The announcement that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will be crafting the newest additions to the Star Wars universe is the latest sign that the franchise’s endless expansion is creating little in the way of opportunities for new filmmakers. While Marvel and DC have been diversifying their directorial ranks, and reaping commercial and critical windfalls from that strategy, Star Wars seems unable to look beyond the ranks of the tried and true, or at least white and male. After the Benioff-Weiss news broke, Variety’s Maureen Ryan crunched the numbers and came up with a sobering statistic: Of the 24 people hired to direct, write, or “otherwise take the creative lead” on Star Wars projects over the past 41 years, only one—Empire Strikes Back co-screenwriter Leigh Brackett—was a woman, which comes out to an abysmal 4 percent. The percentage of people of color is easier to calculate: It’s zero.
There was a point at which it seemed as if Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy would use the Star Wars brand as a way to bring relatively new talents into the world of blockbuster filmmaking, but one by one, they’ve been ushered out the door. Rogue One’s Gareth Edwards and Solo’s Chris Lord and Phil Miller had their films taken away from them and reshot by old Hollywood hands Tony Gilroy and Ron Howard. Josh Trank and Colin Trevorrow were hired and fired before they could even shoot a frame. What’s worrisome about Benioff and Weiss’ hiring is not just their race and gender, but the lack of creativity in their selection. After J.J. Abrams, who was re-engaged for the as-yet-untitled Episode IX after Trevorrow’s ouster, there are no figures in the entertainment industry more identified with successful franchise extensions than Benioff and Weiss, which makes them a safe choice but also a thoroughly unexciting one. It’s the kind of decision you make when you put pleasing stockholders ahead of fostering creativity.
Benioff and Weiss’ influence has already reached the point of near-toxic saturation. After Amazon Studios head Roy Price was fired over sexual harassment allegations, the streamer cut its ties to the woman-driven I Love Dick and One Mississippi and ramped up its strategy to find “the next Game of Thrones.” With Netflix spending big on starry, genre-driven garbage like Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox—they reportedly paid $50 million to turn Paramount’s likely box-office failure into a short-lived streaming event—Amazon’s shift feels like an ominous sign that the days when streaming providers made small bets on diverse talents and ideas rather than chasing the same bog-standard big-ticket ideas as their old-media competitors are drawing to a close. Instead of funding stories about queer women and people of color, Amazon has put its stock in Woody Allen movies and The Lord of the Rings.
While TV networks are falling over each other looking for the next Game of Thrones, the next Star Wars series is being made by … the makers of Game of Thrones. The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson brought new ideas and new energy to the Star Wars universe, and the news that he would be the first to create a new series of films seemed like a hopeful sign. But Benioff and Weiss bring things back to business as usual. (If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Star Wars gig seems to have put Confederate, Benioff and Weiss’ controversial HBO series about a U.S. where the South won the Civil War, on indefinite hold.) Kennedy has said she’d “love to” hire Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi, but no director of color has ever been reported to be in the running, and she announced that hiring a female Star Wars director is a top priority, just as soon as she can find one who would be properly “set up for success” in the franchise. (Never mind that Johnson had never directed a movie with a budget north of $30 million before The Last Jedi.) While Wonder Woman was a massive hit and Black Panther shows all the signs of being another, Star Wars is lagging further and further behind. The newest movies may have a female lead and a multiracial cast of characters, but behind the camera, it’s still 1977.