Much has been made about the depressingly Binks-riddled prequel act of Star Wars. What else can you say? The original trilogy features torture, planet-wide genocide, and several counts of alien dismemberment, all that juicy stuff. The prequels feature annoying battle droids, racist frog people, and exactly one incredibly awesome villain who gets chopped in half and is never mentioned again. Great actors like Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman offer career-worst performances because it’s hard to react to empty green screens. Hayden Christensen exists. It was just a bad experience overall.
Which is why it has become a bit too easy to forgive the original trilogy for some of its own glaring flaws. Never mind the fact that Luke and Leia just so happen to be brother and sister or that Boba Fett can slaughter his way across half the galaxy and not survive a Three Stooges gag, Star Wars basically ends with a musical number. You almost expect Han to put on a top hat and start with the jazz hands when those Ewoks do their helmet drum thing.
I’m not one of those Return of the Jedi haters. I still love the movie, it’s got plenty of fantastic scenes even if it is where George Lucas’s kid-friendly attitudes started to peek through all the layers of awesome. But there’s an alternate universe out there where Star Wars ends with character deaths and ambiguity, and that’s a place I’d like to visit even if I don’t want to live there.
Once upon a time, Star Wars was going to go out with a bang instead of a drum solo. And if not for the madness of King George of House Lucas, the world would be very different today.
To isolate this point where the story diverged into a toy commercial, we have to look at Gary Kurtz. An accomplished producer of many classic films, Kurtz has gone down in history as one of the dozens of talented people who actually built Star Wars while George Lucas sat around and thought about action figures. The man produced the first two films in the series and was unceremoniously dropped from the third one because, in his opinion, Lucas had simply stopped giving a shit about the story. Kurtz went on to make The Dark Crystal and Lucas made approximately all the money, so it’s a bit ambiguous who eventually won out.
What’s not ambiguous is that Kurtz’s original idea for the ending of Star Wars would have changed the world as we know it. Because Han was originally supposed to die while attacking the Imperial base and Luke was supposed to fly off into the sunset, Clint Eastwood-style. That snapping sound you just heard was your childhood breaking in half.
Yes, Han wasn’t supposed to survive the series. Kurtz’s idea for a Star Wars finale would have been “bittersweet and poignant”, probably with significantly less mucking around with cannibalistic teddy bears. We have precious few details to go on but it would certainly have been more adult. A grieving Leia would go on to lead the New Republic on her own and Luke would be off to parts unknown to mete out frontier justice as the Jedi once did years ago.
The more I think about this ending the more it starts to make sense, especially considering how badly Harrison Ford wanted to run screaming from the series and do something with more dramatic range. Ford’s a complicated guy and his attitudes towards Star Wars have shifted a lot over the years, but one thing that’s been pretty consistent, up until recently anyway, is that he’s always felt Han Solo should have died.
That’s why they introduced the carbonite-freezing subplot in the first place. Because no one was sure if Ford was going to come back for the third movie because he was just so done with it all.
Please don’t think that Ford was doing all of his space swashbuckling through gritted teeth, by the way. Mark Hamill recalls seeing Ford throw himself into the role with enthusiasm, writing detailed character notes and taking direction with glee. There’s the infamous story of his onscreen “I know” ad-lib where he finally told Lucas he wasn’t going to deliver any more wooden lines, but it’s worth pointing out that Ford understood and cared enough about his character that he was able to provide such an iconic alternative.
Even so, it does seem like Ford was ready to exit Star Wars in a permanent way, with only Lucas’s promise of enormous piles of money keeping Han alive. And since he’s likely playing a major role in the upcoming Force Awakens film, this is all academic anyway.
You want to know how I’d do it? You really want to know? Okay, fine, I’ll tell you, but just to soften the blow of losing Han, let me at least assure that this guy also gets a much more fitting end.
Boba Fett is the greatest example of Badass Decay since the Klingons. He’s played up as some galaxy-renowned bounty hunter and he manages to accomplish precisely jack before getting slapsticked into an alien sand trap. Our new ending is going to let him breathe a little bit, show off some of those tricks he’s got hiding in his utility belt.
We can pick up with Han’s frozen body being held by Jabba the Hutt. Luke and Leia’s rescue attempts go awry, they can all get captured and nearly fed to a Tatooine Fly Trap. Hell, Boba can still fall down into the hole as they make their escape. But as eagle-eyed readers may notice, Boba has a perfectly good rocket launcher attacked to that jetpack of his. More than enough for blasting his way out of a Sarlacc pit.
Yes, this happens in the Expanded Universe. Our revised ending is going to have it happen a lot sooner.
Now sporting acid-scarred armor and driven to revenge for personal reasons, Boba Fett pursues Han and company across the galaxy, always one step behind them. In a massive twist of fortune for our heroes, Boba reappears at the assault on the Endor Imperial base and starts causing chaos. He separates Han from Leia and chases him deep into the forest. It’s here that two of the deadliest marksmen in the galaxy have their final battle and it. Would. Be. Epic.
Han’s at a major disadvantage here. Boba’s got firepower, a jetpack, and a Captain Ahab-level obsession with putting Han down for good. Han tries to use the forest and its traps to his advantage but it’s no use. Boba clearly has the upper hand. This is one bounty hunter Han won’t be able to escape.
Both men use up all of their tricks, their grenades and firepower, and every piece of dirty fighting they can muster, until finally it’s just two men alone in the forest with blasters. The time for running is past. Both stand their ground out in the open, draw their pistols, and fire at each other. Han shoots first. Boba goes down.
It’s only minutes later, when Leia’s singlehandedly led the charge to disable the shield generator, that Han comes stumbling back to her clutching his side. He was fast but he wasn’t quite fast enough. There’s a sizable hole in his ribcage.
Lying in his true love’s arms, with a bellowing, groaning Chewbacca close at hand, Han finally drops the sarcasm, and for the first time in the series he tells her he loves her. “I know,” she whispers as he dies.
Like I said, this is all a flight of fancy considering how Harrison Ford will be playing a large role in future Star Wars movies. It would have opened up some interesting ideas for the Expanded Universe, however. Maybe Chewbacca could transfer his life debt to Han’s unborn child that Leia is carrying. Then we could get awesome buddy cop adventures between Han’s young, Force-sensitive son or daughter and her big furry pal. It would be less depressing than Jacen Solo, at least.