I'll get my biases out of the way right at the top: I think, and always have thought, that a Han Solo prequel movie is a terrible idea. There's the Patton Oswalt joke where he filibusters his way through the Star Wars prequels and lays bare the dread of encountering Boba Fett as an 8-year-old in Attack of the Clones; this is a little like that. There is precisely zero value in unveiling a wholly different context for a character whose allure is based in large part on the absence of that context.
But Disney, Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy can, and have, disagreed with me, and so Whatever The Han Solo Movie Is Going To Be Called: A Star Wars Story is going to be the next instalment in the line of films that brought us Rogue One. Except, as of yesterday, the directors have left the project.
Rogue One, too, saw a thinly-veiled directorial replacement take place, though Gareth Edwards remained enough on board - or friendly enough with the producers - or mindful enough of the huge career opportunity that the project, under any circumstances, represented - that he remained the happy "face" of the project all the way through the blu-ray release. If Tony Gilroy really did come in last summer and reshoot great swaths of Rogue One to remove Jyn's excellent "I'm a rebel - I rebel!" character arc as spied in the early trailers, well, he kept quiet about it (as well he should, because that decision was terrible).
The Han Solo situation seems substantially worse. The directors, animation/comedy wunderkinds Phil Lord and Chris Miller, haven't just left; they've left the film in mid production, which - for a project of this size - I can't actually recall having seen before.
Directors leave before shooting, sometimes precariously close to the start (Mathew Vaughn on X3, for example), or after (the recent, startlingly tragic news that has pulled Zack Snyder off Justice League), but shooting is one of the few points in production where so many resources are being expended at all times that it's very difficult to make that level of a change. A cinematographer might get swapped out (James Cameron loves doing this) or under incredibly drastic circumstances, an Eric Stoltz or Stuart Townsend might get replaced.
This, though? This ain't "creative differences." It's hard to imagine a scenario in which anyone on the Han Solo project could have been far apart enough on creative vision that they would have made it into production and past the first few weeks' of dailies, were their output not precisely in sync with what Kathleen Kennedy deemed necessary for the final film.
There might be a conspiracy theory or two worth playing out (did the directors lose Chewbacca? Are we absolutely sure Lord and Miller are two people, and not two sets of identical twins?) but the details will inevitably emerge. What's clear, though, is that Disney and LFL need to immediately throw the brakes on the Star Wars Story project.
Look, developing "new" IP within existing IP must be incredibly challenging. You're messing about in the world's favourite sandbox, which would seem like the dream scenario to every single film-inclined creative individual on the earth (myself included), except that it's also a sandbox whose external expectations are so enormous, they actually flattened the sandbox's original creator.
Star Wars is a game that the guy who made Star Wars couldn't win twice.
The new Star Wars franchise as a whole, at Disney, is an unbelievably ambitious idea. Star Wars movies used to take three solid years to make, and now Lucasfilm is trying to run two full production units in parallel that will churn out movies at a staggered two years apart apiece.
It's a shit ton of work from a creative collaboration standpoint, and it doesn't even have the loose framework of preexisting roadmaps that guide, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There might be a big story map somewhere on the Disney backlot that spells out Episodes VII-IX and a handful of prequels, but there's inherently less connective tissue throughout - I sincerely doubt the Han Solo origin story is going to reveal, for example, a crucial detail about the downfall of Kylo Ren - so each piece has little to go on besides its most devastating inherent aspect: that it's Star Wars, and people lose all sense of perspective for Star Wars.
So, the ideas for these movies - the Anthology stories in particular - need to be brick Bantha-houses. "A movie about Han Solo as a younger man" isn't an idea; the story of that movie is the idea. And from our admittedly outsider vantage point that doesn't seem to be the direction from which this project was ever approached: the Han Solo movie has always, and will always, feel like Disney putting their chips on a safe bet / brand recognition, while ignoring the major problems with the idea itself:
- that it can only weaken the mystique of the character;
- that recasting an iconic performer in an iconic role is a virtually impossible shell game;
- and that, as with all prequels, we already know the outcome: Han's going to win that Sabacc game, get the Falcon, make the Kessel run, and end up married to Chewbacca.
This is a wrongly thought out project. Star Wars Stories that flesh out the lives of hero (or villain) characters in the Star Wars saga have been frequently compared to the stand-alone character movies in the MCU, but the development engine is being run in reverse. Captain America movies work because Captain America is a character with a long legacy of individual stories to draw from; he becomes part of the ensemble in The Avengers based on that backlog of established personality.
Han Solo, from our perspective, begins as part of an ensemble and functions with very specific purpose in the stories in which he is featured. He has never been a protagonist and, like Captain Jack Sparrow, arguably shouldn't ever be. It's not his purpose in the overall drama. Yes, everyone is the hero of their own story, but we already know that about Han Solo, from the moment he appears; and he spent four movies telling us how great he was, and went out that way too. ("Yes I do! Every time!")
Ditto Boba Fett; ditto Yoda; ditto, though it pains me to say it, Obi-Wan Kenobi (though if Disney does greenlight Ewan McGregor's stand-alone Old Ben story, I'll delete this post and pretend I never wrote it). These aren't the characters the Star Wars Stories should be about because Star Wars stories aren't ever about people like this, at least not centrally.
They're about the Jyns and the Reys, the ones whose lives get derailed by the "only fight," as Maz Kanata puts it, and who then get pulled into that riptide and find that they were meant to be there all along.
Sure, you could argue that you could write a movie about how that happened to Han Solo. But guess what: we've already seen it. It was called Star Wars.
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and popular culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Letterboxd.