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Adaptational Self-Defense

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Dunc T'racen: Alderaan shot first.
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A form of characterization resulting from Executive Meddling used to prevent a hero character from seeming too sadistic. Normally, the original scene is a typical example of Shoot the Dog; in the edited version of the scene, it's basically self-defense meets Karmic Death, even if the original shooting was in self-defense. Some call it Bowdlerising, some call it necessary, and it has spawned the "Han Shot First" meme.

Here's how it might play out:

Original scene:

Goodie and Baddie struggle on edge of building. Goodie drops Baddie off edge of building.

Edited scene:

Goodie and Baddie struggle on edge of building. Baddie winds up hanging from the arm of Goodie. Baddie shoots at Goodie while hanging onto his arm; Goodie, while dodging the bullet, is forced to let the Baddie fall.

Sometimes this trope comes into play without Executive Meddling. The writer assumes that the audience will lose sympathy with a hero who kills preemptively (and in some case might be accurate, if the audience feels the hero was portrayed in a way that such an action would be against character).

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For other ways to accomplish something unpleasant while keeping the hero's hands clean, see Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work or Poisonous Friend.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Inverted in Mazinkaiser, a reimagination of Mazinger Z. In the OVA, Dr. Hell dies because his base exploded while he was trying to escape. When Go Nagai penned the Mazinkaiser manga, Kouji shoots him in an abrupt, albeit iconic and stylized, sequence.
  • The 2011 Hunter × Hunter anime does this with a villain. In the manga, Hisoka kills several Hunter Exam competitors, mostly For the Lulz ("playing examiner"). In this version, they ambush him because they deem him too evil to become a Hunter. He still mostly kills them For the Lulz, though; they couldn't have actually harmed him much, given how powerful he is.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: In the HD Remaster, Nicol's death was reanimated to make it appear largely accidental. In the original, he attacks, his target counters, and he's killed. In the remake, he attacks, his target dodges, and his attack carries him into his target's sword, which kills him. Here's a comparison video.
  • In the original Light Novel of The Rising of the Shield Hero, Raphtalia is confronted with the noble who had tortured and enslaved her. She stabs him and throws him out a window. In the anime adaptation, she instead chooses to spare him, claiming that killing him would make her no better than him. The noble then pulls out a sword and tries to kill Raphtalia, prompting her to fight back (albeit with a non-lethal sword that drains mana instead of causing physical wounds), culminating in the noble tripping over his own whip, which he dropped earlier, and falling out the window.
  • In Bokurano, while Chizu is responsible for Kako's death, the degree of said responsibility depends on the adaptation. In the manga, she sees Kako beating up Kirie, then stabs Kako in the neck with a knife, killing him almost instantly. In the anime, he tries to rape her, but she pushes him away and causes him to fall down the stairs. Since Kako's hurt badly enough that he can't get up, he's killed when the aquarium is destroyed, while Chizu is able to save herself.
  • In the original Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the first murderer breaks into the bathroom Maizono locked herself in after attempting to kill him and murders her in cold blood. The manga adaptation changes it so that he was trying to calm her down, but she attacked him again and he accidentally killed her in the struggle.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Amazing Spider-Man #121, thanks to the much-debated "Snap!" sound-effect, it appears as if Spider-Man accidentally killed Gwen Stacy when she was falling by snapping her neck because he failed to properly consider the effect of snagging a person falling from a great height with his web and just holding fast. Unsatisfied with the explanation that the Green Goblin, the villain who pushed Gwen of the bridge, was obviously the man responsible for her death in any case, fans and Marvel creators endlessly continued to discuss two explanations that would leave Spider-Man not even be technically (co-)responsible for the killing of his girlfriend. One was that either Spider-Man couldn't have saved her no matter what he did, that she would have died from the fall anyway, but unfortunately that was somewhat exploded by the fact that not only did Spider-Man prove able to save Gwen's life in a What If story, but he also managed to save other people from near-identical situations in the mainstream reality. The other possible explanation used is that Gwen was already dead when her body was thrown off of a bridge. This can be seen as consistent with the evidence of ASM #121, where Gwen shows no sign of consciousness (or life?) from the beginning of the entire scene on the bridge.
