Gina McIntyre wrote the book Star Wars Icons: Han Solo. She’s also the author of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, The Art of Ready Player One, and Little Women: The Official Movie Companion. She answered these questions via email.
What was your introduction to Star Wars and do you remember your first impressions of Han Solo?
I saw Star Wars very young—maybe age 5 or 6—my dad took me to our local movie theater, and I was immediately obsessed with the movie in that way that only kids of that age really can be. My dad, who was always my hero, loved Han Solo, so I decided I did, too. It makes complete sense he connected with that character. He’d served in the Marine Corps for six years and loved fast cars. He was the strong, silent type who’d caused a little bit of trouble in his younger days but was the most sincere, loyal man you’d ever want to meet. He also had a pretty sly sense of humor. I naturally didn’t make that connection until years later, but once I had the occasion to think deeply about that character, it became pretty obvious. And as I got older, it didn’t hurt that Harrison Ford is quite handsome.
Do you have favorite characters from any of the Star Wars films or TV series (in addition to Solo)? If so have your favorites changed over time?
Yes! Leia, obviously. As cool as Han was, Leia was the character I wanted to be. She was smart and resourceful and brave but also compassionate and kind. She was a fantastic role model. Chewie was always great for a laugh, as was C-3PO. And from the sequel trilogy, I just love Rey.
When did you start writing about movies and TV series professionally and where has your work appeared over the years?
So, my entertainment journalism career began with a magazine called Cinescape. Around the same time, I was working as the editor for The X-Files Official Magazine, and during that period, I oversaw the launch of a horror magazine called Wicked, which was tragically short-lived. It was designed to be a high-class genre magazine, and we had some great in-depth interviews with people like Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. I then moved to L.A. and took a job with The Hollywood Reporter, which led to the Los Angeles Times, which led to Entertainment Weekly. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career to have worked with some very talented people and to have had so many opportunities to write about people and projects that mean a lot to me.
You’ve written many books about films and TV series including Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times and Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down: The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion. What was your first book and how did that opportunity come your way?
The Shape of Water was my first book, and I think that largely grew out of the fact that I had interviewed Guillermo del Toro a number of times over the course of my career, so he was familiar with my work and likely knew that I really, really connect with his films. (He is a genius and a delightful man.) Insight Editions took a chance on me based, I think, on my entertainment journalism background—I had lobbied the editor there to consider me for upcoming projects, and the stars aligned. I got tremendously lucky.
Did you write much about Star Wars before you started writing the book Star Wars Icons: Han Solo? Did you pitch this book to Insight Editions or did they contact you?
I had written a little bit about Star Wars in my Cinescape days, and I was covering large franchise films at the Los Angeles Times during the period when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and then announced the sequel trilogy. But apart from those experiences, I had not previously written much about Star Wars.
Over the years the vast majority of Star Wars non-fiction books have been written by men. Do you find that to be true with other film and TV properties and do you have an idea of why that is or how more women can write more of these types of books in the future?
That’s a difficult question. I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak to that disparity, but I think that until pretty recently, no one gave a lot of thought to the importance of having a variety of male, female and non-binary writers from an array of backgrounds bringing their perspectives to covering large-scale entertainment properties. The good news is that it appears, very slowly, to be changing.
How much guidance were you given in writing Star Wars Icons: Han Solo?
I worked very, very closely with my editor at Insight, Chris Prince (with whom I worked on The Shape of Water book, the Ready Player One art book and subsequent projects. There were a lot of conversations about who to approach and to include and how to provide the most in-depth portrait of the character possible in a way that would be informative and engaging. Hopefully, we achieved that.
In an interview with StarWars.com about Icons you mentioned doing a lot of research including reading or re-reading comics and novels. I’m curious if you remember any insight or interesting facts about Solo from these and if you have a favorite Solo book or comic?
I am really partial to the A.C. Crispin books, especially the first and last entries in her trilogy. The Brian Daley books are obviously classics, too. It was great to have an opportunity to revisit those. Of the more recent material, I would single out Marjorie Lui’s comics—it was really delightful to speak to her about the character. She offered some great insights, as did Greg Rucka, who wrote the Han and Chewie adventure Smuggler’s Run.
