Thursday, April 24, 2014

30 for 30: Bad Boys

What’s always most struck me about the Detroit Pistons infamously walking off the court in the waning moments of their series-ending Game 4 loss to the Chicago Bulls in 1991 without shaking the hands of Michael Jordan and cronies was how it so perfectly fit the Bad Boys’ storyline. For all intents and purposes, that was the end of the Bad Boys era and thus, their final act – defiant, classless, giving a Motor City middle finger to His Airness.

It was indescribably appropriate and eternal ammunition for Bad Boys haters, and the thing is, the Bad Boys never minded offering that ammunition. They thrived on it. They were cheap shot artists but they were not frauds. A few years later, my favorite Bad Boy, my favorite basketball player ever, Dennis Rodman, playing for the San Antonio Spurs, laid a horrific cheap shot on John Stockton of the Utah Jazz. But he laid it openly, refusing to mask his intentions, and so the media labeled Rodman the ultimate villain (not incorrect) while holding up Stockton as a wronged paragon of virtue. A few years after that a poll was taken of those in the league regarding its dirtiest players. The Top Two? Dennis Rodman and John Stockton. Rodman was himself, for better or worse. Stockton played dumb and hid in the shadows.


Chuck Klosterman has argued that everything in a male’s nature comes down to whether he rooted for the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980’s NBA. Well, I rooted for neither. I rooted for the Detroit Pistons. I was Divergent. After all, I hailed from the Midwest, and if one more coastal elite called us “flyover country”…… Wedged between the greatest rivalry in the league’s history, Magic vs. Bird, and Michael Jordan’s six-time dynasty were back-to-back championship banners raised by the Bad Boys. They might be the most unknown greatest team of all time, or the most ignominious greatest team of all time. They prided themselves on defense, which wasn’t exactly sexy in the offensive light show of the Me Decade, though they could certainly pile up points with anyone, and they played a physical and physically grotesque brand of basketball that hackneyed sports columnists would probably claim wasn’t “the right way” to play the game. They were also a team of characters – genuine characters, complex and fascinating, which is at odds with the force-fed black & white narratives of most sports journalism.

Director Zak Levitt yearns to give this team its due, and does, chronicling its rise from moribund franchise to upstart challenger to the league’s kings to eventual king itself, and all the pieces and personalities that went into it. The centerpiece of their turnaround was Isiah Thomas, a Chicago native who would become Chicago’s foremost enemy, a gleeful irony that perfectly complements Thomas’s high-watt smile. That smile was the ultimate emblem of the Bad Boys. It wasn’t necessarily masking the metaphorical knife in his hand as much as it was reveling at the metaphorical knife in his hand, and daring you to do something about it. You probably wouldn’t. And he knew it. In fact, listening to Thomas, and especially to Bill Laimbeer, Public Enemy #1, the guy who makes supposed “enforcers” of today’s NBA look like chess players at Caltech, you might find yourself incensed, but you might also find yourself refreshed by their candidness. Laimbeer may speak in monotone but he pulls no punches, akin to his attitude on the court. It’s a league anymore of yawn-inducing sound bites – “One game at a time”, “No ‘I’ in team”, “Get back to fundamentals” – but Laimbeer says what he means and means what he says. He always did. Most people didn’t like it. He loved that you didn’t like it. You can tell he still does.

One of the ideas that drove the Bad Boys and that drives “Bad Boys” is the idea of what a champion is a “supposed” to be. Because the Pistons openly wore the Black Hat (and in a couple shots Laimbeer literally wears a black hat, one of which finds him simultaneously embracing the Championship Trophy) and because they unabashedly used thuggish tactics and because their overall attitude was Us vs. Everyone Else, they were often seen as not being respectable titleholders. Look no further than the NBA's ultimate emissary, Michael Jordan, who still clearly, and not wrongly, harbors a grudge.

Yet, in a sport rife with egos and selfishness, the Bad Boys, viewed through a single prism likely more than any champion in league history, were also perhaps the ultimate manifestation of unselfish, loving team basketball. For instance, much is made of how the Pistons viewed themselves as a family. When the problematic Adrian Dantley, upset he was losing minutes to the more defensive-minded Rodman, refused to exit a game at coach Chuck Daly’s request, he was quickly traded. The trade, however, was for notoriously pouty Mark Aguirre, to whom Laimbeer says: “I don’t like you. But Isiah vouches for you.” Sentence one denotes utter honesty. Sentence two denotes an almost mafia-esque family atmosphere. And because Isiah vouched for Aguirre, he was accepted into the family, and the team went on to Title #2.

