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Now that the shock that Disney is buying Lucasfilm and producing three new Star Wars films — news that froze some megafans like Han Solo in carbonite — has worn off, it’s time to look at the future of the franchise with clear eyes. The fact that creator George Lucas will not direct the films and that Kathleen Kennedy will produce them opens up a wide world of possibilities.
Those possibilities, of course, all depend on who takes the helm for the films. Will they be family-friendly? Gritty? Extra nerdy? Hard to say, but here are some potential leading contenders (in our fanboy imaginations, anyway) to take over the legendary sci-fi canon.
He’s already revived one iconic space-based franchise, in Star Trek, and is wrapping work on its sequel. Would he do another? Well, he always was more of a Star Wars fan growing up. Abrams is the current king of TV sci-fi, having launched such shows as Alias and Lost, and has had other big-screen successes as director of Mission: Impossible III and producer of Cloverfield and Mission: Impossible IV — Ghost Protocol. He also has worked with Kennedy’s longtime partner, Steven Spielberg, on their ’80s-style monster film, Super 8, which came out in summer 2011.
A lifelong fan of the force who had a voice role in the Clone Wars animated series, Favreau has major cred with Disney and geeks for his work in launching the critically beloved Iron Man franchise. Mixing grit with humor and gadgets, the series helped launch the current Marvel cinematic universe; there would be no Avengers without Iron Man. Oh, and he produced Avengers, too. Although Cowboys & Aliens didn’t really hit, it did provide him with the chance to work with a Star Wars legend in Harrison Ford. He’s set to direct an adaptation of Jersey Boys, though, presumably, a chance to direct Star Wars films would be too good to pass up.
Another Marvel vet, Johnston directed its Captain America to strong critical and commercial success. He has worked with Kennedy on Jurassic Park III, which he directed, and has had a career-long relationship Lucas, as he provided character designs and special effects to the original Star Wars films. He did the same for Raiders of the Lost Ark, winning an Oscar. He’s also written a Star Wars book.
The man that’s redefining the modern comic book franchise, Nolan might be wary to get involved in another geeky venture with a classic predetermined story. But he will be out of his DC duties soon — he’s producing Man of Steel but not Justice League — and aside from exec producing cinematographer Wally Pfister‘s directorial debut, he doesn’t seem to have much on his docket.
His X-Men prequel First Class was adored by fans of the series (and did relatively well financially), and his genre-busting Kick-Ass was a fan favorite with a sequel on the way. He’s shown he can do grit, with Layer Cake and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He was at one point in talks to direct Thor for Disney, so he at least knows its executives.
The man who took over and finished the Harry Potter series, Yates has proved that he can handle a beloved franchise, elevate its content and make big money in the process. His Potter films were at the same time dark and family-friendly enough, a difficult line to balance. Yates also has had considerable success in TV work, both in the U.K. and U.S.
Another Harry Potter director (Prisoner of Azkaban), Cuaron has his own space drama, Gravity, coming out next year. Sure, that’s a bit different than Star Wars — this film will have Sandra Bullock and George Clooney drifting through space — but it’s sci-fi nonetheless. He also produced Pan’s Labyrinth, which had monsters galore, and his Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien proved he can add plenty of edginess to his scripts.
A bit of a polarizing figure in the fan community, Snyder made the hits 300 and remake of Dawn of the Dead but also the maligned Sucker Punch and the divisive Watchmen. He’s behind the new Superman film, which will either send him to the next level or sink his bonafides. Like most directors of his generation, he’s also a huge Star Wars fan.
An up-and-coming director, Trank had a surprise hit with last year’s Chronicle, a fresh take on the sci-fi genre with a small budget and dark subject matter. Practical special effects in the film, about high school students who gain special powers from toxic waste, were strong, and the project won him the new Fantastic Four job. That might get in the way of the Star Wars project, however.
His breakout indie hit was, fittingly, titled Moon, so you know he’s got a thing for space (also, having David Bowie — Ziggy Stardust himself — for a father probably helped nurture that). His second film, Source Code, showed a more Hollywood aesthetic though still dealt with high concepts and special effects. He obviously never has worked with a budget like the one Star Wars commanded, but he’s young and talented and has been considered for genre work, including Man of Steel and Dredd.
A two-time Oscar winner for his work with Pixar, Bird made the transition to live action with aplomb as director of the megahit Mission: Impossible IV — Ghost Protocol. His Pixar work means he’s a trusted Disney hand, and his M:I creds means he can handle someone else’s franchise. He’s got preproduction on the period film 1906 under way, but hey, this is Star Wars.
Another lifetime Star Wars fan, Goddard co-wrote and directed the long-delayed hit Cabin in the Woods, showing he can helm a genre film with humor and serious monsters. His co-writer on that film just happens to be Joss Whedon, who is now the go-to guy at Disney/Marvel; he’s long been a Whedon apprentice, having written on Buffy and other TV shows. He’s also working with Spielberg, as writer of Robopocalypse, so he’s got connections with some very influential people in the Disney-Kennedy spheres.
Yes, really. The Family Guy animation king is a lifelong Star Wars nut — he has made several special Star Wars episodes of Family Guy — and busted out into live-action film with the megahit Ted. Sure, he’s raunchy, but one has to assume he’d respect the material. And being Oscar host can’t hurt his recognition factor, right?
Guillermo del Toro
A man with his iron in many, many fires, del Toro is a master at monster films and sci-fi. But is he too offbeat for this mainstream franchise? He nearly directed The Hobbit, but that fell through because of scheduling. He produces a ton of films and has Pacific Rim on the way, but if he could strike a balance between his own interests and the franchise’s requirements, he’d be a big hit with fans.
The oldest guy on this list but a real option. He’s rebooting his own Mad Max film, was an option on Justice League for DC and directed both Happy Feet movies and the sequel to Babe, the film about the talking pig.
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