Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a film nearly perversely dedicated to wrapping up every single loose end humanly (and in some cases, droidly) possible. But only one piece of this saga-ending puzzle elicited a gasp in my theatre: The return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, who was killed by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in The Force Awakens. How did director J.J. Abrams and his crew get Ford, a bit of a known curmudgeon who doesn’t love playing Han, to return for one last ride in the leather vest. Abrams shared the whole thing with Vanity Fair.
The first step was simple: Just ask! “I called him and I said, ‘We want to have a scene in the film between Kylo Ren and his father, would you do it?’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ It’s not more interesting!” With due respect to Mr. Abrams, it is a bit more interesting, as he and Ford had creative meetings over why such a cameo was ultimately necessary to the story.
If you’ve seen the film, you’ll recall that Han appears in a surreal-ish dream to Kylo/Ben, in a fateful meeting that ultimately turns Ben over to the light side. Here’s how Abrams pitched this moment to Ford:
We had a meeting and talked about what it would be. Harrison, who is one of the great people ever, and incredibly thoughtful about everything that he does, all he ever wants is to understand the utility of the character. “What is my role?” It was about sitting with him and explaining what our intention was. We talked about it for quite a while, I sent him the pages. He got it, and of course, as you can see, he was wonderful.
For Abrams, the return of Ford onscreen was essential to Kylo/Ben’s arc — and a beautiful examination of toxic masculinity within the Star Wars world.
Why do you think he wants to kill the past? It’s like there’s this thing that is haunting him. It’s not until he’s shown compassion by Rey that he allows himself to have that conversation. It’s the thing that will crush him, and the idea that he knows the spirit of his father would give him permission and encouragement to go to the light side… To see two characters that are these traditionally pretty tough guys be so vulnerable to me speaks to the beauty of what Star Wars has always been. Star Wars was always a story of the underdog and this inclusive sort of world where anyone, organic or synthetic, male or female, doesn’t matter what your race or species, it’s an equal opportunity place. So I just love having these two men not behaving in a way that you’d necessarily expect to see either of them… And of course having Han get to pay off the “I know” with his son, that was incredibly touching.
Both Abrams and Ford thought they would be done with the Star Wars saga after The Force Awakens — and he shared what it meant for both of them to come back surprisingly. “It was weird to be on the Star Wars set and to share with Harrison the feeling of ‘I never thought I’d be back here doing this.’ Of course his experience was far greater than mine in every way, but it was beautiful having him there with Adam. The two of them always had a great sort of spark. They somehow gave each other permission, not literally before the scene but just their nature, to be open and be so vulnerable.”