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Who could direct Disney's new 'Star Wars' movie?

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 11:37 a.m. MDT

In this May 20, 2011, file photo, Disney CEO Robert Iger, left, and Star Wars creator George Lucas, third from right, talk to the Star Wars movie character Darth Vader, center, onstage at the Disney Hollywood Studios theme park during the re-opening celebration of the Star Tours motion simulation ride in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) In this May 20, 2011, file photo, Disney CEO Robert Iger, left, and Star Wars creator George Lucas, third from right, talk to the Star Wars movie character Darth Vader, center, onstage at the Disney Hollywood Studios theme park during the re-opening celebration of the Star Tours motion simulation ride in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ever since Disney broke the news that it had purchased LucasFilm and would be moving ahead with a new Star Wars sequel for 2015, the Internet has been inundated with rumors about who could take over as director.

Every big name from Christopher Nolan to Steven Spielberg to David Fincher has been thrown around by fans eager to see fresh life breathed into the franchise.

So far, though, the only concrete information that has surfaced is who won’t be tackling the new movie. With each passing day, the list of filmmakers who have publicly opted out of directing “Episode VII” gets longer. Just recently, two names rumored to be on Disney’s shortlist, Colin Trevorrow and Brad Bird, both denied any involvement.

So who does that leave to take over for George Lucas? With only rumors and speculation to go off of, here’s a look at five possible candidates and why they may or may not be good choices to carry on the adventures of Luke, Leia and Han in a galaxy far, far away.

Matthew Vaughn

After having revived the X-Men franchise with last year’s “X-Men: First Class,” it came as a huge surprise when Vaughn (“Stardust”) recently dropped out of directorial duties on the sequel “X-Men: Days of Future Past” mere weeks before filming was set to begin.

An unconfirmed scoop courtesy of Collider’s Steve Weintraub, however, reported that Vaughn might, in fact, have jumped ship on Xavier’s gifted youngsters in favor of the chance to tackle dueling Jedi and Sith lords.

However, what is probably a more likely explanation for Vaughn's last-minute departure came from collaborator, Mark Millar, who said the two are hard at work developing Millar’s comic book series “Secret Service” for the big screen.

Of course, with a 2015 release date for "Episode VII," that doesn’t necessarily rule out Vaughn's involvement.

If he is chosen, fans will have a lot to look forward to. Vaughn has proved himself time and again as a talented director with a knack for memorable action sequences and assembling top-notch casts. For proof, just check out James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s performances in “First Class.”

Joe Johnston

Throughout his career, Johnston has developed strong ties to the Mouse House, having helmed hits like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “The Rocketeer,” “Hidalgo” and, most recently, Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

But long before he ever sat down in the director’s chair, Johnston actually cut his teeth as a concept artist and visual effects technician on the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, he designed many of the characters and vehicles that define the look of Lucas’ universe, including Yoda, the Ewoks, the Millennium Falcon, the X-Wing and Boba Fett.

After Lucas himself, no other director has as much experience playing in the Star Wars sandbox. Johnston even wrote a book set in the Expanded Universe, and in the past, he has talked openly about his desire to someday make a Boba Fett movie.

When asked by the Huffington Post about the possibility of directing “it,” meaning “Episode VII,” Johnston gave the non-committal response that, “A lot would depend on what ‘it’ is. I am very glad to see LucasFilm cranking up to get productive again, regardless of who ends up doing it.”

Gore Verbinski

Having directed the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies for Disney, Verbinski is responsible for a franchise that has already pulled in close to $4 billion for the studio.

Beyond financial matters, though, it’s not hard to see how a similar approach to the one used on “Pirates” could lend itself to a new “Star Wars” feature, balancing intense, CG-heavy action sequences with plenty of humor, memorable characters and colorful visuals.

The biggest obstacle for Verbinski, though, is his reboot of “The Lone Ranger” with Johnny Depp as Tonto, which is set for release in 2013.

With a hefty $255 million price tag, Disney is more than likely hoping to turn “The Lone Ranger” into another blockbuster franchise under the guidance of Verbinski, and in that case, Star Wars would probably be out of the question.

If Verbinski did get the job, though, the big question would be what character would Depp play?

Jon Favreau

In many ways, Jon Favreau could be the likeliest candidate for the job.

Best known as the director behind “Iron Man,” Favreau’s successful take on the Stan Lee character not only raised the bar for superhero movies, but it also set the stage for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, including last summer’s $1.5 billion-grossing blockbuster “The Avengers.”

Favreau bowed out of directing “Iron Man 3” in order to helm another project for Disney — a “Night at the Museum”-style movie set in the Disney theme parks — but so far, that project has yet to take any real shape.

Meanwhile, one of his other in-development films, “Jersey Boys” — a musical biopic about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — recently fell through at Warner Bros., leaving Favreau free to tackle a big project like Star Wars.

Most importantly, though, Favreau is an outspoken fan of Lucas’ films, even voicing a character on the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” series.

When asked about his possible involvement in a sequel, he said, “I’m just giddy, first and foremost as a fan, to see what happens with it. I think there are a lot of question marks about how they are going to do it, and who they are going to do it with, and what the story is going to be about … The idea of another trilogy that further shrouds the Force in mystery as its secrets are lost to time — that’s extremely compelling. I want so bad for it to be good. Can you imagine?”

Favreau might feel like a safe choice, but with a property as big as Star Wars, safe might not be a bad thing.

Rian Johnson

One name that keeps popping up as a possibility on fan sites is Rian Johnson, and for good reason.

Although Johnson is still relatively unknown outside of indie circles, his latest effort, the low-budget time travel flick “Looper,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, showcased his ingenuity as both a writer and director, not to mention his ability to handle action and sci-fi elements — a definite plus for anyone involved in future Star Wars installments.

What’s more, like Favreau, Johnson is also a vocal fan of Lucas’ sprawling universe.

While he might be more of a long shot than some of the names on this list, Disney’s recent track record with the Marvel films proves more than anything that they are open to taking risks with directors. Just look at the unconventional choices they have lined up to handle “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Filmmakers like James Gunn (“Slither”) and Edgar Wright (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) don’t exactly scream mainstream appeal.

Besides, with three critically acclaimed features under his belt, Johnson already has more practical experience than Christopher Nolan did when Warner Bros. gave him control of the Batman franchise.

If Disney is looking to get film buffs and Star Wars purists enthusiastic, Johnson could be the ideal candidate.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Peterson is studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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