“Han shot first.”
It’s a phrase that could almost be considered a motto of geekdom, a phrase intertwined with the universal disdain for The Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition. And it’s one that’s not even accurate.
In the original 1977 theatrical release of Star Wars (Episode IV – A New Hope), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by an alien bounty hunter who draws a pistol on him. After a brief conversation, Han Solo swiftly guns Greedo down before tossing a tip to the barkeeper and walking out of the Mos Eisley Cantina, becoming the iconic space pirate badass we know and love him as.
In fact, Greedo didn’t even fire his weapon in this original version of the film, so the “Han shot first” wording – a subject of countless memes, fan art and even merchandise – isn’t even accurate. It’s strange that a detail passionate fans stand behind, is actually lacking in detail itself, but that’s not what we’re going to look at today.
20 years later, creator, writer and director George Lucas would have you believe that’s not how it happened, that what you and I saw in the original cut was simply a result of how it was shot and that you’re just confused. Lucas used the first of his special edition re-releases of the original Star Wars trilogy in 1997 to make a significant change to that sequence. Instead of Han Solo ending Greedo like a cold-blooded killer, he made it appear as if Greedo shot (terribly inaccurately) first and Solo took him down in self defense.
In an early 2012 interview with THR, Lucas addressed the changes to the Greedo-Solo confrontation through the re-releases of the original Star Wars:
“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.”
Yes, Greedo was now the most ineffective bounty hunter ever and Han Solo, who slickly had his sidearm at the ready, was just doing so in case Greedo was going to shoot… and miss. Unfortunately, Harrison Ford doesn’t have any clarity to offer on the issue either. In an April 2014 Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session, Harrison Ford responded to a question about the issue in Harrison Ford fashion.
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
But a lot of people do, which brings us to today, some 38 years later, months before the saga makes a triumphant return to theaters around the world with Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Kristian Brown, a librarian at the University of New Brunswick, uncovered an early version of the original script for A New Hope, although it wasn’t titled that back then.
This version, reportedly a fourth draft of the original Star Wars script was dubbed “Saga I” and in it the beloved farmer boy protagonist from Tatooine was named “Luke Starkiller.” The ominous name was of course altered to Luke Skywalker before production began but this script also includes the earliest version of the Han Solo-Greedo scene. And yes, again, Han guns that alien down without flinching. Brown, a sci-fi himself, who discovered the rare gem while digitizing UNB’s library, happily stated to CBC:
“I’ll tell you one thing, right now. Based on the script, I can tell you 100 per cent, Han shot first.”
Well, he was the only one to shoot… but you get the point. Update: Peter Mayhew shared these photos on his Facebook page in June 2015 before removing them:
Han wasn’t a “good guy” in the traditional sense when we first meet him, which makes his character development over the trilogy that much more interesting, most notably his transition from antihero-esque scoundrel to hero at the end of the original film when he returned after collecting his payday to save Luke during the Death Star trench run.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters December 18, 2015; Star Wars: Rogue One on December 16, 2016; and Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017.