Worst.. Finale… Ever…

Oh boy.

A week and a half after the finale of HBO's The Sopranos, it seems like the perfect time to take a step back and have a look at television finales, specifically bad ones. I didn't think that The Sopranos did deliver a disappointing final episode, I thought that the ending to the series faced the same sort of uncertainty that was exhibited throughout every season. However I seem to be in the minority here, so I wanted to take a moment and remind people of what a truly dreadful finale is like.

Not every show, of course, delivers a bad finale. Something like St. Elsewhere, with its famous snow globe final show caused viewers to stop and think about what they witnessed. It caused a complete reassessment of everything that came before it, a new prism through which to view all the interactions that had taken place in the series. Then there was Babylon 5, which ended its run with a deadly virus getting unleashed that would destroy all humanity (there was a spin-off in which a group went off to find the cure).

There have also been distinctly disappointing show endings, like Seinfeld's trial and jail finale. Some would actually call that a bad show finale, but it pales in comparison to the worst of them all.

No doubt, hands down, unquestionably, the worst finale ever to air on television belongs to Donald P. Bellisario's Quantum Leap. The show starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett and the basic premise was that in the near-future, Beckett created a machine, the Quantum Leap Accelerator, that would allow him to travel in time. Upon its first use, Sam is sent into the past and into someone else’s body. The brains back in the near-future decide that Sam has been placed in this body by something or someone greater than them all in order to correct a mistake, to fix something. Once Sam does this, he moves on to another time and another body, and correcting a mistake there into another, then another, and so on and so forth. Thus, as the viewer is told at the beginning of most episodes, the premise of the show is that “trapped in the past, Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put things right that once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”

That’s it, the basic premise — Sam is time-traveling in the past and only wants to go back home, to his body and his life. The show, though sci-fi in premise, focused far more on human interactions. Sam traveled in time and gave everything he had in order to make the world a better place, to help the lives of individuals and humanity. He struggled, but never shirked his duty, always doing his best to help correct mistakes, and always wanting to somehow get back home.

Well, the finale is all about him getting one last chance to go home, and he fails. The series ends with the postscript that “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.” It is true that in its original conception, the episode was only intended to be a season finale, and that upon not getting renewed it was re-edited and turned into a series finale.

That, however, is no excuse.

The ending proffered, that “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home,” destroys all hope for Sam. Sam is still traveling, still striving to put right what once went wrong, and forever hoping that his next leap will be the leap home. For a show that was entirely about optimism, self-sacrifice, and doing the right thing, for a show that was entirely about changing the world, making a difference, and helping humanity, to have the final message be that those that help the world are doomed to lose themselves and their lives in their work is horrific.

The notion that by doing good we lose who we are is not one that fits the rest of the series. While Sam never intended to help save the world with his project, once he started down that rode he continued, unswervingly, and all he ever wanted was to one day, somehow, go back home to his wife.

What a bleak, wretched ending, having this man who gave everything, lose everything.

The show may have ended 13 years ago, but I’m still waiting for a retraction. It is unacceptable that Sam Beckett never returned home. I wait for the day when Beckett travels into Bellisario and corrects this grievous error.

And you thought the ending to The Sopranos was bad.

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31 replies

  1. I used to love QL! Haven’t thought about it in ages. I don’t think the ending bothered me as much as it did you. Quantum reality (laughable though the premise was) probably doesn’t square with the odds of Sam getting back into his own body in his own present. Thems the breaks. If you want to console yourself though, go watch that episode (M.I.A.) in wh. Al got to go back in time and dance with the girl he would have married, around the time he was serving in Vietnam, if things had gone differently (bad military intelligence). God, I still remember that last scene so clearly, the two of them dancing — in different “presents” — to “Georgia on my Mind.” (This according to the internets; strangely, I remember the scene with “Sea of Love” playing.) OMG, I’m starting to tear up just remembering that episode.

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  2. Not that they would but, if they decide to pick QL up again, you’re right, he’d be a hopeless man that goes a bit nuts .. maybe like the Joker from Batman ..Actually sounds like a decent idea to pick up, though you’re right about the naff ending. This is just me & my wanting to ‘fix’ it.

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  3. I disagree with it being a bleak and miserable ending, Sam realized he controlled his future and could go home whenever he wanted. It showed that Dr. Sam Beckett cared more for others than himself, while it was sad I found it to be an appropriate ending. God bless!

