The Curmudgeon Shot First

Nitpicking A New Hope from 47:52 to 56:00
Ok, how about we meet Han Solo? You know where this is heading...
...and I'll get you there, but whereas there's a lot of anger directed at the way Lucas tweaked the Greedo scene and thus "Han's introduction", that's not quite true. Han's actual introduction is his negotiation with Obi-Wan and Luke, listing the Millennium Falcon's credentials and so forth.
Not that Obi-Wan is so easily conned. "Made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs"? Since "parsecs" are a unit if DISTANCE, not TIME, then I guess it didn't QUITE make the Kessel run, is that it? It's outrun Imperial starships, the big kind, which isn't too surprising given those things' maneuverability. It'll cost 10,000 quatloos, but Han settles for 17,000 (2000 in advance, and 15,000 when they reach Aldaraan... Obi-Wan made a good deal there, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Before he can leave the Cantina, he has to deal with Greedo come to collect for Jabba. You know the scene:
Or perhaps you know it better without Solo breaking his neck to avoid a shot that never came. With Greedo shooting first, or at the same time, or not at all. I don't want to spend too much time on this: It's infamous as the worst change ever made to a film this side of Blade Runner's happy ending (what is it with Harrison Ford anyway?). But is it really that bad? I mean, who cares, right? It LOOKS awful, but that's another matter entirely. Greedo was pointing a gun at him, would have shot, but didn't didn't have the time. That he does shoot makes him a little smarter, if not more accurate. What really gets me is that it shows how little Lucas fixates on the unimportant. WHY must Greedo shoot first (or indeed, at all?). Han WAS being threatened. He's a badass found in a hive of scum and villainy. He still leaves the bar callously apologizing for the mess. Obi-Wan just now chopped a guy's arm off in similar circumstances. If it's to make Han a better role model to the kids, then why does everyone else not get this treatment? I mean, it's no more kid friendly, especially since Lucas also added a fizzling sound on Greedo's smoking body. That's LESS kid-friendly, not more. I think we can argue about how it affects Han Solo's character to shoot second, but in the end, I think what angers the fans is that there's no reason for it, like a lot of Lucas' changes.
Back on the Death Star - which means more establishing tie-fighter screeches; are they the Ringwraiths of this epic? - Darth Vader complains about Leia's resistance to the mind probe (noooo not the MIND, PROBE - oh sorry, Doctor Who reflex), and Grand Moff Tarkin out-evils him by suggesting they turn the station's weapon against Leia's home planet. Cut to scene of droids arguing in an open doorway after Stormtroopers pass by.
This is not a useful scene. It's just C-3PO bitching and moaning that it's probably all R2-D2's fault, like he's done all along, and an inference that R2's bleeps and bloops are curse words. Trim please. Luke and Ben are walking through the streets and being followed by an anteater in goggles. You can probably trim that too.
But I'd watch all the doorway talk and street walking in the world if I didn't have to also watch the stupid, stupid, and jar-jarring added scene between Solo and CG Jabba. 1997 and 2004 versions:
Why is this all wrong? Let me count the ways.
1) It takes away the mystery of who Jabba is. I know, I know, at this point in human history, it's not exactly a spoiler, but narratively speaking, it's still a mistake to have him show up early. The trilogy wasn't built like that for a reason.
2) The scene also anticipates fan favorite Boba Fett, and thus tries to take away something from both the untouchable Empire Strikes Back, AND Return of the Jedi.
3) CG Jabba just doesn't match the slimy splendor of the giant puppet. And I do mean giant. Decadence or not, it doesn't seem to give Jabba much time to get morbidly obese. He's quite spry here, and short. And given that Han is close enough to kiss him, steps on his tail, etc., it takes away from his fearsomeness. He's a comedy figure.
4) There's a behind the scenes reason to hate it too: It forces us to accept Lucas' delusion that he had this grand vision of Jabba as a slug monster all along, but had to compromise and use... a human actor wearing furs? Come on, now. I agree that the Jabba we eventually got was a better idea, and so it's good this scene was originally deleted, but don't kid a kidder. Your compromise can't have been "just a guy". He would at least have been a more humanoid alien. Given the richness of the background, like, EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THIS MOVIE, there's no way Lucas is remembering it right, and I do find it extremely irritating when he tries to rewrite his own history in addition to his films.
5) He was right to cut the scene originally. It gives us nothing we didn't already know. Han needs money, he's fleeing some mob boss, that's all we need to know. It's basically a repeat of the Greedo scene.
6) Harrison Ford isn't very good in it. A lot of obvious pointing and a stilted delivery.
7) There's this one guy in the scene, a space pirate with a frou frou shirt, dancing around because he's trying to act "alert". Terrible.
Okay, so there's more walking and I guess Luke and Ben caught up with the droids (might've shown THAT), and more talk of how fast the Millennium Falcon is (yes, we get it), and Luke's all, like, what a piece of junk, and there's a lot of sneering, and so on. Feels like that first season of Deep Space Nine where everyone hated each other (everyone's favorite season, am I right?). And the spy tells the Stormtroopers and they have to leave in a hurry. Suddenly, it's kind of exciting. It's like we're Luke, getting off Tatooine is an end unto itself. Everything that went before was moisture farming.

