han solo movie

Of course, Ford eventually got what he wanted with The Force Awakens. Considering how carefully J.J. Abrams protects the movies he makes and the secrets within, it’s hard for any fan to have known for sure what would happen to Han Solo in the revival of the franchise. However, seeing Ford as one of the major faces of the film’s marketing campaign makes a lot more sense in retrospect. Why would someone who had been so vocal about wanting his character killed off pound the pavement and do tons of interviews in a new movie featuring that character? Well, maybe if that character is finally getting killed, that actor would be willing to go for one last go-round of marketing. So it was with Han, who’s offed when his conflicted, villainous son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) cuts through him with a lightsaber in a moment of high emotion.

Ford, to his credit, seems more invested in portraying Han in The Force Awakens than he did in Return of the Jedi. (Again, it probably helped that he knew it was his last turn as the character.) But even more than in the original trilogy, Ford is tasked with doing his best in selling Han’s eventual belief in the mysticism of the Force, which he seems so derisive of in the 1977 original. If anything, that derision humanizes Han and lends a necessary sense of undercutting something overly pompous or fantastical. The Force Awakens tasks Ford with being almost a grumpy mentor; it’s funny when Han says, “That’s not how the Force works!” to John Boyega’s character Finn at one point when the ex-Stormtrooper treats it like a magical cure-all. But it’s also a bit odd to hear Han talk about the Jedi and the Force at all. (One of the interesting subtextual elements of the new Star Wars films is that when we meet Luke Skywalker as an old man, he’s much more like his old friend Han in terms of embracing the Jedi philosophy.)

Elders React to The Force Awakens

An Impossible Task

Part of what makes Han Solo so special in the first Star Wars film is what makes Indiana Jones feel so special in Raiders of the Lost Ark — it’s the first time you get to meet a character without being bogged down in explanations. Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t go too far in over-explaining Han, to the point that we don’t meet his parents or learn much about them. But it further waters down a character who was at his best before there was merchandise, before there was a franchise, and before there was an expanded universe. There is something truly singular about Harrison Ford’s performance in the first film, an ineffable sense that he’s above this nonsense without feeling too snarky about it.

Watching Solo, the reality is clear: casting a young Han Solo was a fruitless effort, just as having an acting coach on the set to aid Ehrenreich in his work was pointless. The only actor who could play Han Solo as a young man is an old man now. As others have written about, even if you cast someone who looks kind of like Harrison Ford — nothing against Ehrenreich’s physical attributes (as you can see from my author photo, I’m one to talk), but he looks very little like Harrison Ford did, feathered hair aside — they’re probably going to be pretty psyched to play Han Solo in a goddamn Star Wars movie. The weight of expectations and anticipation is too much for any actor to bear.

Maybe the biggest problem of all is one that Harrison Ford didn’t have to deal with in the original trilogy, which was primarily more focused on how Han, Luke, Leia and the rest of the Rebel Alliance could ensure a future for the galaxy, than it was on the past of a character like Han. (What little we know about his shady dealings with Jabba the Hutt is more than enough, without getting into the details. And the brief conversation between Han and Jabba inserted into the Special Edition of the 1977 original is, like many of those additions, wildly unnecessary.) Harrison Ford never had to worry too much about the burden of playing Han Solo as anything other than the personification of flippant and too hip for the room, even if Han’s not quite as cool as he’d like to be.

Return of the Jedi dilutes Han’s hipness — how cool can you look next to Ewoks? — and Solo demystifies the character so much that it recalls Patton Oswalt’s famous stand-up routine about the prequels, which climaxes in him shouting, “I don’t give a shit where the stuff I love comes from, I just love the stuff I love!” Solo tries to answer questions that didn’t need to be resolved, giving Han more of a personal history that only serves to make him feel a lot unlike Han Solo. Harrison Ford knew it better than anyone else: the less we know about Han Solo, the more interesting he is. Solo isn’t able to reverse that trend; it just comes closer to ruining what made Ford’s performance in the first Star Wars so special.

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