Alright, it’s official. I’m calling it: the good folks at Disney have lost their damn minds. They’ve been on a hot streak recently. Their animated features have seen a resurgence in quality that echoes the Disney renaissance of the 90’s and their acquisition of Marvel has wielded wildly successful results. But Star Wars is what’s on everyone’s minds since Lucas handed over the rights in 2012. With a near constant stream of announcements regarding all things Star Wars, I’ll admit to feeling nonchalant about the future of the series, but Friday’s reveal that cult director Rian Johnson will write and helm Star Wars Episode VIII is maybe the best decision that Disney could have made. It also doesn’t make a lick of sense.
For the uninitiated, Rian Johnson cut his teeth on the micro-budgeted noir Brick, an indie darling that is at first glance a teenage missing persons thriller, but upon deeper probing reveals itself as a throwback to the dark, gritty detective stories of early cinema. Its stylized dialogue and contemporary high school setting proved just the right mix of reverence and inventiveness to adorn many a film fan to Johnson’s distinct style. His follow up, The Brothers Bloom was a light-hearted crime caper, which saw him use a bigger budget to project his own genre bending sensibilities even further than before. His latest effort, Looper, was a worldwide critical and commercial success, despite the relatively minimal budget of $30 million. It was Looper that solidified Johnson as a writer who knows how to throw fresh spins on genre-fiction (in this case, time-travel science-fiction) and a director with the vision to shepherd his creations to completion free of compromise. Between these projects he also directed occasional episodes of Breaking Bad including what are often heralded as the show’s two definitive episodes, Season Three’s Fly and Season Five’s Ozymandias.
Although Johnson has proven himself as not just a creative auteur but capable of handling tight productions, perhaps he doesn’t seem like such a strange choice to helm a major Star Wars movie. But the fact remains that he doesn’t have any of the qualities that made other recent choices seem so sensible. Episode VII director J.J. Abrams has essentially made two faux Star Wars movies with his entries into the Star Trek canon whilst Gareth Edwards, director of one yet unannounced spin-off, has proven his ability to handle effects on both minimal and maximum scale budgets with films like Monsters and Godzilla. Even Chronicle director Josh Trank, who will be directing another spin-off, is currently working on a Fantastic Four reboot which is sure to give him ample experience in handling a huge production before his entry to a galaxy far, far away.
Not to mention that if Abram’s Episode VII proves successful there’s going to be a huge amount of pressure on whoever has to take the reigns for a follow up on the scale of The Empire Strikes Back, the first sequel from the original trilogy (and recently voted “The Best Film Ever Made” by Empire Magazine’s Readers). It’s absolutely crazy to imagine that Disney wants to put that sort of pressure on a film-maker who, although brilliant and well versed in film-making, is relatively unknown amongst broader film audiences at large.
Like I said, I’m calling it. Disney have gone loco. But maybe crazy is what Episode VIII will need. Has anybody ever said that they love how ‘safe’ Empire was? And although I’m sure Abrams will make a fine, tidy Star Wars movie, his involvement never really had me excited. The same cannot be said of Rian Johnson’s involvement. If there’s one thing Johnson’s filmography suggests it’s that no matter what his take on Star Wars ends up being, it will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.