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Greedo confronts Han Solo in ‘A New Hope’ (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Last week, the New York Daily News posted an “exclusive” story pegged to Star Wars Day (May 4): Paul Blake, the actor who played Greedo, confirmed that Han Solo shot first. “Of course, 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.’ ” Blake told the paper of the bar shoot-out in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope. The story was widely recirculated and became a trending topic on social media, but here’s the thing: “Han shot first” isn’t actually news. Though director George Lucas digitally altered the scene for the 1997 Special Edition, there’s never been a question that, originally, Han killed Greedo before the bounty hunter could take a shot. If the actual footage wasn’t enough to prove it, Han’s “smoking gun” is mentioned in a widely available fourth draft of Star Wars, as well as in the shooting script (which was tweeted out by Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew earlier this year). So why is it headline news that Paul Blake — who didn’t even play Greedo in the whole scene — said it? The answer, I fear, is that fans are thirsty for new trivia about the original Star Wars trilogy, even though that particular well has run as dry a Tatooine desert.
There’s simply nothing new under the two suns. Another headline-making Star Wars item from the past month — that Obi-Wan was originally supposed to survive his battle with Vader — is also common knowledge among aficionados, and appears in easy-to-find online sources like the Star Wars wiki. And then there’s the behind-the-scene Star Wars documentary Elstree 1976, which opened on Friday to unenthusiastic reviews. It’s not that the stories told by the film’s minor players are boring; it’s that all the die-hard fans have heard them before. Of course we have. We’ve already seen hours of behind-the-scenes footage in documentaries and DVD extras, read dozens of books about the making of the films, and fallen down countless internet rabbit holes filled with B-roll footage and concept art.
Not that this has discouraged us from seeking out more. Last year, energized by the buzz around The Force Awakens, I published several articles about how iconic Star Wars moments were created, including a deep dive into the cantina scene that involved multiple interviews and months of research. While I would happily write a whole book of such articles, I’m also cognizant of the fact that I’ve uncovered nothing new. Correction: almost nothing. I did obtain two never-before-published casting cards of background actors — hardly a headline-making scoop, but that kind of minutiae is all that’s left to find at this point.
George Lucas with Alec Guinness on set of ‘A New Hope’ (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Ironically, the reason we’re running out of behind-the-scenes Star Wars lore is that George Lucas did his job so well. Long before we all had retweet buttons, Lucas was mythologizing the creation of his masterpiece: filing obscure paperwork and props in the Lucasfilm archive, commissioning Ken Burns to direct a making-of documentary, and following the lead of fans by meticulously cataloging every movie creature and character from the prequels onward. The publicity department at 20th Century Fox helped the process along, conducting extensive interviews with all of Star Wars’s key players even before the cameras started rolling. On The Empire Strikes Back, a unit publicist literally walked around set with a tape recorder, documenting the cast and crew’s conversations. As a result, we know an astonishing amount about how the first Star Wars films were made.
Why, then, are first-generation fans like myself still hungry for trivia we haven’t heard before? Probably because it’s our way of getting closer to the Star Wars universe. Like J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas created a sprawling sandbox that everybody wants to play in. Some of us literally grew up playing in it, our childhoods filled with Luke and Leia action figures, Ewok stories on read-along records, and droid-themed activity books. As adults, I think unearthing those new bits and pieces of Star Wars lore helps us recapture that sense of discovery.
There’s also a kind of purity to the creation of those original films. Back then, the idea of a big-budget film trilogy was unheard-of, and the special effects were wildly experimental. Behind the scenes, the cast and crew were frequently baffled by Lucas’s vision, but they coasted on a giddy sense of possibility — the same one the audience felt when they entered that alien cantina for the first time. To learn how the films were made is to witness the messy birth of a modern mythology, and it’s hard not to get swept up in it.
Final scene of ‘A New Hope’ (Photo: Lucasfilm)
And therein lies the silver lining of the Star Wars knowledge glut: like any mythology, there will always be different retellings. And the more people chime in, the less straightforward the story becomes. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Star Wars’s most entertaining and least reliable narrator, Carrie Fisher, for continuing to spin wild tales about her time on set. She has playfully hinted at affairs with George Lucas and Harrison Ford without ever confirming or denying a single fact. She has talked about how, in the final scene of A New Hope, she is openly laughing at Mark Hamill because he’d burst a blood vessel in his eye during the trash compactor scene and looked ridiculous. That is actually impossible, because Hamill’s eye injury occurred over a month after the medal ceremony scene was shot. Fisher is a born storyteller, and whether she’s obfuscating the truth or it’s been blurred by time (or all the cocaine she says she did on set), she delights in planting seeds of doubt in the minds of know-it-all fans.
Lucas also left some welcome blanks for fans to fill in. The filmmaker went through dozens, if not hundreds, of versions of the Star Wars saga, leaving room for plenty of speculation about his intentions. Former Lucasfilm advisor Craig Miller recently revealed George Lucas had planned a whole trilogy about Boba Fett, which, sure, he probably did at some point! Those plans may even be buried somewhere in the Lucasfilm archive, a vast treasure trove of ephemera that still has — as Lucasfilm exec Pablo Hidalgo told me — a few “big holes.”
Those big holes only apply to the original trilogy, though. No one will ever have to do more than an internet search to find discarded plot points or names of background aliens in The Force Awakens or its sequels. The slow unearthing of Star Wars trivia is already a thing of the past. Fortunately, Lucas’s universe is still thriving and expanding — it’s just that new fans won’t quite grasp its legacy of mystery and happenstance, the low-budget inventiveness and enormous risk-taking that brought Stars Wars into being. Going forward, Star Wars fans will have every detail they want to know at their fingertips, along with Han Solo’s reassurance that everything that happened in the original trilogy is “true… all of it.”