Usually when filmmakers leave a project citing “creative differences,” people assume they mean they couldn’t quit fighting long enough to actually make the film.
In a message posted on Tuesday to the official Star Wars site, Lord and Miller wrote, “We normally aren’t fans of the phrase ‘creative differences’ but for once this cliché is true.” Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy added that “it’s become clear that we had different creative visions on this film, and we’ve decided to part ways.” And on Thursday, veteran director Ron Howard was announced as their replacement. A source told Variety that the pair was fired.
Lord and Miller are the rare directing pair beloved by critics, fans, and fellow directors for their work on comedies like The Lego Movie and its sequels, both Jump Street movies, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. (The pair also directed the pilot of the beloved sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine and several episodes of The Last Man on Earth.)
It’s hard to precisely describe Lord and Miller’s style, but their work always exhibits a goofy, offbeat sense of humor and, probably most importantly, is self-aware and a little irreverent about its source material, whether it’s the Batman movies (as in Lego Batman) or the old 21 Jump Street TV show. A Lord and Miller movie knows on some level how silly movies can be, and it winks at viewers so they know they’re in on the joke, too.
That style of self-referential humor is well suited to audiences in 2017, but though the Star Wars series also exhibits a goofy sense of humor at times, its ethos is still a bit more sincere. Few details have emerged about the creative differences between the pair and Lucasfilm, though a source told Variety that Kennedy’s ideas about how a film set should run clashed with Lord and Miller’s, who reportedly prefer to work improvisationally. But one can imagine that a more self-referential take on Star Wars that pokes fun at the main series — even if it’s in keeping with the personality of its subject, Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich) — could be unwelcome.
Whatever the reason for the departure, it’s a highly unusual move for directors to be replaced mid-production, particularly if those directors were hired for their specific and quirky vision, as in the case of Lord and Miller. Granted, directors leaving or being replaced on high-profile projects is not exactly unheard of: Michelle McLaren was originally attached to Wonder Woman, and Edgar Wright to Ant-Man, for instance. And while Gareth Edwards was the credited director of the last Star Wars spinoff, 2016’s Rogue One, substantial reworking happened under the supervision of writer Tony Gilroy. Yet directorial changes almost always happen before production begins, or sometimes a few weeks into the shoot, when it becomes clear that something isn’t working.
But this exit is different. The Han Solo prequel isn’t titled yet, but it’s been shooting in London since February, with a source telling the Hollywood Reporter that there are only a few weeks left in the shoot. Reshoots (which are normal, especially in action films) are scheduled for later in the year. Presumably whoever takes over the film following Lord and Miller’s exit will supervise the remaining shoots and reshoots.
It’s hard to say what effect Lord and Miller leaving so late in the game will have on the final film, which has not been moved from its original release date of May 25, 2018. Lord and Miller’s style is so distinctive that it seems unlikely their influence will be totally erased in the final product — and you can be sure that fans of the pair will scrutinize every moment of the film to detect their fingerprints. Some of that can be mitigated in edits and extended reshoots, but scrubbing them out completely is expensive and difficult.
On the other hand, bringing in Howard is an interesting, and possibly telling, move. The director isn’t known for having as distinctive of a style as Lord and Miller, but he turns out lush, earnest, crowd-pleasing dramas — everything from Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind to the limp but high-grossing Da Vinci Code series — and while that’s a switch from Lord and Miller’s ironic self-referential style, it may please the older segment of the Star Wars fan base.
Several directors had been floated for the project before Howard was announced. The film’s screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi) had also been floated as a possibility — and the Hollywood Reporter suggested that Kasdan was the real reason the pair left — but it’s unclear if the union rules of the Directors Guild of America would have permitted him to take over. Some also suggested Joe Johnston, who directed Jumanji and Captain America: The First Avenger.
What the final product looks like, at this point, depends on how much Lucasfilm and its owner, Disney, is willing to invest in reshoots or extending production. As with almost everything about a movie before it wraps production, anything is possible. But even with the conventional choice of Howard to take over, fans of Lord and Miller — and of the franchise — will probably still be scratching their heads (and speculating on social media) about what really went wrong, and wondering about the goofy, self-aware Han Solo movie that might have been.
Note: this article was updated on June 22 to reflect Ron Howard’s role in the project.