It’s of­fi­cial: the ballsy boot­leg­ger is Star Wars’ coolest char­ac­ter. But he’s also a Corel­lian of sur­pris­ing com­plex­ity

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - Words Ian Freer il­lus­tra­tion Jacey

A cel­e­bra­tion of the rogu­ish smug­gler played by Alden Ehren­re­ich in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and some an­cient geezer in a bunch of re­ally old films.

BY FAR THE fun­ni­est mo­ment in (500) Days Of Sum­mer, a like­able rom­com which spins through key dates in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ev­ery­day guy Tom (Joseph Gor­don-levitt) and mu­sic-lov­ing Manic Pixie Dream Girl Sum­mer (Zooey Deschanel), is when Tom, bounc­ing down the street high on Sum­mer, checks his ap­pear­ance in a car win­dow. Look­ing back at him as his re­flec­tion is Han Solo from A New Hope.

Han winks at him — it’s the wink he gives Princess Leia (Car­rie Fisher) when he is re­ceiv­ing his medal for his role in blow­ing up the Death Star — and it makes Tom happy. Apart from the sur­pris­ing thrill of see­ing a fa­mil­iar char­ac­ter in an­other movie (both were Fox prop­er­ties), the joy of it is that ev­ery­one — man, woman, Princess, Wook­iee — wants a Han Solo wink of ap­proval. It’s the epit­ome of achieve­ment un­locked.

This is one of the rea­sons Han Solo tops our list of Great­est Star Wars

Char­ac­ters: he is in­ef­fa­bly cool. He has wit, charm, street smarts, can un­der­stand Shyri­i­wook, woo ladies and jump­start his space­ship just by smack­ing it. When, in Spaced, Si­mon Pegg’s Tim Bis­ley bagsies ‘Han’ as his co­de­name for a dar­ing dog res­cue, he is do­ing what kids in play­grounds across the planet have done since 25 May 1977 — want­ing to be Han Solo. Even if no-one knows the cor­rect way to pro­nounce it.

“Ge­orge Lu­cas is a ‘Han’ man,” says Alden Ehren­re­ich, who plays the younger Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story. “Leia has said Han and ‘Hahn’, but Har­ri­son says Hahn. You won­der how that stuff went on in the orig­i­nal movies. I guess there was no-one mon­i­tor­ing it. They had other things to worry about.”

How­ever you say it, few char­ac­ters have pro­vided a more pop­u­lar tem­plate for cocky in­sou­ciance. Dirk Bene­dict’s Star­buck in Bat­tlestar Galac­tica and Ge­orge Pep­pard’s Space Cow­boy in Bat­tle Be­yond The Stars were the first wannabes. Since then, movies have given us vari­a­tions on a Solo theme, from Val Kilmer’s Mad­mar­ti­gan (Wil­low) to Nathan Fil­lion’s Mal Reynolds (Fire­fly)

to Chris Pine’s Cap­tain Kirk (Star Trek)

to Dane De­haan’s Va­le­rian (Va­le­rian And The City Of A Thou­sand Plan­ets).

Be­tween Peter Quill (Guardians Of The Galaxy) and Owen Grady (Juras­sic World), Chris Pratt owes his block­buster ca­reer to Mr Solo.

It’s not just movies. Games char­ac­ters The Prince (The Prince Of Per­sia), Balth­ier (Fi­nal Fan­tasy XII) and Nathan Drake (Un­charted) all share Solo DNA. And this is not to men­tion Star Wars’ abil­ity to can­ni­balise (or Han­ni­balise) Han: Ex­panded Uni­verse char­ac­ters like Dash Ren­dar, Kyle Katarn, Cor­ran Horn, Talon Kar­rde, At­ton Rand and, of course, Os­car Isaac’s Poe Dameron are all cut from the same Solo cloth, look­ing to re­cap­ture that ef­fort­less charisma.

But if cool were the only cri­te­ria, then Boba Fett, Lando Cal­ris­sian or Darth Maul could also be king. There’s more in play with Solo than just sheer mag­netism. Some­thing that might not have been ap­par­ent from his in­aus­pi­cious be­gin­nings.

