Never has a massive blockbuster movie release, let alone one of the most merchandised entertainment brands ever, been kept so tightly held secret. With the first new Star Wars movie in over a decade, and the first followup to Return of the Jedi in over 30 years, Disney and director J.J. Abrams refused to share when it came to plot details of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Even when it came to interviewing the film’s cast at the Star Wars 7 press junket, Disney wouldn’t screen the movie beforehand, and the actors couldn’t say much about their roles. But was all for a good reason. There are moments and major details, had they leaked out before the film opened in theaters around the world, that would ruin the experience. And there’s one big shocker in particular at the top of the spoilers list…
NOTE: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars 7
If you grew up having a strong passion for the original Star Wars movies and their iconic characters, there’s a good chance you felt a big blow, like a lightsaber through the stomach, when Kylo Ren killed Han Solo in the third act of Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Even if there were rumors that Solo might meet his end in this film, and that Harrison Ford would only return for one more flick, it was still an emotional beat and an epic loss for the saga.
Why Did ______ Have To Kill _______?
But this had to happen. This was Han Solo’s sendoff, helping pave the way for new characters to take the spotlight and carry the franchise forward while also passing the torch to Luke Skywalker to make his triumphant return in Episode VIII. More than that though, it was necessary to make Kylo Ren the antagonist he needs to be, especially in the shadow of Darth Vader – a character that Ren fittingly worships. It works on so many levels.
At a screening and Q&A for Star Wars: Episode VII at the Writers Guild of America this weekend, director and co-writer J.J. Abrams spoke about the film’s biggest moment and why it had to happen to develop a worthy villain.
“Star Wars had the greatest villain in cinema history. So, how you bring a new villain into that world is a very tricky thing. We knew we needed to do something f—king bold. The only reason why Kylo Ren has any hope of being a worthy successor is because we lose one of the most beloved characters.”
Han’s futile effort to reconnect with his long lost son, whom he describes as having too much of Vader in him, came at the request of Leia who believes there’s still light left in their son. Kylo Ren (real name: Ben) knows he did too and this moment was him proving to himself that he can resist the light and the temptation of his attachments to his family. Abrams continues:
“Long before we had this title, the idea of The Force Awakens was that this would become the evolution of not just a hero, but a villain. And not a villain who was the finished, ready-made villain, but someone who was in process.”
“It’s this massive tradeoff. How can we possibly do that!? But… if we hadn’t done that, the movie wouldn’t have any guts at all. It felt very dangerous.”
This wasn’t always the plan though. Earlier drafts of Michael Arndt’s Star Wars 7 script had diffrent plans for Leia and Han…
From the very beginning the plan for The Force Awakens was always to have major connections to Return of the Jedi, but to have our familiar heroes spread apart. Episode VI ended on an extremely positive note and so Episode VII had to undo that. Kylo Ren was the key plot device that could separate all these characters.
Arndt explains that their ideas for the backstory would see Luke Skywalker having a pupil who turned against him and his Jedi academy, killing all the other students. This would be how and why all the relationships we knew of fell apart.
And so when The Force Awakens was being written, Arndt had initially planned to have it be about Han and Leia reuniting… but that wouldn’t be doing much with the character of Han Solo.
“I had thought Han’s story and Leia’s story was just about them coming back together. At the end of the movie they would have reconciled and gotten over their differences. And you would have said, ‘Okay, bad stuff happened, but at least they’re back together again. J.J. rightly asked, ‘What is Han doing in this movie?’ If we’re not going to have something important and irreversible happen to him, then he kind of feels like luggage. He feels like this great, sexy piece of luggage you have in your movie. But he’s not really evolving. He’s not really pushing the story forward.”
But what did Harrison Ford think Han Solo being killed off? Abrams joked saying “he was fine” but we know that was absolutely true. Ford always said in interviews (like this one) that Han Solo should have died in the original trilogy. Lawrence Kasdan, who co-write the rewrites of Arndt’s draft with Abrams, followed up Abrams’ words by reiterating that Ford was pushing for that to happen during Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (both of which Kasdan wrote). The actor didn’t even find the smuggler to be that interesting.
Any doubts Abrams had over this scene, over killing off one of the most iconic characters of all-time, were washed away by Kasdan’s support of the idea. And it helped in how well Adam Driver and Harrison Ford played it on set, as Abrams describes:
“It was really chilling. Seeing these two actors, they weren’t chewing up the scenery. They were just doing this thing in a way that, frankly, was disturbing. To see Harrison reach out and touch Adam. I know this sounds stupid, but literally watching it, I forgot — I forgot that he wasn’t his son. He did it so beautifully.”
May the Force be with Han Solo. Share your thoughts in the comments.
The film is directed by J.J. Abrams and stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Max Von Sydow. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are producing with Tommy Harper and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The screenplay is by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.