As much as it pains me to admit it, the Star Wars franchise might be be serious trouble right about now.
Let’s not sugarcoat this – the recent news about Phil Lord and Christopher Miller getting the boot from the untitled Han Solo spin-off is shocking in both its nature and timing.
That a talented duo of filmmakers at the forefront of a major tentpole project can be shown the door (or choose to exit, whichever might be true) during shooting is astounding. That the directors, producer Kathleen Kennedy and veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan couldn’t find some kind of workaround to their “creative differences” is very telling of the behind-the-scenes machinations at Lucasfilm, and the hierarchy that oversees most contemporary cinematic universes as well.
Of course, it’s not unheard of for creative differences on a project to lead to an ugly and messy divorce; we’ve seen it in the past with Patty Jenkins on Thor: The Dark World, Michelle McLaren on Wonder Woman and most notably writer/director Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. This collection of examples indicates that mainstream blockbuster cinema, and in particular the realm of franchise filmmaking, isn’t a hugely accommodating space for creative and distinct filmmakers.
This latest instance is particularly significant for a few reasons; firstly, it’s Star Wars. It takes something pretty seismic going on behind-the-scenes for one or both sides of the argument to decide to call it quits over something as important as Star Wars.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, this went down during shooting. Not during pre-production or while the script was being drafted. Lord and Miller reportedly only had a handful of weeks left on the slate – the film has been shooting in London since February after all. Why it took so many months for both parties to call it quits is still a huge question mark that hangs over the story.
Kennedy and Kasdan were reportedly displeased at Lord and Miller’s more freewheeling and improvisational approach to the filmmaking process, which more often than not deviated from the script Kasdan had penned and employed more open invention from the cast – something you might have seen before in their previous work.
This is the duo who brought us the new Jump Street films and The Lego Movie. Anyone who has seen Lord and Miller’s work would be aware that it carries a looser, more happy-go-lucky approach. Again, it begs the question why these specifics weren’t ironed out during the pre-production process when Lucasfilm were originally scouting for a director to helm the Han Solo film.
Stepping in to replace Lord and Miller is industry stalwart Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, Rush). His approach is guaranteed to be one that is decidedly more traditional and palatable to Kennedy and Kasdan, and is probably the calm figurehead the project needs right now. But I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that this whole Lord and Miller endeavour didn’t work out. What is the point of approaching young, talented and distinct filmmakers if you’re not going to let them leave behind their thumbprint?
Which moves nicely into my third point which is that this isn’t the first time this has occurred in the revived Star Wars universe. Gareth Edwards‘ Rogue One faced similar production troubles, with the much publicised reshoots and rewrites of the embattled film overseen by writer Tony Gilroy (The Bourne series) instead of Edwards.
How much of Edwards’ original film remains in the final cut has been left unanswered at this stage, and given how protective the Disney PR machine has proven since Star Wars was relaunched, we may not learn the specifics for a long while. However, just a cursory glimpse at the first couple of trailers from Rogue One tells us the film changed rather drastically during both filming and editing.
Josh Trank was also cast aside from the Star Wars conveyor belt back in 2015 before he could begin work on a solo spin-off film of some variety, but a lot of that is probably down to his rather public spat with Fox over the trainwreck that was its most recent Fantastic Four reboot.
And lastly, doubts also continue to hang over Colin Trevorrow, who was handpicked by Kennedy to helm Episode IX, the final film in the new sequel trilogy.
Presently, Trevorrow has three films under his belt; Safety Not Guaranteed, which is a rather unremarkable indie flick; Jurassic World, which killed at the box office but has its fair share of detractors; and The Book of Henry, which opened in the US recently to almost universal critical derision. Is this really the guy we want working on the concluding chapter of Star Wars?
So, does all this mean Star Wars is in trouble? Before the last few weeks, I would have categorically said no. The Last Jedi, which opens this December, looks great and everything else concerning the franchise seems to be ticking along nicely.
With this news, the whole series has seemingly lurched out of hyperspace and started trailing smoke, which doesn’t often appear if there isn’t fire. Fans of the films, such as myself, will no doubt be urging everyone involved in the filmmaking process to grab the extinguishers sooner rather than later, before we all get served a cinematic disaster to rival Attack of the Clones.
Image courtesy of The Last Jedi – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures