Fans bid an emotional farewell to Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but Lucasfilm isn’t quite done with the iconic smuggler on the big screen. Their second spinoff film is a young Han Solo adventure that sees Hail, Caesar! standout Alden Ehrenreich take over the role, leading an A-list ensemble cast including the likes of Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, and Woody Harrelson. Anytime an up-and-comer fronts a Star Wars film, it’s a monumental undertaking, but Ehrenreich is in an even less enviable position than Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones before him. He has to follow the footsteps of the living legend Harrison Ford, who became synonymous with Captain Solo over the course of four performances.
Ever since Han Solo was first announced in July 2015, certain sections of the moviegoing public have been skeptical of the project. Despite the success of Rogue One, prequels are still a touchy subject in the galaxy far, far away, especially ones that detail the past of a beloved character. Additionally, with the Star Wars universe seemingly infinitely vast, it read as a wasted opportunity to go back to a familiar well as opposed to exploring new corners. Still, Han Solo has one of the more talented creative teams behind a modern Star Wars film. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who spin any bad idea into gold) are directing a script from Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jon. Plus, the cast is a murderer’s row worth getting excited about. The big question through all this will be Ehrenreich. Can he win the fans over and be a good Han Solo?
Ehrenreich is not exactly the spitting image of Ford, and though he may grow his hair out to resemble a 1970s ‘do, there isn’t much the filmmakers can do (outside of CGI effects) to mold a physical resemblance between the two. However, Ehrenreich’s likeness is the least of Han Solo‘s concerns. The more pertinent question is whether or not he’s able to accurately convey the spirit of Han Solo, which admittedly will be a tough task. Ford is so ingrained in audiences’ minds, anyone else playing the character could come across as a cheap imitation. It’s important to keep in mind that Lord and Miller oversaw a grueling audition process that saw literally thousands of thespians try out for the role, and Ehrenreich was the one who won out. It’s safe to say the directors did not take their responsibility lightly and did everything they could to be sure they had the right man for the job. They described casting as a “pentathlon,” so it wasn’t a walk in the park.
The new Han Solo has displayed his acting chops on numerous occasions in smaller works like the aforementioned Hail, Caesar! and Beautiful Creatures, demonstrating he has the charisma and screen presence to be a leading man (holding one’s own against Ralph Fiennes is no small feat). The Corellian smuggler is obviously a different kind of character than Ehrenreich has played before, but he has shown range throughout his career, appearing in both comedies and drama. Ford was always one to deliver a funny line or two, but he would also knock a more serious, character-driven scene out of the park. It was pertinent his successor could handle both, and Ehrenreich has proven he can, more than earning his big break.
One clear advantage Ehrenreich has is that, in classic Star Wars tradition, he’s a relative unknown at the time of his boarding the Millennium Falcon. While some viewers have definitely seen him in other movies, Ehrenreich is not a well-known face to most casual audience members, meaning there’s little (if any) baggage there. Considering the writing is strong enough (and few people know Star Wars better than Kasdan), Ehrenreich should be able to just slide into the role without any preconceived notions. If a more established name had landed the part, there’d be a danger of failing to separate actor from character. This was probably a deciding factor in Ehrenreich’s casting; he’s skilled enough to be a big movie star, but hasn’t gained that kind of notoriety yet. Many people can go in fresh, making it easier to buy in him being Han Solo.
There’s an obvious parallel to be made here with the Star Trek Kelvin Timeline, which inserted a group of young actors into classic roles like Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy for a franchise reboot. Granted, those films take place in an alternate universe, where some creative leeway is allowed (Han Solo is a prequel set in the same canon as the original trilogy), but the comparison is still apt. Prior to the 2009 Star Trek movie, few could have anticipated it to be possible to recast those sci-fi legends, but Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and the rest of the new Enterprise crew have made the characters their own in a well-received trilogy where the performances have been widely praised. If it worked for Kirk, there’s no reason why it can’t work for Han Solo. Again, what matters most is capturing the essence of the scoundrel, and there’s a great team in place to ensure that happens.
Obviously, it’s going to be difficult for longtime fans to see anyone other than Ford play Han Solo, but with all the goodwill Lucasfilm has generated during the Star Wars revival, they’ve definitely earned the benefit of the doubt for the time being, and viewers should wait to hold judgment until a trailer at the very least. As long as Han Solo is a rollicking, fun space adventure film in the vein of the best series installments, fans will have no trouble sitting back and enjoying what Lord and Miller have in store. Ehrenreich did his homework and picked the brain of Ford prior to filming, so he’s going into this job as prepared as he ever could be. Now comes the hardest part.