It is one of the few gut-wrenching scenes of The Force Awakens and it resonates across the six previous films … the fateful meeting of a Parent, a Child and Death.
Remarkably little has been said or written about this scene. Many people expressed little surprise, some complained that it happened while one could see it coming for miles. Indeed it was a scene that provoked little shock in the cinema’s at the time, despite some outrageous reaction video’s online suggesting otherwise. Was Han’s death a throw away scene that served the mere purpose of making Kylo look evil? In an interview JJ Abrams seemed to suggest almost this was the case despite a thinly veiled attempt to ‘talk-up’ the scene. So what is there to say about this scene? Let’s watch it again:
Like so many scenes in Star Wars films, and animation series, also this scene only reveals it’s true nature when put next to similar yet different scenes from the other movies. People often think solely in terms of what an author wanted to say with a scene, however Star Wars scenes speak a language of their own.
Red & Blue
Of all the scenes in The Force Awakens this is one of the most colourful ones, in the literal sense of the word. There is a very strong presence of red and blue in the scene occupying different and varying parts of the image. Red often indicates, in Star Wars, confusion of feelings and competing emotions whereas blue usually indicates clarity. When Obi Wan sees Darth Maul cut down Qui Gon in The Phantom Menace, shimmers of red envelop his face in the reaction shot and his facial expressions reveals how hate, anger and a Jedi’s sense of focus and clarity struggle for control over his actions. When Luke sees Obi Wan struck down in A New Hope he is enveloped in blue: Luke is distraught and shocked of course, but not confused or overcome by dark emotions such as hate and anger.
The scene of Kylo and Han bathes in red and blue, with the intensity of the red increasing as the scene progresses. Evidently what starts out as a scene where both characters have settled into their emotional positions with some degree of clarity, new feeling surface and compete increasingly for control of the situation. There is a distinct degree of anger in Han’s facial expressions, while Kylo’s face depicts a conflict between the unwilling submission of a young adult that has transgressed and a saddened adult that sees the bitter end before it comes. When the star, whose energy is sucked up by the Star Killer weapon, is extinguished the hues of blue altogether disappear and the scene now exclusively awash in red.
The whole setting, the high bridge, the lights in the background, reminds us of the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Vader tempts Luke to join him and reveals his fatherhood. A father who tries to turn his son, a son who prefers death over joining his father. In that scene Darth Vader stretches out a hand as Luke falls into the depths of Cloud City. In The Force Awakens we see something that seems similar at first sight; a father that attempts to turn his son into joining him and a son that prefers death over joining his father, albeit his father’s death rather than his own. Evidently this parallel is intentional and tells us much about Kylo’s character. Where Luke’s sacrifice in Return of the Jedi was foreshadowed in his willingness to die in Empire Strikes Back, it can be legitimately feared that Kylo’s willingness to murder his father might also be a foreshadowing of things to come.
However there are other resonances of Han & Kylo’s scene within the cinematic Star Wars universe. Let us look at the scene in which another young Skywalker meets a parent that leads to this parent’s death: Shmi and Anakin in Attack of the Clones.
Note how, when you compare shots, Anakin takes Han’s position in the left of the frame while Kylo is in Shmi’s position in the right. Shmi’s death is set not in blue and red but in a fiery orange/yellow. In Attach of the Clones this is also the colouring of Anakin’s and Padme’s most commonly discussed love scene. It signifies danger, intense emotion but also warmth. It is only when after Shmi’s death an uncontrollable rage surges in Anakin that the reddish tones get the upper hand. But what is most striking is what Shmi does just before she dies, which Han also does just before he dies: the parent touches the face of the child.
Think about that for a moment! If there is a behavioural signal of a human being taking the parent role in relation to another human it are such gestures of caressing the other’s face. They are universally recognisable. Shmi confirms her bond with Anakin as his mother and states that now she is complete. Han also confirms the bond with his son in that moment of his death.The anger has dissipated from his face as he is about to enter into the Force, he finally recognizes Ben again and perhaps Han to, without explicitly saying so, is now complete. The son he avoided, the drama he ran away from, has now absorbed him and become part of him.
The interaction between Anakin and Shmi is one of tactile and tangible love between a parent and a child. Quite unlike the initial phase of the meeting between Han and Kylo. But in the parent’s death, the parent-child relationship is visually confirmed and the two scenes echo one another in a shared intimate moment and gesture. In Attach of the Clone is was the Child that attempted the rescue of the Parent, in The Force Awakens the Parent attempted the rescue of the Child. The rescuer, in the left of the frames of both scenes, failed in both instances.
There is of course another parental death in the presence of a child in Star Wars: Anakin’s death in the presence of Luke.
Note how in the shots of that scene Anakin is in the left of the frame, the rescuers position! But wait … wasn’t Luke going to save his father? Now of course everyone will remember that just prior to Anakin’s death it is Anakin who saves his son from death at the hands of the Emperor. Anakin bathes in blue light during those shots. He is not at all conflicted, as many viewers still believe he is at that moment, he is not torn between allegiance to the Emperor or his son rather there is complete clarity in his heart.
That clarity persists when Luke frantically tries to get Anakin out of the slowly incinerating second Death Star while Anakin embraces the unavoidable. There is no return to normality for Anakin, he knows that, but there is one more act of recognition he can undertake. Looking upon Luke ‘with his own eyes’ as Anakin calls it is the gesture of recognition in Return of the Jedi. Luke replies by putting his hand on Anakin’s shoulder … it is the moment they can stare at each other as equals. And you know what?
For a brief moment, a flash of a second, Kylo Ren is indeed Ben Solo who does the same with his father. As Han falls into the blue depths of the Star Killer base, Kylo touches his shoulder for just the briefest of moments.
Redemption for Kylo?
Han’s death scene uses parallels with Empire Strikes Back to foreshadow that this infamous murder might only be the beginning of Kylo’s familial killing spree. But at the same time it draws parallels to Attack of the Clones and Return of the Jedi to emphasize that in a moment of agony the father-son connection between Ben and Han is restored from both sides. Does this mean that there is a chance for redemption of Kylo? Who knows! But what I do think is that it means that the moment his father falls, Kylo recognizes there is definitely not just ‘to much of Vader in him’ but also a great deal of Han.