“Han shot first” is a phrase used to refer to a controversial change made to a scene in the 1997 “Special Edition” re-release of Star Wars (1977) in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake) inside the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Greedo is an associate of Jabba the Hutt, a Tatooine-based crime lord for whom Han Solo also used to work. Before the events of the film, Jabba has put a bounty on Han, who had been transporting a cargo of spice for the crime lord, but was forced to dump it in order to avoid capture by an Imperial search party. The scene depicts Greedo pulling his blaster on Han as he attempts to leave the Mos Eisley cantina and cornering him to sit down in a booth. Han tells Greedo that he has accumulated enough money to pay Jabba back, but Greedo demands the money immediately, and he grows angrier when Han tells him he does not have it in his possession. As Han quietly begins to ready his own blaster underneath the table, Greedo tells him that Jabba has run out of patience with Han and that he, Greedo, had been “waiting for a long time” to take out his former associate. Han replies, “Yes, I’ll bet you have.” He shoots Greedo to death, through the table, with his still-concealed blaster.
In the original 1977 theatrical release of the film, immediately after Han delivers his retort to Greedo, a cloud of smoke appears and blurs the screen showing Greedo face-on followed by a shot of Greedo’s corpse, from behind, slumping over the table. Director George Lucas expressed his dissatisfaction with the scene’s climax, believing that it depicted Han, who is the film’s supporting protagonist, as a cold-blooded killer. For the film’s 20th-anniversary theatrical re-release in 1997, Lucas altered the scene with an additional second of footage by showing Greedo shooting at Han first from point blank range and missing only to result in Han retaliating by firing back and killing Greedo. Thus, the phrase “Han shot first” is a retort to director George Lucas’s explicit cinematic assertion that “Greedo shot first.”
The alteration of the scene was disagreeable to a number of longtime fans of the series, provoking some to create an online petition demanding that the changes be retracted. The primary objection to the revision is that it alters Han’s initially morally ambiguous character, making his later transition from anti-hero to hero less meaningful. Since the “Special Edition,” there have been two additional DVD releases. In the film’s first official DVD release in 2004, the disputed scene was altered again, this time with Greedo still shooting before Han does and missing at close range, but the timing is altered so the shots are fired at nearly the same time and to depict Han “dodging” the shot. (Digital manipulation is used to “lean” the character to one side.)
Thanks to the Internet, I have the two versions of Episode IV, so I made these two gifs for each one:
The 1977 Star Wars Solo Shot First Version:
The Special Edition 1997 Greedo Shot First Version:
In a 2012 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas altered his previous statements by announcing that Greedo had always shot first, stating that a combination of bad close-up shots and the audiences’s inaccurate perception of the Han Solo character was what actually caused all the confusion. Lucas stated:
“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.”
But despite this claim from Lucas, drafts of the original shooting script on the Internet make no mention of Greedo shooting at all, only Han. When asked during a 2014 Reddit “Ask Me Anything” feature whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first, Harrison Ford replied:
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
So, I also made this video with the two versions. Take your own conclusions…