There was a sense of relief when the cast and crew of Solo: A Star Wars Story took the stage at a recent press conference. After months and months of bad press and speculation, their movie has been seen by a select few and the response had been mostly positive. Whatever was printed about the turmoil that led to the dismissal of the film’s original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, or its leading man, Alden Ehrenreich, was in the past. All that mattered was putting Solo before the masses of Star Wars fans worldwide.
“It’s the galaxy far, far away and the level of anticipation is really unlike anything I’ve done, even some pretty big titles with a lot of interest,” director Ron Howard said, sporting his trademark baseball cap and wide smile.
“And you fall into it and it’s amazing. I began to recognize something similar to the Beatles documentary that I took on, because I’m at a point in my life where I like experimenting,” Howard continued. “I like to take some chances. I’m not too worried about the outcome. I wanted to have the creative experience and I sort of felt that way about jumping into a Star Wars movie. But I also felt that way about jumping into The Beatles documentary and then I could tell from the moment it was announced – ‘Ron, don’t fuck this up.’ So I immediately felt the same thing as it related to this – that the fans care and they should care.”
Solo was penned by the father and son duo of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. Lawrence, the elder Kasdan, has plenty of experience working in the galaxy far, far away, having worked on the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens.
“This is the kind of character that I have loved always and it’s been so important in all the movies that I care about,” Jonathan said of the iconic scoundrel, Han Solo. “This is a character who’s reckless, who’s cynical, who doesn’t trust anybody. It’s a little bit stupid. I love that. He just does things he shouldn’t do. He gets in over his head instantly and you can see that in the brilliance of George Lucas’ cantina scene. It’s just a few minutes and you get everything about who this guy is.”
Jonathan continued, “Larry had decided to get involved in Star Wars based on Han. That was the movie he wanted to make first. He got pulled into Force Awakens and when he came out he said, ‘I need somebody to do this with me,’ and I was sort of the obvious choice for the above reasons. But also because I shared a deep love of this and I came at it from a totally different place than Larry did. I had grown up with Star Wars; I’d grown up playing with the toys and we thought that somehow between our two dynamics, between me as a fan and him as an older Jedi master, we could figure out some sort of dynamic where we could forge a story that felt both sort of contemporary and true to the spirit of Solo.”
“When I got involved back on The Empire Strikes Back, I don’t think I ever thought of it, ‘Oh, this is Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars,’” said Lawrence Kasdan. “I thought what had gotten me when I had no connection to it on A New Hope, but this is a great story. George had set up something that could go off in many different directions and that would be wonderful for a long time. I’ve never really changed my opinion of that. It happens to be a Star Wars story, but first we were trying to tell a story that would keep you interested – you meet these people and you say, ‘Well, that’s a great person and now they’re meeting a great person and they’re going to be in a lot of trouble together.’ That is much more important to me than any particular Star Wars.
Stepping into the roguish role made iconic by Harrison Ford is Alden Ehrenreich, who before entering the world of Star Wars made his name in smaller films for the Coen Brothers and Francis Ford Coppola. “It’s really wild,” the young star said. “It’s really exciting. It’s kind of bigger than you can even wrap your head around, and it’s wonderful – particularly being in the Millennium Falcon is very, very cool.
Ehrenreich continued, “For me it was, it was two things – one, you get in and you can’t believe you’re in it and it’s so surreal and that’s what everybody you bring to set wants to see and they have that experience, too. And then, a couple months into shooting in it, you’re inside of it and you’re flying it. You know where the buttons are. You know how the chair feels, you know the yoke and you feel like, ‘Okay, this is kind of like my ship now.’ And that is deeply gratifying.”
Before taking the stage at the press conference, Alden Ehrenreich was part of a moment that instantly went viral. “Unbelievable. Oh my God,” Ehrenreich said before recalling the moment.
“Right before we started shooting, I wanted to talk to Harrison, just to kind of pay respect and have him give us the blessings for the film and so we had lunch. I guess two years ago or something and he was really encouraging and really supportive and then we went off, shot the film and everything like that. Today I was doing an interview and they were talking about, ‘Is there anything else you’d like to ask him?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ and they’re like, ‘Well, you’ll have your chance,’ and he was behind me. He came and he’s so effusive about the movie.”
That aforementioned sense of relief on the stage came across in Ehrenreich’s relaxed demeanor. “It meant so much to me and I know for Ron and Kathy [Kennedy] and everybody it’s just such a huge deal to have him really genuinely love it and really genuinely enjoy the film. It meant a lot to me that he took the time to come out here and do that.”
