Back when it was first announced that Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow would be directing Star Wars Episode IX, some fans had reservations. Others – myself included – felt as though Trevorrow nailed directing a worthy successor to the original Jurassic Park, even if the movie had questionable writing in certain places (Spec op dinosaurs! High heels!). But after catching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (which he co-wrote alongside would-be Episode IX scribe Derek Connolly), I can’t help but feel like the mutual decision to not have Trevorrow do the closing chapter of the Sequel Trilogy was the right call.
A Spoiler-Free Critique Of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Don’t get me wrong. As far as leave-your-brain-at-the-door summer blockbusters go, Fallen Kingdom is fine eye candy – provided that you liked the first film like I did – featuring a mix of action and suspense sequences (especially the latter) that are directed well. It’s a fun little movie with a handful of neat callbacks to the Jurassic Park/World movies that preceded it. But in many respects, it also feels like a sequel that was all over the place (as indicated by the movie’s questionable ad campaign, which spoils most of the major story beats in a movie that’s surprisingly thin on story), and one that squandered its potential by shoving two plots that could have sustained their own movies into a single two-hour-and-ten-minute frame. Which is a bit of a bummer for me, knowing that director J. A. Bayona’s previous work – The Orphanage, The Impossible, and A Monster Calls – are all held in much better regard from a critical standpoint.
The direction of the action sequences are good, but I feel the biggest issues with this movie lie in the script written by Trevorrow and Connolly. The movie reduced the cast to standard Hollywood archetypes – the rogue with a heart of gold, the damsel-out-of-distress, the lovable coward and his smarter, more capable colleague, and the precocious kid who gets caught up in it all as she evades the eeeeeviiiil corporate executives invading her house – instead of really building upon the established characters and giving us as much of a reason to care about the new guys. (That’s not to say that the movie’s predecessor was a grand-prize winner in terms of originality here, but there was more of a focus on the characters there.) And because of there being more emphasis on the action itself as opposed to the characters, there didn’t seem to be as many of the same kind of moments that gave the first Jurassic World its heart. While there were a few scenes where I felt emotional investment with these characters and the dinosaurs around them (I’m looking at you, Brachiosaurus), it felt like the movie was in a hurry to move from set piece to set piece without fleshing out the characters we were following. To rework a line from Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in the OG Jurassic Park, “the movie was so preoccupied with whether it could, that it didn’t stop to think if it should.”
My biggest pet peeve is that there’s a massive plot twist regarding the child character that is barely foreshadowed and isn’t really earned once it’s revealed. While I’m almost tempted to call it a shark-jumping moment, we’re dealing with a movie franchise about genetically-altered dinosaurs serving as theme park attractions, so perhaps jumping the Mosasaurus would be a better descriptor. By the time the credits roll, the movie’s game-changing ending that sets up an interesting premise for the inevitable Jurassic World 3 feels like it doesn’t have the meteoric impact that it should – it almost does, but not quite. (The ending in question is ostensibly tied to the random plot twist with the little girl, which is why I feel it doesn’t work.) It seems as though the movie would have been better serviced as two films – which I’ll lazily entitle Jurassic World 2: Raptor Rescue, and Jurassic World 3: Beyond the Park – in order to actually flesh out the themes they touched upon in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and give us more time to get invested with these characters. (Goodness knows that Universal would probably have been happy to make at least four Jurassic World movies instead of three.) Instead, Fallen Kingdom kind of tries to have it both ways – a first narrative driven purely by action spectacle and a second, more personal narrative that takes the dinosaurs off the island – and doesn’t completely live up to the potential of either story.
So now that we’ve laid out the problems with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and how it was written by Trevorrow and Connolly, let’s look at their involvement with Star Wars, followed by why I’m now content with the fact that they weren’t put in charge of the closing chapter of the Sequel Trilogy.
Why I Had High Hopes For Trevorrow’s Episode IX After The Original Jurassic World
I really like the first Jurassic World a lot, and feel as though it’s easily the best sequel out of the bunch. (Yes, better than the sequel that Steven Spielberg actually directed; but it goes without saying that the first Jurassic Park still stands head and shoulders above anything that’s come out since then.) I felt like it was able to really capture the entire “What if construction on Jurassic Park was completed, it opened to huge fanfare, and it actually worked… Until it didn’t?” concept to a tee, almost hearkening back to Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie Westworld in terms of the “premiere, high-tech vacation spot gone horribly wrong” premise. The callbacks to the original movies were clever, the action was spectacular, and the film was a pretty self-contained affair. Before the movie went into production, Trevorrow reportedly stood his ground and refused to write/direct the original premise for the movie, which involved militarized dinosaurs and potentially human-dinosaur hybrids – yes, really. This was a smart call that saved the Jurassic franchise from a potentially-extinction-level reboot, so I was very much anticipating to see what he’d do with Star Wars Episode IX.
