12:25pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Star Wars': Why the Climactic Moment of 'The Force Awakens' Works (Spoilers)
[Warning: This story contains plot details from Star Wars: The Force Awakens that could be considered spoilers. Read further at your own risk.]
The climactic moment of Star Wars: The Force Awakens came not with the destruction of the Starkiller Base, nor even with the lightsaber battle between Kylo Ren and Rey while the planet around them was collapsing. Instead, it happened moments earlier, in a far quieter scene, when Han Solo confronted his son ... only to be murdered as a result.
It was a tragic moment, and one that undoubtedly broke the hearts of countless fans — as well as at least one wookiee — but in retrospect, the death of Han Solo seems unsurprising if not almost inevitable. Here are the reasons why everyone's favorite smuggler from a galaxy far, far away couldn't make it out of The Force Awakens alive.
The Passing of The Torch
One of the primary purposes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was to introduce the new generation of Star Wariors to the audience, but there was one problem with doing so: it was almost guaranteed that longtime fans would prefer to see further adventures of their childhood favorites. Killing off said favorites — or, at least, removing them from the story in some form or another — is a blunt way of dealing with that problem, but not an ineffective one, especially when the death follows a number of scenes where the old guard has implicitly given its approval to characters such as Rey and Finn.
Whether or not this means that audiences can look forward to the deaths of Leia, Luke and Chewbacca in future installments isn't guaranteed — after all, the shock of Han's death isn't one that can really be repeated without diminishing returns. But as a sacrificial lamb to the generational shift in the saga, Han makes the most sense: he's a beloved character (if not the most beloved character), but also the one who can be most easily removed from the storyline without dramatically upsetting the mythology.
After all, Luke's position as the "last Jedi" means that he is essentially safe until he has successfully trained a new Jedi Knight, whereas Leia is the sole "true" member of the Resistance/Rebellion in the old guard. (Yes, Chewie would also fit the "easily removed" criteria, but he is arguably too easily removed to hold the same dramatic weight as Han. Sorry, Chewie.)
The Return Of The Classics
Speaking of dramatic weight, the fact that Han was murdered by his son marks an important evolution for Kylo Ren as a character, and as a threat to the Resistance. With that act, Ren makes his decision to embrace the Dark Side — or, really, to reject the Light Side — and by killing Solo, kills the good inside him (just before he gets cut up by Rey's lightsaber; he really is following in Darth Vader's footsteps). Such a decision feels "epic " in the way that Star Wars does at its best and echoes similar murders in stories from the myth of Oedipus through The Brothers Karamazov and all the way up to the Kingpin killing his father in this year's Daredevil Netflix series.
Kylo Ren's killing of Solo also creates additional tension between himself and his mother, Leia Organa — a character who, just minutes earlier in the movie, had told Han that there was good inside Ren still. In one fell swoop (Well, more specifically, one dramatic stabbing), the series' new central villain became at once more and less human — he wants to know who and what he really is, but he has decided to find the answer by killing his dad! — and the stakes of the conflict became even more personal. (In a nice twist, killing Han in the first movie of the new trilogy shows that it might be nodding to the Luke/Vader familial conflict of the original movies, but not simply rehashing them.)
The Fulfilling of The Dream
Han Solo should have died three decades earlier — or, at least, that's what Harrison Ford believed. The apathy the actor felt towards his Star Wars character was hardly a secret, which is why so many fans were surprised that he returned for the new movie at all. But The Force Awakens does exactly what Ford wished Return of the Jedi did all those many years ago while also managing to serve as a victory lap, demonstrating the humor, heart and bravery that made Han a fan-favorite to begin with. It might not have been a decision that pleased many fans, but killing Han off could have been the thing that made Ford decide to return to the new movie in the first place.
The Clearing of The Decks
With Solo dead in "current" Star Wars continuity, it clears the way for Disney and Lucasfilm to return to the character in the announced prequel movie — and, specifically, recast the character for said movie — without the specter of Ford hanging over his shoulder any more than necessary. If the younger Solo would have had to co-exist with new scenes featuring Ford's take on the character, it would have made the new version even harder to accept for the fans — especially given how winning and seemingly effortless Ford's Han Solo appears on screen.
With Solo's death in The Force Awakens, the only thing the newcomer will have to compete with will be memories (and endlessly replayed footage) of Ford's take, which will still be a difficult task, but one that's more easily overcome, especially with the promise of new, unseen Han Solo stories to be told.
The promise of the Han Solo movie in 2018 — co-written by The Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan — can also act as a salve of sorts for fans currently distraught by Han's death. Yes, the character has died in the most recent story from that franchise, but he'll live on in future tales. That his solo movie will be a prequel to the main series shouldn't matter; after all, every Star Wars takes place "a long time ago" ...