To be completely fair, I have not been that pumped up about the upcoming young Han Solo movie as the next Star Wars spin-off. Not to give a wrong vibe here, since Han Solo is one of my favourite movie characters and I see no reason why this movie hasn’t got the potential to be awesome. But there are also some potential problems that are likely to come along with the spin-off of young Han Solo, that have caused me to curb my enthusiasm. In short, these problems are me having doubts about the idea of making a movie of Han Solo’s backstory as a concept in the first place (perhaps his character works better with backstory that is more vague), Harrison Ford being so tightly associated with the character that he made (and, in a way, a character that made him). Also, in general, I consider it a bit too obvious (uninspired if you will) of a choice to go for in terms of Star Wars spin-offs at this point. That being said, since the movie is in the works, of course, as a Star Wars fan, I am still excited for it to a fair extent and want it to be good. Furthermore, even though I basically just called the idea of making that movie at this point in time a bit uninspired, then the casting choice of Alden Ehrenreich as the lead, in my opinion, is an inspired one, since it potentially solves (to a certain extent at the very least) some of these aforementioned problems. And it’s all down to a one specific reason. Let’s have a closer look at these problems and why I think the casting of Alden Ehrenreich is the soulution.
To simplify, the main arc of the character of Han Solo in Star Wars episodes IV to VII is an overused but effective formula of an individual who is out there only for personal gain and then finds something of a purpose and selflessness. The point being here is that for that arc to happen, he starts out in Episode IV as this selfish guy only out for personal gain (granted it becomes clear pretty quickly that he has, with a lack better word, a “good side” to him, but generally speaking this is who we meet at the beginning). It is also worth noting that these are fairly stereotypical character flaws in their essence.
Therefore, by that extention (or should I say abridgement since it is going backwards in the story), this is who the character is or at least becomes when the spin-off takes place prior to Episode IV. In the spin-off we can either see him becoming more and more selfish and out for personal gain only as the story goes on or being like that the whole time. This potentially limits what you can do with the character.Don’t get me wrong. I am definitely not saying that a flawed protagonist in a movie is a bad thing – quite the opposite actually. And of course there is a potentially fascinating story in there on how he became this selfish out for personal gain only loveable rogue. But in order for it to work, you need to get the audience behind that character despite his or her flaws, which might be quite tricky sometimes. Therefore, if the audience doesn’t connect with the character or don’t find him or her likeable and you are making a movie focused on that character… yeah, you might be in a bit of a trouble. This problem is enhanced by a further aspect.
Yes, that guy…
I think that no matter how good a portrayal of the character it might be, there will always be that elephant (or Bantha) in the room in form of Harrison Ford’s portrayal of the character that is ingrained in cultural history.
Ford took what was essentially (in some aspects) a fairly stereotypical character with a quite overused character arc and made him iconic because of the likeability, charisma and sincerity he brought to the role. He made the role completely his own. Thus, the character, as portrayed by Ford, has been around in cultural collective consiousness for many decades. All of that makes it quite difficult to imagine someone else playing him.Difficult but not impossible. When looking at other examples from Star Wars franchise about an iconic character being played by another actor, the best example is probably Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. To repeat the point that has been said so many times recently in regards to potential Obi-Wan spin-off: People can say what they want about the prequels, but the way McGregor, at the same time, captured Alec Guinness’s iconic portrayal of the older version of the character and made the character his own, shows that it is doable. Although, since Han Solo is a more prominent character than Obi Wan was in the original trilogy and Episode VII, it will be all the more difficult. Therefore, again, the main point here is that it could be potentially tricky to get audience behind this verison of the character and go on this adventure with him.
So, we have established, that writing the arc for this character will be somewhat limited, he has to be flawed no matter what, the flaws are somewhat stereotypical and that the character is so tightly associated with one actor’s portrayal of him. That all, as said before, might make it difficult for audiences to side with the character.
To solve that problem, it is important to make the character endearing, sincere and likeable despite all that is going aganist it. Of course a big role will be on writing this character in a right way, but to truly pull it off, you need an actor who just has the natural ability to make a character likeable despite many things going against it.It is worth noting here that the argument of Han Solo’s character already being made likeable by Ford’s portrayal doesn’t apply and, as said before, could actually harm another actor playing the part. A new actor taking up the role has to do it (make him likeable) all over again and this time he (in a way) has even more going against him pulling it off compared to when Ford started out with the character.But if the actor manages to give his portrayal sincerity, likeability and warmth, then the image of Ford’s portrayal will not be that huge of distraction and limited options with the arc, that the character can potentially go through, will also be forgiven. It doesn’t have to be a copy of Ford’s portrayal as long as it is close enough to the core of the character. In other words – you must make the viewers forget all that goes against the character and that can only be achived when the actor playing it brings that special something.
I think, it is fair to say, that a large number of people, when they heard that Alden Ehrenreich was cast as young Han Solo, didn’t know the actor at all or had seen him in only one major film. That one major film would be “Hail Caesar”.
In that movie Alden Ehrenreich portrays a character that is, on paper, a stereotypical satire of a clueless simple-minded 60-s Hollywood western star, who is forced to act in a more serious film and being completely out of his depth while doing so. In theory, it should just be a source of comedy, a character you laugh at and not cheer for, but he gave this character that afroementined unexpected warmth and sincerity, thus making the character likeable and endearing. Of course, as mentioned before, although part of that effect is down to brilliant writing, it still largely comes down to an actor either having that special something or not.To put it more into context of this article, what Alden Ehrenreich did in “Hail Caesar”, was make a flawed, a bit sterotypical character with a bit limited character arc likeable. Granted, in the case of Han Solo, it will be a much bigger challenge to pull it off along with the shadow of Ford’s portrayal looming over the whole thing, but Ehrenreich nevertheless has, in my opinion, displayed the ability to pull it off.
We got the right actor, let’s go for it!
There are very few, shall we say, clear areas (or “not gray areas”) when it comes to movies and film. In my opinion, one of them is actor’s ability to bring likeability and warmth to a character that, in theory, maybe shouldn’t have that much of it. All of that is necessary to get the audience to side with the character. A good script helps of course, but it is not enough. An actor either has got “it” or not. Alden Ehrenreich, I think, has got it. That certainly makes me a lot more eager for the Han Solo spin-off movie despite my little reservations. Now… we just have to hope that he has a great chemistry with Chewbacca ;).