The level of excitement for the Solo: A Star Wars Story junket was ecstatic as everyone crowded into the room, eager to ask the burning questions on their minds. The moderator of the press conference was Anthony Carboni, and the panel featured writers Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, director Ron Howard and cast members Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Paul Bettany.
With such an iconic franchise, Ron Howard had some challenges that were different than his other experiences directing. He said that Star Wars is “its own,” and that “the level of anticipation is really unlike anything I’ve done.” Commending the people working on Solo, he says, “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, that universe, that galaxy– and creatively, it’s… unbelievably stimulating for a filmmaker.” He felt that the character relationships were a challenge. ” Because this is a little bit different than the other movies. It’s really this… this one guy’s adventure story. Why I feel like it… in some ways it’s kind of similar to Raider 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 the character. 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 these… all of these characters are going to the on, on this young Han Solo.”
It was not an easy task taking on the beloved franchise, and Ron says in trying to keep a balance for the fans, “well, I’m going to start and quickly throw that, because, because you know, I approach it, and I’m a fan, and… and I’ve always appreciated the movies, but I’m not encyclopedic. I don’t, I don’t know everything. I haven’t seen everything. I haven’t read everything. And so I came into this situation and immediately, of course, I had to start working more off of instinct than anything else, and this great screenplay, that I really believed in — and a cast that I, I certainly wouldn’t have come, you know, onboard if I didn’t love the cast and was excited about working with them. But — I immediately said, you know, I’m going to treat this like it’s a true story. I’ve done a lot of true stories. And I always have technical advisors around. And I, I sort of go for the heart. I go for the drama, the excitement of the narrative, of the story and then I let the technical advisors tell me, you know, where else it could go or what I might be overlooking. And that’s honestly the way I approached this. And so many people around it were those guides for me, but I was just operating off my own imagination and my own sort of… sense of what I’d like to see or what I, what I think these characters could be going.”
Writer Jonathan Kasdan has a love and respect for Star Wars that is evidenced when he discusses the creation of the story and his love for Han Solo. He said that when he first saw Han Solo in the cantina, he “immediately sparked to him. He lifted up the whole movie instantly, and I love the movie. This is a character who’s reckless, who’s cynical, who doesn’t try anybody.” When discussing a balance for the films, Jonathan says ” we approached the movie much more in terms of… is there a kind of genre movie, a crime movie, a… a western that we could fit Han Solo into 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 us, of a western, or of a crime movie.”
Alden Ehrenreich was just as aware of this legacy he was walking into. When discussing what it was like to sit in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon, he said “it is 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.” As the iconic character, Han Solo, Alden went to speak with Harrison before filming and said that he wanted to get his blessing. When asked about how he prepared for playing this iconic character, Alden said to prepare he planned to “watch the original movies very early on. And just kind of absorb as much as I could both of you know, I think mainly the character, you know, how the character is operating in the world.” He continued to say that he felt he needed to “play this guy where he is in now in his life, because it’s most important, I think, that it feels like a real person.”
Alden wasn’t the only actor stepping into an iconic role. Joonas Suotamo had some very big, very furry shoes to fill as Chewbacca. He talks about what it is like being such a hugely popular character and that the role was “a life-changer” for him. He even met with the original Chewie, Peter Mayhew and said he “has been so instrumental in, in help… giving me his blessing. And ah… giving me some tips on… in our week-long session together, how to be this character. ” He referred to it lovingly as some kind of Chewie Boot Camp. Joonas says “he could never have understood what went on underneath the mask of Peter Mayhew. And now that I got to know that, it was so easy going into shooting this film, which is so much about Han and Chewie and everyone– that it was so important to get right, for this film.” Feeling how daunting the character was, Alden said that “every day. I mean 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 their, of the world. I mean they’re the best in the world. And you walk into these incredible environments with 300 different creatures that are actually there, that are actually built and then, you know, you do your scene.”
As another resident character, Donald Glover plays Lando and recalling his audition; he said that it was “the only role I wanted in the world… I’m just really happy to be part of this experience. 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.” Obviously, no pressure for Donald! Woody Harrelson plays Beckett, another favorite character who he found to be “a really easy character for me to play because he’s a scoundrel and a thief… but I think really well written… that’s the thing 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.”
In addition to our resident characters, we saw quite a few new characters entering our Star Wars world. Emilia Clarke, famously of Game of Thrones discusses playing Qi’ra: “playing mysterious is quite difficult. It’s really difficult to talk about because she is a pretty mysterious character. You kind of need to keep tabs on her throughout the movie.” Another new character, L3, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a self-made droid. She says in her love of the character that L3 is “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.”
Paul Bettany as Dryden says that there is a significant difference between playing Vision of the Avengers and playing Dryden. “It was just lovely to play somebody, having, you know, come from Avengers where Vision is fundamentally good. Just somebody who’s just deliciously bad. I’m really okay with it. Just… no neurosis. No guilt. Just super happy about being evil.”
Despite all the seriousness of giving proper respect to the franchise, there were still fun times on the set. Thandie Newton recalls the fun they would have with the battle sequences: “this room is honestly a quarter of the size of the, you know, cavernous spaces; it would be completely taken over. The production design is so amazing. That we could feel like we were in, like real sort of battle scenarios with explosions going off and, debris and you know, like mud in place you didn’t even know you had places. And the camaraderie between us was just humor, always was humor. We were really going into battle together. I mean, obviously, a sort of fantasy, fun battle, but… we’re still going into battle.”
With evident respect and admiration for both the characters and the history of Star Wars, the cast and creators set off on an adventure to give the origin story of an iconic hero, rich with battle scenes, heart, and of course, the battle of the light versus the dark.