By Bruce Gibson
A big controversy within Star Wars fandom is how the Special Edition changed the anti-hero portrayal of Han Solo. Before George Lucas made his 1997 alterations, Han shot Greedo before the Rodian even pulled the trigger. In the Special Edition, Greedo shoots Han first, which actually improves Greedo’s characterization as a more ruthless bounty hunter who isn’t hesitant to shoot in public. But I contend that this scene alteration may also improve both Han and Greedo’s portrayal in “A New Hope” and fits in better with “The Empire Strikes Back.” You heard me; this scene works for Han.
Before we can examine Han, we must first ponder a big change made to Greedo. He shoots and misses Han. Now how can anyone possibly miss shooting someone sitting a few feet in front of him? Was Greedo a former stormtrooper since only they can be “so precise”? If Greedo is that bad of a shot, he should be thrown out of the “Bounty Hunters Members Only Club,” and Jabba should reevaluate his associates. Jabba the Hutt would never associate with a bounty hunter who wasn’t worth his salt.
Arguably, I doubt that George Lucas’ intentions were to weaken these two characters in the Special Edition. So let’s look at this scene with the best of intentions that both Han and Greedo are indeed ruthless scoundrels who are at the top of their game.
In the cantina scene, Greedo points his weapon at Han and mentions there is a bounty on his head from Jabba. He makes idle threats to Han that he will kill him, but Greedo must know that financially Han’s only real value is to be brought to Jabba alive. The crime lord must want to taunt and torture Han if he can’t collect the monies owed to him. So, we must conclude that Greedo has no plans to kill Han since his corpse is of no value to Jabba.
You sent Greedo to blast me.
Han, why you’re the best smuggler in
the business. You’re too valuable to
fry. He was only relaying my concern
at your delays. He wasn’t going to
Although Han tells Jabba otherwise, I think he does believe that Greedo would not kill him. Han is a smart cookie and a shrewd scoundrel, so he must know that Jabba would want him alive. He knows that Greedo would never kill him if he wants to be paid handsomely.
This theory is also supported in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Boba Fett, working in sync with Darth Vader, is on a quest for that same bounty to capture Han Solo. Fett tells Vader in Cloud City, “He’s no good to me dead.” That’s a key phrase in the saga’s continuity because it means Jabba’s price on Han’s head is based on being captured alive. Yes, Han must be delivered to Jabba as live goods.
In “A New Hope,” Han is cunning and would rather kill Greedo before being captured. So instead of shooting first, Han slowly pulls out his blaster and waits for the right opportunity to make his move. Try to understand that Han could be perceived as being more calculating in this film version. He’s using his keen eyesight to notice that the barrel of Greedo’s gun is not pointed directly at his head. Look at this scene again, and you’ll see that Greedo’s aim looks a little off within those long fingers. Han would notice this too.
Han Solo slowly reaches for his gun under the table.
You can tell that to Jabba. He may
only take your ship.
Over my dead body.
That’s the idea. I’ve been looking
forward to killing you for a long
Yes, I’ll bet you have.
Han knows Greedo is toying with him and will not kill him. He’s prepared to see Greedo make his dummy shot as a bold threat to get Han to comply. It’s like in the old westerns when a cowboy shoots at someone’s feet to get them to comply or foolishly dance. Han will have a justified reason to retaliate in broad daylight thus giving the public perception that his shot was a defensive maneuver. No questions asked from the peanut gallery.
Greedo shoots the wall beside Han’s head. And, in a blink of an eye, Greedo falls forward dead on the table. Because of Greedo’s foolish threatening action, Han sentenced him to death and shot him down. Greedo gave him reason and didn’t see the shot coming from Han’s hidden blaster.
So Han is still a cold-blooded killer in the Special Edition because when he shoots, he knows that if and when Greedo shoots, he is not going to kill Han. This is in opposition to the 1977 version where we originally perceived Greedo’s mission was to kill Han. But both film versions, no matter how this scene plays out, Han is determined to shoot and kill Greedo. It wasn’t in self-defense or to avoid a missed shot. It was to take him down once and for all.
Personally, I don’t think this scene in the Special Edition is any better than the original version. I also don’t think it strips Han of his cunning ruthlessness. The Special Edition is here to stay, and I’m presenting “a certain point of view” that may help people to view this scene less negatively and make it more palatable. Han’s character portrayal in the beginning of this story still remains rebellious, and he still has a journey to become a moral hero.