FORCE IS WITH KASDAN
The veteran writer has become a guardian of the soul of Star Wars, ensuring he stepped in to guide the direction of the new Solo spin-off
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 says. “And they are very committed to it.”
The question of what constitutes a Star Wars film – how it should feel and what it should sound like – was at the centre of the battle over the Han Solo spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story and the dispute that resulted in directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord being replaced in mid-production with Ron Howard.
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.
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.
The first spin-off, 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 per cent 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 says. “We were very excited to get Phil and Chris on to 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.”
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 written Empire and Jedi, just figures into this equation differently than any writer could,” Jon Kasdan says. “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 but critics have been impressed by how little evidence there is of the film’s schizophrenic production.
Advance tracking has estimated a possible weekend opening of around $170 million, suggesting fans remain excited for the film starring Alden Ehrenreich in Harrison Ford’s iconic role and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian.
Ultimately, the elder Kasdan doesn’t think the soul of Star Wars is anything too deep. “What drew me to it was there was this guy who walked into the cantina,” says Kasdan. “A gunslinger with a great sidekick.”
Solo: A Star Wars Story opens in major cinemas today
YOU CAN HAVE FUN WITH THE TONE BUT YOU NEVER MAKE FUN OF THE TONE, IN MY WORLD
Joonas Suotamo as Chewie and Alden Ehrenreich as Han in a scene from new blockbuster, Solo: A Star Wars Story.