As soon as Solo: A Star Wars Story director Ron Howard walks into the room, we compliment him on his fantastic baseball cap (it’s black, with the iconic ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…’ written on it in blue). He grins. “I hope it’s not too obnoxious!”
It’s not. In fact, nothing Ron Howard does is obnoxious – he’s the most likeable, down-to-earth director on this, or any, planet.
Perhaps because of this, he’s managed to get through his lengthy career without courting controversy. Until now, that is.
“I want to take risks, so in a way I was inviting the chaos and the anxiety and all the rest of it into my life and into my psyche by saying yes and jumping into Solo. It was going to be the right kind of pressure I’d be putting on myself,” Howard says.
“When you get involved in something like this, it’s a quality problem. On the one hand, you know that you’re telling a story that people are going to be curious about and feel passionate about, but you also recognise that part of the excitement of these kinds of projects that have such devoted fans is that there are going to be arguments, it is going to be controversial, there is going to be debate.”
Yahoo Movies: To be honest, with all the stuff in the press, I thought it would be a miracle if this was a film, let alone a brilliant film…
Ron Howard: You know what I discovered there, unexpectedly? An incredible spirit of creativity. A creative ambition to take some chances and learn, to explore what the possibilities are and not play it too safe.
You directed The Beatles documentary Eight Days A Week, if Han Solo was a Beatle, which would he be?
Oh, wow. That’s interesting. He might be a bit of all of them. I see Ringo’s swagger and sense of humour and irreverence. Paul’s willingness to put himself out there, the desire to connect with people and wanting to be part of something. Bit of John’s intelligence and sense of cynicism about it all.
And when he gets behind the stick of the Falcon, there was even a line in the script that said ‘When Han starts flipping the switches and flying it’s like Eric Clapton finding his dream guitar’ so you could say the same thing about George Harrison and his connection with what he loves.
He’s the Beatles! Han Solo is The Beatles! I wonder if George Lucas knew he was doing that?
There are points in the film where Paul Bettany feels a little bit Christopher Walken in his delivery – was that an influence at all?
Walken would always have that twinkle in the eye, where you’re not sure if he’s serious and all of a sudden he’s lethal. I think Paul found a similar spirit. He went back to Gangster Number One in some ways. To me, he’s such a tremendous talent and a great collaborator. Very inventive.
You’re so experienced, do you have any insight on what’s going on with Star Wars in terms of the fandom, because it feels like some negativity has slipped in, and Star Wars has always been such a positive thing for me.
When you become a fervent fan and it matters to you, you’re always earning the right to be noisy and critical. And it pushes the creatives.
On the one hand, no-one wants to pander to fans – but, believe me, they hear them. Whether they agree or don’t agree, it’s not a passive group. It’s strong, it’s vocal, it’s participatory, it’s part of the creative excitement, it fuels it.
Everybody wants everyone to love everything they do if you’re working in this business, and nobody relishes criticism, but there’s an underlying respect.
What I will say to fans, what I witnessed, is there’s no cynical manufacturing going on at Lucasfilm. The Disney team is likewise, they view this as something they really respect and want to nurture. Of course they want to expand it, and even George – before he sold it – wanted to expand it, it’s why he was doing the animations and other things.
There is an entire universe that’s been so adroitly created and has been organically evolved. Fans need to respect the fact that creatives are willing to take some chances. They might not agree with every choice, but it’s all part of that exploration.
It’s not a spoiler to say Han Solo survives at the end…
… I guess we know that there are three characters who are going to make it, don’t we? You know, that’s an important point – because this story, it’s not a war story, there’s not the religion of the force involved in this – it’s earthy, in a way.
That’s why the relationships are all the more important, because we do know that three of the characters are going to survive, so where’s the urgency, where’s the suspense?
A lot of it becomes emotional. How is this going to shape our young Han Solo that we care about? Where is the drama and the excitement around that? How do the action scenes test him? It’s interesting to see him get in and out of trouble, how does he do it?
That’s a different kind of fun than good versus evil on that grand epic scale.
Do you know what the stakes were for me? It’s that Han in this film is so optimistic and later on he’ll be so cynical, so what is that journey? What’s going to happen to him?
These are a few of the bumps and bruises that are going to cause that scar tissue and toughen him up a bit.
If you were going to do a sequel, what kind of themes would you like to explore?
I have some ideas, I’ve thought about it. But there’s no plan, there really isn’t – I’m not being coy. It’s going to be interesting as fans experience the movie, not just the first couple of weekends, but as they live with it, it will be very interesting to see what they key in on.
If there is enough interest and excitement that it’s clear that’s a branch of the galaxy that fans would like to see followed and explored, it’ll be interesting to see what resonates with them most deeply.
Now, I have to ask about this, but we’ll have to talk around it because it is a spoiler, but there’s a cameo in this film that absolutely blew my mind. As a Clone Wars fan, there’s a moment in this film where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Whose idea was that, where did it come from, and is that about expanding the universe?
Thanks for not being a spoiler. In fact, it was a fairly late idea – and I was influential. Not singularly, but I voted strongly for that, I’ll admit that.
I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of sequels, but I did feel like – based on the kind of fan I am – I thought it made sense.
Like a lot of things the Kasdans did in the script, they answered questions fans might have, in ways that felt organic and were satisfying, but surprising.
Solo: A Star Wars Story hits cinemas on Thursday May 24.
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