Anghus Houvouras on the fallout of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s exit from the galaxy far, far away…
Like most of you, I was relatively surprised by the news that directors Lord and Miller ended up parting ways with Disney/Lucasfilm on the Han Solo Star Wars movie. It’s still very early in the news cycle. I’ve seen stories reporting they simply left the project. Others indicate that ‘creative differences’ with Kathleen Kennedy led to the split. Either way it’s RIDICULOUSLY INTERESTING for several reasons.
Mostly because it’s rare to see any Director bail on a major studio project while in the middle of filming. Disney has been herding young creative talent for the last five years and putting them on movies like Rogue One, The Last Jedi, Whatever the hell Episode IX ends up being called, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. It’s always interesting when you hear these distinct voices are transitioning into the extremely formulaic and controlled worlds of major franchises like Marvel and Star Wars. The film fan inside is excited by the prospect of seeing your favorite characters through the lens of energetic and unique talents. The pragmatic realist immediately wonders why such talented visionaries would want to work in the cloistered, suffocating world of major studio blockbuster filmmaking.
Hearing that Lord and Miller hit the eject button from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon is fascinating. I’m 100% certain there have been metric tons of creative confrontations between filmmakers and the studios carefully managing these franchises. Last year’s Rogue One is a perfect example. A film that Gareth Edwards set out to make his own way, only to see the life choked from the final project as massive reshoots and story restructuring led to a limp, lifeless installment of chuffa filled nonsense.
Lord and Miller have made an interesting play, because now there’s an alternate option. It’s an interesting hypothetical to pose to any future filmmakers who end up eager to play in Disney’s toybox: Do you fight for your vision like Lord and Miller even if it means being removed from the project? Or do you sit back and watch as your vision is molested by the studio with a smile on your face making sure not to rock the boat and end up in career limbo faster than you can say ‘Josh Trank’?
So much of the film business is steeped in chaos hidden behind smiling cast members and executives who brush off controversy as ‘part of the process’. This, however, feels like something else entirely. Two young and talented creators have walked off (or been ejected from) the most successful franchise in the galaxy. Whether of their own volition or due to a commitment to the story they set out to tell, Lord & Miller have been crucified by the House of the Mouse.
I would imagine a fraction of the blame has to fall on Lord and Miller. This is Star Wars. Disney is interested in your unique vision so long as it conforms to their carefully guarded franchise formula. You don’t walk into KFC headquarters and tell everyone the Colonel’s secret recipe is warm garbage and 11 Herbs & Spices can go to hell. At the end of the day the company and the customers are expecting a plate of fried chicken.
At the same time, I can’t fault them for fighting for what they believe in. How many blockbusters have we seen turn into boring, flavorless garbage because the creators weren’t allowed to make the movie they wanted to make. Franchise filmmaking is a collaborative process, which is why it’s so weird to see so much young talent wasted on these by-the-numbers blockbusters.
There’s nothing wrong with compromise, nor is there anything wrong with standing up for your vision. However, you don’t take on a Star Wars/Disney film unless you understand that you are a shepherd but the landlord owns the flock.
Interesting to see how this story ends up spinning.