The Han Solo Film Debacle: What the Hell Happened?
The movie industry is a convoluted and fickle place. Big budget blockbusters like The Mummy bomb while a film like Get Out, with a $5 million budget, goes on to make over $250 million worldwide. Films are constantly adding new screenwriters and doing page one re-writes. Critically acclaimed movies like Mad Max: Fury Road languish in Development Hell for years, and never produced films, like Tim Burton’s Superman Reborn, leave us wondering what might have been. And, like all jobs, sometimes people-even directors-get fired. John G. Avildsen, the director of Rocky, was fired from Serpico and Saturday Night Fever. Steven Soderbergh was replaced by Bennett Miller for Moneyball. Hell even Stanley Kubrick stepped in for Anthony Mann when Mann was let go from Spartacus.
You can now add Chris Miller and Phil Lord to that list.
On June 20th the duo who brought you 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie were fired from the untitled Star Wars Han Solo movie. The twosome and president of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy jointly announced their parting of ways due to that ubiquitous reason, “creative differences.” Now granted that phrase is a cliché we’ve heard a million times before. The difference this time is that Miller and Lord were fired with three weeks to go in principle photography. THREE WEEKS. The Solo film began shooting in February. Essentially 90% of the movie was in the can when Kennedy and producer/co-screenwriter on the project Lawrence Kasdan had enough.
According to Variety, things on the set were rocky from day one. Kennedy, Lord, and Miller constantly butted heads over the directors’ filming style and producers were less than thrilled about how Lord and Miller interacted with the actors on set. However, two major sticking points ultimately led to the divorce. Miller and Lord, wanted to approach the character as an exclusively comedic personality. Now I’m not a die-hard Han Solo fan like some people but as a Star Wars fan I categorically reject the notion that humor solely defines Han Solo. The man is a cynic, inherently selfish (although obviously he evolves), and an opportunist. Solo’s humor comes from his sarcasm and dark wit. Secondly, reports from joblo.com cite Entertainment Weekly sources that Miller and Lord were constantly improvising scenes and departing from Lawrence and Jon Kasdan’s script. With respect to Lord and Miller, Lawrence Kasdan is the dude who wrote The Empire Strikes Back. He knows what he’s doing at this point.
This ultimately boils down to a giant he said/she said situation. No one will probably ever get the complete story because Disney hates bad PR. Hell we didn’t even get the full story about the troubled production of Apocalypse Now until the Hearts of Darkness documentary came out in 1991, and that was twelve years after the movie debuted. My take on it is this: Lord and Miller’s idea to make Solo a primarily comedic character and consistently ignore Kasdan’s script as reports claim, completely justifies their firing. That demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge of the character. Kathleen Kennedy has been associated with the Star Wars brand since The Empire Strikes Back. Like Lawrence Kasdan I think she knows what she’s doing by now.
If creative differences were in fact the crux of the matter, and I have no reason to think they weren’t, then I question whether or not Lord and Miller knew what they were getting into when they took on a Star Wars property. By all accounts, this was a duo used to creative control. While I believe Lucasfilm is sincere in their pursuit of directors that bring their own signature to the Star Wars universe, the bottom line is that when you sign up for this Kessel run, you’re going to have to sacrifice a fair amount of creative control. Disney, in particular Kennedy, knows their fan base at this point. They know what people want in a Star Wars film and no doubt they are going to request from their directors X, Y, and Z. Tentpole franchise films like Star Wars, Marvel films, DCEU films–these are movies by committee. If you don’t believe that I’ve got a time share on Hoth I’d like to show you.
It looks like the parting of the ways hasn’t affected Lord and Miller too much as they’ve just met with Warner Bros. yet again regarding the much delayed The Flash movie. Over a year ago the duo was attached for the screenplay treatment but apparently it’s expanded to directorial duties. Honestly, I think this would be a good fit. They’ve partnered with Warner Bros. before on The Lego Movie, so there’s a history and working relationship there. It all boils down to how much creative control they will give Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
I don’t want this article to come across as anti-Lord/Miller. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Kennedy, Kasdan, and the execs at Disney aren’t exempt from this debacle. I find it MINDBLOWING that after almost a six month shoot, with three weeks to go in principle photography, you finally decide to pull the trigger. How could you possibly wait this long before deciding it’s not a good fit? That’s what is perplexing and possibly something we’ll never know. So after this news dropped the obvious question was who was going to take over directing duties?? Disney apparently had someone in mind because within 48 hours the announcement came that:
That’s right. The big wigs at Lucasfilm picked…Ron Howard? What? Of all the directors available, Howard was definitely not on my radar. In all honestly he hasn’t made a good movie since Cinderella Man. It’s a bland, safe, vanilla choice. Why? Why this pick? It’s not at all inspired. Then it hit me. That’s EXACTLY the point. Kennedy and Kasdan tried making a splash with Lord and Miller. It didn’t work. Howard is a contemporary and a colleague. They know he will be able to deliver on the Star Wars brand Kasdan and Kennedy want.
Here’s the question though. Ultimately whose name will be attached to the Han Solo movie? We know that Rogue One has Gareth Edwards name attached but many (as I do) attribute a good portion of that film to Tony Gilroy, the man in charge of Rogue One‘s extensive pick-ups and re-shoots. However, this situation is quite different. 90% of the film was shot by Lord and Miller. How much do the producers plan to re-shoot? 10%? 50%? The whole thing? If it’s the last there’s no way in Hell they make the May 2018 release date. NO WAY. DGA rules dictate that you must have a certain percentage of a movie shot by a director in order to have that person’s name attached as the director. So ultimately Lord and Miller’s names may still be listed as the directors of record. Good luck trying to get them to do press junkets if that’s the case.
I’m not wed to Han Solo as a character. In fact I’d rather see other spinoffs such as Knights of the Old Republic, a Yoda movie, or a Kenobi movie. I’ll still see it because it’s Star Wars. But the Han Solo production on the whole is a giant shit-show right now. However, here’s to hoping the film will be an unbeatable sabaac hand, not a straight flush down the toilet.