It’s a key

tenet of Star Wars ‘mak­ing of’ lore that ev­ery­one’s favourite space smug­gler started life as a green-skinned alien — an Ure­al­lian — with no nose and enor­mous gills. In this in­car­na­tion, he wasn’t even a smug­gler but a “Jedi-bendu” and an old buddy of Gen­eral Sky­walker (more Obi-wan than Luke in this ver­sion). In the se­cond draft, Solo is now a Corel­lian space pi­rate, a few years older than Luke, but burly, bearded, hand­some and dressed in flam­boy­ant clothes (for­get Corel­lia; he be­longs in Shored­itch). The model here seems to be Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, Lu­cas’ men­tor, an­other fast-talk­ing deal-maker who loved to gam­ble. In this draft, Han takes Luke to his home — a seedy slum dwelling — where he is shacked up with a fe­male “Boma” named Oeeta, de­scribed as a five-foot-high cross be­tween “a bear and a guinea pig” who com­mu­ni­cates in ba­boon-like calls. Surely there couldn’t have been enough money in Hol­ly­wood to pay even a pre-star­dom Har­ri­son Ford to play this.

The third draft starts to look like the Solo we know and love. First in­tro­duced in the dock­ing bay, he is writ­ten as 25, sim­ple, sen­ti­men­tal and sure of him­self. In this sense he is a ver­sion of John Mil­ner, Paul Le Mat’s char­ac­ter in Lu­cas’ pre­vi­ous film, Amer­i­can Graf­fiti. For a brief time in the fourth draft, Solo went by the name Jabba The Hutt, be­fore Lu­cas came to his senses. Yet the re­vised fourth draft sees him in­tro­duced in the Cantina — with a gor­geous alien girl draped round him — talk­ing about his ship, the Mil­len­nium Fal­con.

Solo’s im­pact is partly nar­ra­tive de­sign. He en­ters the story at a point where the judo-suited farm boy, bath-robed ex-wiz­ard and stiff ro­bot are start­ing to bore. Solo/ford’s in­tro­duc­tion gives Star Wars a kick up the arse but also con­trast. And it is a stroke of pure cast­ing ge­nius. When it came to fill­ing Solo’s threads (so good Lando steals his look for the end of Em­pire), the ace in the hole was Fred Roos. An as­so­ciate of Cop­pola’s, Roos cham­pi­oned Har­ri­son Ford even though Lu­cas made it clear that he didn’t want any­one from Amer­i­can Graf­fiti. Bob Falfa, Ford’s Amer­i­can Graf­fiti char­ac­ter, is an­other early sketch for Solo: a cow­boy­hat­ted brag­gart per­ma­nently in the cock­pit of a Chevy Im­pala. Roos played clever. He kept Ford, a Hol­ly­wood car­pen­ter in-be­tween act­ing gigs, front and cen­tre in Lu­cas’ mind by hir­ing him to fix a door in the cast­ing of­fices. While the long, now in­fa­mous list of wannabe Hans (Christo­pher Walken, Kurt Rus­sell, Nick Nolte, Perry King) came in to read, Ford was play­ing Solo for the hope­fuls try­ing out for Luke and Leia, lodging in Lu­cas’ mind but also de­vel­op­ing a take on the char­ac­ter. He was just the right mix of worldly wis­dom and hot AF youth.

“I was 35 when I first hit with Star Wars,” Ford told Em­pire in 2010. “I had some de­gree of ma­tu­rity and some de­gree of ex­pe­ri­ence, yet phys­i­cally I still looked young. That had been an im­ped­i­ment early on in my ca­reer, but then it turned out to be an ad­van­tage.”

These qual­i­ties helped Ford keep Han Solo grounded. Iron­i­cally, they also let Star Wars fly.

When talk­ing up

other roles (es­pe­cially the com­plex Al­lie Fox in The Mos­quito Coast), Ford would of­ten den­i­grate Han Solo as a sim­plis­tic, one-note char­ac­ter. He was wrong. Of course, the first thing you would see is the hip, flip space pi­rate. He puts the smug in smug­gler (“less” than 12 par­secs), wields sar­casm like a DL-44 heavy blaster (“But who is go­ing to fly it, kid? You?”) and vir­tu­ally com­men­tates on the film as it un­spools (“Where did you dig up that old fos­sil?”). Yet, from the point we first meet him (es­pe­cially if you fac­tor in Alden Ehren­re­ich’s in­car­na­tion) to the time he comes to that tragic end on a bridge at the hands of his son, he is one of the char­ac­ters who has gone through the big­gest arc. His ‘jour­ney’, both ex­te­rior and in­te­rior, is equal to more sup­pos­edly de­vel­oped char­ac­ters like Luke.

