Star Wars, as a franchise, has been responsible for a lot of ridiculous trends in cinema and film. Every dark installment in every series trots itself out as “the Empire Strikes Back of ______,” making for a lot of disappointment and eye-rolling. Several films have tried to copy the culture-busting success of the sci-fi epics, Space Opera storytelling often attempting to be the odd mixture of samurai films, western thrillers, and old-school serials that were blended together to create the original film. These stories can be fun, but they quite often miss the point of the exercise in an attempt to make those millions (or billions now, it seems).
One of the most frustrating trends, for me, is the attempt to recreate Han Solo. Proving to be a far more common stock character than any of the series other icons, Han Solo was fun and scummy while wrapped in the charismatic and handsome package of Harrison Ford. The attempts to recapture this magic come close sometimes, with Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel and Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds coming pretty close. There are other versions that wind up being fun, like Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill, but Marvel missed the mark by making him all of hero, thief, and comic relief all at once. It’s a frustrating trend to watch because of what that character means to me. A year after Alden Ehrenreich attempted to pull of the exact character last year in Solo: A Star Wars Story, I thought it might be fun to look at the only time I think a movie got it right.
That’s right, it’s time to talk about Rick O’Connell from 1999’s The Mummy. It’s been 20 years since this came out, and it’s become a fun classic to many.
Now hold your horses, I know this is going to be challenging for some people. There will be a lot of Malcolm Reynolds fans that stand up to defend him. To you I simply say that imitation doesn’t always equal nailing it, though I love that character. Many anime fans will leapt to tell me that Spike Spiegel is their modern Han Solo and they aren’t wrong, he’s close. But there’s parts of him that don’t quite do it for me. For my money, the only time a film really pulled off their own Han Solo was when The Mummy did it.
And you can’t talk about that without talking about star power. Harrison Ford is a special kind of actor, all of handsome and charismatic without really being able to adhere to a definition. He’s got “it,” but no one can really say what that is. In short…he’s a movie star.
Brenden Fraiser captured that in Rick O’Connell. It’s rare to see someone do this, to have his own charisma raise a scummy, dingy character to something so endearing that the film’s popularity endures to this day. It helps that his heyday showed off all he had to offer, with his action-hero good looks and ability to rotate between vile and charming at will. We’re introduced to him cracking off hipshots and running around the desert in a crisp uniform, fighting as a mercenary alongside the French Foreign Legion. No jokes here, just a badass battling it out in the desert, and we get no name or identification on him for what seems like at least half an hour. After our other character introductions we see him again, dirty and shaggy, and he’s abrasive and a bit mean to everyone around him. It’s a quick heel-turn that shows us exactly who he is, a “scoundrel.”
And isn’t “scoundrel” just the best way to describe the Han Solo type? His charm offsets his grim nature and sketchy behavior, and his carefree demeanor and good looks don’t hurt either (one of my female friends has described him stealing a kiss from Rachel Weisz through prison bars as “the sexiest moment put to celluloid”).
Do we know if he’s a good person, deep down? He certainly seems like a mercenary. The only reason he takes these people into the desert is because they saved his life. Sure, he’s attracted to Rachel Weisz’s Evy Carnahan, but is that enough? He also kills a multitude of people onscreen, not caring about anyone else’s motivations outside of those he needs to survive. He’s a cowboy, like Han Solo, and is very cavalier about who he hurts during the course of his life.
But growth is a necessary for these type of characters, and while he doesn’t get anything so iconic as Han’s famous “yahoo” moment, his exposure to people with a stronger moral center draws out his better nature and he evolves into a better man because of it. It starts a lot earlier for Rick, with small moments like stealing tools for Evy and attempting to find the remainder of the American treasure-hunters to protect them. The latter quest may only be to save the world, it might be because he’s a good man, but I think it’s telling that he attempts to abandon everyone and run at one point. He has no ability to understand what he’s up against, but he’s convinced to join everyone in saving the world by his new friends. When Han Solo returns, it’s because he cares for the people he wantonly abandoned. Rick stays for the same reasons, having developed care and admiration for the more selfless people in his life. Hell, he develops a sense of responsibility for his actions where early on he was living moment to moment.
Few draw these two characters together, but I think they’re a near-perfect correlation and I consider it the only time a film has successfully pulled of recreating the “Han Solo type.” Most franchises try this at one point or another, desperate to capture that charm and scummy disposition, but they err too far on the side of humor or comic relief. The Mummy pulled it off by allowing its hero to be an awful person and learn from his journey. Brenden Fraiser may not have achieved the glorious career that Ford was gifted with, but his most iconic performance will always stand tall as a fun and exciting moment in action movie history.