7 months ago
Han Solo is a hero that emerged from the 70s, the dude that George Lucas wished to be if the director wasn’t such an observant film nerd distancing himself from reality with a camera. Now, as the presales mount in anticipation of Solo: A Star Wars Story starring Alden Ehrenreich in the title role and opening inevitably at number one on May 24, maybe it’s time to praise the character – and express concern that the fictional man exists like a conjoined twin with Harrison Ford, the actor who escaped TV movies and became a film star as Solo.
As played by Ford, now 75, Solo’s the all-American rugged individualist, a crusty, athletic, anti-establishment risk-taker who wants to do his own thing, baby. Come along for the ride – but don’t get in his way. He’s good with his hands and he thrives in a crisis. Given the choice, he prefers bromance to romance. And, in a universe that is both endless and hierarchical, he’s still a guy who wants to get the man off his back – and keep him off. He’s a little Easy Rider, a little Jeremiah Johnson, a cowboy whose frontier is space.
Solo lacks Luke Skywalker’s magic force but he has a Yankee certainty: with all his shaggy sh-t, he’s really the force to be reckoned with made flesh because not only will he never surrender, but he’s not crippled by daddy issues. Psychology is for the privileged, man, and that’s not underdog Solo. It’s no wonder that Princess Leia detoured from romancing her kin Skywalker with his Hamlet equivocations and made a beeline for the tall, sarcastic, can-do commitaphobe that talented women find irresistible, the character that became the epicenter of a swirling storm of romantic fan fiction.
His name is Han Solo, not Han Couple for a reason. He’s a bit of a jerk – but he’s our jerk.
And Ford, besides being the spirit of Solo beginning in 1977, also animated Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series starting with the 1981 hit Raiders of the Lost Ark. The following year, he again made history as the troubled protagonist Rick Deckard in Ridley Scott’s legendary 1982 Blade Runner. That character returned recently for a comparatively self-conscious update fronted by a moody Ryan Gosling. I admire Gosling, who cut his teeth singing and dancing as a Mouseketeer, but he lacks Ford’s authenticity.
The fact that he is grounded defines Ford — and therefore keeps Solo relatable even when he’s a million miles away from his home planet. The actor creates a character that survives minute-to-minute, making his every action seem spontaneous.
Take this favorite scene in which Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia finally declares what’s been obvious to everyone: her love for Han. While Lucas’s script had Solo responding with the usual gush – “I love you, too” – Ford ad-libbed in character: “I know.” And the cocky S.O.B. did. D-ck! Always leave the women wanting more. And, really, watching the scene, it’s Chewbacca’s piteous wailing when Darth Vader lowers Solo into the hibernation chamber in Empire that indicates where the depth of feeling lies.
The homegrown hero is always facing impossible odds – and his disregard, even denial, of danger is what makes his seat-of-the-pants recoveries so thrilling and satisfying. Crazy confidence in the face of dangerous reality defines him.
In this clip, as Solo navigates for the asteroid field outside Hoth to escape his pursuers alongside Chewbacca and Leia, droid C-3P0 is there to tell him that his odds for survival are one in 3,720 His response? Into the asteroids to freedom! “I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one,” he says earlier. But they do – thanks to Solo’s ingenuity and steely nerves.
And despite his stubborn individualism, there’s an altruistic streak to Solo, a soft heart beating beneath the gruff exterior no matter how much he tries to overrule it for the sake of self-interest. Take the scene where he rescues Luke from freezing, ripping a page out of Jack London’s playbook, when he stuffs Skywalker into the steaming, stinking body of a tauntaun in The Empire Strikes Back.
And as dour as Ford-Solo can be, he wins the audience over again and again with his deft delivery of one-liners. When Han, Chewy and Luke are being prepped for an Ewok stew — a scene ripped from so many Hollywood deepest darkest African safari movies — he quips: “I have a really bad feeling about this.” Ford’s Solo both creates — and relieves — narrative tension with a one-two punch of action and deadpan comedy.
Where does Ford end and Solo begin? Unlike the character of James Bond, who stumbled through various iterations from George Lazenby through Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, there has only been one Solo. It’s almost as if I’d prefer a Chewbacca prequel because he’s the character I least identify with the actor beneath the rug, er roll – but there’s no turning back the clock. Ehrenreich has big boots to fill as the cocky kid who would be Han Solo – and the question is whether he’ll be a Craig that remakes the character in his own image and carries the series forward, or a forgotten one-shot Lazenby. We’ll find out on May 24.