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  4. I don’t think you understood the ending clearly which is why you found it to be disappointing. When Sam stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator for the first leap, he died. He soul, spirit, consciousness or whatever you want to call it was free to roam the Universe on the next journey we’ll all undertake one day. The only problem was that Sam wasn’t ready to accept that he was dead, hence his repeated leaping into other bodies to help people. In the end he finally understood what Al the bartender was trying to tell him all along. From that point he undertook one last leap to help his best friend have a happier, better life. After that Sam ‘crossed over’ to the other side and went to his ‘new’ home. The imagery was pretty obvious too. Sam was a guardian angel.

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  5. I agree. I never liked the ending of QL even though I loved the show. What bothered me the most is that in one of the previous episodes, it is shown that Dr. Beckett is married and has a wife waiting for him. It's even worse than what happened between Beth and Al. At least Beth thought Al died and could move on, even if she did so poorly. Mrs. Beckett can't even do that because she knows he's alive. Not only that, he felt his work was more important than his marriage. And even when he realized he had the choice, he NEVER returned home.

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  6. (Karen said…)

    “…he felt his work was more important than his marriage…”

    Option 1:
    That's a good point, but if you remember correctly Mrs.Beckett told Al not to remind Sam about her after he leaps, because it may get in the way of him doing the “right thing” (as in, get laid with every pretty woman he finds.) We know that his mind goes “Swiss cheese” after every leap so its safe to consider that he forgot her due the effects of the leap (as he did since the first episode) and that Al honored Mrs.Beckett's request, to keep from him the truth about his wife.

    Option 2:
    Sam being a guardian angel – great concept as well! I didn't think about it (smart) 🙂

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  7. I was DEVASATED by the ending of QL. To this DAY it upsets me to think that Sam never got home. I can't even tell people about the finale and Beth being reunited with Al without getting upset.

    Yes I know it's only a show but it's amazing the emotional attachments teenagers form with fictional characters.

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  8. Sam was dead. Thats why he could never go home. Quite simple really. There's no debating this. It was quite clear. This was the set up, when you see Al's uncle (the miner) leap after the people are saved from the mine. We are told a few minutes later that he had died years before.
    Sam says to the bartender, “I can never go home can I?” I dont know why they had to ever put the caption at the end “Sam never goes home.” Its unnecessary. He's dead and chooses to leap himself like an angel thats the revelation. Thats the finale.

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  9. You missed the point of the ending. In the episode, Sam leaned he could leap where he wanted to leap. He does so for Al. He didn't return home because he decided he had to keep leaping. He always was the quintessential sacrificial hero. He gave his life to hel pothers.

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  10. Dude, you are a fool.

    Worst ever?.. Remind me to never watch tv with you or to take any of your recommendation.

    The fact that Sam never returned home.. we were told it was his choice to go on and do tougher leaps… MADE the finale.

    He fixed Al's life and sacrificed his own happiness to do the greater good, that is EXACTLY what I would have expected from the character.

    Quantum Leap had the BEST finale of any series ever.. all the questions that had to have answers did,whilst leaving enough interpretable info for it all not to seem cut/dried and trite, which it would have done had there been the happy ending you seemed to have expected from the show. it was a great story in and of itself and the life of one of the mains was fixed, which WAS the happy ending.

    As for Sam being dead.. WTF?? where did you grasp that nugget from?

    Sam never returned home, no.. he went on to do more, as pretty much stated in the actual ep… He certainly didn't die… MAYBE the people in his time saw him die, although that is NEVER mentioned or even hinted at, but over all he 'disappeared' from the imaging chamber, presumably,to do more leaping.

    It truely is a shame you missed or misunderstood that episode, and tragic that you decide to share your lacking knowledge with people who may believe you.

    QL will always have a fond place in my memeory.. mainly because I 'got' it.

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  11. Sam defo did not die, because in one of the episodes he actually leaps back into the imaging chamber and al takes his place on one of the leaps. think its the one after the asylum episode. theres was a thunder storm which caused some sort of malfunction when he leaped, hense sam ended up back at quantum leap hq and al ended up on the leap. the only reason sam went back into the imaging chamber was to save al.

    When i saw the final episode i was a like omg! but now i realise sam decided to continue his good work. I love quantum leap. it would be great if they made a few more episodes even though it finished a long time ago.

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  12. These are all pretty interesting omments. Thanks.

    I just saw the last season this week (oct, 2013)and was very disturbed by it.Upset.

    I think my reaction was evoked because I am an emotional and sentimental person. I wanted the happy ending. After all, we had been with Sam every step of the way.
    I also question whether or not Beth and Al should have gotten together. 39 years of marriage, doesnt mean —HAPPY!

    This was just a show, but it doesnt feel that way when you have scripts and actors like these that evoke emotion and caring.

    In another thread, one person said that Al the bartender, was Sam in the future reincarnation, encouraging him to make a different decision than he made before (to go home).