Starring opposite Ehrenreich is Donald Glover, who is currently the man of the hour between his hit show Atlanta and his musical work as Childish Gambino. “When I heard they were making these movies, I told my agent, ‘If they’re making anything with Lando in it, I have to be Lando.’ And he was like, ‘I hear you. I don’t like your odds.’ And that was exactly what I needed to hear. Because I really did audition like it was like the only role I wanted in the world, because it really was,” Glover said of landing the role of Lando that was originally played by Billy Dee Williams. “I’m just really happy to be part of this experience of it. It’s really cool, but yeah, my dad kind of imprinted me with this kind of Star Wars’ longing, because it does feel like the Bible to me in a lot of ways.”
Stepping into the big, furry suit of Chewbacca is Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo. “When I got to know that I was going to playing this character, I really couldn’t sleep at night and I was so excited because this was a life-changer for me,” Suotamo said of being cast as Han Solo’s Wookie sidekick. “I was borderline jobless when I got this role. So my now fiancée – my then girlfriend – have seen me going from living with my mom to becoming Chewbacca. That’s, that’s the span of our relationship right now.”
Suotamo elaborated on his preparation to play the walking carpet who first appeared in 1997, “It’s funny because this character is so loved and Peter Mayhew, who created this character along with George Lucas, has been so instrumental in giving me his blessing and giving me some tips in our week-long session together. It was fun because I never could have understood what went on underneath the mask of Peter Mayhew. Now that I got to know that, it was so easy going into shooting this film, which is so much about Han and Chewie. It was so important to get right for this film.”
But Solo couldn’t really work if it were just new stars taking over iconic roles. The film needed some new blood, and they got it in the form of the wide array of supporting characters, headlined by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Han’s first love who lives a mysterious life after their separation years prior.
“Playing mysterious is quite difficult. I’ve got to be honest. And so it was really fun. It’s really difficult to talk about because she is a pretty mysterious character,” Clarke played coy when talking about her character. “You kind of need to keep tabs on her throughout the movie and so I’m promoting a movie that you can’t really speak too much about. She is one of the harder ones to discuss.”
As Han’s mentor in the life of a smuggling scoundrel is recent Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett. “I thought it was a really easy character for me to play, because he’s a scoundrel and a thief,” Harrelson said with a crooked smile. “But I think it’s really well-written and that’s the thing that you have to be aware of. A lot of people who are Star Wars fanatics, this is their favorite Star Wars character which was really cool, but Larry and Jonathan really wrote an extraordinary script and just at the right time, Ron came in and did his magic and then you have all these wonderful characters so it’s pretty cool to get to be in a Star Wars. It’s also phenomenal.”
Westworld’s Thandie Newton co-stars as Val, Tobias’ lover and partner. “This room is honestly a quarter of the size of the cavernous spaces,” Newton said of the expansive room in which the press conference was taking place. “It would be completely taken over.”
Newton elaborated, “The production design is so amazing. That we would feel like we were in real sort of battle scenarios with explosions going off and, and debris and mud in places you didn’t even know you had places. You know what I mean? It’s like a nightmare. The camaraderie between us was just humor, always was humor. Because obviously we’d been shooting for a long time and some of the stuff that you share and actually taking the piss out of each other all the time, because there would be a lot of situations where helmets would come off and got smeared and things would go wrong – a lot going wrong, by the way. That camaraderie was really felt. We were really going into battle together. Obviously, a sort of fantasy, fun battle, but we’re still going into battle.”
Of the new characters to appear in Solo, none will be as universally beloved as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sassy droid L3-37. “L3 is a real inspiration to me, so thanks, guys,” Waller-Bridge looked to the Kasdans to thank them for creating the character.
“She’s a self-made droid, so she created herself out of parts of other droids,” she continued. “It sounds kind of frightening when I put it like that. It’s like, where did you get those bits? But she creates herself out of astromech droids and protocol droids so she turns herself into a unique creature that’s kind of taller, stronger, more independent than she originally was. Yeah, she’s got a great attitude and she’s very upbeat. She’s fearless. She’s uncensored. She’s very funny and she’s a revolutionary and she has an agenda, which is bigger than the sum of her parts, which is something that’s really extraordinary for her character and it’s great to play a droid with a message.”
Every film needs a villain, and Paul Bettany was called in late in the production of Solo to fill the role of the nefarious gangster Dryden Vos. Bettany recounted of joining the production, “Having texted Ron, having said, ‘Um, hey, Ron, you haven’t spent long winter evenings like I have wondering why you’re not in the Star Wars franchise?’ And he said, ‘Give me a minute.’ I came on set really quickly and he whispered, ‘Oligarch,’ in my ear and I went, ‘Got it!’ and it was just lovely to play somebody, having come from Avengers where Vision is fundamentally good, just somebody who’s just deliciously bad. I’m really okay with it. No neurosis. No guilt. Just super happy about being evil.”
