With the news that Ron Howard is taking over the production of Lucasfilm’s young Han Solo movie, the IndieWire team traded emails about the shift.
ANNE THOMPSON: Lucasfilm czar Kathleen Kennedy is siding with the writer — long-time “Star Wars” consigliere Lawrence Kasdan —over a carefully-selected director team with a strong voice. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, if you think about it, have become accustomed to running their own show. They have a little production studio humming along at Bricksburg in Hollywood, born from the blockbuster “The Lego Movie,” and they’re used to being in charge. They are stars. And they know it.
Whatever went wrong here, it’s clear who Lord and Miller are, what they can do. For one thing they are comedy directors — “21 Jump Street,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “The Lego Movie” — not to mention the upcoming “Lego Ninjago Movie,” “America: The Motion Picture,” “MIB 23,” the Untitled Spider-Man Project, and a gaggle of TV series. They’re running their own factory parallel to the Lucasfilm universe and ran headlong into the juggernaut that is “Star Wars.” Kennedy’s purpose is to stay on course — as Kevin Feige does with Marvel — and keep the “Star Wars” universe humming and intact as it spins into many orbits. She can take responsibility for miscasting in this case, because Lord and Miller are who they are and, once hired, should be able to do what they do.
When less established indie hire Gareth Edwards went off track on “Rogue One,” he had to step aside as “Bourne” franchise writer-director Tony Gilroy helped to reshoot and reorganize the final product. The trick with JJ Abrams or Rian Johnson or Colin Trevorrow is selecting directors who are team players capable of keeping the larger goals in mind, and not drawing outside the lines. That, apparently, Lord and Miller did not do—running with a different interpretation of Han Solo than Kasdan. In this case, a reinvention of the Han Solo character for a new generation was not in the cards. Of course Ron Howard is a superb competent director (“Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Rush”) who can execute with the best of them. He knows what to do and will do it well. But like Edgar Wright’s “Ant Man,” I suspect the movie we will never see was more exciting and unexpected than the one that will hit global screens in 2018.
KATE ERBLAND: There’s no question that after the massive upheaval of Lord and Miller leaving the project with just a few weeks left to go in principal photography, Lucasfilm is desperate for anything resembling stability. Howard is a good guy for that, a seasoned professional with plenty of blockbuster experience and two Oscars to boot, and he’ll likely be able to soothe frazzled nerves and get the mechanics of the filmmaking process running smoothly in no time. That’s the draw here: He’s a safe choice, and what was so exciting about the initial hiring of Lord and Miller was that they weren’t.
Howard will surely make a perfectly serviceable feature, delivered on time and with a minimum of drama, but the fallout from this will always eclipse that final product. Not just in terms of the Han Solo movie we’ll never see — though that stings, too — but because it shows that Lucasfilm and “Star Wars” aren’t ready to take a real gamble on unique talents just yet, even when they seem so happy to keep telling us that they are.
ZACK SHARF: It’s also worth pointing out that Howard’s a Hollywood veteran, so fans should rest assured this will remain a polished, maybe even elegant production. But he’s also an old-fashioned, traditional storyteller, which means anyone hoping for some narrative edge to this spinoff will most likely wind up disappointed.
But given all the news that has broken since Lord and Miller’s firing earlier this week, the real question isn’t whether or not Ron Howard is a good replacement, it’s whether or not his hiring even matters. It’s become apparent that Kennedy and Kasdan are the real directors at play here, even though their titles may not official indicate such a job. It’s why Lord and Miller were fired. It’s why Tony Gilroy was brought on to oversee Gareth Edwards’ massive “Star Wars: Rogue One” reshoots. The latter was no fluke, and the former is an alarming new wake up call to the real people calling the shots on these movies.
Directors often come and go from projects — just look what’s happening with “The Flash” over at Warner Bros. — but very rarely are they fired months into production. It makes you wonder how much these movies can have any real directorial signature. Whether it was Ron Howard or Guillermo del Toro, for instance, we might wind up with the same end product. Kennedy and Kasdan may have the perfect template for this movie, but that doesn’t mean it requires a talented filmmaker.
CHRIS O’FALT: I think the big thing with Howard is he can have a light touch when necessary. He’s the rare studio director who can do intense drama, action, but is more than capable of doing comedy or building in comedic elements. He’s the best choice for preserving — and salvaging — some element of Lord and Miller’s comedic elements and while delivering a component action-adventure film. Howard is congenial and beloved, in addition to being a component producer and respected presence on set.
As Kate said, when this movie comes out, Lord and Miller will be part of the story. Who would you rather have out front with your “it all worked out” version of things? Who do you want sitting with Colbert or on the Today Show rehashing this awkward situation? Howard knows how to diffuse a bomb.
ERIC KOHN: There’s a bigger question behind all this: What do we want from our “Star Wars” movies? Personally, I was satiated a long time ago (in a movie theater far, far away, on the other side of the country, watching the original trilogy in its late-nineties rerelease). This franchise has been with us for so long that we take its existence for granted. Say what you want about George Lucas’ prequels, but this former aspiring experimental filmmaker was constantly thinking outside the box. The latest “Star Wars” movies, while proficient as entertainment, have also shown a kind of conservatism with respect to mainstream entertainment. Give the audience what they want — a big, slick space opera that’s easy to consume and loaded with relatable characters. The only thing truly daring about “Rogue One” was its grim finale – and I bet the Lucasfilm execs won’t let the franchise go that direction ever again.
I love the idea of hiring visionary filmmakers to play around with studio dollars, but frankly am more intrigued by the wacky possibilities of Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” than Han Solo’s backstory. (For what it’s worth: The “Star Wars” comics, which are canon, already do a fine job of filling in some of those details.) The more I consider the possibilities of a Han Solo prequel, the less exciting they become; this character has become such a fully-formed pop culture icon that the very idea of more cinematic adventures strikes me as redundant.
Here’s an idea: Take Han Solo’s name out of the script and let Ron Howard make a fast, fun space western about characters who have barely received much attention in the past. Why not give Lando Calrissian top billing? Donald Glover’s overdue for action stardom. Or, for that matter, maybe Howard could channel his penchant for music films into a concert film about Mos Eisely cantina fixtures Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes. I’d be first in line.
Wishful thinking, I know. We’re getting a Ron Howard movie about young Han Solo. As others have said, it’s a safer bet, and not the least bit surprising. Maybe it’ll be fine. But I have a strong feeling that will also be familiar.