By Josh Tarpley
When looking at the big picture, there has never been a greater time to be a Star Wars fan. There are movies coming out every year, all media (Novels, comic books, tv shows, video games) all work together to tell one canonical story, and Star Wars fandom has made it through the “dark ages” that made up 1999-2005. Although each film has its own detractors, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” were both massive hits financially and critically and all signs point to Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” being a hit. With all of that in mind, yesterday’s news that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired during the final weeks of the young Han Solo project has rocked me to the core.
I’m now officially worried about the future of Star Wars movies.
The pattern for new Star Wars movies seemed to be set in place. While there would be mandatory plot points or creative limits given to each project (this is still a billion dollar corporate franchise after all), there was a sense that Kathleen Kennedy and the team at Lucasfilm were looking across the cinematic landscape to grab promising directors and give them their shot at the galaxy far far away. J.J. Abrams was always the safest way to relaunch your cinematic nostalgia-based universe, but all the other directorial choices have had some risk behind them and it looked like Lucasfilm had a director-focused model.
Say what you will about “Rogue One,” but the look and direction of that movie is distinctly Gareth Edwards and is what we would expect from the “Godzilla” director. Rian Johnson has made lower budget sci-fi projects, but character depth has always been a strong suit for him and it was exciting that he was going to bring that to Star Wars. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made four films and all four have been extremely creative and quirky, with the two “Jump Street” films as some of the best action-comedy movies of the 21st century. With the firing of Lord and Miller, all of our behind-the-scenes worries about Lucasfilm seem to be true, and there are a couple of elements that have me worried for the future.
First, whether we would like to or not, we have to look back to those “Rogue One” reshoots. Make no mistake, the finished product makes for a good film, but it appears as though we got lucky with that one. In the sea of rumors and reports, the timeline goes like this: Gareth Edwards made “Rogue One” and the marketing ramped up, showing scenes that would never make it to the final cut. Most reports agree that Edwards’ film was “darker,” and maybe a little riskier than Kennedy and crew were comfortable with.
So Tony Gilroy was brought in to do a big rewrite (He has a screenplay credit), the reshoots were scheduled to redo the 3rd act, and Michael Giacchino replaced Alexandre Desplat with the direction of creating a more Star Wars-y score. What stayed in rumor territory was that Gilroy might have directed some of the reshoots or at least talks around that happened. Again, the film turned out good, showing audiences that the “evil” Studio System can in fact produce a successful blockbuster even when behind-the-scenes drama surround production. It looks as though our worst fears about “Rogue One” were true, and there was going to be round 2 when it comes to “Han Solo.”
The source said that while Lord and Miller were supposedly hired for their vision and distinctive brand of filmmaking when it came to the “Star Wars” production, Kennedy did not approve of their shooting style and process of interacting with actors and crew. “They weren’t given the leeway to do what they had to do,” the source said.
The duo also clashed with Kasdan, who has been an integral creative part of several “Star Wars” movies, dating back the the 1980 “The Empire Strikes Back.” Like Kennedy, he questioned many of the pair’s directing choices.
“Kathy, her team and Larry Kasdan have been doing it their way for a very long time. They know how the cheese is made and that’s how they want it made,” said the source. “It became a very polarizing set.”
Directors leave projects, that is not new, “Breaking Bad” director Michelle Maclaren famously left “Wonder Woman” and (Most heart breakingly of all) Edgar Wright left “Ant-Man” after working on the script for years. The key difference with those examples is that was before cameras actually started rolling. The Han Solo film is reported to only be three weeks away from completion. This all lines up with the “Rogue One” timetable. They were getting closer to the end of filming, Kennedy and crew were not on the same page with the final product, so the “clean up” was ordered (i.e. rewrites, score changes, reshoots, ect…). The only difference is that, unlike Edwards, Lord and Miller did not want to play ball.
Look, I’m sure a safe director will be brought in (Most people are looking to Lawrence Kasdan) and the finished Han Solo film will be of the same quality we would expect from “Rogue One” or any of the Marvel films in recent years. My enjoyment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has prepared me to enjoy movies made by a committee. The behind-the-scenes process that creates these franchise pictures isn’t necessarily evil, but it does cap creators from fulfilling their potential.
In all of this, my anticipation for December’s “The Last Jedi” has not waned at all. In Rian Johnson I trust. But the future? That is a different story. Take the “Rogue One”/”Han Solo” timetable and plug in Colin Trevorrow. Here we have another independent director (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) who can work in the constricting studio system (“Jurassic World”) and is in a vulnerable place creatively due to his latest film being an absolute disaster (“The Book of Henry”). We can expect that his “Episode IX” will look and feel like Star Wars, just like “Jurassic World” did for that franchise, but it is all but a guarantee that the Lucasfilm/Disney machine hammers out anything that is deemed too risky.
Again, if Star Wars is doomed to the same fun-yet-lacking-creative-risk fate as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I guess that is ok. But we need to know that now, and we need to dispel the fiction that “auters” are being brought in and given free reign to create something special. If Star Wars films are going to be made by a committee, then that is a major disappointment and we (The fans) should lower our expectations.
As it stands, Lucasfilm needs to stop wasting the time of truly creative people. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are four for four when it comes to movies, and the past three years have been consumed by a Star Wars picture they won’t even want to be associated with. The biggest crime is that these guys are great at what they do and we have missed out on years of their creative promise.
You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JoshTarpley7