Very often, when it comes to the myths and rumors that make up the basis for legends about Star Wars, the legends originate in the same place -- the desire to believe that George Lucas had everything planned out from the beginning, a myth that Lucas himself has helped to perpetuate over the years. This leads to legends like "Anakin Skywalker was always going to be Darth Vader", "the original Star Wars was always meant to be the fourth film in a series of films" and "Luke and Leia were always meant to be siblings." It is also at play in the great "Han shot first" debate, a debate that made the news late last year when George Lucas made his argument for why it makes sense for him that Han Solo did not shoot first.
The debate, of course, centers around a scene early in the first Star Wars film where Han Solo is accosted by a bounty hunter named Greedo. Greedo holds Solo at gun point and the two sit down together. They talk about the bounty that is on Solo's head from Jabba the Hutt and Han explains that he can get Jabba the money he owes him. Greedo, being surprisingly greedy, asks for the money for himself. Han tells him he doesn't have it yet. Greedo then expresses his interest in killing Han. Han, who has secretly readied his own gun under the table, blasts Greedo and kills him.
It is a famous scene and much beloved among Star Wars fans since it breaks from convention - it establishes Han as a bit of a rogue. This makes his becoming a hero of the rebellion all the more sweeter later in the film. Lucas recently argued that it did not make sense for Han to shoot first:
Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, 'Should he be a cold-blooded killer?' Because I was thinking mythologically -- should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, 'Yeah, he should be John Wayne.' And when you're John Wayne, you don't shoot people [first] -- you let them have the first shot. It's a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.
In the 1997 "Special Edition" of Star Wars, Lucas edited the scene so that Greedo fires at Han first and then Han shoots him. In a 2004 edition of the film (the version that is currently available for download online), they fire at the same time.
Lucas, however, has argued that the special edition was his original intent, stating in 2002:
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.
Reader Joshua W. thought that I had addressed this legend before, but I have not, but, well, here it is now, Joshua! Did Han originally shoot first or what?
Here is the scene from the January 1976 version of the screenplay:
As Han is about to leave, Greedo, a slimy green-faced alien with a short trunk-nose, pokes a gun in his side. The creature speaks in a foreign tongue translated into English subtitles.
Going somewhere, Solo?
Yes, Greedo. As a matter of fact,
I was just going to see your boss.
Tell Jabba that I've got his money.
Han sits down and the alien sits across from him holding the gun on him.
It's too late. You should have
paid him when you had the chance.
Jabba's put a price on your head,
so large that every bounty hunter
in the galaxy will be looking for
you. I'm lucky I found you first.
Yeah, but this time I got the money.
If you give it to me, I might forget
I found you.
I don't have it with me. Tell
Jabba's through with you. He has
no time for smugglers who drop
their shipments at the first sign
of an Imperial cruiser.
Even I get boarded sometimes. Do
you think I had a choice?
Han Solo slowly reaches for his gun under the table.
You can tell that to Jabba. He
may only take your ship.
Over my dead body.
That's the idea I've been looking
forward to killing you for a long
Yes, I'll bet you have.
Suddenly the slimy alien disappears in a blinding flash of light. Han pulls his smoking gun from beneath the table as the other patrons look on in bemused amazement. Han gets up and starts out of the cantina, flipping the bartender some coins as he leaves.
Sorry about the mess.
That clears that up. Even if you wish to argue that when it actually came down to filming the scene in question, that Lucas somehow changed things up and felt that Han did not fire first, A. that isn't evident on the screen, as the film sure seems to show what Lucas wrote in the above script exactly and B. it wouldn't change the fact that Lucas originally did want Han Solo to shoot first, which is what he has since claimed he never believed in, because of his future plans for the character.
There was one later edit of that screenplay in March 1976 before they began filming, but the Greedo scene remained the same.
The legend is...
Thanks to Joshua W. for the suggestion (in a roundabout way)!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.