Lucas says Han shooting first in the Mos Eisley cantina — which is what happened in the original edit of 1977’s debut Star Wars film — ran against the character’s principles. “Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’” Lucas asks. “Because I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, ‘Yeah, he should be John Wayne.’ And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first] — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.”
Because I’ve read The Secret History of Star Wars, I have a hard time believing that George knew that Han and Leia were going to get together in 1977. When they made the first movie, Leia wasn’t Luke’s sister. When they made the first movie, Darth Vader wasn’t even Luke’s father. That all got added later.
The reference to John Wayne is also nonsense. In the first place, I don’t know what John Wayne movies Lucas is remembering, but it’s not El Dorado:
Note that in this scene, The Duke isn’t even about to be attacked. He shoots first to stop somebody from killing someone else that he doesn’t even know.
Because heroism means taking risk to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Sometimes that means shooting first.
But even that’s irrelevant, because Han Solo is nothing like a John Wayne character. John Wayne sometimes played guys who were morally solid, sometimes guys who were morally questionable, but always guys who cared and had a code. Solo, in the first movie, cares about nothing but his own neck. He is clear an unequivocal about that. He’s not actively malevolent, but morally neutral. His arc, over the course of three films, is him coming to realize that there are in fact things he cares about more than his own life. But his big character surprise in A New Hope – doubling back to save a friend – is the same thing the Man With No Name does in A Fistful of Dollars.
Solo isn’t the hero. Luke is the hero. Solo is the anti-hero who gets redeemed.
And George Lucas is the guy that has been retconning Star Wars for so long, he doesn’t know where to stop.