Sorry, Han Solo, Star Wars Don't Need No Stinking Directors
Of all the Star Wars tropes fans love—the scoundrels, the weird foods, the planets dominated by a single biome—the best one might just be the face-off. Not the battle itself, but the fermata beforehand: Two combatants, gazes locked on each other, knowing that it's about to go down. Most of the time, the ensuing struggle goes the way you want it to. This time, though, is not that time.
Late Tuesday, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announced that directing team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had left the still-untitled Han Solo spinoff movie. The two "are talented filmmakers who have assembled an incredible cast and crew," she said in a statement, "but it’s become clear that we had different creative visions on this film, and we’ve decided to part ways. A new director will be announced soon.”
Lord and Miller, as they're popularly known, chimed in with their own verse of kumbaya: “Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project. We normally aren’t fans of the phrase ‘creative differences’ but for once this cliché is true. We are really proud of the amazing and world-class work of our cast and crew.”
OK. Fine. Creative differences happen; thankfully, they got this out of the way before things got too far along. Wait, what's that? They'd been shooting since January? They were only a few weeks away from wrapping principal filmmaking? (In this case, apparently, Han Solo gets shot first.) It may only be Year Three of Star Wars 3.0, but one thing is becoming clearer than the waters of Nymeve Lake on Takodana: The post-Lucas juggernaut has made directors all but interchangeable.
Lest you think this is the first directorial hiccup for Lucasfilm in the Disney era, take a quick look back. In 2015, Josh Trank was a no-show at Star Wars Celebration after signing on to direct one of the "anthology" movies; two weeks later, his departure from the project became official. Last year, after director Gareth Edwards had finished Rogue One, Lucasfilm reportedly brought in a different director to reshoot the final third of the movie.
Why this keeps happening is no mystery. Kennedy and Lucasfilm built the new Star Wars pipeline using structural blueprints from their Disney siblings at Pixar and Marvel. The vaunted "story department" approach, in which Kennedy and a cadre of writers oversee the development of multiple films, ensures a Star Wars universe with ever-expanding lore and never-wavering tonal consistency. So if Gareth Edwards made a Rogue One that felt too dark? Well, they'd just find a way to make it the version it needed to be. The Star Wars movies, like Marvel Cinematic Universe titles, have become all but plug-and-play: Find someone with some genre chops and some flexibility, hand them the clapboard, and (warning: NBA reference incoming!) trust the process. It's not that the Russo brothers or Rian Johnson aren't great directors—they are—it's that there's a multibillion-dollar apparatus making sure that director's chair can't tip over.
Despite sharing a chair, though, Lord and Miller have never tipped one; in fact, they've made a career out of the impossible. First they made a cult hit out of an MTV cartoon about teenaged historical icons (Clone High). Then they turned a children's book (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) into an animated movie that charmed adults. Then they managed to make 21 Jump Street a filthily brilliant, self-aware gem of a buddy comedy—and made the sequel even better! (They did too. Shut up.) Oh, and don't forget about The Lego Movie, which necessitated getting the rights to just about every pop-culture franchise you can imagine, and then making a movie that not only didn't make you want to burn down capitalism for good, but made you sing "Everything Is Awesome" completely non-ironically. Had enough? Wrong. Because for three seasons now, the Fox series Last Man on Earth (which they executive-produce, along with Will Forte) has been one of the weirdest, darkest, most daring comedies television has ever seen. On paper, none of these projects were supposed to work. On screen, they all did.
Yet, with a few weeks of shooting to go on a movie with a can't-miss premise (young Han Solo!) and a stacked cast (Donald Glover as young Lando!), they're gone. Two directors who have proven themselves to be virtually bulletproof have walked—or, as some early rumors have whispered, they've been jettisoned like so much space junk. One one of those scenarios, though, is far more likely than the other. Lucasfilm has already shown a willingness and ability to fix things after the fact; given that fix-it-in-post approach, there's little value for the studio in stirring up controversy less than a month before both Disney's D23 fan event and Comic-Con International. Lord and Miller, on the other hand, have called their shots for years now. Of course they'd bristle at the idea of sitting on stage at a Star Wars panel pretending that they were making the movie they wanted to make, rather than a movie being dictated by father-and-son screenwriters Lawrence and Jon Kasdan and the rest of the story department. Not every filmmaker is cut out for system filmmaking.
So what happens next? Well, there'll still be a Han Solo movie next year. Someone else will come in and take the reins—maybe a grizzled Jedi, maybe a younger and more flexible padawan—and Kennedy and Kasdan and whoever else will push it over the finish line. The Star Wars universe will continue to expand. Meanwhile, freed of their galactic burden, Lord and Miller will continue to make weird, funny things that are far better than their premises or constituent elements. They'll be directors, though, not showrunners. And really, that's the difference. Because these days, showrunners are what make Star Wars work.
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