James T. Kirk may have famously referred to space as “the final frontier” in the introduction to “Star Trek,” but he’d eventually be proven wrong in 1994’s “Star Trek Generations.” Death is the final frontier, the uncharted territory we all travel to at the end.
With resurrection or last-minute reprieves just a technological gizmo away, science fiction is a genre in which death is often not the great hindrance it once was, but there comes a time when even cloaking devices can only hide you from the Grim Reaper for so long. So the final curtain must fall — even on our sci-fi heroes. We often find ourselves not quite prepared. Here is a list of characters from science fiction films that bit the bullet — or more precisely, phaser blast or laser bolt. Although some departed permanently, others returned in ways befitting the genre.
There’ll be more spoilers here than in the Stuttgart Porsche Factory, so be warned. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some characters who boldly went on to the greater beyond, surprising audiences along the way.
Luke Skywalker — The Last Jedi
One of the most contentious of the nine films in the Skywalker Saga, “The Last Jedi” saw a jaded Jedi Luke Skywalker finally buy the moisture farm and leave this mortal coil.
This is one of the more interesting entries on this list because it neatly divides two schools of thought. There are those who believe Luke should have died a more heroic death, perhaps in the midst of a huge lightsaber battle, and there are those who believe his death was completely becoming of the Jedi code. His last moments were spent seeking redemption and avoiding conflict, buying time, and allowing the Resistance to escape.
Having carried out the force illusion he knew was pushing the limits of even his powers, his body on Ahch-To simply fades away. He departs in the same manner as Obi-Wan and Yoda before him, allowing his body to become one with the Force. Only time will tell whether he gets to spend the rest of eternity as a youthful force ghost, or is stuck in his older body like Anakin, depending on which version of “Return of the Jedi” you watch.
Logan — Logan
The sci-fi credibility of “Logan” is established by it being part of a franchise that happily features aliens and obscenely powerful technology. Now we’ve established that, it must be admitted that the Wolverine was the last character from that franchise that we’d ever expect to die.
“Logan” is more of a Western than a superhero movie, and that’s a genre with a long tradition of portraying the old and weary gunslinger dying at the end, having achieved his goals, which are typically some form of revenge.
“Logan” is set in 2029. The ex-X-man once known as Wolverine’s powers are fading with age in a world with few mutants remaining. Assisting a young girl with powers similar to his own, the Ol’ Canucklehead finds himself with a cause: leading mutant children to safety. That costs the adamantium Avenger his life, his healing factor pushed to and beyond its limits. It’s an apt fate for our hero, albeit an unexpected one. When Laura, the young girl he saved, tilts the cross on his gravestone to form an “X,” there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Capt. James T. Kirk — Star Trek Generations
Some entries belong on this list because they came completely unexpectedly or they felt so appropriate, but some (like this) are here purely because they’re so darned unbecoming.
By all rights, Capt. James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) should have died in a space battle with the odds against him and the situation grim. He and the Enterprise should have soared, phasers and warp drive blazing, into the Federation equivalent of Valhalla. Given the captain’s nature and exemplary career, his death was a little underwhelming.
Having been stranded in the Nexus, an intergalactic phenomenon that makes your dreams come true, Capts. Kirk and Picard are forced to team up against the evil El-Aurian scientist Soren (Malcolm McDowell. After a brief struggle in which Kirk misses a trick by not doing his trademarked double-handed punch even once, he finds himself on a rickety metal bridge that collapses, crushing him. The only small solace to take from his death is that it gave a neat spin on the “captain on the bridge” proclamation by giving us the joke “bridge on the captain.” Too soon?
Han Solo — Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It could be argued that Han was as lucky to live as long as he did, being a man with countless bounties on his head engaged in one of the most dangerous space-faring careers — smuggling. And that’s not even to mention his frequent dangerous dalliances with the Rebel Alliance and later the Resistance.
Despite his apparent longevity and luck, audiences had a sense of trepidation when Han approached his estranged son, Ben (also known as Kylo Ren) in the chasms of Starkiller base. In a sentiment oft-expressed by multiple members of the Star Wars cast, they had a bad feeling about this.
In a move that well and truly established Han wasn’t coming back (except as a ghost), the writers had him shish-kebabed by Ben’s light-saber, fall down a chasm, and then they blew the planet up for good measure. It felt unexpected, unfair, and a far from fitting payoff for the lovable and scruffy scoundrel. It was a noble sacrifice, but for nothing, with the act only turning Ben further to the dark side.
Tony Stark — Avengers: Endgame
Robert Downey Jr. had been the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008 and the lynchpin of The Avengers since 2012. The MCU had grown up with him and taken us along for the ride. We’d witnessed the character’s origin, the turmoil of the Marvel Civil War that would turn hero against hero, and Iron Man’s second — and final — confrontation with the Mad Titan Thanos.
