Major spoilers regarding Star Wars: The Force Awakens follow. Please don't read further if you don't want to have a crucial part of the movie spoiled for you.
Han Solo is dead.
In Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, he is stabbed through the heart by his own son, Kylo Ren, and it is the game-changing event of director J.J. Abrams's inaugural spin on the franchise. Fans were expecting to see a big moment in this movie, something that would set Episode VII apart from the others, but perhaps not in this form.
However, for Harrison Ford, the death of this beloved character couldn't have come soon enough.
There are a lot of characters in movies and television shows who are indistinguishable from the actors who play them. Sarah Jessica Parker is Carrie Bradshaw. Whomever Michael Cera plays is Michael Cera. Hugh Grant seems to plays the same character over and over, as does Diane Keaton. But Harrison Ford and Han Solo are two completely separate entities.
In fact, Ford could not make clearer how much he dislikes being associated with one of Star Wars' most famous figures.
Over the past 30-plus years, Ford has spoken brusquely about the character, culminating in a 2010 interview in which he said he wished the character had died by the end of Return of the Jedi. Ford's displeasure over being bound to this character seems like something out of a Scandinavian fairy tale: A man trades his life for one of fame, and then must continually return to a role he hates over and over again. It's a pact that will continue to haunt him even from beyond the grave.
However, even with Han Solo dead, you can bet that there will be some wrinkle (my bet is on a ghost) that will call for Ford to reprise the role. And Ford, as he's done for the past three decades, will groan at the immortal entente he can't escape.
But Ford's prickliness isn't sour grapes, or the gripes of an actor who is only half invested. It's the result of caring too much. Here's a brief history of Ford's tumultuous relationship with Han Solo.
Where Ford's resentment of Han Solo stems from
To fully understand Ford's apathy toward Han, you have to understand where Ford began. In J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars, Rinzler describes Ford's deep investment in the character. And what's especially powerful about this account is that it isn't Ford himself saying this — the information is coming from his co-stars and the people working with him.
Mark Hamill, Ford's co-star, recalled how Ford conceptualized Han and rewrote the dialogue into something that felt organically in step for his character.
"He'd written things in the margins, saying the same thing, basically, but his way. He had an amazing way of keeping the meaning but doing it in a really unique way for his character," Hamill said.
One of these instances is when he says to Leia, "I know," instead of uttering the "I love you" that was scripted:
Maybe it wasn't love, but Ford cared about Han Solo. He wanted what Han said and did to be in line with the character's logic. And it's this care that explains why he was so turned off by Return of The Jedi — a movie whose storyline Ford has said he disagreed with. The character, in Ford's eyes, was not being treating with the same care he had received in the previous movies.
Ford was so upset over the eventual treatment of Han that he walked out of an interview when asked about it
In a 1982 interview with David Letterman, Ford is discussing his current movie Blade Runner, and all is going well. He's talking about replicants and the plot of Blade Runner, before Letterman asks him about Return of the Jedi. You can see it around 58 seconds in — it's as if Ford knows what question is coming and gets annoyed:
The interview ends with Ford abruptly getting up from his chair and leaving before the break. It's awkward. We'd later find out that Ford was absolutely livid that his character didn't get killed off at the end of the trilogy. And you can tell there's a difference between Ford in the Letterman interview and Ford in this 1980 interview where he seems engaged and enthused while talking about The Empire Strikes Back:
"I was glad to see the costume for the last time" — Harrison Ford
Harrison's annoyance with Return of the Jedi was apparent even before the film was released, during a promotional tour for the movie. During an interview with Today, he explained his fatigue with the Star Wars franchise. What's surprising isn't how much Ford disliked Return of the Jedi but that he was airing out his grievances when he was supposed to be shilling for the movie:
"Three is enough for me. I was glad to see that costume for the last time," Ford says.
Why Ford believes Han Solo should have died a long time ago
Twenty-eight years after Ford's annoyance with the Star Wars trilogy first surfaced, he came clean. In a 2010 interview with ABC News, Ford stated that Han should have been killed off by the end of Return of the Jedi:
"As a character he was — he was not so interesting to me," Ford said. "I thought he should have died in the last one to give it some bottom."
Ford went on to suggest that keeping Han alive was purely a marketing ploy.
"George didn't think there was any future in Dead Han toys," Ford said, offering up a scathing critique of the movie and of George Lucas.
Harrison Ford thinks of Star Wars fans as "customers" and wants nothing to do with a young Han Solo film
In the wake of Star Wars: The Force Awakens' opening and the death of Han is the question of what happens to the character now. There's always the possibility he'll show up in the subsequent movies as a ghost. But the option being floated around is a standalone Han Solo movie.
Ford wants none of that. Thanks, but no thanks.
"I’m glad that somebody else is going to have the burden of being young. It’s well beyond my understanding or control, and I personally want nothing to do with it, in the nicest possible way," Ford said during a press junket for the new movie. "I know it will be well done and well guided. And, um, it’s nothing to do with me."
That's actually pretty gracious compared with the bluntness of what he's said in the past. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Ford explained that he's come to an understanding and views Star Wars fans as "customers." It's not as demeaning as it sounds; he appreciates them but still views them from a distance:
"In my mind, I convert fans — and let’s be careful about how we take this word — into customers, because I know full well that those are the people that are supporting my life and supporting the film industry and the kind of movies that I like to make," he said. "I’ve been very gratified to have them as customers. I grew up working in stores, working in the stationery store, working in the flower shop, working as a waiter, working in various capacities, and I have respect for my customers. So that’s maybe a distinction that’s not immediately apparent to people."
Ford's lack of enthusiasm for playing Han Solo forever is understandable. It's not unlike Jennifer Lawrence's relationship with The Hunger Games or Chris Evans's work with Marvel — there's a risk of burnout, and a risk of being tied to something ultra-successful, because these actors have to keep on playing a role they may no longer enjoy. But that shouldn't take away from our appreciation of Ford's work.
As Ford himself explains, he sees a distance between himself and his fans, but he also has a sense of respect for those fans. He may not have enjoyed the way Return of the Jedi turned out but still performed the role of Han Solo out of respect for the character and reverence for his fans. The same is true for The Force Awakens — Ford doesn't have to love Han Solo the way we love Han Solo. And Ford understands this better than anyone.