There is no way I couldn’t do it because it was only the biggest news story of the week—bigger than Donald Trump’s latest speech, bigger than the latest terrorist threat in Europe—it was so big that it actually led the headlines for three solid days worldwide. The new Han Solo Star Wars movie production fired its two directors—whom I liked—Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with just three weeks left on the schedule and a summer of re-shoots still needing completion. Obviously, I have designated myself as a Star Wars fan and out of all the characters in that fantasy sci-fi series Han Solo is my absolutely favorite character. So even though there are thousands of other topics I might otherwise discuss—I must cover this issue by default of its cultural importance—because as I’ve said many times, Star Wars is not just a movie. For many people it is a nearly religious event with tremendous cultural ramifications. And yes, this was big news to a lot of people—and to the film industry as a whole. My first inclination was optimism for reasons that I’ll describe because it tells me that Kathy Kennedy has her arms around these Star Wars movies—she understands what needs to be done and she isn’t afraid to do it—and I respect that. Her pick for the next director couldn’t have been better—Ron Howard fresh off the Genius National Geographic drama about Albert Einstein.
I understand now that it was the kid playing the young Han Solo who actually started the process, Alden Ehrenreich. He apparently was concerned that the directors known for their comedy in films like 21 Jump Street were not taking the picture to a place it needed to go and he spoke to people about it. His instincts were correct, Han Solo is serious business even though there is comedy that surrounds a character like that—it’s a very fine line. After Ehrenreich stated his concerns the word got back to Kathy Kennedy who took a look at the dailies and the film just wasn’t working. It’s not necessarily the fault of Lord and Miller, but if they weren’t getting that fine line—then they needed to be fired.
Additionally, and this is something I don’t think any of them would admit, I noticed that both Miller and Lord were openly protesting Donald Trump and were members of this new Hollywood “resistance” which happens to be the same name of the group that works against the Empire in the new Star Wars films—and this was making Disney and Kathy Kennedy nervous. The Han Solo film went into production in February of this year and I just happened to be in London at the same time so I was seeing news that wasn’t so available in the United States and I was very concerned that these new Star Wars directors were so openly against Trump and were fully supporting demonstrations in the streets of London. There is no question that some of that radicalism was finding its way into the new Star Wars movie—where it clearly didn’t belong. By pissing off half the country in America with political activism in a Star Wars film it would certainly take a hit at the box office and the franchise led by Kennedy these days can’t afford something like that, directly or indirectly. It was so bad that I actually Tweeted the kids to knock it off—they needed to keep their eyes on the big picture.
Just this week Johnny Depp effectively ended his career when he stated that he thought that a modern actor should assassinate Donald Trump—he was speaking to a group in England where that kind of talk is quite popular these days and he forgot really how far his statements might go—and once it hit the American media it was too late for him. Depp’s latest Pirates of the Caribbean film had done decent business and if he had kept his mouth shut, he might have recovered as an actor. His recent divorce and difficulties on the set of Dead Men Tell No Tales have flagged him as a has been that can’t deliver at the box office. His money was over extended and he really needed to just ride the wave of Pirates and actually hope for another one to pull him out of this slump. But now—he’s toxic. Like it or not, Trump is president and many people are having a positive experience because of it—and they don’t want to hear a bunch of spoiled brat actors and directors taking shots at their president in movies they pay to see. It’s just not good business. I think Johnny Depp—as much as I like him as an actor—just killed his career forever. He’ll never recover. He literally just went from riches to rags—because with his financial problems he needed to stay on top to get large pay checks and he just killed that opportunity.
Although I was critical of the Genius show on the National Geographic Channel, Ron Howard did a great job as he always does directing it. He is one of the top filmmakers in the world clearly functioning from a different place—and when it was announced that Lucasfilm had hired him to replace Lord and Miller I was very happy about it. Ron Howard knew how to keep the modern politics out of his projects just like many older directors could. For instance, I never knew whether or not George Lucas or Steven Spielberg were conservatives or liberals in the 80s. When Ronald Reagan invited them to the White House they went and took pictures and they certainly didn’t protest in politics. If Return of the Jedi had references to the Vietnam War in it sympathetic to the Vietnamese—I couldn’t tell by watching the product.
I was quite shocked to find in the 90s that Spielberg and Lucas gave money to the Clintons and were becoming more active within the Democratic Party—and as much as I liked them—I thought differently about them since then. No longer did I rush out and see their movies because they had shown themselves to be against conservative positions—and honestly they never recovered their former positions culturally because of it. However, Ron Howard has never lost that and is the closest thing we have in Hollywood to a good traditional director and actor who established his roots on the Andy Griffin Show. He knows how to walk that fine line so that people can enjoy a project of his without thinking about the modern politics of the moment—because ten to twenty years from now—you still want the film to be relevant.
For this Han Solo movie to have the kind of appeal that Disney needs out of it they really need to pull off something special and it’s a credit to Kathy Kennedy that she took action before it was too late. Ron Howard will know what to do and I’m relieved for it. The world is changing and that radicalism that Hollywood has embraced cannot find its way into something that needs to stay relevant well into the future. By the time this Han Solo movie is released in May of 2018 we will be living in a different world–largely shaped by Donald Trump’s presidency—and a lot of people will be supportive of him. They don’t want to see a movie made by people who openly hate him and have filled their Twitter pages with disparaging Trump remarks. They’ll want to go to the darkened theater and enjoy a new Star Wars movie without politics trying to shape their opinions—and Ron Howard knows how to do that. After all, it wasn’t Howard’s fault that I liked Albert Einstein less after his Genius series. It was to Howard’s credit that I was able to get to know Einstein much better than ever before. As an artist he just presented the facts—he didn’t tell me how to feel—and that is the difference between a great director and people who are just average. That is why hiring Howard to direct the Han Solo movie will prove to be so brilliant—and I’m glad the production had the courage to do it—before it was too late.
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