This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
In 2018, lovable scoundrel Han Solo will get his own standalone adventure (or solo movie, if you prefer). Since 1977, the scruffy nerf-herder’s been synonymous with the actor who so perfectly brought him to life, Harrison Ford. Indeed, it’s now difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
At one point in Star Wars’ casting, Christopher Walken was one of the actors in contention for the role. As Kevin Spacey highlighted in his sublime impression of Walken as Solo, the character - and Star Wars history in general - would have been very different had Ford not won the part.
The success of the 2018 Solo spin-off movie (which doesn’t have an official title at the time of writing) undoubtedly hinges on who’s cast as Ford’s replacement as the young smuggler. Among the actors reportedly on the shortlist to play Solo, you’ll find such names as Scott Eastwood, Miles Teller and Dave Franco; but whoever’s cast, will audiences accept anyone other than Ford as Solo? This is perhaps the greatest question Lucasfilm-Disney currently faces in its post-George Lucas Star Wars saga.
In fact, Lucas himself was once faced with the task of finding an actor to play a young Han Solo. By 2002, Lucas was already two-thirds of the way through the task of writing and directing his Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. For better or worse, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were finished and released. Critical responses varied to say the least, but it was difficult to argue with their performance at the box-office.
So it was that Lucas faced his final challenge of his prequel saga: he had to sit down and write the third chapter, Revenge of the Sith. Everything in the earlier movies built up to this final act: Anakin’s fall from grace. We’d finally see how Obi-Wan’s good friend became twisted into the masked, thoroughly evil Darth Vader.
Lucas had called it his “epic of fathers and sons.” He said, before he put pen to paper, that Episode III would be the most fun to write. Except that wasn’t how it panned out. Where Lucas had tripped through the writing process of Attack of the Clones with relative ease, he found himself struggling with Revenge of the Sith.
Filming on Episode III was scheduled to begin in June 2003. In March that year, Lucas was still battling through the writing of the first draft. He had much to wrestle with: he originally envisioned an epic opening with battles taking place across seven planets. He had numerous plot strands from Attack of the Clones that he wanted to slip in. And most of all, he had to decide, once and for all, just what it was that precipitated Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side.
In those smaller plot strands, many of them thrown in to foreshadow events in the Original Trilogy, Lucas wanted to show how Boba Fett attempted to avenge the unceremonious death of his father in Attack of the Clones. He wanted to show how Padme laid the foundations for the Rebel Alliance. Then there was the cameo from a young Han Solo: just 10 years old, wandering around on Chewbacca’s home planet, Kashyyyk.
Solo’s appearance in Revenge of the Sith would have been fleeting - perhaps amounting to a few seconds. In an early draft of the script, Lucas gave him just one, rather pedestrian line: “I found part of a transmitter droid near the east bay. I think it’s still sending and receiving signals.”
Nevertheless, this brief appearance would have revealed something new about Solo’s past: he had been raised from boyhood by his future co-pilot, Chewbacca.
“It’s not in the script anymore,” explained concept artist Iain McCaig in the Revenge of the Sith art-of book, “but we were told that Han Solo was on Kashyyyk and that he was being raised by Chewbacca. He’s such a persnickety guy later on – he always has to have the best of everything – so I thought it’d be great if when he was a kid, he was an absolute slob.”
The scene would also have been significant for another reason: it would have marked the first and only time Solo met Yoda. In fact, that line Solo was to utter about finding a scrap bit of droid would have been directed at the pointy-eared Jedi master, who was to have been hunting around on Kashyyyk for clues as to General Grievous’ whereabouts.
“Good, good,” Yoda would have replied. “Track this we can back to the source. Find General Grievous, we might…”
The scene got as far as the concept art stage before it was scrapped as Lucas raced to get his story into shape. Casting for the young Han hadn’t even begun, so we’ll never know who Lucas might have picked to play him. Certainly, McCaig’s painting of a scruffy lad with long hair looks right for the Star Wars universe - there are even echoes of Rey’s Jakku outfit in those pieces of cloth bound around his legs. But Star Wars fans might have collectively sighed with relief that the scene was ultimately dropped as Lucas refocused his script on Anakin’s fall, and the various sub-plots he’d originally wanted to put in gradually fell away.
For one thing, the revelation that Han Solo was raised by Chewbacca isn’t necessarily a plausible one, given their future dynamic - they’re more chummy roommates than father and adopted son. And as Slashfilm points out, Solo’s Kashyyyk childhood would have effectively negated the Extended Universe story that Chewbacca met Solo after he escaped from slavery.
Then there’s a further question, one that is perhaps unanswerable: would audiences have even recognized the kid as Han Solo? His name isn’t uttered in Lucas’s early draft, so there would have needed to have been some kind of visual cue that linked this scruffy youngster to the Corellian smuggler he’d one day become.
Most of all, removing Han Solo from Revenge of the Sith left the character unaffected by Lucas’s prequel melodrama. Where episodes one to three demystified much that was implied in a throwaway sentence in the Original Trilogy (“I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your father...”), Han Solo would remain a rogue element - a lovable scoundrel whose past is hinted at in his cynical mindset and loner status, but never directly laid out.
Whether the forthcoming Star Wars spin-off can bring satisfying new dimensions to Han Solo, or whether it’ll ultimately fill in blanks that were best left unexplored remains to be seen. As Han himself once said, “Never tell me the odds...”