FeaturedFeminism

How Han Solo Transformed a Misogynist Trope in The Force Awakens

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FORCE AWAKENS! YOU FOOLS! TURN AWAY NOW!

SERIOUSLY

SERIOUSLY.

Okay.

First of all, I saw The Force Awakens last weekend and I fucking loved it. I loved the action, I loved the new characters, and I particularly loved the blooming romance between Poe and Finn. It felt like Star Wars in a very real way that Episodes I-III just didn’t.

One of my very few criticisms of the film is the scene in which Kylo Ren kills Han Solo. It lacked emotional depth for me, because the plot up until that point hadn’t allowed them any time to relate to one another and show us any glimpse of their underlying love for each other. Over on Facebook, fellow Skepchick Mindy had the same complaint, and we agreed that the scene would have been more powerful if they had a few interactions prior to the death, possibly even pushing that scene into the next film.

Mindy pointed out that J.J. Abrams said he decided to kill Han off in this film because he was a “great, sexy piece of luggage” who wasn’t “evolving” as a character. Killing him gave the film “guts.”

And Han’s death wasn’t just for shock value: it served a crucial purpose of advancing Kylo Ren’s character. The Force Awakens is a story about the evolution of a new Big Bad. Unlike Darth Vader, who was a fully formed evil dude when Episode IV premiered, Kylo Ren is only a baby-bad at the beginning of TFA. The murder of his own (widely loved by the audience) father is the event that pushes him over the edge into Severely Fucked Up Asshole territory.

I loved reading Abrams’ reasoning for the scene, not because it made the scene better in my view, but because it revealed the full extent of how (unintentionally?) feminist the movie really is. A lot of attention has rightfully been paid to Rey, who is an awesome badass female hero, which has resulted in some Men’s Rights Activists/idiots complaining that she’s a “Mary Sue.” But I haven’t seen anyone point out the actual trope that the film hit on: Women in Refrigerators, but with Han as the woman.

“Women in Refrigerators” is a trope named after a particular Green Lantern story in which the title character’s girlfriend is murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator. It refers to any fictional female character who is killed or otherwise disempowered solely to further the story arc of a male protagonist.

I’m sure you get where I’m going, here. In the previous films, Han was a central, important character. He was the subject, someone in control of his own destiny. In TFA, Han is an object. He’s sexy luggage. He has nothing to do but sit there and look pretty, so Abrams decided he’d be best used for shock value and character-building for Kylo Ren when he’s murdered. Just like female characters in the previous 100 years of cinematic history.

Han in the Refrigerator. It has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Just don’t confuse it with Harrison Ford’s other iconic character’s meme, Nuking the Fridge.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

Previous post

Quickies: Beauty Tips from the Victorians, Teaching Creationism in School, and Curing Cancer

Next post

Quickies: Misandry, the history of teaching, fighting online abuse, and gendered pricing

12 Comments

  1. December 23, 2015 at 6:28 pm —

    It’s actually worse, as Abrams is straight up lying (though to be fair Han being Darth Whiny’s father is an obvious last minute rewrite … it is meant to be Luke). Han doesn’t even die to further Kylo Ren’s (non-existant) character, Han dies because Obi-Wan died at this point in the movie. He, like all the the characters, is a meat puppet meant to mirror an infinitely better movie, without earning any of the goodwill its cynical nostelgia hopes to raid.

    • December 23, 2015 at 11:43 pm —

      1 2 3 4 I declare thumb war on spoilers and such. Please remove this post’s comments from the comment notifier, especially given Benny’s good post on spoilers recently.

      How is it an obvious last minute rewrite? The entire plot revolves around him being Han & Leia’s son, thus they are estranged, thus Han is off smuggling while Leia does Resistance stuff to oppose the evil her son serves… Also, you can decide you don’t like the reason for Han’s death, but it is very well sold throughout the film that Kylo Ren is struggling with his emotions and feelings, and that combined with the classic “there is good in him” conflict from the original films is well mirrored (and I mean mirrored, because instead of the son redeeming the father, the son is damned by his actions towards the father). Meanwhile, Rey & Finn are very likeable characters who absolutely earned the goodwill of my wife and I watching the movie.

