Feb 18 2012

Five Reasons It’s Less Dramatic That Greedo Shot First

Published by at 6:22 pm under Character Development,Rewriting,Star Wars

In 1997, George Lucas re-released Star Wars.  Among the changes were a half-second tweak to the cantina scene where Han shoots Greedo.  In the original version, Han preemptively shoots the bounty-hunter that has come to kill him.  In the revised version, Han lets Greedo shoot first.  Greedo’s shot misses and Han shoots Greedo.


So… why does it matter?


1. It’s implausible and contrived that Greedo misses his shot.  Greedo has his gun aimed at Han Solo.  Neither Greedo nor Han is moving.  The two are roughly five feet away from each other.  Everybody—even drunken Ewoks tripping on LSD—could easily hit this shot.


2. It reduces Han Solo from a competent hero into an idiot that got lucky.  Given the choice between shooting first or waiting until Greedo shoots first, only an idiot would wait because (as above) Greedo is virtually guaranteed to hit.  The new scene also reduces Greedo into an idiot that is apparently the worst shot in the galaxy.  The original scene was a fight between two competent shooters that was resolved by craftiness and guile.  The new scene is a fight between two idiots that is resolved by a contrivance.  If you absolutely need to incorporate contrivances into your story, I would generally recommend having luck play against the protagonists.  It’s more dramatically satisfying when protagonists overcome bad breaks rather than ease through obstacles just because they got lucky.


3. If Han were waiting for Greedo to shoot, there’s no reason for him to be sitting still when Greedo pulls the trigger.  This plot hole raises questions about what Han’s plan of survival was.  Diving to the side when Greedo squeezed his trigger (or ideally before Greedo squeezed his trigger) would have made it a bit harder for Greedo to hit.  As it was, Han gave Greedo literally the perfect opportunity to kill him.  Smooth move, Han.

[Note: in the 1997 re-release, Greedo shoots first and Han just sits there.  In the 2004 DVD, Han slightly “leans” to avoid the shot, but leaning a few inches wouldn’t help much against a shot this easy].


3.1. If Han were going to let Greedo shoot first, there’s no reason he would have let Greedo walk him over to the table.  If evasion had been Han’s goal, it would have been much easier to evade in a crowded part of the bar–that way, if Greedo had opened fire on a fleeing Han, Greedo might have incited return fire from other bar-goers or caused a panic/stampede which might help Han escape.  The only plausible reason for Han to let himself be taken to a booth where he had extremely little mobility was because he was planning on preemptively killing Greedo rather than running.   Either that, or he’s an idiot.


4. The decision to let Greedo shoot first is out of character for Han.  Remembers, authors, it’s all about what your characters would do, not what you would do.  Be true to your characters, even if you don’t approve of their actions all the time.  (And you probably shouldn’t, even if you’re writing an autobiography–a character that does nothing disagreeable would probably be more interesting and three-dimensional if he were occasionally forced into difficult choices.   Is there any reason Han would be shy about preemptively killing a bounty hunter that’s been sent to kill or enslave him?  There isn’t any other point in the trilogy where Han demonstrates moral qualms about committing violence (preemptive or otherwise).


4.1. There is no readily discernible reason that Han would decide to let Greedo shoot first.  George Lucas’ stated rationale for the change was that he “didn’t want Han to look like a cold-blooded killer.”  So… Han risked his life for PR?  When your characters make major decisions, make sure that they have a good reason to do so.  Lucas wants Han to avoid doing anything vaguely objectionable in this scene, but why would Han?


5. It drains the drama from Han’s subsequent character development.  In the original version, there was some dramatic uncertainty as to whether a smuggler as selfish as Han would risk his life for a Republic that couldn’t afford to pay him.  In this new version, there isn’t any suspense—he risked his life on behalf of a bounty hunter that was trying to kill him, so his altruistic decision to help the Republic is totally predictable.

