'Star Wars: Episode VII': Harrison Ford and Han Solo bury the lightsaber -- ESSAY

Ford-and-Solo.jpg

Image Credit: Franziska Krug/Getty Images; Lucasfilm

It turns out that Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo’s involvement in Star Wars: Episode VII was never really a question.

As Darth Vader might put it: It was their dessss-tah-nee.

Details of J.J. Abrams’ new film are scarce as shooting gets underway, but as I headed up the hunt for EW, sources within the Death Star noted that although fans are rejoicing over the new cast featuring original trilogy stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and (most surprisingly) Harrison Ford, their participation has actually been one of the few guarantees ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced the new slate of films in 2012.

In the case of Hamill and Fisher, they dropped so many hints that the only surprise would be if they hadn’t been in the cast. But even though Ford expressed “openness” to reprising his role as captain of the Millennium Falcon, he had such a long, vocal, and consistent history of scorn for Star Wars that his participation always seemed touch-and-go.

But the involvement of all three was considered so vital, George Lucas himself met with them — including Ford — before the Disney sale to recruit their participation. And he got it, along with vows to keep that hush-hush until the appropriate time (less successful in Fisher’s case.)

Even more significant, Han Solo won’t just be a walk-on. While Hamill and Fisher will boast strong supporting parts, Ford will join three of the young stars as one of the leads in the story, according to several sources close to the film. Bonus points to anyone who gets to say to him, “She’s fast enough for you, old man.”

ONE LAST FLIGHT
Sure, they could have made the movie without him. But Ford’s participation already brings an emotional element to this continuation.

A long time ago (a windblown spring afternoon in 2008), not so far, far away from the galactic urban sprawl of Los Angeles, Harrison Ford hiked to the top of a rocky trail overlooking the Pacific Ocean and threw Han Solo off a cliff. We were on a trek through the woods as part of an interview about Indiana Jones, a character he cherishes as much as any fan. But whenever the conversation turned to his other cinematic rogue, Ford’s crooked smile tended to bend south and be punctuated with an eyeball roll. “He’s dumb as a stump,” the actor groaned.

For a kid who grew up on Star Wars, who grew up specifically loving Han Solo, the galactic wiseass, the man who made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, this was a gasping betrayal – even though for over 30 years, the actor, now 71, has made no secret of his disdain. “He’s a cultural institution,” I said.

“At no credit to the culture for embracing him as a hero,” Ford shrugged back, unrepentant.

That’s why, when the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII was announced and Harrison Ford was photographed in that circle of cast members, fans reacted with the equivalent of a joyful Wookiee roar. Ford had been thawing over the past year, saying he wasn’t opposed to returning, but everything he said before had been so adamantly against it. In 2010, when MTV broached the topic of reprising Solo (long before anyone considered that a remote possibility), Ford answered: “No, no, no. Han Solo was very good to me at a certain point in my career. But I’m done. I’m done with him.”

He hasn’t changed his tune much. Back in 1983, when Return of the Jedi was about to open, Ford was interviewed on the Today show expressing his dislike for Solo – and his determination not to play him again. “Three’s enough for me,” he said. “I was glad to see that costume for the last time.”

Hamill has made sport of Luke Skywalker’s sometimes whiny tone, and Carrie Fisher has poked fun at her gold bikini days, but both have also embraced their part in this imaginative universe. With Ford, it was a question mark right up until that cast photo came out. And when he was there, in the midst of conversation with Abrams (who worked with him previously as screenwriter of the 1991 drama Regarding Henry), it meant something more to fans … because up until then Star Wars meant so little to Ford.

GREAT, KID. DON’T GET COCKY.
We galactic diehards always wanted Ford to love Solo the way we loved Solo. So why didn’t he?

“He’s got a good heart, but I think he’s certainly a much less interesting character than Indiana Jones,” Ford told me during that hike in Temescal Canyon. “The breadth of his story utility was never extensive. He was the foil between the other more compelling elements of the film, between the sage old warrior and the young hero. There’s not much breadth of character to explore beyond what we got out of him.”

How could the man who brought Han Solo to life misunderstand Han Solo so completely? Luke is the easy one to figure out – naïve and noble, he longs to venture forth and do the right thing, no questions asked. Leia is another born hero, brave and ready to show up those who underestimate her. Han Solo …? He’s not so sure he wants to be with the good guys. Good guys get stomped on by the Empire. You know who survives? The one who shoots first.

Han Solo’s enduring appeal stems back to that part in every one of us that feels a tug of selfishness that’s as strong as the tug of selflessness. He’s every malcontent, every loser, every smartass who was told by someone they weren’t good enough, and believed it. Luke Skywalker was born to attack the Death Star, but Han Solo flies back into that battle by choice. We love him because he’s not one of the good guys. He’s just good enough.

Little boys and girls don’t think about these things, they just feel them intrinsically in the mythology they consume. And Ford’s participation in the new Star Wars films, despite coming with what was surely a massive payday, suggests that maybe, maybe he still feels that too.

A FIGHT TO THE DEATH
Han Solo survived Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt, but the foe who came closest to killing him off was Harrison Ford. During our trail conversation in 2008, I asked if it was true that they talked about killing Solo in Return of the Jedi. “I talked about it,” Ford emphasized. “I thought it would be fascinating to have him die and give the movie some emotional bottom. It wasn’t a heroic arc so much that I was interested in but giving the film some emotional strength.”

He’s right, but he’s also contradicting himself. How could there be such emotion over someone with “not much breadth of character”? Ford has admitted he was never a Buck Rogers fan; sci-fi and fantasy weren’t where he found comfort – they were just where he made a living. But I think back to being 4 years old, and my first movie memory: walking late into The Empire Strikes Back and seeing this snowy world of Hoth on the big screen, like a massive window in that chilly theater, open to an arctic wasteland. There was Han Solo, riding out alone to rescue his friend Luke.

And that summer, running around playing make-believe with my best friend: I was Han Solo, and Joey Mitchell from three doors down was Chewbacca. I had Solo’s bottle-nosed plastic blaster; Joey had a homemade, full-body, fur-covered Wookiee costume that he sweltered in as we policed the galaxy of our neighborhood. We buried our Han Solo action figures in puddles of mud to simulate the carbonite freezing chamber.

Now, I’m Ford’s age at the time those movies came out. I’ve got a 4-year-old of my own, a little girl who loves Star Wars (especially Princess Leia), and a 1-year-old son who might just be old enough to see Episode VII when it comes out. I’m glad Ford decided to return to Han Solo, and like many Star Wars fans, hope he finds something in the character to care about as much as we do.

When the new toys come out, I’m going to show those kids how to bury Solo in muddy carbonite. And who knows … by the end of this trilogy, Ford may finally get his wish to bury the old smuggler, too.

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