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Movie Legends Revealed | Did ‘Star Wars’ Toys Keep Han Solo From Dying in ‘Jedi’?

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MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Concerns about toy sales kept Han Solo from being killed off in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

One of the biggest decisions that filmmakers have to make when dealing with franchises is how to handle killing off characters. Do you kill one of your main characters? And if so, which one? That debate was a major one for George Lucas when he began working on the final film of the original Star Wars trilogy, and as it turns out, at least one character might have survived due to, of all things, a toy line. Read on to learn what went down in the great “Should Han Solo die in Return of the Jedi?” debate of 1982.

The first seeds of whether to kill off Han Solo came early in the production process for Return of the Jedi (then titled Revenge of the Jedi), based in part on the issue of whether Harrison Ford would even be in the film. Unlike the other main actors, Ford had not signed on to appear in two sequels, and because Raiders of the Lost Ark had made Ford an even bigger star, there was no assurance they would get Ford to sign on for a third movie. So around this time, Lawrence Kasdan, who ended up co-writing the screenplay with Lucas, suggested they pitch Ford on returning only for him to be killed off early in the film for maximum shock value. As you might recall from a previous edition of Movie Urban Legends Revealed, that’s exactly the same approach the filmmakers behind Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan used to get Leonard Nimoy to agree to appear (you can read about the various machinations of that decision here). Lucas didn’t like that idea, and ultimately Ford signed on for Jedi without any assurances that his character would be killed.

However, while Lucas wasn’t on board with Ford’s exit early in the film, according to an interview Geoff Boucher conducted a few years back with original co-producer on the film Gary Kurtz (who had produced American Graffiti and the first two Star Wars films with Lucas), Han was still going to die in the original outline:

We had an outline and George changed everything in it. Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.

The original ending was intended to be a bit more bittersweet, with Leia having to deal with being the new head of a tattered Rebel Alliance and Luke heading off on his own like the Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti Westerns.

Lucas famously worked out a deal with Star Wars where he would maintain the merchandising rights to the film, and as a result, he made billions of dollars with the toy line and other merchandising tie-ins. It would certainly be reasonable to believe that Han Solo dying in Return of the Jedi would dampen the sales of the character’s toys.

Last year, in an ABC interview to promote his film Morning Glories, Harrison Ford spoke about Return of the Jedi and Han Solo, noting:

As a character he was not so interesting to me. I thought he should have died in the last one, just to give it some bottom. George didn’t think there was any future in dead Han toys.

The question then comes down to whether we believe Kurtz and Ford that Lucas’ motivations were based in merchandising rather than just a personal preference. I think that they are believable enough that I’m willing to go with the legend as…

STATUS: Tentatively True

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  • Doug Glassman

    “There’s no future in ‘Dead Han’ toys.” That reminds me of an old ToyFare gag with “Star Wars Toys They’ll Never Make”, including “Charred Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru”.

    Plus, you can get a Japanese version of Masterpiece Optimus Prime which is supposed to represent him when he’s dying in the original movie. The toy markets can be weird.

  • Alex

    I always like the story about Star Wars toys not being able to be made fast enough for Christmas of 1977, so they gave parents promissory certificates, so that they could eventually pick the toys up when they were finally made.
    Also, how Kurtz says that Star Wars was intended to be 9 episodes long and Luke didn’t meet the emporer until Episode 9. I don’t think anyone could of pulled of 6 movies, then go back and do the 3 prequels.

  • Chuck777

    So instead we’re doing 3 films, then 3 prequels, now 3 post-quels? That makes about as much sense as 6 films then 3 prequels. :)

  • Chuck777

    Yeah… They did make a charred Uncle Owen… Who wants to own that toy? So morbid!

  • Vincent Clarke

    There have been 6 films? Huh! I only remember seeing 3! ;-)

  • Thomas Kovach

    I’m not sure how I would have felt about them rescuing Han only to have him die an hour later. Regardless of the reasons, I think letting him live was the right decision.

    The only missteps in ROTJ are Boba Fett’s death and the Ewoks, if you ask me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the Ewoks, but if they had gone with Wookies instead, as was the original plan, it would have been awesome.

  • penguintruth

    I’ll buy nine.

  • sunshine

    that’s not a rumor, that is straight out of gary kurtz’s fucking mouth…

  • Sylar Wesker

    Dead Han?


  • Sylar Wesker

    I dont buy ANY of the GRAND PLAN being 9 films. In fact the original STARKILLER Jedi Whills story seems so far off from what we have, makes you really wonder who the brains behind the imagination of STAR WARS truly is

    Here is a little unknown fact…..before his divorce, Lucas always spoke about how much of an inspiration his wife was…divorce…then…well his track record of crap after speaks for itself.

    Point is this, THERE IS NO GRAND PLAN, NEVER WAS. For every interview or quote you throw at me saying there was, I’ll dig up from my personal scrap book that contradicts it.

    Sorry, but when the fans and other writers have told better stories in EU, time to move on

  • OfWolfandMan

    Tarkin-dead. Porkins-dead. Wampa-dead. Taun Taun, Jabba, D.Maul, Vader, Fett, Qui-Gon………………. Dead, dead, dead………..on and on. Toys. Often difficult to find, a nd/or expensive. Dead Han and poor toy sales? Yeah, right.

  • Beast

    Clearly someone doesn’t watch the Audio Commentaries that come with their DVDs and Blu-rays. It’s not true.

  • Jacob De Paz

    Prequels? What are people talking about?

  • Voice of Reason

    Name the two most popular characters in Star Wars toy history. Vader & Boba Fett. Now, um what happened to them in Jedi? (Just the film! None of that “he crawled out of the Sarlaac pit” post-movie stories. Cause we could have gotten that for Han too had he died.)

  • Chuck777

    He said principles. The only Post-Hope, original trilogy principle you listed was Vader and he needed to die to complete the Cambellian Journey.

    Plus, if we’re going to get technical, if you can manifest as a Force Ghost, then you really aren’t dead.

    Also, I don’t think kids were scrambling for their Tarkin dolls.

  • Chuck777

    Mesa not recognize da Ewoks as a legitimate-sa film-sa. It was a muy, muy travesty!

  • clementinesalmassi321

    my Aunty Olivia recently got
    an awesome Honda by work parttime using a lap-top… imp source J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Spiderpope

    Disney won’t stop at 3 more sequels.

    And judging by Ford’s comments on the character, i’d wager we’ll see Han bite the dust in 2015.

  • Mark Stansfield

    There’s a big part of me that says, if you let toy sales affect your narrative you’ve a big problem.

  • Spiderpope

    Reminds me of the Doctor Who ‘Destroyed Cassandra’ action figure – an empty frame. Fun for children of all ages.

  • lozpot

    You couldn’t rescue Han and then kill him half way through, that would suck – you’d have to wait till the end at least… Great Han picture by the way, not sure I’ve seen that one before. I’m sure he’ll get his death wish in the new trilogy if he signs up. I read an interview with HF in The Shortlist this week, he was even grumpier and more depressing than usual.

  • Bixby

    Really have to agree with you there…Just look at the Clone Wars animated series, not the 3D borefest, the series of shorts directed by Genndy tartakovsky…Immensely more entertaining and engrossing than all 3 prequels combined…

  • Happily LS

    I doubt it’s because they died; they make more interesting toys because they both wear cool looking masks and suits.

  • lewis4510

    It seems to me that Hamill and Fisher are the only ones who’ve shown an interest and haven’t come across as complete arrogant assholes. JJ may feel it’s not worth dealing with Ford’s baggage to include him.

  • misterpl

    They killed off Ben Kenobi, Yoda and Darth Vader. I still see plenty of product based on those characters. Maybe they weren’t considered principals.

  • misterpl

    Reportedly, Ford’s reasoning for killing off Solo was so that, after that point, anything goes. The audience wouldn’t know what to expect next and it would heighten the dramatic tension. Personally I like the idea but I’d have done it earlier, during the rescue attempt.

  • misterpl

    “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” both made more money in merchandising than ticket sales. So yeah, I definitely agree with your statement.

  • misterpl

    This kid was. I even wrote Kenner asking why they didn’t offer an action figure of Vader’s boss. Tarkin was THE bad guy of “Star Wars.”

  • Thomas Kovach

    I guess what I’m saying is that if they were going to kill someone off, I don’t think it should have been the same guy that just got tortured, encased in carbonite, and hung on a wall. Thats too much misfortune for one character, if you ask me.

  • OfWolfandMan

    Principals. Any way, toys sell. My uneducated guess is that many of those dead characters, individually, sell more toys than a H.Solo figure.

  • Chris Creveling

    No, they didn’t actually make that toy. It was a gag.

  • Voice of Reason

    Agreed, but it proves that dying in the movie doesn’t make them less marketable. :-) I don’t think Solo would have sold any more or less than he already has.

  • readerreader

    I got one of those IOU certificates back then. I spent months dreaming of the day I would get my Star Wars dolls. When I finally got them, I was so disappointed, they were so tiny, I was used to bigger sized superhero dolls, with bendable joints. I had to pretend to like them so I wouldn’t look like an ingrate to my parents, that proudly presented them to me. I grudgingly played with them for a week or two, and then buried them at the back of my closet.

  • Ions_revenge

    Ford’s just mad that he wasnt the main character in that trilogy. I guarantee that’s why he always bags on solo….