With Thanos about to snap his fingers again and finish what he started, all seemed lost, but in one last defiant gesture, Tony Stark steals the Infinity Stones from him and does the very same.
Knowing the act will kill him, he gives one final utterance of the same words with which he introduced himself to the world, “I am Iron Man,” and wins the day, reducing Thanos and his overwhelming forces to dust. The hero who had been there from the very start was no more. Stark’s death is sad, but it is appropriately heroic. “Avengers: Endgame” is a film that sees the loss of more than one of the initial Avengers line-up, and each death is heart-breaking in its own way. However, the fate of Tony Stark seems both the biggest loss and the most poetic.
John Connor — Terminator: Dark Fate
We witnessed his very conception in “The Terminator” and his rise from arrogant kid to leader of the human resistance between the movies “Terminator 2” and “Terminator Genisys.” However, the opening scene of the otherwise forgettable “Terminator: Dark Fate” sees the cybernetic legions of Skynet finally achieve their goal of nipping this troublesome time stem in the bud.
The movie opens three years after their destruction of Skynet, with Sarah Conner and John on a beach in Guatemala. Sadly, their vacation is interrupted by a T-800 that promptly guns down John Connor in cold blood.
It’s a major paradigm shift for a franchise that has concentrated on John as the central character since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” and it’s hard to argue with the canonical aspects of it when it was all James Cameron’s idea. It’s an effective way to shift the expected character dynamics, and despite the rest of the film being decidedly lackluster in comparison, it’s one heck of a memorable death. Sadly, with “Terminator: Dark Face” being a relative flop, the film may well have achieved the goal that Skynet failed at — wiping out the franchise once and for all.
Yondu — Guardians Of The Galaxy 2
There’s no denying that actor Michael Rooker is a muse of sorts to James Gunn, featuring in every single one of the movies he’s directed. Yondu Udonta, the Ravager who kidnapped Peter Quill from Earth, could have been a two-dimensional villain, but Rooker makes him so much more than that.
Whilst on the surface he’s a gruff cyborg with a criminal record as long as an Abilisk’s tentacle, he operates under a strict code of honor, and his sentiment and sense of responsibility for the young Quill kept his young charge alive. It could be argued that he sees himself as a father figure to the young boy, which is quite a feat when his real father was a sentient planet.
Like most Ravagers (members of a nefarious space-faring crime syndicate), Yondu’s actions are mostly self-serving, so it is a genuine surprise when he sacrifices himself for Quill at the end of “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”. It’s a poignant and touching death that serves a greater purpose in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by reuniting the various disparate factions of the Ravagers. Ah, Yondu. We hardly knew ye.
Wash — Serenity
It’s arguable which of the two had the cruelest fate: the “Firefly” TV series for being canceled after a single season, or Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk), the ship’s laconic and lovable pilot.
After an incredible piece of piloting through a chaotic space battlefield of clashing Reaver and Alliance vessels (easily rivaling Han Solo’s stab at the Kessel Run), Wash performs nothing shy of a small miracle and safely lands the ship. Any celebrations are short-lived, though, as Wash has barely finished his small celebratory dialogue about being “a leaf on the wind” before a Reaver spear turns him into a Wash-kebab.
Alan Tudyk did a marvelous job of making the character of Wash his own, being both a neat and level-headed foil to the more headstrong Capt. Mal and one-half of a convincing relationship with his on-screen wife, Zöe (Gina Torres). After the exhilaration and spectacle of the scene that unfolded moments before, what followed should have been celebratory, not upsetting. He’s dead instantly, given no chance to say his farewells. The crew is forced to flee, with Zöe not even given time to grieve. This one still stings like a rusty spear to the gut.
Data — Star Trek: Nemesis
Despite the appearance of a fresh-faced Tom Hardy as Picard’s clone, “Star Trek: Nemesis” is an unexceptional final entry in the “Next Generation” film franchise that seems more like an extended episode than a feature-length epic. However, it did present at least one surprising moment: the death of Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner).
This positronic phenomenon created by Dr. Noonien Soong had been a member of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” bridge crew from the very outset. We’d watched the gold-hued android develop from a naive automaton with the inquisitive mind of a child to a developed, skilled, and valued member of the crew.
So it was with no small sorrow that we watched Data transport Captain Picard to safety at the film’s conclusion, muttering “Goodbye” before dying in a massive explosion and saving the Enterprise. In that last act of sacrifice, the Tin Man, who had for so long sought a heart, proved himself as human as any of his fellow officers.
Newt And Hicks — Alien 3
It’s the unfairness of it all that hurts. The grimdark “Aliens” universe had never been the most optimistic or hopeful, but Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Newt (Carrie Henn), and Hicks (Michael Biehn), a nuclear family thrown together by the nuclear explosion of the terraforming plant on LV-426, were dealt a particularly cruel and ugly hand.
