Han is alive. Take a moment, Fast & Furious fans, to let that sink in.
Sung Kang’s character returned to the franchise in the final moments of the Fast & Furious 9 (or F9, if you prefer) trailer, which arrived Friday via a massive Miami-set concert showcase that reunited fans with longtime stars Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel.
F9, which also marks the return of popular series helmer Justin Lin, pits Diesel’s Dom Toretto against John Cena’s Jakob, a villain who is revealed to be (surprise!) Dom’s brother. The familial connection proves that Fastisn’t straying from its soap opera-like formula, but the resurrection of Kang’s Han Lue was the out-of-nowhere twist that left the largest impression, considering the character was last seen in the driver’s seat of an exploding Mazda RX-7.
The winding, continuity-challenged framework of this franchise — charming to fans and headache-inducing to others – is difficult to follow, but for the uninitiated, here is where things stand.
Han was introduced and killed off in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a film that, outside of a Vin Diesel cameo, was thought to have no connection to the original. However, Han returned for 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five, and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. It’s later revealed that Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 6, with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw taking credit for Han’s murder. The same death sequence is also replayed at the beginning of 2015’s Furious 7, sending Dom into a fury and serving as the impetus for the film’s revenge plot.
Now, three sequels and one spinoff later, Han returns in F9, still munching on potato chips — a character trait that lets the audience know it’s really him.
Following the trailer’s release, “Han Is Alive” and “Justice for Han” became top trending topics on Twitter, with fans rejoicing at the return of the franchise favorite. While Han’s return should be a celebratory moment, it raises an important question: What happens when there are no stakes left in this series?
Fast has pulled the back-from-the-dead stunt once before, with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz returning in Fast & Furious 6 after her character was killed off in 2009’s Fast & Furious. Letty’s death, like Han’s, was a game-changer, but, as fans know, the franchise is all about family, and the creative forces behind the scenes just can’t seem to move on.
Even the villains of Fast & Furious live to antagonize our heroes another day, with Statham among those who have taken on anti-hero roles in subsequent films. Charlize Theron is back in F9 after her cyber-terrorist villain, Cypher, survived the events of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Knowing what we know, it would be truly shocking if John Cena’s heel turn lasted more than one film, as the WWE star will surely survive the events of F9.
It should be noted that the death that most impacted the franchise occurred offscreen, when Paul Walker was killed in a car wreck in 2013. His character, Brian O’Connor, was “retired” and given an emotional sendoff at the end of Furious 7.
Nine films in (10 if you count spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Fast & Furious has taken great care to preserve its remaining core. But at what cost? How can characters evolve if every tragedy gets a do-over?
Star Wars fans just went through a similar experience in December, with Chewbacca’s “death” in The Rise of Skywalker. The iconic character was thought to have been killed when Daisy Ridley’s Rey zapped a First Order prisoner transport with Sith lightning. Just as the emotional weight of Chewie’s death was sinking it, Rey learned she zapped a different transport, and the Wookie was still alive. For a moment, fans thought Star Wars had actually gone there. The filmmakers had the rug pulled out from under the audience, only to have Chewbacca reappear, still alive and waiting to be rescued.
No tears. No loss. No risk. Luke Skywalker even drives it home, proclaiming, “No one is ever really gone.”
Fast & Furious revels in its melodrama and “family is everything” attitude. But its unrelenting loyalty to the family comes at the expense of advancing the story and its characters. The franchise turns 20 years old in 2021. Its Day One fans have grown up, maybe it’s time Fast did too.