Han Solo is the best human character in the Star Wars cinematic franchise, as played by someone who didn’t seem to care much about the vagaries of the series.

This is the inherent paradox of the character brought to life by Harrison Ford, in a genuinely star-making performance. Before Star Wars, Ford had appeared in a few films, including The Conversation and American Graffiti. However, Han Solo was his breakout role and was at his best in the first film, even if Ford couldn’t have cared less about the science-fiction trappings of the world he was occupying.

This week heralds not only the 35th anniversary of the last original-trilogy film in the series, Return of the Jedi, but the return of Han Solo to the big screen in Solo: A Star Wars Story; each of these films, in their own way, proved that lightning could never strike twice.

Solo A Star Wars Story reviews

A New Solo

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a decent enough action-adventure, as long as you completely forget that Alden Ehrenreich is playing a young version of Harrison Ford’s iconic Millennium Falcon pilot. It’s not so much that Ehrenreich is bad in the film — the oft-repeated story last year that Lucasfilm brought in an acting coach for him says less about his talent, and more that replicating Ford’s work is nearly impossible. Anyone who saw Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar! knows that he’s a talented actor with solid comic timing, but duplicating Harrison Ford’s work…well, would that it were so simple. It’s one thing that Ehrenreich isn’t as tall as Ford; that would be a reasonable hurdle to overcome. But too often, this new young Han Solo seems upbeat. Enthusiastic. Excited.

Watching Harrison Ford in the original Star Wars trilogy does not bring to mind the adjectives “upbeat,” “enthusiastic,” or “excited.” One of the most amazing magic tricks ever pulled off in a movie is that a fairly unamused, uninterested actor was able to turn that visible disinterest into a great movie character. From the interviews he’s given over the years, it’s safe to suggest that Harrison Ford could not have cared less about the inner workings of the Star Wars franchise if he tried. At least in the first film in the franchise, his dismissive attitude feels completely in line with the cocksure and arrogant Han Solo. It’s not that Alden Ehrenreich fails at displaying such a seen-it-all attitude in Solo; it’s that the character as written seems weirdly divorced from the Han Solo we’ve known for so long.

Any prequel can try to recontextualize characters or events that the audience is familiar with, but there’s typically a sense that when that story ends, it will lead directly to the story we already know. That’s not the case with Solo; the end of the new film hints at (of course) a possible sequel, but even that sequel doesn’t seem like it would be covering too much unfamiliar or new ground. Most of what we know about Han Solo when he’s introduced in the Mos Eisley cantina in the 1977 film is established at the end of Solo. (Spoilers incoming for the ret of this paragraph.) He’s won the Millennium Falcon from a not-too-thrilled Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, whose impersonation of Billy Dee Williams is the best part of the film), he’s best friends with Chewbacca, and he’s no longer involved with his old girlfriend Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke), thus making him single again. What’s more, the story ends with him and Chewie heading off to Tattooine to meet up with a well-known, fearsome gangster in the hopes of finding work.

Largely speaking, aside from maybe finding out why Greedo doesn’t like Han that much and watching Han interact with a slightly younger Jabba the Hutt, the Han we know at the end of Solo ought to be the Han we meet in Star Wars. Are you curious to find out what the Kessel Run was all about? This movie answers your question. How about those infamous dice that Han was holding onto in the original films, all the way into The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi? Covered. And what’s the deal with Han’s last name? (The answer to this question results in the worst scene in any of the new Star Wars films.) It’s hard to imagine Harrison Ford’s performance breaking out quite so much if it had been more bogged down in character details like this.

Think of this moment from NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, in which one of Conan’s staffers asks Ford a question about the Millennium Falcon. Ford’s response may have been part of a scripted bit, but it’s awfully easy to imagine that’s his real, genuine answer after spending too much time with Han Solo in his head.

Han Solo Director Replacement

How Disinterest Curdled into Disillusionment

Ford’s disillusionment with Han Solo was perhaps at its peak when Return of the Jedi came out. He’d spent a long time trying to convince George Lucas that Han shouldn’t come back from being frozen in carbonite. As has been discussed in official behind-the-scenes documentaries, Ford (who wasn’t originally signed to the third film, and whose star rose even higher after Raiders of the Lost Ark) thought it was most appropriate for Han to die in a self-sacrificial moment. Though one of the film’s writers, Lawrence Kasdan (who ended up co-writing Solo with his son Jon), initially agreed, Lucas refused.

So, in some ways, Return of the Jedi feels like a flip side of how Ford appears in the original Star Wars: in both films, he seems fully uninterested in the character, but his discomfort is much more visible when interacting with Ewoks. In the latter case, that disinterest translated into…well, disinterest. The fact that Harrison Ford doesn’t care about the first Star Wars is weirdly endearing. The fact that he’s clearly not into the twists and turns of Return of the Jedi only speaks to the sense that it’s a slight step down from the other two films in the series. The Empire Strikes Back humanizes Han through his star-crossed romance with Leia, whereas Return of the Jedi just turns Han into a caricature of himself.

Continue Reading The Problem With Recasting Han Solo >>

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