This week, our own Erik Davis made a very strong case for why he feels that Joe Johnston, the director of such films as Jurassic Park III and Captain America: The First Avenger, would be a great choice to take on the monumental task of directing the cinematic resurgence of one of the most popular sci-fi franchises in history: Star Wars: Episode VII. Johnston’s body of work shows a familiarity with films like Star Wars, without even mentioning the fact that the director was one of the original visual effects artists on Episodes IV-VI.
While I think Johnston is definitely a choice worth considering, I had another idea for a man who, I feel, would be a wise choice that, like Johnston, no one has seemingly discussed yet. A fellow Marvel Studios alum who also happens to be one of the best trained dramatic minds on the planet, in addition to being an accomplished and acclaimed actor and director. Not only are his dramatic chops very evident when looking at his entire body of work, but he’s become quite the action director in recent years with his launch of Marvel's Thor franchise and his coming reboot of a beloved action icon. I’m talking, of course, about Sir Kenneth Branagh.
When looking at what has made the best examples of the Star Wars saga work so well (particularly Episodes IV, V, and maybe III), there’s always been a level of grandiosity and epic scale that's been counterbalanced with interpersonal connection and somewhat irreverent humor. Branagh, I feel, definitively showed his ability to balance these concepts in 2011’s Thor, where the regal lineage and sweeping, bombastic nature of both dialogue and scenery from Asgard saw the balance of the real-world, down-to-earth connection with the characters in the story (as depicted most notably through Chris Hemsworth in the title role and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster). If the new Star Wars film follows a similar trend as the previous works of merit in the series, with the Jedi/Sith characters like Anakin/Vader, Luke, Obi-Wan and Yoda providing the grandiosity, to be balanced with the somewhat bold and bombastic characters like Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and the droids, then Branagh has proven his ability to adapt that formula with Thorby itself.
He’s also managed to obviously make a name for himself in the action arena by becoming both the director of -- and principal actor in -- next year’s action reboot Jack Ryan. With a greater ability to hone his craft in the action department, coupled with his sense of drama and attention to grandeur shown through films like his adaptations of Henry V and Hamlet, as well as a film like Thor, then I feel very strongly that he can do right by the Star Wars franchise and fans. In the event those fans are concerned about his ability to dive into a franchise with longstanding history as well as a devoted fan base, for me as a comic book fan it was absolute joy listening to the newfound reverence Branagh found for the works of creators like Jack Kirby, Walter Simonson, and J. Michael Straczynski on the legacy of the Marvel Comics version of Thor, which stretches further than Star Wars back to 1962.
It might not be too crazy to assume that the Star Wars franchise could benefit from the Shakespearean injection that Branagh could provide, since in addition to being a proven director, his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and his extensive time in front of the camera as well as on the theater stage could prove to help bring out some truly fascinating performances in the film, which recent Star Wars films have not exactly been praised for.
Case in point, in a 2011 interview with Starpulse, legendary actor Anthony Hopkins had this to say about his role as Odin in Thor, and what Kenneth Branagh did as the director for inspiring a real performance from the veteran actor instead of simply showing up for a payday:
“I’ve gotten lazy over the years,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been sort of phoning it in. I’ve been around so many years, but I loved working with Ken. I’ve got a lot of muscle in me and a lot of energy. That’s a case in point where he helped me. A great director, because of his background, being a great actor, really great actor, he took on everyone. He’s fierce, absolutely fierce. He doesn’t give a damn what people say or think. He’s just fierce and that’s what he did for me. I said to him, ‘You gave me my chops back. You gave me my confidence back.’ That’s the greatest compliment I could pay anyone. That’s what Ken did just to get me to go over the edge.”
Maybe, if we’re looking at the return of Luke, Han, Leia and Lando, Branagh could work similar magic and make the return of the Star Wars saga more than what it will already be as a pop-culture event. Maybe, just maybe, he can coax the necessary passion out of the likes of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill and return to the franchise a label it hasn’t strongly held since at least 1980-'83: truly great.
Chris Clow is a recent Western Washington University graduate, film history fan, and comic book expert and retailer, contributor and overall geek to Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his comic book reviews for various monthly titles and his participated podcasts at BOF and MMM. You can find his regular piece The Geek Beat here at Movies.com every Tuesday. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.