Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Speculating on the News: Disney Buys Lucasfilm, Star Wars – 3 Directors on my Shortlist

Nov 19 2012 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

Earlier this week we took a look at and tried to debunk some of the rumors surrounding the Oct. 30th Disney/LucasFilm buyout.

Taking things a step further, I thought it would be fun to publicize my own director shortlist. These are my personal choices for who I’d like to see given a shot at Episode VII.

Naturally, if I actually had a say in that decision making process, I’d be under the strictest NDA known to man and wouldn’t be writing this post at all. So don’t blame me if none of these choices gets the job.

Disney Star Wars Buyout

J.J. Abrams

Known for: Star Trek (2009), Super 8 (2011), Mission: Impossible III (2006), various tv shows


J.J. Abrams is my first choice – and the list of reasons is not a small one. He’s already well acquainted with the sci-fi genre (Star Trek, Super 8) and even more-so with action/adventure flicks (add Mission Impossible III to the mix).

J.J. Abrams

I should issue a disclaimer here: I’m not a J.J. Abrams fanboy to the extent that many people are these days – but he does seem like one of two natural choices to helm the future of the franchise for a number of reasons.

I was first enamored by Abrams after listening to his director’s commentary on the DVD release of Star Trek (one of the better commentary tracks I’ve heard – and I am a connoisseur of such things). He talks profusely about how his goal was to take Star Trek and make it more like Star Wars. He goes into much detail about what he means by this and how he was able to achieve it, but in simple terms he views Star Wars as the more accessible franchise for most audiences.

Watching the movie scene-for-scene while he describes which scenes were inspired by Star Wars makes it clear that he understands why Star Wars works. Interestingly enough, he’s so subtle about the whole thing that while watching Star Trek for the first time, you’d never notice these parallels, but after listening to the commentary track, they are so obvious that you can’t unsee them.

Star Trek (2009) Cover ArtDisney would afford Abrams the freedom to guide the franchise without too much studio interference (much like their success with the Pixar/Marvel/Avengers acquisitions). Abrams also has already demonstrated a respect for the property along with the knowledge and care for it to show that this trust is warranted. Note his recent joint ventures with Steven Spielberg as well, who was also heavily influential to George Lucas’s work on the original 6 films.


Abrams is already heavily involved in the Star Trek reboots, thus possibly deemed, “unavailable” to take on something this large – at least in a directorial role. Some also argue he’s too well established to take on such a risky proposition as a Star Wars continuation. However, I can’t say either of these are insurmountable challenges should Disney decide he’s the man for the job. Hence, he remains at the top of my list.

Andrew Stanton

Known for: John Carter (2012), WALL-E (2008), Finding Nemo (2003)


Andrew Stanton and counterpart Brad Bird have both been mentioned in rumors surrounding directorial choices for the continuing saga, and for obvious reasons. Both directors are historically known as major names in feature animation. Between the two of them, they’ve directed basically all the best Pixar releases.

Having mastered what was considered the best in 3D computer animation over the past decade, both filmmakers branched out by making their feature live action debuts this past year – Bird with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and Stanton with Disney’s John Carter (2012)

Like Abrams, the two are established filmmakers, but not in the live action realm per se, so “being established” doesn’t work against them in the same way it does Abrams.

Framegrab from Disney's 2012 blockbuster, John Carter

Stanton and Bird already have a substantial relationships with Disney now that it owns Pixar. For better or worse, you can now add Stanton’s John Carter to that list.

I have the utmost respect for both of these directors; however, I have a clear reason for picking Stanton over Bird in this instance. First, despite popular and critical opinion, I believe that John Carter demonstrated a smoother transition from the animated world to the live action world than Bird’s entry into the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Therefore, I’m more interested in seeing Stanton risk making this transition permanent, while I’d be very content to see Bird continue his original track record by making a lot more awesome Pixar movies. John Carter also included a lot heavier use and mastery of CGI. Admittedly, this would be necessary to helm a Star Wars film in today’s world, even assuming the use of real-world sets and environments over the greenscreen-laiden style of the prequel trilogy.

This brings me to the second reason for choosing Stanton. WALL-E and John Carter are both Disney films of the right genre. Coincidentally, they are probably also my two favorite Stanton films of all time.

Or maybe that’s not a coincidence? Perhaps Stanton just has an intimate knowledge of how to tell this sort of story and can do it again with Star Wars VII-IX.

