“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Press Conference

The world premiere for “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was on May 10th, Disney and Lucasfilm kept the principles in town and hosted their major press event on Saturday May 12th. disneygeek.com was fortunate to be invited to this event and, as the resident big Star Wars Geek, I got to attend.

Like previous Star Wars press events there was an exhibit area that included costumes, merchandise and photo opportunities for the press.

The best part of the exhibits for me was getting a chance to fly the Millennium Falcon along with Chewie, though from this picture I am not sure he appreciates my flying skills (or my jokes?). We also got to tour a re-creation of the Falcon’s crew cabin.

There was lots of new Star Wars merchandise on display – I am thinking that the Millennium Falcon area rug would be a nice addition to our house.

The highlight of these media events is always the press conference. This was a very complete panel with Director Ron Howard, the father-son writing team of Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, and all of the stars including Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Woody Harrelson (Beckett), Emilia Clarke (Qi’ra), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Thandie Newton (Val), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37), and Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos).

One of the most significant events of the press conference might have been that Ron Howard actually cursed! It has been well documented that Disney fired the original directing team (Phill Lord and Christopher Miller) over “creative differences” and Ron Howard was brought in after production on the movie had already started. He said that the movie had a great screenplay and casting or he would not have come on board so late. He explained that at this stage in his career, he likes to experiment and do new things. However, once he started work on ‘Solo’ he realized the level of anticipation from the fans that comes with a Star Wars film, and he started to feel “don’t f* this up” pressure.

When asked about his preference of practical vs. digital effects he said that “in camera effects are always his first choice” and that the team achieved a good balance on this movie. Several of the cast members later remarked on the huge sets and how realistic they are and how much it makes you feel like you are really there. The director was also asked how hard it was to find a role for his brother Clint, a tradition in Ron Howard films, given his late arrival in the movie process. Ron shared that he and the writers were discussing the need to have L3-37 to be “pissed off at someone” in the movie, and Ron realized that would be a perfect role for his brother.

Ron admitted that while he is a Star Wars fan, he does not have encyclopedic knowledge about the Star Wars universe. Given that, and his late start on the movie, he chose to treat it like a normal “coming of age” story and let the amazing support team shape how that works in the Star Wars universe. Though he also said how surprised he was by how much he liked doing the big action scenes and how he wanted to make them cool and entertaining but also about how they shape Han.

Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) said that he loved the character of Han Solo from the first time he saw him – he is reckless, stupid, and gets in over his head. His son Jonathan said he wanted to partner with his dad “because I am all those things.” It was their first experience writing together and it brought a unique dynamic with the seasoned master storyteller and the young fan. The Kasdans admitted they started with the idea of a western and then fit Han into that story. The writers were asked about the large amount of moral ambiguity in the movie. They said that most of Star Wars is fairly black and white (the light side vs. the dark side) so it was interesting to do a movie where every character has ambiguity – especially Han who “at his core is always conflicted about doing what is right and what is in his own self interest.” They also noted that there is a huge amount of moral ambiguity in the real world today and that films do tend to reflect the times they are made in.

Alden Ehrenreich – Han Solo

Alden Ehrenreich play the young Han Solo and did his homework after getting the roll. He watched the original movies to get familiar with the character and how Harrison played him early in the process but then set that aside because the goal was not to mimic Harrison Ford. He did have lunch with Harrison Ford before shooting began “to get his blessing”and then was surprised this morning when Harrison showed up during one of Alden’s interviews to say how much he loved the new movie! Alden said it is “daunting and awe inspiring to be on those sets, in those costumes, around those practical creatures and part of those stories.” He also said that being in the Millennium Falcon was “big, exciting, unbelievable, and so surreal” but that after a few weeks of filming it became comfortable. The crew put projection screens outside of the Falcon cockpit set and played early versions of the space flight digital effects on them to make it more realistic for the cast.

Donald Glover –  Lando Calrissian

Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian in the movie and apparently that was destiny. He said that he told his agent early when Lucas Film started making standalone movies that he wanted to play Lando. At the same time, Lucas film leadership has said that their only choice for Lando was Glover. At 7 years old, Donald had Lando and Vader action figures, but he said he took Vader’s lightsaber and gave it to Lando.  Lando has LOTS of capes in the movie and when asked if he got to take any home Donald said “no, but the costumers did have some extra from the fur cape so they made him a pillow.”

Joonas Suotamo - Chewbacca
Joonas Suotamo – Chewbacca

Newcomer and former basketball player Joonas Suotamo plays Chewbacca. He said he literally went from living with his mother as an unemployed actor to playing Chewbacca. He says that his mother says that he “Finally found something that suits my normal behavior.” Joonas said he spend a week with Peter Mayhew getting tips and his blessing to take over the Chewbacca role. He noted that the costume has an interesting effect on others – anytime he is in costume, everyone wants a Wookiee hug. He also demonstrated that he can actually speak Shyriiwook, the language of the Wookiees.

Emilia Clarke - Qi’ra
Emilia Clarke – Qi’ra

Emilia Clarke, who plays Han’s early love interest Qi’ra, said that her character is “very hard to promote because she is so much of a mystery (and they want to keep her that way),” Her character is also interesting because “fans are forced to imagine what happened during her time away from Han” which is hinted at as dark and desperate but never explained.

Woody Harrelson - Tobias
Woody Harrelson – Tobias

Woody Harrelson said that “Tobias is a good character for me because he is a scoundrel and a thief…and he is well written.”

Thandie Newton, who plays Beckett’s love interest and partner Val, said the cast had a lot of fun together and they used humor to get through screw ups and hard work. Apparently there is lots of stuff that can go wrong – like helmets falling off – that drag the movie making process out. She also shared a cute story about the day she had her two year old son, who knows nothing about Star Wars, on set and while she was chatting with some of the rest of the crew her son wondered off. They watched where he went and he wondered up to an R2 unit. The droid operators saw this happening and had the R2 move and beep at the boy and he responded back. After a bit of this the child closed in and gave the R2 a big hug. Thandie used this story to illustrate the universal attraction of the characters and the Star Wars universe.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge - L3-37
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – L3-37

Phoebe Waller-Bridge was asked about playing L3-37 she said “L3 was such an inspiration for me, she is literally a self made droid, she has a great attitude, is fearless, uncensored and has her own agenda. I loved to play her and to get to deliver her message.” From seeing Phoebe in person, you can see how much of her personality came through in L3-37 and the writers noted that one of the great lines of the movie, L3’s reply to the line “Anything else I can get you? Equal rights!”, was her idea.

Paul Bettany - Dryden Vos
Paul Bettany – Dryden Vos

Paul Bettany plays the villain of the film – Dryden Vos. He started by saying that “after spending long winter evenings wondering why he was not in the Star Wars franchise” he was just thrilled to get the part. He said the character of Dryden Vos is written beautifully and his guidance from Ron Howard was one word – “oligarch”. He said it was very fun to play someone “who is so fundamentally happy about being evil”.

A cast member who was not present but got a call out from Ron Howard is Warwick Davis. In the movie he plays one of the raiders but he and his daughter Annabelle also inside some of the droids forced to fight each other for the entertainment of others. Uncredited, he also helped to coach many of the cast members playing or operating creatures and droids in the films.

A close look at the credits will also reveal that Anthony Daniels keeps up his perfect streak of being in every Star Wars film, playing a Wookiee in this one.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” opens in theaters everywhere on May 25th.

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