Thursday, June 22, 2017

Opinion: I Have A Bad Feeling About This

By: Dominic Jones

Last night, Lucasfilm shocked fans when they announced that the Young Han Solo film would be moving forward without directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.  The move is stunning for many reasons, not the least of which being that the film has already been in production for close to six months.  While the official announcement claimed it was an amicable split caused by creative differences, later reports from trusted sources like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter made it clear that things weren’t as friendly as the press release would have you believe and that, in fact, Lord and Miller had been fired by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.

Since then it has been announced that Ron Howard will be taking over the directorial duties, with filming slated to resume on July 10th.  While Howard certainly has the directing chops to do a good job with the film, it still bears discussing what exactly went down over the past week and what it means.

This is disappointing on many levels, not the least of which is that I was really looking forward to seeing Lord and Miller's take on Han Solo and Star Wars in general.  I liked what they did with The Lego Movie and the Jump Street films and was hoping they could bring a similar sensibility to a film concept that is not my first choice for the second stand alone film.  (I'm not saying I'm against the idea of a Han Solo film, just that I would have rather we waited a little while longer so that we could truly come to miss Han after his death in The Force Awakens before revisiting his character in such a major way.  Plus with a whole universe to tell stories in, why not expand  a bit beyond the core characters of the Original Trilogy?)

But what's more disappointing than simply losing Lord and Miller is that this move seems to represent a shift in what it means to make a Star Wars movie.  You could argue such a shift really happened as soon as Disney bought Lucasfilm in October 2012.  And you can certainly make the case that there were warning signs when Tony Gilroy was brought in to "oversee" the substantial reshoots on Rogue One.  Regardless, it's clear now that the director is no longer calling the shots on Star Wars films.

Many have rightly pointed out that this sort of meddling with a director's work was, and remains, one of George Lucas' biggest complaints about the film industry.  Lucas was outraged when Universal changed less than five minutes of American Graffiti.  We can only imagine what he would think about being removed from a project with weeks of filming still left and someone else coming in to reshoot large portions  to cut into their own project.  Say what you will about the Star Wars prequels (I love 'em), but at least Lucas had the creative ability to push the envelope and expand what Star Wars is.

My greatest fear about this new, Disney/Kennedy era of Star Wars, which I met with great enthusiasm that I still maintain, is that all the Star Wars films might start to feel the same.  Or worse, start to feel like everything else.  And while the Han movie may still turn out to be just as good, or better, with Ron Howard at the helm, this latest news does raise some questions about how things are being done.  When directors are being fired late into shooting because their vision doesn't line up with the studio, it's not a good sign.

Making a Star Wars film is tough balancing act.  Filmmakers need to weigh a  respect for what's come before against pushing the story off in new directions, all the while keeping in mind the expectations of a massive fanbase.  From the sound of it, it may be that Lord and Miller were pushing the boundaries of what Lucasfilm was willing to do too far.  To be fair, Rogue One did push the envelope somewhat, with a darker tone than most Star Wars movies (all the characters died!), but this was a relatively safe first steps to make.

Of the directors of films post-The Force Awakens, Lord and Miller, along with The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, seemed to me to be best suited to push Star Wars into the future.  They could take the capital and goodwill that Abrams had built up with his "reboot" movie, and use it to do something really unique in the Star Wars franchise.  And for his part, Johnson seems to doing that in a way that has not upset the powers that be.  (Johnson claims that, "I had as much creative control on [The Last Jedi] as I've ever had on any of my own movies").  Perhaps this stems from the fact Johnson is also writing The Last Jedi, whereas Lord and Miller were only brought in as directors.

The silver lining that can be taken out of this situation, it seems to me, is at least the conflict was between creatives, and not with Disney.  It wasn't Disney CEO Bob Iger that clashed with Lord and Miller, it was Star Wars veteran and the film's co-writer Lawrence Kasdan.  Kasdan apparently disagreed vehemently with Lord and Miller's interpretation of Han's character (they were making him too funny, according to The Hollywood Reporter).  Although this raises the question of why, if they disagreed so distinctly with Kasdan on such a crucial point, were Lord and Miller hired in the first place, still it does seem as if creative differences really were the cause of the split.  Just not as amicably as they might want you to think.

The larger questions are these: how far is Lucasfilm willing to let its directors push Star Wars in new directions, and where are the boundaries in the relationship between the directors, the writers, and the studio?  These are the questions that may well go on to define the Kathleen Kennedy-era, if not the entire future of Star Wars.

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25  

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization.

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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