Diversity In Star Wars
by Carl Hassler
As Star Wars fans, many of us want diversity behind the camera. Every time a new director is named we ask, “When will a non-white and/or non-male be tapped to direct a Star Wars movie?” (Unfortunately, this eliminates me from consideration, and I know I must be near the top of the list. Alas, I am willing to step aside for the sake of progress.). We are passive because we have no power to actually choose the people to fill these positions.
So why not become more assertive? We can’t make decisions, but we can make suggestions. We can discuss options on social media and make our voices heard. By not only demanding diversity, but by also giving examples of people we have enjoyed from other films, we affirm to decision makers the support that will be given to the finished projects.
My knowledge of filmmakers is limited. I use movies for escapism. My list may seem one dimensional. The best part of that is others will have plenty of space to make their own suggestions.
Here are some people I would like to see behind the camera. Not that you see people behind the camera. You see the people in front of the camera, but I would like to hear about these people directing and/writing future Star Wars movies.
Ryan Coogler is an African-American male most notably known as the writer and director of Black Panther, Creed, and Fruitvale Station. What he does best is show people who are trying to make some sort of change in their lives. The internal and external obstacles to making change can be compelling to watch and contemplate.
His biggest success to date has been Black Panther. With cost estimates of between $200-210 million, he has demonstrated the ability to helm a big budget blockbuster. Earnings worldwide were $1.347 billion, which would make any shareholder ecstatic. He has proven himself more than capable of writing and directing a Star Wars movie.
What type of movie might he give us? Black Panther included big action set pieces, a staple of any Star Wars movie. Black Panther also included beautiful aspects of spirituality. Characters taking the Heart-Shaped Herb have visions of a spiritual plane where they commune with deceased loved ones. These conversations are emotional and touching. They also inform central themes of the movie. These themes include: questioning decisions of previous generations, when does loyalty get in the way of doing what is right, and using mercy and forgiveness to unify different types of people.
Coogler would be perfect for a Jedi movie. We have seen Luke Skywalker, Qui-Gon Jinn and Ahsoka Tano wrestle with whether the Jedi Order as a whole is acting the way it should. A movie involving either Qui-Gon or Ahsoka would be fantastic for Coogler. These characters spirituality and rebelliousness make them perfect protagonists for a Coogler movie. If he were to create a new Jedi, the movie could be set before or after The Force Awakens. A Jedi questioning the Order in a time period before the prequels would have ample ideas to explore, but a new Jedi being trained by Rey would also open many interesting opportunities. Who would play this new Jedi? Because Coogler always seems to use him, who wouldn’t want to see Michael B. Jordan wielding a lightsaber. Although, I might prefer Tessa Thompson.
Alfonso Cuaron is a Mexican male writer and director. He is currently receiving critical acclaim for Roma, but has been behind the camera for many other movies, including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity. He became the first Mexican and Latin director to win the Academy Award for best director and has won best director twice at the Golden Globes.
Cuaron’s movies are visually stunning, The opening shot of Gravity is a beautiful sequence of the Earth as seen from space. Special effect shots of debris ripping through space stations and spacecraft are intense. Children of Men is known for lengthy single-shot sequences involving very complex choreography. The sequence of Harry using the Expecto Patronum spell successfully in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the most memorable in the entire franchise and has helped the phrase enter pop culture.Themes explored in Cuaron’s movies include hope and faith, religion, existentialism, and dealing with failure.
His visual style would be perfect for intense space battle sequences. While a movie about Jedi would fit well with themes Cuaron has used, I would prefer to see him writing and directing a movie focusing on pilots and spacecraft. If he wanted to highlight Mexican or Latin actors, Diego Luna is already in the fold. Cassian Andor’s use for Disney streaming service may keep him from reappearing on the big screen, but never say never. Shows like Firefly and The X Files have used movies to complete series arcs.
Patty Jenkins is an American female writer and director who directed Wonder Woman, but also wrote and directed Monster. She has also directed for television shows like The Killing and I am the Night. The tone of many of her projects is very dark, but Wonder Woman captured a joyful innocence amid terrible loss.
Jenkins’s portrayal of ground battles in Wonder Woman makes one imagine how she would deal with larger scale battles in Star Wars. What would a Patty Jenkins Hoth or Crait battle look like? Would she use more people than machines like the battle in Solo: A Star Wars Story?
Her grimer tone would fit well in a Sith or dark Force user story. Asajj Ventress would be a the perfect character for Jenkins to use. If she wanted to create a new character, she might do a story set in the days of the Old Republic. She could combine person to person combat with a Sith storyline and have armies of Jedi and Sith waging war.
Kathryn Bigelow is an American female writer and director, and the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker. She also directed Detroit, Zero Dark Thirty, Strange Days, and Point Break. Her ability to direct action and war movies would work well in Star Wars. She has directed a wide variety of movies which makes it difficult to predict a specific type of movie for her.