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Five Reasons It’s Less Dramatic That Greedo Shot First”

  1. B. McKenzieon 18 Feb 2012 at 6:39 pm

    What else could George Lucas have done to make Han a more purely heroic character?

  2. Comicbookguy117on 18 Feb 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Definately like the original better. Han was atotal badass!

    On a side note B.Mac, I’ve sent you an important e-mail ok?

  3. Chihuahua0on 18 Feb 2012 at 8:51 pm

    ^^ XD Way to “villainize” Greedo.

    There are reasons people complain about Lucas meddling with the original work. You got one of them down.

  4. B. McKenzieon 19 Feb 2012 at 1:07 am

    Also… One reason I think that Han is a more interesting character than Luke is because he is more three-dimensional (e.g. not purely heroic). Giving Greedo the first shot is absurdly chivalrous (almost a parody of chivalry) and makes absolutely no sense for a rough badass.

  5. Torion 19 Feb 2012 at 11:49 am

    I agree. I have only just seen the film, but the change makes no sense. Even at a most basic level, WHY would someone just sit there while someone pulled a gun on them?! Jeez. Besides, he’s like two feet away. Hann’s face would have been blown off. Seriously, why the change? I liked that Hann wasn’t a hero, because, like you said, it made him a deeper character- and more badass. 🙂

  6. Goaton 19 Feb 2012 at 5:41 pm

    That is the one change I don’t agree with, the others usually improve the effects or help link the trilogies.

  7. ekimmakon 21 Feb 2012 at 1:15 pm

    About the only plausible reason to let someone else shoot first would be if you’d tampered with the gun beforehand.

  8. B. McKenzieon 21 Feb 2012 at 5:09 pm

    “About the only plausible reason to let someone else shoot first would be if you’d tampered with the gun beforehand.” Hah, clever. At the VERY least, some defensive precautions would help. If you’re wearing body armor and it’s a tough shot and you’re rolling*, then giving your assailant the first shot is not purely suicidal. However, in the situation actually depicted in the movie, giving the first shot is (or at least should be) suicidal.

    *If you have teammates that are ready to open fire on Greedo, then I think your #1 priority should be moving/dodging rather than shooting Greedo.

  9. Draven croweon 05 Dec 2012 at 5:00 am

    You said it exactly in reason number 4, it’s all about the characters and not what you the fan wants. Hans in a smuggler with loose morals, yes we’ve all heard this argument before. But he’s a good smuggler, with loose morals. He’s wanted by the Empire for his crimes, he thinks he’s getting paid good money to smuggle Luke and Obi Wan off the planet, and that bar is full of criminals who would turn him in to Jabba for a few measly credits if they caught an idea of who he was. Now does a smuggler who’s good at his job kill someone in a crowded bar?
    Now as for reason number 1, where did you learn Greedo was a good shot? He was actually a horrible bounty hunter. He approached Hans about the payment twice before and was humiliated each time. Also smuggler’s like Hans who’ve been around as long as Han, have what some would call Scoundrel’s Luck. Greedo shot and miss because he was enraged and a horrible shot, plus Hans is just lucky.
    Greedo shoots first because it is what the character Greedo would do. Hans doesnt shoot because thats is what Hans would do.

  10. Dr. Vo Spaderon 05 Dec 2012 at 6:14 am

    “Now does a smuggler who’s good at his job kill someone in a crowded bar?” – I think if this was really a character point and cause for his not shooting first, he would have been more intent on avoiding a scene (as apprised to apparently being quite calm.)

    And as to the Scoundrel’s luck…all of that came AFTER the movies I believe.

  11. B. McKenzieon 05 Dec 2012 at 6:49 am

    “Now does a smuggler who’s good at his job kill someone in a crowded bar?”
    –If Han Solo were dead-set on not shooting first, running/evasion would give him an okay chance at survival.
    –Killing Greedo right there is also workable.
    –Taking Greedo to a less crowded part of the bar and killing him there is probably the most survivable course of action.
    –Taking Greedo to a less crowded part of the bar (where Han will be unable to evade) and NOT shooting first in the hope that a bounty hunter will miss a shot from 5 feet is idiotic. Not shooting first in the hope that his Smuggler’s Luck will save him is idiotic. (Besides, he’s not into that superstition stuff, anyway).

