It’s only fitting that the Star Wars franchise chose May 4 to drop the intergalactic equivalent of a Woj bomb, and to Lucasfilms’ credit, it’s a doozy. As announced on the official Star Wars website, Oscar-winning auteur Taika Waititi is going to direct and cowrite—along with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who cowrote 1917 and Edgar Wright’s upcoming movie Last Night in Soho—a new feature film set in a galaxy far, far away. That’s pretty much all we know about the project—even the release date is TBD—but it speaks to Waititi’s star power that the franchise is able to generate hype from even the vaguest possible press release just by mentioning his name.
Waititi has made a seamless transition from making quirky indies to helming blockbuster movies in the 2010s. By leaning into Chris Hemsworth’s natural comedic instincts, he successfully rebranded Thor into one of the most entertaining heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor: Ragnarok, in fact, was such a hit after two Thor duds that Marvel is making a fourth movie in the franchise—bringing back Natalie Portman’s Jane as well as adding Christian Bale as the villain—that will also be directed by Waititi. Given that the incredibly named Thor: Love and Thunder is slated to come out in 2022, and that the entire entertainment industry is on an indefinite pause due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely that Waititi’s Star Wars film will be slotted in at a later date.
Waititi parlayed the post-Ragnarok goodwill he earned into Jojo Rabbit, a highly personal project in which he played an imaginary Adolf Hitler and that netted him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Jojo Rabbit was an ambitious concept that bit off more than it could chew by choosing to examine the horrors of Nazi Germany through a childlike viepoint—at least the film had a better screenplay than Joker?—but the movie had enough admirers that it’s unsurprising Waititi would be considered a safe bet to steer Star Wars on the big screen in the 2020s.
The new film, whenever it does come out, won’t be Waititi’s first experience with the storied franchise: He also directed the Season 1 finale of The Mandalorian, the crown jewel of Disney+’s launch at the end of 2019, and one of the rare projects in the Disney era of Lucasfilm that largely satisfied Star Wars fans. (Waititi also lent his voice to the show’s wry droid assassin/unexpectedly committed Baby Yoda nanny, IG-11.) The Mandalorian’s terrific finale should be enough of a flex of Waititi’s bona fides to justify Disney’s choice—to say nothing of the fact that he has a goddamn Oscar.
It’s way too early to gauge what sort of film Waititi will make; we don’t know where the movie will land in the Star Wars timeline or what sort of characters could be incorporated, but it’s easy to imagine the project embracing a lighter tone and more playful spirit. It’s hard to imagine him leaning toward the dark side of the Star Wars spectrum (i.e., Anakin Skywalker killing younglings). If I were to make a really uneducated guess—I’m a culture blogger, it’s allowed—then let’s imagine the ideal version of Taika Waititi’s Star Wars would be Solo, But Actually Funny.
The announcement of Waititi’s film comes along with news of an upcoming Star Wars series from Russian Doll showrunner Leslye Headland—also vaguely detailed; thanks, Lucasfilm!—as it seems the franchise is hoping to land writers and directors who might not require as much creative oversight compared to recent collaborators. But the question remains: Will Lucasfilm actually let these artists cook? Micromanagement and not knowing what the fans actually want has defined Star Wars in the Disney era to a concerning degree, from Solo losing its original directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) to the company scrapping the original script of the Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series, to having J.J. Abrams take over for Colin Trevorrow on The Rise of Skywalker. We all know how that release went for Lord Lens Flare.
It would be in Lucasfilm’s best interests to step back and entrust the artists it’s invited to collaborate and expand the Star Wars universe in (presumably) a post-Skywalker landscape. The franchise needs fewer Trevorrows and mishaps like Solo, and more Rian Johnsons and Mandalorians. Adding Waititi (and Headland) to the company’s creative arsenal should be a step in the right direction, as long as the Mouse House is willing to follow its creators’ lead instead of getting in their way. If not, well, Waititi had a pretty good idea of what would happen if he directed a Star Wars movie back in 2017.