This quote from George Lucas has received a lot of attention lately:
“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 [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] 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.”
I assume most readers are familiar with this controversy, but for background, read this.
I first saw Star Wars in 1997, in its “Special Edition” form. I feel it necessary to state that up front, because your first impression of the films is always the one that will feel “right” to you. Also, the article with the Lucas quote includes the original 1977 version of the scene in question, so you can watch it there if you haven’t seen it. But I think that most people have.
Watching the ’77 version, all you see is Greedo threatening Han, then Han says “I’ll bet you have” and there is some sort of explosion in front of Greedo, after which he slumps over the table. I don’t know if the explosion is supposed to be Greedo being hit, the table exploding (why are the bar tables highly explosive?) or the muzzle flash of Greedo’s weapon, while Han’s shot hits him under the table.
While Lucas could be trying to rewrite history so that Han never shot first, (and we have always been at war with Eastasia), I do think that the 1977 scene could be interpreted as Greedo firing first. It’s pretty hard to tell what happened, so I think Lucas might have a point here.
In the Special Edition, Lucas has indeed clarified things by having Greedo fire and miss, followed by Han firing (twice, for some reason) immediately afterwards and hitting the mark. The idea that a professional bounty hunter like Greedo could somehow miss a man seated across the table from him seems ludicrous, although the implausibility is lessened when one considers the shoddy marksmanship of even the Empire’s specially born-and-bred soldiers. In this galaxy, missing a sitting target at point-blank range makes you just an average shot.
So, Lucas is sort of right: it’s possible that Greedo fired and missed perhaps a millisecond before Han fired in the 1977 version. Or that Greedo never fired at all. Or they both fired simultaneously. Or that Greedo tried to fire, and that explosion is actually his weapon malfunctioning. (Probably forgot to clean it and it… jammed? I don’t know; these weapons make no sense.) It’s ambiguous, in my eyes.
In the Special Edition, it isn’t ambiguous at all, but it does look pretty ridiculous. So, though Lucas may be correct that the original version was misinterpreted by the viewers, it’s still a better scene than the updated one. As I’ve said on other occasions, filmmakers should make the audience do their thinking when possible.
(Hat Tip to Christopher Knight.)