This article originally appeared in Vulture.
A few days ago, when the Star Wars braintrust announced they were developing a movie about the young adventures of Han Solo, my colleague Mike Ryan tweeted, “What makes Han Solo work is that he is played by an actor who thinks Star Wars is stupid.” Ryan meant that as a note for the filmmakers who already have the tall order of casting a young Han Solo, but it was a reminder of something that true fans have known for decades: Even though the space-set franchise made him famous, Harrison Ford has never really given two shits about Star Wars.
The evidence is legion. There’s that oft-repeated anecdote of Ford arguing with George Lucas about the Star Wars script: “You can type this shit, George,” Ford told him, “but you sure can’t say it.” Later, when Return of the Jedi rolled around, Ford notoriously lobbied Lucas to kill off his character, to no avail. What did he have against Han? “He was not so interesting to me,” Ford would explain in one interview, adding in another, “He’s certainly a much less interesting character than Indiana Jones,” before concluding, “He’s dumb as a stump.”
Message received! And while, yes, Ford was lured back to reprise Han Solo for the upcoming, J.J. Abrams–directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that didn’t necessarily augur a new affection for the franchise: After all, Ford is at the stage of his career where he’s appearing in Expendables sequels and Blake Lively movies. Maybe he just wanted the paycheck.
Which is why it was such a surprise yesterday when Ford was the final guest to take the stage at Comic-Con’s big Force Awakens panel, and instead of seeming ill at ease or like he’d rather be anywhere else, Ford spoke movingly about his participation in Star Wars and seemed to have turned a significant corner in his appreciation for it.
“It should have felt ridiculous!” Ford barked, when asked about returning to the franchise. “Here I was, doing something I did so long ago.” I could feel the fans around me steeling themselves.
And then Ford paused, significantly. “I will tell you that it felt great,” he said. “I was proud and grateful to once again be involved.”
Reader, let me tell you that Hall H was delighted. It had taken almost four decades, but Harrison Ford has finally made peace with Star Wars! “I never thought it would come back to bless me rather than haunt me,” he continued, even as he acknowledged, “The original Star Wars that I was a part of really was the beginning of my working life.” And while I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t witness it myself, Ford then got choked up. That’s right, y’all: Harrison Ford almost cried happy tears while talking about what Star Wars means to him. Truly, we are living in a new time.
What helped Ford become a belated Star Wars fan? Perhaps he’s got a new lease on life after surviving a March plane crash, but the 72-year-old actor also gave plenty of credit to the new Force Awakens screenplay, authored by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan. “I was really gratified when I read the script,” he said. “The company was the right company, the director was the right director, [and] Larry wrote us a wonderful story.”
Abrams noted at the panel that though they’d managed to land Ford, as well as his original returning co-stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, he and Kasdan couldn’t simply rest on their scripting laurels. “Our job is to not be blinded by that,” said Abrams. “I will tell you from personal experience, when you’re directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t make the scene [automatically] good.”
But while Abrams was determined not to trade on easy nostalgia, Ford didn’t seem to mind. At one point in Hall H, Hamill brought up the chemistry between Luke and Leia, which began as an almost-romantic connection before the two discovered they were siblings and Leia ended up with Han. “When you find that the only woman you fell head over heels for is your sister, it tells you something,” laughed Hamill. “That must have been quite the traumatic experience, you know, because we were both after her.”
He gestured to Ford, who responded by reaching over and rubbing Hamill’s shoulder as consolation. “How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” said Ford, bringing the house down.
And while you might have expected the unreformed Ford to hop on a plane immediately at the conclusion of his Comic-Con panel, the newly evangelized Star Wars fan actually stuck around, accompanying his cast to a concert of John Williams music from the franchise a few hours later. Abrams brought each of them onstage, and when it was Ford’s turn to be roll-called, he fake-hobbled across the stage using a lightsaber as a cane.
In recent years, could you have imagined the withering glare Ford would have given you if you’d suggested he so much as hold a cheesy toy lightsaber? And now, here he was, picking it up himself to use as a warm joke. Ford used to roll his eyes at Han Solo, but it turns out, they’ve got a lot more in common than he thought: Though they’re both rogues who only seem to be in it for themselves, you can never count out a surprise return in the third act that reveals just how much they really care.
See also: The New Han Solo Will Probably Be Some Unknown Australian Dude, and That’s Okay