For months, I have seen nothing but eye-rolling when it comes to the still untitled* Han Solo prequel movie, but I’ve been the first one to defend it.
ME: Come on, guys (and ladies)! Phil Lord and Christopher Miller will be directing it.
YOU (as in, the royal you): But it’s such a dumb idea for a movie.
ME: Did you like The Lego Movie?
ME: Didn’t that sound like a dumb idea when you first heard about it.
YOU: (defeated) Yes…
ME: Did you like 21 Jump Street?
YOU: (even more defeated) Yes…
ME: And 22 Jump Street?
YOU: Can you move on with your point?
Sure can, you! The thing that the Han Solo movie had going for it was Lucasfilm hired the two guys who have an unbroken track record of turning stupid movies into strangely watchable movies.
Now we’ve got Opie**.
This would all be upsetting enough, if—like in the case of Edgar Wright and Antman (2015), or Patty Jenkins and Thor: The Dark World (2013)—the film had lost their director sometime in pre-production. Unfortunately, this rather seismic change in comes about when the film had—according to most accounts—only a few weeks left in production.
Naturally, finger pointing has spiked on the internet in response to such a colossal production calamity. Some of those habitual bellyachers have pledged undying loyalty to Lucasfilm and supporting their desire to ensure that their production is made to their specifications. These people seem to think the powers that be at Skywalker Ranch*** can do no wrong. Which, I mean… How short are our collective memories? Others have expressed rage that once again filmmakers with actual vision have been summarily removed from bringing their perspective to a beloved property. Some of those people have misdirected that anger towards some pretty nasty attacks to current Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy, which is gross and stupid. Gentlemen—and I am just speaking to you gentlemen out there with this admonition—I am sure we can find a way to discuss the weirdness of this story without descending to our worst traits.
But seriously, when has something like this ever happened in the past?
Selznick fired George Cukor several weeks into the filming of Gone with the Wind (1939) and replaced him with Victor Fleming, who then had to temporarily bow out in favor of a pinch hitter due to “exhaustion”****. At almost that very same time, The Wizard of Oz (1939) went through three changes in directors during the first few weeks of production. First, Norman Taurog, then Richard Thorpe, then George Cukor (remember him?) before eventually landing on Victor Fleming (remember him?). But those shifts in production crew took place very early in the process, not after the film was complete! Also, film directing was a little different back in the pre-Orson Welles era. The studio heads would simply kidnap hapless hobos from LA soup kitchens and hand them a shot list*****.
Plenty of other people weren’t fired while a movie quickly went off the rails. Coppola and Apocalypse Now (1979)? Jerry Lewis and The Day the Clown Cried (1972?)******. Hell, even John Landis was allowed to finish his segment for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1982), and that set killed three people, including Vic Morrow. What crime could Lord and Miller have been guilty off that the plug had to be pulled?
The world may never know, but we can all imagine what that movie might have been next year. The Solo movie has gone from a bad idea, to an intriguing one, to an absolutely fascinating case study in the debate about the auteur theory.
*And, for that matter, unfinished, but we’ll get to that later.
**Now, allow me to contextualize the above dismissal of Richie Cunningham. He’s done some great films. Apollo 13. I’m sure there are others, but they escape me at the moment, but ultimately he’s a very milquetoast director, especially for a movie that’s a little bit in need of a rationale for existing.
***After a quick google search, I’ve now come to realize that Lucasfilm no longer has its headquarters at the ranch, and have instead moved to the Presidio in San Francisco. So, what do they do at the ranch anymore?
****Which, to my mind, in 1939, had to be a euphemism for a drought of uppers suddenly befalling the lot.
*****I’m kidding. A little bit.
******Yes, the movie was never released. But unlike Lord and Miller and their Solo movie, Lewis was allowed to at least finish Clown.