‘Star Wars’: Will Colin Trevorrow Be a Force for Good After ‘The Book of Henry’?

Colin Trevorrow
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

A couple of nights ago, when I emerged from “The Book of Henry,” the rather ludicrous turkey that opened the Los Angeles Film Festival (full disclosure: I saw it at a screening room in New York), I knew that its director, Colin Trevorrow, had been chosen to direct “Star Wars: Episode IX,” but my instinct was to give him a pass. I knew that the “Star Wars” assignment had nothing to do with “The Book of Henry” — that this was just a trivial indie dud the director happened to have made.

Then I thought back to the movie that did net Trevorrow the “Star Wars” gig: “Jurassic World,” the number-one blockbuster of 2015. When it came out, it had been 14 years since “Jurassic Park III,” and the nostalgia factor, mixed with a next-generation show-me-the-dinosaur factor, added up to an overpowering global gross of $1.6 billion. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — it just takes grade-school math, or maybe a grade-school imagination — to understand why Trevorrow was handed the reins of the final film in the current “Star Wars” trilogy. (I say “current,” because I’m assuming that there will be 17 more “Star Wars” trilogies.) In Hollywood, big breeds big, and that, right or wrong, is the way the game is played.

If I was going to question that game (as I do on occasion), it would be unfair to turn Trevorrow into the poster boy — or whipping boy — for it. He earned his “Star Wars” stripes the old-fashioned way, by making a deluxe mega-smash that a lot of people liked. Once in a while, though, it’s healthy to question, or at least hold up to the light, the values that undergird the system that produces the movies that most people want to see.

Related

The Book of Henry

Film Review: ‘The Book of Henry’

Personally, I was not a fan of “Jurassic World” — and in fact, it’s a film that has been debated across the Internet ever since it came out. It has its defenders, but a lot of haters too, and to be honest, I can understand where the derision comes from. I thought the film was strikingly short on verve, surprise, thunder-lizard choreography, and general awesomeness. I found it oppressive, and still feel cheated when I think back to how it built up to the idea of this monstrously oversize new dinosaur (which turned out to be an ever-so-slightly larger T. Rex). The real thing missing from “Jurassic World” was any trace of human dimension. It was a robotic CGI stomp machine, a case of franchise imperatives consuming the soul of what a movie can, and ultimately should, be.

After the disastrous reviews that greeted “The Book of Henry,” there was a collective questioning, among “Star Wars” cultists, of whether Trevorrow was really the right person to steer their sacred franchise. I’m not a “Star Wars” cultist (far from it), but to a degree I get their trepidation. Let’s look at the track record. To my mind, Trevorrow has never made a movie in which he has told a powerfully and convincingly emotional story. His aesthetic seems to lack the human factor. (I’d include in that assessment his first dramatic feature, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” one of those indie baubles that’s the sum of its quirks.) It all raises the question of why he, of all people, has been entrusted to shepherd the climactic episode of the most beloved film series of the last half century. We know the answer, of course (it’s all about the incredible success of “Jurassic World”), but “Star Wars” fans still have the right to ask: What are Trevorrow’s values as a filmmaker?

The question could hardly be coming along at a better moment. It arrives just when the critical and commercial success of “Wonder Woman” — a new kind of glass-ceiling smasher — has put a bold new issue on the front burner. You probably think the issue is: We need more women directors in Hollywood. And you’d be right. But there’s a subtler issue lurking behind it. When we say that we need more women filmmakers, that’s partly a statement about equality and opportunity, but it’s also about hoping that women directors can bring something fresh to the party — a glint of a new vision, which is to say, a spin of humanity. The blockbusterization of Hollywood that has been going on since “Jaws” and “Star Wars” is very much a boy thing (or, more accurately, an overgrown boy thing). Boys invented it, and still feel like they own it.

