Late last night Lucasfilm did something that shocked millions of Star Wars fans across the globe, pulling a move so jarring it pointed many of our heads towards uncertainty. Han Solo spin-off directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who Lucasfilm called "talented filmmakers," were fired off their own film. However, if it was really their film in the first place, they wouldn't have been fired.
Lucasfilm has been facing a problem with its #StarWars anthology films that it really shouldn't. It's a problem many directors in Hollywood have been facing the past few years due to studio agendas and future installments. These films' problems have only gotten worse and worse over time, but it is also these problems that will destroy potential creatives and the film industry going forward.
Let's Talk About Indie Filmmakers
Hollywood has a fascination as of late: hiring small-time independent filmmakers for large-scale blockbuster tentpoles. On paper these sound like blessings, and for the most part they have worked out well. These filmmakers, fueled with passion for the franchises they have tackled, give it their all to create something they have dreamed of.
Coming off the solid indie Safety Not Guaranteed, Colin Trevorrow (director of Episode IX) rocketed to the spotlight with Jurassic World, a perfectly fine summer blockbuster. After (500) Days of Summer, indie darling Marc Webb crafted an the average though undeniably mediocre Amazing Spider-Man. Other directors like Gavin Hood, Peyton Reed, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg went on to direct X-Men: Origins, Ant-Man and the new Pirates film.
Say what you will about these creators and their films, but all of these directors had only worked with budgets well below $30 million before being picked up by major studios. Not only has this practice become more common, it has become more obvious too. Visuals in films like Kong: Skull Island, Jurassic World, and Ant-Man have become surprisingly bland considering the fact that all these films reside in unique landscapes.
According to Variety, TMNT: Out of the Shadows director Dave Green was tapped to helm the film because of his unwavering passion for the characters he grew up with. When he arrived on set, Michael Bay and his colleagues had all creative control, while he himself was used only to get performances out of his actors. When it came to action, Bay never expected him to do much work at all.
It is more clear than ever that the over reliance on up-and-coming artists rather than experienced directors shows what studios desire these days: filmmakers that they can use as puppets.
Making Disney's Star Wars Stories
The Star Wars universe is the most rich, expansive and creative world in film history. It is one filled with wonders, unique settings and endless possibilities. When Lucasfilm was bought by Disney — with Kathleen Kennedy as the head — pioneer George Lucas was looking forward to creating a new trilogy for the saga and developing countless other stories with Kenenedy. However, since then his role has become awfully quiet; his story treatments thrown away and replaced with what fans have been craving. Though The Force Awakens was loved by many, Lucas' statements on it ring true for all of those who felt like they had to play ball with the company:
"They wanted to do a retro movie. I don't like that. Every movie, I worked very hard to make them different."
So did Gareth Edwards, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
The first time trouble erupted for a Star Wars anthology film was Josh Trank's involvement in the rumored Boba Fett spin-off. Due to his erratic behavior on the Fantastic Four set, it was understandable that Disney pulled the plug on the director. But what was worse was that the film seemed to have collapsed altogether following his departure. The future of the film still remains uncertain.
Kennedy is very traditional in her production style. She is very strict and relied a lot on collaboration. During the shooting of Rogue One, Edwards opted for a more intense, realistic, gritty war feel, something that was a major departure from previous Star Wars films. He often shot in the middle of the action, putting himself in the center of his set pieces as they progressed to give them more authenticity. Due to the reshoots (done by Tony Gilroy), and unclear creative control, much of this work didn't see the light of day. The film suffered through extensive additional photography and rewrites, and Edwards was replaced for the majority of it. But unlike Lord and Miller, Edwards followed the orders of Kennedy and Lucasfilm rather than sticking to his guns.
Here's what Lord said about working on the film and the character of Han Solo:
"I sort of relate to him. He doesn’t want to do anything that he’s told. When told not to do something, it makes him want to do it more."
Lord and Miller did something extremely brave by practically standing up to their superiors. Consider the fact that the Han Solo film was a bad idea in the first place. It needed creative synergy to get fans even remotely excited. This team has built their careers on bad ideas turned great. In days like these, '80s television show reboots and 100-minute toy commercials are dead on arrival. Lord and Miller made these horrible platforms into critical darlings. These two stayed true to themselves throughout production, using an improvisational style to get the best possible dialogue out of each scene. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and Kennedy did not like their directorial style, with the former accusing them of treating the character wrong. Kasdan, who was one of the deciding factors in hiring the team, was also a major factor in their firing. Aren't the people who grew up with Han Solo as giant fans of Star Wars the ones most qualified to get that right?
The Biggest Problem
What is wrong with studios today is that they play it safe. Yes, the quality of blockbusters may be becoming better overall because of it, but it also detracts from the voice of would-be prominent directors. There are not many directors working today who have a distinct creative voice. Among them, Christopher Nolan and Lord and Miller are unique because of that. Lucasfilm was very fortunate to have them on its side for the longest time.
No longer are creators making blockbusters with their own voices, and for once it seemed like Lucasfilm was about to move towards something entirely new and different for the Star Wars universe, but the studio opted to reshoot both Han Solo and Rogue One instead. In this landscape, audiences are begging for originality, and though original films are not getting that attention, they need it in their blockbusters.
The way that Lucasfilm has been approaching its movies is the same as Marvel. Though they are all ultimately good movies, they all play it safe (since Guardians of the Galaxy they've increasingly improved). Now that Lucasfilm is not in the saga sandbox, the studio has the opportunity to become extremely creative and inspire filmmakers everywhere to do the same. If all movies play it safe, the future of film will only become more stale.
Producers have become so trustworthy that they have been reliable in making their own films. Simon Kinberg, a longtime X-Men and Star Wars producer was welcomed with open arms when it came to the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Alex Kurtzman, producer of the Star Trek, Transformers and Amazing Spider-Man films had enough experience as a producer that he went on to make The Mummy, only to be taken over by producer Tom Cruise.
Anthology films are where Lucasfilm can get crazy with its universe and characters. Fans don't need a saga-lite film every year to quench their thirsts for more Star Wars. At this point we need something unique and different to revitalize our interest. Producer Kathleen Kennedy's firing of Lord and Miller and opting for a more generic traditionalist like Ron Howard and Joe Johnston is another big mistake on the studio's part. Even if the team did fail, they would've failed with ambition, and that is something worth respecting.
George Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola entered the film industry when it was begging for new voices in a field lacking originality. It would be natural for Lucasfilm to follow his lead.
Does the firing of Lord and Miller change your anticipation for the film?