Steven Spiel­berg coined the phrase “courage and stu­pid­ity” to de­scribe the mak­ing of Jaws. It is also the per­fect en­cap­su­la­tion of Solo. Just run a quick Solo su­per­cut in your head. You might start with the mo­ment he de­cides to chase stormtroop­ers down Death Star cor­ri­dors un­til he comes face to face with an en­tire Im­pe­rial pla­toon. Or con­sider the mo­ment he flies di­rectly into an as­ter­oid field (the

odds of sur­vival are… never tell him, he hates that) to es­cape an Im­pe­rial block­ade. Yet some­times his brav­ery is in­fused with wily smarts: his seem­ingly fool­hardy ma­noeu­vre of goos­ing the Star De­stroyer Avenger’s bridge, only to cling to the side of the ship like a limpet to avoid the sen­sors, earns him a kiss of grat­i­tude from Leia but also bur­geon­ing re­spect.

Courage and stu­pid­ity plays into one of the joys of

Han Solo: his abil­ity to im­pro­vise. Faced with a freez­ing Luke Sky­walker dy­ing of hy­pother­mia in the wastes of Hoth, he quickly de­duces the only warm place avail­able is the in­side of a tauntaun’s stom­ach, but also re­alises the only in­stru­ment to per­form ad hoc surgery is Luke’s lightsaber, a weapon he’d pre­vi­ously de­rided as “an­cient”. Just as there is a real fris­son in see­ing Solo use a lightsaber — the old world meet­ing the new — there is an equal thrill in see­ing him pick up Chewie’s bow­caster to see off ba­ton-wield­ing stormtrooper FN-2199 in The Force Awak­ens. Yet his great­est mo­ment of im­prov — wor­thy of Greg Proops him­self — is when he de­cides to an­swer the beep­ing com­link dur­ing the res­cue of the Princess in A New Hope. Af­ter stut­ter­ing and stam­mer­ing to keep them at bay (“We’re all fine now, thank you. How are you?”), he gives up and blasts the com­link to bits, adding, “Bor­ing con­ver­sa­tion any­way.” It is quin­tes­sen­tial Han Solo: loose, funny and en­dear­ing.

Yet prob­a­bly the num­ber one mo­ment in any Solo su­per­cut would be an ac­tual mo­ment of deft im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Shoot­ing Solo bid­ding Leia good­bye be­fore be­ing en­cased in car­bonite, Ford didn’t like the di­a­logue as writ­ten — “I love you”/“i love you too” — be­cause he felt Solo would be too ar­ro­gant to let Leia win. So he work­shopped dif­fer­ent it­er­a­tions on cam­era with di­rec­tor Irvin Ker­sh­ner — in­clud­ing “I love you”/“yeah, yeah” — un­til, from nowhere, Ford de­liv­ered the im­mor­tal, “I know.” The pair were con­fi­dent they’d aced it, but knew they’d have to get it past Lu­cas.

“That was all about Ge­orge’s dis­com­fort and then ac­qui­es­cence,” re­mem­bered Ford. “He said we were go­ing to get a bad laugh and I said, ‘There’s no such thing.’ We had a screen­ing where I was com­pelled to sit next to Ge­orge as he tested the line the way Kersh and I wanted it. And he gave in at that screen­ing. ‘Al­right. It works.’”

If any­thing has shaped Solo over the course of the saga, it is Leia. When the rogue meets roy­alty, he is the ar­che­typal “scoundrel” (her word) and their repar­tee — writ­ten by script doc­tors Wil­lard Huyck and Glo­ria Katz — sparkles. In short, he needs to grow up, and she is the con­duit for his change. Af­ter meet­ing her, he gives up smug­gling and be­comes a key mem­ber of the Rebel Al­liance, lead­ing sor­ties to En­dor and later Starkiller Base. Leia ex­ac­er­bates per­haps the guid­ing prin­ci­ple of Solo’s char­ac­ter: the push and pull be­tween the mer­ce­nary and the al­tru­is­tic. It’s a qual­ity demon­strated at the end of A New Hope, as he packs up his loot to pay Jabba The Hutt yet re­turns to save Luke and the en­tire Re­bel­lion by tak­ing down some TIE Fight­ers. Han’s con­flict be­tween light and dark be­came cod­i­fied in a com­pletely meta way when, in 1997, Lu­cas dig­i­tally doc­tored Episode IV so Han’s shoot­ing of hired killer Greedo was in self-de­fence. In 1977, Han was a dope badass. Twenty years later he was a vic­tim of cir­cum­stance. It’s a de­ci­sion Lu­cas sub­se­quently re­gret­ted.

