While Eleven-ThirtyEight shall forever remain gloriously free of any obligation to “report” the “news”, sometimes it’s nice to chime in on a hot topic while it’s still hot, and the big hot news this week was the departure of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the still-annoyingly-untitled Han Solo standalone film. While the Disney era of Star Wars films has had no shortage of backstage drama already, Lord and Miller had been with the project for such a long time, and were so far into filming, that to lose them less than a year out from the release date seems a new threshold entirely. How does everyone feel about this? While we may not know much (indeed, may never know) about exactly what this means for the final film, does the steady stream of shenanigans make you at all wary of how Lucasfilm works with its directors on the macro level?
Jay: Overall, I don’t have an opinion on this. Or at least, my opinion is to register a non-opinion. I have a couple of reasons for this: from my overall low level of interest in the Han Solo film (like I’ve said before, it probably won’t be until I see trailers that I’ll get interested) to the fact that we really don’t know all that much about what happened other than that the directors are leaving. Everything else is speculation, or based on information we can’t corroborate.
Of course, it doesn’t look good. How can it? I don’t know how much to credit the THR or Variety “sources,” but even from LFL’s own statements, “creative differences” at this stage of the game is not great.
But. I think we have to withhold judgment about the actual decision until we see the outcome. Maybe they wanted to be bold and risky with this one, and it didn’t work out. That could be because LFL is being too risk-averse, or it could be because the film really wasn’t working out. We don’t know if the creative differences were foreseeable, a risk hedged against, or a surprise. There are really multiple ways to read it, and I don’t know that “LFL didn’t do their homework” or “Kathleen Kennedy is meddling” (these are opinions I’ve seen voiced around) are things we really have any basis to say. We may well guess at the reasons the directors are leaving (or fired, I guess — it’s probably reasonable to read “creative differences” as a euphemism for firing) but that’s all it is.
At the end of the day, the fact that the directors are being replaced is not good. But the jury’s still out on whether that was the best outcome for the film and franchise. We have eleven months to go at minimum until the film’s out. I know this is a fandom prone to panicking and overreaction, with a media prone to clickbait pieces, but let’s calm down a little bit. The Force Awakens and Rogue One already had trailer and reshoot panic. This might be a sign that there are bigger problems, but it could also be a sign that problems are being dealt with too.
“We’re all fine here, now. Situation normal. How are you?”
Mark: I’m interested in what this says about the creative structure at Lucasfilm, because at Celebration Europe, Lord and Miller spoke about their surprise at the amount of freedom they were given. In fact, it seemed like they were being encouraged to do something offbeat and different. Just the other day Rian Johnson said he felt he’s had the same level of directorial control over The Last Jedi that he had on all his other projects.Now we get directors leaving the project remarkably late into production over a difference in vision, with rumors in Variety of clashes over Kathleen Kennedy’s level of control and a sense that they weren’t making the film “Star Wars-y” enough. The structure appears even more like a television show – with Kennedy as “showrunner” – than I had thought.
Still, I wonder what the wider ramifications of this will be. Would experienced, visionary directors like Alfonso Cuarón or Guillermo Del Toro now avoid working with Lucasfilm, knowing they wouldn’t be given total control? Johnson, Gareth Edwards and Colin Trevorrow have all made big career leaps recently and are thrilled to be given the opportunity – are they more amenable to the collaboration than a more established director would be? Trevorrow in particular has been talking very enthusiastically about a “creative socialism” with Kathy, Kiri Hart, the Story Group, Rian, JJ, Kasdan … everyone. If the product’s good, that’s all that matters, but this should give us some insight into the kinds of directors we can expect going forward.
In terms of the movie itself, I’m sure the final product will be fine. Ron Howard has already been mentioned (and since confirmed! – Mike) and he’s a solid enough director to guide the ship safely into port. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed, though – a young Han Solo movie was never something I’d particularly wanted to see, but the idea of Lord and Miller doing something really off-the-wall and stretching Star Wars, showing it could be something wildly different without breaking it, had piqued my interest. I don’t want them to play everything safe – I want to see some risks taken, to use the anthologies to tell stories in other genres in the same universe. The cast is still fantastic and I’m sure, like Rogue One, it will come together perfectly well, but … ah, what could have been.
