Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why It Matters: Han Shot First

To start, WANT these bookends!
For those who are not Star Wars fans, the line "Han shot first" has little meaning. In fact, if they were to watch their DVD/Blu Ray copy of Star Wars and were told the phrase relates to the cantina scene between Han and Greedo, they'd see that, in fact, Han doesn't shoot first -- Greedo shoots like a noob and gets roasted for it. What are all these nerds talking about?

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.
There are two major LORE reasons why the edited version isn't good. First, how the hell could Greedo miss a shot like that? He has his gun on him point blank, yet manages to miss dramatically, allowing Han to fry him. That's just embarrassing and confusing to viewers.

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.
It's the difference between the original representation of Robin Hood to the character kids see today. I did a paper in college on this exact distinction, but I'll avoid repeating it here and simply suggest that you pick up one of the original pieces of fiction featuring THAT particular outlaw. Warning: it will be written in Middle English AND feature gratuitous violence...

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.


  1. Well, you aren't going to like it, but Vader's added line in the ROTJ blu ray is one of my absolute favorite changes ever to the movies. When Episode III came out, I was genuinely surprised by how much of a tragedy it turned out to be in terms of why Anakin became Vader, and I was bawling when Padme died. But the really surprising part to me was that the actual -first time in the suit- scene was not this cool or badass scene as I imagined, but incredibly depressing. The VERY first thing he asks about when Palpatine goes to him was about Padme. And the anguished NOO was entirely because of his guilt over her. So to me, it was never funny, the context made it sad instead. Now, moving forward to Anakin's redemption scene. It's a slightly lower, slightly different utterance. And he slowly repeats no a couple times, making you think he's slowly coming to terms with what he has to do. To me at least, the addition of the same scream from when he first realized Padme was dead was so incredibly fitting as the moment he decides to avenge her and do right by his children. He's thinking of Padme, which we had never considered as an audience until this point. It's Padme that's saving him, and Luke. So for me it's a very powerful scene, made even more powerful by the repetition of Vader's yell.

    As for who shot first, all with you on that. It's Han. It also bears repeating that there are several different versions of this by release. He made Greedo shoot first in the first change to it, and at this point they both sort of shoot at the same time (and didn't they digitally move Han's head to the left during the shot to make it more plausible that Greedo missed? lol)

    1. "He's thinking of Padme, which we had never considered as an audience until this point..." That's a very good point that I hadn't really considered before. With that subtext, I dislike it less, though it would have been more powerful by far if this was how it was originally done and then THIS was what was being repeated in Revenge of the Sith... Lucas ret-conning his own movies grates wrong, even when it may have a solid foundation.

      My initial repulsion to this vocal Vader is that, in the original, we watch Vader visibly suffer and struggle internally, which is damned impressive when you consider he's behind an emotionless mask. The moments where he makes his decision and ends the Emperor are especially tense with the (relative) silence.

      But your point of view has at least shed some light on an opinion I can fully understand (even if I won't 100% agree with).

      And Lucas tries something new with the shooting scene every release (Original explosion, then Greedo clearly shooting first, then them shooting mostly together, then shooting mostly together with some Han-dodging...). I'm hoping someone at Disney will sneak in a new edit when they eventually re-release them all again. And I hope they just have Han shooting. True, the movies are still Lucas' and this won't happen, but I'd appreciate it none-the-less.

      What are your thoughts on the Hayden Force-ghost? I can imagine an argument for Hayden's form being the form before the fall to the Dark Side, but that almost ignores that actual redemption (and is a dick movie in relation to Shaw).

  2. Oh, the Hayden Ghost makes NO SENSE to me. I loved the warm, happy grandpa look Sebastian had, and he fit in nicely with Yoda and Obi-Wan. I just, don't understand why this was changed, and it doesn't really make sense to me, even still. The ghost of Anakin is supposed to be a redeemed, adult version of what Anakin WOULD have become, had he made the right choices as a younger man. I honestly think maybe this is just George's own personal feelings of death and afterlife evolving in his own life. At this point maybe he thinks you become your ideal younger self when you die? So he changed his movie to reflect that? Oh, except Obi and Yoda are still old. No idea, then.