Monday, 11 July 2011

180: R is for Reaction Time

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

Yep, Reaction Time. As in ‘who shot first?’
Let’s go there.

It’s the topic that never dies, and you’d probably hoped I wasn’t going to bring it up. When the trolls begin their regularly scheduled Lucas-bashing, one of the straw-men that’s wheeled out of the cupboard is Greedo-shooting-first. Traditionally, in the Cantina scene, Han Solo killed Greedo before he got a shot off. Then for the 1997 Special Edition, this was changed so that Greedo misfires a shot into the wall, giving Solo the chance he needs to shoot him and take his leave.

Now, the CGI used in the 1997 version wasn’t as smooth as it should have been, admittedly. This was the first, and justified, bone of contention. For the 2004 DVD release, the CGI was improved, and the gap between Greedo’s and Han’s shots was shortened. The issue still isn’t resolved though, as many aren’t happy with what this implies for Han Solo.

“This cheapens the character!”, the nay-sayers cry. “How are we supposed to believe he’s a badass mercenary if he only shoots in self-defence once he’s been attacked?”.
So is Greedo shooting first really a game changer? Let’s have a look at the different versions:

Scenario A (1977):
Han Solo, the deadpan, cynical smuggler is faced with brash young Greedo, a Rodian bounty hunter who’s heard that Han has a price on his head, and figures that he can always collect the lower bounty for bringing him in dead. Greedo corners Solo in a bar, holding him at gunpoint, and suggesting that he gives the money he owes to Greedo. Solo refuses, claiming he doesn’t have the money on him, knowing that even if he hands it over, Greedo will kill him and collect the dead-bounty. The longer the conversation continues, the more that Solo realizes Greedo won’t let him leave the bar alive. Sensing that the Rodian is about to make his kill, Solo strikes first, shooting him from underneath the table.
As Greedo’s lifeless body slumps forward, Solo casually tosses a handful of credits to Wuher, the bartender, to cover the inconvenience of clearing away the body, and to buy his silence when inquiries are made as to Greedo’s fate.
From the audience’s perspective, Solo is a killer. He’s clearly has deals and debts with the wrong crowd, and is prepared to kill any being pointed a charged weapon at him.

Scenario B (1997):
As above, Solo and Greedo are facing each other down in a seedy bar, with the Rodian laying down unsubtle hints as to what’s about to happen. With the increasing Imperial presence on Tatooine, Solo knows better than to shoot at the first sign of trouble, though. Questions will be asked, and Solo’s main line of business requires him to be anonymous in the eyes of the Empire. Then, through all his talk and bluster, Solo senses that Greedo’s about to actually move for the kill. It’s not in his interests financially, but Solo knows that Greedo will take his body to Jabba the Hutt and try and secure a bounty for delivering his corpse. Having a gun pointed at him, Solo has already unholstered his own under the table, and when a nervous Greedo fires off a shot (luckily wide of its mark), Han responds in kind, shooting the Rodian in the gut and killing him. As he has off-world business to attend to, the smuggler tosses a handful of credits to the bartender, to cover the inconvenience, buy his silence, and ensure he can come back here again someday.
For the second time, Solo is a killer. He’s clearly has deals and debts with the wrong crowd, and is prepared to kill any being pointed a charged weapon at him.

Scenario C (2004):
Once again, the human and the Rodian are squaring up in a grimy bar in downtown Mos Eisley. Solo’s been in this situation enough times to know what’s about to happen, and he lines up a shot under the table, out of sight. Greedo knows Han won’t come quietly, and won’t hand over the money he owes Jabba. The only sensible way is to kill Han and collect the bounty for him dead. A microsecond after he lets off a shot, Solo returns the favour and slots Greedo in the stomach. The reaction wasn’t to the Rodian’s shot, it was to the look in his eyes that said he was about to nervously move for the kill. As the smoking alien slumps over the table, Solo leaves to go and meet the old man and the boy he’s just taken a job from, anxious to get off-world while he still can.
Once again, Solo is a killer. He’s clearly has deals and debts with the wrong crowd, and is prepared to kill any being pointed a charged weapon at him.

The way I see it, the only difference in each version is the reaction time. When you shoot a known-killer pointing a loaded weapon at you, it becomes irrelevant whether they shoot first or not. All that matters is that you get out of there and they don’t. With each version of events, Solo is still a killer. His overall character-arc remains unaffected. He’s still the cynic at his introduction who’ll smuggle people and goods to make money to pay off his debts. He’s still arm-twisted into rescuing the princess when the plans go awry, concerned only with the money he’s been promised. And he still comes back to help Luke destroy the Death Star, realising that loyalty and friendship can be a bigger motivator.

Who shoots first in the cantina is irrelevant. Han is still Han, Greedo is still dead. Your perception of the character doesn’t affect the validity of their actions. Get over it.

Greedo shot first. No, Han shot first. No...

If anything, the presence of a young Force-ghost Anakin at the end of Jedi has huge implications as to the nature of Vader’s accountability for his actions over the past twenty years. That’s what you should be debating

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