We already know how Han Solo dies — a senseless, quick death at the hands of his son, Kylo Ren, who has turned to the dark side.
Now it’s time to go back almost 50 years and find out what Han was like when he was about Kylo Ren’s age, long before he’d heard of the Force, or met Luke and his future wife Leia.
An orphan, life has never been easy for Han. Relationships are hard to build, but he tries, with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a crook who ropes him into a dangerous plan, the smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and, of course, a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). The genesis of that latter bond is the focus of much of this month’s Star Wars prequel, Solo: A Star Wars Story.
“The main thing you get to see is how we meet, and our relationship, and how that begins and evolves,” explains Alden Ehrenreich, the 28-year-old actor who, with this film, takes the Han Solo torch from Harrison Ford’s outstretched hand.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan — his fourth Star Wars script after The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens — and Kasdan’s son Jon Kasdan, Solo: A Star Wars Story did not have a smooth ride into the Star Wars Universe.
The film’s producers took a risk, tasking relatively young directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie) with bringing the origins story to life, but with just a couple months to go in filming the producers decided they weren’t getting the film they’d envisioned and replaced the pair with veteran helmer Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13).
That’s a lot to deal with for the cast, especially its young star Ehrenreich, whose previous films were critically acclaimed, but smaller in scale (Tetro, Stoker, Blue Jasmine, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply).
Two months before the film’s release, Ehrenreich is on the phone in the back seat of a car in his native L.A., on his way to a Disney photo shoot, as the movie’s massive marketing machine starts to gear up.
Have you seen the film?
Yeah, yeah. It was wonderful. I thought, you know, whenever you watch something [you’re in] you can’t enjoy it the same way an audience member can because you know everything and you have attachments. I’ve found I can be pretty objective about it and I thought it was pretty awesome. I really enjoyed it. It feels like a real adventure yarn, like a real fun adventure movie, and it has a lot of heart.
Did you see it with other people or were you alone?
Alone. I always try to see a movie by myself when I’m done because I find, especially the first time seeing it, it’s a lot easier to be clear-headed about what you think if you’re not in an audience full of people.
You’re playing one of the most iconic characters in movie history. What’s the relationship, for you, between performance and impression?
Well, I think in all camps of the film everyone was very clear about never wanting anything to feel like an impression. And really, at the end of the day, you’re playing a part, and you want to do the same job you want to do on any other role and make something personal and do service to the character themselves and what their experience is and what’s happening. So I think that’s the most important thing, and then for there to be enough continuity that it feels like it flows into who the character becomes later.
I’m guessing that at some point you were staring at yourself in a mirror and practicing Harrison Ford’s cockeyed smile. Am I right?
No [laughs]. For me, if you get too technical about that kind of thing it can be very inhibitive and it can make you self-conscious. You try to absorb it in a more general way and kind of take it on, spend enough time with it, and get it in your bones enough where you don’t have to be thinking about it, where it can kind of be natural.
But I’m guessing you studied Ford’s performance in some way.
I did that as early as I could. The directors and I sat down and watched something they have called the “supercut” where they’ve cut together every scene with him and we just talked about it. And then when I got the role I watched the whole series in order, so 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 was what was available at that time. This was before Rogue One. You just try to absorb it…and figure out if there’s any little technical things you can do that might be fun, but that was basically it.
Is there one little technical thing that you can share?
Nah, ’cause then you’d see it and go, ‘There’s that thing,’ and it takes you out of it. But the other thing too is that the way that the script was written, you know the Kasdans have such a great kind of feel for the role that there’s a good amount of work done in terms of feeling that continuity. A great amount of that work is just done by the behaviour that’s written for him, the way he talks, etcetera, etcetera. That was all so much a part of the script that I think some of the lifting they were doing for me.
Does the fact that you know everything that happens in Solo’s future, including how he dies, inform your performance?
You try to block that out because you don’t know that stuff yet, and especially in this movie he’s in a very different place in his life. But I did find that when I’d be doing it and then it would be brought up, the way he died, it struck me as very sad. I found myself being affected by it much more so being that that was kind of my character’s life.
You’ve mentioned that Han has different dreams at this point in his life. Any details?
Well, one of the things that you really learn quickly, that I think everyone knows on a certain level but you learn it in a much more vivid way when you get into working on one of these movies, is that the world of Star Wars is a very tough and very intense world. And so he comes from not a great upbringing, and from a very intense, dangerous underworld environment. And I think the idealism involves getting out of that environment and living a life of freedom. In the Star Wars Universe there’s so much oppression, so many people are enslaved, so many planets are occupied by the Empire. The tone of the actual movies is fun and exciting…but if you think about it in a first-person way it’s a lot darker than that.
As the story goes, you were the first one who auditioned out of more than 3,000 actors all across the world. Is that true?
I’ve been told that. I was going to go do this film called The Yellow Birds in Morocco and they were going to start the audition process when I was in Morocco so I went in, I think, before they had really started.
And one of the auditions was done on the Millennium Falcon?
Right. It was an older version from another movie. I went and read for the casting director, and then I read for the directors, and then after that for the proper screen test I went to England and did it on the Falcon. I think it was the Falcon built for Last Jedi so it was a different version of the Falcon than you see in our film.
How did it feel when you first stepped onto that set?
It’s so familiar because you know it so well from the movies, so it was actually a lot less overwhelming, it was more just fun, kind of got you in the feeling of it, and was just pretty cool, you know, working on something this enormous and big. You kind of just have to give yourself over to it and have fun as much as possible.
Were you reading with anyone at that particular audition?
They had someone reading with me who wasn’t actually going to end up in the movie and then I did one scene with Chewie in full Chewie makeup. He’s a lot taller in person than you realize [laughs].
Donald Glover is fascinating. He’s an actor, musician, writer and now he’s created this award-winning show, "Atlanta". Yet this is his first blockbuster. Enlighten us about who he really is.
He has such a fascinating mind. He’s so intelligent about culture trends and the way that culture works. He has a very particular point of view on all that, and he’s also just a really sweet guy, he’s really funny and really sweet. You know, he started as a writer for "30 Rock". Him and I, just from the very beginning, when he was testing for the movie, we got along so well and just had a lot of fun.
Wookiees live about 400 years, and Chewie is about 190 when this movie takes place. Will we notice anything younger about him?
That’s a good question. I think not necessarily physically, ’cause I don’t know how much aging you do from 190 to 200, but certainly you get way more into what’s going on in his head and his heart in this movie than you ever get a chance to in other movies because he’s such a prominent part of the movie.
As an actor, tell me what’s it like to start making a movie for one director, or directors, and finish for another.
Well, I think one thing that was really important to Ron was the way he transitioned during that process. He spent time with Phil and Chris and he was really supportive and encouraging of everybody and really made that transition really good. And in a way he was very respectful and appreciative of the work that had come before him, and figuring out how he was going to incorporate that into his own work and make the movie his own.
When you write a book about this experience 20 years from now what will the title be?
Oh my god, I think that’s something I won’t know for a few months [laughs]. Ahhh, My Life With Wookiee.
Get your tickets for Solo: A Star Wars Story here and watch the trailer below!
Not sure where Solo: A Star Wars Story fits in the movie chronology? Click here to read our useful Star Wars movie timeline, which breaks down all of the films in chronological order!