“Han shot first!”
The phrase is commonly used by Star Wars traditionalists in reference to George Lucas’ changes to the standoff between Solo and the bounty hunter Greedo in the 1997 special edition re-release of A New Hope.
Although it might seem like a silly argument made by geeks who like to get too technical, I’m going to tell you why it’s actually important that Han shot first.
For those Star Wars fans who haven’t seen the original trilogy in a while, here’s the full Cantina scene – skip to 5:06 for the Solo/Greedo confrontation.
As you can see, one shot, one kill.
And it was Han who shot first.
That was the scene from the original 1977 version. In 1997, George Lucas released the special edition of the original trilogy for the film’s 20th anniversary. While the re-release added new special effects, audio mixing and scenes, the most notorious change was the addition of a bolt coming from Greedo’s DT-12 blaster pistol before getting killed, which led to the Star Wars purist’s battle cry: “Han shot first.”
No. No no no no no. 1000 times no.
Why Does It Matter?
To the common Star Wars fan, the change might not seem like a big deal. Other than the bad editing (re-watch the ’97 clip. Han’s upper torso slightly shifts to his right – you’re never going to be able to unsee it) and overall unlikelihood that Greedo would miss that badly (he’s a bounty hunter whose job is literally to shoot people and collect debts – no way he misses like that at point blank range), why is it such a big deal?
Because it changes the significance of Han’s transition from anti-hero to hero, that’s why.
Han’s transformation from scoundrel smuggler to Rebel Alliance general is one of the best storylines of the original Star Wars trilogy and makes him a quintessential example of the anti-hero. By shooting first, Han shows right off the bat he’s not someone confined by the traditional hero’s honor codes; he’s morally ambiguous and will do whatever it takes to keep himself alive. He doesn’t have any etiquette on how to act; he’ll shoot you from under the table when you’re not expecting it – he’s gonna survive, not give you a fair fight.
For most of A New Hope, Han is looking out for himself and only himself (ok, and his co-pilot). The only reason he joins Ben and Luke on their quest is because they are paying him to take them to Alderaan (a steep price at that – 10,000 credits). When they arrive in the Alderaan System and are caught in the Death Star’s tractor beam, Han wants nothing to with rescuing Princess Leia. That is, until Luke tells him he would be paid “More wealth than [he] could ever imagine” for rescuing her.
Han is clearly more interested in keeping himself alive than saving the galaxy – he’s not flying Ben and Luke (and R2-D2!) to Alderaan to deliver the stolen Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance; he’s doing it because they offered to pay him even more than the 10,000 credits he demanded (they offered 17,000). He doesn’t want to save Leia to bring her back to the Rebels; he wants to save her because it will make him rich. Han just about makes that point himself by leaving before the attack on the Death Star. With all his money, he’d surely be able to keep Jabba and the bounty hunters off his back and continue surviving as a smuggler.
And that’s exactly why Han shooting first is so important. As he spent his life as a scoundrel smuggler, he would absolutely be someone who would shoot first and ask questions later (literally) in order to survive. The fact that Han is motivated by keeping himself alive is what makes his transformation from self-interested smuggler to friend of the Rebellion so meaningful, and what makes his return at the end of A New Hope so exiting.
So, when you’re watching Solo: A Star Wars Story and Disney decides to mess with your favorite childhood figures like they always do, just remember this:
Han shot first.