Look who's playing Han and Leia in 'The Empire Strikes Back' live-read | EW.com

Movies | Star Wars Galaxy

Jason Reitman casts a surprising Han and Leia in 'The Empire Strikes Back' live-read

Empire Strikes Back

(Lucasfilm; Mike Coppola/Getty Images; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Really, there’s nothing that says “Han” can’t be a woman’s name.

Ellen Page will be taking on the part of Han Solo in director Jason Reitman’s live stage-reading of The Empire Strikes Back Thursday night, and Jessica Alba has been cast as Princess Leia—the royal revolutionary who thinks the smuggler is nothing but a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder.”

Until, of course, she doesn’t.

The whole point of Reitman’s live-read series is to take classic scripts and turn them into something we’ve never seen before, but he tells EW that casting his Juno star as the sardonic captain of the Millennium Falcon felt as natural as it may seem surprising.

“The Han Solo character is fascinating in that the approach to every other character in Star Wars is earnest and kind of sweet and old-fashioned. The heroes are heroes, and the villains are villains. And within this world, we’re introduced to one human being who looks at it all with irony,” Reitman says, adding with a laugh: “He’s the guy who doesn’t give a crap.”

Without Solo, it would be very easy for viewers to look at Star Wars cynically, Reitman adds. “With him, we feel like we have an ally in this, and it allows the viewer to get closer to Luke and Leia,” he says. “In casting Han, the most important thing is: Who has the most interesting, ironic approach to life? And when I think of that, I think of Ellen Page. She’s a small human being who has the energy to fill Madison Square Garden.”

The Leia and Han relationship in The Empire Strikes Back is proof that opposites still attract, even in another galaxy.

“For Leia, I just wanted to find an actress who was beautiful and also had the ability to be tough and funny, and I’ve seen Alba do all of that. And I needed somebody who would have chemistry with Ellen,” Reitman says.

Alba is someone who can embody the true-believer aspect of the princess as contrast to the smuggler’s skepticism, be elegant when Han is coarse, and still bring a playfulness to their incessant sparing.

And that fact that their grudging romance will play out between two actresses …?

“Chemistry is chemistry, whether it be between a man and a woman, two women, or two men,” Reitman says. “I have no doubt that Ellen Page could have chemistry with anybody.”

The live-reads are about experimenting with perceptions and expectations, and encouraging fans to consider the story and characters in different ways – even if they’re only hearing about the performance from afar. (None have been recorded or shared. They are designed as one-night-only experiences.)

He has done versions of the all-white Reservoir Dogs with an entirely black cast (including Laurence Fishburne, Terrence Howard, and Cuba Gooding Jr.), and an all-female version of the testosterone-powered Glengarry Glen Ross (with Robin Wright, Catherine O’Hara, and Carla Gugino.)

In a reading of The Princess Bride, Reitman also cast Cary Elwes, once the hero Westley, as the villainous Humperdinck—while a now-grown Fred Savage replayed the same part he originated at age eight.

The performance of The Empire Strikes Back will take place Thursday night at the Ace Hotel Theater in downtown Los Angeles (moving to a larger venue from its previous home at LACMA.) Click here for full details on the show, which is hosted in partnership with Film Independent. Although the tickets are already sold out, there will be a stand-by list for fans who want to give it a try.

On Tuesday, Reitman announced the other members of the cast: Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker, Whiplash star J.K. Simmons as Darth Vader, Hello Ladies actor Stephen Merchant as C-3PO, Dennis Haysbert as Lando Calrissian, and Kevin Pollak as Yoda (and assorted others.)

Knowing the Live-Read series, there will also be a handful of surprises revealed as the show begins.