Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Han Shot First

A few of my posts have been started by something I read on Twitter.  This is one of those posts.

Earlier today somebody on Twitter posted the idea that it didn't matter that Han Solo shot first or last in whichever version of A New Hope you've seen. (I'm old enough that I saw the original in 1977 in a theater and Han shot first.)

However, from a character standpoint it does actually matter.  Han Solo is not a hero.  He's barely an anti-hero. He is a mercenary who works for the highest bidder.  The entire negotiation scene between him and Ben Kenobi in the Mos Eisley Cantina makes this clear. He's only interested in taking Luke, Ben and the droids as passengers if the price is right.  After that he's all smiles.

Almost immediately Han is accosted by Greedo, one of Jabba The Hutt's tough guys.  The scene that follows shows Han feeling out Greedo.  Maybe he can be schmoozed or bribed.  When it becomes apparent that Greedo is out to gun Han down, he takes matters in to his own hands and shoots first.  It isn't a heroic act and it fits Han's personality at this point.

Everything that Han says and does in the movie is pragmatic and self-serving almost until the end when he shows up and distracts Darth Vader, allowing Luke to make the shot that destroys the Death Star.  And even then that act only happens because Chewbacca coerces Han. (This is made clear in the semi-canon Star Wars radio play.)

The point of all this is that Han Solo is not a nice guy at the beginning of the story.  He isn't particularly nice at the end, either, but he's pragmatic.  Shooting first is pragmatism.  Waiting to be shot at is heroic.  And Han at that moment is not heroic.  That scene weakens the arc Han goes through in Star Wars.

I didn't have a lot of problems with the changes George Lucas made to the Original Trilogy.  Some of them were silly (parts of the Mos Eisley sequence in particular) but some of them actually helped the movie without getting in the way of the plot (the way Cloud City was opened up and made to feel larger).  However, having Han shoot first immediately felt wrong.  I understand the logic but I knew when I first saw it that it was the wrong change to make.

I stand by that.