Or am I reading too much into it?


Anonymous said...

I saw "Star Wars" in the theater as a kid, and as I recall it, not only did Han do all the shooting, but Greedo's bleeping and burbling wasn't subtitled at all. That means you, as a viewer, were not privy to exactly what level of threat Greedo was posing -- was Han shooting him out of convenience or because he truly felt threatened? That's what I took from it as a kid: I just don't know whether this guy is to be trusted.

I'll see your happy ending on "Blade Runner" and raise you the happy ending on "Brazil".

Siskoid said...

That's a good one too. Remember, love conquers all!

Andrew Gilbertson said...

A few thoughts... the C-3PO/R2 scene does have a minor bit of usefulness in establishing where they are and how they avoided the Stormtroopers, and reminding the audience of them? Content is not great, but I think it has a role to play that justifies its inclusion.

COMPLETELY agree about Jabba (so wrong for a myriad of reasons), Greedo, and the utter pointlessness of so many of these changes... and particularly GL's delusions. Star Wars fan/timeline enthusiast Nathan butler has made a point of tracking all of Lucas' reivsionist history claims merely regarding his intention for the films (Empire Strikes Back announced as 'Star Wars II,' Then it was ALWAYS intended to be 12 films with ANH as IV, then it was ALWAYS meant to be 9 films, then 6 was ALL he had EVER intended to make, etc....) (note the four periods. ;-) )

So, should I bother getting into the very prominent expanded universe retcons for the 'parsecs' bit, or has that cultural dead horse been beaten into the ground? (Talk about your mixed metaphors...!)

Pretty sure that if Greedo was ever un-subtitled, though, that was the theater mis-framing the film and cutting off the bottom.

Siskoid said...

No please, let us know what the EU explanation for "parsecs" is. I find these "canonical" stretches very entertaining.

Green Luthor said...

Apparently, an early version of the script did describe Jabba as "slug-like", although Lucas has also said that, by the time of shooting, he wanted Jabba to be more of a furry, Wookie-like creature. (Hence the guy in the furs.) The plan was to rotoscope a stop-motion creature over the guy, but, for whatever reason (time, budget, quality), they just couldn't make it work. (Marvel's adaption kept the scene, but used an entirely different creature for Jabba; a yellow humanoid, based on a mask made for the cantina scene.)

(Hilariously, that Jabba would return in the Marvel run, where Han would end up settling his debt. The issue before Empire, they had to throw in a hasty explanation as to why Jabba was still after Han. Since Marvel was supposedly getting story approvals from Lucasfilm... yeah, I really have no idea what Lucas was planning there...)

But watching the Special Edition version... painful. Just painful. Lucas defends against claims of CGI Jabba looking "fake" by saying that, whether puppet or CGI, Jabba will always be "fake", but... at least with the puppet, there's something physically *there*. (Han stepping on Jabba's tail looks almost as bad as Han dodging Greedo's shot, and kinda makes Jabba look like... well, not a fearsome crime lord that one would be afraid to cross.) (And while I don't have a problem with putting Boba Fett there, did he *really* need to stop and give the camera that "Hey, kids, it's me! Remember how cool I was?" look. Ugh.) And since Han has the same conversation with Jabba as with Greedo - most of it verbatim ("Hey, even I get boarded sometimes") - yeah, this one really should have been left on the cutting room floor.

