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Christopher Nolan Should Not Direct Star Wars

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan would make a terrible Star Wars movie.

Photo by Ron Phillips © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

After yesterday’s surprise announcement that Disney would be producing Star Wars Episode 7, many eyes quickly turned to the currently empty director’s chair. George Lucas had said that he would serve only as a “creative consultant,” and it would be a new filmmaker’s turn to steer the fate of the galaxy.

Fans have started making their wish lists for who should restore balance to the Force, and a few Chosen Ones have been named again and again: the Youngling Joe Cornish, the Padawans Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams, the Jedi Knight Alfonso Cuarón, and—my personal favorites—the Jedi Grand Masters Brad Bird and Guillermo Del Toro.

The Force is strong with these ones, but there’s another name that, bafflingly, has come before this self-appointed Jedi Council. His was the first name suggested by Entertainment Weekly, and our friends at The Washington Post have prompted readers to “Imagine the greatness!” I’m speaking, of course, of Dark Lord of the Sith Christopher Nolan.

Hold off, Batfans: Before you pelt me with your grapple guns, let me say loud and clear that I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan and what he did with the Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan achieved the impossible: He made a believable world of caped crusaders and supervillains that shared a permeable boundary with our own. In doing so he made one of Hollywood’s very best blockbuster trilogies, and what I think is the best series of superhero films ever made.

But a Christopher Nolan Star Wars would be terrible. There’s simply no bridging the brooding, cerebral mind of Christopher Nolan with the goofy, fantastical universe of that galaxy far, far away. Batman came with the Nolan-esque elements built in. It’s a story that shares its very DNA with film noir, a genre born around the same time, and its anti-hero’s only powers are firmly grounded in reality. In this sense it isn’t far from Nolan’s breakout Memento, his follow-up Insomnia, or the similarly minded movies he would continue to make with Inception and The Prestige.

Contrast this with Star Wars, a gloriously wide-eyed space opera, with DNA borrowed from 1930s action serials and samurai films and a hero torn from the pages of Joseph Campbell. The joy of the original Star Wars movies isn’t how adult and serious they are, compared to the prequels—though many grownups now remember them that way—but rather what Steven Spielberg correctly identified as their “marvelous innocence and naivete.” Sure, you didn’t like the prequels, but are yousa really haten the Gungans so much (to borrow a few words) that you want to send Star Wars to the Dark Side?

Take just a minute to “imagine the greatness” we could expect from Star Wars Episode 7: The Dark Jedi Knight.  Struggling with the mysterious loss of his wife Mara Jade (played in flashback by Marion Cotillard), a middle-aged Luke Skywalker (Christian Bale) has found himself in a pained exile back on Tatooine. We gradually piece together that after losing an internal struggle with his anger, hate, and suffering, Skywalker was labeled a potential Sith by the Jedi Council, and thrown out by the terrorist and corporate businessman Jacen Solo. This all leads to a series of disorienting lightsaber battles and spaceship chases (mandated by Disney, and carried out half-heartedly by Nolan), culminating in a startling revelation: As the brass in Hans Zimmer’s score swells, we learn that it was Skywalker who accidentally sabered Mara Jade; he then used a Jedi Mind Trick on himself to wipe the memory. As Skywalker must decide whether to keep this memory—his only hope for channeling enough of the Dark Side to beat Jacen Solo—we cut to black.

I can’t say that I wouldn’t go see this movie. But it just wouldn’t be a Star Wars film. Star Wars embraces escapism, while the point of Nolan’s movies is to interrogate it. And this is even setting aside the not insignificant question of how Christopher Nolan would somehow bring realism to a universe of Jawas and laser swords and Ewoks. Remember the last time someone tried to come up with a scientific explanation for the Force?

Finally, there’s the matter of Nolan’s own career. His best movies have always been his most personal and most original—Memento, Inception, The Prestige—and I wouldn’t wish a Star Wars movie on him for the same reason I wouldn’t demand another Dark Knight. If you really think Christopher Nolan is a cinematic genius, perhaps the best thing to do is let him make his own movies.

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