Why Luke Skywalker's Death Was Better
As has been established, both of these deaths are generational moments, the end of some of the most iconic characters ever put on film. To say one is better is not to also argue the other is bad. However, it's hard to avoid how much stronger Luke's is.
For starters, it was a surprise. Han's death being expected made the first viewing a painful dose of dramatic irony, but also meant there was little shock amongst fans. Few would have predicted Luke would die in The Last Jedi (the ending even leaked months before release and nobody put the pieces together), which immediately gives it a shocking, rawer feel. And that's before we get to the thematic reasoning.
Luke's death, in no uncertain terms, represents how important he is in the mythology. It changes even the most tangentially-related character - of course Kylo is humiliated and Rey humbled, but Poe is inspired - and is likely to have some powerful ramifications on the Saga going forward. Now, we can't know what J.J. Abrams will do in Episode IX, but it will be hard for it to not loom large in a way Han's death never did. One of the prominent criticisms of Episode VIII was how it sidestepped recognition of Han's death beyond some lip-service, but its impact in The Force Awakens was also lessened - to the point Chewbacca and Leia didn't even share a moment of mourning. The farewell moment itself was evocative, but it didn't conjure up the same far-reaching impact.
It really is about presentation in the movie and how the moment was led up to. Luke was more intrinsically tied into the Sequel Trilogy; his disappearance is the motivation for The Force Awakens, and the questions of his discovery power The Last Jedi. In contrast, Han was just a character with a past we knew, and his death was ultimately more important to grounding the new generation than it was in and of itself; this doesn't weaken Harrison Ford's role in Episode VII, it simply gives more weight to Hamill's in the sequel. There's a poetry to Luke's death in how it honors themes and ideas that have been threaded through the previous movies - his entire character is defined from essentially having discovered how underwhelming the Jedi were in the prequels.
Many have their gripes with The Last Jedi, but there is no denying that Rian Johnson crafted a near-perfect death for Luke. It's a challenging character arc - one even Mark Hamill was shocked by - but the action of sacrifice to save not only his friends, but the entire legacy of the Jedi was the pure, heroic Luke that we've come to expect, and took cues from the lessons he learned across the four previous movies: from Obi-Wan, Yoda, Rey, and even Han.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019