The Problem of Solo

June 23, 2017 – We are not going to say “We told you so.…” But Disney’s corporate eagerness to produce a Han Solo stand-alone movie might not have been such a good idea.

The recent change of directors is a giant red flag that all is not well with the movie.

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, released a diplomatic statement on June 20th: “Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are talented filmmakers who have assembled an incredible cast and crew, but it’s become clear that we had different creative visions on this film, and we’ve decided to part ways. A new director will be announced soon.”

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller said, “Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project. We normally aren’t fans of the phrase ‘creative differences’ but for once this cliché is true. We are really proud of the amazing and world-class work of our cast and crew.”

“Creative differences” means that both directors, despite being granted a large measure of creative freedom, ran into loggerheads with Kathleen Kennedy’s vision for the second anthology film. (The first was Rogue One.) The inability to reconcile their creative visions means that Lord and Miller were effectively let go.

Two days later, Lucasfilm announced that Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard had been named director of the untitled Han Solo film.

The June 22nd announcement, coming only two days after Lord and Miller’s departure, was well orchestrated. The quick turn-around means that Kennedy and Lucasfilm had to have interviewed and approached Ron Howard (and likely other potential directors as well) weeks, if not months ago, to get him to sign on; ensure they had a solid agreement on how to direct the film going forward; and to allow lawyers on both sides to draft and finalize a new director’s contract.

Kennedy said, “Filming will resume the 10th of July.” And with that quick announcement, the Lucasfilm P.R. machine hoped to have rushed past this awkward moment of change of directors.

But that does not mean the Han Solo movie, scheduled for release on May 25, 2018, is out of the woods yet.

Why Making a Han Solo Movie Might Be a Mistake

1. The Star Wars saga is centered primarily on the struggles of the Skywalker family. By shifting focus to a non-Force wielding, non-Skywalker, the Han Solo movie risks going down a storytelling alley that few may be interested in.

For many fans, it is enough to know that Han Solo was a cocky smuggler and a galactic swashbuckler. Do we really need to delve into his past history? Does anyone really care? How will Han Solo’s back story enrich our understanding of the Star Wars galaxy?

2. Disney/Lucasfilm seem to have ignored fans’ requests to produce anthology films focused on more popular characters. Tales of the bounty hunters – especially Boba Fett – or a story unveiling some part of Master Yoda’s 900-year-old life, would have presented more compelling cinema.

3. The timing is a bit off for a prequel Han Solo movie. Thanks to The Force Awakens, we learn that Solo and General Leia have consummated their relationship and produced a wayward, temperamental son. And we have witnessed Han Solo’s terrible demise. So now that we know Han Solo’s “future” and of his tragic demise, is there any need to visit his past? By revealing his dramatic death in TFA, there may be less interest in learning about his past. Put another way, the balloon is a bit deflated since we already know the final outcome. So why bother?

4. The gestalt of Star Wars requires that each movie, whether part of the traditional saga or a stand-alone anthology movie, should contribute to the overall master story.

Lucasfilm has promised and allowed its directors great creative freedom in producing the anthologies. The problem, however, is that “creative freedom” might lead to too much deviation from the main storyline.

So where is the continuity in the whole? How does a Han Solo movie contribute to our understanding and enjoyment of the Skywalker story?

Pre-Disney, George Lucas was in charge and had a clear vision or roadmap. There would be a middle (Episodes IV-VI), a beginning (Eps. I-III) and an end (Eps. VII-IX).

Corporate Disney, understandably, wants to cash in on its $4 billion investment. But rather than wait patiently for the nine Star Wars episodes to play out, Disney is eagerly promoting stand-alone movies that explore backstories and alleyways that fans may or may not be interested in.

The risks include over-saturation of the market, rushed production schedules, and lack of a unified vision on how the entire Star Wars story unfolds.

Why Releasing a Han Solo Movie Will Be a Success

Despite the foregoing misgivings, here are some reasons why a Han Solo movie will likely be a success:

1. No matter how mediocre or disjointed the final product tuns out to be, there is no denying that droves of fans and the curious will come out to see a Han Solo action flick. The appeal of most anything related to Star Wars is so strong that there is no doubt that Disney/Lucasfilm will have made a ton of money on the film and the resulting merchandise.

