Han Shot First


I have a pet peeve, an obsession, really: the destruction of myth through modern arrogance.   Authors, screenwriters, and Hollywood powers that be, they have forgotten how to write myth.  They often start with a good premise, but then bend the story to be relevant to what they suppose a modern audience wants or to tell a modern morality tale that they, the good little Relativists they are, believe morality to be.  If you want to know why Hollywood turns out reels of junk, this is the root reason.   

This annoys me to no end, and I often rant about it around here.  I miss good stories.  

For the most part, you need not be a geek to understand my rants, as I'm rarely talking about the stories themselves, but their interaction with culture.  Because I was a Star Wars fan first, and because it is perhaps the most infamous example of such meddling, I categorize these rants as Han Shot First.

In case you aren’t a geek, ‘Han shot first’ is a reference to changes, unpopular changes, that George Lucas made to the original Star Wars film. In the original film, Han is cornered at gunpoint by a bounty hunter who tells Han he is going to kill him and collect the bounty on his head from Jabba the Hutt. Han sneaks out his blaster while his hands are hidden under the table and shoots the bounty hunter before he has a chance to fire on Han.  Years later, Lucas decided this was too harsh. Our now beloved Han would never shoot first and so, recasting Han as the feminized modern man, he digitally altered the scene to have the bounty hunter fire and miss (at a range of about 10 inches if you’d believe that) before Han blasts him. It is perhaps the worst character smashing of all time.

Fans wailed.  Lucas thought that the fans wailed because they did not want things from childhood to change. It wasn’t that. When writing characters for film, it is the small moments, often the ones that pass without comment that allow us to define a character.  The original scene in the cantina told us volumes about Han’s character. It said that he wasn’t a straight up nice guy. He was decisive, calculating.  He looked out for himself, perhaps to a fault.  (He certainly wouldn't be caught dead dancing in a carbon freezing chamber.)  And he wasn’t stupid. What idiot would let the baddie take the first shot at close range? 

Not only did the edit change Han's character, but it also killed his character arc. He is the Redeemed Rouge, but one can’t be redeemed if one wasn’t a rouge to start. The more you make him warm and fuzzy at the beginning, the less it pulls at your emotions when he comes barreling in to shoot Vader off Luke’s tail. We expect second-shot, nice Han to join the fight over the Death Star.  (We might wonder if he will miss the shot, so I guess we should be thankful that some dramatic tension remains.) 

The myth stories are powerful because they use archetypes, the Hero, the Rebel, the Rouge with a Heart of Gold. These reflect elements of human nature. (See anything by Joseph Campbell.)  If the author strays too far from the archetype, then the character loses the power to propel the story forward.

And I hate it when good stories die.  
Now I have an anthem for this stuff.


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