The shocking firing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the young Han Solo Star Wars anthology film has fans trying to make sense of the unprecedented situation and what it means for Lucasfilm moving forward. According to the reports, studio president Kathleen Kennedy and veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan were displeased with Lord and Miller's approach to the material and a falling out between the various parties ensued. Creative differences are fairly commonplace in the age of the shared cinematic universe, where executives have their own ideas for their properties that may not jive with those of the directors. Typically, however, those kinks are ironed out before production begins. If Lord and Miller were removed from Han Solo prior to filming, this wouldn't be as big of a deal. The fact they were dismissed after four months of shooting (with three weeks left on the schedule) is alarming.
Coincidentally, it was around this time last year word of Rogue One's extensive reshoots became public, similarly sending the Star Wars fandom into a state of panic. Though the drama surrounding Gareth Edwards' standalone seems quite tame in comparison to this fiasco, it is somewhat concerning that the first two spinoff movies out of the gate have been hit with massive problems. Every tentpole undergoes additionally photography, but it's not normal for nearly half the film to be remade in six months. Likewise, firing directors near the end of principal photography is almost unheard of in this era. Since these anthologies are giving Lucasfilm headache after headache, it's worth wondering if the studio is in need of some new leadership at the top.
Kathleen Kennedy's Old School
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012, George Lucas handpicked Kathleen Kennedy to run the company. Under her guidance, the Star Wars franchise would move in exciting new directions with a sequel trilogy in the Skywalker saga and standalone off-shoots to help expand the canon. Kennedy is a legendary Hollywood producer whose résumé speaks for itself. Some of the films she's been involved with aren't just hits - they're industry defining. Over the year's she's helped bring the likes of E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit to the big screen. Kennedy's filmography also includes Oscar contending dramas such as Schindler's List, The Sixth Sense, and Lincoln. It's safe to say she has a good idea about what makes a quality film, and it's easy to see why Lucas entrusted her with his baby five years ago.
Kennedy is a veteran who has been around the block, but the one common denominator with her pre-Disney genre fare is that they all came from a bygone era of moviemaking when the blockbuster was still a novel concept and Lucas and Steven Spielberg were in their primes. Films like Indiana Jones, E.T., and Jurassic Park were all special in their own way, but each felt as if it they were cut from a similar cloth. They were fun escapism that gave viewers two hours of thrills and adventures, introducing audiences to likable characters including Marty McFly and Ian Malcolm. For a good stretch of time, these types of films dominated the industry, raking in hundreds of millions of box office dollars and earning much critical acclaim. Nobody is denying Kennedy has many fine credits to her name.
It's these sensibilities that made her an ideal pick to oversee the Star Wars sequel trilogy, which kicked off with The Force Awakens in 2015. As a continuation of the story told in the original trilogy (released from 1977-1983), it only made sense for the new films to adapt that style and tone, mixing them with the wonders of modern film technology. One of the greatest attributes of Episode VII was that it "felt" like a Star Wars film, appealing to millions of people around the globe due to its charmingly retro throwback nature that was reminiscent (arguably a little too much) of the classic movies. Star Wars 7 had a troubled pre-production that saw Abrams and Kasdan rewrite the script before filming, but once the crew assembled, things went relatively smoothly (save for the broken leg of Harrison Ford). Likewise, Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi has (fortunately) not encountered any major issues, happily making its way through post with the director commenting on how much creative control he had over the project.
For all the divisiveness of The Force Awakens, it's hard to deny its success. The film shattered almost every box office record in the book, earned the best reviews of the series since The Empire Strikes Back, and was named one of the 10 best movies of the year by the American Film Institute - quite the accomplishments. Episode VIII looks poised to follow its footsteps with a story that promises to be different from its predecessors, but still maintain the well-known Star Wars style. But with the saga poised to possibly end after Colin Trevorrow's Episode IX, Lucasfilm is going to have to figure out what they want out of the spinoffs if the galaxy far, far away is to thrive in theaters for years to come.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019