Taika Waititi: a new hope?

The revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise since 2015 has hardly been met anything close to a uniform response. Almost every film has been met with contrasting views, ranging from complimentary to downright hostile. And though the Skywalker franchise has been laid to rest, the future of the franchise does not appear to be any less divisive, if evidenced by the more recent announcements from a galaxy far away (Disney HQ).

The recent news that Taika Waititi is set to direct an upcoming Star Wars movie has been met with mixed responses. It seems that despite his revitalisation of another tired old franchise with Thor: Ragnarok, there are doubts as to whether his style will translate to the Star Wars universe. The Thor franchise, after all, doesn’t exactly hold the position in pop culture Star Wars does. Few were so invested in it that they would object to the wacky change of pace that Waititi brought in Ragnarok. The Star Wars situation is, therefore, a different one, with a lot more to lose in the hearts and minds of audiences. Following the critical failure of The Rise of Skywalker however, it does seem that some sort of rejuvenation is necessary if this franchise is going to get back on track. The urgency of this is all the more necessary, as the seemingly more obvious choice ‘Stop making Star Wars movies’ is an option that Disney seems to have failed to recognise. My initial, gut reaction to the news was that Waititi’s comedic sensibility would serve to undermine the supposed gravity of the Star Wars stories. This’ll detract from whatever semblance of stakes which remain after The Rise of Skywalker. Yet on a more positive note, I think that Waititi has shown himself as effective in dragging tired, old franchises back from the brink, injecting them with his immediately identifiable comedic flair.

Across his filmography he has demonstrated his ability to adapt to the subject of his work, whilst maintain his distinct style

Another important factor to note is that Waititi hasn’t been given full creative control over a Star Wars screenplay. Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who rose to prominence with the wildly successful 1917, is a co-writer on the project. This means that Waititi’s Star Wars film will not be solely his project; the serious dramatic chops that Wilson-Cairns has demonstrated will surely bring a level of sobriety and pathos to the script. This is not to say that Waititi would be incapable of doing so on his own, for across his filmography he has demonstrated his ability to adapt to the subject of his work, whilst maintain his distinct style. To say that such an accomplished writer-director would do a disservice to Star Wars on the basis of his past work underestimates a writer who has demonstrated that he is beyond capable. The most obvious demonstration of this is his work on Jojo Rabbit, a divisive film, (I liked it), yet one which undeniably shows that Waititi is able to grapple with serious subject matter, producing emotionally powerful moments while maintaining his lovable comic flair.

Throwing an indie-creator into this mess, and giving him creative control, does not make him responsible for producing a direction that people didn’t like

Now to consider a potential counterargument. Rian Johnson is an example of another indie-darling, who was thrust into making a Star Wars film. Little needs to be said on how that went, in terms of the vitriolic reception from devout Star Wars fans, despite its critical success. As much as Star Wars fans love to polemicize about the evils of Mr Johnson, who completely disregarded much of the set up that Abrams put in place in Episode Seven, to blame him for the perceived failures of The Last Jedi is to miss the bigger picture. The fairly accepted failure of the most recent trilogy was largely a result of a colossal corporate oversight at Disney, with little roadmap or idea of character arcs from the outset. Throwing an indie-creator into this mess, and giving him creative control, does not make him responsible for producing a direction that people didn’t like.

This left JJ Abrams the impossible task of somehow restructuring entire narrative arcs such that the story could be taken to its lacklustre, borderline nonsensical conclusion. This raises a crucial point, little detail has been given about the nature of what Waititi has been given, but if the creative direction is present from the outset, there is no reason why introducing an indie-director should derail the franchise as it previously did. I’m sure Disney is drawing up these controls already. The onus is therefore on Disney not to stifle Waititi’s vibrancy and wit, whilst providing appropriate long-term planning, (given that it won’t be a stand-alone movie), rather than on Waititi not to ‘fail’ the Star Wars universe.

There is no reason that the mistakes, if that’s what they were, of The Last Jedi will be repeated

Overall, I think that there is potentially much to look forward to in a Waititi Star Wars project. He already has some strong creative talent on board, and he has consistently shown that he is able to balance serious themes, and his whimsical, witty style. There is no reason that the mistakes, if that’s what they were, of The Last Jedi will be repeated, I imagine that for the sake of Disney’s reputation that this will not be allowed to happen, so there is no reason to despair. After all, he is yet to put a foot wrong, and I doubt that he’ll start now.

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