    From a script standpoint, it probably was a good ending.

    Nonetheless, I wish they would have taken into account how much we loved Sams character because he cared so much for others. How often do you see that, even in fiction? It is a rare trait

    We just wanted him to be happy.

    Maybe to believe, in real life, that goodness and love given freely is also recieved back.

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  13. I agree 100%! Quantum Leap had the worst ending ever! I have re-watched the entire series a couple of times EXCEPT for the finale. They owe the fans, characters, and actors a better finish. Rumors of a movie have popped up numerous times, but I'd only want to see it if Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell are the main characters.

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  14. I loved this show too. But ask yourself, Sam created a machine that was flawed from the beginning and caused him to leap ENDLESSLY. The hope kept us all watching. You had to have known he would never make it home. Look at LOST, we all knew everyone died in the crash, but it was a great show. Get over yourself and don't bash shows you could never write.

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  15. Didn't any of you actually Google this? The ending was not supposed to be the series finale ok, Sam leaps into the bar and that nice good ole bartender is an alien. He's not god or anything like it.

    The original ending has Sam leaping beyond his own lifetime into the future onto a space station but that idea was to risky I guess for the studios so they cancelled the show.

    Basically he was going to leap into the future onto this space station and Al would be unable to pursue him anymore, as a result Al was going to leap as well and try convincing him to return to his own time because it turns out he could control the leaps if he tried. It's on Google somewhere just look for it.

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  16. Wow , for me this was one of the best endings to a tv show I have ever seen, it was a selfless act mad by Sam to continue leaping without the help of al, going into harder leaps, and realizing that the things he has done have had an effect far greater then he ever realized. And Sam was not dead, his body was in the lab as the people he replaced kept into his body. Again this was not the typical cookie cutter ending and for that this show is one of my all time favorites.

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  17. your explanation is still a horrible ending. that was just a bad ending period. it makes the show see pointless. it was depressing beyond belief. cut it any way and it still is depressing.

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  18. A different Anonymous wrote “Sam defo did not die”.

    *Cough* String Theory *Cough*

    Maybe the creators didn't intend this, or maybe they did but never made it crystal clear for the “slower” fans (who unfortunately turned out to be the majority), but here's my take on the final episode–

    At the very beginning of “Mirror Image”, Sam has died! How are we supposed to know this? Here's one version of Sam's “String Theory”, which is repeated a few times in the series, about what happens to someone who goes through the Quantum Leap Accelerator:
    “One end of this string represents your birth; the other end, your death. You tie the ends together, and your life is a loop. Ball the loop… and the days of your life touch each other out of sequence. Therefore, leaping from one point in the string to another would move you back and forth within your own lifetime.”
    The key concepts there are what the ends of the string represent, and that they become connected. Since shortly after his arrival in the mining town, Sam discovered that it was just past the exact moment of his birth, it follows from the Theory that the moment before that was the moment of his death. Therefore, for the majority of the episode, Sam is already dead. But apparently Sam doesn't put 2 and 2 together from his own theory, even after seeing himself in the mirror and AL telling him that there's no one in the waiting room…

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  19. Quantum leap wasn't about hope, it was about heartbreak, torment, and sorrow. About all the horrors that man does to man, the inequities, and the need of science to forcibly put them right down the barrel of a pseudoscientific 'quantum' gun. I wish I saw it as optimistically as OP does.

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  20. I kind of like to agree that perhaps he did die and his spirit was in a sort of limbo. Travelling.back and forth to help others. Or maybe perhaps none of it was real and it all took place in a second of his death. Think of Sam Tyler in life on Mars. It's all possible in the world of tv

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  21. I have one question about the “sam being dead” theory. If he died when he entered the quantum leap accelerator, then how did he return in that one episode and see his wife again? They even had sex.. Wouldn't he be a ghost then?

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  22. He didn't die. He swapped bodies. Al told him his body was in the 'Waiting Room' with the other person's consciousness inside.

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  23. Today is 09Jan16 & using my personal DVR, DroidTV, I have just re-watched the Finale of Quantum Leap. When I re-watch “Classics,” I always start with either the Finale or the Pilot, then watch my favorite episode, for “Angel” it was S.1 episode 5 where Cordy gets all strong & gains a roommate. There are over 500 different old & new shows on DroidTV, so I am more picky about what to watch & re-watch.

    Scott Bakula was a perfect fit for the role, & thank goodness he was cast!! I think I'll watch his Star Trek series instead of re-watching QL. WHY? Because the whole time I would be re-watching QL, I would remember that in the Finale, Dr. Sam Beckett never ever EVER gets home.

