|To start, WANT these bookends!|
I believe most folks know that George Lucas changes something in every new release of Star Wars. The most recent Blu Rays have numerous additions and changes to the original theatrical releases. For example, Darth Vader's (almost comical) bellow of "NOOOOOOOO!" in Revenge of the Sith was also added to the scene in Return of the Jedi when Vader picks up the Emperor and chucks him into the pit. That... well, it's not really a good change. And that's mostly the case when Lucas gets to tinkering.
There have been some beneficial changes -- the expanded Wampa scenes, the touch ups done to Cloud City, etc... I, and most fans that I know of, don't mind cosmetic changes. But something like replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen as a Force ghost at the end of Jedi wasn't necessary (and kind of a jerk move).
The most infamous of these changes, however, comes altering the cantina scene between Han and Greedo in Star Wars (titled A New Hope AFTER theatrical release). Currently, you see last blasts leaving Greedo and Han's guns almost simultaneously. Folks who don't understand the argument believe this is the scene the phrase refers to, and that everyone has been debating the timing of the shots for years. This is very, very wrong: in the original theatrical release, there were no laser blasts at all; instead, there was simply an explosion, after which Greedo is laying on the table, dead.
|Noob level: Greedo.|
The second, and most important, is that it makes a subtle-yet-dramatic shift in Han Solo's character. Greedo shooting first gives Han the benefit of self-defense in killing Greedo. Han shooting first, not waiting for a diplomatic solution or other way out, shows him to be both lethal and ruthless -- he's a true outlaw.
|Laughs/sings as he murders you with arrows.|
With the introduction to Han as an outlaw, this changes how his character develops through the movies. When he leaves Luke before the battle of Yavin, it's not surprising -- an outlaw is interested in his own skin. That he comes back and saves Luke at the last moment is proof that Han is changing or, at the very least, conflicted with how the universe is. Also, his relationship with Leia becomes more telling and the changes that brings about have more meaning.
If Han only defends himself against Greedo's shot, then we don't get that he's an outlaw and we have no real reason to view him in a negative light. Of course he's a hero, he's against the Empire! This makes the movies, and Han's character growth, only appear to have shades of black and white when it comes to its characters, which isn't really accurate.
Han shot first. That's how it was done in the originals and it is the MUCH better defining moment for the character. That Lucas wanted Han to be more "kid friendly" or a "better role model" after the fact is foolish. That Lucas actually got away with editing a classic (which is another facet of the debate I don't care to get into) is heart breaking. Even worse that he does so without consideration of fans. Or asks anyone if it would actually enhance the film in any way (I'm still upset about Vader yelling in Jedi...).
Is there a point or question I've missed here? Let me know, or, let me know how you feel about the debate that (I've heard) launched the internet.