Disney took a risk handing its upcoming Han Solo movie to a pair of young filmmakers. Then, it fired them. Now, it’s making an about face by replacing them with seasoned Hollywood director Ron Howard.
The Oscar winner, who has directed a string of commercial successes including The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13, is being brought in to finish the untitled standalone Star Wars movie after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go.
Lucasfilm said this week that it dropped Lord and Miller midway through production because of “creative differences.” The former TV writers, who built their movie careers by lovingly subverting the TV show 21 Jump Street into a hit franchise and with cheeky titles like The LEGO Movie, were hired to bring their distinct, self-aware comedic vision to the Star Wars universe. But they reportedly clashed with studio president Kathleen Kennedy on the creative process and vision. She reportedly wants the movie to feel like a heist movie, or a Western.
Howard is not the hip young thing. But he can competently finish a movie and is said to have a “calming presence on set,” according to the Hollywood Reporter, which broke the news.
He’s delivered solid Oscar bait, including the 2001 Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind, for which Howard won the Oscar for Best Director, and 2009 Best Picture nominee Frost/Nixon. He also has indie credibility from the 2013 movie Rush.
And, though none of his movies have achieved the commercial success of the last two Star War films, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, he knows how to helm a popcorn flick. Collectively, the movies Howard has directed have grossed more than $3.8 billion worldwide, unadjusted for inflation, Box Office Mojo data shows. His Tom Hanks-driven Robert Langdon franchise is among the most lucrative.
Domestically, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is Howard’s top earner.
And Howard has history with Lucasfilm.
Howard said Lucas asked him to direct the first Star Wars prequel film, The Phantom Menace, in 1999. But he turned it down. “It was an honor, but it would’ve been too daunting,” he said in a 2015 podcast interview. “I don’t think anybody wanted to follow-up that act at the time.” He encouraged Lucas to direct the movie, which was the first theatrical return to the franchise in more than 15 years.
He did direct one film for him, though—Willow, which is Howard’s twelfth highest-grossing film in North America with $123 million in box-office returns, when adjusted for 2017 ticket-price inflation. The 1988 fantasy epic, about a dwarf’s quest to save a baby from an evil sorceress, was reportedly a passion project of George Lucas. It was part Star Wars, part JRR Tolkien—and very strange. It is beloved and perpetually touted for a sequel.
This time around, after the three prequel films, and since JJ Abrams, Gareth Edwards, and Rian Johnson subsequently made their marks on the franchise, Howard must feel differently about Star Wars.