For reasons that should be obvious, I was thinking about Star Wars the other day, and a question crossed my mind. As we know, for the Special Edition of Star Wars, George Lucas decided it would be a better idea to have Greedo fire first, thus setting off one of the greatest controversies in cinema. He had decided that he didn't think it was right that Han Solo, clearly one of the "good guys", should outright blast Greedo under the table.
But is Han really one of the "good guys" at that point in the film?
Now, before I go any further I should note that of course Han Solo becomes one of the heroes of the films. I have no question about that. My question is about where he starts, and in that regard I do have a fairly serious issue to raise.
At the start of Star Wars, Han Solo is a smuggler, operating on the fringes of the Empire. Now that, by itself, isn't a mark against him, what with the Empire being eeeevil and since the reason he's an outlaw is apparently that he rescued Chewie from slavery. No problem there.
But where I think there is a problem is the other thing we know about Han. The reason Greedo comes after Han is that Jabba the Hutt has put a bounty on his head because Han was carrying a shipment for him, was boarded by the Empire, and so had to dump his cargo to get away. That cargo being illegal glitterstim from the Spice Mines of Kessel.
Han Solo is a drug runner for a vile gangster. He's only on the outs because of a deal gone bad. I'm really not sure how that squares with him being one of the "good guys".
(Again, I need to make clear - I have no problem with Han then going on to become one of the good guys. That's just a classic redemption arc and entirely reasonable. It's just the start point that's an issue.)
I also thought it was quite instructive to consider Rhett Butler from "Gone With the Wind", who as we know is one of the very significant inspirations for Han. (Indeed, GWtW as a whole is clearly a significant influence on SW, as indeed is the American Civil War as a whole.)
Rhett Butler is also a smuggler and a scoundrel (sorry, varmint). However, in his case he mostly smuggles food and war materiél in and cotton out, which is considerably more benign than illegal drugs. (Let's leave aside for now that he was smuggling them to the Confederacy. I don't really want to get into the question of "good guys" and "bad guys" in history, and besides...)
However, while the items Rhett smuggles may be a bit more benign, there are other things that clearly aren't. Specifically, he most definitely engages in some horrific profiteering from the war, charging absurd sums (and making huge amounts of money) from doing so - and it entirely open and unrepentant about that. But, also, he makes no bones of taking his employer's money, investing it in materiél that he then stores in warehouses in England to be brought in later at an even more inflated cost. (And when the war ends, that means he's left holding all this stuff, and therefore profiting accordingly.)
Rhett's hardly one of the "good guys" either. And, unlike Han, although he does get somewhat better over the course of the novel, he never really has the same redemption and so remains at least somewhat ambiguous. "Gone With the Wind" is actually quite an interesting read in that regard.
(Another of the many ways I think GL went wrong with the SW prequels was in the timing. I rather suspect the prequel trilogy should have ended much closer to the start of the originals. The plot should probably have had the Outer Rim planets rebelling against the Empire, probably led by Tattooine (a lush, green planet), while Alderaan maintains a studious neutrality until the last film when it finally sides with the Empire. Anakin should fall at the end of the second film, with the third film showing the emergence of Darth Vader and the end of the war, and in particular the ecological devastation of Tattooine. And we should probably see a young Han Solo seeing his dreams of a free Confederacy gradually being crushed, leaving him the disillusioned cynic we see at the start of episode IV. Oh, and the twins should probably be born some time in the second film and then 'killed' due to Obi-wan's negligence, thus bringing about the conflict between master and apprentice. Or something like that.)