David Benioff and DB Weiss Are Going to a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Lucasfilm announced today that David Benioff and Dan “D.B.” Weiss, the creators and showrunners of HBO’s runaway hit, Game of Thrones, will be writing and producing a new series of Star Wars films. These films will reportedly be separate from both the nine mainline “Skywalker saga” films and the new trilogy being developed by The Last Jedis writer-director, Rian Johnson. Said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy:

David and Dan are some of the best storytellers working today. Their command of complex characters, depth of story and richness of mythology will break new ground and boldly push Star Wars in ways I find incredibly exciting.

In other words, the work Benioff and Weiss have done on Game of Thrones is a good reason to give them a go at Star Wars. And it makes sense. After all, it takes very real talent to turn an uber-nerdy, deconstructionist fantasy series into a genuine pop culture phenomenon and the programming backbone of a major prestige TV network. Fans of the show and George R.R. Martin’s book series can nitpick and criticize the show all they want, but Game of Thrones didn’t become must-see TV—in an era where that concept barely even exists—without being really, really good. It stands to reason that if they can make dragons and ice zombies complex and cool, they can do the same thing for Star Wars.

Oh, but—

Exactly. Thanks, Han.

As good as Benioff and Weiss are, not everyone is willing to forgive or forget that their show relied to an absurd extent on gratuitous female nudity and a troubling amount of violence against women. And then, of course, there’s the controversy over Benioff and Weiss’ planned HBO series Confederate, an alt-history exploring a world where the Confederacy won their independence in the American Civil War and were successful in establishing an empire of racist chattel slavery in North America. Announced less than six months after the inauguration of Donald Trump, a man who won the presidency despite receiving fewer votes and despite being an obvious racist even according to his fellow Republicans, the concept seemed unnecessary at best and deeply insulting at worst. White supremacy didn’t need a prestige fantasy series to feel real and ascendant in 2017.

But maybe the biggest issue with Benioff and Weiss’ hiring has nothing to do with Benioff and Weiss, specifically. To date, every one of the 17 or so writers and 10 directors who post-Lucas Lucasfilm has hired for Star Wars films have been middle-aged white men. Every. single. one. That’s deeply disappointing for a modern mythos that’s supposed to be for everyone. Benioff and Weiss aren’t to blame for this, obviously, but they can’t help but accentuate this unfortunate reality no matter how evident and sensible their qualifications. It really is well past time for the writers and directors behind these movies to be at least a little bit more representative of the culture they’re trying to cater to. And before you argue that it’s all a coincidence and it just so happens that only white men have been qualified for the job, please explain to me below why the “most qualified people” keep getting shitcanned mid-production.  Uh huh.

Anyway, Star Wars is about to enter very new and uncertain territory. When the “Skywalker saga” ends in 2019, Lucasfilm will be effectively closing the book on the one constant in Star Wars since 1977. Rogue One and Solo are tentative toe-dips into a post-Skywalker Star Wars cinematic universe, but they’re leaning heavily on familiar characters and iconography. The real proof of whether there’s life after the Skywalkers is whether the likes of Johnson, Benioff, and Weiss can keep people interested in Star Wars for another 40 years without all those handy crutches. And may the Force be with them, because man oh man are they going to need it.

  • James

    I’m holding out hope that these guys just had a killer pitch and, because they weren’t hired to direct these films, Lucasfilm will hire a more diverse set of directors for this series. That’s not to dismiss or diminish the point here, obviously – Lucasfilm has some work to do to catch up their behind-the-camera talent with that in front of it.

  • I’m cranky about this for the latter reason. This franchise HAS done a stellar job of late putting diversity in front of the cameras, absolutely, but it’s time for Kennedy & co to find some new voices behind the cameras. Also, as generally excellent as GoT is, these two have demonstrated that their skill lies more with adaptation than origination. The last couple seasons are serviceable and have some fantastic spectacle, but characterization and narrative, now that they are off-leash from GRRM, are a wreck. If they hire some gifted writers, I’ll be more open to them.

    • YayMayorBee

      I think Benioff and Weiss are underappreciated, if I’m being honest. I think it’s easy to look back at the books with hindsight as being excellent sources for longform TV, but it was a totally insane idea in 2009 or 2010 when they started. You only need to look at the total failure of Hollywood to keep fantasy alive after LOTR and Harry Potter to understand how easily GAME OF THRONES could have shat the bed. Once you understand that Benioff and Weiss aren’t just some Hollywood hacks but legit brilliant students of literature (check their bios), and that Benioff is a well-respected novelist and writer of some very good original films (BROTHERS, for example), it all makes way more sense.

      All of which is to say that there are very few writers in Hollywood who are better positioned to help Star Wars grow and change with the times, as it must. But they’re also links in an increasingly ugly chain. Criticism of Benioff and Weiss isn’t really about them, I don’t think, but the machine that’s made their hiring feel unremarkable.

      • James

        CAMELOT on Starz came around the same time as GoT and, I think, illustrates exactly how GoT could have gone wrong despite having a large mythos already spelled out for it.

        • YayMayorBee

          Oh man. I’m a King Arthur fanboy and I never bothered despite the presence of Eva Green. Case closed.

          • James

            Of all the stories out there, none of them mean as much to me as the Arthurian legend. Which is why it kills me that we can’t get a good cinematic adaptation of it outside a Disney cartoon and a ’60s farce – though as kid I did enjoy the insanity that was KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF JUSTICE.

            But seriously, all the parts are there for a long-running series on either TV or film. All it would take is someone to treat the material with some semblance of fidelity. Until then, it’s Guy Ritchie, I guess.

          • YayMayorBee

            Confession: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is so crazy stupid that I loved it. It’s like Guy Ritchie snorted too much coke, passed out, hit his head on a coffee table, and then tried to piece together an Arthur movie based on the vague, scrambled memories he had from when someone read Geoffrey of Monmouth out loud at his bedside while he was struggling to wake up from a medically-induced coma.

          • James

            I admit, I thought I’d seen almost every interpretation of the legend possible, but was wholly unprepared for “Uther was the literal, actual stone.”

          • YayMayorBee

            How about the vision quest that mostly just involves fighting random animals? Or the hypothetical diplomacy scene where Arthur is like “nah, I’d just punch everyone.” It’s literally POOCHIE THE ROCKIN’ DOG: LEGEND OF THE SWORD.

          • James

            There actually could’ve been an interesting point to examine, too, in using this version of Arthur to inquire what the difference is, really, between being a mob boss and being a king. Instead, though, let’s put a dojo in the middle of 6th century Londinium.

          • YayMayorBee

            Right. But who has time for that when :: screeching guitar lick :: “NEEEEEERDS!”

          • James
          • This is the most accurate description of Legend of the Sword I’ve seen.

      • Very well put. They have done an amazing thing with GoT, no question.

      • Jamikel

        Even in the later seasons, I think it’s underappreciated how they made some hard choices to hammer the story back into shape after GRRM let it get away from him.

        • YayMayorBee

          Yeah, sizing the last few seasons up against an imagined GRRM version of things isn’t exactly fair. The show has been good at adapting certain things, less good at adapting others, and it’s certainly been working with less raw material as the years have worn on. But there’s a level of skill involved in the basic execution of the show, the consistency and clarity of character and tone, the way it’s been able to keep normies hooked and oriented despite a ridiculously sprawling narrative, that’s much harder to do than is usually acknowledged.

  • ‘And before you argue that it’s all a coincidence and it just so happens that only white men have been qualified for the job, please explain to me below why the “most qualified people” keep getting shitcanned mid-production. Uh huh.’