Though we knew we would get a behind the scenes reel for The Last Jedi last month at D23, many also hoped that we would learn something about one of the standalone movies, whether that be the Han Solo movie (such as a title, perhaps?) or the yet-to-be-announced 2020 film (such as an Obi-Wan Kenobi film, perhaps?).
We got neither, however, and Kathleen Kennedy wasn’t in attendance at the conference because she was in London due to the filming of the Han Solo movie. So, naturally, some concluded that there’s some reason for concern with that upcoming film as a reaction to D23.
I agree that there might some reason for concern with the film, but it has nothing to do with the recent dearth of information or director change, as they’re the same concerns I’ve had all along: it’s going to be hard to capture the magic of Han Solo without Harrison Ford, no matter how good Alden Ehrenreich is. But I’m still excited because it’s Star Wars, and I trust Kathleen Kennedy and especially Lawrence Kasdan to get the character right. That’s why I actually have more confidence in the film now than I did previously, because it sounds like the executives are actively trying to get Han Solo right. That’s encouraging.
Though Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired in June, it sounds like they never fully got along with the Lucasfilm executives. Hollywood Reporter reported that neither Kathleen Kennedy nor Lawrence Kasdan were pleased with the way the filming was going, with the former being upset about the limited number of setups that would limit things in the editing room. On the flip side, it sounds like Lord and Miller didn’t feel that they were being given any creative freedom on the project. The report stated that Lord and Miller rely too much on an improvisational style of filming, which won’t work on a massive project like a Star Wars film. Nevertheless, the footage Lord and Miller shot is described as still being very usable. Variety also reported that Lord and Miller had creative differences with Kennedy from day one and that “it became a very polarizing set,” saying that Lord and Miller felt they weren’t given the freedom to do what they wanted with the movie. Entertainment Weekly reports that Lord and Miller tried to turn the movie into a comedy, moving the film “more into the genre of laughs than space fantasy.” They added that “Lucasfilm and producer Kennedy believed Lord and Miller were hired to add a comedic touch; Lord and Miller believed they were hired to make a comedy.” That has been disputed by some, as others told EW that the issues were actually over the improvisational style of filming that led to things getting off-course story-wise. Basically, Lucasfilm thought that no matter what Lord and Miller had to stay true to the vision for the story and the character that was written, but the directors were unwilling to compromise on that front, forcing Kennedy to fire them. Star Wars News Net added an interesting detail to the report, as they say that Alden Ehrenreich was actually the first one to come to the producers with concerns about the direction the film was heading.
So while there’s still a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions as to what happened (and what’s happening, with Ron Howard having taking over directing duties), it sounds like it fundamentally came down to exactly what was announced: creative differences. Lord and Miller have used improvisational style filming in the past and brought the same approach to this movie, which meant often going away from the script that Lawrence Kasdan had written. The directors thought they deserved creative freedom on the film, but that was never realistic in the first place.
In all of this, however, I see Kathy Kennedy’s decision to fire Phil Lord and Chris Miller as a positive indication for the future of the Han Solo movie, because it means that Kennedy and Lucasfilm are determined to make sure that this movie turns out as well as possible. Here’s why I have confidence:
Firstly, because of Kathleen Kennedy. In many ways, Kennedy has been painted as the bad guy in this picture, being seen as someone who overstepped her role and is trying to meddle in the filmmaking process. In some ways it’s quite ironic, too, since George Lucas hated the idea of studios messing with his movies, but Lucasfilm and Kennedy (Lucas’ hand-picked replacement) have to make sure that their movies are correct. On this matter, I think it can be easy to forget Kennedy’s monstrous resume as a producer, one that dwarfs Lord and Miller’s resumes as directors (despite their impressive The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street). Kennedy is one of the most successful producers in movie history, serving as executive producer on films like E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, has produced Indiana Jones films and Lincoln, and then of course has produced the enormously popular The Force Awakens and Rogue One as president of Lucasfilm. If we’re talking about Kennedy’s role as the producer of this film, I think it’s pretty safe to say that she knows what she’s doing and that she deserves more benefit of the doubt than perhaps any other producer in Hollywood right now. Her resume is impressive.
Secondly, I have confidence because of Lawrence Kasdan, a Star Wars legend who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens. He’s stated that Han Solo is his favorite character, and he certainly has plenty of experience writing the famous scoundrel. While I can’t speak to the nature of his Han Solo script, I can say that there’s no one I would rather have writing this movie. So if Kasdan was concerned with the direction the film was going, and if the directors were going off-script from the one Kadan had written, I have absolutely zero issue with Kennedy and Lucasfilm siding with the Star Wars legend over Phil Lord and Chris Miller – it’d be crazy not to.
Third, it’s not like change has been abnormal for Star Wars films recently. Writer Michael Ardnt was fired from The Force Awakens, leading to Kasdan being brought in. And then for Rogue One, Tony Gilroy was brought in later in the process to help oversee reshoots, with Gareth Edwards being relegated to the sidelines a bit. Critics will see this as Kennedy meddling too much in the filmmaking process, but it’s hard to deny the success of those two films; perhaps Kennedy’s moves helped ensure that the movies would be successes? It actually sounds like Kennedy did try to bring in an outsider to help Lord and Miller like she did with Edwards, but the directors refused. So whether or not Kennedy is meddling too much (and on this, go back to my first point), it’s hard to ignore the results Star Wars has gotten so far with the same process: for Lucasfilm, it’s 100% about the movie first, and Kennedy is going to do whatever she deems necessary in order to get the best movie possible.
Fourth, if the reports of Lord and Miller trying to turn the Han Solo movie into a comedy are correct, then I totally am on board with Kennedy and Kasdan when they disagreed with that direction. Lord and Miller have made funny movies, but Star Wars isn’t a comedy and Han Solo isn’t a comedian. He’s a very nuanced character that, while funny and sarcastic, also has plenty of depth, heart, and charisma. Turning this movie into a full-out comedy would be a serious mistake. I do think it will be funnier and more lighthearded than most Star Wars films, but there has to be a fine balance with that to avoid turning Solo into a stand-up comedian.
And fifth, it seems that Lord and Miller had incredibly unrealistic expectations coming into the project. To assume that they would be given total creative freedom to do whatever they wanted with this prized Han Solo movie featuring one of Star Wars’ most beloved characters was a faulty assumption all along. They should have expected to have a say in the vision and outcome of the film, but they also had a chance to see Kasdan’s script to see what direction the film was going to go. They never should have thought they could just go off-script from that.
It’s that latter point that makes me think Star Wars isn’t doomed. For example, Rian Johnson has pulled off The Last Jedi with seemingly no issue and has praised Lucasfilm publicly for the creative freedom they have given him. It’s still possible for a Star Wars movie to be helmed by a promising young director (though Lord and Miller are more proven than Johnson), but anybody stepping into such a role must understand that Lucasfilm is in charge. When that involves beloved Star Wars characters, it’s reasonable to think that will be even more true. So no, directing a Star Wars movie isn’t for everybody, but it’s still something that an innumerable number of people would be more than willing to do.
I’m looking forward to the Han Solo movie, but I do have reservations – mainly because I want Lucasfilm to get the character right. So that’s why, despite all of the drama revolving around the project, I’m actually more encouraged now than I was previously. I trust Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan to make this film more than I trust Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and I view this move as Lucasfilm doing what is necessary to try to ensure that this movie turns out well. For that, I’m encouraged – but only time will tell how this project actually turns out.