Does ‘Star Wars’ Need to Be Saved from Lucasfilm? (Commentary)

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller exiting the Han Solo movie is yet another story of behind-the-scenes troubles in the Disney era of “Star Wars”

What in the world is going on at Disney’s LucasFilm?

By now you’ve heard about the drama on the studio’s “Han Solo” stand-alone film. On Tuesday, Lucasfilm announced the film’s two directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were off the project, and reports since then have made it clear they were fired. Directors get fired sometimes, but these circumstances are unusual to put it mildly. There are still three weeks still left in principle shooting, but the film’s been in production since January and those three weeks are thanks to a lengthy filming hiatus that reportedly began as long ago as early May.

Lucasfilm has fired directors from an almost-finished movie, with unforeseen or at least unknown consequences, like how to handle the dicey issue of directing credit, and how extensive any “additional” shooting becomes thanks to having a new person behind the camera. And that’s not even getting into the issue of release date: Lucasfilm hasn’t found a replacement director or directors, but the film is still slated to come out in May, 2018. Meeting that deadline is going to take a lot of fast work, which, let’s be real, can easily come at the expense of the film itself.

We’re two movies deep in the new era of “Star Wars,” and it seems to have been a rocky path the whole way through. “The Force Awakens” clearly ended up being a very different movie from what was advertised when the first couple of teaser trailers were released — notably, a lot of seemingly significant lines that were presented as voice-over in the trailers weren’t in the finished product, including the one by Supreme Leader Snoke that mentioned whatever the title of the movie was referencing (“there has been an awakening”). As such, the title doesn’t make any sense.

And stories about a troubled production were rampant with “Rogue One.” Word was they reshot huge chunks — as much as half of that movie, by some reports — under the purview of Tony Gilroy, in order to hammer it into what they felt was a better fit into the mass appeal “Star Wars” mold. It was obvious to any casual observer that they did somethingentire “money shot” action sequences that were being teased in ads up to the day that “Rogue One” launched were missing from the finished movie.

And let’s not forget that time Josh Trank was supposed to direct one of these standalone movies but he “quit” before it got underway. And the guy slated to direct “Episode IX,” Colin Trevorrow, just put out a movie (“The Book of Henry”) that currently sports a 24 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Somehow, we haven’t heard about any drama going on with the Rian Johnson-led “The Last Jedi.” Maybe that’s a good sign, but it’s hard to have much confidence when the new LucasFilm has yet to demonstrate it’s capable of delivering a movie in a normal way. What the studio has demonstrated instead is that it’s good at pushing out hollow, tested-to-death imitations of whatever concept Kathleen Kennedy and whoever else is overseeing the “Star Wars” ship of state has of what a “Star Wars” movie is supposed to look like.

[powergridprofile powerrank=”10″ node=”244475″ type=”person” path=”” title=”Kathleen Kennedy” image=”kathleen_kennedy”]

So far it’s all working out on the business side, at least, but really the best business decision that Disney’s LucasFilm has made so far was to push “The Force Awakens” from May 2015 to December 2015 — a decision the company only made because it would have been impossible to deliver the movie by May, but it had a mandate to put it out that year. The Christmas season launch worked so well Lucasfilm set the same release window for “Rogue One” and “The Last Jedi” — though it had also initially set a May release for the latter.

That “The Force Awakens” made $2 billion isn’t really a credit to the movie itself — anything Lucasfilm put out to kick off the new era that is even basically competently shot and vaguely looks kinda like an old “Star Wars” thing would have been a phenomenon. And the December launch blew it all out of proportion.

“The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” absolutely made more money in the otherwise blockbuster-free month of December than they would have made had they dropped in crowded May, and yet Disney seem intent on moving the “Star Wars” franchise back to May with this Han Solo movie that’s embroiled in turmoil. That decision is especially bizarre combined with the pretty constant stream of creative drama. I can’t help but wonder what exactly the powers-that-be are trying to do here.

They don’t seem to have any creative vision for this thing — With “The Force Awakens” it was like they were simply trying to assemble the most “Star Wars”-like thing they could think of without any regard for narrative or even thematic cohesion. At least JJ Abrams was a good fit for that sort of philosophy. But for the first two standalone spinoff movies, LucasFilm hired idiosyncratic directors to craft new types of “Star Wars” cinematic experiences, only to decide during production that they actually don’t really want that at all.

I don’t have any idea what “The Last Jedi” will be like — at this point I’m just hoping that they manage to keep a majority of the scenes from the first teaser in the movie.

If there was any realistic hope I might have for the future of “Star Wars” in the hands of Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, this latest incident snuffed it out. Last year, as I was absorbing the rolling reports about all the stuff going on with “Rogue One,” I thought that if any filmmakers with real vision would be capable of navigating Disney’s apparently very treacherous waters, it would be Lord and Miller. These are the guys, after all, who appear to be experts in taking very bad ideas, like a movie reboot of “21 Jump Street” or a 90-minute ad for Legos, and turning them into great things. The very idea that “The LEGO Movie” is any good at all is still astounding to think about.

So when they were hired I actually had nearly absolute faith that whatever they did with Han Solo would be great. Even though at that moment I still felt burned by “The Force Awakens” and was terrified about “Rogue One” (justified fears, it turned out), I knew that if anybody could figure it out, it would be those two.

And yet here we are. How long can they keep this up before the whole thing comes crashing down?