It wouldn’t be a Ron Howard film without an appearance from the memorable visage of Ron’s brother Clint Howard. “It was pretty damn easy,” Ron Howard said of being able to get his brother a role. “There was this great sort of scene with L3 and it just sort of came up in conversation, that L3 needs somebody to be pissed off at. I said, ‘My brother!’ He is kind of easy to be pissed off at and he’s kind of funny when he’s doing it.”
Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm and revived Star Wars with The Force Awakens, there’s been an emphasis placed on practical effects and Solo is no different. Of course, any Star Wars film is going to have plenty of CGI but the goal for the filmmakers was do as much of it practically as possible.
“As great as visual effects and CGI is, the effect supervisors will tell you in-camera is always what you want to go for first. And so with the Millennium Falcon and with just the great sets and so forth, the approach here always was to try to get as much in-camera as you could, and then build – and that’s what’s so magical and amazing about ILM and what they can do – to make the experience as palpable and immersive as it could possibly be,” Ron Howard said. “It’s a blast. Because the people around a movie like Solo are so dedicated to not just what’s existed before, but what else they could do within that framework, within that universe, that galaxy – and creatively it’s unbelievably stimulating for a filmmaker.”
“Every day you’re walking into a new set that these craftsmen and designers who work on these films are at the very height of the world,” said Alden Ehrenreich of the film’s immense sets and meticulously designed creatures. “I mean, they’re the best in the world. You walk into these incredible environments with 300 different creatures that are actually there, that are actually built and then you do your scene.”
Of course, you need a great cinematographer to capture these feats of practical effects, and Ron Howard was quick to heap praise upon his cinematographer: “Bradford Young did a great job. The look, which is a little different than, than the movies have looked before and an aesthetic that I thought was incredibly exciting.”
Aside from a different aesthetic than your typical Star Wars film, the creators of Solo tried to approach this story in a different manner as well. “We approached the movie much more in terms of a kind of genre movie, a crime movie, a western that we could fit Han Solo into,” said co-writer Jonathan Kasdan. “A character that we loved that that comes out of a great tradition of Bogart characters and McQueen characters and say, ‘Okay, how do we plug that guy into the kind of movie we love and the kind of story we want to see?’ and in doing so we’re able to sort of have along the way these moments that are familiar and that people connect with because they have personal relationships with these characters and it gives it an added level of sort of pleasure, I think. But at its base it’s, it’s really trying to be its best version of a western, or of a crime movie.
Alden Ehrenreich also had his own form of preparation for stepping into such an iconic role. “The way I went about it pretty much was to watch the original movies very early on and just kind of absorb as much as I could, how the character is operating in the world. Harrison and the whole Star Wars universe, which is so rich and there’s so much to it,” Ehrenreich said. “So I tried to kind of take in as much of that as I could very early, because I had the role for quite a long time before we actually shot then move into working on the part and kind of put all that aside and forget about it and play this guy where he is now in his life, because it’s most important. I think that it feels like a real person.”
“I love that they’re rich people and poor people in this movie,” Donald Glover said. “You can go to the airport and just see like immediately who’s rich and who’s poor and why they’re there and just love it. Because it’s really like that was the part of us reading and it and I was like, oh, you get to see why Han is complicated.”
Glover made sure to add, “I really love that it’s not simple.”
Any acclaim heaped upon the film Ron Howard is quick to deflect to his cast and crew. “The heavy lifting was really done by the screenplay and then the great casting, which preceded me and again, as I said, I wouldn’t have come onboard without that,” the Oscar-winning director said. “What I love is collaborating. I love collaborating with the Kasdans. I love collaborating with this cast and sort of rallying behind what was an opportunity that I think we all believed audiences can really enjoy. So it was always just, what can this scene be? What else can it be? What are the other choices? Engaging incredibly talented and creative people to maximize what was a great opportunity.”
Howard also compared the Kasdans’ script to another George Lucas creation which Lawrence Kasdan collaborated. “I’m very excited about the character relationships, because this is a little bit different than the other movies. It’s really this one guy’s adventure story. Why I feel like in some ways it’s kind of similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which Larry also wrote – it is a single hero’s journey and then there’s a lot of fun in that journey and there are a lot of twists and turns, but it’s really about that character,” Howard said. “We had that going with this. And so all of the different relationships were very important to me because it was all about what impact all of these characters are going to have on this young Han Solo.”