Exclusive Interview: 'Solo' Director Ron Howard on How 'Rush' and 'Bullitt' Helped Inspire the Newest 'Star Wars' Movie

Exclusive Interview: 'Solo' Director Ron Howard on How 'Rush' and 'Bullitt' Helped Inspire the Newest 'Star Wars' Movie

For the first time since 2005, a Star Wars movie is opening in late May. The first six Star Wars movies debuted in theaters in front of sold-out crowds during this same timeframe, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, which officially arrives on May 25, will mark the first Star Wars spin-off movie to arrive alongside what many consider to be the real beginning of summer: Memorial Day weekend.

With tickets for Solo officially on sale here at Fandango, we caught up with the director responsible for bringing Han Solo’s origin story to life, Ron Howard. The filmmaker behind Willow, and, more recently, Rush, came to Solo in an unconventional way, replacing original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Yet, amidst the scramble to finish a job someone else started, Howard told us it didn’t take long for him to settle in and help create something pretty special.

“In no time, I was feeling very passionate and very personally connected to the movie,” he said. “I've had a great filmmaking experience. It's been a real adventure. I've learned some stuff. I've made some new friends. I really enjoyed this young cast, and I'm excited to share it with audiences.”

Ahead, Howard talks about how this Star Wars movie is different from the others, and how films like Howard’s own Rush and old-school car-chase flicks like Bullitt helped inspired his vision for a slick, stylish, run-and-gun type heist movie that will make you look at the galaxy’s most iconic wise-cracking smuggler in a whole new way.

Fandango: What does it mean to you personally to make this movie? I know you go way back with George Lucas. In terms of all the films you've directed, what does this one mean to you?

Ron Howard: Well, it evolved for me because of the unique circumstances under which I came in to it. It began, really, as a movie-making challenge and kind of a test that I was interested in engaging in. I've known so many of the people, including the late Allie Shearmur and Kathy Kennedy and Larry Kasdan and, of course, George Lucas, for years and was happy to come in and work for them and with them.

 

Fandango: They released a featurette on the movie recently, and in it you say that this is "unlike any other Star Wars movie." I'm curious to hear you elaborate on that, how so?

Ron Howard: It's set in a different time. As I said in the featurette, the Empire rules everything at this point, and it's a time of total oppression. Of course, this is largely the story of this renegade, young guy, seeking freedom, trying to escape all oppression. This is a defining adventure for a young guy with a lot of swagger.

 

Fandango: Talk about Mr. Solo. What version of Han Solo do we meet in this movie? Who is he at this point in time?

Ron Howard: Well, he's forming, and that's partly what's so rewarding and gratifying about the story and the script written by Larry and Jon Kasdan. Of course, Larry has written both for Han Solo and also Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is in a way an offshoot of that character, of the Han character.

They ingeniously worked with what we do know about Han Solo and it's sort of suggested how that personality would be formed and what some of those events and adventures might have been like that would begin to lead him in the direction of being the particular brand of renegade hero that he was, or proved to be in the later films.

Fandango: There were reports that came out recently saying that Alden [Ehrenreich] signed on for three movies as Han Solo. Does this film sort of set up the possibility of further adventures down the line?

Ron Howard: I think the fans are going to define all of that. I mean I think that Lucasfilm and Disney in casting actors, and particularly younger actors, want to see what happens and build upon that. Certainly, they want the commitment from the young actors, but there are no concrete plans. I think there's been a lot of creative energy and now marketing energy going behind this movie.

I think these are exactly what they're meant to be, or what they're designed to be. They're single movies exploring the galaxy; but of course, as a company, I think they're going to be very interested to see how people respond to it and take it from there. This whole thing is kind of a cool, ambitious exploration of what the galaxy and the Star Wars sensibility can continue to mean to fans.

 

Fandango: Much was made of Chewbacca's embrace with another Wookiee in the trailer. Fans are dying to know whether you made the infamous holiday special canon, because Chewbacca has a wife in that. What can you say about Chewbacca when we first meet him? Does he have a family? Is that his wife who he embraces?

Ron Howard: I don't want to be giving anything away or even quelling any debate because it's all part of the fun. I would just say that front and center, the movie is largely about the relationships that helped shape this younger Han Solo. That speaks to all of the key relationships.

Of course, we know how important the Han-Chewie relationship is. But it's the other relationships in the film as well. It's also the adventures, the action, which was exciting to direct. I think it's really fun to watch and it's inventive. It also all addresses the Han Solo character and tests him in particular ways. It's part of the drama and part of the fun to sort of see how young Han Solo grows into who he's going to be through this gauntlet of action and drama.

Fandango: Donald Glover's Lando has become a fan favorite from the trailers alone. How would you say young Lando is maybe different from the version we meet in Empire Strikes Back?

Ron Howard: These are younger characters defining themselves. The other thing is that both of these characters ... all of them, including Chewie ... they all get more screen time, of course, in this movie than they've ever had before. It very much builds around learning more about them, sort of their ... again, what would have formed them? What are some of the events and behaviors that would be similar? Where might it be a little bit different?

