Before & After the Special Editions: Han and Greedo (Part 2)

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Before & After the Special Editions:
Han and Greedo (Part 2)
Stuart Tullis

Last week, I proposed that the exchanged blaster shots between Han and Greedo as seen in the Special Edition essentially changed the lovable smuggler from a “man trying to make his way in the universe” to a relatively shallow character who was inevitably poised to become a hero of the galaxy.  This alteration has continued repercussions on his character development throughout the original trilogy as well as affecting the storyline of the Rebellion as a whole.

Before the change, Han Solo progressed from loner to leader.  He made a deal to carry two men and two ‘droids to Alderaan for a hefty sum of money, not for a noble cause, and certainly not to rescue a princess.  He was coerced into marching into the detention area for an even heftier sum of money.  There is no evidence of altruism or heroism in him at all; he is, as the princess states, a mercenary.  He made the trip to Yavin IV to collect his promised credits for passage to Alderaan plus the expected reward for rescuing the princess.  As Y-Wings and X-Wings were being prepared for the battle ahead of them, Han was filling his hold with credits and cargo.  When Luke confronts him about “turning [his] back on them,” Han encourages the youth to join him and Chewie because Luke was “pretty good in a fight”.  As the younger man walks off, dejected, Han explains himself to his copilot — fighting against the Death Star was suicide.  Still true to his character, Han Solo is in it for himself, hurrying to pay off old debts before he pays with his life.

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But in that moment when Darth Vader has Luke’s X-Wing in his sights and his wingmen unexpectedly crash and careen into his TIE, Han Solo’s journey is complete (at least for this first installation in the saga).  Although he claimed that he came back so Luke wouldn’t “get all the credit and take all the reward,” when he playfully shoves Luke at the base of his X-Wing, we all realize that there is more to him than money.  He returned to fight alongside his friend, to come to the rescue when the call came his way.  Han becomes heroic in the footsteps of Luke, who had immediately responded to Princess Leia’s holorecording by making it his mission to deliver the ‘droids to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Han’s motivation seems to stem from personal relationships, however, while Luke’s emphasis is on right and wrong.  Therefore Han isn’t committed to the Rebellion, but loyal to his friends.

During The Empire Strikes Back, Han’s progression continues.  At the outset of the film, Han is Luke’s “old buddy”, accompanying him on perimeter duty on Hoth.  When he reports to General Rieekan, it is evident that Han’s loyalties to his friends do not extend to the Alliance as a whole.  Han picks up where he left off in A New Hope, intent on paying off Jabba the Hutt because “a death mark’s not an easy thing to live with.”  Before he can take off, though, Han discovers that his friend is missing out in the icy tundra with temperatures rapidly falling.  His friendship moves him to risk his own life (again) to save Luke.  Then, as the Empire invades Echo Base, he continues with the Rebellion insofar as it becomes his responsibility to get the princess to the rendezvous point — another move made in loyalty (and budding love) forLeia.  This culminates in his being frozen in carbonite until the beginning of Return of the Jedi, when his friends, Luke, Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca rescue him from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt.  By the second act of Return of the Jedi, Han has joined the ranks of the Rebel Alliance as General Solo.  His commitment to the cause of the Rebellion has moved him to the point of even lending the Millennium Falcon, the ship he loves as much as any of his friends, to the Rebellion in the hands of his old friend Lando.  By the end of the saga, the loner has become a leader in a cause much greater than himself.

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After the change, Han Solo had become a less lovable character.  Having given Greedo the opportunity to shoot first, Han showed an almost selfless concern for others from the beginning.  As I suggested last week, this left Han as either a lucky pilot who didn’t necessarily have the skills to justify his survival in a dangerous profession or a budding hero who finally happened to meet up with the right people to match his altruistic mindset.  While this change might be relatable to people who are “nice guys” who don’t have any strong abilities of their own, it leaves him in a one-dimensional supporting role that doesn’t leave us wondering about his background.  What we see is enough for us.  We expect him to rescue Luke and Leia on Hoth.  We anticipate that he will fully join the Rebellion in Return of the Jedi.  The only surprise left to us is that this “nice man” draws his blaster on the primitive Ewoks (after all, we know he isn’t going to shoot first). The love for Han Solo’s character is restricted to a condescending affection for a pitiable man who is never really a threat to anyone.  We like him because he needs our sympathy.

Before the change, the attraction of the Rebel Alliance is personal.  Han is introduced to us as a man who has been forced by circumstances (circumstances we can only imagine, since we have no background for the character other than his involvement with a crime lord) to rely on himself and have no allegiance to anyone than himself nor to anything other than what is essential to his own survival.  His gradual progression into a trusted leader of the Rebellion because of his devotion to his friends helps us connect to their cause on a personal level.  Most everyone has friends they trust and value.  We make sacrifices for friends and family, even if we don’t always agree with their ideals.  Sometimes, the influence they have on us cause us to realize the value of their goals.  When we see the lonesome smuggler drawn into the Rebel Alliance, we see more than simply one form of government replacing another (after all, smugglers exist in republics as well as in dictatorships).  We witness the real value of the plight of the Rebellion: it stands for people.

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After the change, the attraction of the Rebel Alliance is solely idealistic.  This difference is no less honorable, in fact, it could be argued that it is more righteous a cause than simply joining in with one’s friends, but when the pull of the Rebellion is a common goal of overthrowing an all-powerful central government that treads upon the rights of individuals, the result is an almost academic appreciation for the cause without any real connection to the people involved (something several people feel is missing from the prequels).  For those who have never experienced an oppressive or over-reaching government, the reason for rebellion may even be misunderstood.  We can all understand how personal connections with people we love can cause us to become better people.

Why the change?  Maybe it was simply to make Han less of a “bad guy” in the eyes of parents who might be concerned that one of their children’s favorite heroes had negative qualities that may be emulated by their progeny.  In my opinion, however, it turns a lovable scoundrel into a foolish oaf who succeeds merely by luck and the goodwill of others — an example far more detrimental for the youth of today to follow than a man who grows to become better because of the influence of those around him.

Having Greedo shoot first makes about as much sense to me as putting pants on a Wookiee.

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