    • However, a later issue of Marvel Team-Up complicates the matter once more. In this issue, Spider-Man is teamed up with the Black Widow to stop the Silver Samurai. In an effort to distract the heroes, the Silver Samurai damages the base of a nearby building that is under construction, causing a worker to fall off the roof. Spider-Man immediately leaps up the building to catch the man with his webbing, while his internal monologue is this: "Careful! Snag him smooth and let his momentum swing him towards me. No sudden jerks or his neck will snap like a dry twig. Like Gwendy's neck snapped."
  • In Infinite Crisis, Batman is holding a gun to the head of the Big Bad who has caused destruction and murder on a cosmic scale though Wonder Woman convinces him If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him. In the original release of the issue, one panel has a "CHAK" sound effect to indicate Batman chambering a round. Several fans assumed the effect indicated Batman was pulling the trigger and the villain only survived because of an empty gun, causing a small uproar. For the trade, DC opted to remove the "CHAK" entirely to avoid the confusion.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In canon, Tom Riddle deliberately set out to murder his muggle family to create a horcrux. In Limpieza de Sangre, Emily Riddle ended up at the Riddle manor by coincidence. After her grandmother convinced her to stay the night, Emily woke up to find her father standing over her with a revolver and only killed him after he ignored her insistence she'd leave in the morning and opened fire on her. She then killed her grandfather, who also entered the room with a revolver, and lastly her grandmother so she wouldn't end up in Azkaban. Even using her uncle's wand was incidental as she'd run into him and stunned the man after he crucio'd her then took his wand so he couldn't attack her again when he woke up.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars: The former trope name comes from one of the changes made from the movie's original cut to the Special Edition of A New Hope.
  • In the first James Bond film, Dr. No, Bond confronts Professor Dent. The original script called for Dent to get shot right off the bat, but execs chewed them out ("Oh, sure he has a license to kill. Just Take Our Word for It!") and the scene was changed so that Dent actually fires a gun's worth of missed bullets into a decoy before Bond interrogates him and picks him off. One snafu with this is that they took a line verbatim from the book for the new version of the scene, even though it made no sense anymore - in the book, the scene relied on Dent using a six-shot revolver (hence the Bond One-Liner of "you've had your six"), while in the movie, he runs out after six bullets with an automatic that should have held at least seven.
  • Layer Cake has this between the book and film in the protagonist's assassination of his treacherous boss. In the book, he first messily kills the guy's guard dogs and then shoots him in the head a few times for the fun of it. In the movie, the dogs live and the assassination is a single neat and bloodless shot to the head. Admittedly, the latter is presented in a pretty cool way.
  • Inverted by the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the book, Gollum bites off Frodo's finger and takes back the Ring at Mount Doom, and he goes into a ecstatic dance and falls into the lava, destroying it by accident — or rather destiny, since his fall into the "fires of Doom" was foreshadowed and predicted by Frodo himself not long before. In the movie, after Gollum bites off his finger, Frodo gets up and starts fighting Gollum for it, knocking them both off the edge where Sam rescues Frodo. Director Peter Jackson thought it was more satisfying for the audience to see Frodo actually take part in the Ring's destruction, but it lacks some of the book's irony and downplays its theme of Providence: the Ring is destroyed not through conscious will or action, but by a factor beyond the characters' control. Frodo ultimately fails in his quest, as no one would have been able to complete it, but his uncle Bilbo's sparing Gollum's life out of pity all those years ago let Gollum live so that he would cause the Ring to be destroyed.
    • For further irony: In one of Tolkien's letters, he wrote that once Frodo was released from the burden of the Ring, it stopped being such a corrupting influence. So fighting Gollum for it at that moment would have been a Moral Event Horizon.
    • Played straight in the video game adaptation of the same, though. There, Gollum ambushes the hobbits inside Mount Doom and steals the Ring, leading to Frodo fighting him as the Final Boss and personally shoving him into the lava.
  • In live action version of Hogfather, Mr. Teatime grabs Susan's sleeve, which tears and sends him falling down the tower. In the original, she briefly wonders whether he's crazy enough to try and kill the person he's holding onto, probably lampshading how this usually goes, decides he would be, and kicks him. Presumably this was changed because viewers couldn't read her thoughts in the live-action version, so they wouldn't have known her justification.
