How Treasure Island, The Big Lebowski, and Heat inspired Solo: A Star Wars Story
Join me, son, and together we will rule the galaxy.
This isn’t exactly the offer Lawrence Kasdan made to his son Jon, but close enough.
The upcoming stand-alone film Solo: A Star Wars Story was written by the veteran scribe of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens — but this time his writer-director son joined him for the ride.
Jon Kasdan wrote and directed the 2012 coming-of-age love story The First Time (it’s currently up on Netflix) and the 2007 comedy In the Land of Women, and he penned episodes of Dawson’s Creek and Freaks and Geeks.
He did not require the hard sell that Darth Vader gave Luke Skywalker.
Even before Lucasfilm was sold to Disney in 2012, launching a renaissance of galactic storytelling, Lawrence Kasdan had signed on to put together a Han Solo-centric movie. Then he was brought aboard Episode VII, and that became all-consuming.
“When I was done, I was sort of burned out. And I said, ‘I don’t know, do we still want to do this Han thing?’” Lawrence says. “And they said, ‘Yeah! We really want you to go ahead with Han.’ And I said, ‘Well, my son, Jon, is very enthusiastic and full of ideas about the saga.’ And he had directed two movies and had done other things. ‘What if he came on and worked with me? Because, that would give me a shot in the arm.’ And so, that’s exactly what happened. They made a deal with Jon, and he and I have been writing since for three years.”
In some ways, Jon says he has been making up Star Wars stories ever since he was a boy collecting action figures. “Yes, we had ’em all, and we played with ’em a lot,” he says.
“When I was a little kid, George was still in the habit — this was the coolest thing ever — George would send a box of toys at Christmas, and it was absolutely the highlight of Christmas. We were fanatical about it. And we had no interest in presents from our parents,” Jon adds. “It was just, ‘What was gonna come from Lucasfilm?’ And it was always a score. Then the years progressed into, like, ’89. [The gifts] started to be things like umbrellas and sweatshirts. It was a real dark moment in the Kasdan house when we realized the toys were no longer coming.”
Now, the toys are life-sized, and they’re taking the form of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Donald Glover as Lando, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, and new characters to the canon such as Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37, and Woody Harrelson’s mentor criminal Tobias Beckett.
Before writing, father and son talked about the kind of stories they both love, movies and books that might provide some kind of road map for where they wanted to take Han Solo.
Just as Lucas was influenced by Flash Gordon serials and other beloved space sagas from his youth, the Kasdans had some favorite stories that they turned to for inspiration.
This photo is from the 1950 Disney movie starring Robert Newton as the pirate and Bobby Driscoll (also the voice of Peter Pan) as young Jim Hawkins. But the Kasdans actually went back even further, to the 1882 novel, for inspiration.
“One of the things that Larry and I talked about right at the beginning of where we started working together on this was what kind of stories we wanted to riff off,” Jon says. “One we immediately reread was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island because we wanted it to be a boy’s adventure story, but one in which he encounters characters of dubious intent, and that everyone he would encounter would sort of inform his maturation as an adult.”
In Solo, Tobias Beckett is a type of Long John Silver character, a longtime outlaw who is looking for a final big score and turning to a young Jim Hawkins type to help make it happen. “We were talking a lot about Long John Silver and his relationship with the kid in Treasure Island,” Jon says.
Michael Mann’s 1995 heist saga also provided underworld inspiration.
“We talked about the relationship between Val Kilmer and Robert De Niro in Heat, where there’s a sort of older, wiser criminal, and then someone who’s learning the ropes from them. We wanted this movie to have that flavor and that swagger.”
“No one is reliable,” Lawrence Kasdan says. “There’s always a chance of betrayal. And, I wanted to take what is essentially a street smart, but very innocent, young man, and figure out how could we start him on the journey to being the character who comes into the cantina?”
Clint Eastwood’s 1992 revisionist Western was another gunslinger/apprentice story that struck a nerve.
“There’s a feeling in Unforgiven between the kid and Clint that hits the kind of [apprentice/gunslinger] relationship we were interested in,” Jon says, adding that the Oscar-winning film “is obviously a much darker movie than [Solo] is.”
But light or dark, it’s about a young guy being led astray — years before he is finally led back to the right side of the fight.
“How did he become that Bogart character who has to pronounce that he’s only in it for himself?” Lawrence says. “We know that’s not true. But where did that come in? He wasn’t born that way.”
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
Think of Han as the Dude, stumbling through a film noir he doesn’t fully grasp, and Chewie as his roaring Walter Sobchak.
“Larry and I are both huge Coen brothers fans, and we talk a lot about that [relationship] as a reference,” Jon says, adding that they also turned to the far more serious Coen brothers drama Miller’s Crossing.
“[We were] trying to create a crime movie where our character was entering a crime world where there were already dramas in place and relationships and complications, and we have to see him negotiate a lot more rivalries than he is expecting at the beginning of the story,” Jon says.
“[Solo] has that flavor of a crime world that has weirdness and surprise and people stumbling into things — and other people very intentionally getting into [trouble],” he adds. “The Big Lebowski is a great example because Solo has a more off-kilter tone than you’ve ever seen in [Star Wars].”
GANGSTER NO. 1
In this 2000 British drama from director Paul McGuigan, Paul Bettany plays an ultra smooth criminal. His performance inspired his Solo character of Dryden Vos, a slick, handsome version of crime lord Jabba the Hutt.
Vos was originally played by Michael K. Williams, who played the similarly lethal but charismatic crime lord Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire. But he wasn’t available for extended shoots when Ron Howard took over directing duties amid the clash between Lucasfilm and original Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
So the part ended up going to Bettany, who worked with Howard on The Da Vinci Code and A Beautiful Mind. The actor who inspired the character ultimately ended up playing the part.
“Gangster No. 1 is a wild movie and Paul is great in it,” says Jon. “It’s a combination of class and swagger and real danger, which I think is a fun thing, and he absolutely inhabits it.”
While Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett is struggling to find a big score, Vos is already secure in his status as a boss.
“He’s way deeper in the world than anyone else that we meet in the movie, but again, Woody’s character is a career criminal, too,” Jon says. “They’re just in slightly different places, much like a movie like Layer Cake, where you see a [Michael Gambon]-type of character who’s a little more advanced. Within the criminal underworld, there’s no hierarchy. There are some that are in power, and there’s some that are scrambling to stay alive.”
Solo: A Star Wars Story opens May 25.