 

Fandango: At what point did you realize, "Wow! I'm actually directing a Star Wars movie?"

Ron Howard: It didn't take long because the first sequence that I came in to was a very large action-packed escape sequence. Once the lasers start going off and you're looking around and seeing droids and Wookiees, you realize you're in the middle of the galaxy and you're making a Star Wars movie.

What I realized, as I threw myself into the project, was how unique and interesting the blend of entertainment values of these movies was. It is both challenging and a lot of fun to stage these scenes that deal with themes that are universal and relatable but deals with them in fun, surprising ways. The action is intense and has to be cutting edge, but it's in support of those thematics and the fun that you can have watching the adventure unfold. Then there's the genuine emotion and drama along with the humor. This combination of storytelling values and entertainment possibilities is both fun and it's very infectious. You feel it with the crew. You feel it with everybody involved. You do find ways ... I think it's kind of why we love watch these movies ... you connect to these storylines. You connect to these ideas.

Fandango: What about Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra? Can you tell us how she fits into this story, and what Emilia brought to the role?

Ron Howard: Well, Emilia's very talented and very charismatic and exudes strength and intelligence along with that beauty and charisma and humanity, as well; and it makes her a terrific, contemporary kind of female movie character within the galaxy. She, too, is one of these young individuals who is striving for freedom and trying to define herself in a time of real turmoil and oppression. She's a very important character. She's, again, very influential on Han. In the story, her character and the other characters, their storylines unfold in ways that are surprising and offer some terrific twists and turns.

 

Fandango: You talk about how the Empire looms large over this galaxy, but does that mean we’ll get a taste of Darth Vader or the Emperor? Do you introduce new characters that maybe we haven't seen from the Empire at all?

Ron Howard: That would be spoiling the fun, now come on.

 

Fandango: I have to ask these questions! For the fans!

Ron Howard: Of course, you do. Of course, you do. That’s also part of the fun.

 

Fandango: But the Empire does loom large and we do see members of the Empire throughout the movie, I imagine, Stormtroopers, et cetera.

Ron Howard: You definitely feel the pressure of the Empire. Also, there's an element of the movie that's a heist movie.

It's about a lawless corner of the Empire, more or less. That's what lends the movie its vibe. It’s kind of contemporary cool in that it has a little bit of a feel of a '70s car-chase movie, or an edgy kind of cool gang-heist flick, while being very true to the galaxy as we understand it and the tone of these movies. It definitely feels a little more like young Steve McQueen or James Dean or something, in terms of sort of the feel of the action and pace and that level of cool.

 

Fandango: Did you watch any movies while prepping for this? Anything like that, from back when, that kind of inspired you at all?

Ron Howard: Bullitt was helpful. I know Jon Kasdan talks a lot about the movie Heat, which is of course a great heist movie.

 

Fandango: It's interesting, it seems like this crew, they're not rebels, in that sense, but they're against the Empire. It's almost like they're more selfish than the rebels, that they're out for themselves, basically. Right?

Ron Howard: I mean, I think you'd definitely characterize the Woody Harrelson character, Beckett, as a sort of professional criminal.

 

Fandango: One of the characters a lot of people are curious about is Enfys Nest. A major adversary for Solo?

Ron Howard: Yeah, a fascinating character and also significant and important and sort of functioning on the fringes of the law in dealing with the oppression of things in their own way. Again, it's a wide-open time. Nobody just has one agenda on their mind, because they're just trying to survive. Those kind of individuals and creatures, they've got to keep their wits about them.

 

Fandango: The Millennium Falcon is its own character, and it looks very different in this film than the version that we know. Will we see an evolution of this ship in the movie as well?

Ron Howard: Yeah, it's definitely a character in the movie. Han's own relationship with the Falcon is really interesting to me. I thought a lot about what I learned about Formula One racers and other professional race car drivers and their relationship to specific vehicles. You get the right driver with the right car and the right setup and suddenly they're champion material. I learned a lot from the movie Rush, and I thought a lot about the James Hunt character played by Chris Hemsworth, as we were staging and shaping both the action and also Han's character and his aptitude as a pilot.

Fandango: Was it fun to shoot the scene where Han wins the ship in a card game against Lando? That's such an iconic moment in the history of Star Wars…

Ron Howard: Oh, yeah. Well, they're all cool scenes, but particularly when you get the visual effects geniuses intimately involved, and in this case, creature designers, puppeteers, that's really distinctive. I've had some experience with that, going back to Willow and even Cocoon and to a degree How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it was fun to step back into that kind of creative conversation and be a part of executing a scene that really features that kind of creativity and fun.

 

Fandango: Speaking of creatures and iconic moments, are there familiar Star Wars characters that we haven’t seen yet in trailers that pop up in the movie?

Ron Howard: You keep trying!

 

Fandango: I know!

Ron Howard: Again, I’m the last one in the world who wants to spoil the fun. I also hope that if fans do find anything surprising, which I think they will, that they'll keep it to themselves and let other fans enjoy those little twists and surprises as well.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on May 25. You can snag your tickets now right here at Fandango, and when you do you get this exclusive poster featured below.

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