How Star Wars Toy Sales Saved Han Solo's Life

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Harrison Ford has an interesting relationship with one of his most iconic roles. The actor is probably best known for his portrayal of Han Solo in the "Star Wars" movies, a character recognized the world over — but Ford's own comments about the character are similarly renowned. Ford was outspoken about his hopes of retiring Han Solo (that is, getting Lucasfilm to kill him off) as far back as the original trilogy. When his character finally bit the dust in "Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens," Ford was decidedly satisfied. "I've been arguing for Han Solo to die for about 30 years," he remarked at the time, "not because I was tired of him or because he's boring, but his sacrifice for the other characters would lend gravitas and emotional weight."

But why exactly did it take so long for Ford's wishes to finally be honored? Speculation has swirled for years about Han Solo's fate behind the scenes — whether he was meant to die in the original films, and when — but the details were confirmed when production began on the sequel trilogy years later. As it turns out, Lucas and "Star Wars" producer Gary Kurtz did have plans to kill Han in "Episode VI — Return of the Jedi," although in a much darker iteration of the film. But Lucas eventually decided to go a different route, and according to Kurtz, it had a lot to do with toy sales.

What might have been

Kurtz has been pretty vocal about the major changes that were made to "Return of the Jedi" during development. The producer told IndieWire all about the original plan for the finale of the original trilogy, which was originally meant to fracture Han, Luke and Leia's relationship piece by piece. Though the film would begin with Luke and Leia successfully rescuing Han from Jabba the Hutt and his carbonite prison, "he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base."

The "Imperial base" in question could easily have been the base on Endor, which takes up a large part of the final battle in "Return of the Jedi." The original outline for the film also saw Luke taking Darth Vader's mantle after defeating the Sith, leaving Leia to fight the good fight all alone. It wasn't the best way to conclude a trilogy, particularly one designed for kids. More than that, such a devastating ending likely would have thrown a wrench into the franchise's lucrative toy sales.

"George then decided he didn't want any of the principals killed," Kurtz explained. The director ultimately chose "a euphoric ending with everybody happy" over a "bittersweet and poignant" end for his heroes. And whether toy sales really were the root cause, or just a part of the appeal, I think we can all agree that "Return of the Jedi" as it stands today is a more fitting ending all around.