Considering that the last IN YOUR FACE JAM featured my impassioned plea to a Christmas deity to give me a good “Star Wars” movie, it seems right that this IYFJ answer the question of whether or not Santa delivered. Ahead there be spoilers if you haven’t yet journeyed to Jakku.
Yes. Yes, Santa did deliver. In fact, I think that per a promise I made last time, I have to leave out artisanal milk and cookies for Santa for the rest of my life considering that Poe Dameron and Finn are maybe kinda fingers-crossed a thing.
But there’s one thing I didn’t ask for for Christmas, and that was for this movie to nearly kill me. Yes, I’m the kinda weirdo that will proudly admit that watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” pushed my body in a dangerous way I was not expecting. And again, spoilers because I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s potential movie-going experience/health-risk.
You still with me, legions of the spoiled and willing-to-be-spoiled?
As soon as he stepped out on that catwalk, I knew it was all over. I knew I was about to watch my hero die.
I’m not unique in saying that Han Solo is my favorite “Star Wars” character. I might be slightly unique in saying that he’s my favorite character… in all of fiction… in any medium… ever… of all time. I touched upon some of this before in an article about why I like Gambit, believe it or not. But to get back into it, and this time not through the lens of the X-Men’s neon-colored pick-up artist, Han Solo means more to me than anything else when it comes to fiction. So many of my other favorites are effects rippling out from Han; my favorite inanimate object is the Millennium Falcon, my favorite movie is “Empire Strikes Back,” my favorite couple is Han and Leia, my favorite sidekick is Chewbacca — you get the point. Han Solo looms large, over everything else I love.
I know that when I first saw Han Solo at the age of six, watching “Star Wars” on a rented VHS in my family’s den, I found the character I had been looking for in every movie and cartoon and story I had read up until that time. I tended to gravitate towards the loners and weirdos and jerks and jokers. Lt. Falcon in “G.I. Joe,” Wheeler in “Captain Planet,” Donald and Daffy Duck in cartoons, whoever the angriest Merry Man was in whatever Robin Hood thing I was watching — I never cared much for protagonists, the ones who you knew were going to do the right thing. I preferred the side characters, the ones that would probably do all the right things but, by virtue of not being the lead, could just as easily go the other way. Little did I know that I hadn’t yet met the definitive version of that character — a blaster carryin’ scoundrel with ’70s hair and a hunk of junk ride.
Han Solo changed everything for me. He became the bar that I would measure, either knowingly or subconsciously, every favorite character against. He was dangerous; I saw him shoot Greedo first when I was six years-old. He was selfish; he took the reward and ran. But he was also stupidly brave (charging after a squad of stormtroopers armed only with a blaster and a scream), dangerously impatient (blasting the hermetically-sealed trash compactor) and horrible under pressure (“We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?”). “A New Hope” gave me a crash course in my new favorite character, one filled with contradictions that appealed to me. I actually called Han Solo my role model throughout elementary school, usually to baffled kids that had never seen “Star Wars” (the early ’90s were a dark time!).
I get how cliche that sounds, as entire generations of people have pegged Han Solo as their guy. I’m not alone here; the scruffy looking smuggler has become his own archetype, inspiring legions of creators to create legions of Han Solo-types. Truth, Chris Pratt owes a lot of his movie career to this type existing. But none come close to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, a character that is equal parts wish fulfillment for viewers (you’re cool and handsome and witty) and reality check (you’re selfish and insecure and people hate you). There’s no one cooler than Han Solo, and the coolest thing about him is how he’s barely keeping it all together underneath all those bounties and arguments and one-liners and ridiculously cool vests.
I was Han Solo for Halloween around 1991, when no one knew who he was. I was Han Solo again in 2004 when everyone knew who he was (that’s me with my nephew, Batman Beyond); the love I had for the character was still all there. As an adult I started to realize the impact Han Solo has had on my life. Humor as a defense mechanism, check; a healthy dose of vanity and cockiness, check; my constant desire to be the hot-headed rebel in groups (even if I usually end up being the responsible Luke), check. For better or worse, the Han Solo method of covering up my numerous insecurities with borderline abrasive charm is instinctual at this point. Han’s been with me for 25 years, almost as far back as I can remember.
