Are you a young white male actor? Congratulations! You’re probably on the shortlist for the lead role in Disney’s untitled young Han Solo Star Wars spinoff. Variety reports that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have narrowed their search to just a few actors you barely recognize, including Whiplash breakout Miles Teller, The Fault in our Stars dreamboat Ansel Elgort, the other Franco, Clint Eastwood’s son, Percy Jackson, and the guy from Trans4mers who wasn’t Garrett Hedlund (wait, was he Garrett Hedlund, no I don’t think he was Garrett Hedlund).
A source close to the production tells EW the Variety list isn’t entirely accurate, although there are a few names that are in consideration. The same source also claims there are still more Han Solo auditions to consider. That would seem to defy Variety’s claim that the studio will decide on their lead actor in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, the existence of an actual shortlist forces us to admit an actual hard truth: Sometime soon, maybe very soon, Disney will announce that someone who is not Harrison Ford will be playing Han Solo in a movie coming to theaters.
Do we want this? Do we know what we want? Audiences around the world are currently thrilling to the latest adventure from Harrison Ford as Old Han Solo. Do I even need to put up a SPOILER ALERT when I say that The Force Awakens is also the last adventure for Ford’s Solo? The seventh Star Wars film is structured, in part, as an extended sendoff for the beloved character. Greenlighting a new Han Solo movie, with a new young Han Solo, would seem in any other context like a too-aggressive recasting move. (If this were 2011, Andrew Garfield would be on the shortlist.)
But this is a movie in the context of Star Wars, a franchise so beloved that the seventh film in 38 years is on track to become the highest grossing movie ever. So, fine: A young Han Solo. It has to happen. What do we want him to look like? What do we want him to be? Ford never quite played a young Han Solo: The actor was already in his mid-30s when Star Wars came around, and in that film he’s the cynical seen-it-all older-brother figure to callow young Luke. He’s also cocky — Kessel Run, less than 12 parsecs, maybe you’ve heard — and part of the central joy of Ford’s performance across four movies is how the character’s intrinsic seen-it-all skepticism runs alongside a goofily confident optimism in his own magnificence. Han Solo might not believe in the Force — but he knows, behind all shadow of a doubt, that he is the greatest pilot in the galaxy.
He’s tough, but also romantic; cynical, but also narcissistic, but neither too cynical nor too narcissistic. What does that look like, as a young twentysomething? It strikes me that any actor cast as young Han Solo needs to figure out a way to play up the cockiness — the sense that Han already thought he was a great pilot even before he had a ship to fly — but also needs to be able to play that facade as a facade. Part of what makes Ford-as-Solo great is that Solo should be a douche bag — one of the background players in Top Gun. Ford gave Solo some real rough charm. Maybe it was his age; maybe it was him being a carpenter; maybe it was because Luke Skywalker carried all the dramatic weight, leaving him to have all the fun.
This new Han Solo won’t have any of those luxuries. And whoever gets cast will have another problem: By 2018, we’ll have seen two Guardians of the Galaxy films starring beloved Hollywood best friend Chris Pratt as a variation of the Han Solo archetype. Star-Lord is goofier and explicitly more childish than Solo — but he’s also more “relatable,” insofar as Han Solo never watched Footloose.
So I’m inclined to say that the best move for Disney would be the Daisy Ridley Protocol: Find an unknown. Barring that, the actor I think would make the most convincing young Han Solo isn’t on Variety’s shortlist. Dylan O’Brien is not a name you know if you’re over 25, but the actor has an intriguing double persona in a couple teenybopping franchises. In the Maze Runner movies, he’s the noble protagonist; on Teen Wolf, he’s the snarky comic relief. This strikes me as a uniquely accurate Han Solo mixture. (Anecdotally, he’s fun to drink beer with.)
Miles Teller is by far the biggest name on Variety’s list, and has the benefit of some rave reviews as a charming jackass in The Spectacular Now and a relentlessly focused perfectionist-narcissist in Whiplash. The idea of a Whiplash‘d Young Han Solo movie is intriguing: Imagine J.K. Simmons as the galaxy’s most nefarious starship instructor, pushing callow young Han to new heights of pilot glory.
But you could argue that Ansel Elgort has the clear upper hand, too. In Fault in Our Stars, Elgort has one of the all-time plum roles for a young actor. As Augustus Waters, he’s coded as a “bad boy” (cigarette! leather jacket!) but he’s also a nice-guy romantic (he never lights the cigarette!) and he somehow makes the key character trait of dying of cancer into a charmingly roguish affectation. Also, Han is a fundamentally romantic figure — a bantering ladies’ man, we sense, even if he only ever has eyes for Leia. In the game of “Who Had Better Chemistry With Shailene Woodley,” I give Elgort in Fault a big victory over Teller in Spectacular Now.
All of which brings up the bigger question of this young Han Solo movie: What is young Han Solo doing? The Expanded Universe built out a larger backstory for Han, which included a stint in the Empire’s navy and some wild times smuggling around Nar Shaddaa, a Sin City-esque planet that would make an awesome setting for a movie that’s probably too insane for Disney to ever make. But Lucasfilm has made it pretty clear that the only true canon now is the movies — which never say anything about Han’s past, beyond some dirty dealings with Jabba Hutt and that business with the Kessel Run. Theoretically, we could meet any kind of young Han Solo: An orphaned criminal, the youngest child from a big Corellian family, a Maverick-in-Top-Gun-esque pupil to a famous Imperial pilot.
Everyone knows Han Solo. It turns out, though, that nobody knows Young Han Solo. We’ll be meeting him, soon.