There’s something big going down at Lucasfilm at the moment.
The studio just can’t seem to catch a break, with first Phil Lord and Chris Miller being removed from Han Solo, and now Colin Trevorrow departing from the thus-far untitled Star Wars Episode IX.
It’s hard to feel any sympathy for Lucasfilm at this point, though – things are looking like this might all be due to a lack of proper management rather than a series of unfortunate, unavoidable challenges.
To paraphrase a wonderful Oscar Wilde character, to lose one director may be considered misfortunate; to lose two, denotes carelessness.
After all, Miller and Lord weren’t the first directors to run into problems with Lucasfilm. While the timeline of events isn’t entirely clear, the latter end of Rogue One is known to have run into similar problems, with lengthy reshoots, questions over directorial control in the editing booth, and delays that caused the movie to lose its original composer due to scheduling conflicts.
Gareth Edwards ended up clashing with Lucasfilm during post-production on Rogue One. Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from Han Solo during production itself. Colin Trevorrow has left Episode IX during pre-production.
Well, at least Lucasfilm is getting more efficient at chewing up and spitting out directorial talent.
(You could also count Josh Trank in here as well, after his Boba Fett movie was cancelled, but that seems to be more about Fantastic Four than anything internal within Lucasfilm.)
So what’s going on here?
It would be easy to assume that the blame falls on Lucasfilm’s Higher Ups and their overseers at Disney. The standard Hollywood narrative here would assume that the company’s bosses are squeezing directors, crushing their free spirits, and firing anyone who steps out of line.
There is, though, probably a far more benign reason for these directorial mishaps. Lucasfilm’s release schedule is just too ambitious.
Producing an entire movie every single year is a difficult strain for any studio – keeping a high level of quality, getting production running smoothly, and ensuring that every element of the business can continue in perpetuity is not easy even for big studios that are used to this sort of thing.
Lucasfilm is not used to putting out a movie a year. The studio has, until very recently, been more focused on taking the time needed to create the most intricate, complex, visually stunning movies possible.
Each of the prequel Star Wars movies took three years to make each, at a time when other film studios were working on a two year cycle for similar projects. George Lucas had all the time and money in the world, so he built his film studio around a slow, methodical production structure.
It takes time to change gears and amp up production to be able to put out a movie every year. It involves everyone in the company working non-stop in an indefinite loop, starting on each new movie the moment they’ve finished the one before.
It means teams running concurrently. It means bringing in a lot of new, permanent peoplepower, where previously the studio would have hired out for creative designers only for the period during which they were absolutely necessary.
That’s a lot to set up, but it’s only part of the challenge of filmmaking – the difficult part involves storytelling, and for that, Lucasfilm has turned to outside directors who are expected to work to very tight schedules in order to fit within the larger machine.
Rumors suggest that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from Han Solo in part because their style of filmmaking was taking too long. They were trying out improvisation, messing around with parts, and aiming to make the best possible movie by seeing how well things worked if they rearranged elements and tried different things with their actors.
This drew ire from Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy and the movie’s writer Lawrence Kasdan, who’d expected Miller and Lord to come in, film things exactly as they appeared on the page, and provide an adequate, functional movie based on all the work that had already been done.
There was no time for meddling. The movie didn’t need to be a fantastic, genre-defining work of art; it simply needed to be finished on time.
With Episode IX, things have become even more complicated thanks to a genuine tragedy. The loss of Carrie Fisher has hit the Star Wars brand hard, especially because her character was supposed to be a major part of Colin Trevorrow’s film.
The resulting reshuffle has seen the movie go through a full rewrite, and now, its director has departed, likely in large part because Lucasfilm can’t find a suitable way to wrap things up with this saga in a timely manner.
The villain here, then, isn’t some dastardly evil empire of movie executives, but rather the harsh, inflexible release schedule that Disney has committed Lucasfilm to.
The movies prioritize timeliness over originality and experimentation, and what we’ve seen thus far from Disney’s Star Wars efforts reflect this. The plan is to make Lucasfilm into another Marvel, but everyone involved seems to have forgotten that the MCU worked its way up to making a movie every year, and had a few duds along the way as the studio ironed out the kinks in its formula.
There is, meanwhile, one last piece of the Lucasfilm puzzle that needs to be addressed. The studio was built around its founder, and his specific directorial style. George Lucas built a media empire that allowed him to make movies his own way, with creatives that would yield to his particular vision.
Now, George Lucas has been removed from the picture, and Lucasfilm is struggling on without a specific auteur at its center. This explains why the studio is so resistant to new ideas, and is instead focusing on rehashing the popular ideas from George Lucas’ previous works.
Lucasfilm has gone from treating movies as intricately crafted works of art that take years to complete (albeit featuring too much greenscreen and bad character writing), to churning out films as quickly as possible while willfully ignoring the problems that this new strategy provides to a studio that’s built for a very different kind of movie.
Naturally, there’s going to be some teething pain along the way. Here’s hoping the studio will eventually get into a groove and stop burning through directors like Chewbacca runs through shampoo.