Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers below...
There are few characters in cinema as perfect as Han Solo. Harrison Ford's shabby, strutting, occasionally down-at-heel smuggler is beloved – and for good reason. Ford invests the character with a perfect mix of edge (shooting Greedo first; chucking an enemy into the tentacles of a Rathtar) and hugability (his relationship with Chewie; “I know...”). He's our wonderful scoundrel and a hero for kids and adults alike. And now Disney are planning a prequel movie examining his early years.
It's a really terrible idea.
I'll prefigure this by stating the obvious. I have no idea what's going to be in the solo Solo flick. And I'm still hoping for the best. The Force Awakens was fabulous and I have high hopes that Rogue One will make these new 'Star Wars Stories' as essential as the main episodes. I'll certainly be lining up on the opening night and hoping for the best. But from where we're standing right now, in space year 2016, the young Solo movie sounds like a potential disaster waiting to happen.
Honestly, where is there for Han to go in this film? When we first meet him in A New Hope he's a cynical smuggler only concerned with money and his own safety. He evolves over four films into the man who will come back for his friends, stand alongside the Rebellion – and one day walk out onto a bridge to meet his son, fully aware that he will not be walking back.
But before that? Well, we might find out about his childhood, see his first meeting with Chewbacca, find out how he got the Falcon. Interesting stuff, sure, but it doesn't sound like there's a lot of room for character progression there. And do we really need to have those details filled in? Isn't it part of Solo's charm that he has a mystique and a back story that we only catch glimpses of? This movie risks damaging that by making everything explicit.
You could argue the same about this year's forthcoming Rogue One, of course, but that's set in a nook of continuity that's broad enough to accommodate new stories. Aside from a few rumoured cameos it's based around fresh characters whose fates remain tantalisingly ambiguous. Make a Han Solo movie and you already know what happens to the hero, the hero's best pals, the hero's spaceship and so on.
That said, it is slightly concerning that all of the 'Story' movies are looking backwards. They’re about the Death Star and Han Solo and maybe Boba Fett or Yoda… We have a fantastic new galactic history to fill out now, so why aren’t the 'Story' films exploring that? After all, one of the few major complaints about The Force Awakens is that it’s hella vague about what exactly the First Order is, why the Resistance are resisting, what happened to the Imperial Remnant and so on. Some of that information is in deleted scenes and spin-off books, but wouldn’t the movies be a better vehicle for this sort of thing?
Let’s talk about age. There's a worry about precisely how young this Han will be. We know that he's not going to be a Jake Lloyd-style moppet, which is undoubtedly a relief, but mid-to-late 20s (the alleged frontrunner, Miles Teller, is 28) isn't all that far off Ford's age when he filmed the first Star Wars. Which brings us to the biggest hurdle of all: Harrison Ford himself.
At his peak, before he began to specialise in surliness, Ford's screen presence was pure charm personified. He was rugged and funny and sexy and occasionally kind of goofy. He recaptured that wonderfully for The Force Awakens, but with audiences having seen the definitive article again so recently, whoever the new actor is – Teller, Ansel Elgort, Blake Jenner (no, I've no idea either…) – is going to have his work cut out to not come off as Han Faux-lo. There were numerous young Indiana Jones actors, but they were all far enough away from Ford’s age to just about work.
It is possible to recast iconic characters, of course. The recent Star Trek movies absolutely nailed the central cast, with Chris Pine's Kirk and Karl Urban's McCoy especially treading a perfect balance between the old and new. And maybe we'll get something similar here. I hope so. I love Star Wars and I find it hard to be cynical about this new series when every choice Disney has made so far has been on the money. But the Han Solo movie has the odds stacked against it and fandom is going to take quite a lot of convincing. Then again, you should never tell a Corellian the odds...