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Han Shot First, but leave Lucas’ edits in Star Wars forever

Whew! Disney+ has launched and the only place with more content than its app is our website. Wow okay that was corny, I’m sorry, but something about Disney brings out the safe, anodyne jokes.

Really, though, we’ve got quite a lot of good things to read about how to watch it, if The Mandalorian is any good, and explaining what’s up with the new 4K HDR versions of the original Star Wars trilogy. You know, the ones that include yet another unasked-for edit from George Lucas, specifically of the most controversial edit he ever made on a special edition. Yes, George Lucas changed Han Solo’s scene with Greedo in Star Wars: A New Hope, Disney confirmed.

Technically, it seems as though both shoot in the same frame in this edit, though it happens after Greedo says “Maclunkey,” which is a word that doesn’t get translated on screen in subtitle because it probably means something too filthy to be displayed in a rated-PG movie. It also handily is pronounced “My clunky,” which is precisely how I like to imagine Lucas refers to the pacing of his edits.

I am about to give you the hottest of my takes, sealed away since the ‘90s in my own personal Disney Vault. Here goes nothing: Han shot first, but leave Lucas’ edits in. Never change it back to the original version, never release an edition that doesn’t have Greedo shooting first or — at minimum — simultaneously with Han.

Hear me out on this.

First of all, let me speak to my fellow old people, those of us who saw Star Wars in the theater or on VHS as it was first edited, before the Special Editions changed everything. Let’s tell each other a real truth: although you thought of Han Solo as a gruff rapscallion with a heart of gold, you emphasized the “heart of gold” part in your mind. It wasn’t until you heard about the edit that you thought about the possibility that Han Solo is a murderer. He straight up killed a dude who was probably going to shoot him but Han didn’t know that for sure.

Han shot first in the original movie, but it was a small moment of character introduction that didn’t have a hundredth of the impact of Han Shot First, the movement of outraged fans making internet memes before there were places to easily spread memes.

When George Lucas changed that scene, he didn’t make Han Solo suddenly nicer and safer, he made Han Solo more dangerous and scary. He literally Streisand-effected the moment of Han’s first shot when he tried to edit it away. Nobody paid attention to that moment of potential murder and what it meant for Han’s character until Lucas tried to erase it.

That idea is part of the culture of Star Wars now. There are generations of people who see the movie and only learn later that Han Shot First. It is a piece of apocrypha that is ironically the most canonized part of Han’s character now.

It’s sort of obvious to me from all the many tweaks Lucas has made to that scene over the years that Han Shot First annoys the hell out of him. Maybe it’s his desire to have his auteur’s vision define the canon of Star Wars instead of fans. Maybe he really doesn’t think of Han as that bad of a guy and really wants us to see him that way too.

But in changing the scene, Lucas has only continued to call attention to the meme. I think it’s part of Star Wars now. Han Shot First is outside the frame in our narrative but it’s also right there in the movie itself, revealed in the ever-more awkward cuts.

I don’t ever want there to be an edition where Han actually shoots first again, because that moment of meta-textual awareness when you see him shooting second or when somebody tells you for the first time that Han Shot First is important. It de-mythologizes the grand myth of Star Wars, turns it into just a thing that people made up and then kept tweaking. It helps you recognize that it could have been made other ways. It makes you think about story and character building in a way you might not otherwise.

One of the reasons I love Star Wars fandom — and really, any fandom — is that we chose to make this our myth. Knowing that the myth itself involves choices we can disagree about keeps that myth from becoming religion. It keeps the myth vibrant and alive. Most of all, staying aware of those choices makes that myth ours.

(Don’t talk to me about Blade Runner cuts though. There’s only one true one and I won’t accept any discussion about it.)


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I am here for this: putting more Western into the Space Western. Chaim Gartenberg reviews:

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