If something happens once, it’s an isolated incident. If it happens twice, immediately after the first, it’s a trend. I’m talking, of course, about Lucasfilm/Disney hiring directors for their Star Wars “spin-off” movies, and coming to insurmountable creative differences only when production is nearly finished.
I’m sure many will recall the fiasco surrounding post-production of Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, wherein Lucasfilm and Disney were not satisfied with the cut of the film and hired Tony Gilroy at a hefty salary of over $5 million to help the film. What was initially supposed to be planned pick-ups and reshoots (virtually every film ever made budgets and schedules this as part of the process), actually ended up being a re-tweaking of the film outright, as the changes were significant enough that the entire film shifted.
You could chalk this up to Rogue One being a first-of-its-kind movie, and there being anxiety on all sides about making sure this “pilot” in a new series of Star Wars chronicles was as solid as it could be, and as marketable and critic-proof as possible. Edwards was a really good sport about the whole thing too, praising Gilroy for his work, and claiming that the entire thing was blown way out of proportion by those looking in from the outside.
But now the directors of the very next Star Wars spin-off film have been let go after yet another claim of “creative differences”. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, now the former co-directors of the Han Solo standalone film have been fired by Lucasfilm and Disney, with only three weeks of principal photography left on the schedule. Fans of the franchise have been quick to jump on Disney/Lucasfilm – particularly producer Kathleen Kennedy – as being control freaks and wresting the film out of the two directors’ hands. But you know what? I wasn’t so quick to take sides on the matter, as I was always a bit skeptical about the directors of The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street being the right choice for a Han Solo movie. Nothing against LEGO or Jump Street (both are great), but why hire two guys known for slapstick and improvisational humor for a Han Solo movie? Han’s a clever, witty character, but he’s also kind of an asshole who’ll casually and sarcastically blow a Rodian away in the middle of a bar full of onlookers to avoid confrontation. He’s a guy who was completely fine with leaving a Princess to imprisonment and torture until it crossed his mind he’d get paid for rescuing her. Not exactly familiar ground for guys behind “Everything Is Awesome” and Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum tripping balls in a high school.
Apparently, other people agree. According to StarWarsNews.net, both writer Lawrence Kasdan and star Alden Ehrenreich have had serious reservations about the tone of the film, which was apparently more “screwball comedy” than grounded take on shady guys like Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. This led to lines being drawn in the sand, Phil Lord and Chris Miller being relieved of duties, and Ron Howard stepping in to direct the last few weeks of filming, followed by reshoots and pick-ups (and if you ask my opinion, likely a complete reexamination and rework of the film, akin to Tony Gilroy’s work on Rogue One).
So what do we learn and take away from all this? I’m sure Lord and Miller were passionate about the project and gave a hell of a pitch, which led to them being hired for the gig. But, giving a great pitch to a panel and actually delivering on that pitch and pleasing everyone are two very different things. Lucasfilm and Disney hiring two directors who were excited and able to sell themselves into the project, but were also way outside of their oeuvre is also a big problem. But who’s to blame, if anyone?
Here’s my takeaway on all of this: Lucasfilm/Disney need to reevaluate what these “spin-off” movies really are, and establish guidelines and boundaries for their production. So far, these spin-offs have been anything but; they’re direct prequels to the original trilogy, rather than actual standalone films. That makes things really fucking difficult for the filmmakers being hired to direct them, because they’re simultaneously being hired for their unique vision and methods, yet they’re suddenly being expected to adhere to the confines of the mainline of the Star Wars franchise. I have no doubt that Lucasfilm and Disney aren’t properly presenting these projects to directors like they did with The Last Jedi and Rian Johnson (who I’ve heard is flourishing in the project, and Lucasfilm was happy to give him room to breathe — with the proper guidelines and expectations laid out, I’m sure).
What Lucasfilm/Disney need to do is decide whether they’re interested in producing true one-off Star Wars stories and instilling faith in their chosen directors’ unique vision, or if they just want sequels, prequels and connecting films for the main nine features. If it’s the former, then move the hell away from the trilogies. Get away from the confines of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi especially. Because hiring talent on the idea that they can create a unique Star Wars film, only to reel them sharply back in when their films don’t match the tone and feel of the Original Trilogy, has proven disastrous. And if all you want is more tie-ins and films based on their marketable connection to the existing films, then make sure you’re hiring directors who are aware of the situation and don’t expect a high level of creative freedom.
And man… make some Star Wars films that aren’t sequels or prequels, for goodness sake. For a franchise that’s on the verge of spanning 10 films, it’s starting feel really damn small.