Ron Howard and ‘Solo’ Cast on Bringing Back Classic Characters for the Latest ‘Star Wars’ Epic

For the cast and crew of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the pressure was on to revive characters so firmly entrenched in our collective consciousness. Like the previous “Story” installment, “Rogue One,” this movie takes place in a timeline set before the events of the original 1977 “Star Wars: A New Hope.” It is the origin story of space smuggler Han Solo, first made iconic by Harrison Ford, now played by Alden Ehrenreich. Gambler and smooth talker Lando Calrissian is also back, with Donald Glover reprising the role originally brought to life by Billy Dee Williams. Emilia Clarke, known the world over as dragon-riding warlord queen Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” brings a new character to the “Star Wars” world, Qi’ra, the fellow thief who has stolen Han’s heart. After being tragically separated from Qi’ra early in the story, Han links up with a heist crew led by an experienced smuggled named Beckett, played by Oscar-nominee Woody Harrelson. Along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), who Han links up with a military prison, the smugglers will face off with a ruthless gangster, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

At the reigns directing is Ron Howard, renowned in for his personal yet big films like “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Rush” and “Willow.” Howard delivers the kind of visual delights we expect from a “Star Wars” movie, yet applies the look and tone of a heist flick.

Howard, Ehrenreich, Glover, Clarke and Harrelson recently took a moment from the swirl of doing press for “Solo” to share with Entertainment Voice their experience of returning to a galaxy far, far away.

“The level of anticipation is really unlike anything I’ve done,” said Howard.  “You fall into it and it’s amazing. I’m at a point in my life where I like experimenting, I like to take some chances.” For Howard one key challenge was capturing the visual sense of a world so familiar to its huge fan base. “With the Millennium Falcon and with just the great sets and so forth, the approach here always was to try to get as much in-camera as you could and then build — and that’s what’s so magical and amazing about ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) and what they can do — to make the experience as palpable and immersive as it could possibly be.  It’s a blast. Because the people around a movie like ‘Solo’ are so dedicated to not just what’s existed before, but what else they could do within that framework, within that universe, that galaxy — and creatively it’s unbelievably stimulating for a filmmaker.”

Alden Ehrenreich easily felt the pressure of playing one of the franchise’s most recognizable characters. “Yeah, it… it’s really wild, it’s really exciting.  It’s kind of bigger than you can even wrap your head around.” Of course playing Han Solo comes with some fun perks. “It’s wonderful. Particularly being in the Millennium Falcon is very, very cool. You can’t believe you’re in it and it’s so surreal and that’s what everybody you bring to set wants to see and they have that experience, too. A couple months into shooting in it, you’re inside of it and you’re flying it.  You know where the buttons are. You know how the chair feels, you know the yoke and you feel like, okay, this is kind of like my ship now. And that is deeply, ah, gratifying.”

To get just the role just right, Ehrenreich knew he had to first meet the original Solo himself, Harrison Ford. “So I had lunch with him, right before we started shooting, I wanted to talk to Harrison, just to kind of pay respect and have him give us the blessings for the film,” he shared. “He was really encouraging and really supportive and then we went off, shot the film.”

For Donald Glover, surely one of the great figures inhabiting the popsphere at the moment, playing the role of Lando was the culmination of having grown up adoring the “Star Wars” world. “It was like yeah, of course, you pretend to be him.  And like you know, I had a Darth Vader [toy] with a light saber and I bit it off and I 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.” From the moment new “Star Wars” films were announced Glover knew exactly what role he wanted. “When I heard they were making these, I told my agent, I was like, ‘if they’re making anything with Lando in it, I have to be Lando.’  And he was like, ‘I hear you. I don’t like your odds.’ And that was exactly what I needed to hear. I really did audition like it was like the only role I wanted in the world.”

In playing a character new to the series, Emilia Clarke was more focused on Qi’ra’s sense of having lived a secretive life. “I mean, playing mysterious is quite difficult. I’ve got to be honest,” she said with a laugh. “And so it was, it was really, it was really fun.  It’s really difficult to talk about because she is a pretty mysterious character.” In the movie her character goes through a journey which changes, something which makes the character richer to play. “So when you re-find her, 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 and I think that’s a question that kind of keeps coming up throughout the movie.”

Woody Harrelson had no problem fitting into the shoes of a smuggler. “Well, I thought it was a really easy character for me to play, because he’s a scoundrel and a thief,” he said with that classic Harrelson grin. “A lot of people who are ‘Star Wars’ fanatics, this is their favorite ‘Star Wars’ character which was really cool, but Larry and Jonathan [Kasdan] really wrote an extraordinary script and just at the right time, Ron came in and, and did his magic and then you have all this, these wonderful characters and so it’s pretty cool to get to be in a ‘Star Wars’ — it’s also phenomenal.”

Ehrenreich made sure to do thorough homework in preparation. “Like the way I went about it pretty much was to watch the original movies very early on.  And just kind of absorb as much as I could both of you know, I think mainly the character, you know, how the character is operating in the world.”

One major challenge for Howard as the director was in crafting the movie’s exciting action scenes, which  include spaceship chases through maelstroms and shoot outs. “What surprised me was how complicated and exciting and fun it was to stage the big action scenes, which is something that I hadn’t done in a long, long time.  And they were complicated and sometimes it was hard and sometimes it was physically difficult and we would change things and add and revise. The excitement was in making the action scenes be cool, be ‘Star Wars.’ I always have technical advisors around. I sort of go for the heart.  I go for the drama, the excitement of the narrative, of the story and then I let the technical advisors tell me, you know, where else it could go or what I might be overlooking.”

For Glover the deeper aspect of the “Solo” world is how it still captures certain social realities even within a sci-fi, fantasy landscape. “That’s my favorite part of the movie, really. I love that they’re like rich people and poor people in this movie and you can go to the airport and just see like immediately who’s rich and who’s poor and why they’re there and just love it. You get to see why Han is complicated.”

Solo: A Star Wars Story” opens May 25 in theaters nationwide.