The “Did Han shoot first?” debate is one that’s been raging since the very early days of the Star Wars franchise. Many fans argue that the answer to this question forms the very foundation of Han Solo’s character arc, and based on the evidence, it’s hard to disagree. But when George Lucas gave fans a definitive answer in his digitally remastered version of the original trilogy, it only led to more uncertainty and unease. Lucas has long been the subject of fan criticism in the decades following Return of the Jedi, with this singular controversy acting as ground zero.
The scene in question: Set in the early moments of A New Hope, we see Han sitting across from a bounty hunter named Greedo. Greedo is there to collect on a bounty on Solo’s head, levied by Jabba the Hutt. While the two converse back and forth, Solo reaches under the table, unclips his blaster, and shoots Greedo in cold blood. As just the second scene Han Solo has in the film, it clearly establishes him as a “shoot first, ask questions later” type, willing to kill anyone that gets in his way. Lucas’s insistence that Han was shooting in self-defense, though, changes the entire basis for which Solo’s character was established. In a recent interview, he clarified further.
I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, “Yeah, he should be John Wayne.” And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people (first) — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.
This famously led to Lucas’s doctoring of the iconic scene, where he makes an effort to show that Greedo fires on Solo first in a sort of quick-draw scenario. The fact that Greedo couldn’t hit a target less than 30 inches in front of him notwithstanding, it’s a decision that’s drawn the ire of an entire fanbase.
The Lucas side of the debate is built on some unstable footing. If he wanted to make it clear that Han was merely defending himself in the original cut, he should have done just that. What seems more feasible is that the Lucas went back on his original decision in the remastered cut, with a sloppily edited rework that poses more questions than it answers. If Han is sitting across from someone aiming a gun in his face, why wouldn’t he open fire first with his life in the balance? Here we have a man who’s a renowned smuggler and criminal, on the run from the most infamous and ruthless crime boss in the galaxy. Anything less than a “shoot first” mentality makes little sense knowing all that.
In that same interview mentioned earlier, Lucas questions whether the person who ends up marrying Leia would be someone who kills in cold blood. In the end, he decided that it was important for Solo to seem like someone with a grounded moral center in order to be a believable suitor. However, the truth is that no good character’s moral code starts in the same place it ends: Han’s transformation from ruthless smuggler into responsible leader is one that begins with establishing him as the former, so that we can witness his development into the latter. If we make him a responsible teddy bear from the second we first see him, it removes that character arc and, in turn, any nuance he may have had in the first place.
Even with the creator himself deciding the answer to this debate, it hasn’t slowed the deluge of objections from the fandom. Lucas’s attempts to make Han Solo seem more relatable from the get-go mainly served to neuter the complexity of the character. That certainly won’t change the reality of the remastered cut, but with The Force Awakens looming, the discussion is likely to take a backseat to more pressing matters within the Star Wars universe.
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