I think we can all agree that the Prequel Trilogy isn't held in as universal high regard as the Original Trilogy. It alienated a lot of Star Wars fans who were disappointed with the clumsy story telling, annoying characters, and plot holes. But at the end of the day it didn't hurt us because we never got attached to any of the characters the way we did with Han, Luke, and Leia.
The biggest losses were the deaths of a woman with the worst taste in men and a lot of monks who were stupid enough to have no qualms about trusting their lives to an army of clones of a bad guy who was working for the Separatists until Mace Windu decapitated him. Common sense was clouded worse than the Force was during the Clone Wars apparently. At the end of the day we knew they were going to die the first time we saw them on screen because the end of the story was already written. As a result of all of this none of these deaths hurt the audience at all.
With The Force Awakens we are getting the old band back together. Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, C3-P0 and R2-D2 are the Beatles of sci fi movies. We know that they are capable of elevating the material they have to work with in a way other casts aren't capable of doing. We want their magic to come back and wipe away the Dark Times of the Prequels from our memory. We want them to be invulnerable like they were for the countless Expanded Universe books and comics. We want to imagine that they will always ride off together into the sunset in the end.
While I am mostly spoiler free for The Force Awakens there is one thing I fully expect to happen that is going to be more divisive than every other Star Wars film. It will be worse than Greedo shooting first and Jar Jar Binks combined. If you don't want to be spoiled by my prediction STOP READING NOW!!!
Han Solo is going to die in this movie. There are many reasons for this to happen.
Harrison Ford's biggest complaint about Star Wars has ALWAYS been his belief that Han needed to die in the end. One could argue that it was for fear of being typecast back when his career was still taking off but that doesn't explain why he continues to say it decades later when typecasting is irrelevant to his career at this point.
Another issue is Harrison's age. While he is in great shape there are still only so many movies you can make per year without running yourself ragged. With that in mind we have to think about what films are a priority for him. Harrison has ALWAYS made it clear that he prefers Indiana Jones over Star Wars. He has also expressed regret for the Crystal Skull. He wants to end his days with the whip and fedora on a good note so chances are that he would rather direct his energies towards making a new Indy film happen. With how tightly packed together the release dates are for the Sequel Trilogy he just wouldn't have the time to think about Indy.
The last thing to consider is the star power Harrison has in comparison to the rest of the cast. Disney has made it clear that one of their primary goals with this new trilogy is to develop the new characters and hand the reins over to them. I think we can all agree that John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac are capable actors. But at this stage in their careers they just aren't going to be on Harrison's level. They will always be the second fiddles when Harrison is on screen. The only way they have a chance of taking the reins on the franchise is if he's gone.
But what about Mark Hamill? He's back for the new movies too? Why wouldn't he upstage the new cast too? Because Luke will be able to fill a role that Han never could by being the wise mentor who can lead from the background. While Luke was just as adventurous as Han he also had the ability to sit back and let others take the spotlight. Han always had to be in the thick of things. Han wouldn't be able to step back and be a mentor because he would want to be the one in control.
I have expected Han to die in this particular movie the moment they announced he was coming back for all of these reasons. I would discuss the possibility with other fans on forums and almost all of them refused to consider the possibility. They couldn't understand why Lucasfilm was finally giving Han Solo back to us after all these years only to yank him right out from under us before the end credits start. They freaked out at the possibility I was suggesting. The possibility of Han dying hurt them.
The Force Awakens is going to hurt us in a way that the Prequels couldn't. It could theoretically end up being the best film of the entire saga but end up being the most reviled for daring to hurt the audience. When the end credits hit I can't help wondering how many fans will complain that they didn't use George's treatments for the Sequel Trilogy if only because it gives them a world where the possibility theoretically exists that Han Solo rides off into the sunset.