For many years the Cannes Film Festival has strived to balance the artistic and the commercial, to stay true to its auteur identity and heritage, yet to entertain the attendees and draw the media’s attention with spectacular premieres that feature the biggest stars. Pleasing everyone is a tricky and ambitious task that rarely results in triumph.
Many considered 2018 as a return to the artistic roots of the festival, featuring fewer Hollywood movies than it had in the last decade or so. When the program was first announced, it was praised, yet behind the scenes, conversations between my journalist colleagues revealed severe anxiety over the lack of commercially attractive names. The films were great, sure, but there was no Ryan Gosling, or Nicole Kidman, or Jennifer Lawrence. And for us, freelance writers, a less star-studded festival schedule can mean a slimmer paycheck, simple as that.
But the organizers didn’t let us down. Thirteen years after Revenge of the Sith played in the Palais, another film from a galaxy far, far away was invited to Cannes. Solo: A Star Wars Story was, without a doubt, the most lavish of all the 2018 events and premieres, with a star-studded red carpet, fancy beach party (that yours truly was lucky enough to attend), and eight-minute-long fireworks show that those in the nearby town of Juan Les Pins could hear as clearly as their alarm clocks. Hopefully, no Stormtroopers were harmed while making it memorable.
The next day the whole cast was present in the luxurious Carlton Hotel to talk to the press and share their thought on the upcoming installment of the Star Wars saga.
“There are the seventies feel to this movie,” said Ron Howard. “I inherited it and really liked it.” Howard famously took over directing duties for Solo after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by producer Kathleen Kennedy, reportedly due to creative differences. “I thought Lawrence Kasdan’s script, which has preceded all the directors, was a real call to adventure. Most Star Wars films are, but they are war stories. This one is a personal adventure, a film about a young man, his confidence, swagger, yearning for freedom and trying to get it. I thought we had something fresh to offer to the Star Wars audiences.”
I was curious how Alden Ehrenreich, who took over the part of Han Solo from Harrison Ford, was handling the press buzz surrounding him. Not only was he playing an iconic character—but he also “replaced” an iconic actor. Not stressful at all!
“When I was getting ready to be in the movie I knew I’d have to contend with all that noise. By the time I got the part I kind of accepted this is what I signed up for. Your job becomes to focus on your own job.”
How about the burden of Ford’s iconic interpretation of the character?
“Very early on there were expectations of him to be this or that. I think the real intention of it was to try and find continuity between the original…but also in the midst of it there’s a real person.” Asked whether he’s already come to terms with being the center of his own Star Wars installment, he nodded and said, “I’ve lived with this movie and character for such a long time, two years now. It’s so great to finally put it out there and show it to people.”
Emilia Clarke, who plays Qi’ra, showed up wearing Danerys Targaryen’s platinum blonde do. I imagined that between Game of Thrones and Star Wars it would be hard to deal with that kind of schedule.
“I wrapped season seven [of Game of Thrones] on a Sunday. Then on Wednesday, I went to Pinewood Studios and filmed this. Then I had like four days and started filming season eight…and I’m still filming it now. I rely on caffeine and sleep, if possible. And zero social life!” the busy star said with a laugh. Hats off, Emilia! The talented Brit is open about not being a Star Wars geek since forever but is proud to be a part of the new, more feminist Star Wars era. “I found my love for Star Wars from episode VII [The Force Awakens]. What Kathy [Kennedy, the producer] and Disney-Lucas had done with these latest episodes, was put women front and center. My interest has naturally peaked. Now there’s someone that looks like me, so I can relate to this more.”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag, who plays Star Wars’ first femme android, L3, also eagerly elaborated on the franchise’s pro-female attitude and playing a character not defined by her looks.
“It was so cool to be able to let go of all of that. I feel like it is slightly different for actresses and actors. You are so super aware of how you look all the time, it’s what a lot of actresses have to trade on. So it was great to know that most of the money is going into removing any evidence of me from the film! It means you’re liberated to be more physical and that’s the most important thing.”
On the other end of the spectrum is the charismatic Lando Calrissian, embodied by the incredibly versatile Donald Glover.
“Objectified day in and day out? I’m gonna say no, but that’s because I don’t have to do it all the time in every movie. I’m sure I’d feel different. It was actually liberating to be in a movie where I’m supposed to be like, charismatic or sexy. That’s the character and to do that was cool to me personally. But I didn’t write it—that would be embarrassing [if I had].”
Then, when asked to elaborate on her character, who plays the foil to Ehrenreich’s Solo, Clarke responded:
“She’s incredibly conflicted. We don’t know what happened to her in the time between [last] leaving Han and meeting him again. The darkest part of your imagination wouldn’t know it. There’s a lot that Dryden summarizes in what it is to be a part of the world she’s in when you see her again. It’s that that informs her decisions, not her heart.”
Dryden is Dryden Voss, Solo’s antagonist, played by Paul Bettany, who was asked, for someone straight from the Avengers set if the Star Wars production design still seemed impressive?
“Oh, yes! Whether I’m on a movie like this or Journey’s end, where I spent the entire time in trenches, the care and love that goes into [the set] and workmanship–I love it. I remember when I was shooting The Da Vinci Code and we were not allowed to shoot in the Louvre, so we built the entire wing with these grandmaster paintings. It was extraordinary!”
With Star Wars’ rich history of epic villains, playing one seems like big shoes to fill.
“Because it’s [Solo] one of these stand-alone movies, they’re allowed to have a more playful attitude. I didn’t feel like I had to be Darth Vader, Darth Maul or the Emperor. [Dryden Voss] felt more like a human gangster, like [Mexican drug lord] El Chapo. He was much more in the world I am familiar with.”
Solo is a fun adventure, sure, but it is also a portrait of an oppressive, exploitative system with a very dark underbelly. Donald Glover, a multi-talented artist, known for his vocal social criticism, loved it. He commended Star Wars for not glossing over the bad parts of this fantastical saga.
“It’s one of my favourite parts of Star Wars in general. There are poor and rich people and in order to do certain things there needs to be the other side. It’s really great. [If you don’t experience pain] you don’t know why you’re happy in the end. You don’t understand why you feel what you feel. Part of this movie is Han–who’s very naive at the beginning—understanding why.”
All quotes come from the interviews the author conducted with the actors during the film’s press day in Cannes.