Earlier this week, a disturbance in the Force triggered paroxysms of anguish and confusion across the galaxy. That is to say, since the Tuesday announcement of Colin Trevorrow’s firing as director of Star Wars: Episode IX (with Lucasfilm reaching the conclusion that his and the company’s “visions for the project differ”), Hollywood’s chattering class has been trying to figure out: How did this bona fide blockbuster filmmaker come to be laid so low?
Conspiracy Theory A maintains that The Book of Henry—Trevorrow’s critically mauled, commercially stillborn art-house passion project—which arrived as the June follow-up to his $1.6-billion-grossing sophomore co-writing/directorial effort Jurassic World—may have given Lucasfilm cold feet. Star Wars remains, after 40 years, eight films, and a combined $7.5 billion at the box office, arguably moviedom’s most valuable intellectual property. And Henry’s craptacular reception exposed glaring liabilities in the director’s ability to make the jump to lightspeed, as the thinking goes.
But to hear speculation from a ranking Hollywood movie insider with direct knowledge of the productions on both The Book of Henry and Jurassic World (and who requested anonymity out of concern for sensitive ongoing business relationships), Trevorrow’s firing may have come more directly as a consequence of being “difficult.”
“During the making of Jurassic World, he focused a great deal of his creative energies on asserting his opinion,” the executive explains. “But because he had been personally hired by Spielberg, nobody could say, ‘You’re fired.’ Once that film went through the roof and he chose to do Henry, [Trevorrow] was unbearable. He had an egotistical point of view—and he was always asserting that.”
Then, during preproduction on Episode IX, Trevorrow’s relationship with Lucasfilm top brass became reportedly “unmanageable” over the course of “repeated stabs at multiple drafts” of the script.
“When the reviews for Book of Henry came out, there was immediately conjecture that Kathy was going to dump him because they weren’t thrilled with working with him anyway,” the executive continues. “He’s a difficult guy. He’s really, really, really confident. Let’s call it that.”
Kathy, of course, is eight-time Academy Award–nominated Lucasfilm president/Star Wars brand manager Kathleen Kennedy, who found herself beneath the red-hot scrutiny of Movie Twitter in June after firing co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the Han Solo spinoff prequel. And in terms of that surfeit of self-belief, Trevorrow admitted to as much in an interview with Esquire in 2015. “Directors require a level of confidence that can border on the delusional,” Trevorrow said. “You have to push it right up to the edge of arrogance, but never cross the line.”
Which really would be nothing new in an industry where gigantic egos are as common as Tesla Xs, and directors convinced of their own Kubrickian greatness come a dime a dozen. But by the point of his supernova success with Jurassic World, it’s worth noting Trevorrow had become inextricably linked to the scourge of white male privilege in Hollywood. In an era when men are almost 12 times more likely to direct movies than women, and minorities continue to lose ground as directors (according to the 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report), he landed the coveted Jurassic job on the strength of a single film, the quirky 2012 Sundance sci-fi dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed.
This evolved into such an inescapable talking point, Trevorrow even admitted to the Los Angeles Times, “[It] hurts my feelings when I’m used as an example of white male privilege.”
Still, the decision to bounce him from the project ultimately fell to Kennedy, who, five years into her Lucasfilm tenure, is showing less and less compunction about firing or replacing directors she feels are temperamentally or creatively unsuited to the job, having also overseen the resignation of Fantastic Four director Josh Trank from another stand-alone Star Wars film in 2015.
“There’s one gatekeeper when it comes to Star Wars and it’s Kathleen Kennedy,” says a veteran movie producer, who has worked with the studio chief. “If you rub Kathleen Kennedy the wrong way—in any way—you’re out. You’re done. A lot of these young, new directors want to come in and say, ‘I want to do this. I want to do that.’ A lot of these guys—Lord and Miller, Colin Trevorrow—got very rich, very fast and believed a lot of their own hype. And they don’t want to play by the rules. They want to do shit differently. And Kathleen Kennedy isn’t going to fuck around with that.”