When George Lucas was looking for someone to direct The Empire Strikes Back (1980) he chose Irvin Kershner because the indie filmmaker had an eye for character drama that was sorely lacking in most genre films. Then Lucas chose Richard Marquand to direct Return of the Jedi (1983) due to his impressive work on the suspenseful British spy thriller Eye of the Needle (1981). When the Star Wars prequel trilogy came out with The Phantom Menace in 1999, Lucas helmed all three films himself once again, but after selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, it was up to newly appointed Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to hire new directors to keep the spark of Star Wars alive.
While many candidates were considered before him and he was reluctant at first, J.J. Abrams was the perfect person for the job. Before it was announced that Bad Robot would helm a sequel trilogy that takes place after Return of the Jedi and that J.J. Abrams would direct the first entry Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, I was already a huge fan of Abrams and his work. He proved he could do drama with the TV series Felicity and that he could do action with the TV series Alias and the film Mission: Impossible III (2006), but his sci-fi shows Lost and Fringe were some of the best-written and most well-constructed dramas I’ve ever seen on television, and they contributed to me becoming a massive J.J. Abrams fan alongside the excellent 2009 film Star Trek (another reboot of a beloved sci-fi series) and the very Spielberg-like Super 8 (2011) which he actually co-produced with Steven Spielberg.
Not to mention the fact that Lost is literally my favorite TV show of all time. Imagine how I felt when it was announced that the guy who created my favorite show was going to direct a movie from my favorite film series.
Rian Johnson, the man who would go on to direct Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), proved himself as an impressive filmmaker when he made his directorial debut with the Sundance Jury Prize-winning mystery drama Brick (2005), and would later prove himself as a great sci-fi director with one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time and one of my favorite films of 2012 in general, Looper starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.
Other directing choices would be rockier. Ron Howard did a good job directing the Han Solo origin film Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) but he was only brought in after the previous directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) were deemed a poor fit for the tone Lucasfilm was going for, and Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) was initially hired to direct Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) before getting replaced by J.J. Abrams due to a clash between Trevorrow and Lucasfilm over creative differences.
Even Rogue One director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) was apparently not good enough because that film had to be re-edited before its 2016 release. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (Game of Thrones) never even got past the script stage for their trilogy so we’ll never know how much of a success or a mistake their attempt at making a Star Wars film would have been.
The past decade has clearly proven that it is not easy making a Star Wars film (at least not with Disney), but there are still plenty of directors I would love to see get the chance to make one. These are some of the directors who I personally think would do the best job.
Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles)
Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes)
Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book)
Joe Cornish (Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King)
Patty Jenkins (The Killing, Wonder Woman)
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049)
Ryan Coogler (Creed, Black Panther)
James Mangold (Logan, Ford v Ferrari)
Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings, Bumblebee)
Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok)
Just don’t get on Kathleen Kennedy’s bad side and you’ll be fine.