This is a diametric that almost defies belief, and one that the film, I think, only tangentially connects to the larger legacy of the Pistons, a legacy rarely given its due because it included thumbing their noses at the NBA fraternity. Much of the film is merely a traditional telling of an untraditional team's rise and fall, but it hints at and occasionally comments on the overridding truth - that the Bad Boys were a magnificent outlier, a team of mean-spirited straight-shooters, a united collective of rugged individualists.

Among the interviewed is the New York Knicks’ Patrick Ewing. He laments how dirty the Pistons played. Of course, a little more than a month ago, on another “30 for 30” installment, “Requiem For The Big East”, it was Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown teams who were accused by everyone else of being dirty. “We weren’t dirty,” Ewing said on camera in that film. Ah, athletes, the tall tales they tell and the lies they stifle in hopes of fine-tuning their public image. All except the Bad Boys. They didn’t care what anyone else thought. Right down to the Chicago Bulls walk-off, they were themselves. It’s why they are the only professional sports team I ever have and ever will love.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Michael Bay, Vintage 2014

A review of the teaser trailer for "Transformers: Age of Extinction" by Jacques Smelling in this month's Bon Appétit Magazine...


"Flabby notes of trench coats ominously flapping in the breeze."



"Tart tones of fast-moving SUV's kicking up dust." 


"A rather briery Slow Motion Explosion Flee."


"Frustratingly acidic contractually obligated 'OH MY GOD!!!!!' from respected actor."


"Quick pan of concerned, frenzied hair female with American flag in background. Unevolved. Undrinkable."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Armstrong Lie

If we took all the dialogue from “The Armstrong Lie”, typed it up in a Word document and then performed a comprehensive search for the most-repeated phrase, it would have to be, hands down, “At the time”, a phrase spoken exclusively by its subject, seven-time Tour de France champion, cancer survivor and notorious liar and cheat Lance Armstrong. The story is beyond well-documented. For more than a decade, Armstrong vigorously denied all accusations that he utilized illegal means to win the most prestigious of all bike races more than anyone in history, until he finally reversed course in 2013 and confessed. “At the time,” he says, “it didn’t feel wrong.” “At the time,” he recounts, “I didn’t lose sleep over it.” “I know that now,” he advises relating to some spectacular fib. “I didn’t at the time.” In other words, he was so deep down the rabbit hole of lies, he could not – at the time – tell fact from fiction in his own mind. Now, he does. But does he?

At the time, however, is a phrase that could also be applied to director Alex Gibney’s overall project. He began the documentary in 2009 to chronicle Armstrong’s attempts to come back after a four-year layoff and win his eighth Tour de France. This was a point when Armstrong was often accused of wrongdoing but before he had admitted to it, and in advance of both the Federal and US Anti-Doping Agency Investigations in the ensuing years that led to his downfall. Gibney openly roots for an Armstrong win, as much in the capacity of a fan as a filmmaker, seeking the perfect capstone to his movie. Eventually, after Armstrong’s interview with Oprah in which he confessed (mostly) to his maelstrom of falsities, Gibney returned to the film, re-crafting it from the viewpoint of someone who had been duped.


In that way, Gibney, heard in voiceover throughout, questioning himself almost as much as his subject, comes to represent the general public and the way it (we?) bought into the lie. Gibney lays out the substantial amount of evidence against Armstrong, though ultimately the intent is not so much to prove Armstrong’s guilt as to portray him as dishonest. Again and again, Gibney and his editors cut from Armstrong in the past toeing the company line about how he has never once tested positive to Armstrong in the present discussing how he doped and got away with it. The Armstrong Lie was not a one-time deal, the film is saying, but perpetual……fiercely perpetual. He browbeat reporters, slandered teammates, shunned friends, leaving virtually no line uncrossed in ensuring his lie was furthered. He went so far as to falsely call his former masseuse Emma O’Reilly an “alcoholic” and a “prostitute” when she alleged he lied. He has since apologized but, of course, we are left to assume that “at the time” it seemed completely logical in his own mind to grossly slander an innocent woman.