    It wasn't designed that way. The show was cancelled, I understand that MENTALLY…But it's still too sad to re-watch knowing the end reward was never granted by the Author. Maybe the Author was pissed because his beloved show was cancelled.. We won't ever know, but it was unfair to take it out on Sam & the Viewers.

    The Powers that Be gave AL a happy ending for heaven's sake!! Sam didn't even get his Sabbatical… What it should have said was… This… And I am re-writing the ending here ::

    “Dr. Sam Beckett, after 5 years of wandering, finally realized he had control of his Leaps. He took a weeklong Sabbatical every two weeks to be with his family from that day forward. But he always returned to the Quantum Leap, because helping others became an unintended mission that transformed history, ONE PERSON AT A TIME.”

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  24. erm …ok, first , very interesting comments , all thought worthy, my thoughts…if Sam was indeed dead, how did he get to spend that time with his wife , who told Al not to tell him he was married as it would affect what he had to do ?, so he wasnt cheating on his wife as he was unaware he was married, and he couldnt have been dead as he did go back and see his wife , also , as some one has pointed out , the final episode wasnt sopposed to be the final episode , the series was cancelled , which is ashame .

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  25. Posting this in Feb 2016 long after the original take from the OP. I haven't watched QL in donkeys years I must profess,however I do remember certain aprts which I may be able to help others out on.
    I think OP missed the point,the unknown force drove him to start interfering witht he timeline (the final episode is hinting that force is a deity,and previous episodes (especially one based around Halloween showed that the devil was involved in putting wrong what was right in a hallucination to Sam.) Certainly there is a theme that it's god vs devil across space and time.Sam thus CHOSE in the final episode to keep doing the work of this force instead of taking up the barkeeps offer of being sent home,he chose to alter al's life by telling his wife he's alive and still a POW in Vietnam,I feel this alone is a brilliant way of ending.(for the record I am agnostic) but it's clear from the episodes there is some sort of god background to the series.

    To address other issues. some one mentions that he had a waife I feel eric already addressed this with his quotes. Also I think people would work out Sam is time travelling any way,when John Lennon is assassinated,his brother's survival of Vietnam etc. There are plenty of clues for his family to pick up on he's time travelling and has a greater mission. As Eric quoted his wife also let go of holding out for him,as he lost bits of his personal memory with every leap.

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  26. So…I just caught a rerun of this old show and wondered how it ever ended, so I Googled. Wow. What a crapfest. Horrible ending. Assholes!

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  27. It was clear when SAM leaped out of his lifetime into the civil war something was weird. It seems to me that's when it all changed. It appears to me that Sams body disappeared in the imaging chamber because he was reunited with it. Instead of leaping into other peoples body's he was leaping as his own body. Hence the reason he leaped back to als wife Beth as his own body and Beth said who are u. Sam is not dead but an eternal leaper who can leap whenever and wherever he wants to avoid death. He never returns home because he doesn't want too.

