Disney is the only company that has been able to make the idea of the cinematic universe work, and work well. The level of organization that goes into the Marvel films, as well as the interlocking Star Wars timelines, can’t be overstated. Everyone else has crashed and burned in the attempt at replicating the success that Disney makes look effortless.
But that success is building a kind of orthodoxy. It takes a certain kind of director to work within the confines of huge-budget, effects-heavy films where the studio is going to exert a heavy influence. Edgar Wright couldn’t make it work with Ant-Man, and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller left the Han Solo project to be replaced by Ron Howard. Colin Trevorrow was likewise dropped from Episode IX, to be replaced by J.J. Abrams. The trend seems to be moving toward directors that are seen as being competent and safe.
That’s why the fact that director Rian Johnson has been tapped to direct the next Star Wars trilogy is such significant news. That decision not only shows that Disney has a lot of faith in Johnson now that The Last Jedi is nearing release, but it also means that he knows how to maneuver in this incredibly high stress environment. He can manage the many moving parts inside a Star Wars project, pay attention to what Disney does and doesn’t want and, hopefully, deliver a film that pleases fans while bringing in the sort of box office returns that Disney is expecting.
That’s not an easy task, and it shows a certain constriction of what Disney is looking for in its talent. If The Last Jedi was a tryout, this is a job offer; Rian Johnson is joining Joss Whedon and Peter Jackson to become the sort of director that studios will trust with huge projects and what has to be a next-to-unlimited budget for the upcoming trilogy.
That doesn’t mean the pressure is going to go down, as Johnson is going to be living and breathing these films for the foreseeable future. Disney likely feels confident that he’ll not only be able to deliver, but be able to guide the franchise into what the company likely hopes will be a third franchise, with spinoff films continuing to be released along the way. Disney also didn’t have to announce this now, as shifts in director have become common in both Star Wars and Marvel films. The timing of the announcement alone shows how much faith they have in Johnson.
The days of the experiments are coming to an end, and it’s clear that Disney feels that Rian Johnson has made the cut.