Planes roar into the air from Santa Monica Airport as the early-morning sun blasts off the tarmac. Behind a private hangar door that’s slightly ajar, Harrison Ford breaks into a familiar crooked smile as he walks between a long-range, green-and-white Cessna Citation jet and a Bell Helicopter.
That famous scar on his chin now has a much larger rival cutting across the right side of his forehead, and he’s limping slightly. Both injuries came from the crash landing Ford survived last March when his World War II-era training fighter suffered engine failure and fell out of the sky.
“I’ve been flying for 20 years, and it was a very rare thing to happen,” he says. “It was a mechanical issue. No fault of the maintenance or anybody else.” He shrugs. It didn’t keep him grounded long. “I got back in the helicopter first, because my foot was still in the cast, my toes were hanging out. It was the easiest aircraft to get into [that I’d still] be capable, and safe, to fly.”
How did it feel to lift off again? “Fun,” Ford says, flashing his eyebrows like you-know-who. “Fun.”
For millions of Star Wars fans, it has never been enough that he played Han Solo. We have wanted Harrison Ford to be Han Solo.
The character came to mean so much to so many of us that we yearned for at least part of him to be real. Few people can attest to being pure-hearted heroes like Luke Skywalker, but we’ve all got a little Solo in us: We’re reluctant do-gooders, at best. Like the Millennium Falcon pilot, we may be cynics, scoundrels, and scruffy-looking, but (hopefully) we’re still lovable.
That’s why it stung so much when Ford showed scant affection for the smuggler — and even smacked him around a bit — over the years. He repeatedly said he wished Solo had been killed off in Return of the Jedi to give the final film in the original trilogy emotional gravity. He told NBC’s Today back then, “I was glad to see that costume for the last time.”
The 73-year-old star has softened significantly now that the planet is beside itself awaiting his return in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “I was glad that the character was still alive for me to play in this new iteration,” he says.
If you spend any time with Ford, one simple reason for his long-standing discomfort with the role starts to reveal itself. Here is the hard truth that some, and Ford himself, may find difficult to accept:
Harrison Ford is totally Han Solo.
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