MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Greedo was originally intended to shoot at Han Solo first in “Star Wars.”
The numerous legends surrounding “Star Wars” often originate from the same place: the desire to believe George Lucas had everything planned from the beginning, a myth the filmmaker has helped to perpetuate over the years. That leads to legends like "Anakin Skywalker was always going to be Darth Vader," "the original ‘Star Wars’ was always meant to be the fourth film in a series" and "Luke and Leia were always meant to be siblings." It’s also at play in the great "Han shot first" debate, which surfaced again just this week when Lucas explained why it makes sense for him that Han Solo did not shoot first.
The debate, of course, centers on the cantina scene in “Star Wars,” where Han Solo is accosted by the bounty hunter Greedo, who holds the smuggler at gun point and the two sit down together. They discuss the bounty placed on Solo’s head by Jabba the Hutt, and Han’s willingness to repay his debt. Greedo asks for the money for himself, only to be told Han doesn’t have it yet. Greedo then expresses his interest in killing the smuggler. Han, who has secretly readied his own gun under the table, blasts Greedo and kills him. It’s a famous scene widely loved by “Star Wars” fans because it breaks from convention and establishes Han as a rogue. That makes his becoming a hero of the rebellion later in the film even sweeter.
However, Lucas recently argued that it didn’t make sense for Han to shoot first:
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.
In the 1997 "Special Edition" of “Star Wars,” Lucas edited the scene so that Greedo fires first at Han, who only then shoots the bounty hunter. In a 2004 edition of the film (the version that’s now available for download online), they fire at the same time.
Lucas, however, has argued that the special edition was his original intent, stating:
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.
Reader Joshua W. thought that I had addressed this legend before, but I haven’t -- but, well, here it is now, Joshua! Did Han originally shoot first or what?
Here’s the scene from the January 1976 version of the screenplay:
As Han is about to leave, Greedo, a slimy green-faced alien with a short trunk-nose, pokes a gun in his side. The creature speaks in a foreign tongue translated into English subtitles.
GREEDOGoing somewhere, Solo?
HANYes, Greedo. As a matter of fact,I was just going to see your boss.Tell Jabba that I’ve got his money.
Han sits down and the alien sits across from him holding the gun on him.
GREEDOIt’s too late. You should havepaid him when you had the chance.Jabba’s put a price on your head,so large that every bounty hunterin the galaxy will be looking foryou. I’m lucky I found you first.
HANYeah, but this time I got the money.
GREEDOIf you give it to me, I might forgetI found you.
HANI don’t have it with me. TellJabba…
GREEDOJabba’s through with you. He hasno time for smugglers who droptheir shipments at the first signof an Imperial cruiser.
HANEven I get boarded sometimes. Doyou think I had a choice?
Han Solo slowly reaches for his gun under the table.
GREEDOYou can tell that to Jabba. Hemay only take your ship.
HANOver my dead body.
GREEDOThat’s the idea I’ve been lookingforward to killing you for a longtime.
HANYes, I’ll bet you have.
Suddenly the slimy alien disappears in a blinding flash of light. Han pulls his smoking gun from beneath the table as the other patrons look on in bemused amazement. Han gets up and starts out of the cantina, flipping the bartender some coins as he leaves.
HANSorry about the mess.
That clears that up. Even if you wish to argue that when it came time to film the scene Lucas changed things so Han didn’t shoot first, a.) that isn't evident on the screen, as the film sure seems to depict precisely what Lucas wrote in the script; and b.) it wouldn't alter the fact that Lucas originally did want Han Solo to shoot first.
There was one later edit of that screenplay in March 1976 before they began filming, but the Greedo scene remained the same.
The legend is...
Thanks to Joshua W. for the suggestion (in a roundabout way)!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.