In middle school I learned that Harrison Ford originally wanted Han Solo to die in “Return of the Jedi.” Ford also got an earring (bad news in my conservative southern household) and called Han Solo two-dimensional. This didn’t dent my love of Han, but it did put me on the outs with Harrison for a very long time (we’re fine now, Harry, give me a call, please). But I now get what Ford meant. I started to see “Return of the Jedi” with new eyes as I became exposed to Opinions On The Internet. I started to see that Solo doesn’t really do all that much after his rescue; the Endor mission really coulda been led by Leia. Han didn’t even get one scene in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon in “Jedi,” the last movie in the franchise! He just exists in that movie, offering up some of my favorite comedy bits for sure, but he’s just… there.
So obviously I had hopes — with reservations — when I learned Harrison Ford was coming back as Han in “Force Awakens.” And obviously I cried when I first saw the “We’re home” moment in the first full trailer. I was getting a new movie with my favorite character in it, something I had waited almost my entire life for.
And as soon as Han Solo stepped out on that Starkiller Base catwalk, I knew it was all over. I knew I was about to watch my hero die.
It was all there. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt had crafted a story and film that gave me more of the Han Solo I loved; he was cocky but he was also insecure. His horrible reputation as a smuggler stood in fascinating contrast to the impressive reputation as a war hero that he left behind. We got more Han and Chewie banter, we got to see Han use the bowcaster, we got to see Han have more powerful, powerful scenes with Leia. We got to see Han hold her again, like he did on the bridge in the Ewok village, and we got to see Leia knock that Solo confidence down a peg. We got… I got to see Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon cockpit one more time. I got to see him try two more incredibly ill advised stunts in that hunk of junk, the last one being entering a planet’s orbit while moving at lightspeed. The movie gave me what I wanted from another Han Solo movie.
And then it began.
Han stepped out onto that catwalk after calling his son’s name, and then I got to see a side of my hero that I had never seen before: the paternal side. Han Solo, the father, one who still carries the weight of his mistakes. It’s all there in his eyes. Inspired by Leia, maybe for Leia, maybe for the life Han wants to have with Leia and Ben again, he reaches out to the son that he, just a few scenes earlier, had written off for dead. It’s a quick arc, but the scene sells it as the culmination of decades of pain and waiting, of longing.
And then the ignition of a lightsaber, followed by the final gentle touch of Han’s hand to his son’s face, and then a fall, down into nothingness.
So, never while watching a movie have I lost all blood flow to my extremities. I get emotional at movies, at everything, sure, but never like this. Feeling it coming, knowing that I’d seen everything I wanted to see from Han one last time, it didn’t stop that moment from causing me to eventually lose all feeling below my neck for the remainder of the movie. I buried my head in my numb hands, I know, sobbing uncontrollably on the inside while trying desperately to make it look like just weeping to those around me. The death hurt, the touch hurt, the cutaway to Leia hurt. And honestly, I could not feel anything except for a burning sensation, clawing its way up my neck.
After that, I used every cheer-worthy moment as an excuse to clap my hands in an effort to restore feeling. At times I’d just sit up straight and shake my hands, just shake them, trying anything to stop them from tingling. It didn’t stop, not until well after the movie ended. I saw my lifelong fictional hero die and, well, now I know what that feels like.
But I’m not upset about this. For one thing, there are still 30 years of untold Han Solo stories to be explored in the expanded universe. There’s also that… young Han Solo movie that… I’m going to be very very judgmental of. But I’m surprisingly fine with witnessing the final chapter of Han Solo’s story… even if I’ve choked up a few times while writing this.
Han Solo’s death (still not a fan of typing that phrase) matters. The fact that it devastated me instead of enraging me speaks to how well it was done, how pitch perfect the character’s final arc was to me. Without his death, Rey and Finn don’t suffer a real personal loss in the movie. The death makes the stakes blindingly clear to our new heroes, and being present for Han’s death also draws Rey closer to Leia at the end of the film. Han’s death isn’t one that will be forgotten, either; the storytelling potential between Leia and Kylo Ren is rich, deep and fascinating — not to mention unlike anything we’ve seen in the franchise. And Rey, our new protagonist, carries Han Solo’s legacy with her physically. The Falcon, Chewbacca, the blaster Han gifted her on Takodana — it’s all there. Rey’s not Han, but Han lives on through her. He also lives on through Kylo Ren, his son, who will no doubt continue to have feelings about his father long after their final confrontation (Kylo Ren has plenty of feelings).
The circumstances of Han’s death pulled the outsider, unbelieving, detached smuggler character closer than ever to the core of the mythology; he sired the villain and inspired the hero. That’s pretty good for a stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder — and it’s a great end for my hero.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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