Alden Ehrenreich at ‘Star Wars’ Celebration’s filmmakers panel (Getty Images)
The final panel at the Star Wars Celebration in London on Sunday was all about looking forward to the future of the saga beyond December’s standalone adventure Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The focus moved to two future movies set for release in 2018: Star Wars: Episode VIII and the still-untitled young Han Solo spinoff.
Lucasfilm host Pablo Hidalgo cautioned the packed house that since the films are still so far out — and since they do their best to keep all Star Wars film as secret as possible — there would be a limited amount of specific details. But it was the first time the studio was having a “public conversation” about either film. Hidalgo then introduced Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy and Kiri Hart, Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, Han Solo helmers Chris Miller and Phil Lord (who just arrived in London two days prior to begin work on the film), plus a few surprise guests: new Han Solo star Alden Ehrenreich and The Force Awakens and Episode VIII stars John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and their dogs. Here what we learned:
1. Alden Ehrenreich is officially the young Han Solo.
We won’t spend too much time on this point, since everyone and their mother already knew the Hail, Caesar! breakout had been cast to play the iconic hero in his formative years. Speaking of moms, Ehrenreich said that the only person he actually confirmed the news to was his own mother. To everyone else who congratulated him, he simply nodded.
But the casting finally became official Sunday with Ehrenreich’s introduction. “It’s the best kept secret in Hollywood,” Lord joked before welcoming the actor to the stage.
2. Ehrenreich was the very first of 3,000 people Miller and Lord saw for the part.
The casting search for Han Solo was widely publicized and included auditions with legions of hot young actors like Miles Teller, Dave Franco, Logan Lerman, Taron Egerton, and Jack O'Connell. “We thought from the very beginning, this was the hardest casting challenge of all time,” said Miller, who previously codirected 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie with Lord. “These are the biggest boots to fill you can possibly imagine.”
Media reports at the time said that the filmmakers were only looking at well-known actors, but Miller explained that they conducted “a very, very, very exhaustive search, and we saw over 3,000 people for the part.” The search was held “all across the world,” Lord said. Added Miller: “We turned over every rock to find someone who had the charisma and maverick swagger.”
But as Lord put it, “It turns out that that was a total waste of money. Because the person who got the part [namely, Ehrenreich] was the first person to audition. Literally the first person to walk in the door.” The codirector then apologized to Kennedy. “It’s nice to be sure, though,” he told her.
Ehrenreich said the audition process lasted six months in total. “The coolest part of the audition, was I went on the [Millennium] Falcon,” he said. The actor also screen tested with Chewbacca. “It was pretty incredible — I had never acted with a Wookiee.”
Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Rian Johnson (Getty Images)
3. Episode VIII will start right at the moment where Episode VII: The Force Awakens left off.
Rian Johnson — who Kennedy said was on her radar long before she arrived at Lucasfilm in 2012 due to his celebrated work on films like Brick and Looper — spoke in especially broad terms while discussing the follow-up to The Force Awakens. But he did reveal the precise scene that will kick off Episode VIII: “When we started coming up with the story, I realized that [we were going to] end up breaking a longstanding Star Wars tradition, and for the first time, this movie is going to start right where the last one left off,” he said. “I don’t want to skip ahead. That last moment in VII — I want to see what happens.”
That means we’ll actually get to hear some dialogue from Luke Skywalker (Hamill), who Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracked down in exile and approached on that picturesque island cliff. Speaking of Rey, Johnson — who rewatched the classic films Twelve O'Clock High, The Bridge on River Kwai, and the Humphrey Bogart Sahara in preparation for the gig — said Episode VIII will “zero in on” not only her character, but also Finn (Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Boyega said he wanted to keep any details about Finn secret, but he and Johnson did confirm Finn will be out of that coma by the time VIII opens.
4. The new Star Wars directors are all appearing (or attempting to appear) in each other’s movies.
Miller and Lord had arranged to cameo in Rogue One, and even showed up on the film’s London set and put on costumes. “We were gonna shoot this thing,” recalled Miller, “but my whole family is moving here for a year, and I had to go look at a school for my son.” So Miller had to leave, and the cameos went kaput. Lord quickly piled on: “We were gonna be in Star Wars, but your son had to go to school!”
Johnson, however, did manage to cameo (along with his producer Ram Bergman) in Rogue One. “We chose wisely — we chose the two dudes who we knew would be in the movie. They can’t cut us out,” Johnson said. “Because we’re the two dudes in the firing chamber of the Death Star who pull the levers.”
Johnson then returned the favor and offered a cameo to Rogue One director Gareth Edwards in Episode VIII. “We snuck Gareth in there,” Johnson said. “What we’re discovering now is cameos are a now form of currency among our directors,” Hidalgo cracked. Miller and Lord hope to get a chance again in Episode IX, but don’t feel too bad for Miller, at least. As he revealed during the panel, he was an intern at George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic 20 years ago and got to cameo as a Stormtrooper in the special edition of The Empire Strikes Back.
Boyega and Ehrenreich (Getty Images)
5. John Boyega doesn’t have much advice for Alden Ehrenreich.
Force Awakens breakout Boyega — a London native who joked he was “in the area” — came out to raucous hometown applause, and took a particular shine to Ehrenreich. “Oh man, you’re playing Han Solo, man, damn!” Boyega said as he was seated next to the newbie.
Asked by Hidalgo if he had any advice for Ehrenreich as he enters the Star Wars universe, Boyega responded, “No, man. I really don’t know. He’ll be fine. He’s got that charm stuff down already. He’s smiling just like Han.”
Star Wars: Episode VIII is scheduled to open Dec. 15, 2017. The Young Han Solo movie is slated for May 18, 2018.
Watch the cast of Rogue One introduce their characters: