I'll admit my bias. One Wednesday afternoon in May of 1977, when Star Wars opened in my home town, I saw, with my own two eyes, Han Solo take the first shot and kill Greedo. I know this. I witnessed it, so there is no doubt in my mind that it is so and I'll always know that is the truth.

Now, all the "Han First-ers" will say that their objections to the doctored footage that first showed Greedo shooting at the same time, and later showing Greedo shooting first are because it changes the character of Han Solo. With Han shooting first, we know he's a scoundrel and his shooting first shows it. It means Han has a story arc, where he goes from scoundrel to good guy.

But does it really change that much? He's still a smuggler, he's still ready to kill a bounty hunter without a second thought, he's still doing business with Jabba, and still willing to stare him down. He also still intends to leave the Rebellion at Yavin 4 with his loot and not look back.

So perhaps this change indicates slower reflexes than originally. Does it really change Han's character?

And, more importantly, are there any points anywhere in Star Wars canon that depend on this change? For example, are there stories where Greedo's friends or family seek revenge because he was gunned down in cold blood that were affected because of this change (so Han's shot was in self defense)? Or maybe stories of Han Solo's earlier life that make him less of a scoundrel than we would consider him if the footage of that scene was not altered?

  • 4
    Not sure about this question, on one hand, it feels highly subjective, on the other hand, I am quite keen to see the debate :/
    – johnc
    Nov 7 '11 at 3:28
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    Flip the question around: if it doesn't matter, why was it changed? Dec 19 '11 at 1:28
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    @dmckee: Matters to the filmmakers and to the viewers are two different things. In this case, I eventually found out, after seeing a picture of Lucas with a "Han Shot First" T-shirt on, I found that apparently the reason for the changes was for the MPAA ratings so he could keep it rated G.
    – Tango
    Dec 19 '11 at 1:31
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    @Tango: That would only make it worse. Telling a false story for the benefit of the censors and the most panty-knotted parents out there. For shame. // I saw a New Hope in 1977 when I was six year old. and somehow survived the trauma. Dec 19 '11 at 2:06
  • 2
    @dmckee: You're preaching to the choir on that one.
    – Tango
    Dec 19 '11 at 4:44

*Warning: TV Tropes Links

The changes do have an impact on the tone of Han's character.

The smuggler who will preemptively gun down anyone he perceives as a threat to his safety is significantly darker than the smuggler who merely reacts to attempts on his life, and is much further into the realm of being a true antihero*.

One version of Han is a hardened killer who experiences a fundamental shift in perspective as a result of being torn by unexpected feelings of love, and loyalty to people that became his friends (despite his better judgement).

The other version is merely a standard "reluctant hero" (or "Loveable Rogue"*) who happens to work in an illegal and dangerous profession, and who makes a few wise cracks. This hero's return after he "took the money and ran" is not nearly as surprising.

However, the biggest disappointment in this particular retcon is primarily out-of-universe.

The fact that Lucas felt the need to "fix" this after the fact is perceived as an unwelcome attempt to "soften" the movie.

Why is this change so important? Why go to the trouble of retconning this? Was the "old" Han in some way inferior to the new? Most fans seem to feel that rather the opposite is true, so this became a rallying point for those who felt that Lucas' changes were demonstrating a disconnect between Lucas and his fan base.

While many fans first watched the movies as children, they are not generally thought of as "children's movies", but rather as movies suitable for all ages. There are already a number of plot devices in the original trilogy that are clearly there to cater specifically to children (e.g. the ewoks); the justification Lucas gave for the change (that he wanted to make clear to children that Han had "no choice" but to shoot) is seen as further skewing the movie towards a children's market.

The awkwardness of the retcon, particularly the extra required suspension of disbelief that Greedo could possibly miss a seated target at point blank range, is also cited as further evidence that the change simply lowers the quality of the film.

See also The Dog Shot First*.

