Like the majority of citizens in our galaxy, I love, love, loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens; an episode 38 years in the making that was better than I ever thought it could possibly be and that went places I never dreamt it would go. But there was that singular scene — MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD — when Han Solo meets his bitter end that initially had me angrier than a rathtar held captive in close quarters.
After seeing the film a couple of times now and after having a few days to dwell on it, my aggravation has turned to admiration and I now believe Han’s controversial death scene to be one of the most perfect moments in the entire Star Wars series and one of the most well-crafted and thoughtful sequences ever put to film.
On first viewing it wasn’t the death of Han that was surprising – it’s well known that Harrison Ford wanted his character to be killed-off in Return of the Jedi, lest he have to reprise the role again at a future date. The shocking thing was that Solo was taken out with, what at first seemed to me, so little dignity.
Here was a man – nay, THE man – the guy every man wanted to be and every space-princess wanted to be with. His heroics are legendary and he literally helped save the galaxy on more than one occasion. For sarlacc’s sake, he’s the guy that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs! Then for that hero to be unceremoniously slain, without doing anything in his own defense and with no greater good to come from his sacrifice, it was as if a certain special carpenter from our own galaxy had died for no just cause.
After more than a a few tears and much reflection – and rejection of emotions that were quickly turning me toward the dark side – I finally realized that Han’s death, senseless as it was, was not senseless.
Starkiller Base extinguishing the flames of a nearby sun is boldly symbolic of the terrible moment when Solo’s son, now called Kylo Ren, fully embraces the dark side by snuffing out the bright light of his father’s life. But we’re left to speculate what might have transpired to bring these two to this devastating conclusion.
With Harrison Ford not getting any younger, we’ll probably never get to explore the Han and Ben relationship, or lack thereof, on the big screen; but I’m certain there will eventually be books that cover those missing years as official canon.
I believe those few seconds of film after the sun goes out will resonate especially deep for children and parents with strained relationships, cinematically tapping into the anger, fear, guilt and unrequited love that encompasses most dysfunctional families.
For me, in his last living act Han proves to Princess Leia, Luke and everyone else that he was not that selfish scoundrel who only cared for himself. As his light goes out, it is inglorious indeed, but I contend it is that unselfish lack of glory makes his sacrifice the noblest gesture of his life. He knew he faced imminent death by going out on that bridge to confront his child and that his son, Ben, was already a lost cause; but he did it anyway at the behest of the love of his life, Leia Organa. In his last worldly act, when he reaches out to touch the face of his son, it’s not Ben that he sees, but Leia. As usual, it was beauty that killed the beast.
It’s a scene that fans and film students will be contemplating and talking about for generations.
Does Han’s end make me happy? Absolutely not; but, after much thought, his “hero’s journey” does make perfect sense on a cinematic storytelling level – and that gives me the best kind of goosebumps.