Last night, there was a disturbance in the Force: It was revealed directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have left the Han Solo spinoff movie. It wasn’t any ordinary departure: The directors were four months into shooting. In a statement, the pair used the old “creative differences” line, though they insisted in this case the cliche was true. “Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project,” the two said in their statement. Producer Katherine Kennedy said much the same thing. The production, which has been shooting in London since February, will now be halted while they scramble for another director.
While we don’t know specific details about what went down, the whole affair is disturbing for reasons beyond being a stalled production of a “Star Wars” movie. This is the second film in the newly relaunched franchise where “creative differences” have led to the director being driven, in one way or another, from the finished product. And it suggests that the “Star Wars” overlords have turned into over-protective parents, if not tyrants, roping in incredibly, eccentrically talented filmmakers then changing their minds and going into hyperdrive to save their precious brand from original voices. Right now, George Lucas, who is not involved in any of this, must be chuckling over at Skywalker Ranch.
Last year, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was extensively re-shot after director Gareth Edwards (of 2014’s gorgeous, disarmingly elegant “Godzilla”) turned in a cut that was closer to a war movie. Tony Gilroy, the original architect of the “Bourne” movies, came in and dramatically reworked it. That cool bit where Darth Vader killed a bunch of rebels? A near-last minute addition.
Thing is, it felt like an 11th hour addition. It felt like naked fan-service. We giggled like anyone else, then felt a little dead inside, because we’d been played. “Rogue One” was a success, which is to say it made a ton of money. To our eyes, though — and this is a minority opinion — it was a shambles. It was far too clogged with references and Easter Eggs; it was clumsily plotted and boasted sketchily-drawn characters (played, we should mention, by terrific, game actors). For all the talk of it being a grim, downer “Star Wars,” it mostly played it safe.
We’re going to guess the film currently known as “Untitled Han Solo film” will feel the same way. After “Rogue One,” it’s hard for us not to side with Lord and Miller on this one over the producers and over screenwriters Lawrence and Jon Kasdan, the former who's been with the series since "The Empire Strikes Back." It's not just because we like Lord and Miller's work. It’s that, too: They made both “21 Jump Street”s as well as “The Lego Movie” — three films that took brands (an old TV show, a line of toy blocks) no one expected anything from and heroically spun them into gold. Imagine what they’d do with a brand that’s good — that’s about young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), the character who seemed like he had funnest life before he joined up with Luke and company.
But the other reason this is disturbing is this: It means directors will have even less say than they did before. What that means to you, the casual ticket buyer, is the blockbusters you see will have less flavor. They’ll be more corporate, made by too many cooks. They’ll feel like the Marvel films; when was the last time one of those didn’t just give you what you want but what you didn’t know you wanted? They’ll feel like Frankenstein monsters, as “Rogue One” did.
And as “Ant-Man” did. Before Gareth Edwards was forced away from post on “Rogue One,” Edgar Wright bounced from the 2015 Marvel solo movie only a week before shooting began. He also cited creative differences. He had a unique vision — he’d been working on “Ant-Man” for years — only to realize he had to answer to too many company men. Wright would rather make personal projects, like the delightful “Baby Driver,” which hits theaters next week. As a result, we got an “Ant-Man” that was fitfully inspired but also hampered by too many requirements to fit the Marvel mold. And that’s the kind of “Untitled Han Solo film” you’ll probably be getting next December.
Still, let’s not completely despair. Our hopes remain high for a “Star Wars” movie that hasn’t (yet!) devoured its talented filmmaker. That’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi,” made by the terrific, also eccentric Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “Looper”). No less than Lawrence Kasdan praised Johnson’s script, praising it as "some weird thing." We have no idea what drove Kasdan to clash with Lord and Miller, so maybe this kerfuffle is more complicated than a case of a corporate overlord crushing talented artists. Still, no matter what we learn later, look on the bright side: Whatever weirdo film Lord and Miller rebound with next will probably be delightful, and maybe even a little scathing. Then again, two great filmmakers just wasted at least a year toiling on a movie they'll never finish.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge