' Cinema Romantico: Han Shot

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Han Shot

In “Veronica Decides To Die” Paulo Coelho wrote that “there is always a gap between intention and action.” If, however, anyone were capable of taking, say, a Navicomputer keyboard and wedging it between the intention and the action, thereby rendering that gap obsolete, it would definitely be the irascible spice smuggler Han Solo, which was what popped into my head when I read about Harrison Ford’s recent Reddit Q&A. He was inevitably asked for his thoughts on whether or not Han shot at Greedo first in “Star Wars: Episode IV.” Ever curmudgeonly, Ford replied (and you could hear the growl from Corellia), “I don’t know and I don’t care.”


To a certain breed of cinema devotees, the story is not merely familiar but probably played out – still, some may need context, and so we will provide it. In the original “Star Wars” of 1977, before “A New Hope” was woefully tacked on, we were essentially introduced to Ford’s Han Solo at the cantina in Mos Eisley where a bounty hunter named Greedo, his laser blaster drawn, sits down across from Solo to collect the mark on his head. Solo, coolly, draws his own laser blaster out of sight beneath the table and blasts Greedo down. Han not only shoots first, he’s the only one who shoots, most likely – as scholars note in their scholarly language – because he’s, like, a total badass, man. Unfortunately, upon the “Special Edition” release of 1997, Grand Chancellor George Lucas chose to make a notable change – that is, Greedo shoots first, somehow splaying his laser blast badly to the side of Han’s head and clearing the way for Han to get off his own shot. Or, to say it another way, Han Shot Second.

Aside from Lucas, grievous Lucas apologists and Skywalker Ranch Yes Men, no one cared for this revision, though some expressed their dislike for it more extravagantly than others. The creators of a website, for instance, with the expository name of HanShootsFirst.org went so far as to enact a petition officially calling for Greedo’s first shot to be revoked. The revision has been referenced with extreme distaste in Kevin Smith films and on the just shuttered “How I Met Your Mother.” Timothy Olyphant as Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (a man who knows a thing or two about drawing first) knew that Han shot first. Go to a comic con, bellow through a megaphone that Greedo shot first, sit back, and watch the righteous spittle fly. And hey, I’ve long been pro-Han Shot First, thinking that it crucially underscored his character’s laconic cool. Except that hearing the man who brought Han to life growl that not only didn’t he know who shot first but that he didn’t care who shot first, I realized that I too didn’t care who shot first.

Lucas has gone on record in the years since with some sort of marble-mouthed blarney about how even in 1977 he intended for Greedo to shoot first, but no one’s buying it and it doesn’t matter anyway. In spite of the laser blast addendum, what Lucas could not change in his “Special Edition” was Ford’s demeanor. That was baked in and it was everything, because ultimately what this scene comes down to is not its mechanics but its philosophical underpinnings. The only way in which Lucas could have altered the philosophy of this moment would have been to somehow CGI it so that Han kept his blaster holstered and Greedo’s laser magically ricocheted off the wall and hit himself in the face. (I fear I may have just given Lucas an idea for the “Star Wars Maxima Cum Laude Edition”.)

In other words, the point isn’t that Han shot first. Han’s intention and subsequent action, minus the gap that he brazenly rejects, was to shoot, and he would tell you in no uncertain terms that in the same situation he shoot again. Or as the green dude from Dagobah might have put it: shoot or shoot not, there is no shoot first.

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