There's really not much I can add to the "Han shot first" scene, but, really... did Lucas have to make it look *that* bad? Whether it's Han's inexplicable ability to shift his entire body or Greedo's inability to fire his blaster the same direction it's pointed... Lucas really, *really* needed someone to say "George, this looks awful no matter what we do, let's just leave it".

(Yeah, I know I'm really just restating what you've already said, but... ugh, it's all just so bad I can't help but rant sometimes...)

The EU gave an explanation for the "12 parsecs" bit. It's stupid. Really, really stupid. Let's just let Obi-Wan's "do even know what you're talking about" look be all the explanation we need.

Ideally, with the exception of a few cleaned-up effects shots, just excise the entirety of the Special Edition changes from everything in Mos Eisley. It'd make the whole thing so much better.

Green Luthor said...

Ah, shoulda checked for new comments before posting.

The EU "parsecs" explanation is that the Kessel Run goes near a section of space that has a massive cluster of black holes; normally, ships have to take a longer route to avoid them. If a ship is fast enough, they can get closer to the black holes and get past them before the gravity sucks them in. So, the faster the ship, the less distance they have to travel to make the Kessel Run. (Apparently, the EU has never heard of "time dilation".)

Really, really stupid, and one reason to not be sorry the EU is gone...

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"at least with the puppet, there's something physically *there*. "
YES! Yes, this is what I've been saying for the longest time. SO true!

"Ideally, with the exception of a few cleaned-up effects shots, just excise the entirety of the Special Edition changes from everything in Mos Eisley. It'd make the whole thing so much better."
Agreed. When I think ANH special edition, I roll my eyes and go 'ugh'- but it's always that part I'm thinking of. Trench Run stuff isn't half bad, really. It's just Mos Eisley...

GL, got it in one. And the EU has heard of 'time dilation,' but that's a whole different problem... :-)

Incidentally, the spaceman that leaves so Obi-wan can talk to Chewbacca is there to brag to Han about how he made an even *shorter* Kessel Run. So... there ya go. :-)

Brendoon said...

I've always thought Kessel sounded like some sort of broccoli Vegetable.
Why was POPEYE never included in the EU?

Anonymous said...

"Pretty sure that if Greedo was ever un-subtitled, though, that was the theater mis-framing the film and cutting off the bottom."

Yeah, I was like ten at the time, my recollections probably wouldn't hold up in a court of law.

On the other hand, "Star Wars" didn't mind giving us another character who was always beeping and booping without subtitles, and whose meaning had to be inferred through context. I'm just saying, there was already a precedent in the movie for a little bit of ambiguity ... and I think, at least, that the ambiguity would be USEFUL in the Han / Greedo exchange.

Also, watch that scene with your eyes closed (yeah I realize that's a contradiction or something) and tell me Han's dialogue isn't constructed like C3PO's: everything Han says gives you a basis to infer what he's responding to. So the scene was written so that subtitles wouldn't even be required.

Aaaaand, why even make Greedo not speak space-English when everyone else does? What is gained by having to read Greedo's words rather than hear them spoken? It's a very peculiar scene if you assume the subtitles were always intended. Goddamn, maybe ten-year-old Anonymous was right.

Andrew said...

There's a story regarding Greedo and the MPAA. Pretty sure I first saw it at TVTropes, so take it with as much salt as you need, but making any edits for the Special Edition meant Lucas had to re-submit Star Wars for a new rating. Things had changed in the motion picture ratings world between 1977 and and 1997, so while severed limbs and charred bodies were still fine and dandy, Han defending himself against a potential threat rather than an active one turned out to be the line between PG and PG-13.

Hey, Disney? Now that there's no problem with PG-13 Star Wars movies, go ahead and fix that little bit.

Green Luthor said...

I dunno, but that MPAA story just doesn't sound right. I don't think I can recall ever hearing of the MPAA objecting over the perceived morality of a character's actions, rather than just what's subjectively in the film itself. (You can argue that a scene is too violent, but it's hard to argue whether or not there's actually violence there; likewise with sex, harsh language, drug use, and whatever other criteria the MPAA uses.)

And given how lax the MPAA can be at times, and the fact that it's George Lucas, who could probably successfully argue that his films should get whatever rating he wants... I'd probably have to go with a "probably not".

