I have a running list of life lessons for my kids. In the top ten are compiled bits of wisdom like “never slide into first except to avoid a tag or injury,” “ketchup on a hot dog is an abomination,” and “there is no good excuse for turning off New Order’s Blue Monday.” All sage advice, to be sure, but at the top of ranks is the sacrosanct truth that Han shot first.
Now, since both my children are under four, this hasn’t really come up as a potential controversy, as even the older one is still a couple years away from getting to watch Episode IV. It is, however, imperative to me that, when my kids do finally make their way into the fraternity of Star Wars fandom, they do so without any debate over who found themselves most trigger-happy in a Mos Eisley cantina that fateful day so long ago in a galaxy far, far away…
(It should be noted that I take this seriously: We have the Darth Vader and Son book at home, but I refuse to let anyone read aloud the name ‘Luke,’ so as not to spoil anything.)
Let’s set the scene: Veteran smuggler Han Solo—he of the famed Kessel spice runs—is about to fire up the Millennium Falcon for some new clients when he is stopped at gunpoint by Greedo, a bounty hunter looking to cash in on the price put on Han’s head by the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Long in snout and short on principles, Greedo offers to “forget” he found Han in exchange for the debt owed to Jabba. With Han already in arrears, Greedo suggests that Jabba’s penalties will include taking the Falcon. Han, who’s been anticipating the worst and discreetly unholstering his blaster under the table, informs Greedo that the Millennium Falcon would only be ceded “over [his] dead body.” Greedo, his weapon still trained on Han, unambiguously informs him: “That’s the idea; I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Han immediately blasts Greedo. It’s his way of ending boring conversations.
The Legal Justification
With a couple decades left of paying off student loans from law school, I feel compelled to get some value out of it. Granted, I’m not barred on Tatooine or even well-versed in the statutes or legal nuances of the Empire, but it seems safe enough to apply Common Law principles since, if nothing else, the excruciatingly dull Galactic Senate scenes from Episodes I and II (or was it C-SPAN 1 and 2?) strongly suggest a similar legislative—and, by extension, judicial—framework. Well, that and the Galactic Empire is technically a constitutional monarchy, so we can probably draw inspiration from Earthly analogues.
Not as long ago (1669) in a galaxy much, much closer (England), the decision in Tuberville v. Savage helped define what constitutes assault under common law, albeit in a tort case. There, some jawing back and forth led Tuberville to put his hand on his sword and assure Savage that, were it not assize-time, he’d be cutting him down. Savage responded with physical violence and tried to justify it by saying he was threatened. The court thought otherwise, finding that the explicit disclaimer about assize-time meant there was no immediate threat and ordered Savage to compensate Tuberville for the attack.
Contrast that with Han’s situation, where he was expressly threatened with imminent danger to his life. One does not even have to consider more lenient recent “stand your ground” laws to find a long history of jurisprudence affirming that Han was perfectly within his legal rights to respond with deadly force when Greedo—in no uncertain terms—threatened grave bodily harm.
In criminal defense circles, the thinking goes: when one’s back is against the wall (in Han’s case, literally), it’s more prudent to be judged by twelve than carried by six. I’m not suggesting that my kids should become vigilantes, but they need to know that the law will protect them when they protect themselves.
You Can’t Rewrite History
George Lucas is nuts. I thank him profusely for creating the universe that is Star Wars, but the man is obsessed with trying to gild lilies. Sadly, he’s rarely successful, as evidenced by his tinkering with the original trilogy and generally making it worse.
Recently, Lucas offered up a nonsense defense for altering the original film to have Greedo shoot first in the “Special Edition” re-release of Episode IV. Equating Han to John Wayne’s cowboy persona, he said it would go against Han’s principles to preemptively pull the trigger and having him do so would make him “a cold-blooded killer.” The legal justification above and the Interwebs hard at work trying to prove otherwise about John Wayne notwithstanding, Lucas’ revisionist history doesn’t hold up to the facts seen both onscreen and in the original script. Han shot first. Full stop.
History is littered with ugly events and actions that, when viewed through the lens of passed time, seem reprehensible and it’s OK if you don’t want to accept that Han was justified in shooting first. All the want in the world, however, cannot change what actually happened (unless you happen to control the rights to the franchise, I guess). Honesty is an important virtue to me and I don’t want my kids to think the truth should be subject to whitewashing just because the past doesn’t fit the narrative they want today.
It’s Just Bad Storytelling
This, I admit, is the most subjective of my reasons, but it should also be the most basic to a filmmaker like Lucas. If Han is suddenly shown to be a model citizen in the early part of the reimagined version, it undermines his entire ‘take the money and run’ persona before the attack on the Death Star. A man who politely waits for a Rodian bounty hunter to pull the trigger at point-blank range before dispatching him would of course stay behind and help to fight the Empire. He’d probably bring Leia some hot cocoa and offer a foot rub before the mission, too. But this is not Mark Ruffalo in a rom-com; it’s Han Flippin’ Solo and his character is better with a growth arc.
If you want to highlight Han’s good-guy-under-all-this-machismo side, wait a few seconds after the shot and note that he has the decency to both apologize for the mess and give the barkeep an additional gratuity. It wasn’t long before that the more reverent Obi Wan Kenobi was making a much bigger mess lopping off an arm without even having the decency to use his robe as an intergalactic Swiffer. Really, that sense of entitlement should be more offensive than anything Han did.
The bottom line is I don’t want my kids to feel compelled to present their own life stories as perfect. People are imperfect by nature and rarely does one bad act define someone. There’s no reason we should have to believe Han shot second to believe he’s worthy of the esteem in which we hold him.