“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
When it comes to one of the most hotly debated topics in the Star Wars universe, Harrison Ford doesn’t fall to either side. It’s a unique position in an otherwise divided fanbase, everyone still trying to settle the long unanswered question: who shot first?
For those who do not know the details (or who, in Ford-like fashion, do not care enough to keep up with them), the question of who shot first refers to Han Solo’s introductory scene in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. After a wisecracking, exposition filled discussion with Luke and Obi-Wan, Han encounters a bounty hunter named Greedo, hired by Jabba the Hutt to collect a sizable debt. The exact movements and nuances of this exchange have been deconstructed ad nauseam in various spaces across the internet, but truthfully, none of them matter.
What matters is this: the scene happens twice, in two different ways, and creates two different versions of Han Solo.
In the initial 1977 release of the film, Han holds full control over the altercation from beginning to end. He keeps his cool, smooth-talking his way through the situation as viewers watch him ready his blaster for the draw. Feet propped up on the table, entertaining his antagonist’s overconfidence, Han finally pulls his weapon and shoots Greedo with no prompting. “Sorry for the mess,” he tells the bartender as he exits the cantina in true cowboy style. In that single scene, Han Solo immediately becomes the galaxy’s roughest, toughest, and most merciless scoundrel.
In 1997, the films were rereleased after undergoing a series of directorial edits. The most controversial of these was the decision to make a minor change in the aforementioned confrontation. Newly cut in widescreen and with a handful of new frames, the updated version of the scene shows Greedo taking the first shot at Han before Han can do the same. Instead of a ruthless kill shot from a roguish smuggler, the scene now depicts Han acting in self-defense.
And with this new scene sounded the blaster bolt heard around the world.
The debate surrounding these few frames was so heated that it spread far beyond the usual limits of Star Wars fanaticism. Longtime viewers, casual viewers, even people who had never seen a single movie—everyone was asking who shot first, even if they didn’t know why. This was not simply a director’s cut with enhanced coloring or updated sound. This was a change in the actual content of the story and it was one that, according to many, fundamentally changed the personality of a character that had been loved, worshiped, and reimagined for so long.
If it had been any other character in any other moment of the film, then maybe the reaction wouldn’t have been so strong. But Han Solo isn’t just likable—he’s adored. An undeniable factor in the character’s overall charm is that audiences get to be apart of his growth throughout the original trilogy. Slowly, steadily, Han transforms from the unreliable, self-concerned pilot of the Millennium Falcon into a beloved and crucial member of the Rebel Alliance, driven by his (albeit, occasionally reluctant) care for those closest to him. His introductory scene is one of the few glimpses audiences get into his life before Luke and Leia. To change that established characterization is to change the starting point from which Han develops as a character. In the eyes of some, the character’s entire dynamic was shifted and that was something to be taken personally.
Since the release of the new edit and the subsequent adjustments made to it, scripts have been referenced, actors have been questioned, and Lucas himself has been interviewed. But even still, the question remains a hot topic among fans, which reveals an important reality: the question has never really been about which character fired their blaster first. Nope. The real question is much bigger than that.
What is officially Star Wars?
Suddenly audiences were forced to make a choice. Were they going to subscribe to the version of Han Solo that had already existed for twenty years? Or would they adopt an updated version? Both were once approved by George Lucas and both existed within the world of A New Hope. Surely if anything could be considered real Star Wars, it was the original trilogy, right? Except fans were robbed of that clarity when Lucas made his changes. Few are the debaters truly concerned with the sequence of the draw—more common are the fans trying to piece together which version of their favorite story they should believe.
When it comes to major media franchises, the question of canon is a common one. What makes up a universe? Who gets to decide? Are creators wholly responsible for a story, or do consumers play an equal role? These questions rarely have straightforward answers, especially in the case of Star Wars. There is such a massive library of media to its name, a good amount of which was created or otherwise licensed by Lucasfilm at one point in time. It’s easy to get lost along the way.
Interestingly, Star Wars is in the unique position of having founded the Star Wars Story Group, a committee operating within Lucasfilms with the distinct purpose of establishing canon. What would usually be left to fight over in the pits of fandom has instead been sorted out by brand representatives. After the Disney acquisition in 2014, the Story Group officially stated that only the primary episodic films, the 2008 animated Clone Wars movie, and the followup Clone Wars series would be considered canonical. All licensed works moving forward would also be considered official canon. However, in an attempt to prevent the subjection of the new Star Wars stories to the sprawling storylines of the Expanded Universe, anything created prior to 2014 was rebranded under the Star Wars Legends definition and suddenly became something of a separate, non-canonical timeline.
Simple, right? After 2014: real Star Wars. Before 2014: usually not real Star Wars. Consider all of your questions answered.
But of course, if it really were that simple, then no one would still be asking who shot first. One statement from the Story Group isn’t going to undo decades of character analysis. Not even George Lucas can unwrite the comics or take back the collective hours spent reading them. Maybe canon can change in the official archives, but it takes a lot more effort to change canon in people’s hearts. With so many diverging ideas spanning across so many years, of course audiences are going to interpret the story differently from one another. The inevitability is overwhelming.
Maybe this is where we learn that Harrison Ford was onto something.
Star Wars fans will be debating who shot first until their end. In reality, there is no answer. Both shot first. Or neither did. Everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. When it comes to Star Wars, there are no straight answers. Just a web of complex, narrative entanglements. But that’s exactly what keeps the story alive. The debate, the analysis, the questions, the theories—all of it gives fans a universal cultural language through which we can communicate. The best stories are the ones we can talk about, yell about, laugh about and Star Wars has that element down to a tee.
Who shot first? I don’t know. But I do care, and so do a lot of other people. And we’ll keep having this meaningless, answerless conversation until there’s no one else to have it with.
The Welcome Insignificance of Who Shot First
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