Star Wars fans are still reeling from Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm — not to mention the subsequent announcement that a new sequel, tentatively dubbed Star Wars: Episode VII, will be released in 2015. Of course, any director who takes the helm of the sure-to-be-scrutinized Star Wars film has their work cut out for them, as they face both sky-high expectations from a fiercely opinionated fanbase and a continued backlash from traditionalists, which began with the much-maligned prequel trilogy directed by Star Wars creator George Lucas. Who can be trusted to get the Star Wars saga back on track? Here, seven possibilities:
1. Steven Spielberg
Who better to shepherd Star Wars into the next generation than Lucas' longtime friend and filmmaking partner? Remember, says Christopher Campbell at MovieFone, that Spielberg was reportedly the first choice to helm 1983's Return of the Jedi. And even though he didn't get that job, Spielberg subsequently helped Lucas film some actions sequences in the franchise's most recent film, 2005's Revenge of the Sith. His experience and close working relationship with Lucas makes him an ideal choice.
2. Christopher Nolan
Disney will have to work hard to make fans forget George Lucas' disappointing Star Wars prequels — so why not hire the man who brought the Batman film franchise back from extinction? "Nolan is a genius at manipulating a genre to make it cool, darkly menacing, and new," says Solvej Schou at Entertainment Weekly, which means that no director is better equipped than Nolan to reinvent the bygone Star Wars franchise with "grit and great character development."
3. J.J. Abrams
What about the director who brought Star Trek — the other once-dormant, cultishly beloved sci-fi franchise — back from the dead? J.J. Abrams is "the best-case scenario" for the Star Wars franchise, says Julie Hinds at the Detroit Free Press: A "Gen-X visionary" who has the chops to give Star Wars "the equivalent of his rejuvenating Star Trek reboot."
4. Joss Whedon
With this summer's beloved superhero flick The Avengers under his belt, Whedon "has the skills and geek cred to make any wary Star Wars fan feel at ease about an Episode VII," says Christopher Rosen at The Huffington Post. Unfortunately, the director will probably have his hands full with The Avengers 2, which is also due for release in 2015 — but if he's not available now, there's always Episode VIII.
5. Catherine Hardwicke
"It's about time a woman with cred directs a Star Wars reboot," says Schou at Entertainment Weekly — and Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight film and last year's Red Riding Hood, has shown that she understands "the psychological complexities of fantasy." Hiring Hardwicke would show that "male directors aren't the only ones out there to take on fanboy favorites," and bring a much-needed female perspective to the male-dominated Star Wars universe.
6. Sam Mendes
The best case for a Mendes-directed Star Wars sequel? Next week's James Bond flick, Skyfall, which is being touted by many as the best 007 film ever: "A big deal when you consider this will be the 23rd installment in the long-running spy franchise," says Ethan Anderton at FirstShowing. Now that Mendes has shown he can pick up a revered series and do something new and exciting with it, he'd be an ideal choice to wow Star Wars fans all over again.
7. Rian Johnson
The director of this year's critically acclaimed sci-fi mindbender Looper "should be at the forefront of everybody's mind for a new Star Wars film," says Bryan Young at Big Shiny Robot. Johnson's diverse, twisty oeuvre shows that he's skilled enough to "create a wonderfully complex Star Wars film": dark and moody, with "a strong grounding of fine cinematic structure and excellent acting." Another bonus: It would almost certainly bring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Johnson's frequent collaborator, into the Star Wars universe.