[Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) has been praised for many things, and while it's not without it's flaws, the film certainly did Han Solo justice. Many fans were concerned that this older version of Han wouldn't line up with the space cowboy scoundrel we know and love from the original trilogy. And while his story in Star Wars 7 did take an unexpected turn, ultimately this really was the best thing for the character.
Spoiler warning: if you still need to be warned about spoilers, you should consider seeing the movie! It's really good.
Killing off such a beloved character was bound to garner criticism from fans. Some argued that the way he died didn't do justice to the character: that Han should have gone down in a blaze of glory. As it happened, Han Solo's death paralleled Obi Wan Kenobi's in A New Hope, right down to his protoges viewing the death and being forced to flee soon after.
Parallels aside, this death was actually the most in character way for Han Solo to die, and here's how it also sets up his role in Episode 8.
"I used to be Han Solo"
We get an interesting view of Han Solo in Star Wars 7: Finn remembers Han as a war hero, while Rey is more impressed with his deeds as a smuggler. Yet when Rey asks if he is Han Solo, Han responds "I used to be", implying he feels distanced from the legend he became.
Han Solo is a man of many disguises. With his roguish attitude it's easy to assume he's just a scoundrel, but the original films proved time and again that Han Solo has a heart of gold. From coming back to help the Rebellion in A New Hope, to leading the charge on Endor in Return Of The Jedi, this scruffy looking nerfhurder isn't nearly as gruff as he'd like us to believe. This is especially apparent in his relationships with both Leia and Luke, both of whom he cares for deeply.
"That's two you owe me, kid."
As the film begins with Han risking his own life to save Luke, we definitely see a softer side to Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. And although he spends a lot of effort seducing her, when Leia is anxious on Bespin Han's first instinct is to support her.
We see this compassionate tendency in Han Solo again in The Force Awakens, as he takes Finn and Rey under his wing, even offering Rey a job. His affection towards these kids he barely knows is obvious, and very true to Han's character.
Although the popular interpretation of Han Solo is that he's a womanising space cowboy, underneath the bravado he's really just a softie. Which is why his death played out perfectly.
Ultimately, Han Solo is on a mission to save his son, the twisted and torn Dark Side acolyte, Kylo Ren. At first he's reluctant to reach out to Ben, but Leia has faith that where Luke Skywalker failed, Han Solo can bring her son back to the Light.
Of course, Han fails. But the important thing is he put himself in danger in an attempt to save his son from the Dark Side. And honestly, I can't think of any action more quintessentially Han Solo than sacrificing himself trying to save someone else. The fantastic thing is, as the newly released screenplay confirms, Han Solo's death may have started Kylo Ren's redemption anyway...
The novelisation also deals with Kylo Ren's shock: it turns out that although he thought killing his father would complete his journey to the Dark Side, his guilt just makes him wish to turn back to the Light more.
So how does this set up Han Solo's appearance in Episode 8? Well, as Snoke completes Kylo Ren's training, we're bound to see him struggle with this inner conflict more. In order to help the audience understand Ben Solo's journey, the best way to do this would be through flashbacks, and that's definitely a way to include Han Solo. Visions and Force ghosts are other options, though as Han never trained as a Jedi, seeing him as a ghost is pretty unlikely.
But considering Kylo Ren is definitely feeling guilty about his father's death, there's no doubt Han Solo's presence will be felt in Star Wars Episode 8... one way or another.