Alden Ehrenreich (left) who has been cast as the new Han Solo, originally played by Harrison Ford (right)
With the announcement of Alden Ehrenreich as the new (young) Han Solo, many fans are calling it blasphemous and unwarranted, while stating that he doesn’t look enough like Harrison Ford to get the job done. While there may be some merit to those accusations, Star Wars has seen recasting before in Obi-Wan Kenobi and even as recently as the “new” Mon Mothma, who I am personally glad to see return after her deleted scenes in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.
But to many, Harrison Ford is irreplaceable. And to be quite honest, I concur with that thought. He has a certain chutzpah that no one else can capture to its fullest extent. He is exciting to watch; even during a scripted scene, he always seems to be unpredictable in a way that makes you want to see what he does next. He has a talent for captivating audiences, and selling dialogue better than it would appear on a written page.
Yet, cinema is plagued with (often unwanted) reboots and remakes, and an overabundance of sequels (I’m looking at you, Ice Age 5), which are occurring at a pace faster than people who remember the originals are dying. Remaking and recasting films with less than thirty years on them seems to be the popular thing now, and common feelings are that they only serve to tarnish the memory of the original (“Thanks for killing my childhood” – Overdramatic Fanboy #8675309). But in rare cases this can work (Ewan McGregor anyone?).
While Harrison Ford may not be replaceable, this is not the first time another actor has tried to fill his (always somewhat fashionable) boots. But is it more about the actor or the character being portrayed?
So with that, I invite you to the first installment of this new series I’m trying out, with a new discussion on an old topic.
AN ASIDE: AN INTRO TO FOX’S FANATIC FIXATIONS
I am a fan of alot properties. And I don’t mean in the moderate enjoyment of something like the way my friends on Facebook are fans of The Walking Dead TV series, devotedly watch every episode, but would never consider reading the original comics. No, for me being a fan is more of that word “fanatic” where I will try to squeeze every drip of information about a series, its production, and it source and spin off material into my feeble little brain. I have always been that way, and because of the amount of properties that I have become fixated on over the years, it is hard to keep up.Fanatic(adjective) fa·nat·ic \fə-ˈna-tik\Marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion
It was easier when I was younger, at the beginning of the ‘90s when the internet had only existed for a year or three, and all I could do was watch my favorite shows and movies on TV or recorded on VHS over and over again. I had limited content and a lot of time. Now it is the reverse. There is almost unlimited content and less time (stupid adult life).
The result of this is what I have recently decided to call “fixations.” Because there are somewhere between 10 and 20 properties that I often find myself invested in, my focus switches almost monthly (though sometimes yearly), jumping from fandom to fandom trying to get my fix.
In March I was all about Ghostbusters; There was a new trailer (you can read my critique in this article), and so I hopped back on fan forums, watched a dozen or so episodes of The Real Ghostbusters, and wound up reading the entirety of IDW’s ongoing Ghostbusters comic which I hadn’t read since the release of issue 8.
Then April hit and the fifth Indiana jones film was officially announced. Guess what? My brain hopped right over on the hype train and there I was: reading Indiana Jones comics, playing Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and watching Young Indiana Jones, which finally brings us to our main topic.
INDIANA JONES AND THE FORGOTTEN OTHER ACTORS WHO HAVE PLAYED HIM
Indiana Jones is a property which I was too young to watch when it had its theatrical release (I had turned one the winter before The Last Crusade premiered), and so I didn’t “discover” it until a bit later, but by the time I did (I caught that same movie on television sometime after the first Star Wars Special Edition was released), I was in awe. The story was great, it starred Han Solo, it was a historical piece, and it was unlike anything else I had seen up to that point in my life. In 1999 the series had a VHS re-release, and I finally got to experience the whole trilogy. That VHS set also included one episode of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, which was a chronological rebranding of 1992-96’s Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Here I had not only become invested in a new property, but there was a whole extended universe beyond my 11 year old reach. Fast forward 17 years and I have finally gotten around to experiencing the other media. I have only dipped my toes in the water (well, I’m more knee deep), but I’ve gotten a good taste of Indiana Jones without Indiana Jones (or Harrison Ford) as I knew him.
