The Phantom Edit
is a finely crafted re-edit of George Lucas' disappointing Phantom Menace prequel to the original Star Wars movies. Put together by an (at the time) anonymous film editor who calls himself "the Phantom Editor", the original Star Wars I.1 - the Phantom Edit was painstakingly assembled from the VHS release of the Phantom Menace. Although I have seen this older copy years ago (it helps to have friends at ILM ;-) ), this review is for the more recently assembled Star Wars I.2 - the Phantom Edit which, although almost identical to Episode I.1, was created from the DVD release with 5.1 soundtrack, and so is a much more seamless and enjoyable version to watch. It even has the Phantom Editor doing a Commentary track, which is of tremendous benefit to understanding what changes have been made and why.
I'm not going to get into the story of the Phantom Menace, since anyone who has any interest in the Phantom Edit already knows far too much about these movies :-) , but I will instead focus on the changes made. As the Phantom Editor says in the commentary, this was not done to diss George Lucas, who was actually one of the Phantom Editor's film idols growing up. Rather, this re-edit was made in response to the terrible disappointment (for almost every hard-core fan) of Lucas' first prequel and his apparent ignorance of the very film principles used to make the original movies the classics that they remain today. Remember as I go through the following that there was no additional footage available to the editor (in fact, the movie is now mercifully more than 20 minutes shorter, clocking in at about 1.50 when the credits roll) - everything had to be assembled from visual cuts already in the movie and the masterful use of the 5.1 channel sound mix. Here are the main changes:
Job number one: remove Jar-Jar Binks as much as possible. As the Phantom Editor relates, Jar-Jar can't be removed completely b/c he is too integral to the story in the end. Would he have written the Phantom Edit story without Jar-Jar? Of course. But since Jar-Jar is important to the storyline, the Editor does the next best thing: he edits out all of Jar-Jar "antics" whenever possible. No stepping in "doopoo", no distracting the audience with his clumsiness during high-intensity scenes, nothing like that. The result is that jar-Jar becomes a very bearable character and, if you can forget the hatred you feel for him from your first viewing of Lucas' movie, then he just seems to fit into the story like any other character.
Job number two: remove the story redundancies. Ever notice how Lucas will put in a scene with the Jedi killing the droids and then the very next scene has another group of people telling one another that, you guessed it, the Jedi killed the droids? The Phantom Editor chalks this up to Lucas crafting this movie for kids instead of adults, and has mercifully spared us the countless occurrences where one scene simply recaps the previous scene. The positive effect that this has on the pacing of the story is enormous.
Job number three: make Anakin more of a bad-a$$. :-) There's nothing much that can be done about the substantially less than stellar acting of the young Jake Lloyd, who plays Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the first film, especially in his verbal delivery. The approach the Phantom Editor has taken is inspired. On one front, simply cut out Anakin's non-essential dialog. Lloyd is far more effective visually just standing there than he is with his poorly written dialog, and this simple cut makes it so the audience is often left wondering what dark thoughts lie behind Lloyd's eyes (e.g. when the Jedi council is skeptical of whether to train him, Anakin appears to be seething without saying anything). On another front, the Editor has cut off all the "oops", "awws", "yippees", and other meaningless (and, for a young Darth Vader, out-of-character) fragments at the end of Lloyd's sentences. An example of how effective this is comes when Anakin has taken refuge inside one of the Naboo fighters and Qui-Gon tells him to stay inside the cockpit for safety. When the droids come and endanger Padme, instead of having Lloyd saying "Gee, I wonder what this button does" before he fires of the ship's weapons and "Whoops" after he destroys the droids, the young Vader now just looks over the cockpit at them and swings into action - quickly annihilating Padme's aggressors and showing that there is something very powerful within this young boy.
There are other cuts made, of course, but those are the three main categories that really help the film. As the Editor says, one of the biggest hurdles in enjoying the re-edit is in letting go of the hate you felt for the original Phantom Menace (hate, after all, leads to the dark side ;-) ). In the end, the re-edit is a fascinating example of the enormous power that editing can have on a lackluster movie (oh, if only Hollywood could see that with the years of bloated films we've had to endure). What was once a hardly bearable children's film has been transformed into the space epic that it was supposed to be. So, if you're a big Star Wars fan, seek out a copy of this (it's not for sale anywhere, or Lucas would probably hunt down and kill the people selling it, but I'm sure you industrious computer users can figure out how to find it), listen to the Commentary, watch the movie, and then give a silent thanks to Mike J. Nichols
, the Phantom Editor, for saving what should have been an incredible film.
PS: There are other re-edits of the Phantom Menace which play with the story a lot more and are simply not as well-crafted or effective as this version, so beware. If you start to see Jar-Jar espousing deep Jedi philosophy through subtitled dialog then you'll know you don't have the real "Edit".