Let me just say, before I go any further, that I acknowledge the fact that George Lucas has every right to fiddle as much as he wants to with his movies (since he created them, owns them, etc.). I also reserve my own right to say that much of that fiddling has curbed my enthusiasm for the franchise (I haven’t actually sat through an entire movie — even my old VHS copies of the original versions — in almost a decade).
I also reserve my right to throw my hat into the ring as a Han-Shot-First kinda guy. Personally, in context of the story, it not only makes sense, but I always thought it essential to the story arc of his character. His decision to turn around and join the Battle of Yavin at the last moment has more meaning.
The story arc is even stronger in the thirteen episode radio play (almost 6 hours) where so much of the story is driven by what the characters say (audio) vs. what they do (visual). Han is much more of a shady and untrustworthy character at the outset than he is in the movie (even before George started fiddling). Obi-wan does make few interesting observations that set the stage for both Luke and Princess Leia having conversations with Han on Yavin trying to convince him to fight.
And in that moment when Han does show up at the end to allow Luke enough time to fire off his shot to destroy the Death Star, I got just as many goose bumps as I did in the movie theatre, despite knowing how everything ends and despite not having all those fantastic visuals.
There are several things going in the Radio Drama’s favor.
- The script was written by Brian Daley (who wrote the Han Solo Adventures). His superior writing skills (when compared to George) and his familiarity with the early expanded universe made him perfect for this role.
- The Radio Drama had access to both John Williams’ music and the special sound effects of Brian Burtt.
- There are some seriously cool episode titles like "A Wind to Shake the Stars," "While Giants Mark Time," and "The Jedi Nexus."
- Star Wars was inspired by the episodic serials of early Hollywood. The Radio Drama actually allows it to be an episodic serial.
- There are a lot of interesting background stories that get filled in that are suggested by the film, but are never dealt with.
- As a result we get to see Dark Vader as the seriously evil bad guy that he was always meant to be.
- Mark Hamill (one of the two original cast members available to do the play) is a better voice actor than he is a screen actor (being my favorite Joker of all time).
- The other is Anthony Daniels. Both lend enough audial familiarity that you don’t mind not having the rest of the cast.
- George Lucas actually sold the rights to KUSC (reportedly for one dollar). He therefore cannot fiddle with this production as he has with the films.
Therefore, if (like me) you prefer Han shooting first, then take a listen. I know I will be going back to the Radio Drama a lot sooner and a lot more often than I will the movie.