J.J. Abrams was recently hired to write and direct Star Wars: Episode IX, and though he doesn't read as the most inspired choice for the job, he's the one that is the best fit for the project. Last week, there was yet another disturbance in the Force as Colin Trevorrow (who had been attached to helm Star Wars 9 for two years) parted ways with Lucasfilm due to creative differences. This was the second massive directorial shakeup Lucasfilm endured in 2017, as Trevorrow's departure happened just a few short months after Phil Lord and Chris Miller's surprise firing from the Han Solo anthology film. The Episode IX situation wasn't nearly as dire as that debacle, but was still troubling since Lucasfilm hopes to start filming the movie in January 2018.
It stood reason to believe the studio had a possible replacement or two lined up when they moved on from Trevorrow (Ron Howard replaced Lord and Miller a couple days later), and it wasn't long until the rumors started coming in. Last Jedi helmsman Rian Johnson was a popular pick amongst the fans, especially with Episode VIII continuing to look great. Ultimately, Lucasfilm did go with a familiar face, only it was Abrams instead of Johnson. As stated above, the Force Awakens director is unquestionably a safe pick, but of all the candidates, he's the one Lucasfilm needed and is a strong choice.
Why Abrams Got Hired
It would be an understatement to say Lucasfilm has had some director issues in the early days of this new Star Wars era. Lord and Miller and Trevorrow are the most high-profile instances, but the studio also took Josh Trank off a planned Boba Fett spinoff movie in 2015 and brought in Tony Gilroy to aid Gareth Edwards on the extensive Rogue One reshoots last year. Since there are just four months to go until Episode IX starts shooting, it was a necessity for Kathleen Kennedy to find someone she can trust. She was not going to risk hiring another outsider and run the risk of more issues arising. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are the two modern Star Wars movies of the five or six in development to be completed without a hitch (save for Harrison Ford's broken leg), so Abrams - a veteran of blockbusters - worked well in the system. It's not surprising Lucasfilm went with a "safe" pick because, frankly, the franchise can't afford another dustup.
In addition to his ties to the Lucasfilm family, Abrams was likely the best choice who was readily available to take the job at a moment's notice. Several other directors who seem like they would fit well in the Star Wars machine are preoccupied with other projects currently. Jon Favreau is working on his Lion King remake. Brad Bird is getting The Incredibles 2 ready for its June 2018 premiere. Ava DuVernay is still handling post-production on next year's A Wrinkle In Time. Rian Johnson has just about locked his final cut of The Last Jedi, and would probably like a break before jumping headfirst into something else. As a byproduct of changing directors so late in the game, Lucasfilm's options were limited as they searched for a replacement. Abrams' last feature film was The Force Awakens, and he hadn't signed on for anything else in the time since. Abrams has had ample time to recharge his batteries and should be reenergized after what was surely a draining process making Star Wars 7.
Another key factor that contributed to Abrams' hiring is his continued involvement with the sequel trilogy. Though the original plan did not call for him to direct another installment, he is an executive producer on The Last Jedi and served as a member of the brain trust that guided Trevorrow through Episode IX's development. More so than anyone other than Johnson, Abrams knows where the story is heading and doesn't have to be brought up to speed as he gets to work on cracking the Star Wars 9 narrative. This is major because it sounds like the screenplay is being completely rewritten by Abrams and Argo scribe Chris Terrio, after Trevorrow and Jack Thorne took multiple stabs at the script. Abrams' inside knowledge should make the process of writing Episode IX in a condensed timeframe that much easier so the project can stay on track. To borrow a sports analogy, this is like when a football team promotes its offensive coordinator to head coach midseason to keep the established system in place. It's bad enough Star Wars 9 needed a total overhaul of its creative team. Stability really matters here.
Ultimately, this decision boils down to logistics. Due to mistakes made by the higher-ups, Lucasfilm was in a tight bind following Trevorrow's departure, and they essentially had no choice but to flip on the Abrams Signal and hope he answered the call. Out of all the realistic contenders, Abrams was the one who had the most open schedule and has demonstrated an ability to work well with Kathleen Kennedy and company. From a pure business perspective, Abrams was the sensical choice, but he's also a fit filmmaking wise.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019