Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has the difficult job of wrapping up more than nine movies worth of story, and that includes some sort of closure for the original three main characters — Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo. When the movie begins Leia’s still alive, Luke Skywalker is dead but capable of appearing as a Force ghost, and Han Solo is dead in a more regular capacity.
How does Episode IX honor Han’s legacy? It does so in a controversial and rather confusing way. Let’s dive in.
Spoilers follow for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
After Rey is outed as Palpatine’s granddaughter, she’s confronted by Kylo Ren in the wreckage of the second Death Star on one of Endor’s moons, leading to what’s probably the franchise’s single best lightsaber duel. Lightyears away, Leia sacrifices herself, using the rest of her life force to communicate with her son from afar. All she can manage is to whisper his name on the wind, but it’s enough to set him on a path towards redemption — especially because it stuns him long enough for Rey to stab him through the gut.
Rey heals Kylo with her newfound Force power and steals his ship, leaving him to contemplate what a jerk he’s been all this time. It doesn’t take long before Harrison Ford appears, reprising the role of Han Solo. Within the logic of Star Wars, this makes little to no practical sense when we’re so used to seeing Force ghosts and also know that Han Solo was never anything close to resembling a Jedi.
Ben Solo is quick to point out that this vision of his father is just a “memory.” But because immediately after this Rey goes to Ahch-To and speaks with the Force ghost of Luke, all of this can get a bit confusing. Luke is “real,” but Han is not. He’s something closer to a hallucination. If anything, maybe Leia created this vision for Kylo Ren so that he might find peace with his internal struggle?
Han is about as real as the scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry Potter talks to Dumbledore in his own head. (“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”) It is not happening in the literal sense, but on some narrative, thematic level, it’s still happening.
The dialogue in this scene plays like a deliberate, forced inversion of their conversation right before Kylo Ren kills Han in The Force Awakens, except rather than kill his father with the red lightsaber, Ben instead tosses it into the ocean. Ben worries that it’s too late for redemption, and Han assures him that it’s always possible.
We also get a nice callback to this classic exchange between Leia and Han.
Like so much of The Rise of Skywalker, this scene looks great and strikes a strong emotional chord, but the longer you interrogate it and analyze what’s going on, the less sense it makes. Did Ben Solo really talk to his father or not? The real answer is that it doesn’t matter at all.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now in theaters.