SPOILER WARNING for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
What can I say, Star Wars: The Force Awakens? You’re a knockout in every department. Still, that said, there will always be one specific thing I truly love you for. One special quality that was the straw the broke the bantha’s back and sent me head over heels for you.
It’s the perfect way you killed Han Solo.
Now, make no mistake. I have no vendetta against Han. I didn’t truly want Han to die. I didn’t enjoy this moment in the traditional sense of the word (I guess this letter might be coming from a certain point of view.), but this was a moment that Star Wars fans knew was coming, something we knew had to happen eventually. Star Wars is a story of generations, and the torch must be passed to the new guard. No one lives forever. Even Jedi. Even heroes. Even Han Solo, Captain of the Millennium Falcon.
Thank you for not shying away from this moment and for not attempting to trick the audience that was already all too convinced that this was Han’s final flight. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and instead of attempting to please all parties, instead of attempting to distract us from the issue at hand, you tackled the wampa in the room head on with courage and conviction. This was a moment that could have easily been squandered. As we know far too well, it takes nothing more than a well-placed and over-dramatic “Nooooooooo!” to ruin what should be a defining character moment.
Author Robert J. Peterson (The Odds) once told me that the emotional weight of the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Han is frozen in carbonite hits so specifically hard because it is designed to play out like an execution scene. This information was not lost on me as Han approached Kylo Ren towards the end of The Force Awakens. There was a palpable mass reaction in the darkened theater as the audience sensed the same atmosphere of foreboding and doom that permeated through the carbonation facility on Cloud City during the summer of 1980. We all knew what was coming. We had asked for it. Hell, we had cried out for it. Even Harrison Ford himself. And, you were there to deliver.
My heart broke three times during your most poignant and painful scene. The first occurrence happened with the utterance of a single word that echoed through the internal, man-made caverns of Starkiller Base. One word filled with so much pregnant emotion, so many grief-filled implications that it hung in the air like a momentary apparition before dissipating into the ether. The word was “Ben,” the name given by Han and Leia to their son.
At this point, the fatal nature of this meeting was obvious, but the panic set in despite my certainty of what was about to occur. While I, like many of my geeky compatriots, had preached that it was almost guaranteed that Han would bite the big one in this film, once confronted with the reality of my prediction playing out in front of me, I found myself quietly begging for you to show mercy and spare my beloved and aging hero. As Ben first took off his helmet and then, soon after, dropped his mask of anger, revealing to his father the internal suffering and torment that was tearing him apart and his desperate need to quell it, the second occurrence of heartbreak took place. Making us feel for Ben, to see his struggle and pain, was a below-the-belt blow that hit with remarkable force and will surely continue to reverberate throughout the next two sequels.
The only thing that could hit harder was Han’s response to the lightsaber his son then plunged through his heart: lovingly touching his son’s face with his last breath in a simple, sad, and silent act of forgiveness, before toppling into the abyss, leaving us forever.
I may have lied, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My heart may have broke a fourth time when Chewie screamed in reaction to the murder of his best friend.
As I mentioned before, all of this was extraordinarily traumatic and painful for myself and the others who love the Star Wars films. No one wishes for their hero to bite it, but knowing that no one truly escapes death, you hope that when the time comes, they go out with some impact. You really want to “feel” that moment. If it has to happen, then, blast it, do it right!
At this point in the film, the tears were pouring down this middle-aged geek’s trembling cheeks as the rest of the audience followed suit around me. Yet, despite the horrible loss that had occurred and the deep mourning it deserved, something else began to happen. Like some sort of Jedi-influenced religious experience, the spilling of tears was a transformative catharsis that released emotion that had been clawing to get out since the very first prequel film. Ever since The Empire Strikes Back devastated fans with its gripping, brutal, and tragic events, we Star Wars fans have been craving another sip from that cup of Shakespearean space drama. You gave us the gut punch you knew we needed. You sent Han out in a way that will not only be remembered for all time by Star Wars fans, but also in a way that matters and propels forward the characters and events of the story to come.
For this, I will always love you, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Happy Valentine’s Day and may the Force be with you.