    • December 26, 2015 at 6:00 pm —

      I’ve been under the assumption that Kylo Ren was a reference to the EU character Jacen Solo, a.k.a. Darth Caedus. They’re so much alike it’s scary.

  2. December 23, 2015 at 6:41 pm —

    Spoilers spoilers alert alert so people looking at the comments feed don’t get Spoilers’d on the Force Awakens!!!!!

    Am I safe?

    My wife and I loved the interplay around Finn dragging Rey around too. Finn meets Rey because he’s going to go be her White Knight, but she saves herself. Then when they’re running away, he keeps grabbing her hand, and she keeps pointing out he doesn’t need to. Even at the end, he’s just her ride, she got herself out, and then SHE saves HIM from Ren.

    Side note: Daniel Craig cameoing as the weak-minded stormtrooper was awesome.

  3. December 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm —

    I’m of the opinion that “their underlying love for each other” doesn’t exist, because Kylo Ren is Kilgrave. He was sent to Luke for training because he was mind-controlling his parents and Force-choking his babysitters. He talks about being tempted to the Light because he’s been on the Dark Side since the first time Leia was slow with the bottle or Han didn’t change him fast enough.

    • December 23, 2015 at 9:40 pm —

      I was about to ask “you mean like Kevin?” But then I remembered that’s Kilgrave’s name too.
      You mean like the Kevin of “We Need to Talk About Kevin”?

  4. December 23, 2015 at 10:32 pm —

    Spoiler comment under a spoiler article!

    Don’t know if I buy it, the death was too appropriate and plot significant to be a fridging. To really be a fridging it has to be deeply unfair to the character of the victim, the victim can’t matter to the killer except as a way to hurt the hero. Ben killed his father to satisfy his own desire, not to hurt Leia or Luke or Chewie or the new kids. They’re clearly at the climax of an important plot thread for both of them, one that we aren’t 100% privy to because the movie isn’t five hours long but that we see enough of to understand.

  5. December 24, 2015 at 2:40 pm —

    For me the scene worked with Han and Kylo not having much interaction. Someone pointed out the way he calls his father “Han Solo” the whole time to distance himself. I don’t think it would have been better if they had warm moments before the scene.

  6. December 27, 2015 at 8:11 pm —

    Spoiler comment for spoilers post

    Hope
    This
    Is
    Enough
    Space
    To
    Avoid
    The
    Feed

    Ok so I actually think it was better without the interaction. It sounded like Han thought they pretty much lost their son anyway. In fact I think that’s why the scene worked. Deep down Han thought Kylo was already lost and Han wasn’t capable of bringing him back (if anyone is going to being him back its Leia because she still believed).

    As for fridging… I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that Han replaced Obi wan in this movie. He was a guide to start Rey’s story. He was there to help her start…in this case the feed her mechanical reasoning and piloting skills… But he is a plot device like Obi-Wan. The father Rey didn’t have (obi was the father Luke never had) and lost just as she thought life would be better. I really don’t see this as fridging, but I think that he was a plot device for our main character.

    I really loved the Poe/Finn romance. It’s Leia Han romance all over again!

  7. December 27, 2015 at 8:26 pm —

    “One of my very few criticisms of the film is the scene in which Kylo Ren kills Han Solo. It lacked emotional depth for me, because the plot up until that point hadn’t allowed them any time to relate to one another and show us any glimpse of their underlying love for each other. Over on Facebook, fellow Skepchick Mindy had the same complaint, and we agreed that the scene would have been more powerful if they had a few interactions prior to the death, possibly even pushing that scene into the next film.”

    My exact thought.

  8. February 13, 2016 at 4:51 pm —

    Don’t forget that in the Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo was frozen in carbonite and was freed in Return of the Jedi by his lover, Princess Leia, who was a badass a hero then as Rey is in the Force Awakens.

    I read that Han Solo was actually killed off because the actor playing him, Harrison Ford, had stated clearly that he did not want to do any more Star Wars films, so the producers merely gave him his wish. The fact that Luke Skywalker only appears at the very end of the film may indicate Mark Hamill also was reluctant to take part but had to be persuaded to do that cameo.

Leave a reply