Massive spoilers for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" past this point. Spoilers so big they'll make you say, "that's no moon." Yeah, that big.
Deep in the third act of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," one of the biggest events in the history of the saga happens. It's not when the good guys win, a main character accepts their destiny, or BB-8 doesn't something adorable. No, there's a death. The death of one of the most recognizable characters not just in the series, but in the entire world. So let's talk about this moment, and whether it should have (or shouldn't have) happened.
But first, let's talk about how we said goodbye to this guy:
Just kidding, that guy is still alive. We mean this guy:
Oh wait, that guy is alive too. No, the guy we mean is this guy, who is actually, seriously, 100% dead.
Yes, you. Han Solo, played in four movies over four decades by Harrison Ford, is killed by his own son,
Ben Ren Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), so that the latter can try to break away from the light side of the force and fully embrace his dark side.
What's fascinating about the scene, other than the phenomenal acting work by Driver and Ford, who provide an intimate, heartbreaking moment in the middle of a massive fight that ends in a planet exploding, is the inevitability of it.
To understand what I mean by that, we need to look at not just the events of the movie -- because they definitely telegraph exactly what's going to happen, making the event all the more gut-wrenching -- but also the events in and outside the entire "Star Wars" series.
Let's start with "Force Awakens" itself. There's Leia's exchange with Han before he heads off about how she always feels like she's saying goodbye to him for the last time, and here she really is. There's Han knowing he's going to have to confront his son Kylo, and making that decision after handing Rey (Daisy Ridley) his blaster, and sending his only other protection, Chewabacca (Peter Mayhew), on a literal different path.
And then there's the visual foreshadowing for fans of the series. A lot (maybe too much) of "Force Awakens" is an echo of "A New Hope." This scene in particular, plays out almost exactly like Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness)'s death in the first movie, with the old master confronting his student (read: son) for the last time, and giving over to the inevitable rather than fighting. All while his new apprentice looks on from afar, unable to help.
Add in the bridge, which recalls the location Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prowse) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) fight on in "Empire Strikes Back," right before the former's shocking admission of fatherhood, and any fan of the "Star Wars" movies knew what was up way before Kylo plunged his saber through Han's chest.
So you've got the text and visuals, which clearly foreshadowed the event. But if you go back even further, fans have known Han was going to die as early as 1983's "Return of the Jedi." Despite his recent jovial nature -- and maybe his exit is why he's so happy right now -- Ford has been pretty curmudgeonly of the whole series, a living example of William Shatner telling "Star Trek" fans to, "get a life" on "Saturday Night Live."
That wasn't always true, though. Through the filming of "A New Hope" and "Empire Strikes Back," Ford was invested in the series. It wasn't until he broke out big post "Empire" that he started to make his break with "Star Wars," too. Mike Ryan at Huffington Post, one of the biggest "Star Wars" fans I know, has a nice rundown from a few years ago about that particular history. And rumors persisted for years that Ford wanted to die at the end of Jedi, finally confirmed by the actor earlier this year on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
"I asked him to ask the writers to kill me off, because I thought that it would be good that the character who appeared to have not so much of a complex interweaving with the theme of the Force and all that good stuff," Ford said. "I thought it would be good that the character, if he sacrificed himself in some noble way."
Though Ford didn't elaborate on Kimmel, the rumor has always been that Han was supposed to die piloting the Millennium Falcon into the second Death Star, and not making it out in time. Clearly that didn't happen, but there's a bizarre exchange that happens towards the end of that movie between Han and Lando (Billy Dee Williams) before they begin the attack on the Death Star, which seems to back up the rumor.
"I'll take good care of her," Lando tells Han, who is clearly worried about his ship (and friend) about the Falcon. "She won't get a scratch. All right?"
After making sure he promises the ship won't be damaged, Han heads to another ship with Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher), so they can take out the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor that's protecting the Death Star. Han zones out, looking out the window of the ship he's in, at the Falcon. Leia asks him if he's all right, and he says, "Yeah, I just got a funny feeling. Like I'm not gonna see her again."
And then Han lives, Lando lives, and the Falcon is fine. There's a fun theory that "Force Awakens" stealthily followed up on this by having the Falcon stolen and sold to Jakku -- that Han really doesn't see the ship until 30 or so years later -- but at least in 1983, it was pretty clear: either Lando or Han weren't supposed to make it out of this alive.
Since then, though, Ford has joked multiple times about killing off Han -- and way back in 2010, he even told MTV News that he was done with the role, forever.
He came back though, and when Ford signed on you could hear the collective sigh of "Star Wars" fandom. The sense of inevitability that, whatever happened with Fisher and Hamill's characters, Ford's promise that he was done with Han would come to one, final note.
So should Han have died? The answer is yes, probably long ago. Probably at the end of "Jedi." But he didn't, and so here we get the conclusion to Han Solo's story, the end of a smuggler, a rogue, an old man still playing a young man's game. Still getting sucked back into saving the galaxy one last time, caring too much and having too big of a heart to let other people get hurt on his account.
Happily, even if this is the end of Harrison Ford's very, very long break with "Star Wars," it's a beautiful scene -- easily the most powerful in the movie -- and one that will affect Rey going forward just as much as the death of Obi-Wan did for Luke throughout the original three movies. So in that way, beyond finally being done with all of it, Ford got his wish: he sacrificed himself just as nobly as Obi-Wan, to give the next generation a chance.
Only unlike Obi-Wan, Han Solo's ghost won't be around to give Rey advice.
Bye, Han. And Harrison, thanks for all the "Star Wars"-ing. We love you.