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.


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