In ‘Solo,’ a bat­tle for ‘Star Wars’ soul, tone


CANNES, France — When J.J. Abrams was a “Star Wars” novice, Lawrence Kas­dan, the writer of “The Em­pire Strikes Back” and “The Re­turn of the Jedi,” had some ad­vice for him: “Star Wars” is not im­por­tant.

“But what is im­por­tant is the way peo­ple feel about it,” Kas­dan said. “And they are very com­mit­ted to it. What they’re com­mit­ted to is a cer­tain kind of film.”

The ques­tion of what con­sti­tutes a “Star Wars” film — how it should feel and what it should sound like — was at the cen­ter of the bat­tle over the Han Solo spinoff “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and the dis­pute that re­sulted in di­rec­tors Chris Miller and Phil Lord be­ing re­placed in mid­pro­duc­tion with Ron Howard. Though the pace and im­pro­vi­sa­tional man­ner of Lord and Miller’s direc­tion was part of the clash, the main is­sue was, sim­ply, tone.

Lord and Miller, the film­mak­ing duo of ir­rev­er­ent, highly meta come­dies like “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie,” wanted to push “Solo” into “Guardians of the Galaxy” ter­ri­tory. Kas­dan did not.

“You can have fun with the tone but you never make fun of the tone, in my world,” Kas­dan said in an in­ter­view along­side his son and cowriter Jon Kas­dan, the morn­ing af­ter the “Solo” premiere at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. “We live in a very meta cul­ture and there’s a ten­dency to make fun of these things be­fore they’re even any­thing.”

The pains of find­ing the bal­ance be­tween re­cap­tur­ing the feel of Ge­orge Lu­cas’ orig­i­nal tril­ogy and al­low­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers to put their own stamp on “Star Wars” may be the most press­ing cre­ative is­sue be­fore Lu­cas­film pres­i­dent Kath­leen Kennedy. Be­neath the bil­lions of dol­lars in box of­fice and mer­chan­dise, there are hints of a grow­ing ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis in the far, far away galaxy as it gets fur­ther and fur­ther re­moved from Lu­cas’ orig­i­nal vi­sion.

The first spinoff, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” saw Gareth Ed­wards booted for Tony Gil­roy. Colin Trevor­row (“Juras­sic World”) was to helm 2019’s Episode IX be­fore “Force Awak­ens” di­rec­tor J.J. Abrams was brought back in the fold. And even Rian John­son’s “The Last Jedi,” which ac­cord­ing to crit­ics suc­ceeded the most in fresh­en­ing up “Star Wars” with a dis­tinct film­mak­ing sen­si­bil­ity, was very di­vi­sive among fans.

Some ap­plauded John­son’s changes and some re­viled them — and the split hurt busi­ness. “The Last Jedi” grossed $1.3 bil­lion world­wide, but ticket sales fell sharply af­ter the first two weeks of re­lease and it made only $42.6 mil­lion in China. “Solo” came to Cannes — the world’s largest film fes­ti­val — with an eye to­ward boost­ing global awareness.

Much of the con­ver­sa­tion lead­ing up to the re­lease of “Solo” has been es­ti­mat­ing how much of the film is Lord and Miller’s and how much is Howard’s. But the high­est per­cent might be­long to Kas­dan, who ini­ti­ated the film’s premise years ago, and who — when the comic tenor started shift­ing — felt some own­er­ship of the film.

“There is that, no ques­tion. I got ex­cited be­cause I wanted it to sound like a cer­tain thing. It’s all about sound and tone and voice,” Kas­dan said. “We were very ex­cited to get Phil and Chris onto the movie. It was a very dif­fi­cult movie and they shot a lot of it. And it was a strug­gle to main­tain that voice and hear that tone.”

When Ge­orge Lu­cas ex­ited any ac­tive role in the sci­encefic­tion soap opera he cre­ated, that left Kas­dan as the pri­mary — and most widely re­spected — con­nec­tive tis­sue be­tween the past and present of “Star Wars.” The 69-year-old Kas­dan, who also co-wrote “The Force Awak­ens,” has emerged as some­thing of a guardian of the soul of “Star Wars.”

“Larry, hav­ing had writ­ten ‘Em­pire’ and ‘Jedi,’ just fig­ures into this equa­tion dif­fer­ently than any writer could,” Jon Kas­dan said. “He’s in a very funny and chal­leng­ing po­si­tion, to be kind of the keeper of the flame and to help usher it into a new era with new film­mak­ers.”

Lord and Miller, who have taken ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer cred­its, have only spo­ken pub­licly once about the fall­out. In Novem­ber, Lord said there was sim­ply a “re­ally big gap to bridge and it proved to be too big. Some­times peo­ple break up and it’s re­ally sad and it’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing, but it hap­pens and we learned a lot from our col­lab­o­ra­tors.”

Re­views for “Solo” have been a lit­tle tepid (70 per­cent fresh on Rot­ten Tomatoes as of Thurs­day) but crit­ics have been im­pressed by how lit­tle ev­i­dence there is of the film’s schiz­o­phrenic pro­duc­tion. Jon Kas­dan be­lieves the fin­ished prod­uct is ac­tu­ally aided by “the ten­sion be­tween Larry’s sen­si­bil­ity and Chris and Phil’s sen­si­bil­ity.”


“Solo: A Star Wars Story” strug­gled to find its bal­ance and main­tain the soul of “Star Wars.”

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