Phil Lord and Chris Miller in happier times, at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 in London.
One week after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were unceremoniously fired as directors of Lucasfilm’s still-untitled Han Solo film, the public perception of what went wrong behind the scenes is going from bad to worse for the duo. And that’s partly because we’re getting one side of this story.
With Ron Howard heading to London to take over a shoot that was set to wrap in July — but now looks likely to continue into September — a slew of new accounts from insiders are making the latest Lord-Miller production look like amateur hour.
The pair were changing Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan’s script on the fly when they’d already had input and signed off on it, says a damning Monday report from THR. They began filming surprisingly late in the day. They refused to give any ground to Kasdan, even when he flew to London for a crisis meeting. They’d been asked for 12-15 camera angles in a given scene; they provided three.
And after seeing scenes Lord and Miller shot with the movie’s star, Alden Ehrenreich, Lucasfilm took the unusual step of hiring an on-set acting coach for its young Han Solo.
In other words, the shoot resembled a real-life Hail, Caesar! — the Coen brothers flick in which Ehrenreich’s confused cowboy actor character needs to be talked through his dialogue and motivation before repeated takes.
Lord and Miller, the merry pranksters behind The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, entered the Star Wars family bearing buckets full of goodwill.
So it’s not surprising that some fans initially assumed Lucasfilm president Kathy Kennedy, and/or her boss at Disney Alan Horn, were to blame for the "creative differences" the directors mentioned in their exit statement.
After all, hadn’t these non-episodic Star Wars movies specifically been set up to showcase fresh takes on the galaxy far, far away? Hadn’t Kasdan himself insisted on hiring the pair a few years back? (Indeed he had.) Surely this was a case of corporate types paying lip service to great art but being skittish about any approach that didn’t match their tired old blockbuster formula. Here we have proof that Hollywood isn’t a safe space for true auteurs, some writers mused.
You want the Lord and Miller? You can’t handle the Lord and Miller!
But as word trickled out from the crew at Pinewood Studios — which reportedly applauded when it was announced Ron Howard was taking over — it seemed the directors had decided to make the movie a wacky freestyle comedy, much like all their other wacky freestyle comedies, and wouldn’t listen to reason.
An insider in one extensive report likened the assembled footage to a Star Wars version of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective; the report also claimed it was Ehrenreich himself who had sounded the alarm to one of the producers about the Jim Carrey-style comedy performance being dragged out of him. Said producer then alerted Kennedy.
Meanwhile, fans dug up this unusually cryptic message from Phil Lord last month, standing out in the middle of a sea of fun tweets. This would have been written right in the middle of negotiations with Kennedy and Kasdan:
Far from being misunderstood auteurs, Lord and Miller were now cast as entitled dudebros. Kasdan had gone to bat for them. Now they were disrespecting his script in favor of their own interpretation of an iconic character — one that ultimately didn’t belong to them.
Mockery of iconic characters (including, briefly, Han Solo) is something Lord and Miller were able to do many times over in The Lego Movie. They were able to do this because of the Lego licenses of said characters, and this may have given them a skewed impression of how easy it is to mess around in someone else’s sandbox.
The lesson of that film may also have given the pair a reason to fight an unreasonable battle for creative freedom.
Part of me wonders if Lord & Miller saw Lucasfilm as President Business — the no-fun dad who insists the toys must be glued the right way
— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) June 23, 2017
To be fair, even post-firing, Lord and Miller are likely governed by a non-disclosure agreement — the NDAs at Lucasfilm are particularly, infamously terrifying — that prevents them from giving their side of the story. If Lucasfilm wanted to conduct a whispering campaign against the directors to ensure fans were on the company’s side in this conflict, it would have much more of a free hand to do so.
On the other hand, you couldn’t imagine a pair of directors on the planet more primed to make Han Solo funny at all costs. And while that’s fine when he’s a Lego figurine, it may not apply to a movie that is designed to delve into the background of a character who is almost as mysterious as Yoda.
Where did Han come from? Why did he become a smuggler? What happened to his family? How did he get that name (Disney CEO Bob Iger has suggested that Han Solo was not the name he was born with — see what we mean about mysterious?) How did he hook up with Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian? What the heck is a Kessel Run?
To Star Wars fans, these are serious questions deserving of serious answers. Many of them have already been answered in the non-canon world of novels. If the on-screen version of those answers be buried under self-mocking Jim Carrey-style humor, the target audience would not be laughing.
When all is said and done, young Han Solo may just have dodged a blaster bolt.