His contrition is also undercut by the typical athlete copout, the same refrain you hear from petulant pre-schoolers, the one that goes “Everybody was doing it!” Well, to be fair, everybody was doing it. Sort of. Armstrong and his teammates were not doing it – at least, not at first, not in the early 90’s. And because they weren’t doing it, they weren’t winning, and in order to begin winning, they had to do it and they did. Go EPO or Go Home. Indeed, Gibney takes care in portraying the sport as one that breeds cheating on account of heads conveniently looking the other way and its necessity The nomenclature of the sport, as with so many sports, is often revolting, such as the Michele Ferrari, a doctor infamous for his ties to cheating who becomes Armstrong’s foremost ally. He refers unironically to Armstrong’s “engine”, how powerful it was and what was needed to increase that power even more, reducing the human cyclist to race car terminology, a commodity.

The gravest irony, of course, and the one that can so easily get lost, is that Armstrong is a cancer survivor. It’s incredible and commendable, and yet certain evidence points toward Armstrong’s doping being the actual cause of the cancer he defeated. Simultaneously, “The Armstrong Lie” makes clear that his Livestrong campaign was a roaring success in earning money for victims of cancer and cancer research. One shot finds Armstrong reclining in a private plane in a Panama hat perusing the “Marketplace” section of a newspaper. His tee shirt, though? It’s for Livestrong. It’s like a cinematic portrait of The Good Thief.

Which is why it’s not a stretch to believe the public might have forgiven Armstrong if he hadn’t been such a bully. The majority of the public and the media, Gibney seems to be saying, wanted to embrace Armstrong, which is why it let itself be strung along. It’s why Gibney intended to chronicle the 2009 comeback and why he found himself so swept up in rooting for his subject to win. The story is irresistible. It was so irresistible that Armstrong did everything in his power to maintain its fiction as reality. He may have acknowledged the truth but his ruthless tactics, willful defamation of those he once called friends and even his defiance today seem to leave him beyond forgiveness.

We like our heroes flawed. We don’t like our heroes to be assholes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Joe

The name Joe denotes such a certain kind of American masculinity, the kind that drives GMC’s and has a hard labor job to do and beers to drink after it’s done and perhaps a punch or two to throw in between, that it has rendered a sizable idiom within the lexicon. And “Joe”, the seventh feature film of eclectic Texan filmmaker David Gordon Green, is awash in this masculinity, being as how it revolves almost exclusively around combustible males, in particular a father, a father figure and the young boy caught between two who is fighting to come of age in a place where hanging on seems the best for which one could possibly hope.


That young boy is Gary, a 15 year old with a home life so unstable he may as well be a vagrant. He is played by Tye Sheridan, and while the role may not sound like much of a departure from his work in another recent southern-fried film, the extraordinary “Mud” of 2013, upon closer inspection, he is playing this part with a whole different bent. Sheridan may be older here but he feels younger, less self-assured and less resourceful, purposely a product of his sketchy environment. Still, he’s smart enough to know he doesn’t want to end up like his driftless old man, and so when he stumbles upon a wooded job site one day, he clamors for a job on the crew.

So often work at the movies is mere window dressing, like the newspaper columnist without any deadlines, but the work in “Joe” is real, not just in the manual labor intensity of it but in the way it drives and lifts up and puts down these tough-talking men. The title character, a noble if complicated soul, played by a disheveled Nicolas Cage with a downhome goodwill that masks and eventually gives way to a hotheadedness that the actor makes clear he prefers, runs a ragtag company in Texas that is hired by lumber companies to poison trees past their prime to make them easier to chop down. These early scenes have a remarkable atmospheric rhythm, a fatigue the back-breaking work creates but also the dignity the mere notion of employment engenders.

These are prideful men, aware of their flaws, literally trying to work them out through the work, and it is almost exclusively men. Women hover, barely, in the background, reduced to browbeaten wives as well as whores whom Joe regularly visits as another means to exercise the demons within. A girl he’s seeing, sort of, suggests how proper it might be if they got dressed up one night and went to dinner. It smells like a payoff. It isn’t. His heart is gracious, it’s not gold.


The film is based on a 1991 novel by Larry Brown, yet its similarities to “Gran Torino” are noticeable. That was the 2008 Clint Eastwood opus tracking a grizzly man who becomes not only an unlikely mentor to a young protégé, but sacrifices himself to, in essence, protégé a way from a no-way-out situation. “Joe’s” plot shares a similar tract, and even works in a symbolic vehicle of its own, as Joe himself becomes untraditional mentor and while the ultimate catharsis feels genuine, the plotting is somewhat incongruous. For instance, the character of Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins), is an apparition of antagonism, drifting in and out of the picture, only appearing if confrontation is required for story advancement. Joe himself, meanwhile, is bestowed a sense of fatalism that so neatly aligns with the film’s concluding turns, it becomes less fatalistic by the end than pre-ordained luxury.

