By parting ways with the irreverent duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller four months into filming on the Han Solo stand-alone movie, Lucasfilm and its president, Kathleen Kennedy, made one thing clear: the Star Wars universe is not a playground. The Disney era of Star Wars has so far been marked by abundant caution: extremely familiar plot points, well-established sci-fi directors, almost identical trailers. The choice of Lord and Miller — best known for taking stodgy IP like Lego or 21 Jump Street and turning it into zany, ironic blockbusters — felt like a risk for Lucasfilm; a chance to experiment a bit, as Marvel has finally allowed itself to do with directors like Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Captain Marvel). Which is almost certainly why it didn’t work out: Lucasfilm is handling its IP with suffocating caution — even when it comes to the movies that aren’t supposed to have any bearing on the core saga. (See: the Tony Gilroy reshoots on Rogue One.) The fact that Lord and Miller had, as they put it in their official statement with sarcastic air quotes, "creative differences" with the studio, really isn’t much of a surprise. Nor is the news that broke Thursday: that Ron Howard will be taking over the Han Solo film.
In Howard, Lucasfilm gets an extremely capable director. Movies like A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man are testaments to Howard’s ability as a director to empathize with his characters, while Apollo 13 and Rush show a certain graceful adeptness with action and set pieces. But also in Howard, Lucasfilm gets a plain, reliable shepherd, which may have been the most important factor in his hiring. According to a Variety report, Kennedy clashed with Lord and Miller specifically over their shooting style. "It was a culture clash from day one," a source told the outlet. "They weren’t given the leeway to do what they had to do." And when it came down to it, it seems that Kennedy made it clear that the Han Solo film was a Lucasfilm product — not a Lord and Miller movie. As Variety’s source so oddly but aptly put it: "They know how the cheese is made and that’s how they want it made."
A polarizing difference in opinions likely won’t be an issue with Howard. He’s stylistically traditional and the opposite of irreverent. He isn’t weird, he’s old school in a professional sense, and there probably isn’t any concern that he’ll take any self-aware shots at this all-holy franchise — one, it should be mentioned, that was started by the guy who gave Howard his biggest acting role in a movie.
With four months of filming down and only several weeks to go (plus five weeks of preplanned reshoots), Howard’s job as director may involve nothing more than making sure production crosses the finish line on time. All that matters is that it’s done in a manner that satisfies Kennedy and Lucasfilm. The combination of Han Solo and Star Wars would probably print box-office dollars no matter what, but it’s clear that when it comes to its movies, the studio isn’t willing to risk anything.