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“Tell them I told you everything you needed to know, and that you can’t tell anyone.”
That was Harrison Ford’s advice to Alden Ehrenreich, the man who would be Han, when they sat down for lunch in January of last year shortly before production began on Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Ehrenreich, the 28-year-old actor best known for the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, dutifully remained tightlipped about the Star Wars veteran’s other guidance. There is honor among thieves. “I gotta stick to my orders from the man himself,” Ehrenreich says.
But EW uncovered more intel about Ford’s involvement from other Star Wars sources who revealed that although the original Han kept a respectful distance, he did provide some vital insights into the character he has lived with, sometimes uncomfortably, for four decades.
Lucasfilm president and Solo producer Kathleen Kennedy, who has known Ford since their Raiders of the Lost Ark days, said she called the actor after his lunch with Ehrenreich.
“It was perfect, classic Harrison,” Kennedy says, breaking into his signature low-key grumble. “‘Good kid, good kid. Really good kid.’”
She had also sent Ford the script, which she said he read and gave a thumbs-up. “I think being who is Harrison is, there is no way he would step into the middle of this and start trying to dictate,” Kennedy says.
But Ford is a living repository of knowledge about Han’s origins. He was the one George Lucas talked to about the character’s history and motivations, way back when they brought him to life in the 1977 original.
“What [Ford] did so beautifully for Alden was he talked a lot about what he remembered when he first read Star Wars, and what George had done with Han. Who the character was and the conversations he had for so many years with George about how that character developed,” Kennedy says. “He gave Alden that kind of insight which was invaluable. There were several times in the course of making the movie where Alden would actually recount some of the things that Harrison had pointed out. I think that was really, really helpful to him.”
When EW spoke to Ford in 2015 just before the release of The Force Awakens, his hypothetical guidance for the then-unchosen Young Han Solo was delivered with a shrug: “I would say, ‘Talk to your director. Watch the movies. And welcome aboard. Make it your own.’”
How did he feel about someone else picking up the blaster? Ford smiled: “I never thought about it.”
When Howard took over the project amid the turmoil between Lucasfilm and original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, he also sought guidance from Han Solo’s originator.
It turns out Ford had considered it a lot since then.
“Harrison’s a very thoughtful actor and an artist, and I wanted to know what he learned about the character,” Howard says. “He said that Han is always torn between that sense that he was, in a way, an orphan, and therefore both yearned for connection with people and struggled with it at the same time. I thought that was pretty interesting.”
There’s revelation No. 1 from Solo: The captain of the Millennium Falcon is just as cut off from his family as Luke and Leia, but he doesn’t have the loving surrogate mom and dad they had to give him a safe home. No Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen from Tatooine. No Bail Organa or Queen Breha from Alderaan.
Instead, we will see Han as hardscrabble kid trying to make a name for himself in the underworld. Crime seems like a good living, especially after washing out of the Imperial Flight Academy. Solo’s goal is to achieve a bit of independence. He doesn’t want to rely on anybody. Or owe anyone. (Guess how both of those work out.)
All of this stands as foreshadowing for The Force Awakens, and Solo’s curmudgeonly offer to make Rey first mate on his ship.
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), who wrote Solo with his son Jon (The First Time), already had the story in mind when he worked on Awakens with J.J. Abrams.
Han remembers being a young nobody. Hungry. Alone. In peril.
It turns out, Ford had even more insight to share with Howard — mostly about how often Han finds himself in over his head, charging into situations without considering all the angles. (“Never tell me the odds!”)
“Han has survived and proven that he can survive, but he’s never sure he’s as quite as smart as he needs to be,” Howard said, recalling their conversation. “Change that. He’s not really ‘smart.’ That’s not the word he used. Han’s not as on top of it as he needs to be. So he wants to give the appearance of [control], but in fact, he’s often scrambling. I think Harrison played that beautifully, and Alden and I talked about both of those ideas a lot.”
Even though he’s not technically involved in Solo, all of this is a window into Harrison Ford, too.
He’ll roll his eyes over Star Wars, call Han “dumb as a stump,” and tell you he hasn’t given the character or this galaxy much thought.
He’s forever trying insisting that none of it matters to him.
Just more proof, in case we needed it, that Harrison Ford really is Han Solo.
More Thursday as EW.com’s Han Solo Week continues:
- Donald Glover on Lando Calrissian.
- Emilia Clarke on Qi’ra
- and new photos and details from Solo: A Star Wars Story.