Image from Disney's 2012 blockbuster, John Carter

Frankly, John Carter had a rash of blatantly obvious Star Wars homages. It’s one of the things I love about the film. I realize that this is partly unfair to say considering Edgar Rice Burroughs’s source material not only predates, but was even a key inspiration for Lucas’s Star Wars scripts. However, consider even the specifics of the settings and imagery that Stanton commands here – that didn’t come from a book at all, but rather from the minds of two like-minded filmmakers.

(To cite two particular scenes in a spoiler-free way consider the Lars homestead from A New Hope vs. you-know-which-flashback-scene in John Carter – also – the gladiator style arena battle in Attack of the Clones vs. the Thark arena in John Carter)


The first for me is that there won’t be time for anymore John Carter sequels, at least from the same director – but this probably won’t happen anyway.

Which is the cause of the real reason Stanton likely won’t get the job: As John Carter is considered one of the largest financial disasters in Disney’s recent history, Disney won’t feel compelled to hand Stanton the keys to another $300 million dollar picture like Star Wars VII. Particularly since it’s already a 4 billion dollar investment on their part. The fanboys would go nuts (in a bad way) from the start!

Now I naturally disagree or Stanton wouldn’t have made my list. I wasn’t confused by the characters or complex plot lines/story/environments of John Carter in the least (and I certainly did my part to help make it a financial success). I think the criticisms here, which I would label unfair, are actually quite similar to the criticisms historically leveled against Star Wars films, which are also unfair. That makes this director a natural fit in my book.

Christopher Nolan

Known for: Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012)


According to publicly available knowledge, Nolan hasn’t committed to his next directorial gig yet. He’s on this list because, among directors active in the business today, he’s the probably the one I most respect.

Christopher NolanIn fact, I’ve often said he’s a sort of combination between Star Wars creator/writer/executive producer/director, George Lucas, and series consultant Steven Spielberg.

The two are of course widely respected for their individual accomplishments and were consultants on practically all of one another’s projects to some extent – to the point where it would be hard to imagine an idea that one of them brought to the screen without the influence of the other.

Nolan evokes the same sense of myth and clever storytelling the two were able to accomplish together, yet combines it into one package.

Disney would need to fork over some cash to get him to jump ship from Warner Bros., but that amount would look small compared the upfront $4 billion investment.


Unfortunately, Nolan is widely regarded (probably fairly) as not the right guy for the job. I found this in Forrest Wickman’s cleverly written, but not so cleverly titled, article “Christopher Nolan Should Not Direct Star Wars“:

Struggling with the mysterious loss of his wife Mara Jade (played in flashback by Marion Cotillard), a middle-aged Luke Skywalker (Christian Bale) has found himself in a pained exile back on Tatooine. We gradually piece together that after losing an internal struggle with his anger, hate, and suffering, Skywalker was labeled a potential Sith […] and thrown out [of the Jedi order…]. This all leads to […] a startling revelation: As the brass in Hans Zimmer’s score swells, we learn that it was Skywalker who accidentally sabered Mara Jade; he then used a Jedi Mind Trick on himself to wipe the memory. As Skywalker must decide whether to keep this memory […] we cut to black.

Although obviously intended to be half humorous, there’s some real truth to this analysis. I would have to wholeheartedly agree with the author’s conclusion, “I can’t say that I wouldn’t go see this movie. But it just wouldn’t be a Star Wars film.” I’d rather see Nolan do either (a) something original, like he did with Inception, (b) adapt a little known property like his other work, (c) or make his inevitable entry into the Bond franchise.

With Sam Mendes speculating that he won’t continue in his Bond directing career, Christopher Nolan would be the natural choice for the latter. He’s expressed interest in the past and is available to take on a project right now.

I don’t see Nolan cutting ties on the good thing he’s got going at Warner Bros or taking on a project where he would have to relinquish so much control (due to the fanboys, faithfulness to the original trilogies, Disney, and Lucas being a consultant and treatment writer).

If Nolan were on the list, he’d be writing the thing from the start – and with Michael Arndt now confirmed as a screenwriter on the project, we know that won’t happen.

Bonus Pick: Alfonso Cuarón

Known for: Children of Men (2006), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

In short, I’m not as familiar with Cuarón’s work as the others on this list. He did direct the best of the Harry Potter films and made his foray into sci-fi with Children of Men and his upcoming Gravity (in production). Like Nolan, this pick is motivated more by the idea that “this would be an interesting film to see” than by the thought of “wow, he would make a really great Star Wars sequel.”

Got someone to add? Share them in the comments section below.

I’ve personally dismissed most of the commonly mentioned choices not on this list, but I’d love to speculate (or hear speculation) about other possibilities anyway – particularly with names that haven’t even crossed my mind yet. I’m sure there are several.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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