How George Lucas grew with Han Solo
"Star Wars" rolled into theaters in 1977 and, spoiler alert, Han Solo gets his first big moment in a dusty cantina around the end of the first act when he turns Greedo into a smoldering heap. Ignoring the way blasters evolved in the Star Wars universe over the next 40 years (why are guys so f*cking smoky early on?), let's take a some time to tackle what's become a hotly debated scene from a different angle.
If you watched that scene in May of 1977 up until the late 1990's, you saw Solo drop a hunk of plasma into Greedo's chest before the alien could (probably) do the same. When George Lucas unveiled his revamped special cuts of the original trilogy, he made an important change to the trilogy: Solo no longer shot first. Greedo now inexplicably misses from across a table and gets roasted.
Here's the director's explanation for the change:
“Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ ” Lucas asks. “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.”
For now, let's ignore Lucas' irritating tendency to fiddle with his franchise and instead take a look at what this says about how Han, and Lucas, grew together during this trilogy. When we first meet Han, and I mean during the original cut of the trilogy, he's a scoundrel - which is kind of the point.
But as the trilogy progresses, Lucas warms to the idea that much of what we see from Han isn't what we get. While Luke Skywalker is earnest to a fault, Han is more likely to put up a front. This excellent interview with Donald Glover got me thinking about the relative complexity of Lando Calrissian and his smuggler pal.
"I think even Han isn’t as complicated as Lando is," Glover said. "From the first time you meet him, you don’t know whether to trust him or not, and you’re constantly not knowing whether to trust him. I like that about him."
Glover is onto something here, but don't take that to mean Han is straightforward. When Leia and Han first arrive in Cloud City the smuggler is noticeably nervous, but puts on a brave face for his friends; not exactly the behavior of the ambivalent money-chaser we met in "A New Hope." That continues throughout "Empire" (think his torture session with Vader or the scene before he's frozen in carbonite). Some of that is character development: a lot of it is Lucas deciding he wants the character to change hats.
Enter Calrissian. As Luke becomes Jedi Knight and Han becomes a white hat (and love interest to Leia) it leaves a void in the "grey hat" role for Lando to slip into. Lucas might not strike you as the Han Solo type, but he's the character that fits the archetype the director keeps coming back to. Think "Indiana Jones," "American Graffiti" and even "Red Tails." That swashbuckling, fun-loving type hero with a smirk and a one-liner is the almost-antihero Lucas loves so much.
Writers grow with their characters all the time. Getting to go back in time to make changes might be a little tacky, but I can't fault Lucas for wanting Han to fit into his vision for the character; even if it's different than the one he originally set laid out..