Lo! The Definitive Star Wars Prequel Supercut

Lo! The Definitive Star Wars Prequel Supercut

BACKGROUND

For over a decade I’ve been wanting to edit the Star Wars prequels into one movie. Waiting in line at the grocery store, in the shower, waiting for my car at the mechanics shop… It was common for me to run the Star Wars prequels in my mind, trying to crack the code — How the fuck would I edit them down to one movie?

Disney bought & repackaged the Star Wars brand from George Lucas during this time. They released like 4 or 5 Star Wars movies during that time. With each new Disney Star Wars film, bundled in all the hoopla & PR, an article (or two or few) would inevitably pop up talking about “the best Star Wars prequel super-cuts.”

An infamous one, for example, that gets cited a lot is Topher Grace’s 85 minute cut, shown once publicly in the year 2012. There’s a few others out there.

I’ve seen a few of them in the past but nothing ever stuck as definitive. Each cut had a particular awkwardness that made it difficult to get immersed in.

Finally, this month, I found myself in a situation where I could sit & focus on this incredibly dumb task for two weeks. I used the re-editing of these prequels as an intellectual exercise: pushing the limits of what I know about feature film narrative structures, cinematic entertainment, character psychology, etc.

But this was mainly a spiritual catharsis: The truth is that I’m not a Star Wars fan.

I could care less about Yoda, R2D2, Sith Lords, etc. But I do love the original 1977 film, titled Star Wars, and recognize its centrality in culture. And when I was a teenager, the prequel releases were some of the biggest spectacles of the era. I saw them all. I was actually a projectionist at a movie theater during the release of Revenge of the Sith.

WHAT WORKS

I remember thinking there was something interesting about the prequels, despite not actually liking them as works of art. After some thought the only things I could point out were two: 1) The subplot about the fall of the Republic… and 2) Jar Jar Binks. LOL.

The big lightbulb aha moment was when I realized this story was really about Anakin Skywalker: how he began as an innocent boy born into a shitty situation, and how he slowly transformed into this rage-filled monster. The contrast is so extreme, that the next obvious revelation is: Well… What happened in between?

And so that was the guiding principle in my re-edit. I was solely interested in exploring the transformation of this individual, from innocent child to anger-consumed monster.

SPIRITUAL CATHARSIS

The spiritual catharsis for me was to choose scenes depicting Anakin (and those around him) in fits of despair or anger. The movie was an expression of my emotional state. It’s much closer to Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinema than it is a basic Star Wars film.

The main stylistic flourishes in the style of the new-wave are: the alien subtitles, my own title cards, and various bold / brash edits favoring cinephilia over canon.

TITLE CARDS

The aliens are not subtitled in the original prequel (at least, I don’t think they are…). I used this as an opportunity to fill in any gaps in my narrative. I was able to amplify certain feelings / themes by simply having the aliens say them via subtitles.

My aliens also curse a lot, but it’s fitting because they’re on a dirty back-alley planet.

When alien subtitles were not available, I simply added large bold title cards. This was done as a fun gesture, in the style of Godard’s 1960’s movies. I used a Star Wars font as I felt that would be most fitting, but kept it very stark & pop.

I did this to glue pieces of the story together which would otherwise take too long to flesh out via film scene. Using big bold title cards (almost like silent film serials) economized the storytelling in ways other super-cut editors hadn’t considered. Its most dramatic use is the transition between Episode 1 & Episode 2.

CINEPHILIA

And then finally, just overall, this cut is one intended for maximum entertainment value. And so I went out of my way to ensure the rhythm was per classic Hollywood 2-hour films (with opening climax, each act with ascending climaxes until the end, all structured on thematic continuity and story-thread satisfaction).

Most Star Wars prequel super-cuts do not include, for example, the pod races.

But pod racing is the only true cinematic contribution George Lucas made with his prequels — outside of, perhaps, the wonder of Jar Jar Binks.

Pod racing is pure cinephilia: A loud ballet of engaging sound design. Fortunately, it just so happens the pod racing sequence intersects many key plot points for Anakin Skywalker… It just takes a certain kind of film editor to bring that forward.

