When Will We Get a ‘Star Wars’ Movie Directed By a Woman?

By  · Published on June 5th, 2014


Yesterday was the 95th anniversary of the 19th Amendment being passed by Congress. That means we’ve got five years until its centennial and all the special commemorations that are obligatory for that sort of thing. Maybe those will be saved for the following year, when it was ratified just in time to allow women to vote in the 1920 presidential election. Either way, here’s a proposal and a challenge for Hollywood for one of those summers: every blockbuster must be directed by a female.

With the loss of Jupiter Ascending from this season’s slate, there are no major tentpoles helmed by women at all this summer, and the studios have six years to turn that completely around for at least one time. After that, fine, go back to ignoring that another gender is capable of directing big movies. Hollywood would probably do just that anyway, even if the summer of 2020 wound up smashing records for attendance and grosses.

One big hope is that the proposal will force Lucasfilm to put a woman on one of their Star Wars movies, whether the third standalone feature or Episode IX. The latter is supposed to be due by the end of 2019, while presumably another spin-off will arrive the following year. So far those non-trilogy one-offs, which have Gareth Edwards and now Josh Trank attached, are set for 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Following the commotion about Episode VII seeming not to have enough female characters, I’m surprised we haven’t seen any complaints about only men being hired for the main off-screen role (is it because of at least producer Kathleen Kennedy being in charge?). Not to mention any issue with the spin-offs being rumored to be focused on male characters such as Han Solo, Boba Fett and Yoda. Here’s the thing, though: I kinda don’t want a movie that’s focused on a female lead and directed by a woman. That’d be too much of a double appeasement that still ghettoizes gender.

The difficulty in wanting a woman to direct a Star Wars movie, or any blockbuster, is not having it turned into an affirmative action situation. No woman should get a gig just because she’s a woman. She should be capable and qualified, and fortunately a whole bunch of filmmakers are. But if it looks like Lucasfilm responds to any protests that come up by self-mandating a woman be hired to helm one of these movies, then that can lead to a backlash like the claim that Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie are being “shoehorned” into Episode VII following the premature forelash.

“It’s about time this story takes on a real and vital transfusion, which will only happen with an empowered female director ‐ like Miranda July or me!”

That’s a quote in a 2012 Entertainment Weekly article from Lynn Hershman Leeson, who like July is probably just a wee too artsy for the Star Wars franchise even if she’s at least done her share of sci-fi and fantasy features (as well as one on the way co-starring Marilyn Manson). She also called for strong female leads for Episode VII in the piece, which features comments from other lesser-known filmmakers like Mo Perkins, whose very talky sci-fi short Laura Keller: NB doesn’t show promise of Star Wars worthiness, and Letia Miller (née Clouston), whose web series Broken Toy is more relevant to the franchise but still not evident of talent strong enough for the material.

So, who could be a contender? What about former Star Wars actresses turned noteworthy directors like Natalie Portman, Pernilla August and Sofia Coppola? More likely, there’s the always-cited Kathryn Bigelow. Or Patty Jenkins, who previously was hired then replaced on a Disney blockbuster (Thor: The Dark World). Other regular names put forth as fit for tentpole material include Lexi Alexander (Punisher: War Zone), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact) and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight). But there are tons of other women who have shown skills, just not with big budgets and effects-driven stories. Men with no action movie experience are hired for action movies all time ‐ such as Marc Webb for the Amazing Spider-Man franchise ‐ so why do women have to be more “proven”?

It seems the place to look for real contenders is television (in spite of Star Wars series shamefully never employing female directors either). Maybe Tank Girl director Rachel Talalay can further show her worth in the genre when she becomes the first woman to helm an episode of Doctor Who in four years. Also through that show we can look at Hettie MacDonald, who directed one of the best installments of the modern incarnation (“Blink,” the one with Carey Mulligan), Alice Troughton and Catherine Morshead. Another strong choice is Michelle MacLaren, a fan favorite behind much of Breaking Bad, X-Files and Game of Thrones ‐ including the episode of the latter pitting Star Wars newbie Christie against a giant bear.

Here’s what MacLaren said to BuzzFeed last fall when asked about doing more movies (she helmed one eerie X-Files-like feature in 2006 titled Population 436) and about being a rare female action director:

I don’t have anything specific. Would I like to? If the right thing came along, absolutely. I love television. Television is a great medium; I’m fortunate enough to direct amazing television. Would I like to do a feature? Absolutely. I will never leave television. Am I looking? Yes. I’m looking. Have I found anything? Not yet. I haven’t yet. I’d like to do both. […]

There’s a few of us. There are some wonderful female directors out there. I love it. I can’t even explain it. I seem to gravitate toward the dark side of things when it comes to directing. I love action, but I love the drama as well.

She’s a great choice to direct a Star Wars movie regardless of her gender, of course. She’s got a talent for both the action and the drama that she admits to loving above, and with Game of Thrones she’s displayed a knack for juggling various types of terrain, which is necessary for the franchise that tends to be set on planets specifically comprised of singular climate or geographical systems. I’d love to see her take over for Episode VIII, which ought to be a dark episode for the trilogy, a la The Empire Strikes Back. Let’s make that happen, and for the right reasons too.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.