Film critics might pan the film and large swaths of fandom might give it a thumbs down, but the Han Solo film will be a financial success. Both The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002) prove the point. The only question is, How much money will a Han Solo movie bring in?

2. Ron Howard already has a long relationship with Lucasfilm and is a well-credentialed talented director. He directed Lucasfilm’s Willow (1988) as well as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind (winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director), The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, and Rush. In front of the camera, longtimers will recall Ron Howard starring in George Lucas’ American Graffiti as well as two TV hits, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) and Happy Days (1974-1984). He also narrated and produced the comedy series Arrested Development (2003-2006).

Ron Howard’s talents as a director and his amenable personality bode for a better, stronger partnership with Kathleen Kennedy and the visionaries at Lucasfilm.

3. At some point, the Skywalker family’s struggles will have to come to an end. Grandpa Vader is long dead and Luke Skywalker, gray beard and all, is looking rather long in the tooth. Therefore, the Star Wars saga, some would argue, has to evolve into other conflicts, other personalities, and other tales.

A non-Force wielder, such as Han Solo, might be a bridge to this “other” Star Wars universe. And if the movie does prove to be popular among moviegoers, then the floodgates will have been permanently opened to explore other characters in the growing anthology as well.

Ron Howard’s Animated Voice Four Decades Ago

Note the title of Episode 2, Season 1, of the animated series, “The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang” (1980).

If you were a kid growing up in the 1970's or early 1980's, you might remember the ABC sitcom Happy Days. Less familiar is the cartoon series, The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, which ran from Nov. 1980 through Sept. 1982. The animated science-fiction comedy series bore almost no resemblance to the live action Happy Days TV show – other than to somehow convince Henry Winkler (voicing the part of Fonzie), Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham), and Don Most (Ralph Malph) to supply their respective voices for the cartoon series.

In short, the show involves a malfunctioning time machine and Fonzie and his friends as they land in different time periods as they attempt to return to their own time.

It’s only apt that Season 1, Episode 2, is titled “May the Farce Be with You”. Is the universe telling us something? Call it prescient or call it purely coincidental, but how did a 1980’s cartoon somehow tie Ron Howard to Star Wars? Yes, this observation is a stretch, and a weak one at that. But sometimes the universe just loves to drop clues for us to find.

Let’s just hope the Han Solo movie does not turn out to be “the Farce” alluded to 37 years ago. Ron Howard is a gifted director and, with fingers crossed, we hope he can save the Millenium Falcon and its crew from an inglorious onscreen crash.

Star Wars Land (Orlando) Update: Visualizing the Main Entrance

June 5, 2017 – It’s been three months since we posted our last Star Wars Land construction update for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

With the successful May 27th opening of “Pandora – The World of Avatar” (a.k.a. Avatar Land) at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Imagineers and construction crews can now fully focus their efforts on erecting Star Wars Land. The 14-acre themed area, within Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is expected to open sometime in late 2019.

The following photos show accelerating progress with basic building foundations and new vertical construction. The photo below is an overview shot taken June 4, 2017, showing both Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land construction as well as newly cleared land for additional parking. In addition, the bottom right corner of the photo shows a temporary construction road which may morph into a new main entrance road. A new interchange will direct traffic from World Drive or Osceola Parkway directly into the expanded parking lot.

Photo taken June 4, 2017. The large swath of cleared land (right side of photo) will double parking capacity. (Photo Credit:

Steel beam supports for a show building for the Battle Escape attraction have gone up in the last week in this photo taken June 4, 2017. (Photo Credit:

Another view of the show building frame for the Battle Escape attraction. Photo taken June 4, 2017. (Photo Credit:

To keep things in perspective, below is a not-to-scale layout showing where the Battle Escape and Millenium Falcon attractions will be in Star Wars Land. A long berm will block visual sight lines between Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land.

