Of course Han shot first!
It was a great scene, shows us a lot about Han’s personality, and was one of the many great homages in the film to scenes from classic Westerns and Noir Detective films.
Then, in later editions, George Lucas re-edited the scene so that Greedo shoots and somehow from nearly point-blank range misses. Then Han shoots after. And thus a meme was born and soon adored a million t-shirts. In more than one interview Lucas claimed that he had always meant that Greedo shot first. Or that Greedo was squeezing the trigger and Han was reacting to that as much as the verbal threat, and so on. But it made no sense to anyone. It seemed clear to everyone that Lucas was trying to make Han seem like more of a stand-up hero or something.
Despite those many interviews with Lucas, the original shooting script explicitly says that Han shoots before Greedo has a chance to make good on his threat. And George was himself seen wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2012. I always felt the decision to edit was extremely stupid, and thus felt vindicated by both the script and Lucas’ t-shirt shot. (You can argue that he’s embraced the controversy, or was being ironic, or maybe some fan had given him the t-shirt and he was wearing it to give Harrison a laugh on the set—whatever.)
I felt as if this particular thing had been settled a long time ago, until recently I happened across a reference to the Han Shot First “controversy” on the blog of a Sad Puppy supporter. At first he seemed to be making the case that Lucas’ decision to re-edit the scene was in response to pressure from the forces of political correctness (side note: I need to find that web browser plug-in that changes all references in articles to Political Correctness to “treating people with respect,” since the only thing that causes folks to accuse other people of being PC is when they are called out for failing to treat others with respect). But then the blog went on to claim that Social Justice Warriors prefer the second edit. He claims that he has been told (I think the actual term was “screamed at by SJWs”) that he’s an immoral person for thinking that Han shot first.
For the record, I am clearly a Social Justice Warrior supporter, and I have always argued (sometimes vehemently) that Han Shot First. And every feminist, pro-equality fan that I know personally who has ever expressed an opinion about the original Star Wars movie has also insisted that Han Shot First, and often just as vehemently as I do.
And Han shooting first isn’t an immoral choice!
He’s being held at gunpoint. Greedo makes it clear that if Han puts up a fight, he’ll kill Han. He threatens to take Han’s ship, which is his livelihood. When Han says “over my dead body” Greedo indicates he’ll really enjoy killing Han. BANG!
It’s a clear and unequivocal threat to Han’s life. He’s not just threatened with deadly force, it’s right there pointed at him. So he reacts with deadly force of his own. Is it the way Ghandi or Buddha or Mother Teresa would have handled it? No. Is it the way Sam Spade (or any other character Humphry Bogart played in many noir movies) would have handled it? Absolutely! It shows us that Han is a person that will do whatever it takes to protect himself and what’s his. It shows us he thinks on his feet. It shows us he has good survival instincts. It shows us that he can appear charming if necessary, but is more than capable of killing an opponent and carrying on.
And more importantly, it sets things up so it is both a genuine surprise when Han flies in to the rescue at the end, while at the same time making it believable that he would find a way to fly in through all that ship to ship fighting and get where he needed to be to save someone that he’s decided is a friend.
I can be the kind of person who believes that non-violent solutions are better than resorting to senseless violence, and at the same time recognize that in some circumstances, violence may be the least worst option. So, yeah. Han shot first. And it was a right thing to do. It doesn’t make him a saint. But not all heroes are. And we can cheer for flawed heroes when they do the right thing.