The combination of politics, spy-craft, and combat demonstrated in Zero Dark Thirty could be repurposed in the Star Wars galaxy. The character who most often can be found in all three arenas is Leia Organa. The novel Bloodline by Claudia Gray had Leia taking part in these activities.It is still unclear if audiences will accept any other actress besides Carrie Fisher in the role as Leia. Even if Leia is off the table, Vi Moradi, a spy introduced in Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma could be used in movie as she gathers intelligence on the First Order.
Antoine Fuqua is an African-American male director who got his start directing music videos. His feature films include Training Day, Tears of the Sun, Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer, Southpaw, and The Magnificent Seven. These movies have had varying degrees of success, mostly due to having different writers, but generally, his bigger budget movies with recognizable characters have done well. When it comes to budgets and recognizability, Star Wars is in the upper echelon of both. Fuqua has proven his talent for directing action and fight sequences.
Some recurring themes in his movies include doing good as penance for past bad deeds, disillusionment with authority, and doing right instead of what is easiest or self serving. These themes could be explored with characters such as Imperial or First Order officers. We have experienced many such officers joining the Empire with good intentions, only to have a crisis of conscience when they learn of the Empire’s true motives. Thane Kyrell of Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars and Iden Versio of Christie Golden’s Battlefront II: Inferno Squad come to mind.
The character of Rae Sloane also comes to mind, although she has never seemed to turn against the Empire. At most she has wanted to reform it from within. She escaped to the Unknown Regions with Brendol Hux at the end of Aftermath:Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig. She is later mentioned by Cardinal in Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma. He tells Armitage Hux that Admiral Sloane would not approve of Hux’s actions if she were present at the time. Whether this means she is off on another matter, no longer part of the First Order, or dead is unknown. If she did have a falling out with the First Order, Fuqua could direct a film telling that story.
Fuqua has worked repeatedly with a few actors. Most notable among them are Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. I would love to see Washington portraying an intimidating, high ranking officer. I can hear him now, saying, “Darth Vader ain’t got nothing on me.”
James Wan is an Australian writer and director of Chinese descent. He is known for directing Aquaman, The Conjuring, Insidious, and Saw. His horror movies have done well, but Aquaman and Furious 7 show his ability to handle tentpole blockbusters. Aquaman has grossed over $1 billion worldwide. Furious 7 is the ninth highest grossing movie in China and Aquaman is currently thirteenth. Star Wars movies have struggled in China. His movies may not be highbrow, but he has demonstrated the ability to deliver a movie most of the intended audience wants to see. This may be just what Star Wars needs right now.
Jordan Peele is an African-American comedian, actor, writer, produce and director. He wrote and produced his directorial debut, Get Out. He was only the third person in Oscar history to receive nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay for his debut film. The film is in the horror genre, but addresses the serious issue of well meaning white people perpetuating their own type of racism. However, the weightiness of the theme does not keep the film from being utterly creepy, especially in the performances Peele gets from his actors. Peele would be perfect in writing and directing the first Star Wars movie with an all alien cast. He could explore real world issues of diversity while staying true to the science fiction genre.
The Hughes Brothers
Allen and Albert Hughes are African-American male directors of movies such as The Book of Eli, From Hell, Menace II Society, and Dead Presidents. The Book of Eli could be completely transported into the Star Wars galaxy. The story could be of a lone Jedi trying to preserve Jedi holocrons and texts after Order 66.
This next paragraph contains a minor spoiler for The Book of Eli. My favorite quote from the movie is when Eli is asked about why he gave up the Bible he was carrying, presumably the last Bible on a post-apocalyptic Earth. He responds, “I was carrying and reading it everyday, got so caught up in protecting it, I forgot to live by what I'd learnt from it.” The prequels have made many realize the Jedi made mistakes and lost their way through the Clone Wars. The story of a Jedi so desperate to protect the Order that she almost goes to the Dark Side to do so would be very compelling.
Taika Waititi is from New Zealand and is of Te-Whanau-a-Apanui and Jewish descent. He directed Thor: Ragnarok, which is generally considered the best of the Thor movies. He also wrote and directed What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. His movies are comedic.
His blend of action and comedy is unusual but works well. He is also known for having his actors improvise and not always say the lines as written in the script. This sounds like the style of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the original directors of Solo: A Star Wars Story who parted ways with Lucasfilm before the movie was completed. Disney may not want to take a chance on Waititi for this reason.
The good news is that Waititi may get to prove himself as a director for Star Wars movies by directing an episode of The Mandalorian. This gives me hope that The Mandalorian my have a good bit of humor in it.
The show offers hope in other areas as well. Individuals with diverse backgrounds are set to direct The Mandalorian. According to IMDB, here are the other directors so far: Deborah Chow (half-Chinese Canadian female), Dave Filoni (white male, but come on, it’s Dave freaking Filoni and bestie of Devin Kleffer), Rick Famuyiwa (African-American male), and Bryce Dallas Howard. If The Mandalorian is the training ground for future Star Wars film directors, the future is bright.