Anyway, the promo tour, the behind-the-scenes material on the Blu-Ray and the inevitable tell-all book are going to be fascinating…
Sarah: I’m also of the opinion that I have little opinion on this change. To echo what Mark said, it does perhaps reveal some details about the creative structure at Lucasfilm, but at the same time we know basically nothing about what was happening with production. There are so many factors that could have led to Lord and Miller leaving/being let go and we have no way of knowing whether their departure is a good or bad thing at this point. We went through the reshoot panic with Rogue One and the movie was still great; I see no reason to begin freaking out about the quality of the Han Solo film at this point.It could be that concepts that worked well on paper in the script didn’t work as well when put into practice. It could be that Lord and Miller wanted to push the envelope a bit and Kathleen Kennedy/LFL wanted to play it safe. Or it could be that the creatives involved had fundamentally different visions for the movie and couldn’t reconcile them. There’s a million and one explanations and all we can do is speculate on extremely incomplete information. We’ve already seen Variety and THR claim that sources say Kathleen Kennedy had a heavier hand in the creative direction than Lord and Miller anticipated and that led to clashes, though I’m wary of taking statements like that at face value without knowing the months of production context.
I will say that I had hoped the anthology films would be a chance to get more experimental with the Star Wars universe and take some risks with the genre and storytelling. If reports of Lord and Miller being let go because the film wasn’t “Star Wars-y” enough are true, well then that does put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm (and my hope that we’ll start getting anthology movies that aren’t so tied to the characters and era of the saga films). But at the same time, Han Solo is only the second standalone movie and only the fourth movie of the post-Disney purchase era so I can see why LFL might want to try and play things a bit safe until they’ve really established where the franchise is headed. After all, how many by-the-books Marvel movies did we get before we got something a bit more out there with Guardians of the Galaxy?
Sure, the directors being replaced halfway through shooting doesn’t look good, and I don’t blame people for already starting to freak out (but boy I am not looking forward to another eleven months of this). But the fact of the matter is we have few details and little context and all our speculation is just that: speculation.
Nick: My opinion is best summed up in the wording at the bottom of our Lucasfilm minted, Disney approved currency- “In Kennedy and Kasdan We Trust”.
I don’t have anything against Lord or Miller, but at this point I’m always gonna side with folks who have delivered two wildly successful movies and succeeded spectacularly. Kathleen Kennedy is a experienced hand at producing and making excellent films, and Larry Kasdan has been part of some of the best Star Wars movies we’ve had. So yes, they’ve more than earned my admiration, and I’m inclined to follow their lead. I wish Lord and Miller the best, but to be fully honest I can’t say I was super wowed when they announced them in the first place.
So, to quote the LEGO movie – everything is awesome!
Mike: I’m with Sarah on this one—the safest way to frame this in the absence of hard information is that Lucasfilm’s current filmmaking operation is still very new. When Lord and Miller were hired TFA wasn’t even out yet, and they hadn’t been through the ordeal of the Rogue One reshoots. While us diehard fans might long for some outside-the-box Star Wars, look at how long it took Marvel Studios to take a risk on something like Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy. Lucasfilm may be emboldened in part by Marvel’s example (and hopefully, willing to learn from its missteps), but on the time scale of big-budget film productions I think it’s too early to assume they’re playing things excessively safe.I’m reminded of a few—oh good lord, almost four years ago now—when Eleven-ThirtyEight was just getting started; I had a very particular vision of what kind of things I wanted us to publish, what territory we would occupy within the larger conversation, and there are things I’ve run (even written myself!) in the last year or two that I’d never have agreed to in the first year. Not because they were bad, but because I wanted to lay down a solid reputation first before we started pushing at the edges of it. With that experience in my back pocket I can easily see why “Star Wars-iness”, as imprecise as that is, would still be very important to Kennedy and company at this stage.
Furthermore, being willing to experiment with boundary-nudging doesn’t mean just letting the results out there no matter what—that they gave Lord and Miller a shot to do their own thing seems pretty certain, just like they were very generous with Gareth Edwards and his tendency to shoot everything under the sun, a lot of which ended up getting thrown out. This doesn’t suggest to me that LFL is risk-averse as much as it suggests they aren’t willing to settle when an experiment yields iffy results. Whether you’re willing to trust their standards over any given director’s instincts is something we all have to decide for ourselves, but from where I’m standing she’s 2-0 so far.
