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The spy franchise's revolving door of filmmakers coincides nicely with the home release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which swapped the LEGO guys for Ron Howard
I know, I know. The Star Wars and James Bond franchises don’t technically qualify as superhero nonsense. But it could easily be argued that the adventures of 007 and the Skywalker clan laid the groundwork for the franchise blockbuster culture we inhabit today, and also I need to write about something every week, so here we go.
The news broke last month that Danny Boyle will no longer be directing the new Bond film, citing good ol’ creative differences – which, in this case, I assume meant he was willing to be creative, and the producers felt differently. But just the other day, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who defined himself as a visual storyteller on the first season of True Detective and re-established his bona fides last Friday with the release of the Netflix series Maniac, was named as his replacement.
I can see why this choice makes sense to producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the keepers of the Bond crown. All the way back to his first feature Sin Nombre, Fukunaga has distinguished himself as an obsessive stylist with nothing at all to say, and thus he’s likely to be a good company man and deliver whatever he’s asked to deliver with minimal resistance and maximum impact. Hell, just read Fukunaga’s recent interview with GQ, in which he says he let the Netflix audience-expectation algorithm dictate certain creative choices in Maniac.
In contrast, Boyle is a filmmaker who makes movies that are about something – well, except maybe Trance – and I can imagine the requirements of a Bond movie might prove too restricting. Remember, Sam Mendes followed the inventive Skyfall with the depressingly mechanical Spectre. It can happen to anybody.
Still, at least the Bond franchise switched directors between movies. Lucasfilm had to do it between setups, firing LEGO Movie creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller well into production on Solo: A Star Wars Story and replacing them with Ron Howard, who reshot the film and wound up with sole directorial credit. (Lord and Miller are credited as executive producers.) The resulting movie doesn’t feel like the work of anybody in particular, which I assume was the goal – the result of producer Kathleen Kennedy and the guiding lights at Lucasfilm wanting a steady hand on the tiller after the reshoots on Rogue One – which did, in all fairness, result in a pretty great Star Wars movie.
Solo comes to Blu-ray/DVD today in a big shiny special edition that, as one might expect, doesn’t deal with that situation at all. Well, there’s a moment in the Director And Stars Roundtable featurette where the actors kinda-sorta acknowledge that Howard came into the movie fairly late in production, but that’s as close as they come. (It’s a pleasant, convivial conversation, no one has any problems, and you get the sense there’s a Lucasfilm operative standing just out of frame with an air horn just in case anyone blurts out something they shouldn’t.)
Other extras include about 15 minutes of deleted and extended scenes – including a longer version of Han and Chewie’s mud fight, and a fun sequence in which Han crashes a TIE fighter that probably should have stayed in the film – as well as a selection of glossy looks at the production, including a breakdown of the opening speeder chase and a profile of L3-37, the self-possessed droid played in motion capture by the brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose non-Lucasfilm work includes creating and starring in Fleabag and running Killing Eve.
I would have liked to see a more in-depth look at the film’s best sequence, in which L3 incites a slave revolt in the mines of Kessel, but I guess that was something from Lord and Miller’s time in the centre seat… which, um, might be why it’s the film’s best sequence?
This brings us right back to Boyle and Fukunaga and the question of competence over creativity. I’m on the side of the weird creative spark every time – that’s how you get something truly original within the confines of a well-established franchise, like Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi or even Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. Lord and Miller’s Han Solo movie would no doubt have been a lot more irreverent than the one that bears Howard’s signature you can still feel their attitude peeking through here and there. (Woody Harrelson whining about hurting his thumbs in a space battle is totally their joke.)
Sure, this one is more serious(ish) and ties into the greater Star Wars mythology, but the point of these stand-alones is that they don’t have to. A movie about Young Han and Slightly Younger Chewie (who’s still, like, 180 years old) zooming around the galaxy pissing off criminals and ignoring the Empire would be a blast, and now – with this whole weird attempt to set up a new plotline involving a resurrected villain from the prequels – we’ll never get that movie.
Yeah, the other thing is a safer bet. But you’re working with a 40-year-old property. It’s okay to take risks. Han Solo totally would. And that Bond fellow would, too.
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