The soul of the film, paradoxically, is its most despicable character, Wade, the father of Gary, played by Gary Poulter, a non-actor whom Green literally plucked off the street (and who has an incredible and incredibly sad real life tale). There is virtually nothing to redeem him. He is in poverty and willing to steal from his own son just to have a few bucks. He is an alcoholic and willing to beat a homeless man for a bottle. Cash and Liquor come before Blood and work of any sort – let alone hard work – are impenetrable concepts to him. The last one would appear “Joe’s” primary interest, a degenerate who retains an almost wicked sense of entitlement contrasted against a son desperate to prove self-worth.

It’s an ancient tale – sons paying for the sins of the father. Which might suggest story obviousness on the part of “Joe” but then part of its aim is to demonstrate how the cycle consumes – how the son claims he won’t follow in his father’s un-heroic footsteps, only to follow in them anyway. Overcoming where we come from by being who we are is no simple task, yet with a little help from Joe, it appears possible Gary might just succeed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964)

Jesus of Nazareth was not unlike Uncle Tupelo. That might seem an obscure (misguided?) reference, comparing the son of God to a three-person band at the forefront of the so called alternative-country music movement of the early 90’s, but then Jesus was actually fairly obscure in his own era. It was what he preached, who he influenced and the legacy they and others engendered that we all remember. In their own era, Uncle Tupelo were also fairly obscure, but they came to be remembered more for their influence on the genre and their legacy. That legacy does not stretch quite as far as Christ’s, a statement which probably requires the most grandiose recitation of “but that goes without saying” in this blog’s history, but the point to which I’m building prevails – “The Gospel According To St. Matthew” is not necessarily interested in Jesus’s influence over the 2,000 years that followed, but what cultivated that staggering influence.


As an atheist, Pier Paolo Pasolini, ironically, turned out to be the perfect individual to helm a story about Christ. This is not to suggest Pasolini attempts to insert non-Christian ideology into his interpretation of a particular New Testament Gospel, far from it, but that he resisted preachy and point-making affectations. After all, this was 1964, in the midst of Italian Neo-Realism, and so Pasolini brings hardcore verisimilitude to the extravagant drama of the life and death and resurrection of the King of the Jews. Often it comes across in the vein of a documentary, a filmmaker on location in Galilee and Judea at the opportune moment when this man proclaiming the Kingdom of God was on its way turned up to minister.

Consider the angel who appears to Joseph in the earliest passages, advising the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. It is not a hovering, shimmering, harp-playing angel of the front-lawn nativity scenes to which many are accustomed, but a simple woman dressed in white, no different from anyone else, except that she suddenly pops up in Pasolini’s shots as if conjured by the snap of a finger. She says what she’s gotta say and then she’s gone. The heavenly hosts have never been so un-majestic. This goes for all the infamous miracles documented by St. Matthew, such as the walking on the water, a feat recorded by Pasolini’s camera with such pragmatism, it will likely make your jaw drop in the manner of the disciples, and drop further than if it had been ornamented with glossy special effects or a swelling score.

And while Pasolini does utilize classical pieces for a traditional accompanying score, he also serves Odette’s spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” at regular intervals, a bold choice that both underscores the suffering of Jesus and the hope his message would be heard. It also brought home, for me, a fairly clear-cut comparison with Spike Lee’s behemoth of a biopic, “Malcolm X”, at least if you discount the first act. Churches and homes for Christians are often adorned with the stock portraits of Jesus with flowing locks and a peaceful air, a presentation which does not necessarily jibe with his presentation in scripture. He’s not just a prophet, he’s a rabble-rouser, a rebel, a fiery orator on the street, not at all unlike Brother Malcolm, and Enrique Irazoquoi, who had never acted, his hair chopped short, is not at all passive, just aggressive. And just like Lee’s Malcolm X, who turns fatalistic by the end, as if expecting his martyrdom, this Jesus seems to know that the harder he pushes, the more certain his death becomes, a death that will only work to spur his message to greater heights.


That death, nailed to the cross, is much more delicately handled than the incendiary “Passion of the Christ.” That it’s happening appears more than enough to convey what it means, that he is glimpsed afterwards by the believers appears more than enough to do the same. Yet that glimpse is not unlike the angel who appears to Joseph in the early going – a snippet of a shot, lickety split, perhaps leaving open the concept of the resurrection being a spiritual reality as opposed to a reality reality.

