Anghus Houvouras on the Han Solo director situation and a fight for the future of franchise films…
I’m still in a state of utter disbelief over the disintegration that has happened between directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord and the creative conglomerate that handles the cinematic Star Wars universe. It’s an absolute gobstopper of a conversation starter with endless potential for columnists to get comfortable in their armchairs as they postulate about the rift on every single level, from studio head on down the ladder.
To me, the actual drama is less interesting than the overreaching theme of this spat. Lord and Miller represent the future of franchise filmmaking. Young, extremely talented individuals who are capable of telling great stories. Lucasfilm, most notably Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan, represent the old guard. Experienced minds who understand both the creative and business side of the film industry.
We’ve watched for years as studios have gobbled up young, emerging talent and slapped them onto franchise films. The trend isn’t exactly new. Warner Bros. grabbed a young Tim Burton to helm 1989’s Batman. It worked out great until Warner Bros. decided Burton’s dark and quirky visions didn’t sell enough toys and they parted ways over creative differences.
What Lord and Miller have experienced isn’t exactly new either. ‘Creative differences’ is something that happens all the time. Directors are attached and jettisoned from feature film projects with the frequency of rest stop hand jobs. The average blockbuster goes through dozens of writers and directors before settling on a creative team to take the project into production.
It’s less common to see a director leave the project in the middle of production, but there is historical precedent. Superman II, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Exorcist: The Beginning and even classics like Gone With the Wind. Movies that famously cited irreconcilable differences between director and production and had to bring in someone else to try to stick the landing.
The less common part is seeing a creative team exit a project in the modern age of franchise friendly talent. Walking away from Star Wars is a bold move. One that I am in awe of. I have sat here slack-jawed for nearly 15 hours after hearing the news. There are so many interesting facets to this story, but for me it ultimately boils down to this:
We’re looking at a battle for the future of franchise filmmaking.
Lord & Miller vs. Kennedy & Kasdan.
To be fair there really isn’t a side that needs taking. This isn’t a knock-down, drag-out fight but a salient example of the current state of franchise filmmaking. Are you interested in a newer creative vision for your favorite franchise or do you want more of the same? This is exactly what this story represents.
Kennedy, Kasdan and company are protecting a brand. Working to ensure that the elements that made the franchise successful are rigidly adhered to. However they’ve created something of a hostile workplace. Hostile is the wrong word. ‘Less than hospitable’ seems more apt. J.J. Abrams famously turned down The Force Awakens only to eventually take on the role when it seemed no one else would. Rian Johnson came on for one film. Josh Trank was fired. Gareth Edwards was basically replaced and left out of all the final decisions on Rogue One. Now Lord & Miller have been fired. I wouldn’t exactly call that a sterling employment record. If I was Colin Trevorrow, I’d be more than a little bit nervous.
Why aren’t talented young filmmakers sticking around? Why does Disney bother bringing in singular voices if they have no interest in their vision? Are they clutching their franchise so tightly that they’re choking it to death? It would be nice if Disney could loosen their grip. Bring in unique filmmakers and let them create something that stays true to the Star Wars universe but allows a Galaxy Far, Far Away to broaden and become creatively diverse.
Right now Disney has become the evil Empire desperately trying to control their franchise universe. Lord and Miller may very well become the face of the resistance.