Digital Editor Alex McDonald is concerned that Star Wars is stuck in the past and is afraid to face the future
A long time ago in a galaxy you’re probably very familiar with, George Lucas’ Star Wars changed the landscape for cinema forever in 1977. It was the future of cinema, the birth of a new age of innovation and filmmaking, forged by youth and championed by the public. Fast forward forty years and it looks as if Star Wars is afraid of the future.
I say this in light of the recent news that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired or departed for “creative differences” from the Han Solo spin-off film a whole five months into its production. Various sources cite various problems and clashes the directors had with either Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, or Lawrence Kasdan, one of the script writers and Star Wars veteran. Whatever the reason, I believe these are very troubling times for the future of the franchise.
Coming out of The Force Awakens in 2015, the overwhelming consensus was that things just felt like Star Wars again after fans’ hopes were dashed with the disappointing prequel trilogy. It was a triumphant continuation of the Skywalker saga, even if it was a blatant rehash of the original; it was fun, bright and arguably the best way to win over fans, both old and new.
However, we weren’t just getting a continuation of the stories that had come before. Disney and Lucasfilm promised a host of spin-offs with the “A Star Wars Story” series (I still think that name is dumb but that is a whole other opinion piece). Naturally, excitement was high: we were getting something new, something that could be a little edgier and that was seemingly confirmed with last year’s Rogue One. They were going to put the “war” in Star Wars.
Yet it wasn’t long before worrying on set reports started to flood in. Tony Gilroy was hired to rewrite the story and significant portions of the film were reshot. And for the most part, that is fairly evident: huge sections of the final sequence were lost in the ether robbing audiences of some of the most striking images in the trailers. On the other hand, it did serve to bring in a spine chilling scene of Darth Vader mowing down rebels like a lightsaber through butter.
But even that reeks of a studio’s lack of faith that a spin-off can stand on its own two legs and needs a recognisable figure for anyone to care. Regardless, the abundant changes to Rogue One and the apparent lack of any to both The Force Awakens and the forthcoming The Last Jedi does suggest something distressing: Disney and Lucasfilm are nervous and they aren’t really sure what to do with their own ideas.
They want all of their films to “feel” like Star Wars while trying to make each film different. However, the departure of Lord and Miller feels like a huge step back in this sense. Particularly because they have been replaced by Ron Howard. He’s not a bad director by any stretch of the imagination, he’s capable and competent for sure, but he doesn’t really have a definitive style which is probably why he has taken over the role: he’s malleable.
Lord and Miller made their names by turning properties that seem like cynical studio films that are trying to make money off a recognisable brand and making them into great films. The 21 Jump Street series and The Lego Movie have no right to be as good as they are. So when they were announced as directors of the cynical cash-grab Han Solo spin-off film, it was a tremendous relief: If anyone can do it, they can. However, it seems like their comedic sensibilities have earned them the boot (because, you know, Han Solo isn’t funny at all).
Howard’s appointment is an incredibly cautious step backwards. He can work within a studio system to produce the kind of film that they want without interfering with their plans. And sadly, that will come at the expense of getting an interesting and more importantly different film from what has come before. If Disney and Lucasfilm are going to micromanage every detail, we will end up with the same Star Wars film for the next forty years.
This is an eerily similar situation to Disney’s other behemoth cinematic property: Marvel. While the MCU is still going strong, it is clear that a formula has been set and it is the weaker films in the franchise that stick to that formula. The reason that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy are held in such high regard by the fans is that they feel different, they feel unique and they have their own voice. It is weaker films like Ant-Man (a project which incredibly stylistic Edgar Wright was removed from) that have the unbearable likeness of “Marvel” and fail to be anything but that.
Star Wars has to embrace its own future before it becomes a formulaic and tired franchise. As an unapologetic fanboy, that is the last thing I want. But if Star Wars wants to be the future of cinema again then it needs to let go of the past; it needs to take risks with up-and-coming filmmakers like Lord and Miller and allow them to add their own flavour to pot. Ultimately, this latest development only yields one apt response: