This week on the Geek Beat the big talk of our sector of pop culture is revolving around the apparent return of one of the single most beloved characters in all of cinematic science fiction. Is this going to be a Corellian goldmine? Or, should we have a bad feeling about this?
But first, here are the top three geeky articles to be found at Movies.com this past week.
1) Harrison Ford to Return as Han Solo in 'Star Wars: Episode VII,' Sources Say
2) The Last Sci-fi Blog: Learning to Love 'Star Wars' Again
3) 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Countdown: Why John Harrison Probably Isn't Khan
The “Stuck-up, Half-Witted, Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herder” Rides Again
For millions of fans all across the world, the favorite character of the entire Star Wars franchise has to be Han Solo. The Corellian-born smuggler went on a very complete arc through the events of the original trilogy, and the singular portrayal by actor Harrison Ford would go on to help launch the star’s career into heights he likely only dreamed of until that point. One of the more fascinating things about Han through Episodes IV-VI is the fact that we really don’t know that much about him before we meet him in the Mos Eisley Cantina, and that slight mystique coupled with his brash independence and unmistakable heroism have turned Solo into one of the most closely associated characters of the Star Wars franchise, as well as one of the most beloved in all of science fiction.
Some personal favorite “Han Moments” in the Star Wars films range from his very first appearance in the cantina, his conversations on Hoth with Leia about his own irresistible charms, and even his impeccable aim while partially blind in Jedi. For me, though, the best Han Solo moment in the series doesn’t involve a wisecrack or even his excellent piloting of the Millenium Falcon. My favorite moment was in Cloud City, where Lando is knowingly leading his friend into a trap. A door opens, and sitting at the table is Darth Vader himself.
Han’s first instinct isn’t a joke, it’s to grab his DL-44 and shoot right at Vader’s face. Of course Vader is ready for Solo, who is clearly no match for him, but the boldness and attitude of Han Solo gets through so well in that brief scene that I can’t help but do anything but root for the guy.
While rumors abounded by the release of The Empire Strikes Back that Harrison Ford had made overtures about Han being killed, the character would eventually go on to be featured in the complete original trilogy, and is seen celebrating the Emperor’s defeat at the end of Return of the Jedi, with as open-ended a future as everyone else. Now that we know for certain that a new Star Wars film is coming that will apparently go beyond the confines of Return of the Jedi, this rumor that might reveal Harrison Ford and Han’s involvement will obviously open the floodgates for fans and their imaginations to figure out what role the ol’ scoundrel will play in the new film.
Even with the excitement very apparent, though, is Han’s arrival a good thing, or is it so desperate a move to get people onboard with the new film that it can actually be bad?
The Return of Han: A Bad Thing?
It may not exactly be fair, but the fact of the matter is that Harrison Ford himself is in a far different place as an actor than he was in 1977 or 1983. Ford has rightfully become a constant presence on the A-list, with really engaging roles like his turns as Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, his unforgettable portrayal of Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive, and even his stint as badass president extraordinaire James Marshall in Air Force One.
These are all well and good for the actor, but some of the roles, though actioners, represent quite a bit of a departure from the type of character Han Solo is. It’s a well-known perception from film audiences, as was recently highlighted by our own Evan Saathoff in relation to Bruce Willis’ character from the Die Hard films, that sometimes so much time has passed from what made a character engaging and interesting that the flare the original actor had for it may now be gone.
This is before even mentioning Ford’s age. When he first portrayed Han Solo in 1976 (when production on Star Wars began), Ford was 33 years old and relatively unknown as an actor. He had appeared in 14 productions up until that point, with four of them uncredited and several of them on television. Star Wars was definitely the actor’s breakout film, and the following two films in the trilogy were close enough to that first turn that he could likely re-create the role with relative ease (as we saw in the subsequent episodes).
As it stands now, this May will mark the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, and the 36th anniversary of the first Star Wars film. Ford is now 70 years old, and while he does tend to look pretty phenomenal for his age, the devil is in the details. Ford hasn’t had many roles with the same comedic edge as Han Solo since Han Solo. He hasn’t had to touch the character since that last portrayal from 1983, and in multiple interviews had said he preferred the character die in Jedi, that Solo was pretty “thin” as a character, and that he was even “done” with Solo, saying, “Han Solo was very good to me at a certain point in my career, but I’m done. I’m done with him.” With all of this information, can Ford really bring the necessary excitement to a character he doesn’t really seem to think much of?
The Return of Han: Bring It On
With Harrison Ford and beloved cinematic characters, there’s a precedent that we can draw from. Not all of the fans necessarily like it, but it’s pretty difficult to ignore. Yes, I’m talking about that crusading archaeologist and his turn featuring interdimensional aliens and a kid named Mutt.
There were likely more than a few fans asking these very same questions about Ford and his return to the character of Indiana Jones in the 2008 sequel The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While the film is rightfully derided by fans as being a pretty heavy departure from the first three films featuring the character, the film’s critical reception was relatively warm, and for me, there was something that was undeniably infectious (in a good way) about seeing it: Ford’s return as Dr. Jones. When I first saw Crystal Skull, I was astonished, because it was very much as if Ford didn’t miss a beat when putting the hat of Dr. Jones back on his head. It was good to see Indy again, and that feeling is owed entirely to Ford.
Though many people hold the opinion that the story definitely failed Ford, I am of the mind that believes Ford himself definitely didn’t fail the fans. While it’s been several years since that film’s release which featured a character that Ford seems to enjoy a little bit more than Han Solo, looking at the creative team for Episode VII of director J.J. Abrams, screenwriter Michael Arndt, and creative consultant (and Empire Strikes Back alum) Lawwrence Kasdan combined with the proven ability of Harrison Ford seems to be a formula for success, in the respects of both Ford’s ability to perform and in the new film's creative direction.
In 2010, when speaking about Han Solo during a 30th anniversary screening of The Empire Strikes Back, Ford spoke about what he felt worked for the character. He said, “I thought that the luck of the character was that he represented something close to the audience's sensibilities because of his distance and resistance to the mythology.” Solo is the most human character in the saga on our level, inhabiting that this galaxy far, far away. Even more than the main characters in the story, Ford’s take on Solo as the reluctant hero who only goes by what he knows allowed millions of fans the whole world over to engage in the Star Wars universe, and with the proven dedication to his craft, I think that this is easily a role that Mr. Ford can step back into with perhaps even greater ease than everyone's favorite whip-wielding archaeologist. Because of that, I hope this rumor ends up being true, and that Han gets another chance to shoot first.
My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop (Releasing 2/20)
This week in comic shops, the march to the release of Star Trek Into Darkness continues with the prequel story’s second issue. Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #2 hits this week, with the revelations of the first issue hopefully being explored to greater detail. The end of the first issue brought back an old character to this altered reality of the Star Trek universe, and seeing how his return ties into the events of the upcoming film should prove to be pretty interesting.
If you’re looking forward to the film, then I greatly encourage you to pick this series up. The same team did a series called Star Trek: Countdown that led into the events of the 2009 film, and for many it was a very helpful tool that handed off the baton from the Next Generation era to the timeline of these films. If that first series is any indication at all, then you don’t want to miss Countdown to Darkness. As a side note, be sure to check out the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown here at Movies.com every other Wednesday, penned by yours truly. Check out last week’s installment, where I explore the rumors of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in the new film is actually the infamous Khan Noonien Singh.
Thanks for checking in on the Geek Beat this week, and feel free to add to the conversation in the comments below!
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and geeky contributor to GeekNation.com, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday and the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown every other Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.