A STAR IS BORN
Meet the New Han Solo: Alden Ehrenreich, Discovered by Steven Spielberg at a Bat Mitzvah
Alden Ehrenreich, last seen in Hail Caesar!, has been cast as the young hero in a Han Solo stand-alone film. And his ties to Star Wars creator George Lucas run deep.
Disney and Lucasfilm have finally found a man who can complete the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs.
On Thursday evening, the news broke that Alden Ehrenreich had landed the coveted role of Han Solo in a Han Solo stand-alone. The Star Wars spinoff, set to be released on May 25, 2018, will be helmed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directorial duo behind The Lego Movie and the 21 Jump Street films; produced by Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens; and scripted by Kasdan and his son, Jon Kasdan.
The top-secret project, which was first announced back in 2013, had reportedly been operating under the working title “Project Red Cup,” after the red Solo cups. And the search for the young Han Solo was an exhaustive one, with dozens of up-and-coming actors trying out for the part. Back in January, Variety published a list of actors who’d made the studio’s shortlist for the role, including Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Dave Franco, Jack Reynor, Scott Eastwood, Emory Cohen, Logan Lerman, and Blake Jenner. Then, in early April, various outlets reported that the search had come down to Ehrenreich, Macbeth’s Reynor, and Kingsman star Taron Egerton (who bears a close resemblance to Ehrenreich).
Lawrence Kasdan spoke about the project on the Empire Film podcast late last year, saying: “I think it won’t be the thing you’re worried about. It will not be like, here is where he was born and this is how he was raised. I think what it will be is what was he like 10 years earlier, ya know, maybe a little earlier you’ll get a glimpse, but…what formed the person we meet in the cantina? It is not so much about his specific history. It is about what makes a person like that? He’s not full-formed in the cantina! Kurosawa once said, ‘The heroes are the ones that are still changing and the villains are locked and petrified into what they are,’ and Harrison [Ford] embodies in Force Awakens someone that’s still not settled on who he is.”
Meanwhile, back in early March, Disney CEO Bog Iger confirmed that the Han Solo stand-alone “is an origin story about Han Solo and Chewie,” aka Chewbacca, his yelping Wookiee partner in intergalactic crime. Of course, the original Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford—spoiler alert—is killed off in J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens by his son, Kylo Ren.
For those unfamiliar with the 26-year-old Ehrenreich, he has a fascinating origin story of his own.
Back when Ehrenreich was just 14, he made a home movie for his friend’s bat mitzvah, which played during the ceremony. Steven Spielberg just so happened to be in the crowd, as his daughter Sasha was friends with the guest of honor.
“It’s a piece of shit,” the actor later told Rolling Stone. “It’s a video that this girl asked us to do. I mean, there wasn’t a script: We would go and just film whatever made us laugh. I’m this 14-year-old, skinny little kid with long hair. I break into her house, try on her clothes and make up a song. All of this is just us literally taking a camera and going like, ‘Okay, ha ha, do this.’ We showed it to our parents—‘We’re gonna play this at her bat mitzvah!’—and they were like, ‘You look like an idiot in this. I don’t think you should really do that.’ We didn’t care.”
Spielberg was impressed with Ehrenreich’s performance and gave him a meeting at his studio, Dreamworks. He later introduced the actor to his legendary filmmaker pal Francis Ford Coppola, who gave Ehrenreich his first big break, casting him as the lead opposite Vincent Gallo in his Argentina-set 2009 film noir, Tetro. While the film earned just $2.6 million at the global box office, Ehrenreich’s dazzling turn received rave reviews, with the late, great Roger Ebert writing, “In his first major role, Alden Ehrenreich, the newcomer playing Bennie, is confident and charismatic, and inspires such descriptions as ‘the new Leonardo DiCaprio.’”
He later had a brief cameo in Somewhere, directed by Coppola’s daughter, Sofia; a lead role in the underrated 2013 YA flick Beautiful Creatures; and supporting turns for Park Chan-wook in Stoker, Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine, and as a feeble-minded, scene-stealing cowboy in the Coen brothers’ Hail Caesar! earlier this year.
It is, of course, a great coincidence that Ehrenreich received his first big role from Coppola, who was mentor to George Lucas, the architect of the Star Wars universe. Back in 1967, while studying film production as a grad student at USC, Lucas won a scholarship administered by Warner Bros. to shadow a filmmaker on a set. He chose to follow along Coppola on Finian’s Rainbow, and in 1969, the two co-founded the film studio American Zoetrope. Lucas was also close friends with the man who discovered Ehrenreich, Steven Spielberg; the two co-created the Indiana Jones films together. In fact, when Lucas visited the set of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977—just before the release of Star Wars—the two made a bet about whose movie would do better at the box office, with each believing the other’s movie would triumph. The bet went as follows: Each director would give the other 2.5 percent of their cut of their movie if it made the most dough. Of course, Star Wars won, and according to Business Insider, Spielberg ended up pocketing about $40 million from the bet.
And to bring this Six Degrees of Star Wars game home, Spielberg served as an early filmmaking idol/mentor to J.J. Abrams, who refashioned the Star Wars universe with his The Force Awakens. A 1982 Los Angeles Times article with the headline “Beardless Wonders of Film Making” discussed how a then-15-year-old Abrams was the toast of his local Super 8 film festival, with the budding filmmaker saying, “I see stuff by Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, and I want to do it, too.” The article eventually made its way to Spielberg, who then hired Abrams and his childhood pal Mat Reeves to restore his early 8 mm films Escape to Nowhere and Firelight. Abrams would, of course, go on to create the TV series Lost and Alias, as well as revitalize the Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and Star Wars franchises, while Reeves went on to direct the Abrams-produced Cloverfield.
Interviewed back in January by a gaggle of reporters, Abrams gave some valuable advice to the young man chosen to fill Harrison Ford’s boots: “Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he said. “It’ll all be right there.”