  • In the original film, Nikita, the title character is a drug-abusing psychopath who murders one cop in cold blood, stabs another through the hand with a pencil, etc. who is taken in and trained by the government into becoming an assassin, which causes her to change into a better person, providing the drama of the film. In the first television show based on the movie, La Femme Nikita, the title character is remade as a non-drug-addicted, non-psychopathic, remarkably centered street kid who is framed for a crime she did not commit before getting shunted into the secret government program. Inexplicably, it works.
    • In the next TV adaption, Nikita, a corrupt cop kills a friend of Nikita's and then she takes the cop's gun and shoots him dead. Her actions are more justified then in the film but it is still murder.
  • The film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen replaced the original Invisible Man — a serial rapist and murderer, which only differs from Wells' original novel character in that the first is confirmed rather than implied — with a burglar who'd stolen some of the first Invisible Man's potion. Granted, this was one of the film's lesser outrages, was due in part to some legal wranglings, and, in any case, asking mainstream moviegoers to accept a sex offender as a PG-13 hero wouldn't have gone over well.
  • In the original play of Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour though unable to shoot the dentist, purposefully stands back and lets the dentist suffocate in his laugh Gas Mask, even singing about how he can kill him without lifting a finger. However, in the movie remake, Seymour is clearly reluctant to shoot/kill the dentist, and the song from the play is cut out. This was probably done to make the protagonist a little more sympathetic.
    • Also applies to a later scene, where Seymour tricks Mushnik into looking inside the plant. The movie changes this to Mushnik looking inside the plant against Seymour's objections. Both of these scenes led to the original ending, where Audrey II eats Seymour, then goes on to conquer America, testing poorly.
  • Inverted in the film of The Long Goodbye as compared to Chandler's original novel in the book, Terry Lennox gets a Karma Houdini with his only punishment being his own guilt; in the film, Marlowe kills him.
  • Seen in Watchmen, the film adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. In Chapter VI ('The Abyss Gazes Also') of the graphic novel, Rorschach fatally injures a prison inmate by burning him with cooking oil. The reader is supposed to understand both that Rorschach's life is threatened and that Rorschach fatally disables his assailant pre-emptively, pre-emptively as in the inmate has his knife ready and tells him more or less that he is going to carve him up. In the film, the assailant manages to attack Rorschach first - whereupon Rorschach successfully defends himself with a metal cafeteria tray, renders the assailant senseless with the tray and then kills him with a steam table cauldron full of deep fryer oil. Within the meaning of the trope, the effect is at best ambiguous. The graphic novel's Rorschach reflexively attacks the Greedo analog first, but the movie's Rorschach smashes a glass window to grab the oil and deliberately kills a man whom he has already disarmed, disabled and knocked to his knees. As unnecessary as the finishing move was, Rorschach did it to show the other inmates what he would do to them if they came after him.
    "None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!"
  • In the original ending of A Perfect Murder Emily shoots Stephen before he even begins his attempts to kill her and fakes a struggle to ensure her freedom, thus creating the "perfect murder". Test audiences didn't take to the ambiguity of the character so the final version has Stephen attack her (even giving him a Not Quite Dead sequence), Emily's struggle now genuine and her murder of Stephen now spontaneous and in visible terror for her life.
  • In the theatrical release of Dirty Harry, Harry fired five shots during the bank robbery, then cocks the hammer when confronting the surviving bank robber, but lowers the hammer when the robber backs down. When he's told "I got's to know", he cocks the hammer - rotating the cylinder to an already fired chamber - then pulls the trigger, clicking the hammer against a spent round. In the DVD release, he fires six shots - an additional, offscreen shot is added when the getaway car pulls away - thus making his confrontation of the robber an empty threat.
  • Both film versions of Carrie change some of the main character's killings to be more justified. Towards the end of the films, Carrie causes Chris and Billy's car to crash when they try to run her over. She also only reluctantly kills her mother Margaret after she attacks Carrie with a knife. In the novel, Carrie deliberately seeks out Chris, Billie and Margaret to kill them after the prom disaster.

