WIJDW: Greedo Shooting First
February 17, 2012/2 Comments/in Chris Langs Commentaries /by Chris Lang
Hello and welcome to Why It Just Doesn’t Work (or WIJDW), where I take a look at scenes from various media and discuss why they might be illogical, nonsensical, and/or just … don’t work.
For my first column in this series, I’ll discuss something that people on the Internet have been ranting about for over fourteen years now. It’s something that, thanks to recent new Blu-Ray releases, is not going away any time soon.
I’m speaking, of course, of the ‘Greedo shooting first’ controversy.
(Though to be honest, I’m thinking that even if George Lucas came out and said “Okay, I was wrong and the fans were right. In the next edition, Han will shoot first again.”, the whole thing would still be debated over for some years to come).
For those of you who’ve been in a galaxy far, far, away for the past decade and a half, the controversy all started when George Lucas first released the ‘Special Editions’ of the classic Star Wars trilogy in 1997. Not satisfied with the films as they’d been originally presented and shown for the previous fifteen years or so, Lucas went back and with the help of CGI, made a number of changes to the films. He added an expanded view of Mos Eisley spaceport, windows in many Cloud City locations, and even re-inserted a previously deleted scene from A New Hope where Han meets with Jabba the Hutt after the run-in with Greedo.
All very well and good, but then there are certain changes that haven’t sat well with longtime Star Wars fans. These are changes in the content that some considered outright blasphemy, for they took away the version of the scene they’d known since they were little kids and replaced them with something different. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll stick with the Greedo controversy.
In the original version many of the 80’s kids grew up with and (up until 1997) took for granted, Greedo the bounty hunter threatens Han Solo at the Mos Eisley Cantina. At gunpoint, Han sits down at a table across from Greedo. Greedo, with his gun trained on Han the whole time, tells Han that his boss Jabba the Hutt is through with Han because Han (as a smuggler) lost one too many shipments after encounters with Imperial cruisers. Han defends his actions, and the following exchange ensues.
Greedo: You can tell that to Jabba. He may only take your ship.
Han: Over my dead body.
Greedo: That’s the idea. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.
Han: Yeah, I’ll bet you have.
And with that, Han shoots Greedo, stands up, and tells the bartender “Sorry about the mess.”
In the Special Edition, however, Greedo shoots first and misses. Then Han shoots him.
I’m not going to go into just why this change was made (it might be just me, but it seems Lucas has changed his story about the reason). I’m just going to go into the fan reaction, and why I think it doesn’t work.
The fan backlash was enormous: A lot of fans felt that this detracted from Han’s ‘rogueish’ persona’, and thought Han was more ‘hardcore’ because he shot first. Others said the whole thing looked really awful. Then there were those others who had less rational objections, saying that Lucas ‘raped their childhood’ by altering the scene. (and while I could write a blog entry addressing the ludicrousness of that argument, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Besides, others, including Manic Expression in one of his STOP THE HATE blogs, have already covered the issue).
As for me, while George Lucas might disagree with me on this one, I have to say this. Greedo shooting first just doesn’t work.
Let’s look at the scene this way. It’s sort of like a gunfight. You see variants of them in dramas set in the 1700s and the 1800s, and of course in Westerns. The premise is that two fighters with guns face each other in a street or some outdoor setting. From a distance, they point their guns at each other and fire. Gunfights aren’t usually long — in fact, sometimes only one of the combatants gets off a shot. Often at times, the combatant who is quickest on the draw wins.
The Han-Greedo scene is kind of like that, except that they’re sitting at a table facing each other. And it’s not a long banquet table either. It’s the sort of small table you might find at a real-life bar or restaurant. In the original version, there’s no problem: Han’s quicker to act because Greedo’s too busy gloating about how he’s been looking forward to killing Han.
But in the Special Edition, Greedo gets off the first shot … and his aim is way off. Ludicrously off. How could his shot hit the wall when Han Solo is practically at point blank range? Even if Greedo were blind, deaf, and had no sense of smell, one would think he’d be able to hit him. And Greedo shows no signs of having had too much to drink at the cantina, either, so we can rule out drunkenness as an excuse.
And since, in the Special Edition, Greedo has such horrible aim that the often-ridiculed Imperial Stormtroopers look like skilled marksmen by comparison, this greatly reduces his credibility as a legit threat. In the original version, Han took action to stop a dangerous bounty hunter from killing him. Here, he’s facing a hopeless incompetent who had no real chance of killing him anyway. One might wonder why Han bothered to shoot Greedo at all.
So all in all, THAT’s why having Greedo shooting first just doesn’t work.
Your thoughts? If you agree or disagree, feel free to leave a comment.
When originally posted in February of 2012, this blog post received the following comments.
01:30 AM on February 18, 2012
Yeah, I remember seeing that in theaters when it came out and thinking to myself that the edit just looked awkward and unnecessary. (and I was only in the 6th grade at the time)
05:21 PM on February 17, 2012
@ Les It seems to me that Lucas has changed his story a few times about why he altered the scene. I remember hearing the excuse you mentioned. But I’ve also heard that the reason was to prevent the re-release from getting a PG-13 rating. Lately, from what I’ve heard, he’s claimed that he wanted Greedo to shoot first all along.
As for Han, I’m not sure I agree with the arguments that him shooting first makes him less heroic, or that Greedo shooting first makes Han less of a ‘scoundrel’. Either way, he still comes across as a self-centered jerk a lot of the time. The climax, where he comes to Luke’s rescue, still works as showing him to be a Jerk With a Heart of Gold. So I pretty much glossed over that as well. All of that was pretty much beside the point.
Anyway, I have to agree that in addition to making it difficult to take Greedo seriously as a threat, the edit really looks unconvincing. Really, we expect better quality than that from professionals.
05:00 PM on February 17, 2012
George must worry far too much about it considering he wanted to change it after twenty years. Just leave it alone. Please!! Good article, sir.
04:39 PM on February 17, 2012
Here’s my two cents: When someone has a gun to your head and threatens to kill you, its okay to shoot first. Doesn’t make you cold blooded, it makes you…well, makes you live longer, any way.
04:29 PM on February 17, 2012
Hi Chris Lang. Nice summary of why this scene edit fails so hard it deserves the double facepalm. I can go one further, my friend.
George Lucas has gone on record saying that Han Shooting Greedo first made him out to be less heroic and wanted to change that by having Greedo shoot first.
My reply-Huh?…that doesn’t make him more heroic. Han Solo is more heroic in the original version by first establishing himself in this scene as a scoundrel and then redeeming himself at the end of the film when he comes back to save Luke Skywalker from the crosshairs of Darth Vader’s laser cannons in the Death Star Trench. That shows a greater character arc through the film that the new version takes away from.
And you’re absolutely right about the marksmanship of Greedo. They’re only 3 feet apart, and Greedo is already aiming the gun at him. In the edit(which sucks so bad it should qualify for a razzie) The computer gives Han a head shift as if he’s ducking the shot, but just looks like he’s doing an impression of that dancer in Footloose who does a really good Robot impression. It’s faker looking than Kim Kardishan’s boobs. Lucas really thinks we’re dumber than a sack of hammers if he expects us to buy that shot as looking good.
The original scene made a lot more sense. Solo sits down, Greedo monologues, han draws his gun slowly under the table and lets him have it at a propitious moment. That’s the way to do that scene. In 1977, we loved Han for doing that…in 1997 we despised Lucas for changing him unnecessarily.
Great article. I look forward to your next one. Peace.
And those were the original comments. If you have any you’d like to make, feel free to post them below.