So that’s what I got out of Jurassic World back in 2015. Some might not agree, but I saw Colin Trevorrow as a director in love with the original Jurassic Park film who was willing to do something different than what had come before while still paying homage to the franchise, all in a way that would move the story forward. I imagine that such a director would be willing to do the same with Star Wars. And given how nostalgia-driven a franchise like Star Wars currently is, it seemed like it would only make sense that he’d be the one to bring an end to the current era of stories and move the series in a bold new direction. He was willing to work with Rian Johnson on a story draft that built upon the story established by the previous two movies, and was committed to making a narrative that he argued would work as a standalone movie, as the conclusion of a trilogy, and as the culmination of three trilogies of films.
And then Carrie Fisher passed away.
Why Trevorrow Working With Lucasfilm Didn’t Work Out
Fans had suspected that with the way the Sequel Trilogy was structured, Han would be the central legacy character of E7, Luke would be the central legacy character of E8, and Leia would be the central legacy character of E9. While Leia’s presence could still linger throughout E9’s story, that vision can no longer be fully realized; and as such, whatever story that Trevorrow and Connolly initially pitched had to be discarded. So they worked on another version of the story without Leia… and clearly something wasn’t working.
Surely the critical and commercial failure of Trevorrow’s passion project The Book of Henry – which came months before his exit – didn’t do him any favors, but to say that it was the sole reason he was ousted from Episode IX is folly. Rumors of Trevorrow’s firing first made the rounds with insiders as far back as June 2017, by which point Trevorrow’s revised script would have been well into development and any issues with it would have been readily apparent. A few months after this point, Jack Thorne, writer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was revealed to be in the process of rewriting the script – which preceded Trevorrow’s eventual exit a month later.
Some fans who are still… unhappy with how The Last Jedi played out seem to have come up with a conspiracy theory that Trevorrow’s draft was canned altogether because the powers that be knew that it would undo some of the more controversial story elements from its predecessor, which the executives liked. To me, this seems like wishful thinking on the part of disgruntled fans, considering that Trevorrow explicitly talked with Johnson about where his story would go and that he noted that he didn’t feel like his vision was strongarmed by executives. People projecting their anger into some sort of revisionist history really doesn’t make a lot of sense – particularly since, with no obligation to work with Lucasfilm, Trevorrow doesn’t have to “deliver”, and fans can imagine what his movie could have been like with incredibly little to actually stand on. What’s more likely is that Trevorrow may not have been able to solve some tough structural problems with the story, and Lucasfilm didn’t realize this until years after the initial hire.
With Jurassic World, Trevorrow had help from Steven Spielberg and a host of other experienced talents behind the scenes so that he could be shown the ropes with making a big studio picture following his humble beginnings with an acclaimed indie film. While there surely would be similar help waiting at Lucasfilm for a project of an even bigger size, Lucasfilm likely wanted to avoid another situation like what had happened with Phil Lord and Chris Miller or Gareth Edwards to a lesser extent (who handled spin-offs with production issues of their own) occurring with a “Saga” movie. Especially with a script they weren’t 100% confident in. Universal may have been happy with the script for Jurassic World, but it appears as though Lucasfilm was much more critical when it came to what they wanted.
Why Fallen Kingdom‘s Issues Suggest That Trevorrow’s Exit Was For The Best
Looking back to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I’m inclined to think that Trevorrow had a nice concept for Episode IX that ultimately couldn’t live up to the potential he promised; whether this was because of rewrites that were forced by tragic circumstance or the initial script had some problems to begin with, perhaps we’ll never know. However, considering that the story was the weakest part of the Jurassic World sequel, my guess is that Lucasfilm had some reason to be dissatisfied with what was written. The real issue is that when you’re being tasked with writing the conclusion to a beloved nine-movie story, a script like the one produced for the first Jurassic World might not have been deemed good enough. And that’s a lot of pressure to expect from anyone – even J. J. Abrams, who I think is a better fit for Episode IX. Even with his experience with Lucasfilm and his affinity for the characters he brought to life with The Force Awakens, he will have to work harder on that film than he’s ever worked on any project he’s directed before if he hopes to pull off an epic conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.
Again, I thought that Fallen Kingdom was a fun movie that has some cleverly-directed sequences, albeit an experience that felt like a lesser movie than its predecessor. And I absolutely hope that Trevorrow’s return to the director’s chair for the franchise produces the best movie out of the entire Jurassic World trilogy, as the ending to Fallen Kingdom certainly set its sequel up to be one of the most original movies in the franchise’s history. I just get the feeling that it seems like he’s much better suited to work on movies about dinosaurs and build upon the world established in Jurassic Park than he is working on what very well could be the biggest Star Wars movie ever. Detractors of The Last Jedi have been giving Johnson a ton of flak – imagine what would have happened if Trevorrow produced something that irritated the worst of the fandom.
I still think Trevorrow has a lot of potential as a director, and hopefully one day, he gets a chance to do a different Star Wars project. Hopefully, he’ll get a shot at one with much less pressure placed upon him, with more than enough time to be developed to be the best version of the story that it can be.