From director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lawrence & Jonathan Kasdan, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the past of the beloved, iconic character Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) to take audiences on an adventure, deep into the dark and dangerous criminal underworld. Through a series of daring escapades, fans will get to learn about the history and background of the charismatic pilot through his relationships and friendships, whether that’s with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his future co-pilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), or notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
At a conference at the film’s press junket, held at the Pasadena Convention Center, co-stars Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton (“Val”), Paul Bettany (“Dryden Vos”), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“L3″) and Joonas Suotamo were joined by director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan to talk about the level of anticipation that comes with making a Star Wars movie, stepping into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, hugging Chewbacca, making such an inspiring droid, practical sets vs. visual effects, Lando’s affinity for capes, and balancing what fans want to see with making the film its own thing.
Question: Ron, you’ve made some huge films and you’ve made some of the greatest movies of all time. What was it like making a Star Wars movie? How was that different?
RON HOWARD: It’s the galaxy far, far away. The level of anticipation is really unlike anything I’ve done, and I’ve done some pretty big titles with a lot of interest. It’s amazing! I’m at a point in my life where I like experimenting. I like to take some chances, and I’m not too worried about the outcome. I want to have the creative experience, and I felt that way about jumping into a Star Wars movie, but I also felt that way about jumping into the Beatles documentary. From the moment it was announced, it was, “Ron, don’t fuck this up!” Of course, you know that the fans care, and they should care.
Lawrence and Jonathan, when the two of you sat down together to write this, was this a story that had been bubbling in your head for awhile, or did you sit down and create it fresh?
LAWRENCE KASDAN: The story hadn’t been bubbling for a long time. What had been bubbling, for me, from when I was relatively young and I first saw Han Solo in the cantina, was that I immediately sparked to him. He lifted up the whole movie, instantly, and I loved the movie. At that moment, I thought, “This movie’s got me.” This is the kind of character that I have always loved and has been so important in all the movies that I care about. This is a character who’s reckless, who’s cynical and who doesn’t trust anybody. I love that. He just does things hat he shouldn’t do. He gets in over his head, and you can see that, in the brilliance of George Lucas’s cantina scene. It’s just a few minutes, but you get everything about who this guy is.
JONATHAN KASDAN: Larry had decided to get involved in Star Wars, based on Han. That was the movie he wanted to make first, but he got pulled into Force Awakens. When he came out, he said, “I need somebody to do this with me,” and I was the obvious choice because I also shared a deep love of this, but I came at it from a totally different place than Larry did. I had grown up with Star Wars and I’d grown up playing with the toys. We thought that somehow between our two dynamics – with me as a fan and him as an older Jedi master – we could figure out some sort of dynamic where we could forge a story that felt both contemporary and true to the spirit of Solo.
Alden, what did it feel like for you to step into and sit down in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon?
ALDEN EHRENREICH: It’s really wild and really exciting. It’s bigger than you can even wrap your head around. It’s wonderful. Particularly being in the Millennium Falcon is very, very cool. You get into the cockpit and you can’t believe you’re in it. It’s so surreal, and that’s what everybody you bring to set wants to see, so that they can have that experience, too. And then, a couple months into shooting in it, you’re inside of it and you’re flying it, you know where the buttons are and how the chair feels, and you’re like, “This my ship now!” That’s deeply gratifying.
Donald, you were a big Star Wars fan and your father was a huge Lando fan. What was it like for you to step into the shoes of Lando? Is this a character that you ever pictured yourself taking on?
DONALD GLOVER: As much as any seven-year-old boy does, of course, you pretend to be him. I had a Darth Vader and he had a light saber, and I bit it off and gave it to Lando. And then, my mom wouldn’t let me have the light saber anymore because she thought I’d choke on it. So, this was really cool. When I heard they were making these films, I told my agent, “If they’re making anything with Lando in it, I have to be Lando!” He was like, “I hear you, but I don’t like your odds.” And that was exactly what I needed to hear. I auditioned like it was the only role I wanted, in the world, because it really was. So, I’m just really happy to be part of this experience. It’s really cool. My dad imprinted me with this Star Wars longing. It feels like the Bible to me, in a lot of ways.
Joonas, any time you’re in the Chewbacca costume, people want a hug. What’s it like to play such an incredibly loved character?
JOONAS SUOTAMO: When I got to know that I was going to be playing this character, I really couldn’t sleep at night. I was so excited because this was a life-changer for me. I was borderline jobless when I got this role. My now fiancée, and then girlfriend, has seen me going from living with my mom to becoming Chewbacca. That’s the span of our relationship. It’s funny how this character is so loved. Peter Mayhew, who created this character, along with George Lucas, has been so instrumental in helping me and giving me his blessing. He gave me some tips, in our week-long session together, on how to be this character. It was fun. I never could have understood what went on underneath the mask of Peter Mayhew. Getting to know that, it was so easy, going into shooting this film, which is so much about Han and Chewie. It was so important to get that right, for this film.
Emilia, your character, Qi’ra, has such an air of mystery around her. What was it like to play that and explore her relationship with Han and the rest of the gang?
EMILIA CLARKE: Playing mysterious is quite a difficult note, I’ve got to be honest. It was really fun. It’s really difficult to talk about because she is a pretty mysterious character. You need to keep tabs on her, throughout the movie. She is one of the harder [characters] to discuss. We meet her, quite early on, with Han, and then they’re separated, for whatever reason, and when we find her again, she seems to have lived a pretty dark life, in that time. You can’t quite figure out what it is that’s happened to her, in the time that you haven’t been with her, and who it is that she is now. That’s a question that keeps coming up, throughout the movie.
Woody, how did you find the experience of playing Tobias Beckett? How did you view him?
WOODY HARRELSON: It was a really easy character for me to play. He’s a scoundrel and a thief, but he’s really well-written. Larry and Jonathan wrote an extraordinary script, and then Ron came in and did his magic, and you have all of these wonderful characters. It’s pretty cool to get to be in a Star Wars movie. It’s phenomenal.
Thandie, what did you enjoy about playing Val and working with her crew?
THANDIE NEWTON: We had fun! The production design was so amazing that we would feel like we were in real battle scenarios with explosions going off and debris and mud in places that you didn’t even know you had. And there was always humor. We were really going into battle together. It’s obviously a fantasy, fun battle, we were still going into battle.
Phoebe, L3 is not like any droid we’ve ever seen in Star Wars before. What makes her special?
PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE: L3 is a real inspiration to me. She’s a self-made droid. She created herself out of parts of other droids, which sounds frightening, when I put it like that. She turned herself into a unique creature that’s taller, stronger and more independent than she originally was. She’s got a great attitude and she’s very upbeat. She’s really fun to be around. She’s fearless, uncensored and very funny, and she’s a revolutionary. She has an agenda, which is bigger than the sum of her parts. That’s something that’s really extraordinary, and it’s great to play that. It’s great to play a droid with a message. She’s great!
Paul, Dryden Vos is a legitimately terrifying man. How did you approach him, and what did you want to do with the character?