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The Confusing Han Solo And Greedo Timeline Explained

Let us ask you something: are you a fan of Star Wars? Sure you are, everybody is. Say, do you remember that scene early on in the original film, in Mos Eisley cantina, when we first meet Han Solo? He's approached by that slimy Rodian bounty hunter, Greedo, who is intent on bringing Han dead or alive to Jabba the Hutt, to whom the smuggling scoundrel owes a goodly sum of money. The two have words (or, in Greedo's case, weird noises), threats are made, blasters are fired, and Greedo winds up slumped over the table, dead as a doornail.

Now, let us ask you something else: who shot first? If you're like a fair number of Star Wars fans, your answer will be something along the lines of, "Gee, Looper, I'm not really sure. Does it matter?" Well, yes, to another fair number of fans, it apparently matters a great deal. You see, the climax of the scene has undergone a number of changes since the film's original release, and said changes have resulted in this seemingly innocuous scene becoming one of the most controversial in all of Star Wars lore.

If you've ever wondered how "Han Shot First" became one of the internet's first rallying cries, well, wonder no more. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that Star Wars creator George Lucas has, for some reason, never stopped tinkering with this one particular scene, and the fact that the first and most blatant change had the unlikely effect of altering the entire character arc of Han, one of the most beloved characters in all of mainstream film. For your consideration and amusement, we here at Looper now humbly present "Han vs. Greedo (Or, an Exhaustive Explanation of One of the Weirdest Pop Culture Controversies Ever)."

The original version, 1977: Han shoots first

In the theatrical cut of the film that was at the time simply titled Star Wars, the confrontation between Han (Harrison Ford) and Greedo (Paul Blake) was pretty clear-cut. Greedo corners the smuggler, forcing him to sit down at an out-of-the-way table; the bounty hunter makes it clear that Han has run out of chances to make good on his debt to Jabba, while Solo (apparently) continues trying to wiggle his way out of the situation. While he talks, though, he's leveling his blaster at Greedo underneath the table, and when Greedo's final threat comes — "I've been waiting for this a long time," according to the subtitles — Han replies, "Yes, I'll bet you have," and promptly blows the slimeball away.

Now, to be sure, it happens pretty fast; in all honesty, in the theatrical cut, it's not exactly clear whether Greedo even gets off a shot. To audiences, it didn't matter; Solo had been established in his introduction as a guy who would try with all his might to wriggle out of paying his debts, and failing that, he'd blast anybody who came looking for him. Fans would later argue that this made his transformation into a guy willing to risk his own skin for the Rebellion later in the film more meaningful than if he'd been established as a man with scruples from the very beginning — but as it would turn out, Lucas was never entirely comfortable with that particular arc.

The "Special Edition," 1997: Greedo shoots first

In 1997, all three original Star Wars films received theatrical re-releases in the form of "Special Editions," which were made special by the fact that they were injected with new scenes featuring some incredibly questionable CGI (and one in which Boba Fett shows up to stare meaningfully into the camera). Lucas has always insisted that these versions were more in line with his original vision for the movies, and that technology had simply caught up to his intentions; fans, meanwhile, likewise insisted that the Star Wars flicks had been fine just the way they were, and that they were in no way hurting for brief spurts of PlayStation 2-level graphics to spruce them up.

What we're saying here is that the Special Editions were controversial from the outset, and in particular, the first film — which had been rebranded Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope since its initial release — came under scrutiny for the Han/Greedo confrontation, which had been altered dramatically. In this version, Greedo very clearly fired a shot first, missing Solo by a country mile, before Han fired back — basically killing the bounty hunter in pure self-defense.

Fans were immediately taken aback; those few extra frames seemed to remove any moral ambiguity Han might have had, making his character arc about 50% less interesting with the inclusion of roughly a second of extra footage. Lucas has tried with all his might to explain why he did this on numerous occasions in the years since, and while it's tough to argue with the guy who created these films and characters, his explanations tend to a) not make much sense, or b) misinterpret what the fandom finds offensive about the alteration; we'll get to these explanations shortly.

What's important to note here, though, is that Lucas has consistently asserted that the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy are basically dead to him, and that the Special Editions are absolutely, positively a reflection of his original vision for the films. It's puzzling, then, that he has just as consistently kept altering this scene every time he got a chance.

The DVD release, 2004: It's not quite clear

When the original trilogy was released to DVD in 2004, fans were irked to find that a) they were being sold ever-so-slightly altered versions of the Special Editions, not the theatrical cuts that most of them wanted, and b) among those alterations was yet another new version of the Han/Greedo scene. It seemed, however, that rather than restoring the scene to its "Han Shot First" iteration to appease the fans, or altering it even further in the other direction to, say, make Greedo a slightly better shot, Lucas had opted for a weird middle ground: ambiguity.

That is to say, in the DVD release of A New Hope, Han and Greedo's blaster shots were so close together that it was virtually impossible to tell who had shot first. Needless to say, fans saw this "correction" as no correction at all — but in an interview with Today that year, Lucas made it pretty clear that he didn't give a rip what they thought.

