Now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, it’s safe to assume that the saga will continue for years (and years and years) to come. Thus, as the brand works to expand the existing universe, fans are nervous that those who take on their favorite characters will butcher the memory of what once was. And now, with the standalone Young Han Solo film on the horizon, film buffs are becoming more anxious than ever.
During the Super Bowl, Disney debuted the first teaser for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” By the next day, the full trailer was online, available for all to criticize and complain. Because the film explores Han Solo’s adventures prior to the original Star Wars trilogy, the casting directors had to reach beyond Harrison Ford’s iconic performance to find someone who could bring Solo to life for the next generation. While the process drew much doubt and speculation from hardcore fans, the filmmakers chose Alden Ehrenreich, a relative newcomer to the entertainment industry.
Of course, while the up-and-coming actor was likely excited to earn a role that could launch his career to A-list status, he also has the thankless job of following in Ford’s footsteps. From the moment he was revealed to the world, Ehrenreich has been exposed to the harsh condemnation of the internet. Fans of Ford can be rather rude, especially considering the cowardly anonymity that comes along with social media. Now that these diehards have finally seen Ehrenreich in action, their hate hasn’t subsided. Yet, while some fans were hoping for an exact replica of the character’s original vessel, Ehrenreich opted to embrace Solo on his own terms—and rightfully so.
“I think the main thing that’s different is that the Han we meet in this film is more of an idealist, he has certain dreams that he follows, and we watch how it affects him as those dreams meet new realities, realities that are harder and more challenging than he’d expected,” Ehrenreich told Entertainment Weekly.
Ehrenreich also did his homework in order to ensure that his portrayal does both Ford and Solo proud. Lucasfilm president and “Solo” producer Kathleen Kennedy told EW that, while Ford kept a respectful distance from the project, he did have lunch with Ehrenreich to offer insight into the rebellious hero he originated in 1977.
“What [Ford] did so beautifully for Alden was he talked a lot about what he remembered when he first read ‘Star Wars,’ and what George had done with Han. Who the character was and the conversations he had for so many years with George about how that character developed,” Kennedy said. “He gave Alden that kind of insight which was invaluable. There were several times in the course of making the movie where Alden would actually recount some of the things that Harrison had pointed out. I think that was really, really helpful to him.”
When assuming an established character, it’s often hard for the new actor to find his footing. While some believe they should emulate their predecessor’s every move, others are motivated to disregard history entirely and find their own approach. Although no one can accurately judge Ehrenreich’s performance as of yet, it’s safe to say that the actor has done all he can to honor both sides of the debate.
Han Solo will always be one of those legendary characters that transcends time and, in this case, space, but there isn’t anything fans can do to stop those who’re in control from reinventing the story in the future. To compare Ehrenreich with Ford would be like comparing every incarnation of Superman with Christopher Reeve, who’s arguably the greatest actor to ever don those tights — it’s futile, and doing so robs Ehrenreich of the opportunity to make his mark on the franchise. He’s got big shoes to fill. Even if he trips up now and then along the way, he still deserves the chance to learn how to stand on his own two feet. Ford will always be the first (and probably the best) Han Solo no matter how much time passes, but Ehrenreich certainly deserves a fighting chance.
(This post originally appeared on Storia.)