Talk about a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: It’s been 30 years since the release of the first Star Wars
sequel The Empire Strikes Back
, and Han Solo himself – in the form of superstar Harrison Ford
– turned out at a special charity event for a rare round of reminiscing about the classic blockbuster.
Surrounded by Darth Vader and a small contingent of Stormtroopers, Ford attended a screening of the film at L.A.’s Arclight theater to raise funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and shared memories with a packed house of fans and friends that included his Empire co-stars Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), prequel star Ewan McGregor and Hollywood players raised on the film including Iron Man 2 director John Favreau, Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson, The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan and Jaime King.
Ford shared a warm reunion with his on-screen co-pilot Mayhew on the red carpet. “He just keeps growing,” chuckled Ford as his 7’2” pal’s shadow fell over him.
“I think that the cocky, rebellious nature of the character was an opportunity and a touchstone for the audience,” Ford told Movies.com of his role in the pop cultural phenomenon and particular popularity of the scoundrel smuggler he played.
“I never thought I had the best lines,” he went on to say during a Q&A on stage before the screening. “But my character had a role en suite with the rest of the characters. I had a part to play that had a kind of a keystone effect amongst the callow youth and the wise old warrior and the princess. I felt the luck of the character was that he probably represented something close to audience’s sensibility – because of his distance from the mythology, because of his resistance to the mythology.”
Ford also shared his memory of improvising one of Empire’s most famous lines, when responding to Princess Leia’s “I love you,” Han Solo says “I know.”
“I thought it was a good line,” Ford told Movies.com.
Star Wars creator George Lucas wasn’t sold, though. Ford elaborated in the Q&A: “He would’ve been a lot happier with the scripted line, which is ‘I love you, too.’ George said, ‘Well, that’s going to get a laugh. That’s not good.’ And [Empire director Irvin] Kershner and I both said ‘It could be a good laugh at that moment.’ At a test screening in San Francisco, George went into the screening convinced this was going to be a bad laugh, but I think the audience convinced him it was not so bad.”
Willams enjoyed playing the shifting allegiances of Lando Calrissian. “When you have a character that has the good guy/bad guy elements, you've got an interesting character. To make a character that has a kind of dubious aspect or quality, the vulnerability has to be there. An actor has always got to remember that. Bette Davis - she turned ‘bitch’ into a household word but she always one or two moments where you really kind of felt sorry for her. And the beauty of that is trying to pull it off and make it work and make it powerful.”
“Three decades and it feels like it has no beginning, no middle and no ending,” reflected Williams. “It's in our lives forever. I don't even feel like it's been 30 years.”
The Force Is Still With Famous Fans
McGregor, who played young Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy, recalled his own familiar connection to the originals. “My uncle Dennis [Lawson] is in all three of the original films,” he said (Lawson played Wedge, one of the only members of the Rebel Alliance in the original trilogy), “so I remember that vividly and being introduced to that amazing world that George created for the first time as a kid was just spectacular.”
McGregor was instantly sucked into Lucas’ “lived-in universe” approach. “I think it was familiarity of it, that it was dirty and chipped and faded. The Millennium Falcon broke down all the time – I loved that. It felt like this place had a history. It felt like it was old and not brand new. Most of our science fiction films up to that point had been really shiny and new and sterile. Here was this kind of old, dirty place full of crazy monsters and different characters.”
His own offspring aren’t so enthusiastic about the franchise, McGregor laughed. “It's quite disappointing and I've tried a bit. I'm not going to push them to watch anything, but they've seen them. They're not that interested! I've got three girls. Maybe when they're a bit older they'll get into it.”