Was Greedo Originally Supposed to Shoot at Han Solo First?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Greedo was originally intended to shoot at Han Solo first in Star Wars.

Very often, when it comes to the myths and rumors that make up the basis for legends about Star Wars, the legends originate in the same place – the desire to believe that George Lucas had everything planned out from the beginning, a myth that Lucas himself has helped to perpetuate over the years. This leads to legends like “Anakin Skywalker was always going to be Darth Vader”, “the original Star Wars was always meant to be the fourth film in a series of films” and “Luke and Leia were always meant to be siblings.” It is also at play in the great “Han shot first” debate, a debate that made the news late last year when George Lucas made his argument for why it makes sense for him that Han Solo did not shoot first.

The debate, of course, centers around a scene early in the first Star Wars film where Han Solo is accosted by a bounty hunter named Greedo. Greedo holds Solo at gun point and the two sit down together. They talk about the bounty that is on Solo’s head from Jabba the Hutt and Han explains that he can get Jabba the money he owes him. Greedo, being surprisingly greedy, asks for the money for himself. Han tells him he doesn’t have it yet. Greedo then expresses his interest in killing Han. Han, who has secretly readied his own gun under the table, blasts Greedo and kills him.

hanshotfirst

It is a famous scene and much beloved among Star Wars fans since it breaks from convention – it establishes Han as a bit of a rogue. This makes his becoming a hero of the rebellion all the more sweeter later in the film. Lucas recently argued that it did not make sense for Han to shoot first:

Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ Because I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, ‘Yeah, he should be John Wayne.’ And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first] — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.

In the 1997 “Special Edition” of Star Wars, Lucas edited the scene so that Greedo fires at Han first and then Han shoots him. In a 2004 edition of the film (the version that is currently available for download online), they fire at the same time.

Lucas, however, has argued that the special edition was his original intent, stating in 2002:

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 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.

Reader Joshua W. thought that I had addressed this legend before, but I have not, but, well, here it is now, Joshua! Did Han originally shoot first or what?

Here is the scene from the January 1976 version of the screenplay:

As Han is about to leave, Greedo, a slimy green-faced alien with a short trunk-nose, pokes a gun in his side. The creature speaks in a foreign tongue translated into English subtitles.

GREEDO
Going somewhere, Solo?

HAN
Yes, Greedo. As a matter of fact,
I was just going to see your boss.
Tell Jabba that I’ve got his money.

Han sits down and the alien sits across from him holding the gun on him.

GREEDO
It’s too late. You should have
paid him when you had the chance.
Jabba’s put a price on your head,
so large that every bounty hunter
in the galaxy will be looking for
you. I’m lucky I found you first.

HAN
Yeah, but this time I got the money.

GREEDO
If you give it to me, I might forget
I found you.

HAN
I don’t have it with me. Tell
Jabba…

GREEDO
Jabba’s through with you. He has
no time for smugglers who drop
their shipments at the first sign
of an Imperial cruiser.

HAN
Even I get boarded sometimes. Do
you think I had a choice?

Han Solo slowly reaches for his gun under the table.

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 killing you for a long
time.

HAN
Yes, I’ll bet you have.

Suddenly the slimy alien disappears in a blinding flash of light. Han pulls his smoking gun from beneath the table as the other patrons look on in bemused amazement. Han gets up and starts out of the cantina, flipping the bartender some coins as he leaves.

HAN
Sorry about the mess.

That clears that up. Even if you wish to argue that when it actually came down to filming the scene in question, that Lucas somehow changed things up and felt that Han did not fire first, A. that isn’t evident on the screen, as the film sure seems to show what Lucas wrote in the above script exactly and B. it wouldn’t change the fact that Lucas originally did want Han Solo to shoot first, which is what he has since claimed he never believed in, because of his future plans for the character.

There was one later edit of that screenplay in March 1976 before they began filming, but the Greedo scene remained the same.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Thanks to Joshua W. for the suggestion (in a roundabout way)!

Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of films. And click here for legends just about Star Wars!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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7 Responses to “Was Greedo Originally Supposed to Shoot at Han Solo First?”

  1. ParanoidObsessive on March 8th, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    The problem with taking anything Lucas says at face value is the fact that, if you listen to various interviews he’s done over the years, he’s CONSTANTLY contradicting himself.

    It’s possible he just has a terrible memory or lack of concern for minor details (a la Stan Lee), so he doesn’t necessarily remember what he originally intended 20+ years ago and is simply retroactively applying his current mindset to his past self (“We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia.”), or maybe he just has as bad habit of excessive hyperbole (using terms like “always” and “from the beginning” to cover up his own relative indecisiveness).

    It also doesn’t help that, after years of people telling him how much of a genius he was, he kind of started buying into the hype and believing this little pulp sci-fi homage movie he made was somehow mythologically grandiose and epic. I don’t think 1970s Lucas ever saw that script he kept rewritting over and over as the magnum opus of his career.

    But whether we assume he’s a liar or just sort of confused, Lucas has always been a terrible barometer of what Lucas originally intended. Because Lucas himself apparently keeps changing his mind about what he originally intended.

  2. I thought I was pretty much as liberal as they come, but even I would say that if you shoot a man who is aiming a gun at you and says “I’ve been looking forward to killing you for a long time,” that isn’t cold-blooded murder.

    Also, this definitely shows the way that George Lucas doesn’t actually understand how the “arc” part of story arcs work, as if the prequels didn’t demonstrate that enough.

  3. (Well, okay, when excerpted like that, the quote actually seems a *little* less of a self-defense justification, but in the context of the scene, there is a pretty clear immediate threat.)

  4. Apparently Mr Lucas never saw “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

  5. Apparently Mr Lucas never saw “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

    That’s really kind of the annoying thing, since we all know he obviously has, and yet still made the argument.

  6. John Wayne’s character in the 1966 movie “El Dorado” was a gunslinger that gunned down a rival gunfighter (played by Christopher George) in a very sneaky and underhanded manner very similar to Han. This, combined with the “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” goes to show Lucas has no clue.

  7. […] Whether or not Han shot first has got to be one of the biggest controversies surrounding the Special Edition released in 1997. The original version had Han shooting first, but the Special Edition had Greedo initiating the conflict. However, apparently George Lucas had always intended for Greedo to shoot first. […]

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