One of the coolest parts of watching any film is when you see something onscreen and ask yourself, "How did they do that?" Whether it is an incredible stunt, a long take or a clever bit of camerawork, you gain an extra level of appreciation for a film when it does something that looks awesome, but you aren't entirely sure how. Generally the answer is CGI, but when that CGI is seamlessly integrated into the film, that's true movie magic. Such is the case with one of the coolest shots in Solo: A Star Wars Story. The shot in question involves Han's blaster and whether or not it is real or CGI. It turns out that it was a little bit of both, as Rob Bredow, the head of ILM and VFX supervisor on Solo: A Star Wars Story, revealed. Take a look:
This shot occurs during the escape from Kessel, when Lando is dual-wielding blasters like a well-dressed boss to aid in the escape. When Han returns from the mines, Lando tosses Han's blaster back to him. Han catches the DL-44 heavy blaster pistol perfectly and begins firing. It's stylish, cool and difficult to tell if it is CGI or a real prop pistol. As Rob Bredow unveiled on Twitter, they attempted to do it practically, but after a few drops they improvised, choosing to have each actor hold prop guns and later have ILM create the in-air blaster using CGI. That way you get the authenticity of the blasters in each of their hands, but also have the flashy effect of the toss being caught perfectly. The final result is a super cool shot where the CGI is seamless, resulting in pure movie magic.
It might be easy to think Alden Ehrenreich just has butterfingers, but if you look at the shot you can see how difficult it would have been to do it entirely practically. Donald Glover's toss has to be perfect, the gun has to move in the air the exact right way and Alden Ehrenreich has to catch it exactly in his hand with his finger near the trigger ready to mimic firing, all while he is turning around. Dropping or bumbling the blaster would not be Han Solo. They could have spent a whole day and never got it perfect only doing it practically. The other rub, as Rob Bredow said, was that they had 10-minute resets for the pyro. So each drop was hemorrhaging time.
In addition to learning about the movie magic that made this shot possible, it is encouraging to know that Ron Howard's first instinct was to do the blaster toss entirely practically. Since this franchise returned with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a lot of lip service has been paid to these films getting back to their roots and eschewing the 'all CGI, all the time approach' of the prequels, and instead attempting to use practical effects whenever possible. This is a perfect example of that. Ron Howard and the Solo team attempted the practical approach, but had CGI available when that didn't work, and the result speaks for itself.
More than just something that looks cool, this shot also says a lot about Han Solo. The stylish catch is exactly what you would want and expect from an effortlessly cool, swashbuckling smuggler, and it shows how naturally suited he is to this life even though he is young in it. Alden Ehrenreich's movement and firing pose here are also perfectly in line with what we've seen from Harrison Ford's Han Solo throughout the Star Wars films.
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