Friday, January 15, 2016

All Aboard the Millennium Falcon: Searching for the New Han Solo [Contributor: Megan Mann]

In 2013, nerds around the world felt their hearts travel warp speed to a galaxy far, far away when it was announced that genre genius J.J. Abrams would be helming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. But it wasn’t just the super fans that were busting out their gear. Hollywood was in a tizzy wondering what roles needed to be cast and if they would be the lucky actor or actress to find themselves in one of the most coveted film franchises of all time.

Now, still fresh off the film's release, it is a different tale within the Star Wars universe that has Hollywood buzzing: the Han Solo origin story.

For fans of the original series, Han Solo is not only one of the most crucial characters to the story but one you simply cannot help but love. The rugged thief with the furry sidekick who had a smirk to die for, the life of Han Solo is synonymous with the man who played him. Harrison Ford shot to superstardom playing the scoundrel-turned-paramour of Princess Leia, and has been part of the upper echelon of the movie industry ever since, even going on to star in another colossal franchise (Indiana Jones).

It is not surprising then that after seeing Harrison step back into that costume and pilot the Millennium Falcon that young Hollywood would seize the opportunity to portray the younger version of Han Solo. After all, it was this role that catapulted him to success, opening the door to a variety of roles for Ford. Actors would be silly to not want to step into Han’s boots in the hopes that they too would be able to cultivate such a stellar career.

But the problem with young Han Solo being such a coveted role is that everyone wants to throw their hat into the ring. Very rarely does a major star have the power to jump between major franchises as a leading role and be able to blend so perfectly into each character that the audience forgets the other role while watching the one on the screen. Jennifer Lawrence managed to do it with X-Men and The Hunger Games, while Harrison did that by bringing a little bit of humor and sass to both Indiana Jones and Han Solo and still managing to make them distinctly different.

It is not a feat that many actors are capable of doing, which makes me sad to admit that half of the young men who were auditioning for the role would not be skilled as of yet to make that jump. Note, I said "as of yet" since these fine young thespians have the talent but do not have the distinction to break free of previous roles just yet.

Take Tom Felton for instance. It is incredibly difficult for our generation to distinguish virtually the entire cast of the Harry Potter series, save for perhaps Emma Watson, from their iconic characters. While they’ve all gone on to do many things and performed beautifully in whatever roles they’ve taken on, it is hard for us not to say, “Hermione did so well!” or “Harry, why are you doing a sex scene right now?” While I absolutely loved watching Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway, there was still that little voice in the back of my head screaming, “That’s Harry! That’s Harry Potter on that stage!”

It would be equally as difficult to walk into a movie theater to see the origin story of such an iconic character lead by Draco Malfoy. Tom is a terrific actor who has certainly found a wide array of projects since ditching the bleached blonde locks, but it would be hard for the new viewers to disassociate him with the character that launched his career. He was, after all, a perfect Draco Malfoy, and played the dichotomy of Draco’s feelings in the last three movies brilliantly and nothing can take that away from him.

Even the wonderful Logan Lerman proved in The Perks of Being a Wallflower that he is capable of doing a treasured story justice, but he too would be jumping over from the Percy Jackson franchise. Sure, he is of the few who could carry a film of this magnitude on his back, but would fans that associate him with Percy welcome him aboard the Millennium Falcon?

The same can be said for another actor who made the short list for this spinoff: Ansel Elgort. While his career is still relatively new, he has managed to make a name for himself with The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent series. From portraying one iconic character to being a major player in a franchise with two installments left to release, it would be hard for audiences to see him step into Han’s boots.

His co-star Miles Teller would also be in a similar position. Audiences do not want to see a dark, twisted character one day and then see that person as suave and charming the next. It wouldn’t add up, and with how fickle audiences are these days and the importance of such a role, fans would eat these young men alive.

