Solo despite being a relatively good Star Wars film had been bogged down in controversy, long before it even hit theaters. This controversy, and Disney’s unwillingness to drop the advertising money on the film it truly deserved, gave potential audiences the impression that the final film would be less than stellar. Hard core SW fans managed to hang with it though, and found that Solo was actually worth it and provided the word of mouth that bought in audiences and prevented the total financial failure of the film.
But with the film out for nearly a month, other grumblings came unofficially out of Disney’s camp. The controversy surrounding Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran, and her unrelenting harassment by internet trolls was one. While the other was Last Jedi director Rian Johnson acting almost as a counter-troll criticizing SW fans who disliked The Last Jedi. Although the former, made SW fans hang their heads in shame over the young actresses treatment, the latter made SW fans wonder what direction the beloved franchise was going in.
For Disney, Johnson’s outburst, was just part of an ongoing issue they’ve had with their last three SW movies. That issue being directorial problems that all occurred around directors with only limited experience. Johnson for instance only came to the light of Disney execs after the 2012 film Looper, and had only directed shorts and a few independent films before that. In Solo’s case it’s two original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were known for their work on The Lego Movie, were replaced with directing veteran Ron Howard. If rumors are true Howard reportedly had to refilm 75% of Solo following his takeover. In 2016 Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, with only two other films under his belt, was pushed aside towards the end of filming for reshoots and editing many of which where said to have completely changed his vision of the film. Although many SW fans believe Rogue One was one of the best SW films ever made, one has ask if Disney’s “move over Gareth” decision made it that way.
Solo and Rogue One despite the directorial issues turned out to be to pretty solid films that help perpetuate the SW franchise. The Last Jedi on the other hand despite being a highly entertaining film, is somewhat of a convoluted mess. Like someone trying to shove 20 pounds of, umm…oats, into a 5 pound sack. This coupled with Rian Johnson’s recent comments, caused Disney to rethink its up and coming new director concept and instead go with old hands like their choice of Ron Howard on Solo, and going back to J.J. Abrams with Episode IX. This new policy took official form in late June, when Disney formally announced that it would be only using “proven talent”, i.e. veteran directors, moving forward due to the investment such films require to be made. This also came with the unpleasant news that Disney was going to put a hiatus on “A Star Wars Story” films, as well as asking George Lucas protege Kathleen Kennedy to no longer be involved in film productions. Of course there are some that point out the decision to remove Kennedy had other implications, including her influence on placing what some call “heavy handed political commentary” into recent films, especially the Last Jedi. Although SW has always had political messages woven within its stories, it’s hard to pull any particular message out of the confused mess that is Last Jedi.
In a way one can argue that Disney seems to be using a chainsaw, in a situation where a scalpel was needed. Making wide range changes, rather than concentrating on specific issues. Although, there seems to be a basis to the novice director issue, one wonders if the rest of the decisions are necessary.
Yet, in turning away novice directors Disney and Lucasfilm provide us with a somewhat ironic paradox. It’s all too easy to forget that George Lucas was himself a novice director when he first presented the concept of Star Wars to movie studios. Like the above mentioned Rian Johnson, Lucas only had two full length films to his name as a director. The arty dystopian sci-fi THX 1138, and the much more well known semi-autobiographical coming of age film American Graffiti. Much like Johnson was really only known for his work on Looper, Lucas was mainly known for his work on American Graffiti. For the 1995 VCR release of the Star Wars Trilogy, Lucas was interviewed by film guru Leonard Maltin about making the films. During that interview Lucas recalls studios rejecting his Star Wars pitch until he got to 20th Century Fox, who decided to give the filmmaker a chance based on his work with American Graffiti.
In choosing burgeoning directors with recent film successes for the past three films, perhaps Disney and/or Kathleen Kennedy was hoping to capture some of the creative spark new directors could bring to the franchise, as George Lucas originally started it with. This would give the franchise new and energetic ways of reaching modern audiences, with fresh perspective. Or perhaps it was Lucasfilms way of giving burgeoning directors a chance, like 20th Century Fox did with Lucas years before. So far though the plan has all but succeeded, and if the stories are true intervention is all that prevented disaster.
This is where the paradox exist, between the raw beginnings of the franchise with a still very green George Lucas getting his big break, and the franchise where it is now unable to afford a green director at the helm. A film franchise 20th Century Fox and even George Lucas thought was a risky probable one off, is now shaken to the core if its intentional one-off films aren’t top-grossing blockbusters for at least 4 weekends in row. With that said though the humble possible one-off that was A New Hope, has evolved into something far beyond where it started. When the film hit screens in 1977 it was a small franchise, that started a trilogy, sold a bunch of toys, and after 1985 disappeared into fans hearts with George Lucas having moved on. But fans wouldn’t let the franchise die, eventually pushing George Lucas to dust off his prequel ideas and get to work. After VCR special releases, video games, DVDs, Blu-rays, toys, more merch than you could ever dream of, comicons, and straight up Star Wars conventions it became clear Star Wars was more than just a humble sci-fi franchise. Disney, straight off gobbling up Marvel, decided Star Wars was its next target hoping to cash in even more than George Lucas did.
What’s in Disney’s hands now isn’t just a humble sci-fi film by a former indy film director, but truly a globally known phenomenon. Again the ironic paradox exist that the franchise is now so big and ungainly that a director like that of a 1976 George Lucas couldn’t be entrusted with its modern incarnation. It’s sad, yet we as fans especially after The Last Jedi, realize that the franchise now has many moving parts it didn’t have in 1977, and will require expert filmmakers to perpetuate the story properly. Rising star directors may have new takes on storytelling methodology, and be able to flaunt recent successes, but the franchise has a framework that requires an adherence to that isn’t experimental.
In the end after June’s announcement we as fans realize the Star Wars franchise, from a film perspective, is in a precarious position. As fans we don’t want to see are beloved Star Wars become as much of an over-milked cow as the Marvel franchise has become, but we do enjoy seeing movies regularly come out. Of course we also know Disney didn’t spend $4B on Lucasfilm out of the goodness of their hearts. So after now having gotten back that, and then some, after The Last Jedi fans have been hoping Disney would adhere to the old adage “absence make the heart grow fonder” and give us time to miss the franchise between films. Perhaps Disney backing off on Star Wars stories, is a way of telling us not to expect another film by the end of 2018 and giving us that needed “absence”.
I myself will pick up a copy of Solo once it comes out on blue-ray, but I am patiently waiting to see if J. J. Abrams can get Episode IX to bring some sense to the sequel franchise, especially Last Jedi.