J.J. Abrams may not be the best choice as director for Star Wars: Episode IX, but he is the only choice.
Lucasfilm confirmed today that Abrams would be returning for Episode IX following a week of rumors that suggested as much. Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy issued a statement, reiterating that “J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy.”
Of course Kennedy is excited that Abrams is coming back. Abrams reintroduced Star Wars to a modern audience and, after ensuring that Star Wars: The Force Awakens wouldn’t be another Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, and managed to make it one of Lucasfilm and Disney’s biggest movies to date. Critics loved it, audiences obsessed over it and The Force Awakens saw more than $2 billion in revenue because of it.
None of that really matters, though. The reason Abrams became the only director that made sense for Episode IX following Colin Trevorrow’s departure is because of his relationship with Kennedy. Not only are the two friends, but Abrams understands what Kennedy wants. Abrams acknowledges and embraces the corporate methodology that Star Wars operates under. Unlike his fellow directors, including Trevorrow, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Abrams understands that it’s not about making the movie you have personally envisioned, but the one that Kennedy wants seen in theaters around the world.
An anonymous producer who has worked with Kennedy in the past recently told Vulture that the issue with directors like the aforementioned Lord, Miller and Trevorrow is that they come into a movie expecting to get by on their name, talent and vision; they’re not used to working with a boss like Kennedy who is focused on making a Lucasfilm movie, not a Trevorrow film.
“There’s one gatekeeper when it comes to Star Wars and it’s Kathleen Kennedy,” the producer said. “If you rub Kathleen Kennedy the wrong way — in any way — you’re out. You’re done ... A lot of these guys — Lord and Miller, Colin Trevorrow — got very rich, very fast and believed a lot of their own hype. And they don’t want to play by the rules. They want to do shit differently. And Kathleen Kennedy isn’t going to fuck around with that.”
Abrams understood what Kennedy wanted when they did The Force Awakens — working with Lawrence Kasdan on a new version of the script for the movie after Michael Arndt parted ways with the film over creative differences. He worked closely with Kennedy, admitting to The Hollywood Reporter that he “learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive” Kennedy could be. Remember, Kennedy has known Abrams “since he was 14, when Spielberg had read an article about him winning a Super 8 moviemaking contest and hired the future director to restore his own childhood Super 8 videos,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
With a relationship spanning decades and influences like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas prevalent in his work, Abrams was the obvious choice for The Force Awakens. But there’s another layer to this sci-fi opera cake that makes him the only choice for Episode IX: a recent string of bad publicity.
Kennedy — and the rest of executives at Disney and Lucasfilm — want you to believe that everything is okay at all times. That’s why when something bad happens, you’ll see director Ron Howard tease an upcoming still from the untitled Han Solo movie or a new detail from The Last Jedi is shared. Neither Kennedy, Disney or Lucasfilm want bad publicity.
These past couple of months have been rough. With Lord, Miller and Trevorrow all out, trade publications like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety have published stories about what it’s like to work behind-the-scenes on Star Wars. There have been stories about how uncomfortable Lord and Miller were, how much Kennedy and Trevorrow disagreed with one another, and about arguments between those writing the script for the untitled Han Solo movie. It’s been impossible for Lucasfilm to ignore, although the company has tried its best.
Abrams comes with no drama. He’s the guy that everyone loves to work with and talk to. He’s the face of any project, appearing on late night talk shows to hype up the movie and make friends in the process. Abrams is the definition of a “great guy” and that doesn’t just make him the right choice for any job, but the safe choice. It’s why Abrams is involved with so many projects and has a hand in almost every network or studio. Executives like J.J. Abrams, and Abrams likes them.
Last year, Cinema Blend asked Abrams about his role in future films and the director confirmed that he would be available to help out wherever necessary.
“My involvement is going to be as needed, but luckily with people like Rian Johnson working on these next movies, these are not filmmakers who need help so much as they just need to be given a chance to do their thing,” Abrams said.
Despite Abrams’ kind words about being given a chance to do their own thing, other stories proved otherwise. Entertainment Weekly reported that when it came to projects like the untitled Han Solo movie, Kasdan and Kennedy were on the same page, but others weren’t.
“Lucasfilm and producer Kennedy believed Lord and Miller were hired to add a comedic touch; Lord and Miller believed they were hired to make a comedy,” the report read.
Like Abrams, Kasdan was also a longtime collaborator of Kennedy’s. Together, the two made The Force Awakens into what it was understood what Kennedy wanted. They also understood they were making a movie on behalf of Kennedy and Lucasfilm, not just a Kasdan and Abrams production.
Some people might be overjoyed at Abrams’ return, while others may be despairing the decision, but the truth is obvious: Abrams was the only director who Lucasfilm could have brought on to end the new saga.