It has been two weeks since news broke that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were exiting the upcoming Han Solo spin-off film. While it’s not uncommon for directors to pull out of a film during pre-production it’s almost unheard of for this to happen mid-shooting. I’ve been wanting to write an article discussing some aspects of what’s going on at Lucasfilm and the behind the scenes issues that have plagued Han Solo and Rogue One. Now that more news has surfaced lets consider all news/rumors and speculate what it all means.
-He Said, She Said-
As with any director departing a project the reason cited with Han Solo was “creative differences”. This is a buzz term used multiple times over in scenarios similar to this one. So, what does creative differences mean? In a nutshell: it’s a diplomatic term that can mean anything from, “The director and producer/studio have differing ideas on what the story/style of the film should be.” to “Someone on this production is completely insane and other person(s) involved don’t want to be working with them for over a year.” As of now we’re hearing conflicting stories. Story A: Lord and Miller have been facing opposition from producer Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan from the get go. The pair have wanted to inject their signature style into the film and enjoy the creative freedom they’ve been given on previous films. Instead they were being treated like directors hired to execute a preordained idea that was the voice of someone else. Story B: After seeing dailies the directors had shot the studio and others involved were mortified to see a comedic tone where lead actor Alden Ehrenriech’s performance was likened to Jim Carrey. In between we’ve been hearing multiple stories that validate both sides. One story states that Disney screened a sizzle reel of shot footage to licensees to positive feedback. Another states that Ehrenreich raised concerns about what Lord and Miller were doing and that lead to Kennedy putting the kibosh on production. Who knows for sure what the truth is? I assume it’s somewhere in between.
-A Worrisome Pattern-
If all the behind the scenes issues are giving you a strange sense of deja vu you’re not alone. Just a year ago we heard about similar behind the scenes issues that Rogue One was facing. Gareth Edwards had shot a film that was rumored to be a little too gritty and more akin to a war film than your average Star Wars film. This lead to a re-shaping of the tone if not the story. Many people were asking, “How did this happen?” When you’re making films budgeted in the 150+ million dollar range everything is nailed down before the cameras roll. Even if said film turns out to be a bomb I can guarantee 9 times out of 10 it was not for lack of trying. So how has this happened twice under Lucasfilm’s watch?
-In Name Only-
When Kathleen Kennedy started talking about the direction of Star Wars after the gangbusters opening of The Force Awakens there was a distinct topic that kept creeping into the conversation. The studio wanted to recruit as many talented people to craft the stories of the series as they could. Gareth Edwards had a fantastic debut with the micro budget film Monsters and followed it up with the awesome American reboot of Godzilla. Phil Lord and Chris Miller churned out hits from films that sounded like they were going to be laughably bad. I’ll admit I had no idea I’d enjoy a 21 Jump Street reboot or a film based off of Legos as much as I did. These directors had bona fide hits and piqued my interest in creating something unique with their respective Star Wars films. Unfortunately it seems like once Lucasfilm has these directors signed onto their films they expect them to fall into line with their vision of what the film should be. Once that doesn’t pan out they call in seasoned filmmakers like Tony Gilroy and Ron Howard to take over production and deliver a film more in line with what the studio has in mind. Not to knock Gilroy and Howard, but both of them are safe filmmakers. Nothing they’ve done in the past decade had any sense of risk to it. To me that’s the biggest detriment of them all. Last year I wrote an article about how the Star Wars spin off films were more intriguing to me than the Episode films. We have the chance to see some amazing genre mash-ups outside of the constraints of the main storyline. I’m still holding out hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi will get a film in the vein of a spaghetti western.
-What’s the Answer?-
While there has been a section of Star Wars fans who see these troubled productions as a sign of things to come, I maintain an optimistic outlook. We’ve entered a new chapter in Star Wars and with that there will be some growing pains. Kathleen Kennedy needs to take a page out of the Kevin Feige handbook. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe was starting out there were a few films that had issues (i.e. Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World) but productions got smoother. Not only did the films begin to take calculated risks in their style they found filmmakers who were trustworthy collaborators. Kennedy and Co. need to begin trusting the people they hire to deliver top quality films. We can not keep hearing about production woes on-set and cross our fingers that these films will turn out.
These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Do you think Lord and Miller got the short end of the stick? Are you happy that Ron Howard is now in the director’s chair? What character would you like to see get a spin off film? Would you like to see more of a team effort in executive offices of Lucasfilm? Let me know. I’ll also be posting a link at the bottom to my previous article about the Star Wars spin offs. Remember you can find me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts and Instagram. As always, thanks for reading.