Weeks away from its May 25 release and still sight unseen, it’s fair to say that Solo: A Star Wars Story already arrives as one of the more problem-plagued big-budget movies in recent memory. In June, after completing at least three-quarters of principal photography on the stand-alone prequel — which traces the early, pre–Mos Eisley adventures of Harrison Ford’s iconic space-smuggler character Han Solo — original co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by Lucasfilm studio boss Kathleen Kennedy over “creative differences.” Days later, Ron Howard was hired to finish the film. Rumors ricocheted around Hollywood that the script was “unworkable” and that star Alden Ehrenreich was struggling to nail his impersonation of Ford, compelling some fans to preemptively revolt.
Vulture spoke to an actor who worked on Solo — for four months under the direction of Miller and Lord last year, and beginning in October with Howard — who provided a blow-by-blow. Although not one of the film’s marquee stars, this source was in a prime position to observe the directors’ contrasting on-set modi operandi. And according to his description, the production was divided into two distinct chapters: one disorganized and chaotic, the other controlled and efficient.
Vulture’s source, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to publicly discuss the movie at this time, felt Lord and Miller were out of their depth, more cut out for light comedy — like The Lego Movie and 2012’s big-screen adaptation of 21 Jump Street, the movies for which the pair earned their reputation for delivering surprise hits — than the kind of big-budget, galaxy-questing action that Lucasfilm required.
To hear our source tell it, the main difference between the co-directors’ filmmaking style and Howard’s boiled down to efficiency. Where Lord and Miller would typically demand more than 30 takes of a given scene — seemingly unsure of what they wanted other than a delivery “different” from the last — Howard got the job done in no more than two or three takes. “Phil and Chris are good directors, but they weren’t prepared for Star Wars,” says our source. “After the 25th take, the actors are looking at each other like, ‘This is getting weird.’ [Lord and Miller] seemed a bit out of control. They definitely felt the pressure; with one of these movies, there are so many people on top of you all the time. The first assistant director was really experienced and had to step in to help them direct a lot of scenes.” (Joy Fehily, a spokesperson for Miller and Lord says: “This information is completely inaccurate,” but declined to cite specific inaccuracies. She also declined to make the directors available for an interview.)
Howard, on the other hand, has a journeyman’s filmography that stretches back to 1984, spanning comedy-romance (Splash), biographical dramas (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon), and pulpy thrillers (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons). And he impressed the beleaguered Solo production by working “really fast.” “When he came on, he took control and you could feel it,” the actor says. “He got respect immediately. He’s really confident. A really easy guy to work with.”
Howard certainly needs to work fast. According to our insider, the director reshot a majority of Solo at London’s Pinewood Studios, and is now in post-production on the Disney studio lot in Burbank. Howard has been cagey about the “How much is his and how much is theirs?” aspect of the film that has stoked fan fascination. “[Of] course Phil and Chris’s fingerprints are all over the movie, given how much they put into it and the time they put into it,” he recently told EW.
Speaking at the GLAS Animation Festival in Berkeley, California, on Friday, Miller and Lord revealed they had elected not to contest Howard for a “directed by” credit on Solo. “We were really proud of the many contributions we made to that film,” Miller said from the podium. “In light of the creative differences, we elected to take an executive producer credit.” (At Vulture Fest in November, Lord addressed the dismissal by saying: “I think in terms of us leaving the project, I think everyone went in with good intentions and our approach to making the movie was different than theirs. That was a really big gap to bridge, and it proved to be too big.”)
However, unlike the reshoots on 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that involved an uncredited Tony Gilroy writing new dialogue and directing entirely new sequences (including the climactic battle), the additional photography on Solo is said to consist of scene-for-scene do-overs of things previously shot. “It’s exactly the same script. They’re filming exactly the same things. There’s nothing new,” says the actor, adding: “[Lord and Miller] used whole sets. But Ron is just using parts from those sets. I guess they’re not shooting wide angle. Maybe to save money.”
The Issues With Alden
Although Vulture’s source never saw Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy openly quarreling with Lord and Miller, it became obvious their “find it in the editing bay” shooting style didn’t align with the studio’s vision just a month into production. In addition to shooting dozens of takes, which slowed the pace of filming, the two failed to compel the desired performance from their leading man. In March 2017 the studio took the nearly unprecedented move of hiring an acting coach to help star Alden Ehrenreich more convincingly channel Ford’s swashbuckling affect in the original three Star Wars movies. “Trying to mimic Harrison Ford is really tough,” our source says. “Lucasfilm wanted something very specific: copying someone else. Alden’s not a bad actor — just not good enough.”
Having an on-set acting instructor may have assailed Ehrenreich’s sense of pride, but it almost immediately made an impact on his line delivery. “You could see his acting became more relaxed. He became more Harrison-like,” our source says. “The coach helped!”
Bad News Travels Fast
With the production “almost finished” last summer, many of Solo’s non-marquee actors were shocked to discover that Lord and Miller had been fired the way everyone else did: via online reports. “It was crazy,” the actor recalls. “They fired our bosses. Everyone was texting each other: ‘Did you see the news? Do you think they’re doing reshoots?’ It was messy. And it was crazy how everything got leaked to the press.”
So, are the reshoots quantitatively making Solo a better movie? The actor says morale on the production improved by leaps and bounds with Howard’s arrival but points out it’s impossible to measure quality without seeing the final cut. He also points out that the financial underperformance of the last Star Wars installment — which fell $200 million short of analysts’ predictions, according to The Wall Street Journal — has incentivized the studio to make the Force strong with this one. “They have to make [Solo] good after The Last Jedi didn’t make as much money as expected,” he says. “If they want to keep making Star Wars movies, it has to be good.”