“If I’d known what a big crazy thing it would be, I would have just left it alone,” Lu­cas told Em­pire in 2014. “The peo­ple who like to think of Han as a cold-blooded mur­derer, they have their ver­sion. The idea was this guy is not a cold­blooded mur­derer, he is a scoundrel — that’s dif­fer­ent from be­ing a mur­derer. I still don’t think many peo­ple can tell the dif­fer­ence.”

The de­tails of

Solo’s ear­lier life ex­isted in Ge­orge Lu­cas’ head from the get-go. Among the di­rec­tor’s ex­ten­sive notes were the guess­able (par­ents killed in a bat­tle, raised by space gyp­sies, be­came a me­chanic) and the un­ex­pected (he spent three years herd­ing large an­i­mals called coldppedas — their meat is an aphro­disiac — on the planet Coonee). Seven­teen years later, while de­vel­op­ing Re­venge Of The Sith, Lu­cas con­sid­ered adding a ten-yearold Solo aid­ing Yoda to find Gen­eral Griev­ous on Kashyyyk. Although con­cept art was cre­ated, the idea never left the draw­ing board.

Lu­cas was also a prime mover in the film that be­came Solo: A Star Wars Story, com­mis­sion­ing Lawrence Kas­dan to write the screen­play. Along with Lu­cas and Ford, Kas­dan is per­haps the chief ar­chi­tect of Solo, co-writ­ing Em­pire, Jedi, The Force Awak­ens and Solo.

“When I saw Han in A New Hope

when it first came out, he was ab­so­lutely my favourite char­ac­ter,” he says. “He was per­fectly in line with all the peo­ple I had re­ally been fas­ci­nated with since I was a child. Not just Bog­art, but Robert Mitchum, Steve Mcqueen, the en­tire cast of The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven. He had all that man­li­ness and a wry sense of hu­mour, but what I re­ally loved was he wasn’t that smart.”

Solo does a neat job of ar­tic­u­lat­ing the char­ac­ter’s nascent bravado with his lack of grey mat­ter — wit­ness the mo­ment where Solo at­tempts to trick ma­rauder En­fys Nest into be­liev­ing the Mil­len­nium Fal­con is filled with “about 30 hired guns”, fol­lowed by a shot of the ship fly­ing off into the

dis­tance. If the char­ac­ter hasn’t found his sarky voice yet, Solo does cap­ture Han’s courage and stu­pid­ity (fly­ing into a rather mud­dled Kes­sel Run), in­ner bat­tle be­tween self­ish­ness and self­less­ness (spoiler: he funds the en­tire Re­bel­lion), and that qual­ity of go­ing above and be­yond to pro­tect those he loves, in this case Qi’ra. He also un­equiv­o­cally shoots first, killing his men­tor, To­bias Beck­ett, be­fore he gets killed.

Kas­dan not only presided over Solo’s ori­gins; he also co-au­thored his demise. It’s per­haps the big­gest stroke of ge­nius of The Force Awak­ens that Solo, the ul­ti­mate jaded cynic scoff­ing at Luke Sky­walker’s wide-eyed won­der at the Force (“No mys­ti­cal field con­trols my des­tiny. It’s all a lot of sim­ple tricks and non­sense”), has be­come over the course of his life a be­liever (“Crazy thing is… It’s true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It’s all true”). Han has the film’s best line: when Finn sug­gests they de­stroy Starkiller Base by us­ing Jedi pow­ers, he chides, “The Force doesn’t work like that.” Yet as Solo has be­come more open-minded, he has also suf­fered pain. He lost his son Ben to Supreme Leader Snoke af­ter train­ing with Luke went awry. When Ben be­came Ren, Solo and Leia’s mar­riage col­lapsed, the former re­turn­ing to smug­gling and Chew­bacca, the lat­ter lead­ing the Re­sis­tance. Their re­union on Tako­dana brings a lovely mo­ment: Han no­tices she has changed her hair; Leia, as­sess­ing his out­fit, teases, “Same jacket.”

Per­haps this growth is why Solo sticks. In a galaxy pop­u­lated by aliens and droids, pau­per farm boys and re­bel­lious roy­als, Han is the most hu­man of all. But also, across five films, as he has grown up — be­come more re­spon­si­ble, vul­ner­a­ble and sus­cep­ti­ble to pain — we have grown up with him. We may never wear a waist­coat (un­less we’re Gareth South­gate), but when we see him, we see our­selves. When he says, “Chewie, we’re home,” just his pres­ence means they’re not the only ones there.

Left: Har­ri­son Ford as Han Solo in The Em­pire Strikes Back.Right: Alden Ehren­re­ich as the younger Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

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