Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or inside the mouth of an Exogorth, you’ve probably heard about the troubles facing the Han Solo movie production. The firing of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, with several rumours of executives being unhappy with actor’s performances and deviations from the screenplay, has not produced a harmonious image for the production. The question is – will the film end up being any good? Today, we’re going to look at previous examples of Star Wars films with troubled productions and see how they turned out in comparison.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
If we’re going to start looking for production troubles, we need to look no further than the original Star Wars film. This production was plagued with issues right from the start.
Firstly, Lucas was unable to get funding for his passion project. Universal Pictures, with whom he collaborated with on the critically successful American Graffiti, passed on the Star Wars project saying that the project was ‘a little strange’ (given that Star Wars is now a multi-billion dollar franchise, I think they regret that opinion). So Lucas showed his work to United Artist’s and Disney who also rejected the idea.
Finally, after almost giving up on his idea Lucas found 20th Century Fox. But even they were not totally convinced of the idea, again citing how strange the project was and how sci-fi was not a popular genre. However, Alan Ladd Jr., head of 20th Century Fox, was a fan of Lucas’s and decided to take a risk and give him a shot. It was worth it.
Another problem for the original Star Wars was nature itself. Filming in a desert was never going to be a simple job, although admittedly much simpler than the original jungle planet that Lucas had envisioned. However, no one would have imagined that a fierce rainstorm would wreck the set and push back shooting. I mean really – A rainstorm in the scorching desert of Tunisia!? Lucas must have thought that the entire world was against him.
Everyone thought it was all a good laugh
On top of all the other issues, there was one huge one within the cast – everybody thought the film was a joke. In their defence, one could understand why the idea of then non-existent concepts such as the Jedi or the Force and wacky characters such as Chewbacca would seem faintly ridiculous. However, many of the actors were purported to have treated the movie as a kids film and supposedly never gave their all whilst filming the scenes.
This may have oddly helped the film, as Lucas had always wanted a not-too-serious tone reminiscent of the old Errol Flynn movies. But it doesn’t exactly reflect well that even the cast thought the film would be a flop and had no faith in Lucas’s script, as Harrison Ford stated ‘You can type this s**t, George, but you sure can’t say it’. Is this perhaps one of the problems Miller and Lord ran into on Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay?
Despite all of these problems, the original Star Wars went on to not only be one of the most successful movies of all time, both commercially and critically but also spawned the gargantuan Star Wars universe we see today. Not too bad for one man’s supposedly wacky idea.
Production issues severity: A
Final film quality: A+
The Empire Strikes Back:
So Lucas had just helmed one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, broken records for commercial success and had captured the minds of a generation. Surely, he’d have no problems in filming a sequel. Well, think again.
Pressure for everyone to perform:
Whilst this isn’t necessarily a trouble related to production I believe it does deserve its own sub-heading because of the way it radiates throughout the whole product. Lucas was not in the director’s chair this time and had handed over writing duties to Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett (interestingly Kasdan is the writer of the screenplay for the Han Solo spin-off). And although he was the authoritative figure, Lucas must have felt as though his control was diminished compared to the previous film.
Whilst the movie turned out to be a masterpiece, perhaps even due to the new perspective offered by other members of the production, Lucas must have been worried for a time. Because of his love for the product, he rejected the idea of being under the wing of 20th Century Fox and decided to fund the budget of the film through his own personal finances. It was a bet on himself in essence and the rewards would be substantial – failure, however, would lead to bankruptcy. The crew would’ve have been well aware of this fact and that kind of pressure can permeate through a whole production.
Taking the director’s chair for this film was veteran filmmaker Irvin Kershner. Kershner was a very different director to Lucas and had a much more deliberate pace. So deliberate, in fact, that shoots would often overrun for hours at a time and reshoots of scenes were the norm. Instead of tight and focused direction, Kershner encouraged improvisation, which, whilst occasionally artistically superior to the screenplay, took a significant amount of time to film.