But if I can speak for “Star Wars” fans, maybe what they’re saying is this: that they do get the politics of blockbuster filmmaking, but that 40 years ago, when the original “Star Wars” invented those politics, the movie symbolized something more than its own hugeness. It symbolized, within the world of special-effects sci-fi, a mysterious humanity of storytelling. That’s why it was powerful enough to change movies, to change America and the world.

Sure, there are franchises around that seem to be little more than colossal junk heaps comprised of jammed-together spare parts (I’m talking about you, “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” films). For a while, even the “Star Wars” series reflected some of that degraded notion (I’m talking about you, “Phantom Menace”). But this is the bold and reborn new era of “Star Wars.” Colin Trevorrow has been entrusted with a legacy that people care about, and they have a right to scrutinize what, exactly, he has done to earn that trust. They have a right to say: If he’s going to bring this off, he’s going to have to raise his game.

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  1. Jake Laser says:

    Couldn’t agree less with any of these comments. Book Of Henry was a great movie, just a very easy target for critics. JJ, Rian & Colin are all incredibly talented people who know how to make giant movies and by box office and their end product, that is clear.

    • Dave says:

      JJ and Rian are talented, no doubt.
      They showed it multiple times.
      Colin didn’t.

      He only showed us “The Book of Henry” and “Saftey not guaranteed”.

      He has no excuses whatsoever for “The Book of Henry”,
      because after “Jurassic World”, he had total control.

      This man is a serious danger for “Star Wars” & he should be removed ASAP.

      • I suspect the success of Safety Not Guaranteed, which I personally loved, was due to the heavy influence of producers Jay and Mark Duplass. It felt like a Duplass film. Viewed from this lens, Trevorrow should be fine with the producer-driven Star Wars IX. What we should all fear from this director are his solo efforts without strong producers, like Book of Henry. (I suffered through it and can vouch that it’s a bona fide mess. I respect his efforts, but the movie playing in his head did not make it to the screen.) Apparently Trevorrow is a lot like tofu — without the influence of strong flavors, he’s tasteless.

      • Randy says:

        Safety Not Guaranteed was rated 90% by critics on RT, and he was hand picked by Spielberg for Jurassic World because of that film. JW was not a masterpiece, but a fun re-boot.

        I haven’t seen “The Book of Henry,” but even if that was a misfire, and as you said, “he had total control,” that shouldn’t matter much to you, after seeing what happened to the Han Solo film this week, where the directors were obviously not in “total control.” Star Wars is a collaboration, and these films appear to be producer-driven.

        I think it is far too early to tell. It really bothers me how everyone wants to jump all over Trevorrow, not really knowing anything that happens behind the scenes of these movies. What the strongest element might be for Episode 9, such as a script (I’m not saying it is true).

        My main concerns with Episode 9 are that Riann Johnson decided not to do the screenplay, after all, and that they had to a major overhaul re-write after the death of Carrie Fisher. I’m still going to remain optimistic.

  2. Jane says:

    It shouldn’t have ANYTHING to do with your genitals – and I say that as a woman that was bored to tears with Wonder Woman and stopped watching an hour in. It should be about talent and ONLY about talent. Do you have the chops to do the bloody job? Yes? Then have at it. Who cares if you’re a man or a woman – Jaysus people we’re living in 2017, enough of this shit already!

  3. paully says:

    Yes, this guy was the wrong choice for Star Wars 9.. I wonder if Disney/Lucasfilm can get Martin Scorsese ??

  4. I honestly believe that even J.J. Abrams was the wrong pick for directing Episode 7, just as Colin is for 9. While I liked Jurassic World, I don’t think directing a single action flick makes you qualified to go near the most influential secular myth of our age.
    J.J. has chops, but unlike Lucas, he lacks an understanding of mythology or stories with firm moral grounding as Lucas does. Even his lesser pictures (Episode 1-3) have more mythology, symbolism and moral messages than all of TFA.

