In my last post I discussed the in-universe reasons for Han Solo’s suicide. It’s a great theory, but does it stand up to scrutiny from the technical perspective? Does the movie itself stand as witness to the truths I proclaim? Well, to be honest, it’s kinda up in the air. But let’s take a look!*
First, a link to the scene, so you can follow along:
The important part, for us at least, starts when Han reaches out to take the lightsaber from Ben. You’ll notice that he places his hand on the middle of the lightsaber, with Ben’s hands open on either side. There’s a lot of symbolism there about light and dark (there’s a lot of symbolism in the whole scene really), but that isn’t the focus here. Han Solo committing suicide to save his son from being a big baddie is.
When Han approaches Ben, Ben talks about being torn apart, and how he wants his father’s help. We, as the audience, interpret this as a plea to return to the light. Han, as a father, is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter the danger to himself. He agrees to help, to do whatever it is that Ben needs him to do. Han wants to save his son from the dark side, but more importantly than that, he wants his son to be happy (and despite having cookies, the dark side ain’t all that happy). When Ben proffers his lightsaber, Han reaches out to take it.
So there’s Han and Ben, and the lightsaber between them. They talk a bit, and Han sees the conviction in Ben, and knows that there’s nothing he can do to stop his son from taking the final step into darkness (for more on this, see my previous post: Han Solo’s Suicide). Han then realizes that the choice isn’t if he will die, it is how he will die. If Ben kills him, then his son will have fallen fully to the dark side. But if he kills himself then he can prevent that final act, and leave his son with a chance for redemption.
Of course he takes that chance. He activates the lightsaber himself, and boy does it hurt. That’s why he looks so surprised. Lightsabers are wholly unique weapons, and as such hurt in a wholly unique way. Lightsabers fry a hole straight through you, incinerating your organs and cauterizing the wound. A more elegant weapon indeed. Plus, it’s not like Han had some time to mentally prepare to . . . stab himself so his son couldn’t. Wow, that’s rough.
But wait, you argue. Ben shoves the lightsaber into Han! There’s no way Han did that too! Nope, you’re right, there isn’t. Ben lied to himself, made himself give that final push, so that he could later tell himself that it was in fact he who killed Han Solo, and that he did make the final step into the dark side. This obviously sets up a return to the light (cough cough just like Vader), but we’ll have to wait a few more years to see.
Ben’s final words to Han are “thank you”. The obvious conclusion is that he is thanking Han for his sacrifice, so that Ben can fully embrace the dark side of the Force. However, if Han did in fact commit suicide, then Ben thanked him instead for offering him a chance at redemption. Even as his father fell away from him, Ben realized that his father’s last act was to give him a gift: the gift of hope.
*Warning: the following discussion may bum you out, because nobody likes the idea of the great (maybe not so great) Han Solo dying.