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  28. Sam was originally recruited by Al at a young age and put on the path of creating Project: Quantum Leap. Later, Al’s life had fallen into misery after too many divorces and the loss of Beth, the only woman he ever truly loved (Sorry, Tina.) Sam then rescued Al and his career by insisting that he would accept no one else but Al as his military adviser. Together, the two went on to make Project: Quantum Leap a reality.
    Sam leapt in a hurry, without taking proper precautions or doing enough research, so he had no idea what form time travel would actually take. Appearing inside the form of another person from era seemed to take everyone by surprise. That’s not exactly how this was supposed to go, apparently.
    Nonetheless, we are told on multiple occasions that the person into Sam has leapt has merely switched places with him and is currently residing in Sam’s body in the Imaging Chamber. They look like Sam in the same manner that Sam looks like the person into whom he has leapt. Al sees Sam in the past in the body of the person he’s inhabiting, which is why he ogles Sam whenever Sam leaps into an attractive woman.
    Sam clearly did not die during his initial leap. “Sam is dead” is an overly-precious, self-congratulatory fan theory that has been making the rounds since the show premiered. It is not borne out by the series itself.
    Series creator Don Bellisario has offered the explanation that it is in fact Sam’s body that is travelling in time and that he looks like the “leapee” because that person’s aura has remained behind. I find this explanation troubling on many levels, (Why do the clothes fit? Why does Sam walk like a chimp when he leaps into a chimp?) but it does go to the question of where the writers’ minds were when writing the show.
    In the final episode, Sam appears as himself, underscoring the idea that he is in fact leaping physically rather than psychically or spiritually. Or perhaps it is all spiritual and the bar is a sort of way-station for those chosen by “God, Fate, or Time” to do good works. (The episode is which Al is impersonated by Satan seems to heavily suggest the first possibility on that list.) When the bartender takes Sam outside and tells him what’s in store for his future, he likens Sam’s reality to that of an itinerant priest, moving from place to place, doing God’s will, despite the difficulties. Sam realizes the bartender is telling him that the leaps from this point forward are going to be harder. This is crushing to Sam, having suffered so much already. (Remember in the Native American episode when he knew exactly how many men he had killed? I doubt if he could have told you the count by the end.) He says that priests can quit. The bartender nods but doesn’t seem to feel that’s an actual possibility here. He instead suggests that they also take sabbaticals… to rest, to do something for themselves that needs doing. If Sam could go anywhere in space and time, do anything, put just one thing right for himself… what would that be?
    And Sam unselfishly chooses to go back into time to tell Beth to wait; That Al is alive and is coming home to her. It’s just going to take a little while longer. But he is coming…
    And that changes everything.
    Is the Al in this new reality even in the Navy anymore? Was enough finally enough? Was he there to offer Sam the chance to work with the government on his theories? He certainly wasn’t in the downward spiral Sam found him in when he saved him and built Project: Quantum Leap with him. It’s quite likely that a happy Al, married to Beth with multiple daughters, never meets Sam. And if Al doesn’t meet Sam, there never is a Project: Quantum Leap.
    Sam’s leaping is now an Effect without a Cause. That’s why the leaps are going to get harder from this point. There likely isn’t going to be any Al. No Ziggy. No background details on the situations he finds himself in. He’s going to have to start working it all out for himself. And he’s likely to guess wrong. Often. That’s not going to be easy for Sam to take.
    Another fan theory I take issue with is this supposed “power to control his leaps” that Sam has magically gained. The bartender offered him that choice once, for his “sabbatical.” The leaps don’t get harder if Sam can magic himself in and out of time whenever and however he likes. And we were told, flat-out, that the leaps were going to get harder.
    Sam is exactly where he was before, only now without Al or Ziggy to help him. That’s why he can’t return home. Home, as he knew it, isn’t there anymore.
    There may be a Sam Beckett living in the near future whose life has nothing whatsoever to do with government projects into Time Travel. But that Sam and the one we know are not the same man. Regarding his marriage, the show is pretty blatant on the idea that Donna Alessi (played by Teri Hatcher) left him at the altar in the original reality. When Sam left, he was not married.
    After he goes out of his way to fix things so that her emotional damage is seen to in disregard of his own rules (the show was just starting out. I don’t think the rules were all in place yet.) she might still marry the guy she left at the altar before Sam.
    We learn in “The Leap Home” that isn’t the case. Now reality has changed so that she has been married to Sam all along. Sam’s leaping changed things to make that possible. If there is no Project: Quantum Leap, do they still marry? Theoretically, the changes Sam’s made to history remain, so her drunken sot of a college prof still put her in contact with her father before he ships out, so her abandonment issues are still dealt with. Even if she still doesn’t marry fiance number one, does she even know Sam in this new history?
    The show left itself a lot of different directions in which it could go for the next season. I’d have enjoyed seeing a season premiere in which all of this is laid out, and Sam works harder than ever to figure it all out and make the changes that need to be made, now knowing that this leap doesn’t offer the possibility of going home… Yet he does it anyway.
    Because that’s who Sam is. That’s why he’s the right one to be out there doing this. He is that itinerant priest, or a technologically-derived angel, moving from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong… knowing now that each leap simply leads to the next leap… The next chance to do good; To assist another individual; To make the world a little happier, one good person at a time…
    I’d like to see him come to peace with all of that… And then, just as the episode is closing, that doorway appears, and out steps Al, looking like a million bucks and saying, “It took awhile, but we figured it out… You didn’t think we were going to leave you alone out here, did you?” Later episodes can explain that Sam in this new timeline still built Ziggy and Ziggy figured out what happened to the original Sam, so even though there’s technically no Project: Quantum Leap as it existed before, there is Al, Ziggy, and Sam 2 working together to figure out how to assist Sam in his ongoing missions… Bring him home, maybe, if such a thing means anything anymore… But making certain he’s never entirely alone in his travels.
    I think that would have been fun.
    But even without that last minute Millennium Falcon save at the end, I believe Sam is in good hands with “God, Fate, or Time” guiding his way as he does good in a way the rest of us maybe aren’t unselfish enough to do… I believe Sam came to peace with his fate at the end of that finale, and as such, did achieve a meaningful “happy ending” to his story. Sam’s never returning home simply means he’s still out there, leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, grateful for the opportunity to do so… And we’re all the better for it.

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