It's been over three full years since Disney surprised movie fandom with the acquisition of Lucasfilm, and most importantly, everything Star Wars. During the announcement, Disney made it clear that they would be developing a new trilogy (Episodes 7, 8, and 9) set to follow the events of the prior hexalogy - as well as other stories set in the same universe. At the time, it was unclear how exactly the side-stories would connect to the main story and, over the last few years, we've heard reports of everything from solo prequels based on key Star Wars characters (Han Solo and Yoda) to a Seven Samurai-inspired story of Jedi warriors facing impossible odds.
However, since then, new details have become available - with Lucasfilm outright revealing that Godzilla and Monsters director Gareth Edwards would be helming the first "Star Wars Anthology" spin-off, titled Rogue One for 2016 release. Along with Edwards, Lucasfilm hired Chronicle and Fantastic Four's Josh Trank to direct the second Anthology entry, to premiere in 2018 (a year after Episode 8). Unfortunately, following rumors that suggested Trank might exit the project, the studio and filmmaker have made it official: Josh Trank has stepped down from Star Wars spinoff directing duties.
In a joint Lucasfilm statement, the director, along with Star Wars story director Kiri Hart, broke the news to fans.
Trank was vague on details (expressing his appreciation for the opportunity, thanking his Lucasfilm "friends", and teasing "original creative opportunities" that are now his priority). You can read his full statement below:
"After a year of having the incredible honor of developing with the wonderful and talented people at Lucasfilm, I’m making a personal decision to move forward on a different path. I’ve put a tremendous amount of thought into this, and I know deep down in my heart that I want to pursue some original creative opportunities. That said, the Star Wars universe has always been one of my biggest influences, and I couldn’t be more excited to witness its future alongside my millions of fellow Star Wars fans. I want to thank my friends Kathleen Kennedy, Kiri Hart, Simon Kinberg, and everyone at Lucasfilm and Disney for the amazing opportunity to have been a part of this. May the Force be with you all.”
Following Trank's lead, Hart was equally polite but equally unrevealing:
"It was a privilege to collaborate with Josh. We are grateful for the energy and love of Star Wars that he brought to the process, and we wish him all the best.”
So why did Trank leave the high profile Star Wars project, which he openly admits was an influence of his from a young age, after a year of development? The director became a source of controversy at Star Wars Celebration 2015 - when he outright no-showed at a spinoff panel that was advertised as a conversation between the two spinoff directors (along with Hart, Star Wars writer Pablo Hidalgo, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy).
You can see the original listing for the Star Wars Celebration panel below:
STAR WARS CELEBRATION 2015: CONVERSATIONS WITH GARETH EDWARDS AND JOSH TRANK
JOIN THE DIRECTORS OF THE UPCOMING STAND-ALONE FILMS IN A SPECIAL STAR WARS CELEBRATION DISCUSSION!
Kathleen Kennedy, Kiri Hart and Pablo Hidalgo will be joined by directors Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank, who will share their experiences as the newest members of the Lucasfilm creative family. Learn how the teams came together and are collaborating to conceive and create the upcoming stand-alone films in the galaxy far, far away.
Later, Trank took to Twitter to explain his absence - blaming the "worst flu of my life" for preventing him from attending:
Hey all. So, so, so sad to have missed today. Worst flu of my life. I hear it went beautifully with Gareth. Here's to next year. #SWCA
— Josh Trank (@joshuatrank) April 19, 2015
However, despite the director's claim of illness, fans and journalists in the room were already speculating that the director's absence was actually symptomatic of creative differences that could be brewing behind-the-scenes.
Prior to the no-show, there was no reason to assume that Trank's Star Wars spinoff had encountered any hiccups - and, for now, we cannot be sure of the true reasons for his departure. Without a doubt, it's possible that Trank simply wanted to pursue "original creative opportunities" but, given how honored he felt to be part of a Star Wars project, not to mention the movie's career-boosting potential, and fanboy novelty of directing a film set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, it's hard to imagine that Trank just abandoned the movie for greener pastures. Add to that, the filmmaker's Fantastic Four reboot remains a lightning bolt for skepticism - does it really make sense that Trank would leave a secure job right before his first major (and controversial) studio tentpole film is released to an uncertain reception from viewers and Hollywood executives alike?
Unfortunately, we simply do not know enough about the 2018 spinoff movie to draw concrete conclusions. Whereas Edwards' Rogue One is already casting its leads and unveiling concept artwork, Disney has yet to disclose who (or what) Trank's Anthology movie will even be about but, since the director has been working on the movie with Lucasfilm for more than a year, the core concept should be locked in. Given that Trank is departing just as big decisions are about to be made (most notably who could be shortlisted to star in the movie), creative differences are still the most likely explanation - though it may be some time before we know exactly where the the director and Lucasfilm disagreed.
That said, do not expect Disney to wait long in finding the director's replacement. The studio has a clear release schedule mapped out - and fans shouldn't expect Lucasfilm to make significant shifts to their release slate (now that the plan is in motion).
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be in theaters December 18, 2015. Star Wars: Rogue One opens December 16, 2016. Star Wars: Episode VIII opens May 26, 2017.
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