This solo Han movie is an overstuffed Tauntaun’s innards of a hot mess that smells bad on the inside, and outside.
At least, that’s the takeaway from so many editorials on media outlets since the news broke of Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s dismissal as the directors of the Han Solo standalone movie. And I get it; the nature of internet entertainment journalism is to take breaking news that a reader can find anywhere and add to it with a hot take – and then keep the news alive, and the clicks coming, by building more content around it, and squeezing it for all the bantha milk it will produce.
Yes, much like the piece you are currently reading.
And this is not to dismiss concerns in these think pieces that the Star Wars expanded universe may be facing troubles. Admittedly, this is the third post-George Lucas production where major changes have occurred seemingly midstream. Screenwriter Michael Arndt left The Force Awakens, after eight months on the script, before Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams took it over. And on Rogue One, screenwriter Tony Gilroy spearheaded extensive reshoots instead of director Gareth Edwards, and Gilroy was reportedly given as much input into the film's final cut as Edwards.
But while there have been disturbances in the Force, don't get a bad feeling yet. Because, with regards to the Han Solo flick, everything's under control. Situation normal. They had a slight creative malfunction, but everything's perfectly all right now. They're fine.
I want to avoid rehashing too much of the newsy bits, which you no doubt are familiar with by now.
As someone who appreciates Lord and Miller’s directing work, their separation from the project is unfortunate. Losing a job over creative differences, or for any reason, just plain sucks.
But in this case, the call was made by Kathleen Kennedy, one of the most influential and successful producers in modern moviemaking.
Since she assumed the role of Lucasfilm president in 2012, she has experienced a 100 percent success rating. Kennedy has ushered in a new generation of Star Wars films that have been critically and commercially successful.
Consider, with regards to the creative output of Star Wars films alone (and the success of Star Wars Rebels, or other tie-in material):
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens: A more than $2 billion box-office take globally on a $306 million budget (not accounting for merchandising and toys, toys, toys!). Then there’s the 92 percent critical “Certified Fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: $1 billion international take on a $265 million budget (again: don’t forget the toys), and an 85 percent Certified Fresh rating.
Even if you’re not a “fan” of these two films, you’d be hard-pressed to argue they’re misfires – or that they did not course-correct the movie franchise left askew following Lucas’ prequels.
And part of the reason The Force Awakens in particular worked was that co-writer Kasdan – the accomplished screenwriter, director and producer who also wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi -- helped bring the “feel” of Star Wars back to the galaxy in the Abrams-directed movie.
So, if we search our feelings, we’ll know it to be true that Kennedy and Kasdan have proven themselves to be safe stewards of Star Wars. And the call to remove the directing team was not only well within Kennedy’s powers, but a smart move if, indeed – as reports state – the directors weren’t keeping to a schedule, and not delivering enough camera setups on set.
Speaking of safe, who knew Opie-Wan Kenobi would be our only hope? But Ron Howard stepping in as director – even in the late stages of production – should allay fears.
First up, Willow is great, and I will not hear any different.
True, Howard has not had a bona fide commercial hit since 2009’s Angels & Demons, and while he’s suffered four box-office flops in a row, Rush shows the director still has skills when it comes to character work and helming sequences that are fast, slick and compelling. Plus, this is the first Academy Award-winning director to head to the galaxy far, far away.
Howard knows the lingo, understands Kennedy’s vision and can deliver. He’s a skilled and adept closer. And that’s what this film needs more than an auteur. However, as for a director with a voice, Howard’s experience could potentially allow him to push back more than other directors – and certainly allows him to step onto set and garner respect from his cast and crew. And from a PR perspective, bringing him on deflates an appearance of a hasty hire. He isn’t a young, hungry director without a resume seeking to make money and a mark. Frankly, Ron Howard doesn’t need Star Wars.
And hey, it can’t hurt that he actually knew the young Harrison Ford on George Lucas’ American Graffiti, so maybe he can offer some tips to Alden Ehrenreich on nailing that swagger.
Sure, that report that Solo star Ehrenreich required an acting coach this late in the game is indeed a little disconcerting, but look closer. The 27-year-old actor is stepping into the boots of one of the most iconic Hollywood rogues, who was played by an actor iconic in his own right. I cannot imagine the pressure the kid is experiencing in channeling a younger Solo, without reverting to an impersonation.
Likewise keep in mind that the acting coach was to assist with Ehrenreich’s performance under Lord and Miller – that is to say, a more comedic performance, if reports are to be believed. Similarly, the Lord and Miller directing style involves improvisation, with new lines called out from behind a camera for actors to try out.
While I cannot defend Ehrenreich’s performance, having not seen any footage, it is concerning, but not catastrophic.
And The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm are in the business of making money, not catastrophes. Wild assumption time, but if Ehrenreich was that problematic in the role of Han Solo, and not delivering the needed performance, I would not put it past the studio to re-cast midstream. Although reports state the coach was brought on in May (of a shoot that began end of January), I entirely believe they’d have eaten the cost of shuttering production long enough to pull an Eric Stoltz and get a new Solo in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit to get it right – and improve chances of having another billion-dollar hit.
To that point, when this much money is on the table, who can blame Lucasfilm, or any studio, for making changes – even at a late stage – to ensure directors and actors are delivering the product they’ve been hired to create? And yes, movies are products. They are artistic endeavors, and in this case it is commercialized art with a business empire attached to it.
With perhaps the exception of A New Hope, Star Wars movies are not indies, and making new installments isn’t kids' play, even if they can speak to the kid in all of us.
While this sounds cynical, I actually think it can be a cause for having faith in the Han Solo movie, because Kennedy & Co. “get” the characters they're dealing with. In fact, reportedly one of the complaints Lucasfilm had with Lord and Miller was that “Han Solo is not a comedic personality” as they were portraying him, but “sarcastic and selfish.”
Plus, those dismissing this movie in advance for being lame, too family-friendly, bland or unworthy of the character’s legacy should do a couple things:
1) Re-watch the not-so-kid-friendly third act of Rogue One.
2) Revisit some of the better Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, or just check out Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Shepherded by Kevin Feige, the MCU (also owned by Disney, aside from the Sony sitch with Spidey) has had its greatest successes by playing the long game of honoring the spirit of their characters – and doing their damnedest not to waste them in subpar fare that wears out, and disappoints, audiences. Yes, there are exceptions, but the so-called Marvel Formula has more hits than misses, and even Warner Bros. and its DCEU is finally catching on with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.
And I refuse to believe Feige and Kennedy haven’t found themselves in a room together at some point, and ended up comparing notes about how to keep making a bajillion dollars while keeping these characters recognizable to the loyal stable of fans.
With that said, I certainly hope Kennedy and Lucasfilm find merit in taking some bold risks and going in directions fans don’t expect. It would be pretty neat to see a Han Solo comedy – maybe in LEGO form, and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
But as for the state of the space union in Star Wars, and the Han Solo standalone production, let’s all just be cool as carbonite for the moment, and see what Kennedy and Howard deliver before letting loose an overdramatic “NOOOOO!”
In conclusion, we're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?