(SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned)
The culmination of a week long road trip to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary was a journey to the cinema in Denver to see Star Wars with my wife. I was more than a bit giddy. Other than the trailers, I stayed pretty spoiler free going into the movie so I had no idea what the fate of Han Solo was going to be. It was the emotional high point of the movie when Kylo Ren (AKA Ben Solo) killed Han after Han had gone out to him in an attempt to bring him home.
I thought this was the most powerful scene in the movie. It was more powerful than even the potent closing shot of Rey extending Anakin’s lightsaber to a long hidden Luke Skywalker. Why? Because it completed the Han Solo story arc in such an emotionally satisfying way. Han Solo started out as the (literally) shoot first and ask questions later smuggler. He was in it for the money and not the cause.
But as the Original Trilogy plays out, Solo goes from a selfish scoundrel to a hero of the rebellion. By itself, it’s a great story arc but the TFA writing team truly brings Solo full circle from self-serving scoundrel to self-sacrificing father. This transformation is complete when we see the final shots of Han Solo before, mortally wounded, he plunges off a walkway. Abrams lets us see his eyes and they tell more story than dozens of lines in a script ever could. They tell the story of a broken-hearted father trying, even with his dying breath, to reach his wayward son. But what seals the deal is the tender moment when Han touches Ben’s face. It’s an act of love, intimacy, sorrow, and even forgiveness.
The repercussions of Han’s death have yet to be seen. We will likely learn more about what drove Ben to the dark side. But for me this was the most powerful moment in the film and drove home the deep love and connection between a parent and a child even when that child has drifted away. And most importantly, I think it shows that Abrams and his writing team have a firm grasp on one of the main themes of the Star Wars stories: redemption. If they can continue to weave the threads of the redemption storylines that played so prominently in TFA and in the previous movies then I’m optimistic that going forward we’ll see more powerful moments in future films.