EDITORIAL FLOURISHES

I included three deleted scenes. Although they clearly exhibit a diminished quality of resolution as compared to the rest of the movie, what those deleted scenes add in terms of narrative cohesion is well worth it. I’m surprised they were left out at all…

I also took great liberties with the sound design and even manufacturing entire scenes. 10% of the film’s overall sound design was done by me. Little things to amplify an effect, or to patch up a transition, or just to add some humor to a moment.

There’s a few scenes in my cut which are not in the movie at all! I pieced them together, like a butcher making a Frankenstein, and patched everything up using dialogue from deleted scenes, or other parts of the movie.

I also created voice over for the characters to supplement critical points in the story. These voice snippets were pulled from either online sound boards or deleted scenes. The good thing about the deleted scenes in the prequels is that they tend to not have score in them, and thus make perfect raw material for the cobbling together of dialogue.

I also took free reign in the re-ordering of scenes. I did this to recreate new dramatic contexts or simply to emphasize certain parts of the story.

For example, I included a scene from Episode II smack in the middle of a sequence during Episode III. It’s when Yoda is having a premonition how Anakin is in “terrible pain.” (a scene from Ep II). And when we see him in the next scene, sniveling & angry (from Ep III), instead of seeing this as stilted (or annoying) dialogue, it instead has an aura of a man who is suffering, conflicted about what to do next.

Likewise, when I compressed certain scenes together, like the Emperor Palpatine scene (where he admits to Anakin to be a Sith Lord utilizing the powers of the dark side), I effectively re-ordered when this happens in the story. And so when things unfold after this, we see Anakin in a new context: In this case, making decisions while hiding this secret of who Palpatine is.

This sub-plot is balanced quite nicely by the introduction of a deleted scene where we see his wife, Padme, also pleading a secrecy oath — to bring down Emperor Palpatine. And so when we see both Anakin & Padme together, and they speak about the state of the Republic under Palpatine, it feels like a tragic star-crossed drama: Because they’re both hiding secrets from each other…. Or so we think! It’s a dramatic trick I was able to pull simply through context cues. But the truth is that in the original prequels, this drama did not exist at all.

THEME

Thematically, I edited this film as a moral mirror. Although it’s cathartic at a basic level to depict Anakin Skywalker destroying shit, including his life, that’s not enough to make a serious movie. In the emotional arch of the story, I felt it was important to portray a moral tale as well: Of one who gets consumed by his anger — and what that means.

By dramatizing & witnessing somebody talented consumed by their anger, the movie stands as a warning, primarily for young men. Because in this universe, unchecked anger & hatred not only consumed the individual (Anakin), it consumed the entire galaxy (as authoritarianism).

The most important editing principle was that of emotional continuity.

EMOTIONAL CONTINUNITY

The overall emotional impression & psychological impact upon reflection, to me as an editor, was more important than internal spatial continuity or even continuity of Star Wars canon (fuck that!).

This was achieved by picking scenes that build toward this story of Anakin’s loss of innocence & embrace of his anger. Everything else was deleted, no matter how “cool.”

For example, there is no Darth Maul in my cut. None. Zero. Yeah, his lightsaber stick has two pewpew things shooting out of it, and his face paint is all wAaAaAacky. But fuck him! He’s a functionally useless character in the narrative.

There’s other times where I’ll create a scene out of two separate scenes, and merge them together somehow. I did this in Episode I, during Watto’s podrace negotiation: The first half of the scene is from a different part of the movie as the last half of that scene.

But I merged it by smoothing in some new score, adding some sound design, and a few new shots to trick the eye into thinking it’s all one scene. If you look (or listen) very closely, you may spot the patch. But ultimately it doesn’t matter — the emotional continuity of the scene is a stronger impression.

There’s another scene with Emperor Palpatine during Episode III, where it’s a similar situation as described above: The first & second half of the scene are from 2 different parts of the movie. Except unlike the Watto scene, a dramatic change of wardrobe happens between the 2 scenes. But I merged & masked this using a few psychological tricks, including sudden sounds introduced around the time of the cut, pulling back to a few wide shots to “refresh” the mind of what everybody was wearing, and getting right to the action to distract from the change.

