Enough time has passed since the opening of the latest Star Wars movie that I can write about it uninhibited by fears of revealing spoilers. If you haven’t seen it by now, you probably aren’t going to see it. Which is a shame because I really enjoyed it—enough to pay for it twice, in fact. This is not a movie review, however; I will leave that to the pros.
No, there is only one thing about that movie that I felt strongly enough to have to write about it and it is the biggest spoiler of all, which is why I have waited this long. Han Solo dies. There, spoiler said and done. Everybody knows that already, right? While I’m at it, Snape kills Dumbledore, Bruce Willis is a ghost, and Santa Claus is not real. Spoiled! Now that that is out of the way, let me talk about what it meant to me to watch Han Solo die.
In the course of the movie, it was not so tremendous or even surprising of an event—that is, if you consider The Force Awakens as a standalone film, the death of Han Solo is rather expected and formulaic. It is directly parallel to the death of Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope: they are both the old legend, the mentor turned martyr, the supporting character. It makes sense and works for the story. It is a fairly common trope.
What made this different for me was that it was Han Solo. The Han Solo from the original trilogy, the main character, the immortal hero, the smooth-talking smuggler who always escapes death—whose appearance has hardly changed at all, I must add. He can’t die! Let me rephrase that: he couldn’t die, not in that original trilogy. As a kid, watching those movies (in utter rapture), I knew that no matter what sort of danger Han got into (and he sure got in some tight spots), he would never die. Bad things happened in Star Wars, but there was a guarantee that in the end goodness would win out. That is really the entire story of Star Wars: there will always be good and evil, but good always triumphs. Some assurances are necessary to support that claim, one of which being the assurance that none of the three main characters would die. Luke, Leia, and Han could not die.
So when I saw Han Solo lightsaber-skewered by his son, staggering backwards, and then tumbling into the abyss, I did not see the necessary death of the elderly guide supporting character. I saw the “Don’t tell me the odds!”, “It’s not my fault!”, “…I know” Han Solo that I had known as a child. I saw the death of an immortal hero.
I did not realize it at first. It was a great movie, after all, and I was thoroughly distracted. It was not until after I left the theater and talked it out with the friends I had seen it with that I realized that something felt wrong—more than just the obvious déjà vu I got from watching the final battle (sneak in to take down the shield, so that they can blow up the giant planet destroyer thing? Really, you couldn’t think of a different excuse for an awesome multi-arena battle? Sorry…this isn’t a review). I had witnessed the death of someone who had been immortal all through my childhood. My assumptions were shattered. My childhood was shattered!
No, it was not that bad. Part of the reason I waited so long to vocalize (write about) this issue, besides not wanting to spoil anything, was to be able to wrap my head fully around this feeling. It took some time, but I was able to reassure myself with the reasoning that the character Han Solo in Episode 7 is not the same one as the Han from 4, 5, and 6. He changed. He got older and he transformed from a main character to a supporting one. He passed on his mantel of immortality to the new heroes (if Finn had died at the end I would have thrown up…and Disney would have been attacked by approximately 10 million children and parents). It was a sobering moment, but one that I think was necessary for my own maturation. As someone who grew up watching (well, worshiping…I’m a geek) Star Wars, I truly appreciated this moment of Episode 7 for what it did to show me that the story was moving along, just as I was, just as all things are.
The only things that do not change are not things at all: the battle of good and evil, the assurance that good will eventually prevail, and the beauty of watching people grow, struggle, and overcome. That is what is truly immortal about Star Wars: the beautiful back-story. Characters can be immortal for a time, but never forever. So goodbye, Han Solo, and thank you for what you taught me.