Most people who have watched the original Indiana Jones trilogy have already experienced Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford, whether they remember it or not. At the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the story begins with a 13 year old Indiana Jones played by the late River Phoenix. Compared to the 39 year old Indy the film switches to a few minutes later, we have been given a great portrayal of the character as he would have appeared 26 years earlier. No one was miffed that Harrison Ford didn’t dress up like a 13 year old boy scout to do the role himself, or that someone else was playing Indiana Jones. They just saw this new part of Indy’s life, which to be honest is a pretty awesome vignette, and apparently left some people wanting more.
River Phoenix as Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
This is where George Lucas stepped in again. Now, I don’t know what it is about George that makes him think everyone wants to see younger versions of the classic adult characters he has created (I think there is a good chance it is because he had children at the time), but that seems to be what he believes to be good storytelling. While it didn’t work perfectly for Star Wars, the way he set up the series (retitling Star Wars as Episode IV) made the prequels almost a necessity, which didn’t work to its benefit.
Young Indiana Jones however was not something people were anticipating, and so the series had places to go. Literally. All of the episodes were filmed on location all over the world, which cost a huge amount to produce and was one of the reasons the show was initially cancelled after its second season. But Lucas has a clear love of history which shows in his work, and all he needed were new actors to fill those riding boots.
Going even younger than the 13 year old Indy in the movie, Corey Carrier portrayed the youngest Henry Jones Jr. we’ll probably ever see (aside from the quick montage featuring his birth in the premiere episode), from ages 10-11. This iteration was a bit of a hard sell in my opinion because at age 10, there is not much for young Indy to do. Most of his episodes feature him learning a lesson, or a culture, while getting into hijinks but never too much serious trouble, while older characters (often portrayals of famous historical figures) did the exciting things.
Corey Carrier as 10 year old Indy from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles / The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones
They rectified this during reshoots a few years later, after Lucas had the idea to re-release the episodes chronologically, while adding transition material and a few new episodes to fill the series out, but by that point 14-15 year old Corey Carrier was trying to again pass for 10-11 years old so good ol’ GL thought words like “wowee” would make him seem younger (not much better than Anakin’s “Yippee” in The Phantom Menace). Carrier by this point had gotten more comfortable with his acting chops, and my opinion is had GL stuck with this actor and given us a slightly older Anakin in The Phantom Menace the series would have been much better off. But I digress.
Young Indy in the sidekick role works to a degree, as we see how he learns about culture and languages, and how his childlike innocence is scoffed at. But being relegated to a role more like Temple of Doom’s Short Round doesn’t give enough space for Indy to be Indy. Some episodes are better than others (the last story filmed, “Travels with Father” is probably where 11 year old Indy is at his best), but the episodes often feel more like The Adventures of Some Really Cultured Kid in the Early 1900’s rather than The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
Before I get to the bigger star of the Young Indy series, I do feel I should talk about “Old Indy.” In the original Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, each episode was bookended by “Old Indy” living in 1992 and bugging people with his “back in my day” stories. Old Indy was portrayed by the late George Hall, who at the time was about 75 years old, but playing Indy at 93 while wearing a bit of prosthetics and an eyepatch. From what I’ve watched on Youtube (the scenes were cut for the chronological revision), these scenes were always a bit cheesy (though so were some aspects of the show), but just like 10 year old Indy, his portrayal just didn’t quite feel like Indiana Jones to me. This is in part due to his way of looking at the role, “I’m not playing the Indiana Jones that people all know from going to the movies. I’m playing a man, ninety-three, who is an Indiana Jones of another time and era” (theraider.net), which helped me to remain unconvinced that this was the same man.
