Of all the changes that George Lucas has made to the original Star Wars trilogy, there is one that has upset fans above all others. More than Darth Vader shouting "NO" as he threw the Emperor to his death. More than the ghost of Hayden Christensen. Even more than the world’s worst musical performance in Jabba’s palace. The one that drives people crazy is Han Solo not shooting first in the Mos Eisley cantina. George Lucas is insistent, however, that Han did not shoot first, and now he has a very simple reason. Because from a mythological standpoint it doesn’t work.
It’s an argument that we’ve certainly heard before. Han Solo becomes a hero of the rebellion and falls in love with a princess. Is that really the type of guy you want gunning people down in bars? Lucas decided that Han Solo needed to be more like a classic western hero.
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.
It’s well known how much Star Wars borrows from classic mythological archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. From that standpoint, Lucas apparently decided that having Han shoot first just doesn’t fit the larger story. As he tells the Washington Post, he’s the prince that’s going to marry the princess. He needs to be worthy of her, therefore he can’t be the type that shoots people down in cold blood. From a classical perspective, Lucas is certainly correct. As much as many of us have the original version ingrained in our soul, we have trouble arguing with this logic.
No, wait. Actually, we can still argue. Han Solo becomes worthy of the princess, but he isn’t at the beginning. It’s called a character arc. When we first meet Han Solo he’s a smuggler. He doesn’t do it because he hates the Empire. He works for gangsters because they pay him. He only takes Luke and Obi-Wan aboard because they’re going to give him a pile of cash. The shot to Greedo under the table is the moment that we learn the type of person this character is. It’s the beginning of a moral journey that ends when he realizes there are more important things than money and he turns the Millennium Falcon around to help Luke at the end of the film.
There will likely never be a true end to this argument. There is really nothing that can be said that will convince people that Greedo shot first, if they are not currently of that opinion. Is Han Solo a more noble man than we think at the beginning, or he is right at home in the wretched hive of scum and villainy? Weigh in below.