The two new lands will likely connect through the long berm. A new entrance and exit for Toy Story Mania will be built at the back of the building. The current entrance as well as Pixar Place will likely be closed off and turned into a backstage area. (Graphic Credit:

Crossing Through an Expanded Muppets Courtyard

Before entering Star Wars Land, guests will first have to cross through an expanded Muppets Courtyard. One boundary of the larger courtyard will be the last standing remnant of the Streets of America, a building façade connected to the now-closed Writer’s Stop and the still-open Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant.

A magnified portion of this photo, taken May 28, 2017, shows an expanded Muppets Courtyard, the main entrance to Star Wars Land, and more clues than answers. (Photo Credit:

The above photo is intriguing for several reasons, confirming some rumors (the building façade will not be torn down) while inviting new speculation (Club 33, anyone?)

The Streets of America building façade will not only remain; it also appears the structure is being transformed into a functioning building. Recent photos of various paint test swatches on the building front as well as the addition of steel beam reinforcements strongly suggest that the structure will have a new purpose.

Speculation includes the opening of a
Club 33
– not to be confused with D23, the official Disney fan club. The ultra-exclusive Club 33 has initiation fees of $25,000 to $100,000 as well as annual dues of $12,500 to $30,000, depending on your membership level. Club 33 already exists in New Orleans Square at Disneyland as well as at Tokyo Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland.

Disney announced in April that Club 33 would be coming to all four theme parks at Walt Disney World by the fall of 2017. One initiation fee and annual dues will cover admission to all four Club 33 locations at Walt Disney World.

As for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, some are speculating that the Club 33 entrance will be placed somewhere in the former Streets of America façade. Another possibility is the now-shuttered Writer’s Stop, which is adjacent to the façade.

An expanded Muppets Courtyard could feature a live-action Muppet show from the second- or third-floor windows of the revamped façade. A similar-type show – “The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History” – can now be seen at Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square.

Another view of the repurposed Streets of America façade and the main entrance to Star Wars Land (Photo Credit:

An expanded courtyard offers many more possibilities. The open-air space could temporarily hold throngs of guests prior to each day’s rope drop. The courtyard might also feature roaming Muppets characters, kiosks, mobile vendors and temporary stage performances.

Visualizing the Main Entrance to Star Wars Land

Once guests get past the Muppets phalanx, they will go through a large doorway or entrance in the berm. According to Scott Trowbridge, the leader of the Imagineering team working on the Star Wars Land project, guests will then catch sight of familiar-looking desert outposts, marked by low, circular buildings. Guests then enter into an exotic market.

In an interview with Bloomberg published April 19th, Trowbridge said, “It’s this exotic marketplace. It’s like a souk street market filled with stalls where you can buy fragrances and spices and clothes and toys and equipment from all across the galaxy, sometimes from the black market. But don’t ask too many questions.”

An artist’s rendering of what may be an entrance to Star Wars Land in both Anaheim and Orlando (Image Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Vaguely reminiscent of a souk (an exotic Arab market or bazaar), guests’ senses will be assaulted in this other-worldly place peopled with aliens and droids. (Image Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

And, yes, there will be a cantina where you will be served by exotic aliens. Trowbridge promises, “You’re going to see aliens. You’re going to see droids. You’re going to see beasts.”

Just past the bazaar, “travelers” (Disney-speak for you, the guest) will see a First Order spaceport and an ancient forest compound. Look around, and you just might see certain members of the Resistance.

And beyond that? The two main attractions, a Battle Escape adventure and the opportunity to pilot the Millenium Falcon. More details will likely be unveiled in July at Disney’s D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Happy 40th Birthday to Star Wars

May 25, 2017 – Forty years ago today, Star Wars hit theaters with a “Bang” and dramatically realigned the movie industry and our lives in numerous ways.
sw40-logo Star Wars woke up sleepy-eyed cinephiles and movie producers to some exciting truths:

That sci-fi flicks didn’t have to be clean, sterile and have a rational scientific basis – pure fantasy, mystery and dashes of humor could be supremely entertaining;

That the classic theme of the Hero’s Journey still made for compelling storytelling;