These features of Kershner’s direction frustrated everyone – especially Lucas, as reshoots cost more and more money; money which Lucas was fast running out of. In fact, Lucas had to return to the bank 3 separate times asking for loans as the budget ballooned from its original $22 million to $33 million.
Issues with the screenplay:
Kershner and seemingly the entire cast had several problems with the script that Lawrence Kasdan had provided. The issues with the screenplay partly contribute to the long hours of filmmaking as the director was unhappy with many of the lines as they felt too unnatural.
One famous example of this is the heralded line ‘I know’. Spoken in response to Princess Leia’s declaration of love prior to Han’s Carbonite freezing it is a line that perfectly encapsulates the nature of the charismatic, cocky Han Solo. However, in the screenplay, the response was just ‘i love you too’, which has substantially less impact. With Kershner calling it ‘soppy’.
Feeling that it was completely out of character he asked Ford to improvise a line and after hours upon hours of shooting, they finally got the line they were searching for. In post production, Kasdan and Lucas were horrified with the amount of deviations present in the film, and it undoubtedly created some friction. However, Kershner remained firm and got his way in the end.
Interestingly Lawrence Kasdan is the screenwriter for the upcoming Han Solo movie. Could Miller and Lord have felt that Kasdan’s script was not to their artistic liking and asked for some improvisation/changes to the lines? Screenwriters are notoriously unhappy when you deviate from their script, so perhaps Kasdan had a great deal to do with their firing?
The cast had seemingly as many issues as the higher ups. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford bickered constantly due to personal issues, Hamill was distant and appeared lonely and to top it all off there was a massive drop in temperatures during filming in Norway which trapped everyone inside a tiny ski lodge.
Tensions were high on set and thanks to a mysterious leaker on the set all of the press knew. This figure turned out to be the body of Darth Vader, Dave Prowse and he was not trusted with any important information for the majority of the shoot. They even fed him a fake line instead of the classic ‘I am your father’ so as to keep the climactic twist a secret.
Despite all these issues, and they certainly were substantial issues, Empire turned out to be a masterpiece. Perhaps the greatest of all the Star Wars films and universally regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Based on the evidence of this film and its predecessor, a troubled production can lead to a fantastic movie.
Production issues severity: A+
Final film quality: A+
I’ve decided to group these three films together, simply because there weren’t that many tales of production woes on the set. There was a sandstorm during the filming of the Phantom Menace, however, there was no real news of bust-ups or disagreements. For all intensive purposes, the filming appeared to go very smoothly for all of three films. And perhaps here lies the problem. There were no problems. It was all too easy and nothing was a struggle. Whilst the original trilogy may have been a miserable experience during the filming it was worth it for the amazing artistic creation they birthed. The set failures, bust-ups and dramas all helped create a film that was filled with emotion. You can almost feel the passion from each of the original films (especially Empire and A New Hope) and the amount of sweat and hours that have gone into making them. In comparison, the prequel trilogy feels stale.
As Red Letter Media perfectly puts it:
‘the original Star Wars was plagued with problems. Nothing worked right, things were rushed but it ended up being a great movie. When you can make a movie entirely in a computer and shoot everything against a blue screen like a Sterile laboratory – some of the magic is lost…It lacks humanity’
Here is the snippet of the Red Letter Media review. It goes into further detail about George Lucas and the production of The Phantom Menace.
Be warned there is some bad language and feel free to ignore from 5:10 onwards…it’s played for humour but just comes across as strange and slightly disturbing if you haven’t watched the entire review.
I personally think the prequel trilogy gets a bad reputation. They were never going to hold up to the original trilogy and probably never could. Having said that I think we can all agree that they are sub-par films and could have been far superior. It just goes to show that a well-running production can lead to a poor final product if the quality of the integral pieces isn’t there.
Production issues severity: C
Quality of all three films: C+
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first of the Star War’s stories, which the Han Solo film will be continuing, was also plagued with production issues.
