There was a great disturbance in the Force last week when Lucasfilm announced the departures of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the still-untitled Han Solo Star Wars story. And those millions of voices crying out in shock only grew louder after Ron Howard was officially announced as the well-liked duo’s replacement, a choice that perhaps isn’t particularly surprising when you look back at the Oscar-winning director’s filmography. The choice to eject Lord and Miller from the Millennium Falcon ultimately fell to Kathleen Kennedy, the veteran producer who inherited the keys to the Star Wars franchise after Disney acquired both it and the rest of Lucasfilm from the far, far away galaxy’s original architect, George Lucas.
Not surprisingly, that decision has made Kennedy a target for fan ire, even as many people have also risen to her defense. One person who absolutely understands her position is Kevin Feige, the producing force behind another valuable Disney-owned galaxy: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Kathy’s an unbelievable inspiration over the past few years that I’ve been lucky enough to get to know here,” Feige tells Yahoo Movies, while chatting about the latest installment in the ever-expanding MCU, Spider-Man: Homecoming, which opens in theaters on July 7. “All the movies she’s made became the reason that I wanted to make moves. Being on the inside of any movie you understand. You’ve got to oversee the whole thing and take care of the vision of the overarching film. I would trust Kathy with any of the decisions she has to make, because she’s been making them amazingly for 30-plus years.”
It’s worth noting that Feige has overseen several high-profile directorial comings and goings from previous Marvel movies. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins was initially slated to helm Thor: The Dark World before stepping away to be replaced by Alan Taylor (who had his own behind-the-scene troubles during production), and Edgar Wright nurtured Ant-Man for years only to part ways with Marvel due to “differences in their vision of the film.” (That’s similar language that Lord and Miller used in their exit statement.) For his part, Feige says that “creative differences” can be a very real obstacle for movies being made on the level of Han Solo or Homecoming. “That’s almost always what it is. Sometimes for the press that doesn’t seem like enough. But when you’re making a movie that requires creative decisions to be made every minute of every hour of every day, that’s what it comes down to.”
With each new report that emerges from the Han Solo set, it does sound as if Lord and Miller’s particular style of filmmaking — which previously resulted in such success stories as 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie — simply didn’t gel with the producing team behind the film or, perhaps, its star, Alden Ehrenreich. As another young filmmaker who graduated from humble origins (the low-budget 2015 thriller Cop Car) to a pre-existing franchise universe, Homecoming director Jon Watts faced a potentially similar culture clash. But the director calls his time in the MCU “a great experience” that didn’t leave him feeling like an outsider in the creative process.
“I can only talk about my specific experience — I have no idea what happened on that [Han Solo] movie,” Watts emphasizes. “If anything, I was less worried about someone kicking me off the movie as the camera crew coming out from behind the scenes and revealing this was all an elaborate prank! That would make more sense to me than the fact that I was in charge of this huge movie. I tried to be as upfront and transparent as possible from the beginning about how I saw the movie, and what I was trying to do so there would be no miscommunication along the way. If you feel like you can still see some sort of semblance of my style or personality in the movie, than that’s good.”
While press and fan speculation will continue to swirl around the Han Solo film up until its release date, Feige feels that, for general audiences, behind-the-scenes drama ultimately matters less than the drama playing out onscreen. “Really nothing matters until the lights go down on opening day. Speaking for myself, every decision you make as a part of production these films is done thinking about what will the experience be live for the audience who stood in line, bought their ticket and sat down to watch the movie. For the most part, I hope that when the lights go down, the slate is wiped clean and the audience says, ‘Whaddya got?’ If the movie doesn’t work, you try to analyze what happened. And if the movie works, that’s all that matters.” Some Jedi-level producing wisdom, that is.
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