Now that Michael Arndt has been named as the writer of Star Wars Episode VII, and the movie has officially gone into pre-production, the next big step as far as most fans are concerned will be finding a director, who can cast the film and start to figure out how it's going to look and feel.
Here are some of our impressions of filmmakers that might fit the Star Wars mold, although we've removed names like Spielberg, Whedon and J.J. Abrams, who are already eliminated for consideration due to disinterest or contractual obligation.
Now that we're hearing that 1952 is not Star Wars, but rather its own, honest-to-goodness standalone sci-fi movie, it's hard to imagine he'll have time--but Brad Bird has a great mix of skills and a genre sensibility that has put him at the top of a number of these lists.
He's taken on big, ambitious storytelling set in a world all its own with projects like Iron Giant and The Incredibles, and his live-action debut, the most recent Mission: Impossible movie, drew positive marks from most critics and audiences, too. His strong relationship with Disney through Pixar is a feather in the cap as well, and if this were to come along two years after 1952 instead of at the same time, it may be a perfect fit.
His father, Hollywood stalwart Lawrence Kasdan, wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Jake, for his part, has never dipped his toes into science fiction, sticking mostly to comedy throughout his career--but he's done a great interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in Zero Effect, so dealing with larger-than-life characters isn't beyond his ken.
The downside? He generally writes his own films and taking a chance on a director who's never done this kind of film before might be a perfectly sensible proposition on something like Iron Man or The Avengers (where you've got years to right the ship if things don't work out) but Star Wars is rumored to be shooting back-to-back-to-back, meaning that it's likely they'll go with a safer pick.
This could be his chance to make up for John Carter in the eyes of the studio, especially since Carter was widely regarded by the handful of people who saw it as the most visually stunning science fiction movie in years.
A vote of faith in Stanton to chart the future of their most valuable franchise may also incidentally benefit John Carter financially, driving fans to finally check it out on video to get a sense for what might be in store. That can't look bad on the balance sheets, which took a pretty massive hit when the movie failed to deliver domestically this year.
The Iron Man director would be Jake Kasdan, plus five years and minus the family connection, basically. Prior to the release of Iron Man, there was some skepticism regarding whether someone who had never done a movie on that scale should be given one of such importance to tackle.
He pulled it off, obviously, and gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the process and made people forget about The Hulk. Could he reinvent Star Wars and wash the bad taste out of the mouths of fans alienated by the prequels?
The Skyfall and American Beauty director seems like a great choice--he can balance action, comedy and character like almost nobody else in the business. The problem? After a single Bond film, he more or less has said in interviews he's not interested in taking the reins back, because the process of working on a major franchise tentpole like this is so exhausting. The director of Episode VII will likely be expected to stay on for VIII and IX, which is probably too much of a commitment for Mendes to make at the moment.
Leaving aside the fact that there's absolutely no way he can get out of his agreement with 20th Century Fox to take on a property that Fox used to distribute, and now doesn't, he's actually a strong candidate.
Webb not only revitalized the Spider-Man franchise after a dreadful third installment and arguably too short a break, but he managed to do so, in part, by putting aside the slick, CG-dominated look of the Raimi films and doing as much of his movie as possible using practical effects. That's arguably what Star Wars needs, especially if the original stars are returning and the studio wants to create as much visual continuity as possible with A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Plagued with many, many flaws (mostly to do with the script and the budget), I still found the actual filmmaking aspect of Jennings's film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to be quite good.
The mix of practical and digital effects, as well as the ability to inject humanity into a fantastical situation, are both suited to the Star Wars universe--and he'd be a truly surprising pick since he's more or less reverted to quiet Britishness since the failure of Hitchhiker's Guide.
If this movie were being made five years ago, Soderbergh would be at the top of everyone's list. Following the dueling successes of Traffic and Ocean's 11 ten or so years ago, the long-time indie maestro suddenly burst onto the mainstream stage in a big way, directing a handful of hits and producing more than that for other filmmakers.
He's done beautiful (but poorly-received) science fiction with Solaris (starring rumored 1952 star George Clooney), big-budget franchise action with the Ocean's movies and war with Che. All that's missing is something to pull them all together and a hole in his busy schedule (this year alone, two of his films--Magic Mike and Haywire--hit the theaters).
Another filmmaker who had a high-profile flame-out this year financially, Travis proved that he can take big action, big vision, big effects, larger-than-life characters and throw them all into a fantastic film with Dredd 3D.
While Joss Whedon became the immediate Internet favorite, thanks in no small part to the job he did making The Avengers work, I'd root for Travis over Whedon; the films are more similar in their gritty future-tense feel and Travis did arguably more with far less.
Here's a guy who has experience with not one but two of the biggest families of films on the planet (he's in with the Marvel crowd after directing Thor and acted in Harry Potter). He's also of a Shakespearean mindset and is at his best when dealing with characters and concepts that are broad in scope, almost mythological in feel and have some religious overtones. Fits Star Wars to a "T," no?