Movies AND TRAILER: Cast and crew on Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story explores the origins of one of the galaxy's best-loved characters, Han Solo. Its star, Alden Ehrenreich, tells Laura Harding about stepping into Harrison Ford's shoes, while director Ron Howard reveals why he thinks the film will divide opinion.

Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo.
Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo.

Harrison Ford is a tough act to follow - even tougher for a relatively unknown actor who has to step into his most famous role.

But that is what Alden Ehrenreich had to do in Solo: A Star Wars Story - the highly-anticipated origin tale of the galaxy's most beloved rebel pilot, Han Solo.

It's a careering adventure story, part-heist, part-romance, part-rebellion, that introduces us to not just Han, but beloved characters such as Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian.

It's a role with so much pressure, it's enough to make any young actor want to run for cover rather than grab the controls to the Millennium Falcon.

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    But the American star, who had appeared in Hail, Caesar! and Beautiful Creatures, felt up to the task.

    "You know that you are taking on this entire thing when you say yes to it," he says, looking remarkably relaxed in an olive-green suit and stripy socks.

    "So it was a pressure for me to think, 'Do I really want to go and have this adventure?' and I felt that I did."

    But nothing could have prepared him for what the experience would be like, both on camera and off.

    "It's a lot bigger than I thought, not in terms of everyone knowing about it, but the actual physical production is so enormous.

    "Every day, you go in and you're in this new exciting land with 400 people in creature costumes and stormtroopers."

    He and Ford did meet up, but the older actor has never seemed like the kind of person to dole out advice.

    Ehrenreich laughs: "Not really! It was just good to get his blessing on the movie and have him telling me, 'Make it your own'.

    "But we didn't talk about it that much, to be honest.

    "We just talked a lot about his career and his way that he's navigated the whole thing. He's been such a huge star and beloved for so long and yet seems to still call his own shots."

    Calling his own shots seems to be important, perhaps because of what happened off camera during the making of the film.

    There was speculation about how Ehrenreich was managing with the part, talk about re-shoots and then major drama when the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who did 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie) departed the project and Ron Howard was brought in.

    "Ron liked a lot of what had already been done," Ehrenreich says, and we were just so lucky to have somebody that was such a great guy.

    "I loved working with Phil and Chris too but Ron is such a nice guy, loves Star Wars and has made so many films so we were all really lucky that it was him who came in."

    And he is circumspect about all the gossip. "That is very much what you're signing up for in the beginning," he says.

    "You know that part of the fun and joy for everybody is all the drama and the gossip and the soap opera of it all on the internet and that all leads up to this thing.

    "Then the movie comes out and it's a whole other thing.

    "That kind of pressure is more intense on this film but it's the same pressure that you deal with on any movie - which is you want to do a good job and have people like it."

    But it's hard to ignore the fact the role will likely be the first line in his eventual obituary.

    "Yes, thank you!" he laughs. "I have thought about that exactly. But it's nice to be part of something that means so much to people.

    "Harrison played the part for 40 years. If we make more, I would love to do them - I think it would be great to continue the adventure."

    For Howard - the director behind Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Rush and Frost/Nixon - jumping into a film that had already been started by other directors was "unlike any experience I ever had".

    "It was unfortunate that they needed to change directors at a certain point, or felt that they had to, but the one thing that I could offer was fresh excitement.

    "Because I wouldn't come in unless I felt the story was really strong and offered something to fans and also real belief in this charismatic, cool cast.

    "So I got to come in and say, 'Hey, this stuff is already great that you were doing but here is a new idea' and inject it with that creative energy."

    He also took the chatter about the production in his stride.

    "It's nice that people care and I expected it. Of course there is that pressure, with something like this and believe me, everybody at Lucasfilm and involved in the projects is very, very interested in fans and trying to imagine what the fans might think but by the same token, they are creative.

    "They also know that they would be doing a disservice to everybody, including the fans, if they got paralysed with fear and anxiety over that, so they do have to take some risks.

    "This movie does take those risks. It doesn't have The Force, it's not about a war, it really focuses on a single character for the first time.

    "It is this rite-of-passage, defining, adventure story about Han Solo.

    "The tone of the movie is young and fun. There is drama, there is real pain, but the centre of it is more about this quest for freedom and trying to throw off the burdens of oppressors, so it has a kind of an energy.

    "It depends a lot, of course, on action and those scenes were fun to do but it also depends a lot on the relationships.

    "There is a romantic relationship that matters, there is the Han-Chewie bromance, there is a funny adversarial relationship between Lando and Han.

    "There is a mentor story. There are other relationships that are truly dangerous and so I thought those scenes offered different kinds of acting opportunities than you have in the usual Star Wars movies and this great cast really got to bring them to life."

    And he's prepared for there to be controversy surrounding the film, particularly in certain corners of the internet.

    "When you have really fervent fans, dedicated fans, it's a little bit like if you love sports or a certain kind of a television show, you get to be emotional about it.

    "I'm sure that it will be controversial for some people because it's sort of a different Star Wars movie.

    "It's a bit of an experiment and I think that's a good thing."

    Solo: A Star Wars Story is out now.