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Han's entire Fast and Furious timeline explained

At first glance, the Fast and Furious films seem pretty straightforward — they're about a group of people overcoming increasingly overwhelming adversity through the power of family, teamwork, and driving really, really fast. And at first, that's all they were, but as time has gone on, the timeline has become more and more complex, and the events depicted in the movies have gradually been revealed to be taking place in a non-linear and overlapping timeline — particularly when it comes to the character of Han.

Like many of the characters that have been introduced since the franchise began in 2001, Han (Sung Kang) entered the movies early, making his feature debut toward the beginning of 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. However, Han then died — or at least appeared to — later on in that same film. But then he went on to appear in the next three Fast and Furious films, and is now returning yet again for the upcoming F9: The Fast Saga. How is a Fast fan to make sense of it all? Fortunately, we're here to break down Han's entire Fast and Furious timeline, in the order it all happened, to help you understand how Han became so important to the franchise — and why his return is such a big deal.

Han's surprising origin story

Although Han makes his Fast and Furious debut in the franchise's third film, the character actually originated several years earlier, in the 2002 high school crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow. Directed by Justin Lin (who has also helmed four of the eight existing Fast and Furious films, and will be directing the upcoming ninth and tenth installments), Better Luck Tomorrow follows a quartet of gifted Asian American high school students who turn their intelligence toward criminal pursuits. Han is the cousin of Virgil (Jason Tobin), one of the film's two protagonists, and he willingly throws in his lot with Virgil and his best friend Ben (Parry Shen) as they become more entrenched in their illegal endeavors. Eventually, what begins as dabbling in seemingly harmless petty crime leads to some extreme consequences, culminating in a shocking and brutal murder.

Both Justin Lin and actor Sung Kang consider the Han of Better Luck Tomorrow to be the same character as the one who appears in the Fast and Furious films, giving Han a surprisingly dark origin story. After the events of Better Luck Tomorrow, it's no surprise that Han winds up moving all around the world and throwing in his lot with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew. We don't blame him for wanting to get away from his home and family and embracing a new life, coming off of such a traumatic high school experience.

Han meets Dom in Mexico

We never actually see the first fateful meeting between Dom and Han, but Han reveals in the short film Los Bandoleros that they met in Mexico, and have been working together ever since. Released as one of the special features on the DVD for Fast & Furious (that's the fourth film in the series), Los Bandoleros functions as a direct prequel to the events of that film. Although audiences had already spent two full feature-length films with Han by the time Los Bandoleros was released, chronologically, this is actually Han's first appearance in the Fast and Furious canon.

We don't find out anything more about how Han and Dom came to be working together than that they met in Mexico, and apparently hit it off so well that they decided to keep working together going forward. Han says that before the two of them met, he'd heard about Dom in the racing scene, implying that it was Han's love of fast cars that first brought him into Dom's orbit. While Han never explains just how long he and Dom have been running together, he says it's been a while — albeit not consistently, mentioning that they worked together "here and there," and that Dom tends to call Han for "all the fun stuff."

Han gets flirty in the Dominican Republic

The plot of Los Bandoleros centers around plotting the fuel heist that opens the fourth Fast & Furious film. Set in the Dominican Republic, Los Bandoleros sees Dom listening to a number of friends lamenting their local fuel shortage, casting the explosive heist that kicks off the action in a new light. Rather than a simple money making scheme for Dom and his crew (although it definitely is that, too), the theft of the fuel is actually more of a Robin Hood scenario, where Dom steals gas from the rich and gives it to the poor — while taking a modest cut of the profits for himself and his crew, of course.

As Dom plots how to steal the fuel and rounds up his crew, Han passes the time in the Dominican Republic with a pair of Dom's associates, Cara (Mirtha Michelle) and Malo (Valentino Morales). While Malo is curious to learn more about Han's background — which Han doesn't divulge much of, likely due to his checkered past in Better Luck Tomorrow — Cara is far more interested in Han himself, and it is implied by the end of the short film that the two pair up romantically. Han and Cara are still together at the beginning of Fast & Furious as well, which picks up right where Los Bandoleros leaves off. Nevertheless, their relationship doesn't seem to last very long; we never see her again following the aftermath of the fuel heist.

Han delivers some bad news in Fast & Furious

Following the successful fuel heist at the beginning of Fast & Furious, Han reluctantly informs Dom that their garage in Baracoa has been raided. He explains that the police were already interested in finding Dom (who has been a fugitive since the end of the first Fast film), and that he imagines that the heist they just pulled — which resulted in the fuel truck they were targeting going up in a massive ball of flames — will "send up a flare that's going to lead them right to us."

