A YouTube channel has used AI to digitally insert Harrison Ford into a clip from Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the results are impressive – yet uncanny. Moviegoers were highly divided over Solo, which saw Alden Ehrenreich step up to play the legendary space pirate in his youth. Many could not bear to see anyone else but Ford embody Star Wars’ smooth-talking smuggler. However, thanks to new image processing techniques, we can see how it might have looked if he had returned to his most famous role.
Solo has had a considerably rough time since it was announced back in 2015. In theory, a movie focused solely upon that sarcastic smuggler’s early days is an interesting prospect. But without the iconic Ford in Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, fans were skeptical of Solo’s chances. Following Solo’s release, Ehrenreich’s optimistic portrayal still has its fair share of defenders. In the main though, it’s clear that there are plenty of people who would have preferred Ford, or his impersonator Anthony Ingruber, to bring Han to life. Admittedly, it would have been very difficult for a seventy six year-old Ford to portray a twenty-something Han Solo for the Star Wars prequel. Yet, judging by the success of this video, it may not always be so.
The channel derpfakes posted the short video, which lifts several moments from Solo, but primarily focuses upon Han’s first meeting with a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). The account has used a technique known as “deep learning,” whereby an AI is given a range of images depicting a particular person. After analyzing these, it creates a library of expressions and poses, which is then used as a reference to graft over any figure on a video clip. In this case, the AI studies Ehrenreich’s performance, and crafts a corresponding one from its readout of Ford.
This is not the first time that deep learning has been used on movies and their stars. In their previous videos, "derpfakes" have also grafted Nicolas Cage’s face onto Amy Adams' body, in an excerpt from Man of Steel. Deep learning was also used earlier this year to digitally shave Henry Cavill, following Warner Bros.' disastrous attempt to remove his mustache for Justice League. And Han has been the subject of similar efforts before. Earlier this year, Star Wars fan Nick Acosta used clips from Ford’s filmography to roughly approximate his version of “True Solo” on Vimeo.
Whilst Acosta’s attempt is as occasionally imperfect as derpfakes’ clip, these remarkable videos remind us that this technology is going to have an increasingly profound effect in years to come. The Star Wars series has already demonstrated this, with the appearance of a synthetic Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Despite many people objecting on ethical grounds, the digital Tarkin has nevertheless paved the way for other screen legends to be convincingly resurrected for future films.
Given that Ford is reportedly done with Han Solo, we shouldn’t expect him to return to the role, in digitally de-aged form, any time soon. Although, with people being able to be digitally replicated wholesale, this edited clip from Solo: A Star Wars Story serves as a fascinating – and frightening – reminder of what the future of AI and computers could mean, not only for our favorite film franchises, but for our security too.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019