Or I’ll start a scene with an exterior shot of a space ship from Episode 2, and cut inside the spaceship and it’s Episode 1. Etc etc etc.

I referenced this psychological quirk a lot while editing my Star Wars prequel movie.

MOVIE MAGIC

Does it work? So far nobody’s pointed it out. I’m sure some of you will. Especially now that you’re aware of it. But it doesn’t matter, in the end, because the emotional rhythm of that scene is more important than the specifics of what each person was wearing.

Clearly, if you breach this technical aspect of film too extremely then the obviousness of the technical goof takes precedence over the emotional continuity… At which point a continuity error in physical space will actually interfere with the immersion of the movie. I took great care to make sure these dramatic jumps in spatial continuity were subdued & minimized.

Like, for real, I watched my edit like 20+ times. It’s crazy how entertaining it is.

The more I could let the original movies run as they were, the better. The less editing I had to do to them, the better. However, the movie is still insanely chopped up. Consider that I had to eliminate like 4 hours of film, and then seriously morph the existing cut to be as self-contained as possible.

But now this story that went this-way & that-way for over, like, 7 hours has been condensed into a tight, emotional narrative the length of one Star Wars movie.

Having done all the work and now being left with the final product, it’s hard to imagine them as 3 separate movies.

This is the definitive version of the prequels.

Each episode is represented in equal proportion. Episode 1 is the first act of the movie. Episode 2 is the second act of the movie. Episode 3 is the third act of the movie.

THE EPISODE ONE QUESTION

Although I believe the best part of this edit was how I solved the biggest issue of the Star Wars prequel re-cut: what I’ve dubbed (for many years inside my head) “The Episode One Question.” How do you incorporate episode 1 into this disaster fuck of a trilogy?

Obviously episode 2 & 3 are bound by the same protagonist actor Hayden Christensen. But in episode 1 the character of Anakin is a child… So it’s hard to figure out what to do with that episode. Plus it’s the most “out there” of the 3 in the sense of similarity.

I considered doing flashback sequences, which proved difficult beyond a reasonable effort. Then there’s what most Star Wars prequel recuts do… Eliminate episode 1 entirely.

However, a paradox opens up once you do that. That’s why it’s the “Episode One Question.” The moment you toss out episode 1 in your super-cut, you’re also tossing out the number one cinematic gift of the entire prequel trilogy: the pod race.

If you throw that away too, you don’t even have a movie. You just have a drama about blahblahblah who cares. I wanna see CINEMA!

So I started my edit with the pod race, actually.

If that was a given in this puzzle, I plopped it down first. And my original intent was just to fade in on the pod race… But the more I looked closer at the pod race sequence, I saw that it was also a race for Anakin’s destiny: If he won the race, he gets to be a free boy. So I started to expand the story just a little bit — the most minimum I could get away with — just to enhance the drama of the race.

CREATING THE FIRST ACT

But then it got to the point where I had this half act, and if I thought about the situation in terms of classical Hollywood script structure, the first act should be around 30 minutes. So I started to fill in what I thought would make a good first act — which meant only allowing information / drama to unfold that heightened the stakes for Anakin Skywalker’s character for the immediate pod race, or elevating the overall thematic stakes in the long run.

Everything else was cut out. But it was fun rediscovering little plot threads, and pearling them one after the other so you can see this dramatic idea unfold… Or creating mysteries out of moments where there was no mystery. Or choosing a new way to introduce the main characters, like Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, or Anakin himself.

What ended up happening was that I created a solid opening first act for my supercut. It now had a Godard style opening title bit, followed by a well-written opening crawl. The opening scene was re-scored to Duel of the Fates, which is the perfect song to open this movie with (because that’s what the entire movie is about — the duel of our fates). The opening action is super intense (and cobbled together from shots from different episodes + my own sound design).

And then the first act is this curious side quest these mysterious refugees have to take, and oh! along the way they free this slave boy who turns out to be a future dictator.

But now that I have a first act set in Episode 1…. How do I get from Episode 1 to Episode 2? I literally had no idea what to do but the first thought that popped in my mind was a cut from Powell & Pressburger’s A Cantenbury Tale.