They’d been through hell together, surviving the razor-clawed and fanged Xenomorph horrors of “Aliens,” but for what? Their jettisoned escape pods crash land into the rain-sodden, rusted beige misery of a prison colony on Fiorina “Fury” 161 with Ripley being the only survivor.
It’s not smooth sailing for anybody in this film, with Charles Dance’s Dr. Clemens dying just as he becomes vaguely interesting, but this young, brave kid and her handsome, acid-scarred Marine protector deserve a far-less lugubrious ending. Fans of the franchise may wish to point out that there’s a far more notable death at the film’s climax, but as that’s all partially undone by the events of “Alien: Resurrection,” I’m reserving this spot for these two fallen souls. It would have been interesting to see what writer-director Neil Blomkamp would have done with his reboot, but now we’ll never know.
Obi-Wan Kenobi — Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Only two household names starred in the first “Star Wars” movie, Peter Cushing (famous for his work for the British Hammer Films studio) and multiple Oscar recipient Alec Guinness.
It’s part of a storytelling tradition and therefore, a well-used trope, that the aged mentor needs to die to pass on responsibility to his protégé. We’ve seen this with Gandalf in “The Fellowship of the Ring” and Doctor Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in “Django Unchained.” However, without the benefits of hindsight (and the knowledge that the character will return multiple times as a ghost), it must have come as a surprise in 1977 to witness a film brave enough to kill off an actor of Alec Guinness’ stature.
Dying in battle against the Padawan that he failed, Obi-Wan Kenobi has a noble death, but it’s no less shocking. His actions buy the heroes time to escape, a move that Luke would come to repeat at the conclusion of his life. We’ll conveniently brush over the fact that more sympathy is shown for Luke over a man he met several hours before than for Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) losing two billion of her people.
Spock — Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan
The loss of some characters is more profound simply because they’ve always been there. Leonard Nimoy’s half-human, half-Vulcan S’Chn T’Gai Spock has been on our screens since 1966 and was as essential an element to “Star Trek” as Kirk and the Enterprise. Many of us had known him longer than our own friends and family, and so his death hurt.
Faced with the immutable Vulcan logic that states that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one), Spock decides to sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise and its crew. Having narrowly defeated Khan, it was only the actions of the loyal commander that restored the warp drive, allowing the ship to escape the deadly blast of the Genesis wave. His final scenes with Kirk are moving beyond words, reminding us that their relationship was more about them being friends than mere workmates. The death may have been undone one film later, but at the time, was intended to be permanent — and it shows. We could probably have done without Scotty’s (James Doohan) bagpipe solo at his funeral, though.
Leonard Nimoy sadly died in 2015 at the age of 83, but he left behind a huge legacy that a new generation of actors has more than lived up to.
Caesar — War For The Planet Of The Apes
Despite what William Shakespeare would write in “Julius Caesar,” the end of “War for the Planet of the Apes” and the conclusion of the superlative trilogy sees proud primate Caesar (Andy Serkis) both buried and praised. Banishing any memories of the mediocre Tim Burton reboot, the three new films follow the exploits of Caesar from his humble birth in a lab through to his triumphant rise to prime protector of his species.
It’s a testament to Andy Serkis’ incredible motion-capture performance as Caesar that, much as with his performance as Gollum in “The Lord of The Rings,” we can get emotionally invested in an entirely digital character.
The plot of the original five-film series released between 1968 and 1972 was a convoluted tale that eventually lapsed into the paradoxical realms of time travel, but notably, the new trilogy is way more grounded in reality. We are both sympathetic and fascinated by Caesar’s noble cause to seek freedom for his kind, and it’s a bitter blow when he falls at the end albeit to leave behind a great legacy worthy of his name.
Neo — The Matrix
In hindsight, “The Matrix’s” release on Easter weekend in 1999 was surely no coincidence. Keanu Reeves’ Neo is a messianic figure foretold in prophecy and destined to save humanity, who dies, only to be reborn again.
Admittedly, this chosen one’s resurrection takes place over 90 seconds as opposed to three days, but there’s no denying that it gave audiences a fist-bump moment when he came back to life to take control of the Matrix. Neo’s death is a gut punch that comes without warning when he’s repeatedly shot by Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith at point-blank range.
All seems lost in both the Matrix and the real world, but like a gender-swapped Snow White, he’s revived with a kiss from Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). This is where the prophecy is fulfilled, with Neo reborn with the powers of a god. He now controls every aspect of the Matrix and is granted new omniscience, thus neatly tying up the storyline and alleviating the need for any sequels, right? Right?!
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Source: Slash Film