That visual and aural effects could make a good story great and, if Hollywood’s old studios or Pinewood Studios didn’t have the means or technology, you could push technical boundaries and create your own special effects (thank you, ILM and Ben Burtt);

That a grand orchestral score was not to be treated as an afterthought to a film, but as an integral part of the story, setting the mood, the tone, and adding emotional resonance throughout (thank you, John Williams);

That poor editing could ruin a potentially great film (looking at you, first rough cut of Star Wars) while skillful editing can keep the audience on the edge of its seat (thank you Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew);

That while George Lucas is the acknowledged visionary who conceived his grand space opera, it has required many hundreds of talented people – artists, technicians, actors, producers, designers – to make Star Wars a polished reality.

That box office receipts aren’t the only way to realize a return on investment – merchandising and sequel rights can pave the way for staggering yields (smart move, George Lucas).

And so to celebrate Star Wars‘ remarkable accomplishments, why not treat yourself to a very well done retrospective by U.K. reviewer Oliver Harper. And, as always, May the Force Be With You.

Vanity Fair Offers a Sneak Peek at “The Last Jedi” Cast

May 24, 2017 – Since 1980, renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz has been capturing the world of Star Wars and its changing crew and cast with her keen eye and a sharp lens.

She first photographed the cast of The Empire Strikes Back for Rolling Stone magazine in 1980. She gravitated to Vanity Fair in 1999 for The Phantom Menace and has photographed the cast of every Star Wars film ever since.

The tradition continues with Leibovitz’s photos of the cast of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, available in the next issue of Vanity Fair on May 31st in New York and Los Angeles and on June 6th nationwide. Four different covers will be offered celebrating the cast and crew of The Last Jedi with behind-the-scenes photos and coverage inside.

You can see more of Vanity Fair‘s portfolio here, including some fascinating photos and an in-depth article.

VF has also posted the following video on its YouTube channel:

“The Last Jedi”: Carrie Fisher’s Final Star Wars Film

May 9, 2017 – Despite a previous statement from Todd Fisher, Carrie Fisher’s brother, that the late actress would appear in Star Wars Episode IX, Disney has clarified that Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, will be her last film.

Writer-Director Rian Johnson and Carrie Fisher (Photo Credit: Lucasfilm)

In an interview with ABC News on April 14th, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said that Carrie Fisher will not be in Episode IX. Asked about Todd Fisher’s remarks stating otherwise, Kennedy said:

“He was probably confused because we finished everything in [Episode] VIII, and Carrie is absolutely phenomenal in the movie. And we’re so happy that we were able to complete shooting in the summer. Unfortunately, Carrie passed away, so by the time we were well underway with Episode IX – in our thoughts, we had not written the script yet – but we’ve regrouped. We started over again in January. So sadly Carrie will not be in IX. We’ll see a lot of her in VIII, which is great.”

It’s probable that Disney/Lucasfilm had approached Todd Fisher and Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd, about the possibility of using completed footage of Carrie Fisher in the final episode. The Fisher family had agreed and had given legal permission. Since then, however, Disney/Lucasfilm have made a final decision to write Carrie out of Episode IX.

How the creative minds at Lucasfilm will explain the absence of General Leia in Episode IX is unknown at this time. Possibilities include killing off her character toward the end of VIII or explaining her demise during the opening crawl of IX. Another option is for Leia’s character to live on, but to leave her (visually, at least) out of any footage in IX.

The writers and producers will have to tread extremely carefully when it comes to one of the most beloved actresses in the Star Wars universe. At a minimum, fans will expect a credible and poignant send-off, and not simply an abrupt write-off of her character.

Director Colin Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly had originally planned to include Leia in the final movie. But they were forced to rethink the storyline and Leia’s role in it after Carrie Fisher’s unexpected passing last December.

Kathleen Kennedy told Entertainment Weekly: “Obviously, with Carrie having passed away, it shook everybody. We pretty much started over.”

For now, all eyes are on the next installment, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Rumors have been swirling, even before Carrie Fisher’s passing, that we would finally see Leia use her Force abilities in the defense of others.

