They Aren't The First Directors to Leave a Project
Firing your directors midway through shooting is a PR disaster that Kennedy and company knew would be unavoidable, so for them to make this call suggests a major conflict with the Han Solo team. This is also something familiar to them. Rumors of the Rogue One troubles surrounded the project from an early stage and continued once Tony Gilroy took on the major work of reshoots, and an alleged script overhaul, from director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla). Sources claimed the original cut was too dark and strayed from Lucasfilm’s original vision. While the final movie is a decent affair, it also bears the marks of dueling creative visions, feeling frequently disjointed and incomplete. Unlike Lord and Miller, Edwards at least got to finish initial shooting before the reshoots came in (the Han Solo project has scheduled reshoots for later in the Summer, which Howard will helm). Perhaps this was a risk Lucasfilm just wasn't willing to take.
While it’s uncommon for directors to be removed from a project mid-way through filming (the “creative differences” excuse usually comes before shooting even starts), it’s not unheard of. The Wizard of Oz, now widely regarded as one of the best films ever made, went through no fewer than four directors from beginning to end: Richard Thorpe spent 10 days shooting before leaving after the first actor playing the Tin Man fell seriously ill from the makeup required for the role; he was replaced by George Cukor for a brief period, and then Victor Fleming completed the majority of the work (he is cited as the only director of the film in the credits, and it wasn't until his death in 1949 that King Vidor, another major director at MGM Studios at the time, revealed he had been assigned to film the sepia-toned beginning and end of the film). The reason Fleming left that production was because he had already been assigned to take over directing Gone with the Wind after Cukor was sacked by producer David O. Selznick, and even then that production was so infamously tough that Sam Wood had to be called in to take over from Fleming after a bout of exhaustion (that didn’t stop Fleming from winning the Best Director Oscar).
Disney and Pixar alone have been notably merciless in canning a director or an entire project if things seemed to be going off-course. Jan Pinkava was fired from his pet project Ratatouille after Pixar feared his vision was too esoteric for a wider audience (Brad Bird, who overhauled the entire project in about 18 months, led the film to commercial and critical success). Brenda Chapman had been set to become the first woman to lead direction on a Pixar project with The Bear and the Bow, her self-described "feminist fairy tale" inspired by her relationship with her daughter. A year before it was set to premiere, Disney removed her from the project and, under Mark Andrews, the film became broader and still bears the mark of a team trying to piece together something from a box of pieces that don't quite fit. Chapman kept a director credit, and took home an Oscar for what's now best known as Brave, but it's a similar situation to Rogue One wherein a creative vision clashed with a business’s necessity to appeal to its target demographics.
With the Han Solo project set to finish initial shooting soon, now under the banner of Ron Howard, questions remain as to where Lucasfilm wish to take their franchise, and how the visions of a new generation can or should fit into that. If Kennedy and the studio wish to stick to the status quo and use the model that’s worked so well for them, that’s a smart business decision that will always pay out – if Star Wars fans can survive the prequels, they can survive anything – but it’s also a little sad to imagine a world where the most iconic series of cinema of the past 50 years has no desire to experiment or deviate from the expected, especially since this new age of expanded universes and wannabe franchises seem hellbent on using the exact same mold. Directing a Star Wars film may still be the ultimate dream for many film-makers, but following the fate of Lord and Miller, many more daring directors may think twice.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019