Directors, studio head spar over creative differences

“I have a very bad feeling about this.”

It’s a line spoken by some character in every “Star Wars” movie with the exception of “Rogue One” (2016), when something goes wrong. It has become a franchise trademark.

On June 20 Disney/Lucasfilm fired directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie,” 2014) from the helm of the untitled Han Solo/“Star Wars” standalone four months into shooting. Still planned for release in May 2018, Disney hired Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind,” 2001) to finish the film. Now it seems that famous line applies to what goes wrong during a “Star Wars” production.

A June 26 article in The Hollywood Reporter revealed disagreements between the directors and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy concerning the number of takes for each shot.

Lord and Miller used only three setups versus the 15 variations Kennedy expected. There were battles with the film’s screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, a “Star Wars” veteran whose screenplays include “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), “Return of the Jedi” (1983) and “The Force Awakens” (2015). Kasdan apparently demanded that every actor stick to the script and insisted on hiring an acting coach for the film’s leading star, Alden Ehrenreich.

A statement from Lord and Miller following their dismissal said, "Unfortunately, our vision and process weren't aligned with our partners (Disney/Lucasfilm) on this project. We normally aren't fans of the phrase 'creative differences' but for once this cliché is true.”

Directors Lord and Miller are not the first, nor will they be the last, to be fired from a movie due to “creative differences.” Director Richard Donner and producer Alexander Salkind sparred over the budget during the filming of “Superman: The Movie” (1978).

“The biggest problem I had was really with the producers, because instead of helping me, they were hurting me,” Donner told The Hollywood Reporter. “The thing [with the Salkinds] was always about money. They’d say, ‘You can’t do this,’ but I would have no alternative and they wouldn’t show me the budget. They kept saying, ‘You’re going over budget.’ And I would say, ‘How am I going over budget if I don’t know what the budget is?’ It got to the point where I just told them: 'Don’t come onto set. You’re counterproductive.' And it became us against them. They were against the quality of the movie.”

“What the studios want now are 'risk-free' films but with any sort of art you have to take risks,” said Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola in a quote on Coppola is no stranger to butting heads with studio execs while working on such films as “Apocalypse Now” (1979) and “The Cotton Club” (1984). “Not taking risks in art is like not having sex and then expecting there to be children.”

There is probably not a single film made since the silent era that did not involve some behind-the-scenes drama that went on during production. The one and only reason Miller and Lord’s dismissal made entertainment headlines is because this movie was part of the “Star Wars” franchise. Like Disney’s Marvel films and Warner Brothers’ DC Comics, all eyes are on the “Star Wars” franchise, from the powers-that-be eager to avoid bad press to the fans and the “negative Nancys” who want nothing more than to see the upcoming film fail at the box office.

In the end, it won’t be what went on behind the scenes of the Han Solo production that will determine whether the Millennium Falcon successfully makes the jump to light speed or if the hyperdrive system makes that familiar dying whine often heard in “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the gang tried to evade the Imperial fleet.

The ones who decide if the film flops will be the audience and fans. At least I hope that is the case. So far it seems I am the only one who isn’t uttering that familiar phrase about the “galaxy far, far away.” Well, me and Han Solo’s co-star Woody Harrelson who, when asked by The Hollywood Reporter in a July 12 interview whether the bad press will hurt the film, said, “I wouldn’t worry. The Force is still every much with it.”              

- Joe Stumpo