More importantly for his new gig, Howard worked on that movie alongside the unknown actor playing a character called Bob Falfa. His name was Harrison Ford.
In any study of what a young Han Solo would actually be like, you can’t ignore Bob Falfa. He was Solo in embryo — a boastful, mean-ass drag racer cowboy with more than a hint of a drinking problem. (Ford was drinking heavily on set, producer Gary Kurtz told me, until Kurtz told him to knock it off.)
Han is a smuggler, a scoundrel, a low-life, a cantina creature, a Sabacc gambler. Any denizen of the underworld will tell you this kind of life is filled with darkness in more ways than one. You may keep it moving, stay light on the surface — “hey, it’s me!” — but underneath you’re haunted by what you did in the dim, dark past. More often than not, you end up frozen in carbonite.
The accounts filtering through from folks on the set tell a tale of a movie where Lord and Miller were playing it too light. They focused on humor, which made sense for them, and on improvising scenes with the star Alden Ehrenreich, which makes a modicum of sense for Solo (after all, Harrison Ford did come up with his most famous line — “I know” — pretty much on the fly).
But this isn’t “Cloudy With a Chance of Millennium Falcon.” The brilliant meta-jokes of The Lego Movie won’t fly here, flyboys. This is still Star Wars, and Star Wars doesn’t do meta. It does deadpan jokes pretty well — oh so many bad feelings about this! — but it never once winks at the audience. Just ask the franchise’s most prolific writer, Lawrence Kasdan.
The one cast-iron rule of this franchise is that you show us the galaxy far, far away as if it really, really exists, in every scratched and dirty detail.
Ron Howard understands this implicitly. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that his movies effectively encapsulate character studies within believable universes. And we’re not just talking about the under-appreciated Willow, Lucasfilm’s first foray into fantasy and computer-based special effects, which Howard directed and Lucas produced in 1988.
Think of Apollo 13 and you’re transported to that capsule, to the way you cared desperately for those astronauts and cheered for Gene Kranz’s plucky NASA team on the ground. Watch A Beautiful Mind and you believe so thoroughly in Russell Crowe’s delusions, you just want to give him a big hug.
As I’ve noted, Lucasfilm is a place for team-player directors who know they’re not the most important part of the process and don’t let their egos get in the way.
That’s Howard all over — so sanguine and self-effacing that the casual movie fan browses his IMDb page with raised eyebrows. Wait, he directed Frost/Nixon? EdTV, another under-appreciated flick that successfully predicted the rise of reality shows? The Paper, easily one of the best movies ever about journalism — that was him?
Sure, he also gave us overcooked turkeys like The Da Vinci Code, though in that case it’s possible no director could have spun Dan Brown’s prose into gold.
Howard’s chances in this case are vastly improved in this situation by the miles of footage already shot, by Kasdan’s script, and by a well-oiled Lucasfilm machine that knows how to keep its head down and solve the problem.
In other words, they’re all NASA engineers, the movie is a leaky Apollo capsule, and Ron Howard just slipped into Gene Kranz’ waistcoat.