The recent story about the firing of directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller shocked the internet as fans started to move away from cautious optimism toward the Star Wars: Han Solo movie to outright panic. We reached out to a couple of sources to get a better idea about what’s happened, and the picture is a little clearer – while it’s certainly not prettier, there is a bit of good news tucked away in all of this.
Quick word of warning – this information comes from several different sources. Some details might not line up 100% with the other accounts of this information that are making the rounds right about now, but this is what I was able to figure out about the situation at hand.
The Directors Didn’t Click With Lucasfilm (But Both Hoped They’d Come Around)
It all started off so simple – a pair of young directors with several great popcorn flicks based on questionable ideas (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, and The LEGO Movie) under their belts were announced to be guiding the way for the Han Solo movie. This wasn’t a “decision-by-committee”, either – Lawrence Kasdan, the architect of the movie’s script and the guy who wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, thought they were the best pair for the job. Lucasfilm’s president, Kathleen Kennedy, gave them the green light and thus the project started development. The Lucasfilm Story Group’s Kiri Hart said the following about Kasdan’s confidence in Lord & Miller at last year’s Star Wars Celebration Europe:
“He was quite vocal about it in a way only Larry can be. He had a tremendous amount of belief in them and a feeling that they were just the right people to do this. That ended up being really meaningful to all of us as we went forward and put the whole thing together.”
How things soured between Lord & Miller, Kasdan, and Kennedy isn’t clear at this time, but some accounts mention that they clashed in terms of the script. If you’re familiar with any of Lord & Miller’s movies, you might know that improvisational comedy is their forte, whereas Kasdan is generally adherent to avoid significantly deviating from the script whenever possible (with “I love you!” “I know.” being the most famous exception). There’s also a bit of evidence that they might have done something that would violate Star Wars canon – dorky as that may sound – which could have been an issue on a creative level. Yet both team Lucasfilm and team Lord & Miller were under the impression that they could still work things out over time over the course of production, so the project proceeded as planned.
Things Were Going Well (Until They Suddenly Weren’t)
Rest assured, however, that in spite of their run-ins with Kennedy and the Kasdans, Lord & Miller didn’t pull a Josh Trank on Lucasfilm. (Remember how he was gonna do a Star Wars movie at one point, and then he decided to leave “to explore his own projects”? His erratic behavior in the later stages of filming Fant4stic, which was being made at the time that he got hired to start planning his movie, put a quick end to that when Simon Kinberg saw firsthand how badly things could go.) Contrary to Trank, everything about the production was described in the most glowing of terms by the people we talked to, and not in a “spinny” way either – everyone was genuinely excited for how well this project was coming along (especially the editors) and Lord & Miller were doing good work as directors. There were even early talks about potentially doing a second movie with much of the same cast after the 2020 movie, provided – of course – that the picture did well.
However, something happened along the way. Something big, but not something that was immediately noticeable. Several weeks into production, there were concerns that in spite of the good work that Lord & Miller were doing with their movie, that something was decidedly off about the way that their signature approach was taking the project – and that the bickering between them and the powers that be continued off and on. But the first person who really raised their voice about their worries on the direction the project was going in wasn’t Lawrence. It wasn’t even Kennedy.
Alden Ehrenreich Shot First
For anyone who’s worried that the actor playing a young Han Solo isn’t taking his role seriously, rest easy – Ehrenreich one of the most important people involved with the project who voiced his concerns about the project at a crucial moment in the movie’s development, which means that he’s absolutely committed to bringing his A-game to this role. Ehrenreich’s performance has been described to us as being an interesting new take on Han that stands out on its own while still honoring the essentials of the character, and that it’s a worthy interpretation of the iconic scoundrel.
And this is why Ehrenreich had concerns with the production as filming progressed. He started to worry that Lord & Miller’s screwball comedy angle was starting to interfere with what the character of Han Solo is really about – even if this was a younger, more reckless take on the character than the one we met in that Cantina on Tatooine. One source described it as being oddly comparable to Jim Carrey’s performance in Ace Ventura at times. Ehrenreich let his concerns be known to one of the producers, who then told Kennedy about it, which led to her decision to look over the existing footage (which is also a normal part of the production process, but this is where things get interesting).
The Film Was Good In Pieces, But Frenzied When Assembled
I’ll give credit where credit is due and note that the people at The Weekly Planet Podcast were the ones to break the scoop about an anonymous tip about there being concerns with the movie and that some sequences needed to be reshot. I initially dismissed their concerns in a recent episode of The Resistance Broadcast because at the time, I was under the impression that they kept using the word “reshoot” as a pejorative, catch-all term to describe any scene being refilmed, even though it’s not uncommon for certain sequences to be filmed over again during the process of principal photography and that this was completely normal. Again, I was skeptical because I had personally heard absolutely nothing about there being any problems with filming – Lucasfilm is pretty good at keeping secrets, after all.