The reality of Pasolini is that while he was an atheist, he was also a Marxist, yet he went on record as saying “My film is a reaction against the conformity of Marxism. The mystery of life and death and suffering—and particularly of religion— is something which Marxists do not want to consider.” It’s not just that you have to commend him for venturing so far outside his wheelhouse, but that you have to admire him for not making that statement overt within the film. How could he have? All the dialogue is culled directly from Matthew’s text. Those who rejected the film on its anti-Marxist tone are also rejecting the scripture, which is fine, but those rejections go hand-in-hand.

One of the most telling passages is The Sermon on the Mount. It lasts for a full five minutes, quick-cutting from day to night to day to night, and the camera is pressed in on Christ’s face the entire time. His followers carried on the message and the writers of the gospels helped to spread and amplify it, and centuries passed and the message still moves and now Jesus is an institution, a savior and a Superstar. Once upon a time, however, he was merely an ornery man with a lot to say.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Best Eggs In Movie History


Eggs ‘round about this time of the year tend to be less about how you want them done and more about symbolizing that one Fella’s resurrection from way back when, and the idea of eggs connoting Christness has a small if storied cinematic tradition. Luke Jackson, or “Cool Hand Luke”, may have merely been an inmate, but he also willingly suffered through eating a grand total of fifty eggs and in the wake of doing so was laid out on a table like Christ on the crucifixion. Rocky Balboa waking up at an ungodly hour in North Philly, cracking eggs and eating them raw was amusing, but it also signaled his rebirth into the Italian Stallion, the man who nearly wrests the heavyweight title from Apollo Creed. Still, I would contend these cinematic eggs don’t have quite the same significant scope as others divvied up at the movies. Remember, not all of America – not to mention, you know, the world – practices Christianity, and so the egg whites and their trusty yolks probably mean something more universal to most. I’m talking about that to which so many patrons of so many churches will adjourn posthaste following conclusion of their forthcoming Sunday morning services. I’m talking about breakfast.

You know how in sitcoms characters are always sitting around a pristinely clean table, reading the paper, eating a full meal of toast, sausage links and perfectly scrambled eggs, sipping coffee and juice, and then inevitably looking at their watch and blithely noting “I’m going to be late”? Yeah, they’re never going to be late. Unless the plot dictates it, because it’s a sitcom and everything is perfect. But breakfast is never this perfect.


There are several notable motifs throughout the Coen Brothers memorable “Fargo” but among the most notable is Food. Over and over we see our lovable central couple, Marge and Norm Gunderson (Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch), helping themselves to heaps of Midwestern culinary delights. After all, Marge is pregnant and Norm must show solidarity, by which I mean he’s kind of a minor glutton. If there is a pre-eminent comestible moment, it involves Marge, police chief of the small Minnesota town where they reside, being summoned one very early morning by phone. As she rises from bed, Norm, still mostly in his slumber, mumbles, “I’ll fix ya some eggs.” She tells him he can go back to sleep. “Ya gotta eat a breakfast,” he says as a means to decline. “I’ll fix ya some eggs.” Again, she politely reminds him he can keep sleeping. Again, he replies “I’ll fix ya some eggs.” So he fixes her some eggs and they sit at their kitchen table, eating those eggs in silence, apart from the flat rhythms of their chewing.

What follows has become famous – that is, Marge departs and in a lone extended take we watch her in the background as she goes outside, climbs in her car, tries to start it, fails on account of the significant cold, walks back inside and advises Norm that she needs a jump. Just as intriguing, though, is Norm throughout the same shot, continuing to eat his eggs in the foreground, a Midwesterner just going about the most important meal of the day. And this is breakfast. This is how it looks. A little nook alongside a window. Two people sharing a comfortable and ongoing silence at the crack of dawn over some eggs. No jokes. No monologues. Heck, the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.



Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) of “Revolutionary Road” are a bit different. Johnnie Walker Red is a motif more prominent than food, and they prefer emphatic arguments as opposed to silence. They have, in fact, just the previous evening, had their most significant row yet. It would seem their marriage, their dream of fleeing to Paris, their everything has reached a tipping point.

