Ron Howard did an admirable job getting Solo: A Star Wars Story across the finish line amidst its troubled production, but the last-minute director change wasn't enough to completely save the project. When Lucasfilm first officially announced the spinoff, Phil Lord & Chris Miller were set to call the shots, riding high off the success of The LEGO Movie and 22 Jump Street. In one of the most bizarre developments in recent memory, the two were fired four months into production due to creative differences. Howard came on board just a couple days later, and he was asked to do much more than round out the last few weeks of filming. He oversaw extensive reshoots that encompassed as much as 80 percent of the movie.
It goes without saying that Solo (probably more so than any other Star Wars film besides the original) was hell to complete, but was it ultimately worth all the trouble it went through? The answer to that question is more complex than one might think. From a certain point of view, Howard benefitted the spinoff - but that doesn't tell the entire story.
Ron Howard Made A Good Star Wars Movie
While the full story concerning Lord & Miller's departure may never be revealed, key details (heavy improvisation, inefficiency on-set, a Guardians of the Galaxy tone) have been well-documented by now. It's clear the Solo they wanted to make is not the one Lucasfilm had envisioned. This is why they brought in Howard, a veteran who has a rich history with Star Wars (he's been a fan from the beginning) and the studio. While he never worked with a budget of this scale before, the helmsman came in with laser-sharp focus and quickly made his way through the scenes. Lucasfilm was so impressed with Howard's approach, they kept giving more to do and extended production to October 2017.
Lord & Miller are known for their bursting creativity and slick subversions of pop culture, so the fear was bringing in an old hand like Howard would negatively impact Solo from an artistic perspective. However, the finished film is proof Howard was the right fit. Coming into Solo with the mindset of emulating the original trilogy in terms of tone and style, he ended up delivering an entertaining complement to those classic movies that feels very much like it's a part of that universe. In the aftermath of toxic Last Jedi debates, Solo is exactly the type of palate cleanser the franchise needed. And even if Howard's Solo is less risky than what Lord & Miller were aiming for, it still made some bold creative choices, opened up new possibilities for the series, and wowed audiences with thrilling set pieces that are some of the best in Star Wars. Solo is well-crafted entertainment designed to be a crowdpleaser.
There's also the matter of Alden Ehrenreich, who had the daunting task of stepping into Harrison Ford's shoes. At the time of the director change, there were rumblings Lucasfilm was unhappy with the actor's performance and brought in an acting coach to help Ehrenreich along. Details about Lord & Miller's vision give some context to that. If they were going for Guardians of the Star Wars, then it's reasonable to think Ehrenreich's Han was similar to Star-Lord (which is odd because Han Solo influenced Star-Lord). And though this is a younger, more idealistic Han, he still has to resemble the scoundrel we grew to love in the original trilogy. Under Howard's watch, Ehrenreich emerged as one of the greatest things in Solo, making the role his own without doing an impression of Ford. He captured the spirit of Han in his performance, and like the rest of the cast, delivered a strong turn that silenced naysayers. The shift in dynamic to bring Solo more towards the original trilogy likely helped in this area.
Solo ultimately scored the worst reviews of Disney's four Star Wars movies to date, but it still stands at a robust 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than most would have expected beforehand. Though the film isn't particularly challenging, it's still highly entertaining and is different in the sense it mixes things up by not focusing on a Rebel/Empire conflict. Howard did a very good job bringing this story to life, but for all of Solo's merits, it does have the rather ignominious position of being the first Star Wars movie to disappoint at the box office. And this is why Howard's work wasn't enough to completely save Solo.
Lucasfilm Mismanaged Solo: A Star Wars Story
Howard's steady hand and calming presence prevented Solo from flying off the rails, but by the time he joined, the damage was already done. Partially due to the extensive reshoots, the film's production budget ballooned to at least $250 million, which is a more expensive price tag than The Force Awakens. This meant Solo needed to perform exceptionally well at the box office to turn a profit, and it decidedly did not. The 4-day Memorial Day weekend total - once projected at $170 million domestically - was a far more softer $103 million (which is still the best for the holiday in four years). Worldwide, it's at only $168 million as of this writing.
Lucasfilm has nobody to blame for this fiasco but themselves. The $1 million question will forever be why Lord & Miller were hired in the first place. Yes, none other than Lawrence Kasdan vouched for them, but a number of the issues Kathleen Kennedy had are things that conceivably should come up during the interview process. Reportedly, the personality clash was so severe, Kennedy didn't like how Lord & Miller "folded their socks," which makes one wonder how things even got this far along in development. A case can be made Lucasfilm stubbornly stuck with Lord & Miller (even when it was clear things weren't working) and only pulled the plug as a last-ditch emergency effort to get the project back on track. There's no denying this was a difficult call to make, but in retrospect, it's one that should have been done much earlier - before the budget spiraled out of control. There's no reason Solo should cost more than a saga film.
In the words of Tobias Beckett, there's a lesson to be learned here. Lucasfilm needs to be more prudent in future director searches and be extra sure they have the right person for a job prior to cameras rolling. Given that Howard drew from the same script as Lord & Miller (with some changes, of course), it's clear the studio had a strong idea for what they wanted Solo to be. Finding a filmmaker whose vision lined up with that should have been the first priority. Lord & Miller were splashy names to land, but their meta sensibilities and overtly comedic nature were always going to be an awkward fit for Star Wars. The concept behind the spinoffs is to push the franchise in new directions and genres, but there still needs to be some consistency between the anthologies and the numbered episodes. Even if Solo broke all the Memorial Day records in the book, it never should have gotten to this point.
What makes this conversation tricky to have is that Lord & Miller's contributions to the project are still readily apparent onscreen. Joining Solo in 2015, they did all of the pre-production work that Howard wasn't a part of, including the exhausting casting search for the new Han Solo that delivered Alden Ehrenreich's great turn. In fact, with the exception of Paul Bettany (who replaced Michael K. Williams as Dryden Vos), the principal cast (seen by many as a highlight) is all Lord & Miller. Howard inherited a top-notch ensemble, and there's no telling how things would have played out if Lord & Miller were never hired. In some respects, their involvement helped Solo become the film it is - even though they never realized their complete vision. That has to be taken into account, and it's something Lucasfilm realized, as evidenced by Lord & Miller's executive producers credit.
It speaks volumes there isn't a fervent demand for the Lord & Miller cut of Solo (see: Justice League) in the wake of the spinoff's release. Most are in agreement the end result is a perfectly fine adventure through the Star Wars galaxy that serves up the fun and adds to the lore. That alone is evidence the director switch wasn't a catastrophic event. Since we'll never see Lord & Miller's Solo, we can't say their film would have been a disaster, but (box office notwithstanding), Lucasfilm is pleased with what they got. Most people feel movie quality is more important than box office results, and since Solo is good, that's ultimately what matters. But hopefully this is the only time Lucasfilm goes through something like this.