CS Soapbox: Why Star Wars Needs Taika Waititi
Taika Waititi is a man that defies description. The kind of artist you can imagine as a child, equipped with a magic marker, running around town, drawing mustaches on anything that even vaguely resembled a face (he probably still does this). The writer/director has become renowned for his inimitable brand of irreverence—something you wouldn’t normally associate with big-budget features. However, Hollywood, or rather Disney, can’t get enough of it.
Before 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi was known for quirky independent features like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Waititi landed the job as Thor: Ragnarok’s director by presenting Marvel (owned by Disney) with a montage (set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”) encapsulating what he would bring to the production. It worked. Thor: Ragnarok reinvigorated the Thor franchise and is arguably one of the best films in the MCU. In 2019, Waititi went on to win an Oscar for JoJo Rabbit, a film about a young Nazi whose imaginary friend is Hitler (played by Waititi).
On top of writing and directing, he also acts. Starring in many of his earlier films as well as inhabiting characters like the MCU’s Korg or The Mandalorian’s assassin droid IG-11. Marvel/Disney clearly aims to utilize Waititi personality however they can; granting him a directorial stint on The Mandalorian and bringing him back to write and direct Thor: Love and Thunder. Now, on the spectacular calendar pun that is May the 4th, Lucasfilm has officially announced that Waititi will be directing and co-writing (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) a new Star Wars film (scheduled for a December 2022 release).
This is good news, not only because we love Star Wars but because in the wake of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker one thing has become abundantly clear: the franchise is stale. 43 years ago, George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope was exactly what its title suggested, “new.” The story of a group of freedom fighters dealing with a tyrannical wizard and his wrinkly overlord was a perfect blend of humor, action, and heart. Plus it was in space—incorporating mythology that others can only hope to copy. Unfortunately, when Disney acquired the rights to Lucasfilm for $4 billion, that’s exactly what they did. Equipping new characters with lightsabers, and bringing back fan-favorites, ultimately, embracing a monotonous accentuation of everything we love about Star Wars.
This approach worked in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The seventh film in the Skywalker Saga set the sequel trilogy up as a perfect balance of old and new. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi tried its best to venture into uncharted territory but its subversive plot enraged many fans. So much so, that Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker felt afraid to do anything fresh. Rumor has it that this has been George Lucas’ beef with Disney: instead of incorporating his bold ideas for the sequel trilogy, they played it safe—retreading and focusing on the most bankable aspects of a story we already know.
Most of Star Wars have taken place within those 67 years (roughly) of the Skywalker Saga—the films, television shows, novelizations, and video games. Thankfully, Disney is now free of that saga. With the announcement of the High Republic publishing initiative earlier this year (stories taking place 200 years before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), Disney is in uncharted territory. There’s no one better equipped to reinvigorate Star Wars, while simultaneously paying homage to the mythology, than Taika Waititi (see Thor: Ragnorak).
All Waititi has to do is his thing: be fearless. Fear is the path to the Dark Side—an abyss formed and inhabited by those motivated by greed and power. Big budget movies acting as tentpoles for studios concerned with world-domination. Business as usual. While Star Wars is still fun, it has started to feel like business as usual. Back in the day, Luke Skywalker acquired power and then rejected more of it, recognizing that casting his weapon aside would redeem his environment. Those unworthy of redemption were thrown into a pit.
So basically, Taika Waititi is Luke Skywalker… with a better sense of humor. A hero with humble beginnings who has acquired an unfathomable amount of power and influence in the industry. An industry everyone views as unoriginal and box-office obsessed. EVERYONE. It’s no secret that Hollywood kind of blows these days. Studios don’t invest in original ideas anymore because they’re not guaranteed moneymakers like sequels and spin-offs. At the same time, audiences are getting sick of the same old things. This has left huge franchises desperate for originality. Waititi is as original as they come.
Audiences already trust Waititi—it’s unlikely he’d ever get receive the backlash Johnson did with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Back when Martin Scorsese was shitting on Marvel movies as “theme park rides,” Waititi said at an edition of The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable that his experience with Marvel has always been story-driven. That said, all of his films are shining examples of how the medium can be used to make people LAUGH and cry without exploiting genre. Waititi’s mantra (whatever it is specifically) revolves around the belief you can make fun of anything. This isn’t to say that he won’t take Star Wars seriously. He will. However, his grounded approach will allow him to try new things without succumbing to fan service. Plus, he won’t have to worry about something as sacred as the Skywalker Saga.
Star Wars needs Taika Waititi. If Disney insists on producing Star Wars content for years to come (and they do) then the franchise is in desperate need of a mustache—something that winks at its outrageous lifespan, reminds us not to take it too seriously, and shapes the platform into a place where original and resonant stories can be told. Here’s to hoping Korg shows up at some point to tell the Sith to relax.
May the 4th be with him.