Why It Matters (Part One of Two)

This is the first of two entries about two things in two movies that bug the hell out of me. I’m not a movie critic, I don’t want to be a movie critic, and I’m not a huge fan of movies in general. However, these two things, I think, are examples of horrible, horrible decisions on the parts of two moviemakers.

In a recent entry on the Star Wars DVDs I mention the travesty that is the “Greedo Shoots First” change made to Star Wars (a/k/a, Episode 4: A New Hope) in the so-called Special Edition. When the special edition first came out I was talking with someone who asked, essentially, “Aren’t you nitpicking? Does that really make that big of a difference?” (Nitpicking? ME?) The short answer is: “Yes, it does.” The longer answer is this entry.

Now, let’s be frank. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to point out that George Lucas perhaps has some shortcomings as a director. People have been pointing this out for some time, with the person providing the most evidence being Mr. Lucas himself. And I won’t even mention the prequels. But within the original trilogy there are two huge gaffes, both of which bug me, but one more than the other.

One of the mis-steps Lucas took in the original trilogy was making Darth Vader be Luke’s father. (Oh. “Spoilers!”) Shocking as the revelation was, it served to torpedo a lot of already established things (and I’m not even talking about Obi-Wan’s clunky “from a certain point of view” speech.) But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Greedo.

In the Special Editions, Lucas decided to change the scene where Greedo confronts Han in the cantina so that Greedo fires the first shot at Han and misses. This is a seemingly innocuous change, and yet represents ineptness as a moviemaker and disdain for the viewers. Why?

First off, let’s look at Lucas’ reasons for the change. It’s been said that he didn’t want to make Han into a cold-blooded killer. He wanted him to be “more heroic”. In addition, Lucas has said that the Special Editions represent his original artistic vision for the movie, a vision that the technology and money at the time was unable to provide.

The first rationale is what shows his failure as a storyteller and moviemaker. It reveals him as someone who doesn’t even understand his own creation, and underscores the fact that the success of the original Star Wars was a fluke. There isn’t a single person in the world who would call Han a cold-blooded killer in the original scene. He’s trapped in a booth, Greedo has his gun pointed at him, and Greedo has stated, point blank, that he intends to kill Han. There’s no denying this. Han does not up the stakes (in fact, he tries to talk his way out of this), Greedo does, and Han acts in self-defense. There’s no other way to read the scene. He shoots Greedo first because he has to or else Greedo will shoot him at point-blank range.

Lucas changes the scene so that Greedo fires first and Han’s shot is in response. This is ludicrous. A bounty hunter that can’t hit a sitting target he’s been aiming at for several minutes from only four feet away? This doesn’t make Han into a hero, it makes him into a moron, and a lucky one at that.

As for the “hero” angle, Lucas also displays his inability to distinguish heroics (something the Darth Vader-as-Luke’s-Father plot twist also shows.) Han is a hero because of the point in which his character arc begins. He starts as a self-interested loudmouth who becomes, through experience and a change of heart, a true hero. Even if you honestly felt that Han shot Greedo in cold blood, it would still serve to distinguish where he begins from where he ends.

Lucas’ second rationale shows his disdain for the viewer. Out of all of the changes in the Special Edition, the Greedo scene is the least justified due to primitive 70s technology. To argue that he always intended for Greedo to shoot first is to assume he’s talking to an idiot. There is absolutely no evidence of this. None of the scripts mention it. The novel and comics don’t mention it. Presumably the same 1970s technology that allowed a laser bolt to go from one side of the screen to the other could be used to reverse the direction of movement. Gary Kurtz, executive producer of the movie, has said this is a line of bull.

So what we have is inept meddling passed off as artistic triumph. Does it matter? Maybe not to most people. I grant that it doesn’t show anything we didn’t already know, but it shows it so succinctly, so clearly, so perfectly, that it’s a natural centerpiece for everything that’s wrong with Lucas and what he’s done with the one movie he accidentally did well. It matters, to someone who actually cares, because it encompasses, in one brief, seemingly tangential scene, the truth about George Lucas.

Now as I said, Lucas is an easy, obvious target. In the second part I’m going to rip into Ridley Scott, on why he and a bunch of drooling pseudo-intellectual fanboys are morons.

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