Han's suggestion to Dom is that the whole crew should leave together, right away, heading out of the Dominican Republic first thing the following morning, before the police can catch up to them. However, Dom immediately sees the flaw in Han's plan, knowing that if Han or any of their friends are captured alongside Dom, their sentences will be more severe due to their association with him. Instead, Dom and Han clink Coronas, toasting to "a good run" before going their separate ways.

Han rejoins the crew in Fast Five

After parting ways at the beginning of Fast & Furious, Dom pulls Han back onto his crew after finding himself on the wrong side of crime lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) in Fast Five. Seeing an opportunity to steal all of Reyes' money — $100 million — and start a new life for himself and his family, Dom builds an expert crew in order to pull off the heist of a lifetime, pulling in characters from every previous Fast and Furious film in order to assemble the perfect team.

Han is the first person that Dom thinks of for his new super crew, telling his best friend Brian (Paul Walker) and sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) that Han is a "chameleon" who can "blend in anywhere." Along with the rest of the team, Han flies to Rio de Janeiro to help Dom plan the heist, and is instrumental in arranging all the pieces of their high-octane scheme so everything goes off without a hitch.

Han falls in love

Another one of Dom's associates that he taps for the Reyes heist in Fast Five is Gisele (Gal Gadot), the group's utilities and weapons specialist. Dom describes Gisele to Brian as "someone who ain't afraid to throw down, someone to back up every position." Although we haven't previously met Gisele in the Fast saga, she earns her tough reputation right away when she pulls a gun on Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) after he hits on her during their first introduction.

Han (who by this point is single again) and Gisele hit it off right from the beginning, and spend a lot of time together in Fast Five as they assemble the various pieces of their ambitious heist. While working together, they impress one another with their driving skills ("I think I'm in love," Han says after watching Gisele expertly drift through the test course they've set up, nodding to Tokyo Drift) and their powers of analysis and observation (Han can tell Gisele is ex-Mossad by the way she holds her gun, and Gisele deduces that Han's constant snacking indicates that he used to be a heavy smoker, which is shown to be true in Better Luck Tomorrow). By the end of the film, the two of them are a couple, and after collecting their share of their multi-million dollar winnings, they depart Dom's crew to drive off together. Gisele suggests traveling to Tokyo, but Han seems like he's in no hurry to get there... yet.

Han returns to help an old friend

The beginning of Fast and Furious 6 finds Han ready to settle down in Hong Kong (not Tokyo!) with Gisele, although their talk of starting a life together is interrupted when they find themselves surrounded by a large number of agents with guns. The couple prepares to fight their way free, but the agents aren't there to capture them. They just want to pass a phone along to Han, which connects him with Dom. It turns out that Dom's girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was seemingly killed after the crew split up in Fast & Furious, is actually alive, and working with a terrorist named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Dom has made a bargain with DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) that he and his crew will help take down Shaw in exchange for amnesty.

Han and Gisele head to London to meet up with Dom, Brian, and the rest of the team, and together, they dig into the truth behind Letty's disappearance and her surprising alliance with Shaw. It turns out that Letty has amnesia, and has lost her memory of her life with Dom and the rest of their team. Often working side by side with Gisele, Han helps Dom execute his plan to pursue Shaw and bring back Letty.

Han suffers a devastating loss

Along with the rest of Dom's crew, Han and Gisele help Dom successfully track down Owen Shaw in Fast and Furious 6. However, after pursuing Shaw to a runway, where he boards a cargo plane and attempts to take off, Han and Gisele are one of three teams tasked with keeping the plane on the ground. Using harpoons to tether their cars to the plane, weighing it down, Han and Gisele trade blows with Shaw's henchmen while racing across the tarmac.

Gisele successfully manages to fight off the goon attempting to toss her off the speeding car, but she finds herself dangling off the side of the fast-moving vehicle. Climbing over the roof of the car, Han attempts to pull her to safety, grabbing her tightly by the hand and telling her, "I've got you." However, as Gisele attempts to climb back onto the roof, she sees the villain she thought she'd defeated sneaking up behind Han, preparing to kill him. In a split second decision, she lets go of Han's hands in order to pull out her gun, take aim, and shoot before falling out of sight and presumably dying. The group is successful in their mission, their records are cleared, and Han initially opts to go with the others to Los Angeles. Ultimately though, a grief-stricken Han decides to leave his friends again, and finally head to Tokyo.

