Updated on September 12 at 11:24 a.m. ET
Since the “relaunch” of the Star Wars franchise—a yearly onslaught of sequels and spinoffs under the umbrella of Disney and the mega-producer Kathleen Kennedy—the hefty price paid to George Lucas for the films has looked eminently worthwhile. Star Wars: The Force Awakens made $2 billion worldwide in 2015. Rogue One took another $1 billion in 2016. Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, should earn somewhere between those two totals this year, and there are many more projects along the way guaranteed to print money. Star Wars remains the strongest brand in Hollywood. The only victims of its sale to Disney, thus far, have been young, up-and-coming directors.
More than two years ago, Kennedy hired Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World (the fourth-highest grossing film in cinema history), to complete her Star Wars sequel trilogy as the writer and director of the still untitled Episode IX. Given his success wrangling one complicated franchise, his ascendancy to Star Wars seemed logical, and Kennedy praised him as an “incredible talent” and “skilled filmmaker” in announcing the hire. Last week, Trevorrow was fired, a decision characterized by Kennedy as “mutual” but reported as being entirely unilateral. It was announced Tuesday that J. J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, would be replacing him. Trevorrow is the fourth director Kennedy has reportedly outright dismissed since she took charge of Star Wars, and the most high-profile to date. The move is the clearest confirmation yet of who the real auteurs are in 21st-century Hollywood: the franchise producers.