But as it turns out, they were right. The reason people close to the project have described it positively was that they saw several isolated scenes. However, when an assembly cut actually started to come together, that was where the issues presented themselves in earnest, and this is where Kennedy and Kasdan – as well as the other people reporting to them – started to get deeply concerned. The Weekly Planet Podcast mentioned that there were concerns with performances and action setpieces, but from the sound of things it seems to be more along the lines that Lucasfilm really wants to get an edit that’s more faithful to Kasdan’s script. (Have I mentioned that they really, really like Ehrenreich’s take on Han? Because they do!) There was something of a “zany” tone to more scenes than they would have liked – in part due to some of the improv – and I get the feeling that fans might take more of an issue with this than they would have if the film had been left unfixed.
Reshoot Supervision Was The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back
At some point in production, some kind of hiatus took place, and this is where they reviewed the footage and told Lord & Miller that they’d need to overhaul the movie with reshoots when they worked on it later. If this sounds familiar, then you’d be right to think of Rogue One – but the difference was that Gareth Edwards was a team player, whereas Lord & Miller have given off the impression that they were pretty rebellious with this production, and they offered an ultimatum – either let us handle the reshoots our way, or we’re out. And thus, they were shown the door.
Let’s be clear here – when it comes down to Lord & Miller taking issue with the writer/producer and the creative team at Lucasfilm, it’s should not be surprising that Kennedy would choose to take the side of the people who are in Star Wars for the long haul. And it’s also in Kennedy’s best interest to make sure that they can do whatever it takes to fix a movie before it hits the silver screen, as is the job of any competent film executive overseeing a lot of major projects.
What’s so great about being reasonable
— philip lord (@philiplord) May 9, 2017
I’m guessing that the above tweet was made right around the time these sorts of discussions were starting to happen, but there’s no real time frame of when these aggressive negotiations started and abruptly finished. So yeah – the project’s going to need a new director to finish things up (EDIT: it’s since been confirmed to be Ron Howard), look at the full assembly cut, and then figure out what needs to be reshot. Bits and pieces of Lord & Miller’s original cut of the movie will make it into the finished version of the film, but expect it to be more in line with what Kasdan’s intending to get across with the script. Speaking of him…
Lawrence Kasdan Is Pretty Grumpy Over The Situation
There’s not a whole lot to this particular point as far as details go, but I feel it’s worth singling out considering that Kennedy is being hit with almost all the blame from fans for Lord & Miller’s dismissal, and that’s not entirely true. Kasdan was the guy who helped bring the duo onto the project, and he’s also the one who’s been struggling the most creatively with them – so it’s only natural that this ordeal has left him mighty pissed when all is said and done (although he’s sticking with the project, as his beef is with the ex-directors while Kennedy has been incredibly supportive of his vision).
Kasdan most likely will not be directing the movie even though he’s unofficially one of the people being considered for the project. This is due to legal shenanigans with the Director’s Guild of America and a bunch of legal crap that I’d rather not focus on here, so I’d recommend checking out THR’s piece on this if you want an idea about why he can’t take over the film. However, given that the film is technically a United Kingdom production and not one set in the United States, it’s possible that Lucasfilm could take advantage of a loophole. That being said, it’s likely that someone else will get the gig, and whoever that is, the director’s gig is going to have to be able to listen and get along with him pretty well. (EDIT: Ron Howard has a good reputation, so it seems like he could help heal the damage caused by the recent shake-up.)
The Movie Has A Good Chance Of Being Delayed
So yeah, the official story is that Lucasfilm is keeping that Memorial Day Weekend 2018 slot for Star Wars: Han Solo. But as you might imagine, the situation at hand could very well throw those plans for a loop. Only one of our sources brought this up, however.
I get the feeling that, if there is a delay, then Han Solo might not be a December 2018 movie. December, which is usually an ideal point to drop a major tentpole these days when there’s not a lot of competition, is getting pretty crowded, which would defeat that purpose. Furthermore, Disney already scheduled Mary Poppins Returns to be their big Christmas movie in 2018. Obviously, Disney can do release date swaps for a couple of their movies (heck, Han Solo could be a good Thanksgiving film for all we know), but there are more options on the table than just December or bust. This will really depend on what the new director (EDIT: Ron Howard) decides is the best course of action.
I’d also like to note that we’ve been told that some of the people who are working on Han Solo were also slated to work on Episode IX. That plan may or may not have changed depending on how this mess is going to be sorted out. My guess is that, if they really need time to fix Han Solo, then there’s an outside chance that Lucasfilm could drop two Star Wars movies in 2019. (But bear in mind that this is my tinfoil hat suggestion, and probably not a likely one at that if they want much of the Han Solo crew to help with Episode IX.) As it stands, whether or not there’s a delay is going to depend on when Han Solo actually wraps up. I should note that as of now, production has not halted and is still ongoing.
