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The film world was aflutter after directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired from the Star Wars standalone Han Solo film, with weeks left of filming. Various sources are putting the blame on a conflict between producer Kathleen Kennedy and writer Lawrence Kasdan’s longstanding legacy with the Star Wars franchise and how Lord and Miller were more prone to stray from the script. Considering that this is the second Disney Star Wars film to experience creative differences, it’s extremely puzzling to see this type of thing play out from the audience level. How can a major visionary force be ousted from production so easily and with so much of the film remaining? As the fans pray and hope that a director’s cut is on the horizon, it might be time to turn to the past to see what the future will hold for the misadventures of Han Solo.

Most films that have a “troubled” production fire the directors within the month, or at least before significant filming has begun. Movies such as Saturday Night Fever, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Wizard of Oz, Spartacus and even Gone With the Wind had a change relatively early on in the production cycle. Particularly older studio films, before directors were seen as being artists, tended to suffer the consequences of being guns for hire on larger projects. Sometimes, the director pushes himself out to pursue other projects, other times the producer looks over the footage and realizes that everything is not quite up to snuff. Even for a project like Gone with the Wind, where director George Cukor had spent two years in preproduction on the script, the rights of the director tended to be usurped by the producer or star.  While auteurism has certainly curbed the trend of sudden shakeups in the middle of the production, it hasn’t completely eliminated it.

Sometimes, the conflict on set is a perfect storm. Such is the case with the 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (above). With less than ideal shooting conditions and two huge stars with larger egos pulling the strings, original director Richard Stanley (Hardware) was ousted via fax from the production three days in. The remains of Stanley’s original plans, the drama of his tenure as director, and the unfolding of the rest of the production were covered in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, but Stanley’s termination didn’t put an end to the troubled production. New director John Frankenheimer (Ronin, The Manchurian Candidate) had to put up with the increasingly difficult egos and tragedies of stars Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. The film was eventually finished, but was a critical and box office failure. While one can blame studio pressure and star egos for a large majority of the problems, one can’t help but also put some blame on Stanley for his behavior and inability to communicate with the studio.

If any film is notorious for “troubled production” it would be Superman II. Director Richard Donner (The Omen, The Goonies)  shot the first two Superman films back to back, with 75% of Superman II having been shot and put on hold as the original entered post production. Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind had a hit on their hand with Superman and ultimately made the decision to fire Donner due to either, set conflicts or a desire to change the film tonally, turning it over to Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers). In order to get credited for the feature, Richard Lester had to film at least 51% of the final product and Superman II shows the editorial patchwork. However, the movie received critical praise and financial success, and Lester returned for Superman III. Decades later, due to fan frenzy over a bootleg, Donner’s cut of Superman II saw the light of day. It was through this cut that Richard Donner’s work was finally appreciated, albeit through a less than conventional method of storytelling due to the utilization of “alternative” footage.

So what fate befalls our lovable rogue crew of the Han Solo spinoff? Considering significant filming has already happened, it is unlikely any cast changes will occur under the watch of new director Ron Howard. He has three weeks of filming plus an additional five weeks of reshoots already budgeted from the remains of the previous production. Securing Ron Howard to take the reigns was an incredible move as he has a fantastic pedigree in creating safe, yet riveting stories. Whatever will remain of Miller and Lord’s work will most likely come across in the visual aesthetics, as cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) will remain a key element in making Untitled Han Solo Star Wars Anthology Film something that truly feels alive as he did with Arrival. As for Lord and Miller? At the moment, they don’t have any more directorial projects lined up, just various production work for continuations of the LEGO series. However, considering their quick rise as directors and the generally neutral terms of their firing, it is unlikely this will leave a dark spot on their resume. As it stands, the only thing left for fans to do is wait until May 25th, 2018 for the Ron Howard film to finally lay judgement over the critical fate of the Star Wars anthology series.

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