Wednesday 28 June 2017

Is Star Wars in Trouble?

As much as it pains me to admit it, the Star Wars franchise might be be serious trouble right about now.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Scientists have yet to determine
which is which.
Let's not sugarcoat this – the recent news about Phil Lord and Christopher Miller getting the boot from the as yet untitled Han Solo spin-off film is shocking in both its nature and timing.

That a talented duo of filmmakers at the forefront of a major tentpole project can be shown the door (or choose to exit, whichever might be true) during shooting is astounding.

That both parties – which is this case are Lord and Miller on one side and producer Kathleen Kennedy and veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan on the other – couldn't find some kind of workaround to their quote/unquote creative differences in the interim is very telling of the behind-the-scenes machinations at Lucasfilm and the hierarchy that oversees most contemporary cinematic universes as well.

Of course, it's not unheard of for 'creative differences' on a project to lead to an ugly and messy divorce; we've seen it in the past with Patty Jenkins on Thor: The Dark World, Michelle McLaren on Wonder Woman, Josh Trank on an unconfirmed Star Wars spin-off and most notably writer/director Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. This collection of examples indicates that mainstream blockbuster cinema, and in particular the realm of franchise filmmaking, isn't a hugely accommodating space for creative and distinct filmmakers.

This latest instance is particularly significant for a few reasons; firstly, it's Star Wars. It takes something pretty seismic going on behind-the-scenes for one or both sides of the argument to decide to call it quits over something as important as Star Wars.

Elderly Ron Weasley Ron Howard.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, this went down during shooting. Not during pre-production or while the script was being drafted. Lord and Miller reportedly only had a handful of weeks left on the slate – the film has been shooting in London since February after all. There is a lot of their footage in the can right now – why it took four months for both parties to call it quits is still up in the air.

Kennedy and Kasdan were reportedly displeased at Lord and Miller's more freewheeling and improvisational approach to the filmmaking process.

Why that came as a surprise – after all, this is the duo who brought us the retooled Jump Street films and The Lego Movie – is the first red flag. Anyone who has seen Lord and Miller's work would be aware that it carries a looser, more happy-go-lucky approach. Again, it begs the question why these specifics weren't ironed out during the pre-production process when Lucasfilm were originally scouting for a director to helm the Han Solo film.

Stepping in to replace Lord and Miller is industry stalwart Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, Rush). His approach is guaranteed to be one that is decidedly more traditional and palatable to Kennedy and Kasdan, and is probably the calm figurehead the project needs right now. But I can't help but feel a little disappointed that this whole Lord and Miller endeavour didn't work out – what is the point of approaching young, talented and distinct filmmakers if you're not going to let them leave behind their thumbprint?

Gareth Edwards on the set of Rogue One
Which moves nicely into my third point which is that this isn't the first time this has occurred in the revived Star Wars universe. Gareth Edwards' Rogue One faced similar production troubles, with the much publicised reshoots and rewrites of the embattled film overseen by writer Tony Gilroy (The Bourne series) instead of Edwards.

How much of Edwards' original film remains in the final cut has been left unanswered at this stage, and given how protective the Disney PR machine has proven since Star Wars was relaunched, we may not learn the specifics for a long while. However, just a cursory glimpse at the first couple of trailers from Rogue One tells us the film changed rather drastically during both filming and editing.

Josh Trank was also cast aside from the Star Wars conveyor belt back in 2015 before he could begin work on a solo spin-off film of some variety – but a lot of that is probably down to his rather public spat with Fox over the trainwreck that was its most recent Fantastic Four reboot, which Trank directed some of – again, rewrites and reshoots put a lot of question marks over that project too.

Doubts also continue to hang over Colin Trevorrow, who was handpicked by Kennedy to helm Episode IX, the final film in the new sequel trilogy.

Presently, Trevorrow has three films under his belt; Safety Not Guaranteed, which is a rather unremarkable twee indie flick. Jurassic World, which killed at the box office but has its fair share of detractors; and The Book of Henry, which opened in the US recently to almost universal critical derision. Is this really the guy we want working on the concluding chapter of Star Wars?

So, does all this mean Star Wars is in trouble? Before the last few weeks, I would have categorically said no. The Last Jedi, which opens this December, looks great and everything else concerning the franchise seems to be ticking along nicely.

Rogue One, for all its troubles, wasn't the disaster many has tipped it to be. But now, with the one-two punch of Lord and Miller's firing and Trevorrow's little indie film flunking, I'm not so sure.

With this news, the whole series has seemingly lurched out of hyperspace and started trailing smoke, which doesn't often appear if there isn't fire. Fans of the films, such as myself, will no doubt be urging everyone involved in the filmmaking process to grab the extinguishers sooner rather than later, before we all get served a cinematic disaster to rival Attack of the Clones.

What are your thoughts on the recent Han Solo news? Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. I'm terrified of Trevorrow ruining Star Wars. Even though I liked Safety Not Guaranteed enough, he's a bad director. I don't want the same person who wrote the women in Jurassic World to handle Rey. Jurassic World was going to make money no matter who touched it, I don't feel as though he should receive a ton of credit for that.

    Can't Disney fire him too and just have Rian do both?

    1. I couldn't agree more. Paul W.S Anderson could have directed Jurassic World and it would have made over a billion. I enjoy the film more than most but, like you said, its handling of women in that film is problematic to say the least.

      I can't reconcile Trevorrow handling not just Rey but Carrie's exit from the franchise. I don't think he has the deft touch that sometimes like Abrams or Johnson has and it would be a real shame to see them bungle a trilogy at the last hurdle (assuming The Last Jedi is good but c'mon, it's Rian Johnson - it's gonna rock).

      +1 on Rian doing Episode IX as well ;)



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