The Good News: Lucasfilm Still Has A Plan
I’m not going to mince words here when I say that everyone we talked to about this was just as shocked about it as you were when this headline broke. A night where everyone should have been pointing and laughing at the terrible reviews that Transformers: The Last Knight was getting was instead dominated by discussions about what’s going on with this spin-off and if Kennedy was in the right to pull the plug on Lord & Miller (directors who are both more popular in terms of fan perception than Colin Trevorrow, who recently had issues after his latest movie was a dud with critics). Star Wars has had troubled productions before, but nothing quite like what just happened. Perhaps we should have thought that something was up when there was zero mention about the development of the Han Solo movie at Star Wars Celebration Orlando.
Okay, so I’ve spent thousands of words explaining what it is that people are so worried about. But I’d like to note that this film is not beyond saving. In spite of all of that crap I’ve told you about, there’s a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel even though this absolute PR disaster just shook Lucasfilm to the core. The first thing that we know is that it’s agreed that the script was good and that it’s still good. While a good script might not easily translate to a good film, especially one with lots of troubles heaped upon it, it’s certainly easier to actually make it work than it is to make a good film out of a bad script. The second thing is that the cast are also good – even if their performances are going to have to be tweaked, Lucasfilm likes the cast they’ve assembled and think positively of what they’ve done, especially with Ehrenreich. The third thing concerns Kennedy herself – she’s demonstrated that if there are issues with a production, she’s willing to put her foot down and get all hands on deck to correct their projects. Other studios would straight-up try to get a picture out at the most profitable window to get a problem movie over with, but there’s a level of commitment to this franchise that Kennedy demonstrates she has that rival studios lack. (EDIT: The fourth thing is that Ron Howard is known for being one of the nicest directors in Hollywood that can still produce results. While he has put out some questionable films before, the fact remains that he’s an Oscar-winning director who’s still got it, as demonstrated by Rush and The Beatles: Eight Days A Week.)
What’s Yet To Come
So from the sound of things, it looks like whoever is going to direct Han Solo from here (EDIT: Ron Howard) will be looking to salvage what they can from the unfinished Lord & Miller cut, wrap up the last three weeks of filming that were originally going to take place between now and D23, and then go with a long period of reshoots to adjust the project to a vision closer to what Kasdan had in mind.
From what I can tell, while certain entertainment websites are out for blood with Kennedy over this situation (plus with the perception that she took Rogue One from Gareth Edwards even though he played ball with Tony Gilroy and was a heavy part of the film’s promotional campaign after the reshoots), internally everyone appears to be on her side. Really, the only fault in this terrible situation that she would have as an executive here would be that action wasn’t taken sooner, but again, she was operating on Kasdan’s suggestion and the impression that the team could sort out their differences (and, sadly, that didn’t work out). When we asked one of our sources, they told us that Kennedy is not a micromanager with incredibly specific ideas about Star Wars, in spite of one less-than-favorable account painting her in that light. Instead, she’s someone who listens to the multitude of producers under the Lucasfilm umbrella and makes decisions based on their concerns, what the filmmakers actually want to get across, and where a movie ultimately needs to get to before it’s screened.
Some have also wondered whether or not Kennedy should resign and put up another executive for the job of running Lucasfilm. Considering that she’s brought in over $3B in ticket sales for Lucasfilm with only two movies (both of which were hits with critics and audiences alike) and she has greatly increased the market value for Star Wars in the past few years, it’s safe to say that she’s going to stay put, although I’ll imagine that she’ll be under greater scrutiny from Bob Iger (which might not necessarily be a bad thing). Even if the franchise were to have a Transformers-like critical failure for one movie, it’d take much more than one misfire for a change in management to take place – it’d have to be a level of repeated failure comparable to what happened to Paramount and Sony Pictures last year.
(One other thought that came to me is that one of Disney’s other top movie executives, Marvel’s Kevin Feige, also has had his share of controversial production issues – Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man all having serious issues in development that aren’t too dissimilar to what’s happened under the Kennedy regime at Lucasfilm – yet pretty much every time, the fans agree that he can do no wrong. There’s a kind of double-standard here that I think is a bit worrying, but that’s neither here nor there.)
While Lord & Miller probably are going to have trouble after this high-profile shake-up happened, it’s likely that their careers will ultimately recover to some degree. They’ve got writing credits on an animated Spider-Man movie and The LEGO Movie Sequel, and they’re still producing the other LEGO Movie spin-offs. They may possibly help right the course on the DC Comics film adaptation of The Flash (which they previously wrote a treatment to), as that character seems to be far more suited to their talents. They’re also tied to several television projects and I don’t see that changing (even though The Last Man On Earth is the only one that’s really been successful). However, I think that executives might take caution with making them directors of major projects, and I’m guessing this experience will have turned them off from working on a huge production again.
Lastly, come Hell or high water, Han Solo will still be made, for better or for worse. It probably won’t be on time or on budget, but it still has a shot at being good. Lucasfilm didn’t just put tens of millions of dollars into filming something that they were on the fence about from the outset – they still think the project has potential, even if this is one of the most troubled productions in the franchise’s history. And if the film ultimately turns out to be a stinker, it isn’t going to be the death knell of the Star Wars franchise as we know it – just a sign that Lucasfilm will really have to be careful about the choices that they make in the years ahead, which is something that most movie franchises are better off learning sooner rather than later.