Ron Howard, freshly tasked with taking over directing the “Star Wars” Han Solo spinoff movie, said he’s been around the space-epic franchise from the very beginning — and that he’s ready to immerse himself deeply into studying “Star Wars” lore.
“I’ve been a fan forever,” said Howard, speaking Friday at the Cannes Lions advertising and media conference. “It’s gratifying to be asked to lend my voice to the [Star Wars] universe.”
Disney’s Lucasfilm on Thursday officially tapped Howard to finish making the movie, after studio president Kathleen Kennedy fired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller this week because the duo were seen as overstepping their remit by going off-script with comedic touches.
“It’s a little opportunity that came my way,” Howard said when initially asked about the “Star Wars” job by panel moderator Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of WPP.
Howard recalled that in 1972, George Lucas told him about his plans for a “fun” sci-fi film, incorporating special effects like those used in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” when Howard was appearing as an actor in Lucas’ “American Graffiti” (which also featured Harrison Ford, who went on to play Han Solo).
When “Star Wars” came out, on opening day Howard said he and his wife, Cheryl, went to go see it — and they stood in line for two hours to get in. “I was so moved by the movie,” he said. “I was transported by the movie… We literally left almost speechless.” They decided to see it again, and waited another 90 minutes in line.
Shooting on the “Star Wars” Han Solo movie was three-fourths completed when Lord and Miller were given the boot. Howard has already begun work on the project, with shooting set to resume July 10. The movie was already scheduled for five weeks of re-shoots later in 2017.
“So many people involved in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise are friends,” Howard said. “It’s already been in production, and there’s a lot of really great work there.”
Howard appeared on stage at the Palais des Festivals’ Lumiere Theatre here with WPP’s Sorrell and Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution. (Howard and Kraft were previously scheduled to appear at a post-panel press conference but only Sorrell showed up.)
Sorrell’s WPP is an investor in Imagine Entertainment, the production company co-founded and run by Howard and Brian Grazer. With the infusion of $100 million from Raine Group last year, Howard said the company is planning to expand beyond TV and film into branded-content work.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here [at Cannes Lions],” Howard said. “The next iteration of Imagine, the one we hope goes forward and beyond us, is all about storytelling.”
Asked by Sorrell about their thoughts on President Trump, Kraft declined to comment while Howard chimed in with this: “I’m really hopeful that when this presidency is dramatized years from now, it is as a lovely, hilarious Broadway musical called ‘Trumped.'”
Also on the panel, Kraft commented on the process of picking high-quality talent while looking for people who can check their ego at the door.
“We’re in an ego-driven business — and when we’re doing well, the question is, who gets the credit?” Kraft said. He added, however, “You have to put up with a certain amount of nonsense… People who are really talented, off the charts, are different.”
Sorrell quipped: “We have no egos in the advertising business. We don’t even know how to spell ‘ego.'”
Howard, in his 30-plus years as a filmmaker, has made more than 50 movies including “Night Shift,” “Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Parenthood,” “Backdraft,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” which won four Academy Awards including for best director and best picture. However, his more recent films, including “Inferno,” “In the Heart of the Sea,” “Rush” and “The Dilemma,” have fared poorly at the box office.