13 things to keep in mind when thinking about the Han Solo movie controversy

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13 things to keep in mind when thinking about the Han Solo movie controversy

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The cast of the Han Solo solo movie, perhaps in happier, more improvisational times

The Disney-firing-the-directors-of-the-Han-Solo-movie story just keeps chugging along.

In sum:

Several outlets reported on Tuesday that Disney had fired (yes, fired) directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”) off of the upcoming Han Solo Star Wars spin-off movie. 

On Thursday, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Ron Howard, one of the most well-respected mainstream directors of his generation, has been hired to replace them. Lord and Miller had been directing the movie for, as the HR put it, “over four-and-a-half months...Creative differences over style and tone came to a head between the duo and Lawrence Kasdan, with the studio backing the veteran screenwriter.” It is incredibly rare to replace a director this late in the process. The Director’s Guild may have to get involved to figure out who gets credit for this thing. 

As the story in Entertainment Weekly noted, “The consensus, however, is that the filmmakers were encouraging significant improvisation from the actors, which some at Lucasfilm believed was shifting the story off-course.”

Here are a few things to think about given this development: 

  • Please remember that Disney is in the business of, first and foremost, maintaining intellectual property by any means they see fit. “Star Wars” and the Marvel movies are corporate IP. That is not all they are, but that is most of what they are. Do not get sentimental about them.

  • The most auteur-driven movies in the franchise are the 1977 Star Wars (aka “A New Hope”) and the prequels. Everything else has been a much more collaborative effort. 

  • If there are auteurs on this project, they are clearly Kathleen Kennedy, who has been a producer with Speilberg and/or Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, the latter of whom wrote or co-wrote “Empire,” “Jedi” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a well as “The Force Awakens.” 

  • That being said, Howard was approached by Lucas to direct “The Phantom Menace.” One suspects that this would have made for a very, very different movie. 

  • There is a really telling quote from an insider in one of the Hollywood Reporter stories: “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish,’ said an unspecified source.”

  • Agree with that idea or not, but if the idea that Han is a jerk with a heart of gold (or perhaps a pre-golden heart Han), why in the name of the Force would you hire the guys who brought you “The Lego Movie,” “21 Jump Street” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs?” They are excellent directors with exactly zero track record of working on straight-forward action movies. Zero.

  • The more one examines the initial decision, the less sense it makes. Did Disney think they were hiring newbies a la Colin Trevorrow (whose leap from “Safety Not Guaranteed” to “Jurassic World” to “Star Wars: Episode IX” has been the subject of some debate, increasingly so given that “Book of Henry” sounds INSANE) or Rian Johnson (who went from the still-amazing weirdo high school noir “Brick” to “Looper” to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”)? Are they hiring these directors because they think younger, less experienced hands will play ball with creative executives? 

  • (A note on Johnson, it is worth remembering that Mark Hamill recently revealed that, in re: Johnson’s script for “The Last Jedi,” “(he) pretty much fundamentally disagrees with every choice you’ve made for this character.’” That does not mean he didn’t do a good job, just that his take might be very different than what we have been used to seeing) 

An actor unhappy with his part. And Rey.
  • Back to Lord and Miller: why on earth would you hire two guys with a proven track record of leaning heavily on improvisation for a tentpole sci-fi action film, let alone one for a franchise wherein fans examine and ascribe meaning to every word that’s spoken? 

  • That said, one can sympathize with Kennedy and Kasdan. They might be as sick as, say, I am of comedy after over-long comedy in the Apaptow school that is more improvised/riffed on the spot than actually written. 

  • Such controversy does make one long for the days (and it was only about a year really, only from about ‘77 to “Empire”) when Star Wars was just another mid-budget space opera rather than a religion, something perhaps designed to make the quickest of bucks. The best example of this, obviously, is the Star Wars Christmas Special, which still has to be seen to be believed. 

  • The story of Star Wars over the past 40 years is a story of scarcity versus volume. From 1983 to 1999, there were but three Star Wars movies. From 2005 to 2015, there were only six. But over the franchise’s four decades, there were hundreds and hundreds of Star Wars stories in books, comics, video games and original LP records. When Disney purchased the franchise, they wiped all of those non-movie stories out of the canon and started telling new, non-film ones. Which is to say: Star Wars movies used to be an event of the first rank. Now they are as common as Christmas -- one a year like clockwork. 

  • The choice of Ron Howard is an interesting one. He is not well known for his genre work (other than “Willow” and the exposition-athons that are the perfectly-cromulent DaVinci Code movies) but his work on movies such as “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13” is a reminder that he can find solid characters in well paced, craftily edited movies. Look at “Apollo 13” again sometime. It is incredibly well-crafted, a impossibly solid example of directing at a very, very high level.

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