Did Han Solo shoot first? This question has plagued Star Wars fans for decades — more so after the original series was reworked in 1997, which included some dramatic (and subtle) changes that have Star Wars fans scratching their heads. Further tweaks and adjustments were made for the 2004, 2006, and most recent 2011 Blu-ray release, only adding fuel to the raging fire that begs fans to question why Han Solo’s having shot first was changed after the original release.
I, for one, am a fan of the Han Shot First movement. Not only does it reflect a general sentiment that the original Star Wars trilogy was just fine as it was, but that these little tweaks contribute to a change of the overall story. Han Solo was originally seen as the anti-hero of the series. He’s a pirate, a scoundrel, and someone that the good-natured Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker are supposed to be leery of. Throughout the course of the trilogy, Han Solo evolves into a gradually more heroic figure. His redemption becomes an important part of the story. Taking that early act of evil away from him makes him the victim, and sets him up as more of a hero than he actually was from the beginning.
Why is it important that Han shot first? Simply put, that single second of footage is just one of many examples of tweaks and adjustments made by George Lucas that makes fans of the original trilogy question whether or not Star Wars is what we were led to believe it was since the first installment hit the big screens back in the late ’70s.
Here are a handful of examples of various changes that have been made to the scene.
Original Theatrical Release
In the original theatrical release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Han Solo is questioned by the green-skinned bounty hunter Greedo at the Mos Eisley Cantina on the planet Tatooine to discuss his debt to Jabba the Hutt. Han was transporting some illegal goods for the infamous gangster when Imperial troops boarded his ship. To avoid being implicated in any crimes, Solo ejected the cargo. Unfortunately for him, the result is a handsome price on his head that has bounty hunters from across the galaxy looking to collect.
As the conversation closes, you see Han draw his blaster. After a quick exchange of threatening words, an explosion occurs and Greedo plops lifelessly on the table. There is no burn mark on the wall from Greedo’s missed shot (seen in later versions). Han Solo then stands up, holsters his blaster, and pays for the damages at the bar before walking out.
This version was seen in theaters, on VHS, LaserDisc, and the 2006 re-release on DVD.
It could be argued that outrage over minor changes to this original theatrical version actually inspired the 2006 release on DVD. The official Star Wars site announced the return of the original theatrical version with a side-note about the Greedo controversy, citing popular demand for the release of the two-disc set.
In 1997, George Lucas began re-releasing the original trilogy with improved special effects and extended scenes. Among the laundry list of changes was the account of what happened during that epic scene on Mos Eisley.
In this version, you can see Greedo fire a shot while Han makes a slight lean to the right, avoiding the obviously off-target blast. Han returns fire with one (or possibly two) shots. An explosion goes off, the other patrons of the Cantina glance over, and everything else plays out exactly as you’d expect.
This minor difference has set of a whirlwind of speculation and controversy among fans highlighting the most recognized of many changes that were made to otherwise minor details of the original trilogy.
Robert Fogarty, one of LockerGnome’s editors and avid fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, responded to the topic by stating, “I really don’t like that Lucas treats the original version of Star Wars like it was some kind of rough draft that constantly needs rewriting.”
This version of the scene can be found on the 2004 Special Edition DVD, 2006 Special Edition disc, and was witnessed in theaters in the 1997 Special Edition version of the trilogy.
The 2011 Blu-ray set was a welcome sight to many fans. Seeing Star Wars in HD is the closest thing a home theater can come to the original excitement of seeing these movies on the big screen. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray version features even more minor tweaks to various scenes. From Darth Vader’s “NO!” scream as he turns on Emperor Palpatine to the call of the Tusken Raiders, it seems that nothing is sacred when it comes to George Lucas’ desire to tweak the original series.
The scene between Han Solo and Greedo is no different. In the Blu-ray version, you’ll see the same firing as you have in the Special Edition, but with one slight difference. The action is sped up so it appears that they fire simultaneously. This may be an attempt to please both sides of the argument, but it appears to have done little to quell the very vocal Han Shot First crowd.
For any fan of the original version of Star Wars, the pain point doesn’t rest in this one minor detail. It lives in the idea that the movies so many of us have grown up enjoying have been slowly and gradually shifted into something they’re not. Han Solo may still be a scoundrel, but the beginning of what was one of the most well-known redemption sub-plots in sci-fi history has all but been wiped from the record after numerous updates and adjustments.
Han shot first, and interestingly enough, even George Lucas has been spotted in the wild wearing one of the movement’s t-shirts while on the set of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull having a conversation with Harrison Ford.
No matter what side of the controversy you stand on, we can probably all agree that Star Wars is and will continue to be one of the most epic and highly recognized stories in science fiction history. Whether they see themselves as Jedi or a Sith, geeks the world over will be watching these films for generations. I can only hope the original theatrical version isn’t dying with DVDs.