Today, I explain why George Lucas’ position on whether Han Solo shot Greedo first in Star Wars is so unreasonable.
Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of pop culture history that interests me that doesn’t quite fit into the other features.
I talked about this the other day in a To Quote a Phrase about Han Solo’s iconic “I know” reply to Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back when she tells him she loves him right before he is encased in Carbonite (which was akin to dying, without literally dying), but I realized that it really deserves its own post.
As we all know, in the original Star Wars film, Han Solo is accosted by a bounty hunter named Greedo. Greedo holds Solo at gun point and the two sit down together. They talk about the bounty that is on Solo’s head from Jabba the Hutt and Han explains that he can get Jabba the money he owes him. Greedo, being shockingly greedy for a man named Greedo, asks for the money for himself. Han tells him he doesn’t have it yet. Greedo then expresses his interest in killing Han. Han, who has secretly readied his own gun under the table, blasts Greedo and kills him.
It’s a real break from conventions, and it is because of that that Star Wars fans really loved the scene. It shows a man who always knows when to take the shot that will help him. And he’ll do it first if means he WON’T get shot. He always knows the right play to make in any given situation to keep himself alive, which is why it is all the more impressive when he shows up at the end of the film to save the day, allowing Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death Star by blasting Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter before it can shoot Luke’s X-Wing down. He had given up on the rebellion once he had been paid, but for once in his life, he made the honorable call, and not just the one that would keep him the safest. It’s a great character arc.
George Lucas, though, disagreed with all of that when looking back on the original trilogy. Again, do note that this is ALL from Lucas looking back in hindsight. Any claims he has made that Greedo was originally going to shoot Han first and Han was just returning Greedo’s attack are plainly false, as I’ve noted in an old Movie Legends Revealed. He did not. It was only a retrospective thing by him.
And, to be frank, whatever, I disagree with the decision, but I don’t think it’s insane for him to change things to the way he likes them better. What I have a problem with, though, is that his arguments for the change are just silly.
Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ 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.
I get what he’s saying. Sheriff Matt Dillon would famously let the other guy get a shot off first on Gunsmoke, but part of that was Matt was a law officer, he CAN’T shoot dudes before they fire. Han is no sheriff, so he has no such restriction, so he’s guided by just common sense, and the idea that shooting a dude right before he shoots you is “cold-blooded killing” is just preposterous.
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.
So not only does Lucas try to gaslight us about the facts of the past, but he does so while making such a silly argument. No one who watched the original Star Wars got out of it “cold-blooded killing,” because that’s not what it was at all. It was a pragmatic “Kill him before he kills me, which he is obviously about to do.”
Calling that “cold-blooded killing” is simply not supported by the facts (just like “I always intended for Greedo to shoot first” isn’t, either).
If Lucas wants Han to be more noble, and not the type of guy who would ever take the first shot, that’s fair enough, but A. That’s a retroactive change and B. Not some logical take on the character’s arc. It’s just a personal preference that he’s totally allowed to make if he wants, but don’t try to tell us how it doesn’t make sense for Han to shoot first.
If anyone has any pop culture bit that you’d like me to discuss, drop me a line at email@example.com