The Rogue One
Empire Australasia|May 2018

Dogged by very public production woes, solo: a star wars story comes with plenty to prove. Then again, the galaxy’s coolest smuggler has always thrived with trouble on his heels.

Ian Freer

3,720 TO ONE.

These, as any Last Exit To Nowhere T-shirt-sporting geek could tell you, are the (approximate) odds of Han Solo successfully navigating an asteroid field, according to C-3PO in The Empire Strikes Back. For the cast and crew of Solo: A Star Wars Story, it also must have felt like the odds of meeting their May 2018 release date. As the world knows, 22 Jump Street’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller were dismissed mid-way through production. It became a production frozen in carbonite.

Just nine months later, on a late March morning, Ron Howard, who took over the controls, is on buoyant form. With just two days of scoring left (John Powell has composed the music but Star Wars veteran John Williams has written Solo his first theme), 200 VFX shots to final and a sound mix to finish, Howard is about to steer Solo home. It is the filmmaking equivalent of making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Scrub that — eight parsecs.

“The fact is, we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do,” laughs Howard, taking a break at Abbey Road Studios. “The whole thing has been very focused, very intense but incredibly enjoyable. We all know we are going to make our date and we’re feeling really resolved and solid about the movie.”

If confidence is high in the Solo camp, the outside world seems a little warier. Whereas previous Star Wars standalone story Rogue One delivered new characters, story strands and situations within a nerd-tastic context (stealing the Death Star plans), Solo is taking on arguably the most beloved character in the Star Wars universe, made his own by one of the most adored movie stars on the planet. Throw in production woes, a late-in-the-day trailer and the fact it’s coming out hot on the heels of The Last Jedi, perhaps the most divisive film in the series so far (while earning the second-biggest box office), and the stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s hard to think of any entry within a franchise already worth $4.3 billion in ticket sales alone as a risk but, as befits an origin flick about the galaxy’s bravest gambler, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a huge roll of the gold dice.

What’s that line about odds and never telling?

3 ,720 TO ONE seem ridiculously short odds for finding another Harrison Ford. Still, original directors Lord and Miller saw around 3,000 young actors to play the nascent space scoundrel. In January 2016, trade paper Variety revealed a long short-list that featured the cream of young Hollywood talent, including Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Jack Reynor, Scott Eastwood, Logan Lerman and Blake Jenner. By March, industry whispers had it down to three: Reynor, Taron Egerton and Alden Ehrenreich, the last then best known for a scene-stealing turn in the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar! and with Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply waiting in the wings. Ehrenreich won out, but he remained cautious.

“I took a little time to really make sure that it was what I wanted to do,” he says. “As enthusiastic and excited as I was from the outset, I wanted to make sure that it was really my choice and not something I was just doing because anyone would be crazy not to do it.”

The clincher was realising the direction the film was going in. “There’s a lot of self-deprecating humour,” he says. “There’s a dynamism to it, rhythm and fun.” Snapped by paps, Ehrenreich met with Harrison Ford for advice. “He said, ‘If they ask, tell them I told you everything you need to know and that you can’t tell anyone anything.’” He also watched all seven movies (“in order”), absorbed as much as he could and then “put it all aside so I could feel the character in my bones”.

“It was always clear from the beginning, before I was involved, that it was not going to be an impression of Harrison,” says Howard. “No-one wanted that. Part of Han Solo’s character is sort of a vibe and a feel and a body language. I think from the minute Alden knew he was doing it, he began thinking about that and working with it.”

If Solo is part Harrison Ford, he is also part Lawrence Kasdan. Drafted in to complete the Empire Strikes Back screenplay following the untimely death of Leigh Brackett, Kasdan continued and improved on Solo’s snappy patter, but developed new dimensions for the character, including a sense of responsibility and a romantic rapscallion side. When Kasdan was asked to work on Episode VII he initially declined, but said he would work on a Han Solo movie. Time pressures drew him into The Force Awakens but his first love remained the space cowboy. Ironically, when it was time to go Solo, Kasdan brought in a partner — his son Jonathan, who had also done uncredited work on Episode VII.

“I was attracted to the idea of how this guy became the cynical-on-the-outside, tender-hearted-on-the-inside person we see in A New Hope,” says Lawrence Kasdan. “What creates that outer shell of cynicism and what creates that core?”

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