at Finding Neverland, and graduated to bigger things. He proceeded to gum up his next two movies so badly Brad Pitt stopped speaking to him on the set, and Daniel Craig had no problem trashing the movie he directed him in to the press. When you’ve somehow managed to make two of the most over-invested actors to wash their hands of you (mid-film!), you’ve really cocked things up.

We can’t let that happen here. Keep taking big swings, guys. I’m rooting for all of you. Maybe next time.


Okay, we’ve come to the top tier: the names that all actually got bandied about as possibilities for this spot. Some of them might actually have been leaked by Disney to gauge reaction, I don’t know. Still, since this seems to be the jury of Abram’s peers, let’s rank ‘em from worst choice to best.

The Possible Candidates

On the other hand, after this movie, Spielberg would be in great shape for directing Mark Hamill.

11. Steven Spielberg (E.T., Jaws, Saving Private Ryan) – I could take shots at late-Spielberg snoozers War Horse or The Terminal here, but I don’t need to. Let’s be honest: if Spielberg wanted this job, he’d have it. He doesn’t want it.

10. David Yates (Harry Potter 5, 6, 7 & 8) – Ended up directing literally half of the Potter movies, and the last couple are impressive. But his first one was a bit of a dud (the BFCA ranked it below both of the Potter movies Chris Columbus directed, which is saying somthing), and you can’t give a franchise to someone who needed a running start the first time around.

9. Ben Affleck (Argo, The Town) – This name got bandied around a fair bit, for some reason. I’m a huge fan of Affleck as director, so it makes sense that he’d get some play, but – it doesn’t seem his thing, does it? I mean, that’s not just me? I don’t think it’s just me.

8. Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel) – I’m hoping that Man of Steel proves me wrong, but I’m firmly in the camp that Snyder is just not that great a director. 300 is visually compelling, but so were all his next movies (Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, which is a movie title I promise I did not make up), and they mostly just put me to sleep. And 300 reveals more flaws with every rewatching. Glad this didn’t happen.

How can so much talent go unrecognized?

7. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2) – Apparently, Favreau campaigned hard for this slot, and I’m thrilled he didn’t get it.

First of all, this is a dude who thought his work on Zathura: A Space Adventure should have merited him more consideration, which is insane.

Second, he has really only succeeded as a director a few times (Iron Man, Elf), and then things get pretty dicey. Wasn’t impressed with Iron Man 2 (he’s insisted that the problems in the movie were not his fault, though I’m less convinced), I’m not a fan of Cowboys & Aliens, and I thought he did a pretty middling job directing the pilot of “Revolution.” I don’t think there’s much to get excited about here.


We’ve entered into the realm of “if any of these guys said ‘yes’ to the job, I’d be happy about it.” But here’s why each ranked below Abrams in my book.

The Top Tier
6. Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: The First Class, Kick-Ass) – I thought the new X-Men was pretty good – in fact, I’ve always liked Vaughn’s work, going back to the films he shot in Britain, like Layer Cake. When his name was first leaked (and didn’t it seem like a bit of a test balloon?), I thought it was a perfectly adequate choice. Not something to get excited about, but not something to get worried about either. He’s not on the level of the next guys we’ll cover, but no slouch either.

5. Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) – There are some ways in which he’s really overqualified – his love of odd, alien characters shone through in both Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies – but I’m not totally convinced the director of Blade II is a natural fit for this universe.

There was reason for excitement when it seemed likely he was going to take the Hobbit reins from Peter Jackson, because his love of the dark and unloved slimy things that coat the bottom of Tolkien’s fantasy stories. But Star Wars is a brighter, shinier thing, and that’s never been del Toro’s forte. Even if I’m not willing to go all the way to Ewok again, I’m not sure I want all our new characters to be some form of cave-thing.

There's something about this that doesn't scream "kid's movie," but it's hard to say what.

4. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) – I saw a lot of people excited by this possibility – and I don’t know how real it was, or just fanboy dreaming – but any enthusiasm for Nolan as a Star Wars director would be misplaced. Not that I don’t adore Nolan, but it’s not a good fit.

Nolan movies are known for two things: they’re designed to be slowly unlocking puzzles (seems a bad strategy for a movie for children), and they’re studies into the intersection of good and evil. While that latter one sounds like a Star Wars motif, the concepts diverge. Lucas’ vision was that of archetype: there is a Light side, and a Dark side, and it is up to us to choose our path. Nolan attacks morality from a greyer perspective, making it into a debate about the nature of our truest selves.

In Nolan’s world, Luke wouldn’t be able to choose between a light or dark side – he would always be wrestling in the chasm between. His belief in the good in Darth Vader would be portrayed as ignorance, not heroism. Suffice to say, it makes a better term paper than it does a Star Wars movie.*

*this would likely not make a good term paper.

Plus, Joss already gave us the best Han Solo since the original.

3. Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Firefly) – Well, the “darkness” issues I leveled against Nolan and del Toro certainly don’t apply here. Whedon just finished one of the best pure pleasure-rushes of a movie I’ve ever seen, and when it comes to snappy dialogue and character development in the midst of fight scenes, there’s no one better.

My only issue (and really, my only one, I’d be over the moon if Whedon made a Star Wars film, it would be so dsaodfodfaoj’a;k’;’ oh, okay, now I’m drooling again) is that when Whedon directs your movie, you get a Joss Whedon Movie. You get half-a-dozen characters working together to make something work, and forming a strange and idiosyncratic family along the way. When characters speak, they sound like they’re speaking Whedon dialogue. It’s irreverent and fun, but it only works if the pieces are all wholly Whedon. I would be at least mildly concerned that his style wouldn’t totally mesh.

2. Brad Bird (Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Incredibles) – I don’t have any problems with Brad Bird directing Star Wars. It’s just that he’s only directed one (J.J. Abrams-aided) live-action movie, and his inexperience there makes me trust Abrams a little more. That’s it.

1. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Mission Impossible 3, Super 8) – See? See? Now do you agree? If not, scroll up to the top and start over. I'll beat you over to my side eventually.

A true American hero.

In closing, I'd like to apologize to Mark Hamill for all the jokes.

I love ya, Mark.

I kid because I care.

No hard feelings, right?