Han shot first
"Han shot first" refers to a controversial change made to a scene in the science fiction film Star Wars (1977), in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake) in the Mos Eisley cantina. In the original version of the scene, Han shoots Greedo dead. Later versions are edited so that Greedo attempts to fire at Han first. Director George Lucas altered the scene to give Solo more justification for acting in self-defense. Many fans and commentators oppose the change, feeling it weakens Solo's character. The controversy is referenced in the 2018 film Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is cornered by bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake) in a bar and forced at gunpoint to sit. While they talk about money Solo owes, Solo readies his gun under the table. Greedo tells him he has been "waiting for a long time" to capture Solo. Solo replies, "Yes, I'll bet you have."
The conclusion varies depending on the version of the film. In the original version, the film cuts to a closeup of Greedo's face, followed quickly by flash sparks, a cloud of smoke, and the sound of a blaster firing. This is followed by a reverse angle of Greedo from behind, slumping over the table. In the 1997 Special Edition rerelease, a few frames are inserted in which Greedo shoots first at Solo and misses, and Solo returns fire, killing Greedo. For the 2004 DVD release, the shots are fired at nearly the same time and Solo dodges Greedo's shot. The Atlantic summarized that "In the original versions ... it's clear that Han Solo pulled out his gun and shot the bounty hunter Greedo. In the 1997 version, Greedo shoots first. In the 2004 version, they shoot at the same time." For the 2011 Blu-ray release, the scene of Solo and Greedo firing at each other was shortened by several frames.
A 4K restoration of the film was released on The Walt Disney Company's streaming service, Disney+, on November 12, 2019. In the 4K version, the scene has been further modified. A close-up shot of Greedo saying something to Han (presumably an insult), without subtitles, has been inserted after Han's "Yes, I'll bet you have" line. The wide shot used in the 1997, 2004, and 2011 versions appears, but further modified so that Han and Greedo fire simultaneously, with new laser effects showing Greedo's shot going widely off target to the right.
The change is one of the most controversial of many alterations made in the 1997 Special Edition Star Wars rerelease. Many fans argued that it alters Han's initially morally ambiguous character, making his later transition from anti-hero to hero less meaningful. According to Variety, "Fans lost their minds. It was an affront, the neutering of a badass." Fans have created fan edits of the original Star Wars films to redact Lucas' changes, especially the scene with Solo and Greedo.
In a 2004 interview, Lucas responded to the criticism: "To me, [the original movie] doesn't really exist anymore. ... I'm sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be." In a 2012 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said:
The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn't. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down.
One draft of the original script makes no mention of Greedo shooting at all, only Solo. In 2015, a replica of an early script for Star Wars was discovered in the archives of the University of New Brunswick library. In the script, dated March 15, 1976, Han shoots first.
Paul Blake, who played Greedo, said in a 2016 interview with the New York Daily News: "Of course, it said it all in the original script, we played in the scene in English and at the end of the scene, it reads, 'Han shoots the alien.' It's all it says and that's what happened. It was very painful." Blake felt that Greedo shooting at and missing Solo at very short range made him appear inept, and that Greedo has more glory if he is "just blown away". One legal expert argued that Greedo's behavior constituted a direct threat and would clearly warrant preemptive action in self-defense in the United States. In 2014, when asked by fans who shot first, actor Harrison Ford replied: "I don't know and I don't care."
In a 2015 interview for The Washington Post, Lucas said:
Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, "Should he be a cold-blooded killer?" Because 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.
References in popular culture
In 2007, during the production of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, George Lucas was photographed wearing a "Han shot first" T-shirt.
In the 2018 film Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han Solo shoots antagonist Tobias Beckett mid-sentence, killing him. Writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan confirmed that this was a deliberate reference, and that the Solo shooting script specifies: "There can be no question that Han shoots first."
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