Han Shot First

I'm a fan of the show Justified on FX, of Timothy Olyphant, and of Star Wars.  So, when FX started airing a promo clip of the show featuring Olyphant in a bar staring down another patron across the table and referencing the now-infamous scene in Star Wars with Han Solo and Greedo, I was in stitches.

Here's the clip from TV.com.  The basic transcript is this: Waylon Givens (US Marshall) is sitting in a dingy bar across from a nervous looking patron.  Waylon asks the man if he knew that in the original Star Wars it was Han who shot first.  The patron looks nervous as they both draw guns.

The implication Waylon is making here is that Han was the hero, but in the original version of the film, the hero didn't wait for his adversary to draw on him to justify self-defense.  Now, the caveat is that Greedo is a bounty hunter who has a pistol trained on Han and is seriously threatening to take him back to Jabba if he doesn't pay him right then (with money he doesn't have).  At the point where Greedo makes it clear that he's not going to be put off, Han unstraps his pistol behind the cover of his knee.  Greedo follows that up by making a direct threat ("Over my dead body".  "That's the point.") that pushes Han into a corner.  Greedo is unconcerned with Han's life, and is prepared to hand him over to the gangster right then.

The choice of me or the callous bounty hunter working for a gangster isn't a choice at all, and shouldn't serve as a moral conflict for anyone.  The fact that Han shot first doesn't make him morally questionable, just a little edgier in that he's able to see the choice at hand and act on it before it's too late.  He had tried to reason with Greedo and bargain with him, to no avail.  Greedo pushed him into a corner, and he wasn't going to rely on the happenstance that a paid assassin (!) would miss from a range of three feet should Greedo try to kill him.

And let's think about that for a second.  It is not correct to say in the original that Han shot first because I've never seen direct evidence that Greedo shot at all.  This makes much more sense than Greedo even shooting in the first place.  From what we've seen in both Empire and Return, Jabba very much wanted him alive.  (From Empire, Boba Fett remarks "What if he doesn't survive? He's worth a LOT to me!")  Switching it up just doesn't make sense for the circumstances much less Han's character.

Back to Justified.  Not to be just a cutesy tie-in, the reference used by Waylan Givens (Olyphant) is actually completely within the context of the character.  In the introductory scene of the series, Waylan actually induces an adversary to draw on him to gun him down in broad daylight.  His actions and justification (hence the title of the show) are called into question often based on his handling of the situation.  Did he provoke the situation?  Was he in the right?  Could he have handled it differently?  The interesting thing is that as a US Marshall, he was the bounty hunter in that scene.  He is playing the part of Greedo, not Han.  And by reminding his suspect in the bar of that original play, that Han was cornered and justified in defending his right to live free, he's goading his adversary into drawing down on him.  The effect of which, now justifies Waylan's legal right to defend himself.

Believe it or not, the point of this whole post wasn't to deconstruct the differences between Star Wars and Justified.  In remarking about the scene to my wife, I made the comment that it kind of scared me that Waylan was explaining how Han shot first to the bar patron, as if that wasn't common knowledge.  Who in the world doesn't know that? 

It turns out my wife didn't know that.  [Insert your version of my backpedaling.]

What scares me about this is the future.  The impending release of Star Wars on Blu Ray will be only the remastered versions, which made me consider along with this commercial that someday the originals won't exist anymore.  In years down the road, as an old(er) man, I'll be spouting the story of "Han Shot First" and it may become only a legend, unable to be justified by video evidence.  The thought scared and saddened me.

Greedo didn't shoot at all.