Prequels are hard.
It’s possible to count the number of genuinely enjoyable prequel movies in the history of blockbusters on one hand.
X-Men: First Class was pretty great. Rogue One is better than it had any right to be, based on what went on behind the scenes.
Other than that, the Jury’s out. There’s aren’t many universally beloved prequel movies.
So with Variety reporting that Woody Harrelson is being strongly considered to play an aging mentor to Han Solo in his own origin movie, it’s natural to feel a little concerned.
This isn’t to say that Woody Harrelson isn’t great – he’s proven that he can definitely portray a surly, often drunken mentor, thanks to his work on the Hunger Games franchise. His performance in taking on some of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s scenes in Mockingjay Part 2 is the only reason that movie’s ending doesn’t completely fall apart.
But is he a Star Wars actor? Or, more correctly, do we want to see a young Han Solo being trained up by Haymitch Abernathy?
This might sound like a weird question. If Samuel L Jackson, Liam Neeson, and even Christopher Lee can appear in Star Wars movies, surely an actor from any pedigree can do a great job, whether you’re a Pulp Fiction alum, or an aging Dracula.
It’s just that, let’s face it, none of these famous actors’ characters really brought anything new or interesting to the table, beyond their own star appeal. The prequel Star Wars movies leveraged the notoriety of many actors in an attempt to make up for a lack of dynamic characters.
You can see George Lucas’ logic in his casting choices. Samuel L Jackson is fun to watch in Quentin Tarantino movies. Therefore, people want to see him swing a lightsaber around.
But in practice, Mace Windu is little more than a cardboard cutout. His character doesn’t help build the story.
Perhaps this is why Lucasfilm avoided featuring too many big name stars in The Force Awakens and Rogue One. There’s the occasional Mads Mikkelsen in there, but the lead actors are all relatively fresh faces – exceptions being made for Felicity Jones and Oscar Isaac, whose stars were both on the rise while their movies were in development.
This isn’t to say that there’s no room in Star Wars for established actors in mentor roles. Alec Guinness himself was the biggest name in the original Star Wars at the time, and his performance is one of the strongest in the movie.
So why does the inclusion of Woody Harrelson as Han Solo’s Obi Wan figure feel just a little disconcerting?
It’s partially because of the danger that the actor might distract from the character, as seen with Mace Windu or Count Dooku.
On the other side of the equation, though, there’s a bigger concern: that learning about Han Solo’s gruff mentor will somehow cheapen the character.
Here’s a fun fact: George Lucas originally planned to feature a child Han Solo in Revenge of the Sith, as an orphan who helps Yoda on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. Thankfully this plan was cancelled, though, in large part because nobody really wants to see what Han Solo’s childhood was like.
Yet, despite a lack of enthusiasm in learning about the scruffy-looking nerfherder’s backstory, we’re going to get this movie anyway. From the sounds of it, we’ll learn how Han Solo was taught by Woody Harrelson to be Han Solo.
Maybe that’s the problem: Han Solo’s particular breed of spontaneous swashbuckling shouldn’t need to be taught. That kind of defeats the purpose of a character who prefers shrieking at the top of his lungs and barreling down Death Star hallways, over playing the careful stealth game.
Ultimately, Star Wars fans still haven’t been given a compelling reason why this Han Solo movie is a good idea. We’ve learned Boba Fett’s backstory, and hated it. We found out about Darth Vader’s motivation, and the Dark Lord of the Sith has been reduced to a whiny little boy who hates sand and has mommy issues.
It’s hard to get excited about seeing Han Solo learn the ropes of smuggling from Woody Harrelson because, despite the success of Rogue One, Star Wars prequels still leave a bad taste in many fans’ mouths.
But there is hope. After all, Lucasfilm managed to pull one out of the bag with Rogue One. There’s every chance they can do it again.
Good luck, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
You’re gonna need it.