In this interview, he essentially told said fans "Sorry, not sorry," in explaining that he had always considered the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy to be unfinished. "It's like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I'm sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it," Lucas said. "But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I'm the one who has to take responsibility for it. I'm the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they're going to throw rocks at me, they're going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished." Asked if he paid much attention to the fans' reactions to his decisions, he bluntly stated, "Not really."

Lucas didn't address the Han/Greedo issue specifically, but he may as well have; the alteration for the DVD release shows that he was certainly aware of it, and if the half-hearted attempt at appeasement didn't sit too well with fans, well, controversies eventually die down. This one was no exception  — but once the DVD format was supplanted by Blu Ray, Lucas seemed to jump at the chance to revive it. 

The Blu Ray release, 2011: It's even less clear

If it's starting to seem like Lucas actually enjoys all the attention generated by this controversy which is now well into its third decade, well, we won't argue with you. In fact, that case is only strengthened by A New Hope's Blu Ray release, for which Lucas once again made an ever-so-slight alteration to the Han/Greedo scene — apparently, for absolutely no purpose outside of making us all wonder why he bothered.

In this even newer version, it's somehow even less clear who shot first; while, say, a forensic scientist could painstakingly have made a case that Greedo's shot came just a millisecond before Han's in the DVD release, the Blu Ray release further changed the scene so that both shots were definitively fired at the exact same time. At this point, it was becoming quite clear that there was a very weird kind of push-and-pull between Lucas and the Star Wars fandom in regard to this scene, and in a 2012 Hollywood Reporter interview, Lucas spoke about it at length. In doing so, he unfortunately revealed that he possessed very little understanding of what all the hubbub was about.

"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," he said. "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 [Greedo] down."

The assertion that fans "wanted Solo to be a cold-blooded killer," is, we would be remiss not to point out, a pretty severe misreading of his films' fan base. It's simply more interesting to see a morally ambiguous character discover what's really important than for a heroic dude to keep being a hero, a notion which Lucas apparently doesn't get.

At any rate, the Blu Ray edition kept the issue in the public consciousness, and in 2014, fans went to one of the sources in an attempt to put it to rest once and for all. During a Reddit AMA that year, Harrison Ford was asked to offer his take on who shot first. His response was pure Han Solo: "I don't know," he said, "and I don't care." 

The Disney+ version, 2019: Maclunkey!

Well, Ford's remark should have put the whole thing to rest, but of course, it did not. As you're probably aware, Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, and when the House of Mouse launched streaming service Disney+ in 2019, fans waited anxiously to see which version of the original trilogy would wind up on the streamer. They had every reason to believe that, since control of the films had been taken out of Lucas' hands shortly after the Blu Ray release, no further alterations to the Han/Greedo scene would have been made. They were so very wrong.

As it turned out, sometime before the Disney acquisition (according to longtime Lucasfilm employee Pablo Hidalgo, who explained the situation to Uproxx senior editor Mike Ryan in a Twitter exchange), Lucas had been involved in creating a 4K restoration of the original trilogy in anticipation of a 3D re-release which never materialized. It was this version of A New Hope which Disney+ was offering — and in this restoration, one final, baffling tweak had been made to Han and Greedo's fateful encounter.

In this latest (and presumably final) version, both parties still fire at the same time — but before the shots are exchanged, right after Solo says, "Yes, I'll bet you have," Greedo utters one final word. That word is "Maclunkey!" — and no, we're absolutely not kidding.

As ScreenRant and others have helpfully pointed out, this appears to be some kind of Huttese slur or threat, as the same word was said by the pod racer Sebulba in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. However, we would like to point out that this is an extremely silly-sounding word, and that if Lucas somehow thought that its inclusion would finally make the scene land for the fans, then his thought process is even more misguided than it's appeared to be for all of these years.

In fact, the entire internet collectively threw up its hands in disbelief that not only had the scene been unnecessarily tinkered with yet again, but that this latest alteration was so blatantly ridiculous, as if Lucas was offering one final parting shot over the whole matter before passing his life's work off to Disney. Mere days after Disney+ launched, Empire cornered Paul Blake to try to get some idea of what in the heck Greedo's final word could mean. His response shed no light on the matter, but it was pretty damn funny.

"It confused me incredibly, but I've never understood anything about the movies anyway, particularly that," the actor said. "The convention I've just come back from, I had a million opinions from everybody. This new word!"

Pressed to offer some kind of interpretation of the word, Blake acquiesced. "Yeah, well he's talking about his Scottish grandmother there," he helpfully explained. "Greedo had a Scottish grandmother and an Irish grandfather, and a Rodian step-mother. That's why he shouted 'Maclunkey' just before he died. He's about to meet his grandfather. How absolutely absurd. What is George doing these days?"

Well, that should put it to bed. Unless Lucas breaks into Mickey Mouse's vault to tinker with the scene further, we've probably (mercifully) gotten the last version of it that we're ever going to get. But as one last aside, we'd like to call your attention to a photograph taken of Lucas in 2007, while he was offering updates to the press on the production of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We'll just let the image speak for itself:

Okay, well, that totally explains it. George Lucas has simply been screwing with everybody, all this time. Heck, we can respect that.