Alden Ehrenreich officially confirmed to play Young Han Solo

It was, as director Phil Lord sarcastically joked, “the best-kept secret in Hollywood”. But at a ‘Future Filmmakers’ panel at the annual Star Wars Celebration fan convention, the secret was finally made official: Alden Ehrenreich is the new Han Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich

The news was effectively confirmed by multiple sources back in May but Disney and Lucasfilm, for whatever various legal or contractrual reasons, have kept schtum up to this point. The 26-year-old actor – best known up until this point for his scene-stealing role in Coen brothers comedy Hail, Caesar! – will play the scruffy-looking nerf herder in a new standalone prequel, to be directed by Lord and Chris Miller.

Lord and Miller revealed that they had auditioned thousands of actors for the role, one that they freely admitted seemed a near-impossible task, filling the shoes of one Mr. H. Ford. “We turned over every rock to find someone who has that magic swagger,” Lord said. They ended up casting “literally the first person to walk through the door.”

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Ehrenreich was the first to audition, and as part of the audition process, he screen-tested on the Millennium Falcon itself, with Chewbacca by his side. “I had never acted with a Wookiee before,” Ehrenreich laughed.

Elsewhere on the star-studded panel, director Rian Johnson spoke about recently-wrapped Episode VIII (which still goes without a title, despite rumours it would be revealed today). Johnson confirmed that the new film would pick up right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey and Luke Skywalker on the mysterious Skellig Michael island location. He also emphasised the use of practical effects, noting that “the amount of sets we’ve built for this movie has been absolutely outrageous”.

Head here for more news and tidbits from the Star Wars Celebration weekend, including panels and Q&As from Empire’s dedicated booth on the convention floor.