Why It’s Important That Han Shot First

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

Why It's Important That Han Shot FirstIn 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.

Special Edition

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.

Blu-ray

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Todd Nystrom

    I have to admit the picture and sound quality on the Blu Ray complete saga is amazing.. however the changes hurt it.  This made many people such as myself click on e-bay and search for the unedited DVD version with the ORIGINAL theatrical versions still intact.  

  • http://twitter.com/wgfinley W. Guy Finley

    I still have the original laserdisc box set and one of the reasons my laserdisc player stays around is because I often want to show what the movies were originally. I think it’s too bad Lucas can’t leave well enough alone with them and this issue is a prime example of needless change. I still think Greedo is made to shoot first in the Blu-ray and there seems to be a bit more of a laser exchange though I could be imagining it.

  • why do we bother

    Ya now there next attempt at reselling the trilogy will be called the original version untouched on Bluray and George Lucas and film industry will make another wave of MILLIONS of this (in most part the same) StarWars franchise. After all that there will be a 3D version, but it wonte be original, so they’ll release another 3D version called the original StarWars in 3D, and George Lucas and the film industry will continue to make BILLIONS off the same movie over and over again…

    • Todd Nystrom

      I can totally see that happening.. But I remember reading in an interview somewhere that he said this is the “True” complete version and there will not be a release with the original theatrical versions because he see’s that as “incomplete and inferior.”  Can’t remember where I read it…

  • http://www.jackpipsam.blogspot.com Mark Davenport

    I really don’t care :3

    I am fine with George Lucas changing things around.

  • Tracy

    @90d782d93f22f43a52357f80cd2348b6:disqus But that’s just it — Lucas DOESN’T seem to want the money. He just wants the films to be “perfect,” so he keeps changing them. He’s never released dual versions of anything — unlike Spielberg, who released the 20th anniversary ET DVD with a version on each side. Lucas doesn’t care about the money and he doesn’t care about the fans. He just wants to make himself happy. It’s pretty terrible.

  • http://about.me/hollywoodlights1992 Daniel Stransky

    I have to give George Lucas credit for one thing: most constant successful attempts to milk the exact same films for as much money as possible without doing anything remotely successful in between. 

  • http://twitter.com/Stu_Collins Stuart Collins

    For me, it’s the changes that they DIDN’T make. There are several outstanding faults in the films that I thought would be rectified for Blu – and I expected special effects tweaks too that just weren’t there. For example:
    In Revenge of the Sith when Vader’s mask is being put on, the neckpiece isn’t there then suddenly appears in shot. Why wasn’t that fixed? Luke’s lightsaber in A New Hope looks GOD AWFUL – a downgrade from what it was in the dvd release. I’ve seen guys on youtube do their own rotoscoping on the same scenes and it looks perfect. In Return of the Jedi, most of the time the Death Star has a faint green square around it where the image has been placed on the backdrop – maybe not visible in the DVD but bright as day on Blu ray.I don’t actually have a problem with Darth Vader screaming “NOO” because it adds continuity – or even a pointless rock being put in front of R2. I think the Han/Greedo scene is great now that Han doesn’t glitch so much, it looks like they both shoot at the same time. Lucas hasn’t made any story or plot changes, Greedo dies either way guys, get over it.But it’s all the blindingly obvious things to be updated/tweaked/rectified that were not. Sigh.

  • Zanolli David

    Enjoyed your article.

  • Zanolli David

    Enjoyed your article.

  • Ronar

    “early act of evil”? What you smoking? Greedo was threatening his life, so there was NOTHING evil about him shooting Greedo dead. Han did nothing wrong there. Even if he had given Greedo the money, Greedo would still have shot him dead.

  • civichief

    if you read the novel, everybody in the cantina knew, that Greedo was stupid, because Han was free to use his hands.
    And Han shot first