Posted Sunday morning, January 14, 2018.
“Chewie, we’re home.” My favorite line and one my favorite moments from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Han Solo (Harrison Ford, right) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) arrive to “steal back” the Millennium Falcon. Han dies in the end, but his role as the most important person in the galaxy continues to expand in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
Opening crawl: This is the second post in an ongoing series. The first post is here.
By this point it’s probably unnecessary, but it’s a rule of the road, so: Spoiler alert…
In Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi we find out Kylo Ren didn’t murder his father because Han made one too many dad jokes when he was growing up. In fact, Kylo Ren, the once and I’m hoping not future Ben Solo because it will be far more interesting and tragic if he’s not redeemed like his grandfather---another way he fails to be as great a villain as Darth Vader is he fails to be as great a hero as Anakin Skywalker---apparently liked Han’s dad jokes. He liked Han. He loved Han. Or so he tells Rey who in the very short time she knew him adopted Han as a surrogate father which meant putting up with at least a couple of his dad jokes, which made her smile, and his irascibility, which made her smile even more. She took his grumpiness as a sign of the parental affection she craved. But to get back to Kylo Ren: whether or not he liked the dad jokes, he did love his father, and his murdering him was a perverse expression of that love.
What he was murdering, or hoped he was murdering, was the last bit of good in himself.
Whatever normal teenager’s complaints he’d had about Han as a father, Kylo Ren sees Han as a good man. His residual love for Han and Leia are hateful to him because it’s pulling him against what he thinks is his will away from the Dark Side to the Light. Killing Han is a form of spiritual suicide. It’s an act of self-loathing. It’s also an admission that Han stands between him and his becoming the great and terrible villain he wants to be. In short, it’s an argument in favor of Han’s critical importance to the fate of the galaxy.
If in dying Han had brought about Kylo Ren’s death---if only Chewie’s aim had been a little bit better---maybe the First Order wouldn’t have been successful so quickly. Snoke might have had to take time and attention away from galactic conquest to find a new apprentice. (Should be noted there’s evidence the First Order didn’t need Snoke, just as there was evidence the Empire didn’t need Palpatine.) Alternatively, if Han had lived, I’m not sure he’d have brought Ben Solo back to himself---as if the future of the Star Wars universe is real and subject to chance and not in the hands of J.J. Abrams and his screenwriters---but The Last Jedi does suggest that if Ben had been allowed to stay at home and to get through adolescence with Han’s guidance instead of Luke’s, he might very well have not turned to the Dark Side. He might very well have never developed his Jedi powers or felt the need to. At the very least, he’d have learned the kind of self-discipline and habits of self-denial and delayed gratification Uncle Owen instilled in Luke back on Tatooine, so that when the time came when his destiny could no longer be denied, he’d be a good and responsible young man, with greater strength of heart, and not a mixed-up teenager. And, as we learn from Luke, if Han had had his way, that might have happened.
Han’s importance was well-established in the original trilogy.
Without Han, Luke and Obi-wan wouldn’t have gotten away from Tatooine. Without Han, they wouldn’t have been able to rescue Leia. Without Han, Luke wouldn’t gotten off the shot that blew up the Death Star. Without Han, he’d have frozen to death on Hoth. Without Han, the strike team wouldn’t have knocked out the Death Star’s shields and without the Han-modified and maintained Millennium Falcon, Lando wouldn’t have been able to blow up the second Death Star.
Now, as we see at the beginning of The Last Jedi, with Han dead, the First Order was able to destroy the Republic and nearly wipe out the Resistance in it appears a matter of weeks, even without their version of a Death Star, which, by the way, Han pretty much took out on his own or at any rate he cleared the way for Poe and the fighters to take it out.
But in addition to that, we’re given reason to think that Han could have saved Ben and with him the Resistance, which might have already defeated the First Order if there’d been no Kylo Ren leading the efforts to slaughter everybody in sight but a Ben Solo to oppose Snoke and Hux from the start.
When Rey asks Luke what happened to cause Ben to succumb to the Dark Side, Luke is somewhat cryptic in his answer. But he says that Ben’s growing powers convinced both Leia and Luke that he needed serious training as a Jedi. Han, however, was “Han about it.” The implication was that Han wasn’t keen on the notion. At some level he still thought as he did back just after that first flight out of Tatooine:
Han: Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Luke: You don’t believe in the Force, do you?
Han: Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny! It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.
He came to see things differently---from a new “certain point of view”---but he may have come to it too late. When Rey asks him if the Jedi were real, he says:
I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is... it's true. The Force. The Jedi... All of it... It's all true.
But he says this somberly, with a tinge of sorrow and regret that make me wonder if he’s mourning both the loss of his son and his friend to the workings of the Force or if he’s wishing he’d believed in it when he and Leia sent Ben off to be trained by Luke, if he’s thinking that if he’d known what he was letting Ben get himself into he’d have put a stop to it. Maybe he’d believed in it he wouldn’t have let Leia and Luke---and probably Ben himself---talk him into it or allowed himself to be outvoted by them. Maybe if Ben had stayed home and he and Han had spent their time together working under the Millennium Falcon’s hood, going hunting and fishing on Kashyyyk with Chewbacca, hanging out and watching sports and swapping stories with some of Han’s old friends from his smuggling days, making extended visits to Maz Kanata’s, maybe if when Ben had grown up a bit more, Han would have started trusting his judgment and deferring to him the way we see him doing with Rey...Maybe...maybe..maybe…
In The Force Awakens, Han tells Leia he ran out on her because he couldn’t take the looks of reproach he saw in her eyes, as if she blamed him for what happened. But he might have been projecting. What he saw when he looked at her was his own guilt reflected, and he blames himself for not having put his foot down.
This is more psychological complexity than there is in the original trilogy or the prequels, in which characters pretty much behave according to type and archetype. But that’s one of the new factors J.J. Abrams has introduced into the Star Wars movie universe, realistically human psychology. I’ll get more into that in my next thought but for now, I’ll leave it at that and just say that Han’s importance has continued after his death not just in his having in their short time together taught Rey more than she learns from Luke in the much longer time she spends with him but in his having taught a thing or two or three to Finn, who, I’m going to argue, is on his way to succeeding Han as the most important person in the galaxy.
End of the second thought. Follow the link to the first forceful thought, A Romance but not an epic one.