[This article contains major SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.]
Since its release last December, Star Wars: The Force Awakens completely revamped the Star Wars franchise. The successor to Return of the Jedi reawakened the joy in many fans’ hearts and reintroduced the Skywalker saga to younger audiences. It also cleaned up at the box office, with receipts totaling more than $2 billion worldwide. The seventh film in the series also received its fair share of criticism, for supposedly reusing tropes and plotlines the original films perfected, but more so than anything, left a lot of questions in its wake.
Episode 7 also left longtime fans with heavy hearts, morning the loss of everyone’s favorite scoundrel from a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo. Killing off a beloved character is never an easy choice for a studio or a screenwriter to make, and it’s clearly one director J.J. Abrams didn’t take lightly.
Speaking with Fandango (via CinemaBlend), The Force Awakens director and scripter delved into the weighty decision to end Han Solo’s legacy, while at the same time preserving and enhancing it. In discussing the controversial maneuver with Harrison Ford, the actor, who sought the smuggler’s demise during the filming of Return of the Jedi, seemed demure about the decision. Abrams says:
“He was very thoughtful about it, and he got it. He understood why it was so powerful. And I think part of it was because Harrison himself — Han, the character— has so much ahead of him. Has so much life and fight and adventure—that this was the time to do that thing. If we felt like the character was sort of at the end of his days, it wouldn’t have been as powerful. The thing that made it potentially meaningful wasn’t just who does it and how it happened, but that it’s a character that is so vital that is meeting his demise.”
Since the film opened, Han’s death has been a hot button issue among fans. Many felt sacrificing Han Solo for the sake of his son’s (Ben Solo/Kylo Ren) was unnecessary, while others viewed it as a sublimely powerful moment which will define the course of the newest trilogy. And Abrams defends his decision, elaborating upon his rationale and how Ford’s deep understanding of the character played into it. Abrams adds:
“Harrison’s always said that he knew that Han needed to have clear utility, and that’s what he wanted to do. And that’s why he argued back in the day that Han should die and George [Lucas] didn’t want to do it. And I don’t know what his utility in that regard would’ve been, though I’m sure Harrison would’ve come up with a clever pitch for it. But in this case there was such a clear utility— it’s about bringing this new villain to the fore, and there’s nothing I could think of that is more hideous than patricide, especially when it comes to Han Solo.”
And Han’s death certainly became the linchpin moment of Episode 7, perhaps even becoming the third trilogy’s “I am your father” moment. If anything, Han’s death was both a proclamation that, to some degree, all bets are off — anything can happen in this next phase of the Skywalker family’s journey. It’s also a way to take the volatile (sometimes comically so) Kylo Ren and turn him into a genuine monster and legitimate threat. After killing his own father, Ren has clearly become a force of destruction, and the balance between light and dark sides hangs precariously. Presumably, the focus of the next two films will shift to Luke Skywalker and his assumptive protégé Rey, and how they will overcome the growing darkness around them. Episodes 8 and 9 have now also returned to one of Star Wars’ most powerful themes, one which took 30 years and 6 films to fully explore: that of redemption.
Of course, it’s possible that killing his father was the final straw that broke the good in Ben Solo’s heart. However, one could argue that killing the love of your life (Padme) and a school’s worth of Jedi children is pretty bleak place to return from, and even Anakin Skywalker found the light side again. Either way, Han Solo’s death, as heartbreaking as it was, carries with it real significance. It’s the emotional paint which colors Star Wars’ future. It also serves to pass the torch as another actor who will carefully yet cockily step into Han Solo’s shoes in the upcoming anthology film.
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 December 15th, 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.