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Towards the end of the new Star Wars film The Force Awakens,

Kylo Ren kills his father, Han Solo.

This event caused a lot of grief among fans who were devastated to see this character go, and the filmmakers surely anticipated such a reaction.

Why, out of universe, was the decision made to kill off this character?

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    I upvoted your question. (It's a good one and I'm surprised it hasn't been asked sooner.) But, truth be told, are you actually interested in this question? – Praxis Dec 25 '15 at 1:19
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    (To casual spectators, I should explain that my comment directly above is due to the fact that rand al'thor has never seen any Star Wars films and has even vowed to never see any.) – Praxis Dec 25 '15 at 1:24
  • @Praxis Heh, good point :-> I'm not interested in anything Star Wars per se, but I'm sure others will be interested in this question. Asking questions for others' benefit is fine by SE standards - indeed, that's what self-answers are mainly for! – Rand al'Thor Dec 25 '15 at 1:28
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    That's fine. I'm a strong proponent of SE existing primarily as a knowledge base, which is why I have no issue with instant self-answers (some people do for whatever reason). I just wanted to know if you, personally, were interested in this question. :-) – Praxis Dec 25 '15 at 1:30
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    He was probably saved by a ventilator fan. – gotorg Dec 28 '15 at 22:05
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Harrison Ford had petitioned for Han to be killed off.

The origin of Han dying seems to be Harrison Ford himself — he had wanted Han to die in The Return of the Jedi:

"It was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...I thought the best utility of the character would be for him to sacrifice himself to a high ideal and give a little bottom, a little gravitas to the enterprise, not that there wasn’t some already but I just wanted in on some part of it. That was at the third occasion of filming the original three."

(Source)

It seems that this idea was finally used, in The Force Awakens.

J.J. Abrams wanted Han to die to make Kylo into a worthy villain.

J.J. Abrams' own explanation is here:

"Long before we had this title, the idea of The Force Awakens was that this would become the evolution of not just a hero, but a villain. Star Wars had the greatest villain in cinema history. So, how you bring a new villain into that world is a very tricky thing. We knew we needed to do something f--king bold. The only reason why Kylo Ren has any hope of being a worthy successor is because we lose one of our most beloved characters."

  • When I do self-answers, I don't do them instantly but give myself the same amount of time as everyone else gets, starting my answer writeup when I post the question. Hence you got there first (and +1), but I still think I outdid you :-) – Rand al'Thor Dec 25 '15 at 1:11
  • @randal'thor : I upvoted you too...I'm working on a phone, so it's hard for me to "outdo" you. Even just searching, let alone copying text, is a slow process. – Praxis Dec 25 '15 at 1:13
  • @randal'thor : Although what my answer has that yours doesn't is the possible origin for the idea. – Praxis Dec 25 '15 at 1:14
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    This is an impressive job for being done from a phone! And the point about Ford wanting Han killed off is a good one, although tangential IMO. The other reasons seem more compelling, and would probably have been enough (assuming Ford didn't have a problem with his character being killed off). – Rand al'Thor Dec 25 '15 at 1:24
  • Ford made a bloody mint out of it anyway. He seems to have been paid more than any of the other actors in the film! – Rand al'Thor Dec 25 '15 at 1:41
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To establish Kylo Ren firmly as a villain.

JJ Abrams himself said this is what it was all about:

Star Wars had the greatest villain in cinema history. So, how you bring a new villain into that world is a very tricky thing. We knew we needed to do something f—king bold. The only reason why Kylo Ren has any hope of being a worthy successor is because we lose one of the most beloved characters.

(Source: this interview with Abrams and his co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt.)

Kasdan elaborated on this point, saying the story could be seen as Kylo Ren's coming-of-age saga: the coming of age of a villain.

People always say, ‘Why do you think this saga is so popular?’ I really do believe the underlying theme is recognizing your potential and understanding what you’re capable of. It’s a quest we’re all on our entire lives. It doesn’t end. To understand what you’ve inherited, and what you like about that and what you don’t like about that. Have you fulfilled yourself completely — or is it too late? What is dormant? That’s a very real and tangible thing for people every day.

And Abrams again:

Long before we had this title, the idea of The Force Awakens was that this would become the evolution of not just a hero, but a villain. And not a villain who was the finished, ready-made villain, but someone who was in process.

[Han's death] is this massive tradeoff. How can we possibly do that!? But… if we hadn’t done that, the movie wouldn’t have any guts at all. It felt very dangerous.”

To give Han Solo more pathos as a character.

This time quoting Arndt from the same interview:

I had thought Han’s story and Leia’s story was just about them coming back together. At the end of the movie they would have reconciled and gotten over their differences. And you would have said, ‘Okay, bad stuff happened, but at least they’re back together again'. J.J. rightly asked, ‘What is Han doing in this movie?’ If we’re not going to have something important and irreversible happen to him, then he kind of feels like luggage. He feels like this great, sexy piece of luggage you have in your movie. But he’s not really evolving. He’s not really pushing the story forward.


How did the various people involved in making the film take it?

Harrison Ford himself doesn't seem to have any problems. He's been campaigning to get Han Solo killed off since Return of the Jedi:

And in the above-referenced interview, Abrams confirmed, with a dismissive hand-wave:

Nah, he was fine.

In fact, Abrams himself was somewhat nervous about this bold move, but Kasdan's support steeled his resolve:

You [Kasdan] wrote some of the greatest lines that Han ever spoke, so there was a level of comfort in the danger. You were willing to go there, which made me feel like it wasn’t necessarily the worst idea.

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    You almost got ninjaed on your own question? :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 25 '15 at 1:18
  • @DVK See my comment on Praxis's. I play fair with self-answers, and only start writing up my answer after posting the question. Hence my comment on the question :-P – Rand al'Thor Dec 25 '15 at 1:20
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    I'd add that Harrison Ford himself is getting old (oldest character in the film?) and there is a real risk that if these movies are going to be made over the next decade he may not be able to partake in the filming of all of them.If you're going to kill someone off, Han is a (morbidly) logical choice to make. – David Grinberg Dec 26 '15 at 3:37
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    Sexy, sexy luggage. – Paul D. Waite Dec 27 '15 at 1:05

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