Imagination Connoisseur, Christopher Whitfield, gives a thorough review of the steps Peter Jackson took to make THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and compared that to how the STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy eventually made its way to the screen.
The new STAR WARS sequel trilogy was a movie series that was produced without direction; produced without logic; produced without a destination. When embarking on such a monstrous journey, one of so much expectation and financial investment, you’d think there would be a map — some kind of plan or outline. If anything, the STAR WARS sequel trilogy did not!
While considering my thoughts and opinions of the three STAR WARS sequels, I parallel the them with the making of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The Peter Jackson trilogy was probably the most desired and anticipated movie series outside of STAR WARS. The Tolkien fans are just as numerous and possibly just as judgmental and opinionated. The trilogy was a massive undertaking. Beginning with convincing a studio that they weren’t investing in one movie but three!
In Jackson’s mind, there was no conceived way to adapt the first book and hope it was a success and hopefully get the green light to have a shot at the second or third books. He was going to make all three movies or none at all.
So, what did Jackson do once he knew he was going to make a LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy of films? He spent years researching, reading, adapting and planning. The books were meticulously adapted into the three screenplays. Those screenplays would continue to evolve to best convey the story cinematically.
It goes without saying that adapting novels for the silver screen is difficult. Even in this venture, he had to rearrange scenes and add elements to provide a great movie going experience. Sometimes these changes irritated the fanatic readers of the book series. But Jackson had a plan.
He even shot the movies all at once. There were days in 1999 or 2000 when shooting included scenes for FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (FOTR) and RETURN OF THE KING (ROTK). There were sets being built for THE TWO TOWERS (TTT) as FOTR was still in production.
The monumental task of the film series was too great for Peter Jackson not to spearhead the entire creative process. He knew that if the films were to appear visually similar, he had to direct all three of them. He knew if the story was going to hold up, he needed to take charge of the continuity and writing process. He wasn’t only responsible for the creative direction of the movies; he was responsible for the financial success too.
He also wore the hat of chief financial officer. There were hundreds of millions of dollars at risk and he knew it.
So, I think about Disney’s approach to their recent investment — most likely the most important and infamous franchise of all time — STAR WARS. A new trilogy was obvious. Yet, unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney and Lucasfilm threw out all previous expanded universe materials (only film and television productions were now official canon). They didn’t look to the thousands of books and comics as inspiration but insisted that new STAR WARS needed a fresh slate so it could be creatively rewarding.
It’s not contested that the MCU films were not direct translations of specific comics but it’s evident they were used to inspire the writing of those films. So why did Lucasfilm decide their vast library and resources were no longer important?
Unlike Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS, Disney and Lucasfilm decided to create each film separately. JJ Abrams was brought on board to write and direct the first film. Lucasfilm would then award the other two films to other directors. Those directors would be responsible for writing (or commissioning a script) and create a film without consulting the prior film’s creative staff.
This seemed reckless for such a financial investment. Why wasn’t there a film bible, Force Commandments, or stone tablet with the Sequel Trilogy outline? Three directors could have worked and most likely been fine. But there should have been three scripts completed before production started. There should have been an absolute projection of where the story and characters were going.
Instead we got the opposite. We got a trilogy made up on the fly. We were told no director would agree to the job if they couldn’t make the movie ‘their own’.
**Before the criticism of “that’s how the original trilogy was filmed” debate begins, lets agree that was a completely different set of circumstances. George Lucas wasn’t even sure he’d get the opportunity to shoot a sequel or a trilogy for that matter. Yet, I’m pretty sure he knew the beginning and end of the Prequel Trilogy before he started writing STAR WARS: EPISODE 1 – THE PHANTOM MENACE.**
So, consider ‘what if’ LORD OF THE RINGS had been green lit by New Line Cinema with three directors (along with their own unique screen adaptions of the book they were assigned)? What if these movies were injected with the director’s own interpretations of the source material or just decided to take a hard turn for the sake of cinematic (and creative) story telling?
Would have those movies been a success? Would they have been such a passionate and honest love letter to Tolkien’s masterpiece? Would they still be talked about today? Or even re-watched by millions to this day?
I don’t think so!