It’s official: Oscar-winning director Ron Howard is taking over the reins of Lucasfilm’s Han Solo “Star Wars” spin-off. Whether that’s a win for fans or the mark of a troubling turn to the dark side for the 40-year-old franchise remains to be seen.
The news comes two days after the shocking departure of “Lego Movie” duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the irreverent helmers whose style and vision for the prequel reportedly clashed with that of the bosses up the chain — namely, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and executive producer and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.
Their axing sparked a frenzy across the “Star Wars” galaxy Monday, given that Lord and Miller got the boot an all but unprecedented 4½ months into production, with only three weeks of principal photography and scheduled reshoots left.
“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,” Kennedy said in a statement Thursday. “With that in mind, we’re thrilled to announce that Ron Howard will step in to direct the untitled Han Solo film.”
There are precious few instances in Hollywood history of a director being replaced during production. It happened on two bona-fide classics (“Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”), but in recent years, the results have more typically been critical and commercial flops (films such as “Exorcist: The Beginning,” “The 13th Warrior,” “Rumor Has It…” and “The Island of Dr. Moreau”).
Industry watchers have been quick to point out how the Lord and Miller firing fits a pattern more indicative of corporate Hollywood moviemaking than anything else.
Under Kennedy’s leadership, the “Star Wars” creative cabal has made a PR-boosting point to bring younger directors into the fold, indicating a desire to breathe fresh energy and new blood into the franchise. Behind the scenes, however, tumult has followed.
“Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards was notoriously benched during reshoots on his “Star Wars” spin-off as word spread that Tony Gilroy had discreetly come in to finish the picture; even J.J. Abrams was rumored to have clashed with Lucasfilm execs over “The Force Awakens” before quietly distancing himself from a return to the franchise. Both movies, tightly controlled by Lucasfilm, went on to enjoy critical and commercial success in spite of behind-the-scenes chaos.
A spin-off centered on bounty hunter Boba Fett, to be directed by “Chronicle” and “Fantastic Four” filmmaker Josh Trank, fell apart on the eve of its planned announcement. Buzz over “Star Wars: Episode IX,” to be directed by Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”), has suffered from the poor reception to his new indie film, “The Book of Henry.”
“Kong: Skull Island” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts chimed in online in defense of the improvisation that Lord and Miller reportedly had adopted on set, to the dismay of Lucasfilm execs. “Read this and then remember one crucial thing: Han Solo LIKE A BOSS quipping ‘I know’ in response to Leia saying ‘I love you’ WAS IMPROVISED,” he tweeted.
On the flip side, writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “Looper”), whose “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” is scheduled for a December release, tweeted: “I had as much creative control on [‘The Last Jedi’] as I’ve ever had on any of my own movies.”
Lord and Miller made their debut with the 2009 animated hit “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and went on to direct “The Lego Movie,” “21 Jump Street” and its sequel, “22 Jump Street,” before landing the Han Solo gig. Last year, at Star Wars Celebration Europe, Lord won the confidence of fans when he shared his take on the character of Han Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich in the prequel.
“I sort of relate to him. He doesn’t want to do anything that he’s told. When told not to do something, it makes him want to do it more. [He’s] very sarcastic, and at the end of the day he’s unreasonably optimistic… ”
According to reports, Lucasfilm bosses became worried after watching dailies in which Lord and Miller strayed from the script written by Kasdan and his son Jon. Disagreements on tone, adherence to the script and the Han Solo character reportedly led to the drastic split.
Due to the amount of material already completed, it’s unclear how the Directors Guild of America will handle who receives credit on the finished film. That likely won’t be answered until there’s a completed cut.
Howard, 63, makes a safe, old guard choice to shepherd the vision Lucasfilm seeks for its lucrative IP when filming resumes July 10 in London. He’s a solid and proven Oscar winner who starred in George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” four years before the release of “Star Wars ” in 1977, and he hails from the same filmmaking generation as Kennedy, 64, and Kasdan, 68.
Howard revealed in 2015 on the “Happy Sad” podcast that Lucas approached him to direct “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” “He told me he had talked to Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg and me. I was the third one he spoke to. They all said the same thing: ‘George, you should do it!’ I don’t think anybody wanted to follow up that act at the time. It was an honor, but it would’ve been too daunting.”
At the time, Howard said, superhero movies didn’t interest him: “I was never a comic book guy. I like the movies when I see them, especially the origin stories. I never felt like I could be on the set, at 3 o’clock in the morning, tired, with 10 important decisions to make, and know, intuitively, what the story needs. For me, I’d be copycatting and not inventing. I’ve never said yes to one.”