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Young Han Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich in The Yellow Birds first photo

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Soon the world will know Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han Solo, but before that, we’ll get to see him in a much grittier, more realistic battle as the star of the independent war drama The Yellow Birds. Here’s a first look of the 26-year-old as Pvt. John Bartle, a soldier deployed to Iraq who is trying to fulfill two duties — one to his country, the other to the mother of a younger fellow fighter he vowed to protect.

The film is based on the 2012 novel by author and real-life Iraq War veteran Kevin Powers, and it’s being directed by Alexandre Moors, best known for 2013’s sniper drama Blue Caprice. The Yellow Birds — which also stars Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, and Jennifer Aniston — is just being finished now, and production company Cinelou Films does not yet have a release date.

Having the new lead of a Star Wars movie in the film should help it find an audience.

Moors said he had no idea his actor was being considered for the part last summer, and didn’t discover it until news leaked over the past several weeks that Ehrenreich was up for Han Solo in the 2018 stand-alone film from Lucasfilm.

“No, no, I read it in the paper, like everybody,” Moors tells EW. “I think that’s great! It seems like such an obvious choice. Looking at him, he embodies the qualities of Harrison Ford, who’s an action man, but has such good comic timing and is light on his feet.”

Ehrenreich ended up in The Yellow Birds by a lucky cascade of events. “We had a previous actor attached, Will Poulter, who took off to do another movie over the summer, and I found myself in a situation where we needed to cast a lead,” Moors said. “Looking at all the young talent in Hollywood, I must say I was very early set on Alden. He’s a step above the bunch.”

Moors was impressed that Ehrenreich has already worked with a number of formidable directors in his short career: Francis Ford Coppola on Tetro and Twixt, Woody Allen on Blue Jasmine, Joel and Ethan Coen on Hail, Caesar!

“He was someone who had the maturity to take on a role like [Bartle], which goes to very dark places at times and needs somebody who has a gravitas and a certain ability to understand the layers in the script,” Moors says.

“To me, when I cast, the first thing you think of is, ‘I am going to be studying that actors face for two hours,’” the director adds. “You need somebody whose face is an emotional landscape that has layers and depth to it. Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re a young age to have that quality. It’s not just about being pretty. I read somewhere and its true — something about Alden that calls for me actors of a past era.”

Ehrenreich has been compared to everyone from Cary Grant, to Jack Nicholson, to Leonardo DiCaprio, and — now, of course — Harrison Ford.

“Exactly!” Moors says. “He’s very masculine and virile, but his comical talents are amazing. He’s very light, very quick, and very sharp. It’s an amazing contrast. It’s a question of range, he has an amazing range.”

In The Yellow Birds, Bartle makes a vow to the mother (Aniston) of another soldier (Sheridan) that he will look after her son on the battlefield, but that becomes increasingly difficult under the intense command of their sergeant (Huston).

Filming was split between Georgia and Morocco, with a one month hiatus in between. “Alden, instead of going back to L.A., he rented a cabin somewhere in California just so he could go fish and be by himself and not lose his focus on the character during that one month time,” Moors says. “That should tell you what kind of actor he is. I don’t think a lot of people would do that.”

For more film news, follow @Breznican.

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