Oscar Isaac and Carrie Fisher (Photo Credit: Lucasfilm)

Oscar Isaac, who plays Resistance pilot Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens and the upcoming The Last Jedi, dropped a tantalyzing clue last month in an interview with Business Insider.

He said he had filmed a heated and intense moment with Carrie Fisher: “It was basically my first day [on set] and we did about 25 takes total. Half of them were on me and half of them were on her. I can’t give anything away, but there was a scene where there was some physicality there and it was shot just over and over and over. She relished the physicality of it, let me just say. It was pretty intense. It will be funny to see what they cut together based on that.”

By some accounts, General Leia will have a much larger screen presence in TLJ than she did in TFA. Recall that she is dealing with the knowledge that her own son has murdered Han Solo and she is now grappling with the same issue that Luke had faced in confronting their father over three decades earlier: Is redemption possible?

We will likely find out on December 15, 2017, when The Last Jedi premieres.

Supreme Leader Snoke and Other Figures Coming “Soon”?

May 6, 2017 – A reader on a JTA forum recently posted a snapshot of the following GameStop internal memo:

A peek at possible 6-inch action figures coming “soon”?

We put coming “soon” in quotes because The Force Awakens was released Dec. 18, 2015 – nearly 1 1/2 years ago – and still, Hasbro has not released a TFA Luke or a Supreme Leader Snoke.

If the above GameStop pre-order list is true, we may at last see an incarnation – at least in plastic – of a Snoke posed sitting on his throne as well as a possible stand-alone Snoke.

The list of Star Wars Black Series 6-inch figures (with some editorial comments in red) reads as follows:

AF SW BLK 6in E1 Qui Gon Jinn (Price) 22.99
AF SW BLK 6in E4 Darth Vador SD9/1 22.99
(Note misspelling of “Vader”. This may be a 40th Anniversary Legacy repack of Vader.)

AF SW BLK 6in E4 Stormtrooper SD9/1 22.99 (a possible repack)
AF SW BLK 6in E5 Lando Calrissian 22.99
AF SW BLK 6in E6 Imperial Royal Guar(d) 22.99

AF SW BLK 6in E8 Cool Beta SD 9/1 22.99
(“Cool Beta” = Hasbro code name for ____? from E8/Episode VIII)

AF SW BLK 6in E8 Foxtrot SD 9/1 22.99 (“Foxtrot” = Hasbro code name for ____?)
AF SW BLK 6in R Blue Leader SD 9/1 22.99
(“Blue Leader” = Hasbro code name for ____? Best guess: Rogue One General Anton Merrick killed in the Battle of Scarif. “R” might = Rogue One)
AF SW BLK 6in VICTOR 2 w THRONE EXCL(USIVE) 39.99 (Note the higher price of $39.00. “Victor” may be a codename for Snoke from Star Wars Episode VIII, and this GameStop exclusive includes his throne.)
AF SW BLK 6in E8 Victor SD 9/1 22.99 (This is likely a stand-alone 6-inch Supreme Leader Snoke from Ep. VIII.)
AF SW BLK 6in E8 BL GUARDS OF EVIL 4PK EXCL 89.99 (Another GameStop exclusive. Get ready for a Black Series 4-pack to include an unknown combination of Royal Guards, either from past episodes or an introduction of old-style and new Royal Guards that accompany Snoke.)

We express no opinion on the “Poopy Butthole 5in” action figure referenced at the top of the GameStop list (see photo) – mostly because it has nothing to do with Star Wars.

We will know how much of the GameStop list is accurate or comes to fruition by Sept. 1, 2017, when Force Friday II launches globally to celebrate the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi products. The Last Jedi premieres Dec. 15, 2017.

How To Respond If Someone Wishes You “Happy Star Wars Day”

May 4, 2017 – There are several possible responses if someone runs up to you and says “Happy May the Fourth Be with You” or, dreadfully, “Happy Star Wars Day”:

1. You could smile wanly and say “Thank You” or “May the Fourth be with you as well”;

2. Roll your eyes and take another swig from your beer bottle/wine glass;

3. But our favorite response just might be:

Perhaps Batman got it right.

Choose wisely. And May the Fourth be….