Frank is dressed for work. April, newly pregnant, is in a maternity dress, smiling, content, the embodiment, one might say, of the Eisenhower-era suburban housewife. She says: “Would you like scrambled eggs or fried?” He smiles, almost taken aback at the calm. He decides scrambled. She says she’ll have scrambled too. They sit at the table and placidly eat their scrambled eggs, and she starts asking him questions. Questions about his “important day” and his “conference” at work and then she starts asking him about just what he’ll be “doing” in lieu of this “important” “conference”. And he explains. And she listens. And golly gee willickers, it just seems so swell. That's the word he actually uses. Swell. It’s the breakfast of sitcoms and happy pappy films. And it’s a lie, an utter lie, a smiley-face that's purposely bitch-slapping everyone in sight (April's line "It's really quite interesting, isn't it?" has got to be just about the most maniacal skewering of everyday America ever uttered). We'll save the specifics for those who have not seen it nor read the book, but suffice it to say that things take a turn toward negative town.

This is the dueling nature, the false ideal and the humdrum reality, of the Great American Breakfast. We yearn for the eggs to be done up in a perfect Monaco Omelet (tomatoes, red peppers and flakes of gold), a representation of our perfect life underscored by our perfect day which will kick off with the perfect breakfast. Instead, we are standard issue, sitting at a standard issue table, eating eggs to get our standard issue protein and face yet another standard issue day (and find out the Prowler needs a jump).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Han Shot

In “Veronica Decides To Die” Paulo Coelho wrote that “there is always a gap between intention and action.” If, however, anyone were capable of taking, say, a Navicomputer keyboard and wedging it between the intention and the action, thereby rendering that gap obsolete, it would definitely be the irascible spice smuggler Han Solo, which was what popped into my head when I read about Harrison Ford’s recent Reddit Q&A. He was inevitably asked for his thoughts on whether or not Han shot at Greedo first in “Star Wars: Episode IV.” Ever curmudgeonly, Ford replied (and you could hear the growl from Corellia), “I don’t know and I don’t care.”


To a certain breed of cinema devotees, the story is not merely familiar but probably played out – still, some may need context, and so we will provide it. In the original “Star Wars” of 1977, before “A New Hope” was woefully tacked on, we were essentially introduced to Ford’s Han Solo at the cantina in Mos Eisley where a bounty hunter named Greedo, his laser blaster drawn, sits down across from Solo to collect the mark on his head. Solo, coolly, draws his own laser blaster out of sight beneath the table and blasts Greedo down. Han not only shoots first, he’s the only one who shoots, most likely – as scholars note in their scholarly language – because he’s, like, a total badass, man. Unfortunately, upon the “Special Edition” release of 1997, Grand Chancellor George Lucas chose to make a notable change – that is, Greedo shoots first, somehow splaying his laser blast badly to the side of Han’s head and clearing the way for Han to get off his own shot. Or, to say it another way, Han Shot Second.

Aside from Lucas, grievous Lucas apologists and Skywalker Ranch Yes Men, no one cared for this revision, though some expressed their dislike for it more extravagantly than others. The creators of a website, for instance, with the expository name of HanShootsFirst.org went so far as to enact a petition officially calling for Greedo’s first shot to be revoked. The revision has been referenced with extreme distaste in Kevin Smith films and on the just shuttered “How I Met Your Mother.” Timothy Olyphant as Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (a man who knows a thing or two about drawing first) knew that Han shot first. Go to a comic con, bellow through a megaphone that Greedo shot first, sit back, and watch the righteous spittle fly. And hey, I’ve long been pro-Han Shot First, thinking that it crucially underscored his character’s laconic cool. Except that hearing the man who brought Han to life growl that not only didn’t he know who shot first but that he didn’t care who shot first, I realized that I too didn’t care who shot first.

Lucas has gone on record in the years since with some sort of marble-mouthed blarney about how even in 1977 he intended for Greedo to shoot first, but no one’s buying it and it doesn’t matter anyway. In spite of the laser blast addendum, what Lucas could not change in his “Special Edition” was Ford’s demeanor. That was baked in and it was everything, because ultimately what this scene comes down to is not its mechanics but its philosophical underpinnings. The only way in which Lucas could have altered the philosophy of this moment would have been to somehow CGI it so that Han kept his blaster holstered and Greedo’s laser magically ricocheted off the wall and hit himself in the face. (I fear I may have just given Lucas an idea for the “Star Wars Maxima Cum Laude Edition”.)

In other words, the point isn’t that Han shot first. Han’s intention and subsequent action, minus the gap that he brazenly rejects, was to shoot, and he would tell you in no uncertain terms that in the same situation he shoot again. Or as the green dude from Dagobah might have put it: shoot or shoot not, there is no shoot first.