    If Star Wars was just a silly space story, then this would not be a huge issue. But what Disney is attempting to do is write a sequel to an epic – which, in all the history of the world, is not an easy thing to do. It was centuries before a spin-off to the Odyssey was written by Vergil, and centuries even more before Kazantzakis attempted a legitimate sequel (which is widely unknown). It makes one wonder if there weren’t failed sequels all through the ages that never caught on.

    Perhaps Disney’s attempt will also be forgotten by history, for their lack of mythological understanding and awareness of the human condition.

  5. brian says:

    Jurrasic World is not the reason Colin Tevorrow got handed the reins of Star Wars Episode IX. kathleen Kennedy has said that it was Trevorrows movie Saftey not Guaranteed which is a fantastic movie!

    • Randy says:

      Let’s all remember two things:

      Riann Johnson is writing the last film.

      Lucasfilm took the reins, hired Tony Gilroy to assist with writing and directing I’m fixing what was wrong with Rogue One.

      These films are producer-driven, TFA being an exception, because JJ Abrams has more power than all of the other directors they have chosen. Rogue One gave me faith that their team will do whatever they need to do to pull together to make the best they can make of these last two films. And hopefully all Star Wars films going forward.

      • Randy says:

        OK, I missed that. But my point is, it is still a collaborative, producer-driven effort. So people should have a shred of optimism. And even if you didn’t like “Jurassic World” or “Safety Not Guaranteed,” there’s no reason to think that this couldn’t be great. I think people are running Trevorrow over the coals too fast, too soon.

      • JC says:

        Rian Johnson is NOT writing the last film. He’s clarified that in statements in the past few months.

  6. Eddy says:

    I think it’s great that studios now buy into the new trend of letting young independent filmmakers direct major franchise blockbusters. It worked with “Godzilla”, “Kong: Skull Island” and “Wonder Woman”. But there has to be strong TALENT at the core, meaning special skills. Trevorrow is maybe the least interesting director they could have picked of the many, many talented young indie directors out there.

  7. W Scott says:

    The problem (as a female who used to be a film professional) is how women in general are perceived by the business as a whole.

    The “question” of Trevorrow’s suitability and talent is one that can be also applied to the hiring of Abrams for “The Force Awakens”; it’s about who can put together a crowd-pleasing product to ensure the delivery of the Quarterly Budget. The interesting question mark is Johnson who received good critical reaction to both “Brick” and “Looper”, but has yet to “prove” himself with a project as big as “Star Wars”. However refreshingly honest as this is, his admittance via social media within the last 2 weeks, there is no over-arcing Lucasfilm story plan for these 3 films doesn’t bode well for future audiences seeking satisfying on-screen story conclusion except in the broadest of strokes.

    Despite the success of “MI:3” and “Star Trek”, Abrams demonstrated a creative hubris miscalculation with “Into Darkness” by remaking the “Wrath of Khan” and followed it up with “The Force Awakens” which is basically derivative of “Star Wars: A New Hope” and gave audiences the “Mary-Sue” trope with his lead character. Abrams’ creative choices regarding “TFA” gave us a film that becomes more audience unsatisfying with repeated viewings as you realise that this film marks the boundary extent of his talent and creativity as a film-maker. With particular regard to “TFA”, neither he (or Lawrence Kasdan for that matter) appears to be able to provide on-screen context or exposition for his characters’ motives or behaviours but is ready to sacrifice his franchise character (and talent) in pursuit of cheap audience manipulation – an all too common malady in modern film-making believing it to be a bold move.

    Until both Johnson’s and Trevorrow’s “Star Wars” projects are released, I feel it would be unfair to speculate on their projects, but returning back to Johnson’s social media comments following the recent article in Vanity Fair and add to that comments made by Mark Hamill regarding both Abrams’ and Johnson’s take on the Skywalker character, I must repeat my feeling that anyone going into “The Last Jedi” and “Episode IX” expecting an audience satisfying story conclusion to these 3 films may likely be disappointed. The only winners here will be the non-screen story merchandise outlets such as book and gaming tie-ins as fans will be expected to buy into those to get the “complete” picture regarding motives and filled-in plot holes to argue about on social media platforms.

