Thursday, August 30, 2012

Han Solo Did Not Shoot First

You may have heard about a certain controversy about the movie Star Wars. In this movie, there is a confrontation between Han Solo and a bounty-hunter named Greedo. The confrontation ends with gunplay and Greedo is shot.

In the original theatrical release one guy shot first, and in subsequent releases on VHS, DVD and Blue Ray the other guy did.

You may think that Han Solo shot first, but he didn't. The theatrical release of Star Wars was in 1977. 11 years before that Sergio Leone directed, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." The movie begins with three vignettes wherein Clint Eastwood--the good, Lee Van Cleef--the bad, and Eli Wallach--the ugly in turn introduce themselves to the audience.

Lee Van Cleef, playing the character Angel Eyes, makes an unwelcome visit to someone with information and he sits down at the man's table. While he interrogates the man, who is in fear of his life, he eats the man's supper. Eventually, the man goes for his gun, and Angel Eyes shoots through the table killing the man in cold blood. Moments later, he guns down the man's oldest son. The scene makes it clear that this character is one stone-cold murderer. He's Bad.

Fast forward 11 years and George Lucas is making his own film. He's introducing a character and he wants to demonstrate that this character is not a nice guy. Lucas grabs the shoot-through-the-table without warning gag that he and most of his audience has already seen. In moments, Han Solo is seen through the lens of Lee Van Cleef's portrayal of Angel Eyes.

That was then. The kids nowadays haven't seen any Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns before they see Star Wars. Unlike a generation ago, things are reversed, kids interpret Angel Eyes' gunplay through the lens of Han Solo and Greedo instead.

Lucas now wants a softer, kinder and gentler Han Solo who's more fitting with a lovable rogue, not a stone-cold killer.
And that's why I think Lucas felt he had to change a scene that worked better the first time.


  1. I think you're very much correct on Lucas's intentions here, but I always go back to some interviews I remember reading with George some time after "Star Wars" was released. He was quoted as saying the original concept was for the scene to be a good old-fashioned gunfight, and he often pointed to this piece of Ralph McQuarrie concept art to illustrate the original idea.

    I think the scene we ended up with initially was just a result of the whole cantina sequence being a disaster to originally shoot. The original creature designer was very ill before the shoot and never got the masks quite finished, including Greedo. Eventually, the scene was reshot to make it look better and to give them space to change the dialog so that Greedo could pass on the plot points about Jabba from the deleted (and later restored) scene of Jabba confronting Han in the docking bay.

  2. It's clear that Lucas felt the original scene leaned too "hardass," otherwise he wouldn't have changed the scene. I'm not sure that's even a question, really, or if it is, perhaps not a large one. The response given on South Park is probably a lot closer to what a lot of fans were thinking about the change.

    Having seen the film in 1977 in the theatre when it first came out, I can assure you that Han Solo shot first. If someone has changed that, it is a revision, but you cannot ask anyone to cancel their memory of the story they were first told it. Nor should you.

    Of course it behooves the creator of the story--in this case Lucas--to ensure the story is satisfying as is. Films now provide alternative endings and such, so apparently there's more than a little of this going about. How about this, when Jonathan Safran Foer announces he's going to change the end of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I'll be glad to accept that Han Solo didn't shoot first.


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