The movie world, not to mention Star Wars fans, are still in absolute shock over yesterday’s stunning news that the directors of next year’s Han Solo film, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were fired from the film. What made the announcement so jaw dropping is that most of the film has been completed with only three weeks of principle photography remaining. That is just unheard of and feels unprofessional on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm to just let two talented filmmakers go when their film is nearly complete. On top of this, Lucasfilm is still standing by the film’s planned release date of May 2018. That is probably not going to happen.
So what happened? The truth is we may never really know. All we do know, based on trade reports, is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller clashed repeatedly with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the film’s executive producer and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan. Much of that had to do with the improvisational directing style of the two directors that made the old guard executives uncomfortable with their take on a Star Wars film and the iconic character. Kasdan, who wrote the book on Han Solo in the original Star Wars film and Episode VII, has a distinct viewpoint of the space pirate. He saw Han as selfish and cynical, and wanted him portrayed in that manner. Meanwhile, the two young directors wanted to present Solo in a lighter, more comedic light. This would have complemented their humorous directing style as seen in the 21 Jump Street films, The Lego Movie and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Face it, Lord and Miller are more known for their comedic films so it was a surprise that they were chosen to direct Solo: A Star Wars Story (if that is indeed the final title).
The problem here is that they had been hired to direct the Star Wars spinoff film for quite some time. They were involved with Solo: A Star Wars Story from the beginning and started shooting it earlier this year in January. Shouldn’t the executives have known that these two would not fit into the world of Star Wars? Why let them go on for so long? Why didn’t someone at Lucasfilm had the foresight to nip the problem in the bud and replace them much earlier? Kennedy, Kasdan and other executives had to have worked closely with the two directors and had meetings with them. They must have stressed that the film was to be a certain way. They had to have picked up the notion that Lord and Miller may have wanted to try a different approach and be defiant. Whether Lucasfilm wants to admit this or not, Phil Lord and Chris Miller have genuine film creds. They have delivered well done films that pleased critics and audiences. Why not just have some faith in them and let them finish the film? The film studio could have then just taken over post-production like they did with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and edit it into the kind of Star Wars film they wanted.
We get that Disney and Lucasfilm are protective of their IP, after all, they spent billions to acquire it. With that mentality they are entitled to keep it safe and the best way to do that is to play it safe. So why go to the trouble of hiring these two to direct the film headlining the franchise’s most beloved hero? The reason to recruit new blood into the Star Wars franchise is to bring in fresh ideas and different outlooks into the Star Wars films. Firing Phil Lord and Chris Miller this far into production just shows a lack of confidence in this approach. Consider that director Garth Edwards was pushed aside in post-production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because Lucasfilm felt the film wasn’t quite a Star Wars film. Now this happens. Lucasfilm might as well just hire workhorses and yes-people to direct future films and give up this idea of bringing in new talent because clearly they are not welcome.
Now, Lucasfilm has to shut down production and find someone willing to come in at this late hour to complete Solo: A Star Wars Story. Will Lucasfilm pull a Salkind and have most of the film re-shot as what happened with Superman II? If so, kiss May 2018 goodbye. Can Ron Howard (the currently rumored frontrunner to take over UPDATE: Howard has officially been hired to finish the film) or Joe Johnston or someone safe come in and finish the film, while imparting their own vision? Finishing it is doable, but trying to leave their own mark is impossible with so much already filmed and with so little time. Who would want this burden?
In any event, the message is clear to other would-be Star Wars directors, especially those foolish enough to think they will have some measure of control: You can play with the Star Wars toys but at the end of the day, you have to give them back in the shape you found them.
Post Script: After Ron Howard was picked to complete the film, Lucasfilm has been in full-scale PR damage control. Stories are circulating that the film’s star, young Han Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich, was the first one to voice concerns about the direction of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Reportedly, the film was too comedic and slapsticky for the execs’ taste. On the one hand, Star Wars needs to branch out creatively, but on the other hand, a Han Solo film may not be the best venue to go full-scale comedy. If all this is true, the question still stands as to why Kennedy, Kasdan and the other higher ups let this go on for so long? The few bright spots coming out of this debacle are that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are now free to jump onboard the stalled Flash movie, which fits their style anyway, plus Howard has already shown that he has a lot of class with his recent praise of Lord and Miller’s work on the film. Given his close ties to Lucas and his solid directing background, he is the best choice to come in and salvage the film.