How the Han Solo film broke apart — with Ron Howard picking up the pieces
Move comes just after directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired
Ron Howard is now steering the Millennium Falcon. And he has to maneuver it out of a giant asteroid field.
A little over a day after the directors of the upcoming Han Solo movie were fired, Lucasfilm has turned to the veteran filmmaker to steer the Star Wars project home.
“At Lucasfilm, we believe the highest goal of each film is to delight, carrying forward the spirit of the saga that George Lucas began forty years ago,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said in a statement. “With that in mind, we’re thrilled to announce that Ron Howard will step in to direct the untitled Han Solo film. We have a wonderful script, an incredible cast and crew, and the absolute commitment to make a great movie. Filming will resume the 10th of July.”
Howard previously worked with Lucasfilm when he directed the 1988 fantasy adventure Willow, with Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley. And the A Beautiful Mind Oscar-winner also served as an unofficial adviser to George Lucas on his prequel films, having been a longtime friend ever since costarring in Lucas’s coming-of-age classic American Graffiti in 1973.
Brace yourself for a wave of “Help us, Opie-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope” headlines.
The Star Wars stand-alone project, starring Alden Ehrenreich in the role originated by Harrison Ford, was just weeks away from ending principal photography when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, best known for The LEGO Movie, were dropped from the film Monday — with Lucasfilm and the filmmakers both citing “creative differences.”
The question remained for Star Wars fans: What exactly were those differences, and why were they so insurmountable that neither side was willing to compromise to avoid this public upheaval?
Here’s what we know now: Several sources close to the movie and others close to the directors tell EW that ever since filming began back in February, Lord and Miller, who are known primarily for wry, self-referential comedies like 21 Jump Street and the pilot episodes for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth, began steering the Han Solo movie more into the genre of laughs than space fantasy.
According to some sources, the split was a subtle one that became magnified over time: Lucasfilm and producer Kennedy believed Lord and Miller were hired to add a comedic touch; Lord and Miller believed they were hired to make a comedy. Those close to the directors dispute this.
Ironically, last year, when Rogue One was undergoing reshoots, fans were critical because they assumed Lucasfilm was trying to “lighten” the war story with more comedy. Those concerns were unfounded, but now the opposite may be the case for the Han Solo film: Lucasfilm wants young Han Solo to be even more grounded.
UPDATE (6/26): Other sources have come forward to clarify — although Lord and Miller were indeed going off-script to create new dialogue and action, there is disagreement over whether they were adding humor.
One person with knowledge of the dispute said they were clashing with Lucasfilm over changes to the script made spur-of-the-moment during filming. “But improvisation in this case does not always mean comedy,” the source said.
If there was a genre the directors were trying to impose upon the Han Solo film, it was more of a western than screwball comedy, according to this source, who added that had Lord and Miller wanted to shift the tone to humor, they wouldn’t have hired cinematographer Bradford Young, who is known for dramas like Arrival and A Most Violent Year.
Another individual close to the movie agrees it wasn’t a question about how much comedy would be in the film. While there are many variations on the reason for the clash, the consensus now is that the filmmakers were encouraging significant improvisation from the actors, which some at Lucasfilm believed was shifting the story off-course. (End update.)
With actors who are also writers, and gifted at coming up with their own material, like Atlanta creator and star Donald Glover in the role of Lando Calrissian and Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an unspecified motion-capture character (which in galactic terms, that usually signals a droid or alien), the sources say Lord and Miller began straying from the script by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jon Kasdan (The First Time).
One person close to the fired directors says: “They thought they were brought on to make a Phil and Chris movie. … Sometimes they just thought the actors could do it differently.”
But others on the project say they pushed too far. It wasn’t just a question of tone. The variations added up to significantly change the narrative. They may have been brought aboard to give young Han Solo a wiseacre vibe and an irreverent style, but Lucasfilm still felt the directors had a responsibility to tell the story as written.
When dailies began rolling in featuring improvisation from the actors and new ideas from the directors that significantly parted ways with the script, the relationship with the home office at Lucasfilm became fraught. As principal photography for the movie approached its end, it became clear that the filmmakers and producers did not share the same vision for some critical scenes.
Reshoots were always possible (they are factored into almost every major film these days, and each new Star Wars project has undergone them), but as Lord and Miller dug in, refusing to compromise on what they saw as best for the film, the partnership went from strained to fractured. If they wouldn’t do the scenes as Lucasfilm and Kennedy wanted them now, why would they do them that way during reshoots?
Sources close to the studio tell EW that Kennedy was also determined to do what was best for the film. Those perspectives were just different — and growing further apart.
After relaunching the franchise, which had taken damage from the critical reception of the Star Wars prequels, and building not just an acclaimed new saga with The Force Awakens but kicking off a series of stand-alone films with Rogue One, Kennedy felt she had earned her galactic bona fides: The directors should give her the benefit of the doubt and follow her concept of what the Star Wars movie should be.
Lord and Miller are well-liked within the industry and have a style that has often led studios to compete for their attentions, but Kennedy — whose long history of credits include Back to the Future, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park — also has an immense, proven track record. Backing her was Kasdan, Star Wars royalty — the screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
They became immovable objects. If the filmmakers were refusing to make the movie Lucasfilm expected, why continue?
On Monday, Lord and Miller were told they were terminated. The production was put on hold.
Howard’s name began circulating immediately, but yesterday his agency, CAA, was still saying a deal hadn’t been reached. This morning, it was done.
He will have two weeks to get to England and get up to speed on where things are, where they went awry from the studio’s point of view, and come up with a plan to complete it — if not on time, then with minimal extension to the schedule.
Meanwhile, Lord and Miller will begin packing up and heading home. Reps for the directors declined to say whether they might return Warner Bros.’ big-screen version of the DC Comics superhero The Flash, which they had left to take on the Han Solo movie. But since they were fired over a difference of vision, rather than an out-of-control production, they aren’t expected to take a massive career hit.
A source close to them said they wouldn’t have bad blood toward Howard. “Somebody has to take over the movie.”
Some close to the pair say Lord and Miller see the Han Solo film like a romantic break-up. It’s the end of an unhappy relationship, something they once deeply cared about, even if there is no future together.
To paraphrase the smuggler and the princess:
“I don’t love you.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is developing and is being updated with new information as it becomes available.]
Solo: A Star Wars Story