Take away the franchise bit and, I do not think he has the chops to fill those shoes. While you want to respect Harrison Ford and the four films that came before, it is still important to make this role fresh while still maintaining the qualities that make Han Solo so great. Do I really think that Miles Teller can pull off that snark and smirk? I do not.

Franchise-jumping aside, the other actors that have made the short list for a young Han Solo have careers still in relative infancy, which could either help or hinder them. Scott Eastwood, for instance, has had very few credits but also already has a pretty big legacy because of his last name. Sure, he has a pretty face and I suppose I could see him growing up into the dashingly handsome Harrison Ford, but does he have the ability? By having been in so few films, this relative anonymity could possibly be something that would benefit him and add to the fun of Han Solo. But that lack of resume can also hinder him as this role is a fan favorite and has to be done right.

It could also be said that Dave Franco is not right for the role. Many younger viewers see him as the best friend, sidekick, or lesser role in comedies such as Neighbors and 21 Jump Street. He has very few dramatic credits to his name and nary a starring role. However, his lack of drama can certainly help him in this case. Although he does not exactly have the right look to play a younger Han, he does have the ability to blend the two sides of Han; the soft and the humorous. With his comedic skills, he would be able to deliver lines that aren’t leg-slappers, but still funny in their subtlety. But the lack of a starring role does ask the question: is he at the point in his career where he can carry a film on his own? And not just any film, but an origin story of a four-decades-old fan favorite?

Each of these actors begs a list of pros and cons. While some would be able to bring the fluidity that Harrison brought to the character, it would be hard to believe some would be able to deliver both the sour and the sweet. It is possible for some to carry the film, but would the audience be able to discern between the iconic character they portrayed in one franchise and the one they would portray in this?

There is a clear-cut choice that Hollywood is overlooking. The best fit for this role is simply Anthony Ingruber. An actor with very few credits to his name, it has already been proven in the 2014 film The Age of Adaline that he is capable of stepping into an ensemble and sweet-talking his way through the galaxy.

In the film, Ingruber literally plays a younger version of Harrison Ford: the one when Adaline first meets him. When the trailer first came out for the film, I assumed that they had pulled a Captain America and used the same CGI that they had used on Chris Evans to take Harrison back to his younger days. But I was wrong. It was, in fact, a young actor who not only looked like a Ford doppelganger, but sounded like him as well. While Harrison’s voice has changed over the course of time and many action film screaming has turned it slightly gravelly, Ingruber's voice matched that of 1977 Ford. He looked and sounded so much like him that it was astonishing. As I said before, you want to make the part your own, like Jennifer Lawrence did with Mystique or Chris Pine did with Captain Kirk, while still being conscious of the character and what made him or her so special in the first place.

Sure, he is a relative unknown, but that is what sets him apart from the other contenders. Harrison Ford had very few more-than-three-lines roles before being cast in Star Wars. We knew nothing of Ford then as we know equally as much about Ingruber now. With the short list, it is easy for fans and critics to pick them apart not only for their body of work, but also for their personal lives. With Ingruber, we know virtually nothing and can neither tie him to another iconic role nor to any sort of headline. It makes it easy for him, as it was for Harrison before him, to step into a role and give it life.

What drew fans of the original trilogy to Solo was his outlaw with a heart of gold, his talk-my-way-out-of-anything attitude except when it came to his feelings about Leia. There was depth there. From his work in Adaline, Ingruber proved that not only could he look and sound like Harrison, but he could also play a role just like he could. He was equal parts sweet and sad. It’s that polarity that’s needed to keep what’s inherent about the character alive while putting a new face to it.

So as the short list competes to take the sting out of our hearts from The Force Awakens, I urge Hollywood to reconsider and think of Anthony Ingruber. I urge them to remember what made casting Harrison Ford, a man of relative anonymity, in the original films so special, and what is making the new trilogy lead Daisy Ridley just as special. I urge them to look beyond the names on current movie posters and see what made the casting choices for Episode VII so special to audiences just last month. I urge them to continue bringing new names to our beloved galaxy far, far away.


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