Great essay. I hated the Han Solo death from the moment I saw it. I couldn’t understand why they went there the way that they did. When I read Abrams admit that they made the decision, at least in his mind, only as a last-minute choice to better establish Kylo Ren as a villain, I was thoroughly disgusted, disgusted with the storytelling incompetence and with the way the classic characters were being treated as disposable debris used to prop up new characters who apparently can’t stand on their own. The idea that they gave us a film with so little clarity and conclusiveness to it and still had no idea where the story was going to go in the sequels just underlines the extreme ineptitude that went into putting this shoddy story together. Calling The Force Awakens “fan-fiction” is tempting but would be an insult to the fans, who clearly know and care more about the franchise than the makers of this film did. It’s clearer after reading your article that Kasdan most likely had his own reasons for putting in Han’s death and probably had no trouble talking the airheaded pajama boy Abrams into it on false pretenses.
Compare how Han went out to Wolverine’s death in Logan, a movie that shows how to send a beloved anti-hero out in a way that’s worthy of the character’s legacy. Wolverine dies only because it’s absolutely necessary to save others. He is successful in his goal and his death inspires a new generation to follow the example of his life. It’s also a movie that establishes a tone where that kind of ending fits. Han’s death served absolutely no useful or necessary purpose in the story, it’s treated as an afterthought in the end and it’s sandwiched in the middle of would-be light comic dialogue like “Droid, please.”
For an even more apt comparison, compare to how Obi-Wan went out in Star Wars. The death of Obi-Wan had nothing to do with establishing Vader as a villain. Vader was already fully established. Heck, if any movie gets to the third act and STILL hasn’t established its villain, it’s definitely time to go back to the drawing board. Obi-Wan was already in full “passing the torch” mode to Luke. His legacy was preserved in his pupil. The potential shock and horror of the moment is IMMEDIATELY defused by Obi-Wan’s spirit voice showing that he isn’t truly gone. Finally, in the end, we see that Obi-Wan HAD to die in order to be available to Luke as a guiding “force” so that they could save countless lives together. Obi-Wan’s death met essentially all of the same criteria Logan’s death did to qualify as a swan song worthy of a hero and as a death the audience could actually feel mostly good about.
I have not been so negative on the prospect of a young Han Solo movie, especially after Lord and Miller were signed on. Kathleen Kennedy claims that her Star Wars movies are being made to “delight,” but they have thoroughly failed to deliver on that promise. Lord and Miller, on the other hand, are two people who fully understand how a movie can provide lightness and joy without losing its sharp edges. As for recasting the part, Harrison Ford has already had an iconic character of his successfully played on the big screen by a younger actor, namely River Phoenix in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Almost every long-time franchise character eventually gets played by a new actor, be it James Bond, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, et al. It’s very hard to create new characters that people care about, as the current Star Wars producers are learning in the wake of countless unsold Finn, Jyn Erso and Cassian action figures piled up at toy stores nationwide. Then there was the “Girlbusters” debacle, another case where recasting the original characters with new actors would’ve quite possibly been a smarter move than running with a bunch of disastrously ill-conceived new characters. We’ve seen recasting work and we’ve seen it not work. But when the alternative is to let a beloved character disappear from cinemas forever, I think recasting can be a worthwhile effort and also probably an inevitable one.
As for Wonder Woman, an entire article could be written about how that movie did everything right with Diana that TFA did wrong with Rey. The two movies provide more evidence that virtue-signaling not-sexists and not-racists are the ones who do the greatest disservice to the various genders and races they purport to defend. When you put someone on a pedestal, you deprive them of their messy, complicated humanity and of the need to prove themselves that gives people their purpose in life. When someone tells their own story it’s likely to come off as far less narcissistic than when it’s told by one of their boot-licking sycophants who claims that the object of their adulation can do no wrong and deserves to have everything in life handed to them for free.