How Han Solo Transformed a Misogynist Trope in The Force Awakens
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FORCE AWAKENS! YOU FOOLS! TURN AWAY NOW!
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.