Star Wars is no stranger to the spectre of a phantom editor – most will know the tale of how Star Wars: A New Hope was “saved in editing,” not by George Lucas, but by John Jympson. This version of Star Wars (dubbed the “Lost Cut”) was a complete disaster: according to an article in Star Wars Insider #41 by David West Reynolds, it contains about 30-40% different footage from the final version, and to this day the Lost Cut has been seen by very few eyes. Within it, there are scenes that have never been seen elsewhere, as well as alternate takes of scenes we know from the finished version.
Despite this cover up, a large section of the footage from the this version of the Cantina scene can be found on the Behind The Magic CD ROM from 1998. Also, a few short snippets from the Lost Cut were used in the Star Wars Holiday Special to introduce the “Life On Tatooine” segment of the program. But other than these small glimpses, the Lost Cut remains an intriguing but unseen artefact to most of us.
Once a good editor was introduced, we of course got Star Wars: A New Hope. This story opened up a big question for me as a fan: could this be done again with the worst film in the series? Could editing save Attack of the Clones? This article will focus on the case for the existence and merits of the Phantom Editor, Mike J. Nichols, by looking at his second work, Attack of the Phantom.
Attack of the Clones was created under the watchful control of George Lucas, and as any cursory glance around the internet will tell you, the result was a critically hammered disappointment. It was a film filled with nonsensical dialogue, awkward scene after awkward scene and then the worst love plot in the history of cinema.
Following the success of the Phantom Edit (a fan-edit of Episode I), Mike J. Nichols tried his hand at saving this film, setting his goal as the same as that of the Phantom Edit, “to make a much stronger version of film based on the previous execution and philosophies of film storytelling and editing of George Lucas.”
There are some great moments in Attack of the Clones but there is so much wrong it that they get lost. It is a film that people (including me) fast-forward to get to the parts that they like: the battle with Jango Fett on Kimono, the battle of Geonosis and every Christopher Lee scene. But between them, there’s just too much that is inferior and bland.
In fact, everything else is easily forgotten from the theatrical cut of this film. The main problems with Lucas’ cut are numerous: the lack of human connection behind our protagonists; the terrible pacing and dialogue; Anakin is a creepy and unlikable character; the plot is predictable and there is no tension at all. These were all addressed by Nichols with a series of edits, and by cutting 38 minutes from the film. His edit, with a runtime of 104 minutes, is actually pretty good.
Mr. Nichols calls his edits “fixes” and believes that his version is a stronger and better narrative than the original, and to be frank, I find it hard to argue with him. Attack of the Phantom is an aggressive cut of Episode II with many changes to almost every element of the film. Unlike The Phantom Edit that had a few minor cuts to tighten everything up, Attack of the Phantom removes whole scenes, creates new dialogue and readjusts how many scenes develop.
A viewing of the Attack of the Phantom will surprise those who were put-off Star Wars by this film. The awkward “love” scenes of Anakin and Padmé are now much shorter, or cut completely. The plot moves at a nice brisk pace, and with the fat trimmed the story feels important.
Two scenes in particular that really benefited from that editorial trimming are the opening and the battle of Geonosis, which are less trying and more engaging, simply done with a few minor dialogue cuts. What I will refer to as “the stupid” is reduced from this film, with the absence of the Dex’s Diner scene and a vast recutting to the further exposure of Jar Jar Binks throughout the film. The most important result is that the love story arc is now something akin to a human relationship: you can actually empathise with Anakin, kind of see why Padmé put up with his rants, and more importantly respond with pathos at the doomed future that this union will lead into.
Sadly, even after the “fixes” it is still the weakest of the three prequels – but at least this version is now vastly more entertaining. In my opinion, I feel that this is a better watch, as is the Phantom Edit. If you can track these down, you must do so. You will be shocked at how watchable these films are.
But of course, we must now contend with things like the auteur theory. Does this approach defy Lucas’ creative vision for the film? Does Lucas have a duty to his fans/audience, or is he allowed do want he thinks is best?
It is funny how history often repeats: the original Star Wars was saved in editing and I believe these two prequels, under a different set of circumstances, have been too. The bigger question that I have now is which one is canonically correct?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
This article was first posted on March 10, 2013