Every Star Wars fan is familiar with carbonite: it’s the special sci-fi alloy that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo was frozen in at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and this kicked off the exciting Rebel rescue mission at the beginning of The Return of the Jedi.
Interestingly, though, George Lucas didn’t originally plan for everyone’s favorite smuggler to get put on ice at the hands of Darth Vader and Boba Fett. The real reason Han Solo got frozen into carbonite was much simpler: unlike Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford had not yet signed on for a second sequel when The Empire Strikes Back was filming.
Harrison Ford Was Always Reluctant To Sign On For More Films
Interestingly enough, the tale of Harrison Ford not wanting to sign on for more Star Wars stories goes back even further than The Empire Strikes Back. When author Alan Dean Foster got the contract to write the novelization of the first Star Wars movie, he received a two-book deal that also let him write a follow-up Star Wars story. That novel was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and it was basically a backup plan for George Lucas: a story that could be adapted into a low-budget film just in case Star Wars ended up being a flop.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Was The Backup Plan
Part of what made Splinter of the Mind’s Eye good fodder (but not Bantha fodder) for a low-budget adaptation is that it had no Han Solo in it, and it certainly didn’t have any carbonite. The reason for that may sound familiar: at the time the book was written, Lucas had been unable to convince Harrison Ford to sign on for the first Star Wars sequel. Therefore, he had a solid backup plan for a low-budget movie sans Solo, but fortunately for Lucas, Ford, and the fans, the first Star Wars ended up being a monster hit.
What Changed Harrison Ford’s Mind?
It was likely the first film’s blockbuster hit status that convinced Harrison Ford to reprise his role as Han Solo. But whether it was because he was unsure if lightning would strike twice or he just didn’t want to be typecast, Ford only signed on for one sequel at first. Since he had no way of knowing if Han Solo would be in Return of the Jedi or not, George Lucas had the character put into carbonite.
How They Would Explain His Absence In Return Of The Jedi
How did doing this help Lucas, though? It’s simple: Empire Strikes Back introduces the idea that the freezing process is dangerous, and even though Han Solo survived the initial carbonite freeze in the movie, his character could easily die in any manner of ways while Boba Fett transported him to Jabba the Hutt. This gave George Lucas the perfect excuse to write Han solo out of the next film if Harrison Ford refused to return.
Obviously, Han Solo does come back for Return of the Jedi, with a disguised Leia leading the charge to rescue him from the carbonite. The primary reason Harrison Ford came back is that Star Wars producer Howard Kazanjian convinced him to do so.
The two were very close after working on Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Ford still didn’t want to stick around the franchise too long: he really wanted Han Solo to die making a big sacrifice, and in earlier screenplay drafts, the character was nearly killed in the middle of Return of the Jedi.
Ford Really Wanted Han Solo To Die
Once you realize Han Solo could have died in the carbonite and that Harrison Ford really wanted him to die in Return of the Jedi, the character’s appearance in the notorious Sequel Trilogy becomes morbidly funny.
After all, the actor finally got his wish when Solo died trying to redeem Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens…only to be brought back so Han Solo could have a chat with the redeemed Ren in The Rise of Skywalker. Forget Palpatine: the really surprising thing about all of these Star Wars films is that “somehow, Harrison Ford returned.”