The cut is at 03:30

TRANSITION FROM EPISODE 1 - 2

The idea was just to cut from something at the end of the pod race to a shot that’s similar in Episode 2, and just move on. As I worked this idea through I quickly settled on the celebration shot of Anakin winning the race, and cutting to a similar-ish shot of older Anakin speeding down the Blade Runner-esque cityscape in a flying car.

Since I felt like a little more oomph was needed to sell the idea, I sweetened the transition with some sound design and added the title card: 10 YEARS LATER.

And bada-bing! On to the next film. The transition from episode 2 to 3 was easier.

The answer to the Episode One question was to treat the image of Anakin’s childhood as a window into his inner child. I created this inner child archetype which we recognize as existing within adult Anakin as he stumbles about making poor decisions. Of course he’s emotionally conflicted & fucked up in the end… Look at what he endured as a child.

One of the things I did to reinforce this idea was make Tatooine, his home planet, a cruel & vicious place — especially to young Anakin. His alien slave owner curses at him to break his spirit, the entitled classes treat him like shit.

We feel for this kid who’s trying to survive against all the odds. This is very much unlike the original prequels, where the sight of young Anakin can be a bit cringe inducing. In my cut, young Anakin represents all of our unbroken dreams.

Finally, the biggest question of all — Jar Jar Binks. What the fuck?

JAR JAR BINKS

What are we going to do about Jar Jar Binks? I gotta be honest… I love Jar Jar. I didn’t at first. But a few years ago I had an epiphany:

Jar Jar Binks is one of the greatest movie characters of the 21st Century.

Everybody knows who Jar Jar is! Just by sheer metrics it’s hard to deny that Jar Jar has been massively influential. Think of all the movies that have been made, all the movie characters created… And yet we all know who Jar Jar is. There’s something to that.

And so, in full acceptance that there’s something to Jar Jar Binks, I had to include him — even if it was just for my own novelty. But I paid attention to what most audiences complained about him, and altered his presence in my film dramatically.

In my cut, titled A Dark Force, Jar Jar Binks is more of an earthy & humane character. He bumbles about as a political refugee… And his first bit of dialogue is at the hands of bullying. He’s about to get his ass kicked by pod-racing villain Sebulba, when a streetwise kid named Anakin Skywalker steps in & saves his ass.

So you feel bad for this character right away… Maybe even relate with him. After that, he doesn’t do anything too weird or gross (all the poop humor was deleted lol. And there was a lot!). He provides some semi-obnoxious comedic relief throughout, like a Looney Tune; but mostly Jar Jar hangs out in the background as funny noise.

Once he plays his destiny out — as a key plot point: Jar Jar is the filler vote for Padme once she leaves the Senate to go into hiding, out of fear of assassination…

Once he plays that narrative thread through, he basically disappears — until he shows up at the end parade… 😢

I never force you to watch annoying ass Jar Jar act like an asshole. He’s more like a CGI Charlie Chaplin sub-character that plays a minor key role in the story.

He’s used only when needed, which is sparing.

However, in these calculated small doses, Jar Jar Binks is kind of a fun character! LMAO

THE JAPOR SNIPPET

The final thing I’ll touch on is the symbology of my supercut….

One symbol in specific: The Japor Snippet.

This is a hand carved object young Anakin gives refugee Padme during Episode 1. There’s no mention of it in Episode 2. And then in Episode 3 it appears a few times, as a necklace around Padme’s neck — who’s now pregnant with Anakin’s twins.

The impact of this symbol is completely lost the original trilogy.

It’s introduction is buried in a mired mess of a movie, and it’s pay off happens way way way too late in an hours long saga. There’s no teeth in it. By compacting & highlighting this symbol in my supercut, I recharge it with emotional depth. It’s so strong that every time I see the japor snippet’s final image in my supercut, it kicks me in the gut — every single time. I accomplished this in a few ways:

The original japor snippet scene in Episode 1 happens aboard a spaceship after Anakin is freed, post-pod race. I knew this would be a problem. So I sliced the scene out and stuck it in the only sequence I thought would be most fitting: which ended up being the night before the pod race. And since this band of characters was originally shacking up in Anakin’s home because of an unexpected sandstorm, I added sound design of a sandstorm to drown out some of the spaceship sound effects in the background lol.