George Hall as Old Indy. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
The best of the three luckily comes in the form of the man we spend most of our time with on the show, Sean Patrick Flanery. Flanery plays Jones from ages 16-20, and it is clear from the get-go that he has done his research. Though he only vaguely looks like Harrison Ford (though enough to believe he is a 20 year younger incarnation), and his voice is a higher register than Ford’s (acceptable for 16), which occasionally pulled me out of the moment, his physical mannerisms and speech patterns are spot on that it occasionally rivals Phoenix’s incredible portrayal from The Last Crusade.
Sean Patrick Flanery as teenage Indiana Jones. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles / The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones
I haven’t finished the series yet, though I’m about halfway through the 22 one-and-a-half hour long episodes, and even now (with Flanery’s portrayal) I believe I’m watching the early adventures of that same movie character.
This begs that question:
This begs that question:
DOES THE ACTOR MATTER MORE OR THE CHARACTER?
Undoubtedly people associate certain characters with the actors who originated them and vice versa. Usually we see a recast due to a reboot (we’re on our third Spider-Man in only 15 years), and occasionally due to creative differences (think Rhodey in Iron Man 2) or unavailability (Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). In the latter two cases, the audience is more or less forced to accept the actor change if they want their story to continue. The other option for continuing franchises is to write the character out, and we don’t want that now do we?
This is an area where things like comic books and video game adaptations get a pass. Likenesses don’t need to be spot on (especially in earlier games with graphic limitations), but as long as the story is good, people can accept the continuation. Once the powers that be try to do the same thing with film, recasting seems to become an issue.
In a continuing story, the issue always comes down to two things: Do we want someone who looks similar (i.e. when Tobey Maguire hurt his back with Seabiscuit, he was almost replaced in Spider-Man 2 with Jake Gyllenhaal who looked so similar at the time that the two later wound up as siblings in the movie Brothers)? Or do we want someone who can breathe life into this character but may not be a dead ringer (sometimes this is a worst case scenario like Dumbledore)?
For origin stories, such as the upcoming solo Han Solo film, usually you have to go with the latter. Neither Jake Lloyd nor Hayden Christensen bore any resemblance to Sebastian Shaw, and jumping back that 30 years, it didn’t really matter. Same goes for Obi-Wan. The Phantom Menace was the first time was saw Obi-Wan clean shaven and with Melanin in his hair, and he brought along a brand new mole too. But by the end of the prequels we were still 19 years away from the original trilogy, plenty of time for both of those men to transform into the men we saw the first go ‘round.
Obi-Wan Kenobi as portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness (Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope)
and Ewan McGregor (Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
Young Indy did the same thing. The show planned to end with Indy at 21 allowing 15 years for Sean Patrick Flannery to turn into Harrison Ford. But this new Han Solo flick doesn’t have that luxury. It will likely be set 10 years or less before A New Hope (the age difference between Ehrenreich and Ford). By 25 or older, most men (especially in Hollywood) look similar to what they’ll look like 10 years later barring any weight gain or hair loss. While the two do have some similarities, the looks aren’t that close when looking at them as close as audiences will be able to.
With a strong story, and good acting (I hear Ehrenreich was killing it in the auditions), the discrepancies in appearance may be overlooked, and we can all enjoy a new Han Solo story we would have only been able to read about before. Who knows we may get some prosthetics (the nose is the most glaring difference for me), and maybe Ehrenreich will try to deepen his voice for the role. Sure there are better matches physically, such as actor/impersonator Anthony Ingruber (who had his go as young Harrison Ford in the The Age of Adaline), but before bashing this upcoming film for the look of its star, should we have faith in the story which is being brought to us in part by Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens)?
Anthony Ingruber in a flashback scene from The Age of Adaline
All said, there’s nothing anyone can do to change it now, unless they pull a Marty McFly and recast five months before the film is due to hit theaters. And for fans hoping this casting choice would be Ingruber, who knows? Veteran movie producer Frank Marshall recently promised that no one else would play Indy, yet neglected to recognize the three other actors who appeared in the role before his statement. Maybe once Ford hangs up the whip (rumor is Indy 5 will be the last outing), we can get a few more young Indy stories from a man with an uncannily familiar face. That’s my hope anyway.