During a Summer season of underperforming blockbusters, surprise smashes, and the continuing domination of Wonder Woman, the news that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known for The Lego Movie and the Jump Street series, had been let go from the Han Solo spin-off became arguably the biggest scandal of the film industry so far. While news had swirled around the Star Wars universe and potential creative battles since Lucasfilm became a subsidiary of Disney, revitalizing the franchise for a new age, few could imagine that the studio would go so far as to sack its chosen directors, especially with only three weeks of initial shooting left to complete.
Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director behind Splash and the Robert Langdon trilogy, has been hired as the official replacement for the project. There have been multiple reports surrounding Lord and Miller’s exit, many questions are still left unanswered over their ultimate fate, why they were fired, and what this means for the future of the franchise.
The chances are that it’ll be decades before we get solid answers, and even then it won’t come directly from Disney or Lucasfilm themselves. The initial statements offered by both directors and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy were expectedly polite and recycled the inevitable “creative differences” excuse, which is par for the course for such occasions. The report from Variety on the issue emphasizes this as the key driving force, with Miller and Lord allegedly surprised to find they would not be given the creative freedom they were previously used to. The piece also explained the alleged conflicts between Kennedy and the directors, described as “a culture clash from day one”, as well as a troubled working relationship with screenwriter and executive producer Lawrence Kasdan. While Lord and Miller were said to be keen on giving the Han Solo character a more tongue-in-cheek sensibility, in line with their savvy self-aware genre pastiches in 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, that vision did not gel with Kasdan, one of the defining creative forces in the original Star Wars trilogy.
If that is indeed the case, and it’s easy to see why Kennedy and Kasdan would want to keep such a tight grip on this priceless franchise, it does raise the question as to why Miller and Lord were hired in the first place. If a more serious tone, akin to a “heist or Western type feel” as Kennedy desired, was the ultimate aim, then why bring on the duo best known for comedy? There is a solid chance that Lucasfilm imagined they’d have more control over the directors than they subsequently did, which would be a surprise to Lord and Miller, who have worked in the industry long enough to have attained a degree of freedom. This isn’t like Colin Trevorrow being hired for Jurassic World after one indie movie or myriad directors who seem to get picked up for a nine-figure tentpole project after making a splash with their tiny debut: Those directors can be kept on a short leash and are unlikely to try and infuse their own distinct styles into the project. Lord and Miller have already made four movies, with a combined international gross of over $700m, and that doesn’t even include their many years of success in directing, writing and producing television, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man on Earth. They’re well beyond needing to toe the company line.
Star Wars was defined by its uniqueness as one man’s vision at a time when popcorn fodder was run of the mill storytelling. That made George Lucas a wildly influential figure, helping to define generations of sci-fi and modern blockbusters, so it’s easy to see the appeal for Kennedy and Lucasfilm to give the franchise over to bright young things and continue Lucas’s legacy. Of course, that was 40 years ago and a lot less was riding on that first film’s success compared to the multi-billion dollar icon of cinema it has become. Star Wars is certainly something that could benefit from a little experimentation – at this point, it’s essentially review-proof and guaranteed to bring in more money than most studios could ever dream of – but on the flipside, it’s the age-old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Clearly, Kennedy and Lucasfilm don’t think the formula is in need of a shake-up.
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