Han shot first
"Han shot first" is a phrase referring to a controversial change made to a scene in Star Wars (1977), in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake) in the Mos Eisley cantina. The change was made for the 1997 Special Edition re-release of Star Wars, and has since been altered twice more. The phrase "Han shot first" is meant to express that "Han shot first and last", and is a colloquial retort to series creator George Lucas's explicit cinematic assertion that Greedo shot first.
Han Solo and Greedo both independently work for Jabba the Hutt, a crime lord based on the planet Tatooine. Before the events of the film, Solo, a smuggler for Jabba, jettisons cargo to avoid capture by an Imperial search party. As a result, Jabba offers a bounty on Solo. In the Mos Eisley cantina, Greedo corners Solo and forces him at gunpoint to sit down in a booth. Solo tells Greedo that he has the money to compensate Jabba, but Greedo demands the money for himself. Solo says he doesn't have the money at the moment, quietly readying his own blaster under the table. Greedo tells him that Jabba has run out of patience with Solo and that Greedo has been "waiting for a long time for this", referring to Solo's capture. Solo replies, "Yes, I'll bet you have." The scene's conclusion varies depending on the version of the film.
In the original 1977 theatrical release of the scene, the film cuts to a closeup of Greedo's face, followed quickly by a cloud of smoke and the sound effect of a blaster firing. This is followed by a reverse angle of Greedo from behind, slumping over the table. In 2012, director George Lucas expressed his dissatisfaction with this climax, believing that it depicts Solo, the film's supporting protagonist, as a "cold-blooded killer" – despite the fact that Greedo had pointed a gun at Solo and bragged that he had been "looking forward" to seeing Solo's "dead body", constituting a direct threat on Solo's life that at least one legal expert believes would clearly warrant pre-emptive action on Solo's part in self-defense.
For the film's 2004 DVD release, the scene was altered again, with new timing so that the shots are fired at nearly the same time and so that Solo dodges Greedo's shot. In an article titled "The Star Wars George Lucas Doesn't Want You To See", The Atlantic summarized that "[i]n 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."
This alteration is disagreeable to some longtime fans of the series, provoking some to create an online petition demanding that the changes be retracted. The primary objection to the revision is that it alters Han's initially morally ambiguous character, making his later transition from anti-hero to hero less meaningful. Film students have labored for years to issue their own entire custom-edited rereleases of the Star Wars films in an effort to redact and correct Lucas's changes, especially this scene with Solo and Greedo.
In a 2004 interview, Lucas explained, "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, Lucas's position differed from that of his early statements, by announcing that Greedo had always shot first. He stated that a combination of poor-quality close-up shots and the audiences's inaccurate perception of the Han Solo character was what actually caused all the confusion. Lucas explained:
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.
Regardless of this claim from Lucas, one draft of the original film's script makes no mention of Greedo shooting at all—only Solo. In 2015, what appears to be an early script was discovered in the archives of the University of New Brunswick library by Kristian Brown. The script, dated March 15, 1976, is a revised fourth draft. Brown says it confirms "100 per cent, Han shot first."
Prior to Lucas's long history of retroactive edits of Star Wars films and withholding the originals even for archival purposes, he had in 1988 protested Congress against that very process even on a purely cosmetic basis. At that time, Lucas originally argued that the public has a right to retain classic cinematic originals as a matter of cultural heritage, saying that "[p]eople who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians".
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