    “where did you learn Greedo was a good shot?” It would be implausible for anybody to miss a shot against a stationary target from 5 feet away. If Greedo were the sort of person to shoot first, don’t you think he would have hit from 5 feet away?

    “Also smuggler’s like Hans who’ve been around as long as Han, have what some would call Scoundrel’s Luck.” I’m sorry, but this sounds like a horrible attempt to justify an inexplicably dumb decision by the character. I’d generally recommend that writers make their Plot Armor harder to notice.

    “You said it exactly in reason number 4, it’s all about the characters and not what you the fan wants.” I didn’t notice any other scenes where Han Solo acted notably dumb. I don’t think it’s in-character for him.

  12. ChickenNoodleson 05 Dec 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Hey bmac, do you mind writing an article about plot armor? What is it? How to build it? How can it be used effectively?

  13. B. McKenzieon 30 Dec 2013 at 12:04 am

    Plot armor is when an author bends over backwards to save a character from a troublesome situation rather than giving the character a chance to save himself. One example of plot armor is when Han Solo lets Greedo shoot him from 5 feet away but Han escapes consequences because Greedo is SO incompetent that he misses the shot. This is a problem for the story because it suggests that the characters’ decisions do not have consequences… the hero will escape from danger because the author is actively protecting him.

    MUCH BETTER ALTERNATIVE: The hero saves himself by being competent rather than relying on the villain being extremely incompetent. For example, Han Solo could deal with the situation proactively by sabotaging Greedo’s blaster or preemptively shooting Greedo.

    Common examples of plot armor:
    –A hero escapes from a dangerous situation because the villains are wholly incompetent.

    –The hero does something which SHOULD incur a negative response, but for whatever reason, is not held accountable for this decision. For example, on Agents of SHIELD, one of the “protagonists” is a traitor who routinely puts her criminal friends and personal agenda ahead of the team. But she hasn’t been fired, arrested, or even seriously punished yet. It doesn’t make any sense to keep her on the team. A more effective solution here is if the hero does something which is objectionable, BUT executes it in such a way that punishing the character would be challenging. For example, on Breaking Bad, one scientist fears that a drug lord is going to kill him and replace him with a new chemist. So the scientist has the chemist murdered, figuring that it will buy him some time until the drug lord gets a new chemist lined up and that the drug lord will NEED to keep the scientist alive until then. It’s a bold gambit, and it’s believable that it works. (There are other consequences — the drug lord is obviously FURIOUS about what happened and holds the scientist accountable in other ways, but he holds off on killing the scientist).

    –The villain has the hero(es) defeated and lets them go for no reason.

    –Characters are awarded perks for no particular reason. E.g. in the Green Lantern movie, it doesn’t make much sense that Hal Jordan is picked to be Green Lantern. He’s notably NOT brave, nor does he show any other particularly positive traits (either before or after he’s named Green Lantern)… he’s not a particularly effective or likable superhero. It’s generally more effective to have a character earn his/her successes.

    “How can I build plot armor? How can it be used effectively?” I don’t recommend using plot armor. Instead of letting your heroes off the hook from mistakes/setbacks because they are the heroes, it’s okay if they have mistakes/setbacks. For example, if you REALLY want your hero to let the villain shoot first without taking any precautions, maybe the hero gets shot. (One possible followup consequence: He’s recovering in a hospital several weeks later when a villain attacks the rest of the group, and the hero’s absence causes the villain’s attack to be more effective than it would have been otherwise). Also: Other heroes may distance themselves from a hero who shows really bad combat judgment (like letting a villain shoot first).

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