Han starts a new life

Finally, six movies in, the main Fast and Furious narrative finally catches up to the third movie in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Although Tokyo Drift was the first time viewers were introduced to Han, it actually occurs pretty far into Han's story chronologically, picking up after the Fast Five heist, Gisele's death, and his role in taking down Owen Shaw.

Following the events of Fast and Furious 6, Tokyo Drift introduces us to a Han who has opened a garage in Tokyo, using the money from his various heists with Dom to purchase a number of expensive cars. No longer running with any of his former crew, Han has gotten involved in the Tokyo street racing scene, and befriended a driver named Takashi (Brian Tee), the nephew of a Yakuza leader. Secretly, despite the fact that he's already a multi-millionaire after stealing Reyes' fortune in Fast Five, Han begins stealing from the Yakuza.

Curiously, Tokyo Drift also sees Han working alongside a guy named Earl, played by Jason Tobin. Tobin, of course, played Han's cousin Virgin in Better Luck Tomorrow, which raises an important question — if Han is the same character, what about Earl? Could he also be fleeing the catastrophic events of Better Luck Tomorrow, changing his name in the process? The films never hint at an answer, but it's fun to speculate.

Han passes on his wisdom

After Han has been living in Tokyo for a while, he meets an American named Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), who finds himself on Takashi's bad side after unknowingly talking to his girlfriend. Like most Fast and Furious conflicts, Sean and Takashi decide to work out their differences through street racing, but Sean has a problem — he doesn't know how to "drift" like the other Tokyo drivers, rendering him unable to handle the course's tight turns.

Intrigued by Sean, and perhaps missing his American friends, Han decides to take the teenager under his wing. He allows Sean to drive his car, a pricey Nissan Silvia, unconcerned about the cost if he wrecks it — which he does during his first race against Takashi. Han then loans Sean another car and begins teaching Sean how to drift, using controlled skids to turn. In return, Sean promises to become Han's "errand boy," but Sean still gets the better end of the deal, especially after he gets kicked out of his father's home and comes to live in Han's garage.

Han's past catches up with him

Midway through Tokyo Drift, after Han has moulded Sean into an expert drifter, Takashi and the Yakuza inevitably find out about Han's stealing. After offering a meager explanation for his actions, Han jumps in his car and attempts to escape, leading Takashi and his associate on a high speed chase through the streets of Tokyo. After some expert maneuvering, it appears as though Han may have succeeded in getting away — until he is hit out of nowhere by another car, flipping Han's car onto its roof. As Han struggles to escape, the car explodes, implying that Han is dead.

This scene is also shown from another angle at the end of Fast and Furious 6, revealing that the collision that "killed" Han was no accident, as it seemed in Tokyo Drift, but was actually planned by Owen Shaw's brother, Deckard (Jason Statham) as revenge for what Dom's crew did to Owen. Deckard calls Dom from the scene of the accident, right as Han's car explodes, taking credit for Han's murder and warning Dom that he's next on the list. Dom then travels to Tokyo to collect Han's remains, as seen at the end of Tokyo Drift, where he meets Sean and tells him that he and Han used to roll together. Dom's trip to Tokyo is revisited in Furious 7, when after returning to the U.S., the crew holds a funeral for their friend.

Han lives... somehow

Despite all appearances, the trailers for F9: The Fast Saga shockingly reveal that Han is actually alive in the post-Fate of the Furious timeline, despite Fate being set definitively after his funeral in Furious 7. At the end of the trailer, Han follows Letty into the Fast family's headquarters ("Nice clubhouse," Han teases), nonchalantly munching from his trademark bag of snacks. "Surprise," Letty tells a stunned-looking crew, as Dom gives Han a big hug. We then get a brief glimpse of Han drifting in an orange and black car, highly reminiscent of the one he crashed in Tokyo Drift.

There's no telling yet how Han survived or how Letty contacted him; both Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious 6 show him looking pretty banged up following the crash with Shaw, and in no shape to free himself before his car goes up in flames. We wonder how Han will react to all the changes that have occurred since he's been gone, especially how the Fast family has since decided to welcome in his murderer (although with Jason Statham sitting F9 out, we may have to wait for that answer). In the meantime, though, we're eager to learn exactly where Han has been for the past few years, why he didn't tell anyone he was alive — and exactly whose remains Dom and the crew buried at the beginning of Furious 7.