(On the other hand, Lucas *did* argue to get a PG for the initial 1977 release of Star Wars. The MPAA originally gave it... a G! But, back then, G really did mean "general audiences", not "tame kid's movie"; Lucas thought some of the scenes could be a little intense for younger children, so he wanted the PG as an advisory to parents. So he asked the MPAA to reconsider that G rating. The MPAA, not really used to someone asking for a *more* restrictive rating, had no problem changing it.)

As for Greedo's subtitles... I don't remember them ever *not* being there, but I was also just shy of 5 when I first saw Star Wars. However, while most of the conversation could be inferred without them, I'm not sure the whole thing could be. In particular, Han's "Over my dead body" doesn't tell you that Greedo was threatening the Falcon. You can get that Greedo was threatening *something* important to Han, just not *what*.

Also, Greedo isn't the only character (other than R2) to not speak space-English. The Jawas, the Sand People (although they could just be making non-verbal war cries, I suppose), Ponda Baba/Walrus Man (but Dr. Evazon gives us the gist of what he's saying), and Garindan (the goggled anteater that follows Luke et. al. to the Falcon) all speak something other than space-English. Most of what they're saying is either fairly obvious in context (Garindan talking to the stormtroopers and pointing), unimportant in the specifics (the Jawas showing off the merchandise to Uncle Owen), or interpreted for us (Ponda Baba), but Greedo is really the only one to have a significant conversation at (minor) length. So I'm pretty sure the subtitles were always supposed to be there, but I wouldn't say my own memories are 100%, either...

Siskoid said...

You forgot about Chewbacca.

Green Luthor said...

Whoops. (I think he was just so obvious my brain skipped right over him. That's embarrassing.)

Although it does bring a question to mind: any plans to cover the Holiday Special? I'm assuming not, because it's probably way too painful to sit through. But it does have a segment that's, like, over 10 minutes long, where the only dialogue is entirely in Wookie. Unsubtitled. (And it's still less painful than the scene where Chewbacca's dad masturbates to Diahann Carroll...)

Siskoid said...

I had no plans beyond the first film, and my hopes that it would be done before Force Awakens came out have been long dashed.

I've never seen the entire Christmas special, I don't think.

LiamKav said...

Incidentally, that final shot of the Falcon taking off is a Special Edition addition. And one that's perfectly fine, in my opinion. It makes the escape a little more exciting. One problem the Falcon has in ANH is that for a super amazing ship, it moves like a stodgey wheelbarrow stuck in mud. Compare it's movements to how it tries to escape the Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters in the astroid field in TESB. (The advantage of 3 years more experience for ILM and a smaller, easier to shoot minature.) There's a fair few SE changes just to make the ship move more dynamically.

The EU explanation for parsecs shows the very worst parts of the EU... overcomplicated explanations for things that didn't need it. (So it's not just Lucus and midichlorians, the bad habits had started long before then). The easiest explanation is the best... Han is bullshitting and Ben knows. If you want to bring in the prequels, then there's every chance that Ben had just seen Chewie, gone to him and said "Hey, rememeber me? Can we use your ship" and Chewie replied "Sure. My captain's pretty cool. He'll try and big up the ship but just roll with it."

Hell, Obi-Wan could have called Chewie in advance and arranged to meet, possibly during the show-and-tell session at his house.

I'm wondering how the scene with Greedo would play without subtitles. If the original didn't have them, I suspect it would have been one of the changes made way back during the original run, maybe at the same time they added "Episode IV" to the titles?

Siskoid said...

I've seen a version with no subtitles. It plays fine.

One of the things Stars Wars does WELL is throw you in the deep end, in a universe that looks old and used, and doesn't give you unnecessary explanations. This is how it is, and aliens jabber in [SOUND DESIGN] and you have to accept it all, and can. Giving Greedo subs goes against that and against the style already established with R2, the Jawas, and Chewie.

Toby'c said...

"If you want to bring in the prequels, then there's every chance that Ben had just seen Chewie, gone to him and said "Hey, rememeber me? "

Obi-Wan never met Chewie in Episode III. That was Yoda.

LiamKav said...

Argh, you're right!

Still, it means that Chewie was probably a friend of the Jedi, so Obi-Wan might have met him at a different point.


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