What struck me when I first looked through Icons: Han Solo was how it wasn’t just the history of one character, but it was also in many ways a history of Star Wars – especially the ‘Legends of Han Solo’ chapter that talks about Solo’s appearances in (now Legends) book and comics. Was there any part of the history of Han Solo that surprised you the most?
To be honest, what surprised me was the sheer volume of Legends and EU material. I went into this project thinking I knew a lot about Star Wars and Han Solo, and I learned very quickly that I still had a lot to learn. It was fascinating the way his relationship with Leia developed over the years, and to see how the various writers shaped his relationships with their children. I will also admit that I had not read The Courtship of Princess Leia until researching the book. Can’t say I was a fan of that one…I wouldn’t say it’s aged well.
Reading the book it’s also clear that it has some fascinating information about the making of the films Han Solo appeared in, including The Force Awakens which does not yet have a “Making of” book yet. I found it particularly interesting to hear Adam Driver talk about his interactions with Ford when they shot the scene where Kylo Ren kills Solo. Did you experience any limitations on writing The Force Awakens section of the book? Any favorite part from this chapter?
No, I didn’t encounter any limitations with that chapter, but it’s funny that you mentioned those Adam Driver comments. Those came in a bit under the wire—he’s obviously a busy guy these days—but I thought his insights really made that chapter. I just don’t know that it would have felt complete without hearing from him about the experience of shooting those scenes with Harrison. That sequence is so heartbreaking.
Was there one section of the book that you found to be the most enjoyable or most challenging to write?
The Return of the Jedi chapter was fairly challenging just because, obviously, Richard Marquand has passed, and it felt as though there were more limited archival sources to pull from with that film. The Legends chapter was difficult simply because I wanted to do justice to all the material that needed to be covered. Honestly, the entire book was challenging but also enjoyable, if that makes sense? There was a lot of pressure to get this book right, to properly celebrate the legacy of this character who means so much to so many people, myself included. But also, I got to write a book about Han Solo—what’s not to enjoy?
The book is filled not only with amazing photos and illustrations but a variety of pull-outs and overlays. I’m curious if you have a favorite one – I have a hard time not taking out the Han Solo bookmark every time I run across it!
My favorite photo in the entire book is Harrison Ford on the set of The Empire Strikes Back leaning against a ladder between scenes. I love that image.
After speaking with Harrison Ford about the character during your research were you at all surprised he agreed to return as Solo for The Rise of Skywalker?
Well, I was certainly surprised that he returned while I was watching The Rise of Skywalker (reader, I cried). Thinking about it afterward, it absolutely made sense to me that he would come back given the way that sequence was written—it was obviously a mirror image of the scenes from The Force Awakens, and I could easily see where he would have seen why it was necessary for Han to come back at that moment in the narrative. It also seemed like Harrison had a great working relationship with J.J. Abrams, so I’m sure that helped.
What did you think of the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story? Do you think we’ll ever see more stories from a pre-A New Hope Han Solo?
OK, so, I realize I might not be in the majority here, but I love Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I’m endlessly frustrated that it’s been tagged as a lesser movie. Is it perfect? No, but really, what movie is perfect? And I’m especially annoyed about the idea that it was “unnecessary.” No movie is necessary. I think Alden Ehrenreich did an amazing job in what was really an impossible task, and Donald Glover is a gift. I would love to see more pre-A New Hope Solo, but I feel like it’s fairly unlikely. I did write a piece last year for TV Guide arguing that Disney+ should give Han and Chewie their own series, which, of course, has also been suggested elsewhere. That, for my money, would be great.
If you could choose another Star Wars character to write an Icons book about who would it be?
Do you have any advice for people who want to start pitching articles to media websites or writers who would love one day to write non-fiction books about films or TV series?
Advice is always tricky, but I think perhaps it’s important to find writers whose work you respect and really study what’s great about what they do, the sorts of questions they ask, the way they construct a narrative. Also! Find fantastic editors who push you to make things better and be open to their suggestions and changes. Having that outside perspective is vital—what you think might make perfect sense on the page, sometimes doesn’t.
Can you talk about any projects you have coming up?
I’m working on a book now about the making of The Revenant that’s set for release in 2021 and hopefully I have another one in the wings. Things are a bit in flux just at the moment, given the pandemic, but here’s hoping the world regains equilibrium soon.