In the original version of the movie, Han Solo fires first, killing Greedo, who had come to the cantina in Mos Eisley with the intention of collecting the bounty which had been placed on Han’s head by the gangster Jabba the Hutt.
Two decades later, in 1997, director George Lucas, worried that the scene made Han Solo look like a merciless killer, tried to soften it by editing the scene so Greedo fired first and missed, meaning that Han Solo was, in effect, acting in self-defence.
Then in 2004, another edit was made to the scene, in which the two more or less fire simultaneously.
In the print of the film which is on the new Disney+ service, however, a new camera shot has been added: a close-up of Greedo in which he makes an exclamatory remark in his native language a moment before the exchange of fire in which he is killed.
Naturally this has re-ignited the “Who shot first?” debate with fans uncertain why the scene needed to be tampered with for a fourth time.
The prevailing interpretation of Greedo’s exclamation is “Maclunkey!”; in the scene no subtitle is offered to translate the word, suggesting it may even be an expletive.
Lucasfilm did confirm to US magazine Vanity Fair that the edit actually took place some seven years ago, prior to Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, which means the reason it has not yet come to light is that no new prints of the film have been released since that time.
Lucasfilm also confirmed that the edit was made by Star Wars creator/director George Lucas himself.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2012 Lucas defended the original edit of the scene because he did not want the character of Han Solo to be perceived as a “cold-blooded killer”.
“What I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t,” Lucas said.
“It had been done in close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom [so] I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down.”
However the actor who played Greedo, Paul Blake, remembers the filming of the scene slightly differently and confirms the original Star Wars script explicitly stated that Han shot first.
“It said it all in the original script, we played in the scene in English and at the end of the scene, it reads, Han shoots the alien,” he told The New York Daily News. “It’s all it says and that’s what happened.”
In 2014, when asked by fans, actor Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, said: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
Michael Idato is the culture editor-at-large of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.