“Star Wars”: I find your lack of funny disturbing.
The space saga has always been infused with a healthy dose of humor – C-3PO and R2D2, after all, are essentially a droid vaudeville team. And it’s Han Solo who has always brought the most levity to the film series with his dry, caustic wit.
But the exit this week of Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the “Han Solo” movie is a reminder that the entire “Star Wars” franchise has been moving toward a much more dramatic realm for some time – taking itself a bit too seriously, and losing some of the mirth and joy that came from being a fan.
There’s plenty that Lucasfilm has done right since Disney acquired the company and Kathleen Kennedy took over as president in 2012. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ultimately pulled in $937 million at the box office, while “Rogue One” raked in $532 million — so it’s hard to second guess that kind of success.
But in the transition, “Star Wars” lost some of its willingness to poke fun at itself. Pre-Kennedy, Lucasfilm executives were game to participate in parodies – giving their blessings to satiric takes by both “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken.”
The “Family Guy” episodes – “Blue Harvest,” “Something, Something, Something, Dark Side” and “It’s A Trap!” – were all retellings of the original “Star Wars” triliogy, but with the show’s characters (Stewie was Darth Vader, naturally). “Robot Chicken” produced three specials that included quick sketches taking on all sorts of characters, and even George Lucas.
Both shows premiered these episodes between 2007 and 2010 – but there haven’t been any since then, even after the film franchise returned with “The Force Awakens.” (One source said “Family Guy” hasn’t asked since then, after George Lucas retired and the original films moved from 20th Century Fox to Disney when Lucasfilm was sold.)
Also put on hold: “Star Wars Detours,” which was produced by Stoopid Monkey – the team behind “Robot Chicken” (Seth Green and Matthew Senreich), with George Lucas’ blessing. Around two seasons were produced around the time Lucas sold the company – and now it’s still sitting in a vault somewhere, five years later. Here’s the trailer:
And then there’s the fate of a previously announced parody Darth Vader talk show produced by Disney-owned Maker Studios, “After Darth.” The irreverent digital shorts series was completely shot in 2015, but then shelved after Kennedy put down her foot.
“[She] heard Disney was making a comedy show and flipped out,” said one insider. “She said ‘Star Wars’ and comedy do not co-exist — it’s a drama. She shut down that show, and the ‘Robot Chicken’ [and ‘Family Guy’] stuff is now on moratorium. No more ‘Star Wars’ comedy.”
That insider said Kennedy also put a halt to “Star Wars” characters dancing at Disney theme parks: “Apparently they banned Darth Maul and Darth Vader from doing a breakdance battle in the Disney Parks,” said someone familiar with a meeting Lucasfilm execs had with Disney over proper use of the franchise.
But there does seem to be a bit of an exception to the humor rule in the children’s space, as the “Lego Star Wars” shows frequently contain humor, as do the mini books “Darth Vader and Son” and its spinoffs. (Lucasfilm has not responded to a request for comment.)
That’s not to say Lord and Miller were making “Han Solo” as a comedy. But as a source told Variety, Kennedy apparently wasn’t a fan of their shooting style – which, as IndieWire has noted, “tends to be freewheeling, collaborative, and open to improvisation.”
“Creative differences” have been cited for the firing – but it’s clear that there’s no place any more for irreverence in the “Star Wars” world, and that’s Lord and Miller’s bread and butter.
The duo have become experts at mixing a bit of absurdist, sometimes dark humor with true dramatic moments, in both their TV and film projects. That includes “The Lego Movie,” which was ultimately about a ragtag group of misfits who are destined, via prophecy, to forge a bond and fight evil – while also telling a story of an estranged father and son. (Wait, it sounds like they already did a “Star Wars” movie!)
Lord and Miller also deftly pulled off tragedy, pathos, drama, and humor with the pilot to Will Forte’s “The Last Man on Earth.” That DNA continued with last season’s “Son of Zorn” and “Making History,” two shows that they executive produced (but didn’t direct or write).
Like many of those characters, a young Han would presumably be even more cocky and self-assured – which is why Lord and Miller made plenty of sense to helm Lucasfilm’s “Han Solo” prequel. Ron Howard is a fine choice to replace the duo, but definitely leans toward the more dramatic, and earnest, side of things.
Take the lightheartedness out of “Star Wars,” and as a wise, old green Jedi Master once said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”