Ron Howard has grown up in show business. He began his acting career at a young age as one of the main characters on The Andy Griffith Show and countless appearances on plenty of other classic TV shows. He was able to ride that wave through his teens, 20s and 30s before beginning a career behind the camera as a feature filmmaker. Now, he finds himself trying to save a major blockbuster in one of the biggest franchises in the world, and it just so happens to be based on characters created by the filmmaker who gave him one of his most well-known roles as a big screen actor.
Back in 1972, Ron Howard starred in American Graffiti for director George Lucas, a promising young filmmaker who had just come off his acclaimed sci-fi project THX-1138. He went by Ronny Howard in those days, and he first heard about Star Wars on the set of American Graffiti when it still just an idea popping around George Lucas’ head. Who would have ever thought that 43 years later the two would find themselves on the set of Solo: A Star Wars Story, working together to bring the origin story of one of George Lucas’ most iconic characters to life?
When Ronny First Heard About Star Wars
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly for their big cover story on Solo: A Star Wars Story, director Ron Howard recollects when he first heard about Star Wars before anyone even knew what that meant. Howard had already started on his path toward becoming a director by being accepted to the University of Southern California’s film school program, where George Lucas and countless other now iconic directors went to college.
During a break on the set of American Graffiti, Howard struck up a conversation with Lucas:
“I said, well, do you know what you’d want to do after American Graffiti? And he said, ‘Yeah, I want to do a big science fiction movie. I’m working on a script.’ And I said, “Well, what is it?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s a little bit like Flash Gordon, but it’s not Flash Gordon, but I liked those movies when I was a kid and those comics and things.’”
Even though at this point it was nothing more than an idea, it’s clear that Lucas already knew what he wanted to do with Star Wars, even if he didn’t know what it was going to become. Howard continued to recollect:
“He said, ‘But, you know, it has, like, the grandeur of 2001, and the realism of those special effects that Kubrick created. And then he said, ‘But maybe fast.’ And that was about all he said about it, you know? So it didn’t leave me with a deep understanding of what he wanted to go for until I happened to see it. And there it was. And it was kind of mind-blowing.”
The Student Becomes the Master…But Still Gets a Little Help
Flash forward to 45 years later and Ron Howard is working on the set of Solo: A Star Wars Story, a project he inherited after directing duo Phil Lord & Chris Miller were let go from the project due to creative differences. Howard was basically brought in to save a movie that appeared to have gone off the rails. But he ended up getting some help.
George Lucas has been friends with Ron Howard for decades, and they’ve collaborated before on projects like Willow, so of course he had some friendly advice. Howard says:
“He told me just trust my instincts, you know? I know he kind of fundamentally feels like, first and foremost, [these films are] sort of for 12-year-old boys, and yet even he knows that it’s grown so far beyond that, and the fans have grown with the series in a great, important way. So he didn’t offer a lot of advice except, ‘You’ll get this.”
So it’s basically “Use the Force, Ron.” But much like Obi-Wan Kenobi couldn’t help but continue to guide Luke Skywalker from beyond the grave, Lucas couldn’t help but offer his assistance to Howard.
George Lucas (Kinda) Directed a Scene in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy recalls the day when George Lucas came to the set for a quick visit:
“He had intended to just kind of stop by and say hi, and he stayed five hours. There’s even one little moment in a scene that — I can’t tell you what, sorry — but in the scene on the Millennium Falcon where George said, ‘Why doesn’t Han just do this.”
No matter how far removed George Lucas has become from Star Wars, he still can’t help but play with these toys he created back in the 1970s. Kennedy said:
“It actually is a funny little bit that will probably get a laugh. And Ron happened to be by the monitor and not inside the Falcon and he goes, ‘Oh that’s a great idea,’ and ran in and said, ‘George wants us to do this.’ So that was pretty cool. I think George felt pretty great about that. He could revisit these characters, and I think he felt so comfortable, obviously with Ron being there, that it was just fun for him.”
As for what that scene is and whether Howard’s advice from the filmmaker paid off, we’ll have to wait and see when Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives in theaters on May 25, 2018. In the meantime, check out our trailer breakdown to pour over all the details revealed in the first trailer.
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