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    While I agree with your analysis (+1) I am not sure Greedo qualifies as just "anyone he perceives as a threat". Greedo was a known bounty hunter working for Jabba, so likely to be a pretty nasty character. Han's attack was still in the spirit of preserving his life and not just taking out rivals.
    – DQdlM
    Nov 7 '11 at 16:24
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    @TangoOversway I do not, but I have trouble imagining a scenario where this could make a difference. Even in the most direct scenario, where someone came looking for vengeance, at most it would be "you shot him in cold blood!" directed at Han by his accuser, followed by Han either saying "yep!" or "nope, he shot first! It was self-defence!". However, even in that scenario, do you think someone looking for vengeance would say "oh, well, if he shot first, then I guess that's okay...."?
    – Beofett
    Nov 7 '11 at 17:14
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    +1 from me. But please, in the future, put your TVTropes warning up front!
    – Iszi
    Nov 9 '11 at 4:11
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    I have this memory of watching the original and seeing Han pull his gun and aim, under the table, while Greedo was talking about how Jabba gots to get paid. There's a premeditation to it, in the original, that casts Han as a real cutthroat.
    – Dan Ray
    Dec 19 '11 at 13:37
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    @Beska because accidentally navigating to TVTropes can eat up hours and hours of your time :)
    – Beofett
    Feb 18 '13 at 21:48

The main thing Greedo's shot changes, is Han's competence, and the clarity of the scene, as well as the plausibility, tension and realism of all of the film's danger.

In the original version, Han shoots Greedo once Greedo tells Han that Greedo intends to kill Han.

Han: "Over my dead body."

Greedo: "That's the idea. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."

Han: "I'll bet you have."

(BLAM - Han shoots Greedo)

So the instant Han knows Greedo plans to kill him, he blasts Greedo. Now, if anyone thinks that Han should have waited until Greedo shot and somehow missed at point blank range with a ready blaster that has been aimed at Han the whole time, that person is someone who probably would not have survived this situation if they were in Han's shoes. This change may or may not make Han more moral, but to me it clearly makes him less competent, and less likely to have survived his dangerous lifestyle this far.

As for Han's morality, even in the original version, Han could have shot sooner, but waited until he knew Greedo's intent to kill him. Waiting for Greedo to actually shoot would be more pacifistic (but who ever said Han was a pacifist) and slightly more morally justified, but is also far less competent in terms of Han's chances of staying alive. Saying "Greedo shot first" goes along with "Han should have died", and if Han had died, he wouldn't have been around to save Leia and Luke multiple times, and so a different kind of morality might say that the more moral choice was to blast the murderous Greedo (else who knows how many others Greedo might have gone on to kill later) and live to do more righteous er, smuggling and good deeds another day.

It also undermines the clarity of the scene, because how did Greedo manage to miss? Is this now going to become a universe where moral Midichloridians intervene to spoil the aim of bad guys? Could be that IS how Lucas thinks, and would explain the Stormtrooper inaccuracy phenomenon, and especially the ludicrous prequel survivals of Anakin and Jar Jar in the many scenes where they would by odds have died over and over and over. By having Han shoot first, it removes the need for unbelievable badguy failure and puts responsibility for Han's survival on his own trigger finger.

I say this undermines the plausibility, tension and realism of all of the film's danger. In the original, Han seemed to be in serious danger of being shot by Greedo unless he shot first. In the Greedo Shot First version, having a bounty hunter sitting across a table from you aiming a loaded blaster at you doesn't seem to be all that big a threat, because you can heroically flinch to make him miss and then shoot him, and count on him not dodging your shot. This makes no sense, is unbelievable, and changes the nature of the film's violence from a situation where good people can and regularly do get shot and killed, to one where extremely dangerous situations never kill the good guys and don't even need any kind of good reason why they didn't.

And, more importantly, are there any points anywhere in Star Wars canon that depend on this change? For example, are there stories where Greedo's friends or family seek revenge because he was gunned down in cold blood that were effected because of this change (so Han's shot was in self defense) or maybe stories of Han Solo's earlier life that make him less of a scoundrel than we would consider him if the footage of that scene was not altered?

Well there's Greedo's employer, yes. See the next film, The Empire Strikes Back.


It changes the whole movie, as in the original version, I perceived Han from going from the criminal smuggler and hired gun who will kill anyone who might be dangerous to him or gets in his way, to saving his friends and because he learned what true friendship and loyalty was. It destroys that character arc and just makes him a hero the whole way through.

  • 3
    @Chenmunka - it adds brevity!
    – colmde
    Feb 16 '17 at 10:11
  • @colmde Fair point :) Brevity was never my strong suit....
    – Beofett
    Feb 16 '17 at 14:36

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