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“What?!” That was my reaction, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone, when news broke of Disney and Lucasfilm announcing they were parting ways with Han Solo Star Wars anthology film directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. With five months of production under their belts and just three weeks left to go before wrapping shooting, this kind of move is practically unheard of in the industry. I couldn’t help but wonder, not just as an entertainment writer but as a fan, are we rushing Star Wars?
Lucasfilm has since named Ron Howard as their replacement, but the statement from Lord and Miller on the parting of ways made it clear “creative differences” were the reason for their exit. OK, sure, that happens a lot in Hollywood, but considering this is the well-oiled machine that is Disney we’re talking about, it’s curious. Why weren’t these differences realized much earlier in the process?
The screenplay for the spinoff was written by Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jon Kasdan, while Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was overseeing the project as usual. The announcement of The Lego Movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street directors joining Lucasfilm in July 2015 was met with fairly positive responses. While some would have preferred to see another character focused on for the first Star Wars solo film or just didn’t see the point in it to begin with, it at least appeared this one was in good hands.
In its initial release, Lucasfilm called the pair “among the most sought-after filmmakers working today,” saying the studio looked “forward to applying their unique creative chemistry to the Star Wars universe.” Said the Kasdans, “We’re so excited to be working with Chris and Phil, who will bring a fresh new dimension to the Star Wars universe. They’re two of the smartest, funniest and most original filmmakers around.” And Kennedy added that the duo would “bring their wit, style, energy and heart to tell Han’s story.”
“Unique creative chemistry.” “Most original filmmakers around.” “Wit, style, energy and heart.” While it sounds like everyone involved wanted exactly what the directors brought to the table, we may never know precisely what wasn’t gelling between them all along the way. Lucasfilm, Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan know what they want for the franchise and the company. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except when you’re hiring directors because they have a unique vision of their own. But again, these kinds of wrinkles should have been dealt with much sooner.
Would more time on preproduction have helped weed these issues out? I can only imagine so. Consider the Star Wars franchise before Disney purchased Lucasfilm. Star Wars: A New Hope was released in 1977. We didn’t get the follow-up, The Empire Strikes Back, until 1980, and the third part of the trilogy, Return of the Jedi, until 1983. In the prequel age we saw The Phantom Menace released in 1999, Attack of the Clones in 2002 and Revenge of the Sith wrapped it all up in 2005. Considering I was born in 1982, I can only relate my experiences of being hyped for the next installment of the prequels in real time, but it seemed like a perfectly reasonable space between them.
Granted, filmmaking as a whole is different now than 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago, but since we got our first new Star Wars film post-Disney, there’s been a new one planned for every year. The Force Awakens came out in 2015, Rogue One in 2016, The Last Jedi is set to be released this year, the Han Solo spinoff is slated for 2018 and the untitled Episode IX is penciled in for 2019 (a title which may have its own issues). That’s an intense schedule — not unheard of (Hi, Marvel!), but one that’s ultimately not necessary.
Don’t get me wrong, as someone who grew up with Star Wars, I’m loving the current climate of Star Wars everywhere I look, but I’d also be totally fine with them putting some space between the projects, and I think other fans would agree. I don’t know where the pressure or expectation to push out a new film every year is coming from exactly. It could be the company itself or its reaction to the current internet age of instant gratification. We’re barely over with marketing for one film before we have the “first exclusive look” at the next one (not just a Lucasfilm stance).
Websites not loading fast enough (or asking us to watch a brief advertisement before our content), DVRs, binge-watching — we can’t get enough of “give it to me now.” But we’re not devoid of Star Wars content between the films. At Star Wars Celebration earlier this year, Lucasfilm announced a slew of new books, comic books, the Forces of Destiny animated shorts and the Star Wars Battlefront II video game. Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels is coming up on its fourth and final season, but executive producer Dave Filoni said, “This is by no means the end of what we’re doing with animation.”
Lucasfilm says the May 25, 2018, release date for the Han Solo film is still in place. Why not take a big step back and take your time with the next step? How would fans react to things slowing down? With all I mentioned above, I think they’d be just fine. Not to mention Star Wars fans have been a devoted bunch since 1977, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Unless, perhaps, you rush a project out and it arrives without the usual Lucasfilm magic we’ve come to expect. We learned from Master Yoda to have patience — you can, too.
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