    As Chairperson of Lucasfilm, and helming the overall course of the “Star Wars” IP, I feel that Kathleen Kennedy is in a particularly unique position to simply stop playing by the studio business rules that she has had to work within Amblin and Kennedy-Marshall so far in her career and find the talented women and people of colour both behind and in front of the camera for these films. I am very much aware that there are many women and people of colour working in various production/technical and executive roles within Lucasfilm and ALL it’s subsideries across the globe, but it’s time to have the confidence to change the rules “set” by the boy’s club when it comes to the front-facing, “glamourous” part of the business. There is another Kathryn Bigelow out there talented and ready to step up.

  8. Jimmy says:

    I am worried about Star Wars 10. I hope the director really steps up and gives us a great conclusion. I like a redemption story.

  9. millerfilm says:

    Trevorrow was a mistake from Day One. Disney and “Star Wars” fans will learn how big a mistake before we know it. “Book of Henry” only put an exclamation mark on what we already knew.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I’m not a CT hater, but I am curious as a young DGA director myself how a guy goes from basically having done almost nothing to directing two major blockbuster franchises. Like, who is his agent and how can I get ahold of that person or team? LOL. I just am not sure I understand how, among the thousands of qualified directors, he’s the best choice. And he shouldn’t be “a good” choice, he should be THE BEST choice. This is Star Wars! I don’t get the idea of women directors are needed to add “humanity”? I don’t even know what that means. Do you mean that we need more emotionalism and women are more emotional or something? I don’t agree that’s how they’d direct, and I don’t agree we need that. I see critics constantly complain about stupid things like this, or use terms like “human interest” — which ALWAYS means something awful. Every time a movie is a “human interest” drama it sucks and isn’t interesting to anyone except really boring old people. Jurassic World was a lot of fun, maybe not a perfect movie, but it was good dumb fun.

    • millerfilm says:

      It’s all about who you know in Hollywood. Obviously, Trevorrow hit the nail on the head somehow. “Star Wars” fans are the ones who are going to pay for this mistake.

  11. DougW says:

    Kathleen Kennedy has said she hired him based on “Safety Not Guaranteed.”

  12. linaloki says:

    Jurassic World was also, at its core, just poorly directed. I laughed the whole time. Dramatic moments were staged with the sensibility and subtlety of a play directed by a middle schooler. I’m all for giving lesser-known directors a shot, but Trevorrow has always been a bad choice.

  13. tazzman says:

    Giving this guy a SW film just seems like an overreaction to this desire to have a young director. Get someone with chops or who has actually directed a movie with soul.

    • millerfilm says:

      Amen! There’s still time to dump him. Hopefully, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy will wise up before its too late. Remember Josh Trank? He went bye bye after his stinker.

      • Chris Jones says:

        I saw the movie last night and it was a real head scratcher. Don’t they usually send these kind of movies straight to DVD/iTunes? Good casting. Good acting. Directing was C+ okay. Where the wheels come off is with the story. It feels like someone’s first screenplay where they dump a bunch of sequences that don’t quite connect. Story opens with Henry’s POV and finishes in the mother’s POV. It was really her story all along and that’s the root problem, in my opinion — director fell in love with the precious scenes of the smart kid being smart and couldn’t lose them in order to follow the real protagonist around…

  14. Ben says:

    Don’t let Colin Trevorrow near Star Wars….ever! This guy is unpredictable and dangerous. Give him some quirky low-budget indie that Wes Anderson passed on and he’ll be happy. And safe us from nightmares.

  15. Lucky says:

    Yeah especially after Rian Johnson, who is known for his attention to character, crushes with The Last Jedi. Maybe the plan’s been to go deep on character with Johnson and just go nuts on space battle spectacle for Trevorrow.

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