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Re-Examining the ‘Han Shot First’ Debate

Han shooting Greedo is more than just a minor plot detail. It speaks to the true heart of the character.

Han shot first. These three simple, seemingly innocent words come loaded with context. Fans have spent the last four decades trying to figure out the veracity of this now iconic claim. But while it may seem like an ultimately inconsequential character detail, it has become one of the most impassioned and controversial debates in Star Wars history. It’s become a debate about who Han Solo truly is.

We all know the scene. In the original Star Wars, super smooth smuggler Han Solo agrees to transport Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi to Alderaan, so they can get Princess Leia’s stolen Death Star plans safely into the hands of the Rebel Alliance. But as Han is getting ready to head to the Millennium Falcon, he’s stopped in the Mos Eisley Cantina by Greedo, the green bounty hunter who plans to take Han back to Jabba the Hutt and collect the price on his head.

Han, the consummate badass, calmly stalls for time and distracts Greedo just long enough to unbuckle his blaster holster and finish off Greedo with a single shot underneath the table. Enemies beware: Han doesn’t wait for someone else to miss. If he has the opportunity, he’s going to take his shot. Han offing Greedo perfectly encapsulated his “kill or be killed” mentality and came to symbolize everyone’s favorite space scoundrel.

Unless maybe it didn’t? This small but defining moment for the character was seemingly undone with the release of the special editions of the original trilogy in 1997. The movies were meant to allow George Lucas to finally fulfill his true vision for the galaxy far, far away. Several changes were added to the new versions of the films but none generated as much attention and controversy as Lucas’ decision to reverse the ‘Han shot first’ narrative by having Han only shoot Greedo after the bounty hunter fires and misses ⏤ despite sitting no more than three feet away.

Die-hard Star Wars fans were outraged at this bizarre character change, saying that Lucas undermined Han’s entire persona just to make him more ‘family-friendly.’ Petitions were created demanding that the changes be redacted and the moment was one of the first where the fans’ vision of the Star Wars universe appeared to differ from Lucas’ vision for the franchise. Lucas doubled down on his claim in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, essentially telling fans to stop whining and accept the movies as is.

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Said Lucas: “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. 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.”

So the creator of Star Wars himself clearly stated that Han did not, in fact, shoot first. Case closed, right? Not so fast. An early version of the script was discovered in the archives of the University of New Brunswick library which shows no indication of Greedo shooting at all. Kristian Brown, who discovered the script said it confirmed “100 percent, Han shot first.”

Nearly everyone on earth not named George Lucas seems to agree with Brown’s assessment, as ‘Han Shot First’ has become a rallying cry meant to push back against Lucas’ mishandling of his own universe. Paul Blake, who played Greedo, offered up his two cents on the matter to the New York Daily News in 2016.

“Of course, it said it all in the original script,” Blake recalled. “At the end of the scene, it reads, ‘Han shoots the alien.’ That’s all it says and that’s what happened.”

Even Alden Ehrenreich, who is playing Han in the upcoming Solo film, showed his support for the ‘Han Shot First’ movement in a recent interview. Ehrenreich was asked whether Han or Greedo shot first and quickly answered the former before explaining why it’s a question that matters so much to fans.

“I think it’s just fun,” says Ehrenreich. “It’s part of the swagger cowboy of the whole character and everything. I think one thing that is true about him and that you get to enjoy in this movie is that it’s kind of the dark underworld gangster underbelly of the Star Wars universe, and you gotta be quick and cunning if you’re going to make it there.”

Ehrenreich’s assessment of the character matches up with the general sentiment of Solo, which centers the story on how Han becomes the jaded, cynical lone wolf that we meet in the Mos Eisley Cantina. While the movie makes it clear that Solo was always a bit of a sarcastic troublemaker, Solo introduces viewers to a young Han who is a bit more optimistic about life. Yet when he is betrayed by pretty much everyone he trusts (except Chewie, of course), he is forced to re-examine his worldview and by the end of the film, he is on the path of self-reliance, moral ambiguity, and skepticism.

To some, the idea of celebrating “the dark underworld gangster underbelly of the Star Wars universe” might seem very un-Disney, but since the company bought the franchise from Lucas in 2012, it hasn’t been afraid to explore the dark side. In fact, The Force Awakens‘ climax features Kylo Ren killing his father just as the viewer thinks he might be ready to come back to the light side of the Force, and Rogue One ends with pretty much every character dying.

And if Solo is meant to convey Disney’s interpretation of the character, then it’s safe to say that Han shot first. After all, they now own the property and confirming the ‘Han Shot First’ theory would do little more than ignore Lucas’ own unprompted changes while pleasing countless fans. Besides, by the time Disney bought Star Wars, the franchise’s Canon had become an incomprehensible mess, filled with contradictions and unpopular changes to beloved characters. Wouldn’t it benefit everyone to just go back to the way it was?

Maybe, but we can’t simply accept something as truth because we want it to be. The fact remains that there is compelling evidence on both sides of the argument. Perhaps one day Lucas will settle the debate once and for all and concede that his attempt to rewrite Han’s history was a massive mistake. Until that day, though, fans will have to live with the frustrating ambiguity.

And given Han’s own relativist attitude, maybe the lack of an answer is for the best. After all, when asked about the controversy during a Reddit AMA in 2014, Harrison Ford, the OG solo, simply replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” It’s unintentionally the Han Solo-iest quote of all time, as it’s hard to imagine Han himself giving much of a shit about the debate either way.

But it also might be the truth we’ve been looking for. Maybe instead of searching high and low for some definitive history of a character from a fictional universe, everyone should just believe whatever they want about Han. Maybe he shot first. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe none if matters. As long as the force is still with us, always.