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Why ‘Star Wars’ Keeps Firing Directors

The Lucasfilm business model doesn't leave a lot of room for creativity — but it sure seems to work

The loss of a film’s director is typically a sign of trouble for a production — and a good indication there’s chaos behind the scenes. But Disney and Lucasfilm don’t seem to mind that state of affairs — the act of constantly hiring and firing directors has practically become part of their business model.

Director Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World,” “The Book of Henry”) is the most recent filmmaker to part ways with Lucasfilm and its popular “Star Wars” franchise, leaving the yet-to-be-titled “Star Wars: Episode IX.”

“Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on ‘Star Wars: Episode IX.’ Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process, but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ,” a statement posted to the official “Star Wars” website read. “We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon.”

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The words might not have raised as many red flags with fans or within the industry if it had not read so similarly to another recent statement from the company — one announcing that it was letting two other directors go.

“Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are talented filmmakers who have assembled an incredible cast and crew, but it’s become clear that we had different creative visions on this film, and we’ve decided to part ways. A new director will be announced soon,” Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said in the June statement about the decision to fire directors Lord and Miller (“The LEGO Movie,” “21 Jump Street”) from the upcoming and untitled “Star Wars” spin-off movie focusing on the popular character of Han Solo. Ron Howard was hired after to bring the film across the finish line.

The difference between Trevorrow’s departure and that of Lord and Miller is that “Episode IX” has not yet shot an inch of film, while the Han Solo spinoff had reportedly been shooting under Lord and Miller from February to June of this year. Their firing in the middle of production is virtually unheard of in the industry, especially for a movie that is no doubt costing the studio hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Before those “parting of ways,” director Josh Trank (“Fantastic Four,” “Chronicle”) was also let go from an untitled “Star Wars” movie. Then, last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” saw a new director (Tony Gilroy) brought in for major reshoots to reshape the film originally made by Gareth Edwards — though Edwards was reportedly somewhat involved in those reshoots.

The seemingly endless hiring and firing of filmmakers has led many to wonder: Why can’t Lucasfilm keep any directors?

This is simply how the movie business operates these days — that is, unless you’re watching a smaller film like “Wind River,” the sleeper hit of the month from writer-director Taylor Sheridan, which cost only $11 million.

Why can’t Lucasfilm keep directors?

With costs rising as studios look to cash in on the next big franchise, films such as those made by Marvel or Disney are mostly made by committee. The studio has the final say, rather than the director or directors — who might stray too far off the beaten path. Lord and Miller, after all, were reportedly let go from their “Star Wars” film when they wanted to experiment on set and make the script more comedic. They were giving actors the freedom to improvise while shooting, which was not OK with the overlords at Lucasfilm.

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Many insiders feel Trevorrow was fired mainly for his latest feature, “The Book of Henry.” The film received a very mixed response over the summer and was a low-budget, experimental film — something big studios looking to make megabucks on a single film don’t like all that much.

The movies made by committee usually don’t work. This summer, audiences shunned the sanitized, studio-driven fare meant to appeal to worldwide audiences. Flops like “The Mummy,” “Baywatch,” “Alien: Covenant,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” proved that moviegoers were sick of most of the eye-candy cinema devoid of personality. This summer’s films had the lowest attendance in 25 years.

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Yet Disney happens to have a model that works. The “Star Wars” films make money despite the behind-the-scenes drama and the handcuffs the directors are obviously forced to wear. Last year’s “Rogue One” made over $500 million at the domestic box office and over $1 billion worldwide. Before that, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made nearly $1 billion domestically and over $2 billion worldwide.

If keeping things less creative, reined in, and sanitized brings in dough like that, then we can expect plenty more directors to be kicked to the curb by Lucasfilm. After all, most of the kids sitting down for the latest “Star Wars” adventure couldn’t care less about directors hitting the unemployment line or stifled creativity — they just want their new “Star Wars” chapter to be fun and have wall-to-wall special effects. Thus far, Lucasfilm is fulfilling those expectations.

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PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected].