Alright, I think enough time has passed that we can talk about a certain character’s death without needing to say SPOILERS…wait, maybe not. I’m going to mention some pretty beloved characters’ deaths in this one. You’ve been warned.
**SPOILERS – Star Wars, Game of Thrones, & Shannara (books, and possibly season 2)**
Alright, still here? Good.
Just the other day I read an article about the death of Han Solo. I’m not going to link to it, the writer was very angry, and very short sighted. They hated Abrams for killing their childhood fantasy, for making Han’s death cheap. But I think it did just the opposite. It was a great move, and one I know must have been hard for everyone involved.
Now, just to be clear, I love it when good characters get the axe.
Not because I’m a horrible person, or because I’m always rooting for a good villain (one or both of those things might be true…), but because it seals them away, keeping them in an awesome place, where the writer can’t touch them anymore. Ned Stark, while tragic in all his beheaded-ness, can never lose his status as a kick-ass character. The writers can’t have him go off and join a bunch of useless plot lines just to draw out the story. He gets to remain awesome, while Tyrion has dwindled to become a sad pawn who has to fight his way back into our hearts. A worthy fight, if he can do it, though all the while Ned remains as great as ever.
The same is true of Han. (Well, aside from the dreaded prequel Solo movie…)
Han’s death, at the hands of his very angry and emotional son, wasn’t just done for shock. It was tragedy, and it was great. I don’t think it happened because Harrison Ford wanted to quit, or problems on the set. I think its a great move by Abrams, Disney, and everyone who had a hand in it. It makes Kylo Ren hated by us the viewers, and it reminds us (or it should) that these characters face real stakes. Makes us remember that they are not safe just because the writers, or the fans, love them. Han Solo wasn’t a god. He was a character, he had flaws, he made mistakes, he made bad choices.
And then, he died.
On the flip side, when heroes CAN’T die, we get bad stories.
I recently saw the third Expendables movie. I enjoy a good 90’s action movie, always have. The action, the unrealistic craziness, and the sheer overwhelming adrenaline of those movies sits fine with me. Where are they missing the mark? Well, not one of these “expendable” mercenaries will ever fail. They’re all way to valuable to their own ego’s. Three movies in, and I’ve lost all belief in the stakes in that world. (Mind you, we were never asked to invest much in the first place, that’s the beauty of that type of story.)
As much as I might love a character, when they survive and I know they shouldn’t, I know that I’ve been let down somehow. I know that good writing was held back because of people were scared of feelings and backlash from fans.
Learn To Let Go
These are the two books which might be, initially, most responsible for my feelings here. Garet Jax and Garth, among others. Many, many others… As a kid, I think I cried when those parts crumbled down around me. I hated it, and Brooks for doing that to me. I wanted that Weapons Master to go on forever. I didn’t understand why it had to happen.
But I know now that it did.
My heroes have always died. Books helped me with that. Even at a young, young age. Tragedy makes the heroes shine.
If all those characters had of gone on, if their were endless tales of adventure well past their prime, their stories would lose their effect. The characters would lose their meaning. Writers love theirs characters, yes. Of course they do. The goods, bads, and all the ugly little greys in between. But when characters remain too long, when a writer just can’t let them go and move on, well…well then you get someone like Drizzt Do’Urden who, while an awesome character, will never die. We know it. R.A.Salvatore loves him too much. And so he just goes on, a mortal immortal… If a writer only has one good idea, they’ll grind it right into the ground.
(Now, I say all this with full understanding that their are 30 unexplored years for Han and Chewie that will no doubt come out in comic book or novel of the month form. But his death is safe, it has been canonized, and no one else can touch it.)
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that a character’s death can make their moments, their fictional life, truly matter. Han Solo’s simple belief that he could help his son, well, it sucks. Of course it does. But it makes sense within the narrative, it gives a tragic completion to Han, and it ushers in a new starting point for new stories. New stories, and that’s the point that really matters. The story was never about Han Solo. Just like Game of Thrones isn’t about Ned. As much as I want to watch Han and Chewie fly around in the Falcon forever, it would diminish everything about him, everything he had done and every decisions he had made, had he walked away from the encounter with his son.
So here’s to Han, and Eddard Stark, and to Garet Jax. In death you become untouchable, even (and especially) to your writers.