Ellen Page plays Han Solo to Jessica Alba’s Leia at Film Independent’s Live Read of “The Empire Strikes Back”

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Last night, Film Independent held its fourth annual Live Read and this year’s selection was the classic Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. While some of the cast was announced earlier this week (Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker, J.K. Simmons as Darth Vader, Stephen Merchant as C-3PO, Dennis Haysbert as Lando Calrissian, Kevin Pollak as Yoda), it wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that director Jason Reitman surprised us all with his casting of Han Solo, the male hero and object of Princess Leia’s affection. Here is how the actor brought her on stage:

“In the role of Han Solo, originated by Harrison FordI’m so excited to say these words: Ellen mother fucking Page.”

Ellen, clad in a black blazer, white-button down and black leather pants, received warm applause from the audience of Star Wars fans. The kind of following an enterprise like Star Wars has can be a fickle bunch because of their dedication to the world George Lucas created, which has spanned decades, so I was little nervous they might reject a woman reading the Han Solo role. That didn’t seem to be the case, though—instead, Ellen played the part as written, meaning she was referred to as a man; “him” and “his” and having a “scruffy” face. And Alba, in her role as the iconic Princess Leia, did not play down the flirtation between Han and Leia. Their exchanges were just as provocative as Harrison Ford‘s and Carrie Fisher‘s in the film. Exchanges like this:

HAN: Hey, Your Worship, I’m only trying to help.
LEIA: Would you please stop calling me that?
HAN: Sure, Leia.
LEIA: Oh, you make it so difficult sometimes.
HAN: I do, I really do. You could be a little nicer, though. (he watches her reaction) Come on, admit it. Sometimes you think I’m all right.
LEIA: Occasionally (a little smile, haltingly) maybe…when you aren’t acting like a scoundrel.
HAN: (laughs) Scoundrel? Scoundrel? I like the sound of that. (takes her hand to massage it)
LEIA: Stop that.
HAN: Stop what?
LEIA: Stop that! My hands are dirty.
HAN: My hands are dirty, too. What are you afraid of?
LEIA: (looking right into his eyes) Afraid?
HAN: You’re trembling.
LEIA: I’m not trembling.
HAN: You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.
LEIA: I happen to like nice men.
HAN: I’m a nice man.
LEIA: No, you’re not. You’re…

And then the direction is “He kisses her now, with slow, hot lips.” During a live read, actors are not expected to actually do any of the things as directed, outside of reading the words on the page. So earlier on, when Leia is supposed to lay one on Luke, Jessica did not actually kiss Aaron Paul, who read the legendary Skywalker. But the second time that Han and Leia were directed to kiss, a male voice in the audience yelled out, “DO IT!”

The crowd laughed, and Ellen and Jessica smiled, but Jason Reitman handled it perfectly: “This is too important a moment for that!” Meaning, sorry, dude in the crowd—this reading is not for your male gaze. In fact, the casting of Ellen Page in the Han Solo role made the reading much more feminist. While Princess Leia is a powerful force in the Star Wars universe, she’s also reliant on the help of men like Han and Luke Skywalker. Han Solo frequently refers to her as “sweetheart” and “your worship,” which is meant in a flirtatious manner, but spoken by a guy, can also be condescending. If Leia were working alongside a female Han Solo, the script would be much more female-friendly, especially as Leia is the only woman in The Empire Strikes Back. THE ONLY WOMAN. Which makes Jason Reitman’s casting of out lesbian actress Ellen Page in the role of Han Solo even more radical and inspired.

If Hollywood were to subvert stereotypes and sexist tropes more often, their work would be so much more exciting. Watching Ellen and Jessica read lines intended for a male-female pairing brought an entirely new energy to the work, and the audience responded positively. I would love for an event like this to inspire filmmakers like Jason Reitman himself (who worked with Ellen in Juno) to put more women in hero roles as well as more lesbian relationships as part of their epic romances.

Credit is also due to Ellen Page. Her coming out last year and demanding to be able to wear what she wants, create films she believes in and play roles that speak to her feminist sensibilities are part of the changing landscape. Had she not done so, she’d likely not taken the chance at reading in this kind of situation, and we would have missed out on the kind of progress that events like this can bring about. Every little bit helps, and Ellen Page is doing her part.

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