    Literature 
  • Lord of the Clans: While the novel's depiction of humans is bad, the novel is set after two wars the orcs started first, and the orcs were still responsible for mass murder and enslavement of intelligent beings (the dragons). Even the current retcon paints the orcs as invading Azeroth because they very nearly destroyed their own world, which could have been avoided by refusing to cooperate with the Legion.
  • Agatha Christie did something like this in adapting her novel Ten Little Niggers Ten Little Indians And Then There Were None into a play. The newer version has a happier ending and in doing so, changes the crimes of the surviving characters such that they are much less culpable. Or at least tried to—one of Lombard's crimes is abandoning a number of tribesmen who were his guides to die in the wilderness, which he explains as perfectly OK as that's how things work in Africa. He does this both in his Heroic Sociopath version in the novel and as a Gentleman Adventurer in the play (though in the latter, he does later mention that he left all the food, water, and weapons with his guides after they got hopelessly lost, and was just incredibly lucky to be found once he set out on his own). In the 1945 movie version, it goes even further and changes Lombard to an impersonating friend of Lombard (who himself has committed suicide) who goes to the island looking for information on what drove his friend to it.
  • In Star Trek: New Frontier Calhoun, during a flashback, decides to execute a man because the man ordered the deaths of his Captain's brother and daughter. He knows he'll be court-martialed, but commits to the act in order to spare his CO's sanity. As he's pressing the trigger, the victim pulls a phaser he'd lifted from a security guard. Everyone present assumes Calhoun saw the weapon, reacted in self-defense, and just happens to have lightning-fast reflexes.
  • In first novel of The Dark Tower, The Gunslinger, Allie is held as a shield and hostage by Sheb as the residents of Tull attack Roland. Originally, Roland kills her out of pure instinct. His trained hands react quicker than his mind. She screams at him not to shoot, but it's too late, and the guilt of her death sits on Roland throughout the rest of the story. In the revised edition, there is a convoluted subplot in which after Walter resurrects a dead man, he tells Allie that if she says "nineteen", he will tell her what he saw on the other side. Knowing will drive her crazy, but so will not. Later, during the shootout, she begs Roland to kill her because she has spoken nineteen to Sheb and can't bear the horrors that he whispered back to her. As she dies King says that "the last expression on her face might have been gratitude."
  • In many pre-Victorian Robin Hood stories, Robin straight-up murdered people. In order to be child-friendly, Howard Pyle's 1883 children's book "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" changed his murders to self-defense and his robberies to "stealing from the rich and giving to the poor", and this aspect has stuck with the character ever since.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • World of Warcraft lets us know that the bandit kingpin VanCleef was originally the leader of a guild of stonemasons who turned to thieves when the nobles of Stormwind refused to pay them for rebuilding the capital. Even though it was made clear enough that the corrupt nobility was to blame, this apparently made the Alliance look too cruel, so an RPG book of additional information changed the event into VanCleef demanding insane amounts of gold for the work and flipping out when the king refused to pay him extra. Then, the whole thing was changed again into a plot by Onyxia, who was manipulating everyone involved with magic - the Stonemasons into asking for more than the agreed-upon price and the nobles into trying to pay them less.
    • According to all the information found within WoW and the official site, the Stormpike dwarves went into Alterac Valley, disregarded pleas to go away and started digging the local orcs' graveyards for archeological treasures, which spawns a small war in the area. The RPG book tries to make this Black-and-White Morality by saying the Stormpikes have lived practically three miles away for hundreds of years and the Frostwolf clan (who are typically portrayed by Blizzard as quite peaceful) invaded for no apparent reason. In this case, no explanation really makes sense. It seems that the orcs (who have only been on the planet for a couple of decades at that point), settled an area that was once dwarven, but abandoned for quite some time, only for the dwarves to return after it had been resettled and expecting to have a claim. The thing is, while it's out of character for the Frostwolves to invade an ancestral area, it was equally out of character for the Ironforge Dwarves to start such a needless war (that was more of a Dark Iron thing).
    • The original story of Anduin Lothar's death is that Doomhammer ambushed him while the later was on its way for negotiations. This is later retconned into Doomhammer challenging him to honorable combat and winning. Blizzard in general is fairly liberal in changing their lore as they see fit.
    • In Warcraft III, as part of Arthas' fall to the Dark Side, he slaughters the people of Stratholme before they can become plague zombies to spare them and their countrymen from that horrible fate. It's a very morally ambiguous event designed to illustrate his potential for evil. In World of Warcraft, thanks to the Caverns of Time, you can participate in this event with your own character. In this retelling, however, most of the people he kills are already zombies or are cultists, and most of the rest reveal themselves to be evil time-traveling dragons. Needless to say, this completely shatters the ambiguity of the event. (Although while you're busy killing undead in the city, Arthas is back at the entrance slaughtering any of the still-human citizens who naturally respond by fleeing the city.)
      • Then again, in said mission in Warcraft III, while you could have Arthas and his forces kill the civilians before they turn, you did have to manually order them to do it, and not a few seconds after you first spawn them in by destroying their house, they turn into zombies that you automatically attack anyway. Many players who didn't figure this out did end up having Arthas mostly just killing zombies.
      • It's turned on its head in the first encounter with the Infinite Dragonflight, when Arthas spots some non-infected citizens and attacks them to no effect, before realizing that they're in disguise. Arthas essentially shoots first without realizing that "the dog" has a gun trained on him.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has this in the Heavensward storyline, which flips the entire plot on its head once the truth is revealed. For over a thousand years, the people of Ishgard knew the story of how man and dragon used to be at peace with each other until a war broke out between them with history stating that the dragons struck first. In actuality, King Thordan and his twelve knights were the ones who struck first by slaying a dragon and eating her eyes to obtain power. The brother to the slain dragon managed to kill more than half of the knights and Thordan himself until one of the dragon's eyes was ripped out of his skull, forcing him to retreat. The truth about the war was kept secret for many generations in order to keep the citizens' faith in the church in high spirits and control them with fear.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in Darths & Droids where Han and Greedo's identity are swapped... until "Greedo" shoots and kills Han and steals his identity. So "Han" shot first (and only), but he was calling himself "Greedo" at the time.

