This is the ninth post in a daily series. Read about it here and see the list of previous posts here. A new post about “Star Wars” will be posted every day for 40 days leading up to the franchise’s 40th birthday on May 25th.
When Lucasfilm re-released the “Star Wars” movies in 1997, the company released edited versions of the films. These “special editions” were meant to reflect George Lucas’ true vision for the films should have been.
Though some changes were more noticeable than others, most of the edits were purely aesthetic. But one change has stood out in the two decades since, in part because of how negatively fans reacted.
In the original 1977 version of “Star Wars,” Han Solo was approached by Jabba the Hutt’s bounty hunter, Greedo. After a tense exchange, Solo shot and killed Greedo. In the 1997 special edition, Greedo fired a shot before Solo’s shot. Greedo still died, but the nature of Solo’s shot was not changed: he was acting in self-defense, rather than pre-emptively striking. In 2004, the scene was edited further.
But Lucas has been unapologetic for the changes. In a 2012 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas said:
Well, it’s not a religious event. I hate to tell people that. It’s a movie, just a movie. 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 [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] 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.
Though, despite Lucas’ assertions that the original version made Han out to be a “cold-blooded killer,” one law professor has argued that Han Solo would have been legally justified to shoot first.
When Lucas said he wanted to get rid of any confusion, the implication was that he had intended for Greedo to shoot first all along. If that feels like revisionist history to you, that’s because it is.
In 2015, Kristian Brown, a librarian at the University of New Brunswick’s library in Saint John, found what appeared to an original shooting script for “Star Wars.” Brown said the script confirmed what many “Star Wars” fans have always believed: “I’ll tell you one thing, right now… Based on the script, I can tell you 100 per cent, Han shot first.”
The following year, the actor who played Greedo offered more confirmation. Paul Blake told The New York Daily News:
Of course, in 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…
…It would be lovely to see them go back to the original version, I much preferred it, I must say. And it does give it Greedo a little more glory if he’s just blown away.
But even if the script didn’t say explicitly that Han shot first — and the actor who played Greedo has weighed in — Lucas doesn’t care. As he told Today:
The special edition, that’s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it’s on VHS, if anybody wants it. … I’m not going to spend the, we’re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and 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. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished…
…The thing about science-fiction fans and “Star Wars” fans is they’re very independent-thinking people. They all think outside the box, but they all have very strong ideas about what should happen, and they think it should be their way. Which is fine, except I’m making the movies, so I should have it my way.
Lucas’s statements touch upon the relationship between art, its creator, and the audience. In the Cover Songs Uncovered series, I talked a lot about how the topic of a song can change from version to version, as the tone, sound, and mood can vary. The implication there is that the original creator has limited control on how to interpet the work once it’s out there.
On a web show for Collider.com, John Campea and others discussed this idea, with each person coming out on a different side as to whether Lucas or “Star Wars” fans get to decide who shot first.
Many agree with the Collider crew that Han should have shot first. Some fans have gone so far as to make their own edits of the films, scrubbing any change introduced in the special editions. But there are others out there think Greedo shooting first makes for a better story:
When “The Force Awakens” was released, he was asked who shot first, and again, he said he didn’t care. But his co-stars did have opinions.
And it was a topic that came up more than once.
There’s a photo that has circulated in which Ford has appeared to concede that Han indeed shot first.
Turns out that photo is an altered version of a photo from the “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.
That photo has led to confusion, as some take that photo to be legitimate. But that just proves the overall lesson of the special editions: just because you can alter something digitally doesn’t mean you should.