Han Shot First: An Open Letter to George Lucas on May the 4th

Hey George,

It’s May the 4th, and that means one thing: we get to have a nice chit-chat about the some of the greatest films ever made: your Star Wars trilogy.

I know you get this a lot, but I love Star Wars. I really do. For as long as I can remember, I have been watching these movies. Return of the Jedi was always my favorite, but I have recently gained a greater appreciation for the Empire Strikes Back. I always wanted to be like Obi-Wan, and have Han Solo for a friend. I laughed at C-3PO and cheered on Luke and Leia. And who hasn’t ever wanted their own lightsaber?

But there is one problem I have with the Star Wars films: you, George.

Don’t get me wrong – you are a great guy, and I love and respect you for creating this world, these characters, this story. They are pieces of art, and amongst the greatest works in all of film (in my opinion). Outside of these films, you have also created and contributed to the creation of many other great works (like your collaboration with Steven Spielberg on the Indiana Jones films). Simply stated, I think you are BRILLIANT.

But dagnabbit, George, if your tampering with the original Star Wars trilogy isn’t the perfect validation of “the Death of the Author” philosophy, I don’t know what is.

For the record, Barthes died for real in 1980 before Empire Strikes Back came out.

For the record, Barthes died for real in 1980 before Empire Strikes Back came out.

No, I am not calling for your summary execution. I am referring to Roland Barthes’ groundbreaking 1967 essay which argued that the author’s/creator’s thoughts, interpretations and revisions of his work were unimportant and even to be rejected entirely. As far as Barthes was concerned, the author’s importance and right to revise ended the date of a book’s publication. Period. At that point, it was the audience’s right to interpret the work according to how they saw it. The author’s say meant nothing.

Now, here’s what you had to say on the subject of your films:

There will only be one [version of the films]. And it won’t be what I would call the “rough cut”, it’ll be the “final cut”. The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, “There was an earlier draft of this.” The same thing happens with plays and earlier drafts of books. In essence, films never get finished, they get abandoned. At some point, you’re dragged off the picture kicking and screaming while somebody says, “Okay, it’s done.” That isn’t really the way it should work.

I must admit, George, that I ADAMANTLY disagree. And I am not alone.

I believe you gave up your right to interpret and revise your work the instant it hit the big screen, kicking and screaming or not. Once audiences were sitting in the theater and viewing the film, Star Wars was theirs to interpret, theirs to analyze. Not yours.

Leaving aside any discussion of the newer Star Wars films, you, George Lucas – by your own admission! – are very well known for altering, adjusting, and generally mucking up the original Star Wars films. I am not alone in thinking that the original theatrical version of the films was superior to the version you have made the only one available.

And then there's this guy. Again - why?

And then there’s this guy. Again – why?

Many remember the very unwelcome alterations included in the DVD editions of the films. CGI animations stick out like sore thumbs. Han now has a chat with a CGI Jabba the Hut in A New Hope. The spirit of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi is no longer a healthy-looking Anakin at the time of his death (signifying his return from the dark side), but instead young Anakin – the smug-looking Hayden Christensen??? Why, George, why?

And to make it worse, you just put Hayden's head on the original dude's body.

And to make it worse, you just put Hayden’s head on the original dude’s body.

But that’s besides the point to what else you have done. You have been fiddling around for longer than that, and done damage to more than just the aesthetics. Let’s take the most infamous example – you know what I am talking about: the alteration of that scene introducing Han Solo as he discusses his unfortunate debt situation with bounty hunter Greedo. Here’s the original release and new release side-by-side comparisons:

As we can all see, in the original 1977 release HAN SHOOTS FIRST. This goes far beyond adding CGI where it ought not to be. A simple 2-second alteration is enough to completely undermine Han’s characterization within the story.

George, you said you changed it because you didn’t want it to look like Han was a bad dude in the beginning. I’ll get to that argument in a minute, but let’s look at the logic of this new sequence of events. It actually doesn’t make any real sense that Han doesn’t shoot first because:

  1. Why would you listen to a dude monologuing about how he’s going to kill you without doing something to stop it?
  2. You don’t prep your blaster under the table just to wait and see if the other guy shoots first.

The original scene depicts Han as savvy and street-wise. It doesn’t render Han a cold-blooded killer (as you have argued), but instead a crafty gunslinger knowing where his discussion with Greedo is heading, and doing something about it.

Han Shot FirstAnd as for the idea that Han shouldn’t do something morally questionable in the beginning, what about a hero’s journey, George?

Han’s journey to become a galactic hero has much more meaning and significance if he goes through a mighty transformation. The Han who shoots first in A New Hope is a scuzzy smuggler with a long (but great!) road to travel ahead of him.

Saying Han can’t shoot first because it makes him too bad a man to become a hero is like saying Luke is too poor with a lightsaber at the beginning to become a jedi. It’s the metamorphosis that makes the story and characers so compelling.

AHEM. Excuse you?

So “Han Shot First” is now something of a mantra amongst us fans of the series to indicate a distaste for Uncle George’s meddlings and an expression of the belief that we as fans have a right to the characterization and depictions with which we became acquainted at the beginning. It’s the belief that you have no right to decide that the original theatrical releases are wrong and shouldn’t be made available to the public. It’s a cry for the originals to be made available so we can all have the work as we came to know it.

So on this day of celebration and appreciation for the greatness of your Star Wars films, let’s all remember that fans have the ultimate say in interpretation of these spectacular works.

And Han shot first.

May the fourth be with you,
Ashley Nef


They are starting to put ads on our blog. We do not approve these and are not getting any residuals whatsoever, so I apologize for the content. I’ll see what I can do about it.


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