Film and TV

Bring Me the Head of Han Solo

Harrison Ford has been a good soldier in the Star Wars. He did whatever was asked of him by his commanding officer, George Lucas, even when his commanding officer was wrong. Now that Ford is back in Star Wars, and J.J. Abrams is running the show, Abrams' first order of business should be to give Ford what he's wanted for decades: death. It's time to kill Han Solo.

For the good of the movie. For the good of the movies, which changed after 1977, largely for the worse. To restore balance to the Force. To redeem the much-abused Star Wars brand, so tarnished by prequels and such that Disney paid $4.05 billion for it. (Technically for Lucasfilm, but that's Star Wars, mostly.)

Abrams should welcome Ford back by rubbing him out. Honorably. Heroically. But decisively, and for the love of God, permanently. Not Spock-dead. Not Agent Coulson-dead. Dead. Solo? He gotta go-lo.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Ford built an airtight case for Solo's demise in Return of the Jedi, the original trilogy finale that opened 31 Memorial Day weekends ago. From the 2004 making-of documentary, Empire of Dreams:

Harrison Ford: I thought Han Solo should die. I thought he ought to sacrifice himself for [Luke and Leia]. He's got no mama. He's got no papa. He's got no future. He has no story responsibilities at this point. So let's allow him to commit self-sacrifice.

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan: I also felt someone had to go . . . It should happen very early in the last act so you begin to worry about everybody.

Lucas overruled them, of course. He doesn't bother to say in that documentary what his rebuttal to his star and writer's fully-armed-and-operational-arguments was. Gary Kurtz, the producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back who parted ways with Lucas when they couldn't agree on Jedi's tone — Kurtz wanted it more downbeat, and to include Solo's death — said in a 2010 Los Angeles Times interview that Lucas forbade any plot developments that might cut into toy sales.

As someone who owned three different Han Solo action figures in 1985 or thereabouts — reflecting his very minor wardrobe changes in each of the three movies — I am the proof of Lucas' instincts as a businessman. Not that I'd have ditched them if I had seen Han Solo die onscreen. I sold my Star Wars figures cheap at a yard sale when I was 11 or 12. Puberty was going to arrive whether Han Solo died or didn't.

This might be why the hero of Ford's other franchise with George Lucas, Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr., Ph.D., always mattered more to Ford than Han Solo did: It's easier for a grown man to connect to his 12-year-old self than to his 8-year-old one. The Indiana Joneses are geared for a slightly older audience, whereas the heart of the Star Wars pictures is decidedly preadolescent. The difference, obviously, is sex. Indiana Jones has it. No one in the Star Wars universe does. ("When a man and a woman love each other very much, they lie down together and then, uh, Midichlorians, probably?") Try to imagine Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in bed together and the viewscreen in your mind automatically flips to a musical number from the Ewok village. You can't do it.

Lucas' sudden artistic conservatism came at Jedi's expense. It was a massive hit, of course, but it's a much lousier movie than it needed to be. Empire, the trilogy's tense, frightening, mysterious, mythologically rich middle chapter, remains unimpeachable, a stellar achievement in fantasy filmmaking. But Jedi is a lumbering, repetitive, tin-earned toy ad, made all the poorer by a historically awful performance from Ford.

It isn't his fault that he spends the first 19 minutes of this 134-minute picture as a wall hanging in Jabba the Hutt's stately pleasure dome. (These time stamps reflect the "Special Edition" Jedi, as Lucas has made it tough to lay hands on the original theatrical versions, further alienating his constituents.) Or that Solo, so cocksure and unpredictable in A New Hope, so rakish and desperate and arrogant in Empire (Leia: "I love you!" Han: "I know."), seems to have suffered a possibly carbonite-induced testosterone plunge reminiscent of that dispiriting moment when once-edgy stand-up comics start talking about their adorable kids. (In fact, Solo is the father of twins by Leia in Timothy Zahn's 1991 Star Wars novel Heir to the Empire, but Disney announced only last week that that's officially non-canonical now — an "imaginary story," in the delightful language of 1950s DC Comics.) We'll forgive Solo his mojolessness during Jedi's first act — he can't even see, when he's first unfrozen. For a few moments, it seems his year or so as a conversation piece in Jabba's lair had left him afflicted with space PTSD. Intriguing! Will the balance of the film explore this?