Moreso than any prior installment in the venerable sci-fi franchise (at least since 1980), ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ has something to prove. Indeed, more than any of the ‘Star Wars’ movies on the initial Disney-era slate, this one split fandom right down the middle. Some were thrilled at the prospect of seeing the early days of a beloved character play out on screen, while others were more skeptical. Dismissive, even. But to be fair, any movie whose premise required recasting one of Harrison Ford’s most iconic roles was going to have to tread lightly in winning fans over.
And all of that was before production started.
Once filming got underway, the real trouble began. Last summer, with a mere three weeks of filming left to go, it was announced that the film’s directors – the acclaimed team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller – were stepping down. Reports later emerged that the two had been in constant conflict over their vision for the film, both with Lucasfilm generally and the film’s writers – Jon and Lawrence Kasdan – in particular. By some accounts, the conflict with the Kasdans was a result of Lord and Miller’s directorial style being one that encourages improvisation, while the writers wanted them to film the script as written. The issues with Lucasfilm, on the other hand, were summed up by Entertainment Weekly last summer as “Lucasfilm and producer Kathleen Kennedy believed Lord and Miller were hired to add a comedic touch; Lord and Miller believed they were hired to make a comedy.” Creative differences, indeed.
Despite that, Kennedy has been nothing but complimentary toward the duo since their ouster, recently offering the following take on the split to Entertainment Weekly:
“I think these guys are hilarious, but they come from a background of animation and sketch comedy and when you are making these movies you can do that and there’s plenty of room for improvisation. We do that all the time, but it has to be inside of a highly structured process or you can’t get the work done and you can’t move the armies of people to anticipate and have things ready. So, it literally came down to process. Just getting it done. There comes a point where there’s only so much you can do and then you have to take a different course and that’s where we ended up… These are really great guys and you know, nobody wanted this to happen. It was just one of those unfortunate things.”
And of course, in the wake of this “unfortunate thing,” ‘Solo’ needed a new director and it needed one fast. Enter Ron Howard, an Oscar-winning director whose history with Lucasfilm goes all the way back to ‘American Graffiti’. Surely, he’s as good a fit as any. Despite that, and despite Lucasfilm’s offer coming while he was between directing gigs, Howard’s initial response was one of reluctance. So what changed his mind? As Howard explains:
“I know Chris and Phil. They’re incredibly talented guys, and all anyone at Imagine Entertainment wants to do is find a way to work with Chris and Phil, and that’s every bit as much the case today as ever. But when I learned that this change was happening, it just came in a moment where I was working on lots of new projects for Imagine, and I had not planned to direct anything last year. So then this came my way, and I was talking to Kathy, and the now tragically late Alli Shearmur, an old friend. I was reluctant, but I also began to feel I could help.”
Now that Howard was on board, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But they still had a movie to finish. Lord and Miller had reportedly shot about three quarters of ‘Solo’ with about two months (five weeks of which had been set aside for reshoots) of work filming to go. This is where it gets tricky. Reports vary wildly with regard to just how much of the finished film is Howard’s footage versus how much is Lord and Miller’s. According to Donald Glover, the movie “didn’t really” change, at least as far as his involvement was concerned. According to Paul Bettany, however (who replaced Michael K. Williams during reshoots), Howard “reshot a lot more than was originally intended,” with some sources claiming that the reshoots covered “potentially 80% or more” of the film at considerable cost.
So how much of ‘Solo’ is Howard’s? We may never know. While the rumors point in one direction, they are at times contradictory, and by their very nature should be treated with some measure of skepticism. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that Howard, as the sole credited director, has to have shot at least 51% of the finished product (per Director’s Guild rules). Beyond that it’s anyone’s guess, particularly since Howard himself demurs when the subject is raised, paraphrasing the film’s titular scoundrel with a quick “Don’t tell me the percentages!” He adds:
“I don’t really want to explain it. I don’t really want to be specific about that because, again, I don’t even want that to matter to fans. I could understand why you’d ask, and some might even be curious, but look, everybody who has been involved in this has done nothing but love what this movie could be, and that’s been the vibe around it. I think audiences are gonna feel that love and excitement.”
‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is scheduled for release on May 25, 2018. The film stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Joonas Suotamo. Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on ‘Solo’ and other upcoming ‘Star Wars’ films as it becomes available!