Two years after first coming on board the film, the pair have unexpectedly departed the project, leaving the fate of the still-filming feature up in the air, even as Lucasfilm vows to charge forward with a new director in order to meet a planned 2018 release date. But the film that Lord and Miller were in the midst of making is now, at least in part, long gone.
With weeks left on the original shoot and an already-scheduled series of reshoots planned for later this summer, whichever director steps in will be able to lens plenty in his or her own vision (or, perhaps more appropriately, in Lucasfilm’s vision), to say nothing of the possibility that still more material will be shot and an editing process that could drastically change whatever it is that Lord and Miller were planning. Now there’s an entire “Star Wars” film we’ll never get to see.
When Lord and Miller were first announced for the project in July of 2015 (shared first, as these things so often are, on the official Star Wars website), the statement pointed directly to “their unique creative chemistry.” But their exclusive association with comedies went unacknowledged; their previous efforts were referenced by the studio as “critically acclaimed” films. Perhaps the disconnect started there, with Lucasfilm leaning more on accolades than style when showing off its new directors.
To be fair, while Lord and Miller traffic firmly in comedies, from “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” to “21 Jump Street,” their films are well-liked by both audiences and critics. That’s not often the case with broad comedies and says a lot about their unique appeal. Lord and Miller don’t have indie roots the way some filmmakers do, but they maintain an aura of independence associated with the quality of their work. Each of their four directorial outings are “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with high enough critical ratings to put them in the top tier of released films. They’ve made money, too, over $700 million, and each of those four features opened in the top spot on their designated weekend.
When they started working on the Han Solo film, Lord and Miller struck a tone consistent with expectations from these distinctive storytellers. “We promise to take risks, to give the audience a fresh experience, and we pledge ourselves to be faithful stewards of these characters who mean so much to us,” they said in a statement at the time. “This is a dream come true for us. And not the kind of dream where you’re late for work and all your clothes are made of pudding, but the kind of dream where you get to make a film with some of the greatest characters ever, in a film franchise you’ve loved since before you can remember having dreams at all.”
Back then, both Lucasfilm head and producer Kathleen Kennedy and producer and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan — who would later reportedly “clash” with the filmmakers, until they were fired — seemed to embrace that. In his own statement, Kasdan called the duo “two of the smartest, funniest and most original filmmakers around, and the ideal choice to tell the story of Han Solo, one of the coolest characters in the galaxy.”
Kennedy played up their wit. “It’s not just any filmmaker who can tell the story of such a beloved icon like Han Solo, and I’m excited to say we’ve found the perfect team to handle the task,” she said. “Larry and Jon [Kasdan, co-screenwriter] know all there is to know about the character, and Chris and Phil will bring their wit, style, energy and heart to tell Han’s story.”
If you want sharply-crafted humor in your film, you hire Lord and Miller. That’s what they will give you. Their sweet spot is blending the silly with the smart, and going for low-hanging fruit with gusto and style (their already-iconic “Channing Tatum takes way too many drugs” scene in “21 Jump Street” is hilarious and weird and fun, easy material elevated by their intelligence). They delight in twisting genres into new shapes, taking something that sounds tired (like a “Jump Street” movie revival or an adult-leaning adaptation of a classic kids book) and making something original and fun out of it.
In retrospect, those attributes were never going to fly in the “Star Wars” environment, one beholden to fitting even so-called standalone stories into a larger framework.