Han Shot First

In on the eve of being honored by the Kennedy Center, legendary filmmaker George Lucas sat down with the Washington Post to reflect on his remarkable career. Among other things, Lucas used the opportunity to defend one of his most controversial decisions: editing a scene in the remastered Star Wars to make it appear that Greedo shot first.

The Washington Post explains:

[Lucas] went back to some scenes that had always bothered him, particularly in the 1977 film: When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is threatened by Greedo, a bounty hunter working for the sluglike gangster Jabba the Hutt, Han reaches for his blaster and shoots Greedo by surprise underneath a cantina table. In the new version, it is Greedo who shoots first, by a split second. 

Lucas justifies the change:

“Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ ” Lucas asks. “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.”

The Washington Post points out that Lucas is “a passionate defender of an artist’s right to go back and tweak his work.” In some ways that seems fair – yet art is not created solely by the artist. Art, nearly by definition, is a shared experience; the interpretation of art is a creative act in itself.

So, yes, perhaps Lucas has the right to re-edit his films and add terrible CGI characters. But we, too, have the right to rebel. To hold our interpretations valid.

And CGI monstrosities aside, there is something particularly problematic about the narrative change of “Greedo shot first.”

Lucas himself almost gets at it in his defense: we wish Han hadn’t shot first.

Han is a good guy. We like him. He’s a little rough around the edges, maybe, but beneath his gruff exterior, we know he is a hero. And heroes always do the right thing.

Lucas sees that as a reason to re-write history. A true hero wouldn’t shoot first, therefore a true hero didn’t shoot first.

But that is exactly why it is so important to acknowledge that Han shot first. Maybe we wish he hadn’t, maybe we want him to be so upstanding that no matter how dicey the situation he always gives others the benefit of the doubt. But no matter how much we wish that to be the way the world is, we all know the truth:

Han shot first.

Perhaps it wasn’t the ideal thing to do. Perhaps it represents a moral lapse in his character. But it’s who he is, and it doesn’t diminish his capacity to be a hero.

All of us have made mistakes in our lives. All of us have moments we are not proud of. All of us wish we could exploit our “artist’s rights” to go back and edit our darker moments, to remake ourselves more like the heroes we wish we could be. But, of course, none of us really have that luxury.

The truth is, Han shot first. But that doesn’t make him less of a hero. He can still save the day and he can still get the girl.

Han shot first, but we are all capable of redemption.


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