I also added an establishing shot of Tatooine from Episode 2 in the beginning of this scene, to really hammer this idea of a brutal environment. This is all about tricking the memory about an overall feeling more than being spatially correct in the moment.

Now Padme chats with Anakin because he’s up the night before the big race.

When we see the japor snippet symbol later on, during the Episode 3 sequences, it’s like a visual reminder of Anakin’s inner child.

We see it again in a relatively short time span (less than 2 hours later) and so it means something to us now… Unlike its inclusion in the original trilogy, which would require seeing all the prequels together to achieve any kind of cohesive effect from this symbol, and even then it’d be so watered down that it’s almost pointless.

And when we finally see it at the very end, during Padme’s funeral, it’s a serious kick in the nuts. Young Anakin first handed Padme the japor snippet as a gift. He said he did it so she would remember him in the future. Padme responds to this by stating, “I don’t need this to remember you by.” She meant it with endearment.

Of course, in the end, it’s the only thing she’s holding in her casket. She indeed held onto it as something to remember him by. It’s interesting how in life these little innocuous objects & moments turn into, with time, a redefined charged energy. A VHS tape from the past, an old photo, a small trinket, a birthday card, or a little carved object… These stupid little things become what we take with us to the grave.

A DARK FORCE IN 2018

A Dark Force is a sad movie. It’s a tragedy, actually.

It’s a tragedy about what happens when we allow our talents to be consumed by anger.

But there’s a lot of subtle stuff in the movie too: About the fall of a democratic Republic, about the rise of a dictator, about the consequences of being born into a tough situation, of being seduced by your darkest impulses, and the value of love in all this…

This version of the story is extremely relevant in 2018.

There’s an obvious parallel between Empreror Palpatine and President Trump: they’re both sociopathic faux-leaders purposefully sinking an historic democracy into a dark oblivion of submission. America is the Republic.

Likewise, the story of Anakin Skywalker, as an individual, is the drama of the modern man. Masculinity is being rightfully challenged this year. It’s been leading up to this for a while, as part of a broader discussion on progressive social behavior. This is good.

Men are directly being challenged for their predatory behavior towards women. But men are also being indirectly challenged by history: There is a lack of productive meaning for most people’s lives in America.

But for men, this lack of purpose is crippling.

This is why obvious con-men like Donald Trump & Alex Jones have gained such a popularity lately. They empower fragile, weak men to have meaning in their lives, and to have a say in the system. The unfortunate thing is that their loyalty was purchased through carnivalesque lies.

Alex Jones empowered men by informing them of the Illuminati control matrix they exist in (thereby putting the male listener into a state of a warfare — a literal “infowar”). Trump empowered men by creating an identity-based political movement; where every step forward of progress made by society, Trump allows you to take one step back.

This very real lack of meaning in modern men’s life is beginning to rip society apart. This vacuum will be seized by more con-men & psuedo-war-lords as inevitable problems progress (like sea-level rise & climate change). Perhaps the elite classes are waiting for a large global war to kick off but that would be extremely unfortunate.

Many men turn to distractions & vices: video games, pornography, media consumption, etc. And a few men, obviously, are aware of the situation and are doing good: for themselves & each other. That’s the ideal. I think the key in that scenario is the awareness: to be self aware.

In the awareness of one self you can see things about yourself you always brushed away.

And for the modern man that means being aware that you’re a modern man. And what does that mean? For yourself, and for each other.

We’re all creative, born with the star of destiny over our heads, excited for the future; we all live, experience trials & adventures, and also hit bottom. We all share this. What makes us different is how we respond. This is the narrative of my Star Wars prequel supercut A Dark Force. The question is: Which path will you choose?

The one of the force? Or the one of the dark side?

Scary Movie (2000)

Scary Movie (2000)

Star Wars: Episode 0 – A Dark Force

Star Wars: Episode 0 – A Dark Force