Reshoots, reshoots, reshoots:
Gareth Edwards had his vision for the film fairly cemented when he was first tasked with the project in mid-2014, providing a rough cut using just a storyboard later that same year. The film was said to be ‘virtually completed’ by February 2016, however, prior to its December release, there were a huge amount of reshoots, leading to questions over the quality of the film.
Many were worried that there was a proverbial battle between filmmaker and production company, with Disney having problems with the vision and tone of the film (sound familiar to another Star Wars Story?). With the introduction of Gilroy for a huge amount of reshoots, some fans wondered whether Edwards’ vision would be ruined by Disney’s interference. Perhaps, they wondered, Edwards and Gilroy would fall into conflict over their respective visions. However, this did not occur. Instead, Edwards and Gilroy were reported to have happily worked together on the reshoots, given their history in Edwards’ other blockbuster Godzilla.
It seems like with the first cut of the movie Edwards presented a very bleak and dark vision, which did not match Disney’s expectations for a family-friendly brand. They then asked Gilroy to do more reshoots, as well as the planned ones, to create a different tone to the film. In the end, Gilroy and Edwards both helped to edit the film and succeeded in presenting a clear tone for the movie.
The reshoots are clearly substantial, however, as several shots in the trailer do not appear in the final product.
The Force Awakens competition:
No one can deny the undeniable success of the Force Awakens. A commercial powerhouse that eclipsed several Star Wars records, becoming the third highest grossing film of all time. It was also critically acclaimed with a 92% rating on rotten tomatoes. Fan opinion was also positive with some mixed feelings about the plot’s similarity to episode IV.
Following this film would be no simple task and the pressure was on Edwards to perform. Being the first film to stray into the expanded universe and away from the Jedi was a big risk by Disney and the pressure was on the production right from the beginning. This had to be a success.
Rogue One turned out to be a massive success, both commercially and critically. It performed very well financially breaking the billion dollar mark and becoming the 22nd highest grossing film of all time. It also presented a different, darker view of Star Wars that had not properly been seen before. And it had THAT Vader scene (spoilers – don’t watch if you haven’t seen Rogue One. Seriously, you need to experience this whilst watching the whole film.)
Production issues severity: B+
Final film quality: A+
So what does this mean for everybody’s favourite scruffy looking nerf herder – well, it’s hard to say. Troubled productions are nothing new to the Star Wars universe and, in general, those that have had difficult productions tended to be superior movies. Then again no Star Wars film has had a director removed as publicly as this, and that is clearly not a good sign.
I must say that I’m slightly worried about Lawrence Kasdan. His legacy speaks for himself – Empire was certainly no mean feat. However, we cannot forget the problems that Kershner had with the script of that movie. It was clear Kershner had real problems with the script resorting to changing the screenplay and calling for the actors to improvise. I have a feeling that Lord and Miller weren’t particularly reverential to his screenplay, given that their previous productions The Lego Movie and the 21 Jump Street series didn’t stick to the script and focussed on light-hearted, off the cuff moments. I believe that this artistic attitude created tension and greatly contributed to their removal.
I have a feeling that Lord and Miller weren’t particularly reverential to Kasdan’s screenplay, given that their previous productions The Lego Movie and the 21 Jump Street series didn’t stick to the script and focussed on light-hearted, off the cuff moments. I believe that this artistic attitude created tension and greatly contributed to their removal.
What remains constant, however, is that movies are a hugely collaborative process between multiple moving parts and while disagreements may be troubling from the outside they can sometimes produce a better film. After all, differing opinions and disagreements are what makes the world go around as they create helpful new perspectives, but only time will tell if this troubled Star Wars story lives up to expectations. For now, I’m going to remain quietly confident that Disney knows what they’re doing. They have helped deliver two great Stars Wars films already, so they’ve earned my trust. Let’s hope this film lives up to the standard set thus far.
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Writer and Web Developer
Robert Cheung, currently a Web Designer, Writer and Content Creator for The Church of Jediism.