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Is this how Han returns in Fast and Furious 9?

When the first trailer for the ninth Fast and Furious film dropped at the Fast 9 Festival in Miami on January 31, fans of the nearly two-decade-long action franchise were gifted a shocking surprise. After winning over audiences in 2006's The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Han Lue — the effortlessly cool street racer, thief, businessman, and former member of Dominic Toretto's (Vin Diesel) crew — was revealed to be back from the grave.

Played by Sung Kang, Han (who goes by his alias Han Seoul-Oh) died at the end of the third Fast and Furious movie, the first in the franchise directed by Star Trek: Beyond and Annapolis helmer Justin Lin. Though he appeared in three subsequent chapters ⁠— or four, if you count archival footage in Furious 7 ⁠— the saga's timeline situates his passing after several of Tokyo Drift's follow-ups. Thus, fans have believed for more than a decade that Han's fate in the universe had been sealed. Yet, there he was, the Han Solo of street racing, characteristically snacking as he entered a room full of his former crew mates at the end of the Fast and Furious 9 trailer.

This, of course, begs the question: How is Han still alive after audiences saw him die in a car explosion at the end of Tokyo DriftWe Got This Covered claims to know the answer. 

The hit-or-miss outlet alleges that in Tokyo Drift, Han escaped his car before it became enveloped in flames. Sources apparently close to the outlet — which haven't been identified or verified — say that Han has been in hiding, staying under the radar of those he knows would be after him following the fateful incident. The site also reported that the character will make an appearance in the saga's 10th and final film, slated for an April 2021 release.

However Han Lue makes his long-desired return in F9, the news of his survival has been a shot of adrenaline to the Fast franchise's fanbase. 

Han's Fast and Furious return was inspired by the #JusticeForHan hashtag

Soon after getting a first look at Han's return in F9, fan theories began to fly. Could he be revealed as sibling of some new character? Was the scene in the trailer actually flashback? Was it a dream sequence? In the end, the dominant theory to emerge was much simpler: Han was resurrected by a franchise willing to do just about anything the imagination and CGI would allow. 

Still, in a cinematic universe where a car can swing from one island to another, Han's reemergence goes beyond affirming that the street-racing saga is as much a wild fantasy as an action franchise. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, F9 director Justin Lin explained how the development of the films' theme of family, as well as the family the movies built on and off-screen, played a role in why fans will see Han once again.

"When I left after Fast 6, I really thought that was it, like, there's no more Fast stories I can tell," Lin said. "Then two years ago, I woke up with an idea for the new chapter. And a big part of that is exploring this theme of family that is always tied to Fast, but doing it through blood."

Not to mention, after being with each other for more than a decade, the cast had grown up together and into a family as much as the characters had. Han was part of that, which helped convince the director to put the character's fate ⁠— and place in Dom's circle ⁠— back on the creative table. As Lin told EW, "I think it's really up to us to bring him back and explore it throughout the themes that we're all used to."

Han's reemergence will be pivotal to Fast 9's exploration of family

On Twitter, the announcement that Han would return got #HanIsAlive trending (much to the confusion of Star Wars fans). It also appeared to renew the trust of Fast diehards who felt betrayed by the movies after it gave Han's killer Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) prime billing in two films following the popular character's death.

As it happens, Lin has a long history with Han, who was first introduced in his 2002 crime drama feature debut Better Luck Tomorrow. Actor Sung Kang revealed in a 2013 interview with Mandatory that Han was added to the Fast and Furious franchise only after Lin convinced executives to change up another proposed character. Clearly, Han isn't only passionately loved by the Fast fandom, but he's also a character Lin has carried with him through his career. He's also a prime example of the narrative the Fast and Furious saga has built around found family, and that may be important going into the next film, which explores the powerful influence of blood-relations. 

"In this world, I feel like things happen for a reason," Lin told EW. "I won't go into details or anything, but I do think that bringing him back is nothing I take lightly — and it took a lot — but I think what I appreciate is that this universe has really grown and it allows us to evolve and really kind of redefine ourselves as we go."

As for Sung Kang, the experience of returning to the screen as the fan-favorite is as big for him as it is for the fans who have desperately wanted to see him back. "It's emotional — it feels like I'm going back to a family reunion," Kang told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a relationship that has been missing in my life since the last Fast."

See Han Lue make his long-awaited return when F9 drives into theaters on May 22.