Maybe it was to be expected that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) would get into some father issues, given the far-reaching Luke-and-Vader legacy that the movie seeks both to honor and lucratively exploit. But I sure hadn’t figured it would all strike such a personal chord.
I’ll confess, I didn’t hold off for a home-viewing opportunity on this one, DVD focus notwithstanding. I’ve got enough of a geek streak that I caught the big franchise relaunch as early as I could, at a press screening in mid-December. Just hours earlier, I had spent some time with my dad, who was visiting for a doctor’s appointment at Dana-Farber. Thankfully, the report would be good. But on the morning I hit the screening, I was very much eyeing “Force Awakens” as an escape — and not just to my days as an 8-year-old thrilling to the original’s release.
And then came — is there any spoiling left to alert? — The Scene. The moment in which Han Solo meets his fate, murdered by his Vader-worshiping son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) — as well as by J.J. Abrams, Harrison Ford, and the rest of George Lucas’s new successors and old associates. This sudden, bitter taste of paternal mortality would have rattled me regardless, but under the circumstances, I was stunned to the point of incomprehension. Han hadn’t even gone out with an operatically noble bang, echoing Obi-Wan or Vader, just a sucker-punched whimper. It felt like another cruelly arbitrary cosmic joke in a week that had already hit my family with a doozy, thanks.
When “Force Awakens” finally showed up in my mail to promote Tuesday’s Blu-ray and DVD release, I went searching through the extras looking for — well, not an explanation, exactly, but reassurance. An indication that, yes, Abrams and the franchise’s other shepherds understand what this mythology means to countless people like yours truly. An indication that they hadn’t made their choice for Ford’s icon out of creative arrogance.
The filmmakers do offer some thoughtful rationale in a well-done production documentary, even if their words aren’t as satisfying as it would have been seeing Han in a less passive death scene — or getting an even longer lease on life. “It was a necessary component,” Abrams says. “This is not just ‘The Force Awakens’ in a young woman [Daisy Ridley’s Rey]. This is the dark side of the Force awakening in the villain.”
“It’s not that I wanted Han Solo to die,” Ford asserts. But, he adds, the “deeply emotional and troubling way in which [he’s killed] helps realize the full potential of the character that Adam Driver plays.” Could it be that Han’s demise was more heroically meaningful than we realized? It’s a comforting thought.Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.