Solo: A Star Wars Story is the fourth Star Wars film to be released since the acquisition of LucasFilm by Disney, and the second non-episodic feature in the Star Wars universe, following on from the success of 2016’s Rogue One. The film, which sees Alden Ehrenreich take up the mantle from Harrison Ford and present a younger, more inexperienced Han, in the years before we first meet him in A New Hope, was met with some skepticism upon its announcement and production, but it appears that this project (or a variation of similar projects) had been something long in the pipeline at LucasFilm, even predating the sale to Disney, when still under the control of George Lucas.
In Lucas’ first draft of what we know today as A New Hope (dated May 1974), Han Solo was a much different character than he ended up becoming. For instance, instead of being a witty-reckless smuggler, this version of Solo was a green-skinned Ureallian, with no nose and large noticeable gills, who served as a member of the Jedi Bendu and acquaintance to General Skywalker (who, despite sharing a name with Luke, was the precursor to the Obi Wan Kenobi character).
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However, the character began to appear more recognisable in Lucas’ second draft (brilliantly titled-Adventures of the Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Episode I: The Star Wars), Han Solo was described as a ‘young space pirate’, who Luke Starkiller meets in Mos Eisley when seeking transport to Ogana Major (later renamed Alderaan). By the time Lucas had finishing his third draft (dated August 1975), Han had pretty much became the character we know today, complete with brash attitude and Wookie copilot.
Lucas’ decision to change Han from being alien to human was done in order to better develop the relationship between the three main characters (Luke, Han and Leia), and the role of the alien sidekick fell to Chewbacca.
With Solo’s character finalised, Lucas set about finding the right actor to bring the James Dean-esque starpilot to life. While Harrison Ford seemed to be the obvious choice, as a result of him working with Lucas on his previous film American Graffiti, it wasn’t actually so straightforward. Lucas initially resisted hiring Ford for that reason, and instead started auditioning actors. Ironically, Lucas chose to bring Harrison in to read lines with potential actors, and impressed by the actor's performance that he eventually gave him the role of Han Solo.
|Harrison Ford: I mean... c'mon George?|
After the original trilogy concluded in 1983 with the release of Return of the Jedi, many people still wanted stories set within the Star Wars universe, and more importantly, wanted to know more about their favourite characters. As a result, the Expanded Universe was created in order to fill in these gaps for fans, offering new stories which would flesh out the Star Wars universe, and offer information not given in the original films.
In 1997, writer Ann Carol Crispin published the first novel in her ‘Han Solo Trilogy’ in the form of The Paradise Snare, which was followed up by The Hutt Gambit later that year, and Rebel Dawn in 1998. This trilogy of books aimed to tell the origin and backstory of Han Solo, detailing his youth and upbringing on Corellia, joining the Imperial Academy before rescuing Chewbacca from slavery, and becoming a smuggler, meeting Lando Calrissian and winning his Millenium Falcon ship in a game of Sabacc.
Interestingly, it appears that George Lucas had always envisaged exploring Solo’s backstory in live action. While very little detail is given about his younger years in the original trilogy, Lucas did consider introducing a younger Han Solo in his follow-up Prequel Trilogy. During the development of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Lucas toyed with the idea of introducing Han as a child, not dissimilar to how he introduced Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones.
Concept art was drawn up for the 10-year old Solo, who would be an orphaned child who found himself living on Kashyyyk. Artist Iain McCaig, who worked on the project, stated that ‘we were told that Han Solo was on Kashyyyk and that he was being raised by Chewbacca. He’s such a persnickety guy later on – he always has to have the best of everything – so I thought it’d be great if when he was a kid, he was an absolute slob.’
Additionally, Lucas had actually detailed a scene to introduce Solo in a very interesting way. Early drafts of the film had Solo as a brief cameo on Kashyyyk, rummaging through scrap heaps before stating ‘I found part of a transmitter droid near the east bay. I think it’s still sending and receiving signals’, but this evolved into the character becoming involved in the larger plot of Kashyyyk, where Jedi Master Yoda was stationed. Solo would actually meet Yoda, alerting him of his findings, with the elder-Jedi stating ‘good, good. Track this we can back to the source. Find General Grievous, we might.’
|I mean... at least he's not green?|
Eventually, Han’s cameo from Revenge of the Sith was scrapped, likely due to the sheer volume of plot threads Lucas wanted to include in the trilogy’s finale, but was unable to do so due to time and budgetary constraints.
However, it also appears that Lucas also had more literal plans for exploring Han Solo’s younger years. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Empire Strikes Back and Solo writer Lawrence Kasdan revealed that Lucas had actually hired him to develop ideas for a Han Solo movie prior to the buyout, and only once Kasdan had finished working on The Force Awakens did he ask LucasFilm ‘do we still want to do this Han thing?’ Kathleen Kennedy, now-LucasFilm President remained keen on the project, with Kasdan ultimately bringing in his son, Jon, to co-write the film with him, and the rest is history.
As Lucas stated in his joint interview with LucasFilm President Kathleen Kennedy after the Disney acquisition: ‘I have story ideas for 7, 8, 9 and a bunch of other movies…’, and it appears that Solo, in one form or another, was something Lucas wanted to get round to doing.
Kathleen Kennedy, in a 2015 interview with SlashFilm noted that ‘I sat with George in April of 2012, and the company was sold in September of 2012, so it was a relatively short amount of time before. But one of the first conversations I had creatively with George was about doing other movies than the saga films. And he had a few ideas he was kicking around but he was very open to where this might go in the Star Wars universe…he was planning to retire. He was talking to me about making these films’, and this seems to suggest than standalone films such as Solo had been on the cards for a while.
While the original trilogy of films offered very little in terms of backstory for Han, it’s interesting to think that George and those at LucasFilm always expected to fill in the gaps at a later date, either in the form of a role in the Prequels or a standalone film; and this idea has now come full circle and come to life with the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
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