    Web Videos 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd:
    • Parodied by the Nerd when talking about his old reviews he mentioned that he shot Jason Voorhees' head off in his review of Friday the 13th. In his re-done version, Jason shoots first before The Nerd blows his head off.
    • In his Star Wars games review, he offers a solution to the original issue. Have Luke run Greedo over with a landspeeder.

    Western Animation 
  • On Animaniacs, the Warners would only screw with people who were mean to them first. This allowed them to be obnoxious, but still likable. However, in the original storyboard for "Plane Pals", which is available online, the Warners start messing with a guy on the plane first. The studio thought this made the Warners look needlessly cruel, and had the writers change it so the guy was antagonistic before the Warners did anything to him.
  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. In the uncut original, Tim Drake shoots The Joker with a "Bang!" Flag Gun while Brainwashed and Crazy, visibly impaling him. The Bowdlerised television broadcast turns this into the Joker being attacked by Tim instead and, after a brief struggle, slipping backwards and being electrocuted by some nearby exposed electrical wiring after getting entangled in them, dosed with water from a shattered container, grabbing a lever connected to the wires. Ironically, while the latter version is technically an accident and happens off-screen, the silhouette and scream make it even more gruesome. It's been said this is the recurring method the DCAU writers used to avoid censorship from Standards and Practices. "If you order us to change something, we will follow your orders to the letter while making it substantially more horrific". Though the edited scene also removes some of the Karmic Death feel and what is probably the DC Animated Universe's best Famous Last Words ever.
    The Joker: That's not funny... That's not—
  • The 1944 Looney Tunes cartoon "Hare Ribbin'" has two different endings, both too violent to be shown on kids/family TV but one being slightly more messed up. The ending that was originally shown in theaters at the time had Bugs Bunny handing the dog a gun so he could shoot himself in the head and commit suicide. The "director's cut" ending (which is currently only available on the fifth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVDs) had Bugs pulling out a gun and shooting him in the mouth. That's probably as messed up as Bugs can get in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Avatar Day" has something of an In-Universe example. A group of villagers insists that Avatar Kyoshi murdered their leader Chin several hundred years in the past. In reality, while Kyoshi admits she would have killed Chin if necessary, that's not how it played out. Chin was actually a warmongering imperialist whose forces were closing in on Kyoshi's peninsula, so Kyoshi separated the peninsula from the mainland (via Elemental Powers) to create Kyoshi Island. As the earth beneath his feet crumbled, Chin refused to accept failure, so he stayed on the collapsing ground and fell to his doom (and Kyoshi didn't raise a finger to save him). While what Kyoshi did was a far cry from what the pacifistic Aang would have done (and as Kyoshi herself points out, dead is dead), it was also a far cry from the cold-blooded murder she was accused of, and ultimately no worse than Han shooting Greedo.

    Real Life 
  • Mark Bowden's book, Killing Pablo, mentions that Colombian policemen would summarily execute drug dealers and say they died "during a shootout with police."
  • Similarly, some police officers have been known to carry "throw down" guns, unregistered weapons (often confiscated from another criminal) that can be planted if they shoot someone who turns out not to be armed. In New Orleans they're called "ham sandwiches".
    • This tradition goes back years with the NOPD, and officers used to carry "drop knives" for the same purpose. The apocryphal cautionary story tells how a veteran sergeant arrived at the scene of a shooting, turned over the suspect's body, and discovered that thanks to over-eager recruits he had apparently been threatening officers with four knives.
    • Tacking on a charge of assaulting the arresting police officer is another "tradition" — Monty Python's Flying Circus had a sketch (partly) about police brutality where everyone in the courtroom was invited to join in on reciting it, and in The Onion's video piece "Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried As Black Adult," it's one of the effects of the ruling.
  • One of Tucker Max's books has a story about meeting an FBI agent on a flight, and the agent tells him about people he knows in Border Patrol, who will shoot illegal immigrants from 100 yards away with a rifle at nighttime, then write in their report "Subject was threatening agent with a rock".
  • In certain areas of Pacific Island countries like Papua New Guinea, those who mess with or greatly inconvenience the police — who are as a rule corrupt and tend to overlap with the region's criminal elements — have been known to end up with a neat bullet-hole between their eyes, or in their temples. On the rare occasions when they are called to justify themselves, the police invariably claim they had been acting in self-defense.

Alternative Title(s): Adaptational Self Defence

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