Ben: Do I care about a creative mess at LFL? Well, since it already slipped out they don’t have as much of a plan as PR appeared to suggest for the sequel trilogy, should I really be surprised? Not really. Do I care about individual director visions in the context of big, corporate movies that have budgets in the realm of hundreds of millions? Not really. Why not? Ah, well there hangs a question.
The closest match to what Disney are trying to do with Star Wars is Marvel. While a couple of directors did bring their own touches to their pictures, for good or ill – both certainly apply to Joss Whedon, while the positive I’d see as being represented by Kenneth Branagh and James Gunn – the sell looks transparent to me: you are hired to do a job, to direct a piece of a bigger whole that you won’t have time to care about overly, so come in, do the work, move on. The big example of a creative dust-up at Marvel was Ant-Man but guess what? When I saw the movie I got what I wanted which was two hours of solid entertainment. Ah, but what of the more individual Wright version? I don’t care about what-ifs, if I really want to support Edgar Wright then I’ll go see Baby Driver.
People have wondered if LFL took any lessons from Legends and the answer is maybe they did, at least in respect of setting limits on what SW can and can’t be. They want to stick with a clear vision of it being A, B, C but not D, E, F; that there’s a great amount of flexibility to it but it’s not infinite. This could end up being a very smart move and it could well be the trigger for this parting of ways. The reality is most directors, if offered a SW film, are unlikely to say no, and this in turn enables easier hire-and-fire if it gets to that point. It also allows LFL to adopt an Alex Ferguson, ‘no one is bigger than the team’ management style. Of course, with that style, there’s no hiding from responsibility for those at the top running it…
David: I agree with the general opinions exposed here. I’ll start by echoing Jay: anything that we can surmise about how this whole situation went down is necessarily going to be just a partially-educated guess. We don’t know if this move will save the movie, or if it has turned the Casablanca of this generation into another Gigli. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if the involved parties were contractually forbidden from discussing exactly what happened—I’m actually working on the assumption that that’s the situation—so anything we’ll ever know will be just official press releases, rumors, theories and third-party-second-hand information. So we should probably relax before asking for people’s heads.
Because holy crap, have we been overreacting! It’s interesting to see how the online fandom has reacted to the news. All of the sky-is-falling reactions we are witnessing are highlighting how fandom has changed through the years, and how the internet has affected the way we interact with the entertainment industry. I suspect that MGM didn’t get many angry letters when Victor Fleming replaced George Cukor at the helm of Gone With The Wind. And even if there was some kind of outcry at the time (angry letter campaigns are an old trick!), I doubt that it involved this kind of hostile paranoia. Because sure, we’ve always cared about the way movies are made. That’s partly what made Hollywood a land of dreams. But something has changed: these days we tend to consider ourselves an active part of the process and thus we feel entitled to control it. We feel like the entry ticket (and the ungodly amount of money we spend on merchandising) makes us shareholders.Sometimes I think that most of the fault should be placed on the creatives’ and producers’ shoulders, for trying to be our friends on social media and at conventions, for being very accessible in an effort to create an emotional connection that would lead to fidelity, but that’s probably just the cynical marketing major in me. Nevertheless, the departure of Lord and Miller is being seen as some personal slight by a vocal slice of the audience and this feeling (plus some rentable fearmongering) are leading to the hostile reaction I mentioned above. Lucasfilm were not only our company, but our friends and we’ve been betrayed. We didn’t just care about the final product: we were really enthralled by a drama called “the making of the untitled Han Solo spinoff” and they just fired two of our favorite characters on it. So off with their heads!
As a final aside, this whole clusterfuck makes me wonder if this kind of problem is going to end up being endemic to “cinematic universes.” Marvel started the trend with Patty Jenkins and Edgar Wright, and I wouldn’t be surprised if all the film studios that are following in their steps ended up finding the same kind of issue. This is new territory after all, not only for LFL as Mark and Sarah discussed but for everyone. The film template for this network of related movies and spinoffs is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and producer Kevin Feige sure has shown to be the main creative force behind it, so should we consider Kennedy to be the Feige of the modern “Star Wars Cinematic Universe” or should we be taking the side of the allegedly fired creatives here? It’s very romantic to think of the director as the auteur and the film as his of her oeuvre but filmmaking is a collaborative effort. How fair is the disdain we see when pundits and fans talk about “stories decided by committee”, and how come we only mind this approach when we don’t approve of how things are going? Time will tell if the cinematic universe era will live long enough for us to change the way we perceive authorship, but we might have to get used to this kind of drama raising its head from time to time.