J.J. Abrams knew he had his work cut out for him making a villain comparable to Darth Vader for Star Wars: The Force Awakens so he had to up the ante right away….
MASSIVE SPOILERS LIE AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS….
When it comes to all-time great movie villains, Darth Vader might be the best ever created so it’s not an enviable task put upon director J.J. Abrams to come up with a new idea as he was crafting the earliest drafts of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens script.
Abrams knew when he decided to make Kylo Ren the featured bad guy in his new movie that he had to raise the stakes with the character right away to give him gravitas to stand next to someone like Darth Vader.
It’s clear from the very first time meeting Kylo Ren in the movie that he’s obsessed with Darth Vader and wants to live up to the work he did while battling against the Rebellion in the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s later revealed, of course, that Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo — Han and Leia’s son — and he’s Vader’s grandson.
So Abrams had to raise the stakes when creating Kylo Ren and one of the first ideas that crossed his mind was allowing the new villain to kill off a legacy character from the original trilogy that would immediately set him apart from Darth Vader and give him a moment that fans watching the movie would never soon forget.
“Star Wars had the greatest villain in cinema history. So, how you bring a new villain into that world is a very tricky thing,” Abrams said at a recent screening Q&A. “We knew we needed to do something fucking 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.”
So in the third act of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is confronted by his father Han Solo, who told Leia that he would do everything to bring their son back to him after he was seduced by the dark side of the Force before turning on Luke Skywalker and the rest of the Jedi trainees several years earlier.
Kylo tells his father that he’s struggling with the light versus the dark inside of him and he needs his help to vanquish the turmoil and Han immediately agrees to help him however he can. What Han doesn’t expect is that Kylo ends up activating his lightsaber and thrusts directly through Han’s chest and his son tells him ‘thank you’ for helping him snuff out the light and ultimately choose the dark side of the Force.
It’s certainly the most shocking moment of the movie as Han Solo gets stabbed and then falls to his ultimate death on the Starkiller base.
Abrams said that evolution of Kylo Ren choosing the dark over the light was an important part to Star Wars: The Force Awakens because this new trilogy would in many ways be the opposite of the original Star Wars films. In these new movies, fans will watch Kylo Ren transform from a Darth Vader enthusiast to a full blown maniacal villain over the course of three films.
“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,” Abrams said. “And not a villain who was the finished, ready-made villain, but someone who was in process.”
Abrams knew he was taking a chance by killing off a character as beloved as Han Solo but he also had to do something massive to really hook viewers into believing that Kylo Ren was a worthy successor to Darth Vader.
“It’s this massive tradeoff,” Abrams said about killing Han Solo. “How can we possible do that!? But, if we hadn’t done that, the movie wouldn’t have any guts at all. It felt very dangerous.”
Years earlier during the making of Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford (who portrays Han Solo) actually told creator George Lucas that he should kill Han Solo in the movie to really raise the emotional stakes with the audience since that was supposed to be the final chapter in the saga.
Lucas obviously opted to go in another direction, but it’s clear Ford was on board with the idea of letting Han Solo go and using his exit as a huge emotional beat for the movie.
The final goodbye tugs on the heart strings as much as any scene in Star Wars history as Han reaches up and touches his son’s face after he’s stabbed through the chest before falling off the platform to his death. Abrams says in that moment during filming, he almost forgot he was making a movie and just got lost in the moment.
“It was really chilling,” Abrams said “Seeing these two actors, they weren’t chewing up the scenery. They were just doing this thing in a way that, frankly, was disturbing. To see Harrison reach out and touch Adam. I know this sounds stupid, but literally watching it, I forgot — I forgot that he wasn’t his son. He did it so beautifully.”
Following Han’s death in the movie, the rest of his friends and family ‘feel’ his passing although it’s not addressed much before the end of the film. It will be very interesting to see how Han Solo’s murder at the hands of his own son will play out in Star Wars: Episode VIII, which will be directed by Rian Johnson (Looper).