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In The Empire Strikes Back, when Lando sells out Han and the good guys to the Empire he arranges a meeting where he leads Han, Leia, and Chewbacca into an ambush. When the doors open and Han sees who is in the room, he reacts immediately and shoots at Vader. Why does he do this? Is Vader so well known as a bad guy or is it because he recognizes him from the few seconds he saw him escaping the death star?

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    Yes Vader is well known, also 3 years have passed since New Hope...would be odd for Han to be a member of the Rebellion and not know who such a leading figure in the empire is. And he is wearing Stormtrooper-ish armor amongst stormstroopers ... by his different appearance you can deduct that he is an important player and therefor a priority target.
    – A.bakker
    Nov 7, 2020 at 9:51
  • Only two people in the universe can do that, and up to that point in 1980, one of them was always a hologram. Maybe somebody told him the odds. "But remember, when you watch [ESB], you are watching" the second offering ever made in the SW universe. No body in the universe knows that these hooky religions are actually a thing, except four people: Yoda, Vader, Palpatine, and Obi. - Even his own commanders didn't know he could choke 'em through the TV....
    – Mazura
    Sep 16, 2022 at 21:51
  • @Mazura "you are watching" the second offering ever made in the SW universe" Unless you count the Holiday Special, the Star Wars comic, and Splinter of the Mind's Eye. I may be missing a few things.
    – Pete
    Jul 16, 2023 at 4:49

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Most rebels would recognize Darth Vader in the same way that many WWII soldiers would have recognized Hitler, even though they never saw him in the flesh. Photos and verbal descriptions would be enough. But Han had seen Vader fighting Obi Wan on the Death Star, and then he joined the rebellion for several years. It is a near certainty that during this time someone in the rebellion would have briefed Han up on the giant guy in all black armor that he saw, assuming of course that Han didn't already know who Vader was since presumably someone that high up in the Empire would be relatively famous.

As to why Han's reaction would be to draw and shoot as fast as he did: instinct. Despite what George Lucas would have you believe with his silly retcon, Han Solo was happy to shoot first and dispatch a dangerous enemy if the opportunity presented itself. When suddenly faced with such an immediate and deadly threat, Han's first instinct was to shoot.

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  • Thanks for responding seriously. It was always something that stuck in my mind that Han shot immediately with the best reaction time you could have. Not sure why the down votes from the randoms.
    – SDH
    Nov 8, 2020 at 4:05
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    Yes, Han was super quick on the draw--quicker than a person would really be likely to be. But remember, when you watch Star Wars, you are watching heroic fantasy. The characters are larger than life and cannot be held to the same standards to which you'd hold a character in, say, a detective movie where the limits of realism define the clues and the solution.
    – ruffdove
    Nov 11, 2020 at 15:01
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    Note that Han draws and puts three shots on-target enough that Vader has to actively block them before most people in the scene have time to process the surprise, while putting himself between Leia and Vader. Bad. Ass. Dec 18, 2020 at 12:37
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According to the new canon novelisation of A New Hope, Han know of Darth Vader (from rumours and hearsay) well before he met Luke and Obi-Wan.

Seeing him fighting with Kenobi on the Death Star I is the first time that he's directly encountered Vader, but his armour and stature are apparently immediately recognisable.

Two figures—one as black and shiny as a smear of oil, the other hooded in a thick brown cloak—circled each other. Their lightsabers vibrated in their hands, as different from each other as their owners were. One was sky blue, the other crimson—like burning blood.

So that was Darth Vader, huh? Always terrifying to realize rumors weren’t exaggerated. The man—creature—thing was a giant, towering over the old man. His armor looked thick enough to keep him alive even in the freezing vacuum of space. The lights on his chest panel flickered, the way a droid’s would.


The canon comic Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes (set directly between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back) makes it clear that Vader is immediately recognisable by Chewie as well.

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