"If This is a Nightmare, Will You Wake Me After We Hit Lightspeed?"

George Lucas didn’t rape your childhood.  He certainly didn’t rape mine.  Believe me, I’m infuriated by his seemingly endless string of “improvements” to the originals; my four separate boxed sets would attest to that.  Yet as big of a Star Wars geek as I am, I’ve never quite bought into the notion that Lucas somehow “owes” everyone for changing what are ultimately his movies.

That brings me to “The Phantom Edit.”  Now chances are if you’ve had any contact with the opposite sex, you’ve never heard of it.  It’s essentially an alternate fan version of Episode I.  That means somebody went through and cut out all the unnecessary fat, bad dialogue and sinister glares from Senator Palpatine and whittled down the first entry in the Star Wars saga enough to find a well-crafted, robust and misunderstood storyline somewhere in there.  Well sorta.  Not really, but what do you expect from something that was originally circulated through copies on VHS tape?  Huh?  Oh right, sorry.  “VHS tapes” were those black plastic boxes with little spools of film on the inside.  Still not registering?  Movie stores would sometimes charge you for not rewinding them?  What’s a “movie store?”

Following speculation that Kevin Smith was the one behind the alternate version, the Phantom Editor, Mike Nichols, revealed himself by writing two separate letters: one to the Washington Post in 2001 and the other to the Los Angeles Times in 2002.  Kind of like the Zodiac killer, though that’s not to suggest that Star Wars fans are mentally unstable.

Threepio’s not gay.  He’s just well-versed in the binary language of load lifters.
The edit cuts nearly twenty minutes of the film, an especially impressive feat when you realize that not much actually gets changed.  Sure, the Phantom Editor trims some overdone exposition, lots of Jar Jar moments, and the more (ahem) taxing political jargon, but most of these omissions remain so small they’re only likely to be noticed by someone who’s watched “The Phantom Menace” fifteen times over.  But what kind of loser would even admit to that, am I right?  The problem in the Phantom Editor’s approach is a fairly obvious one: you can’t take too much fat off these scenes lest you risk making them even more awkward and have to remove them entirely.  As an example, take the fateful first meeting between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker:
Knowing what their relationship is destined to come to, this is significant territory to cover and quite a big deal, right up there with blowing up the Death Star or the duel on Cloud City.  This is a friendship that will blossom and then crumble before our eyes.  It’s Shakespearean really, or it could have been.  “The Phantom Edit” springs from the same “could’ve been” line of thinking Star Wars fans are all too familiar with.  All the edits in the world couldn’t help this scene from being poorly written.  This is a moment that deserves more than whiny pleasantries and a limp handshake, but like the prequels as a whole, it’s really all we have.  It’s also a swift kick to the groin.  If it’s any compensation, that great lightsaber duel remains untouched, even if I wouldn’t have objected to this version instead:

When I said this is really all we’ve got, I meant it.  Unless George is saving the real versions for a posthumous release, we’re stuck with that stupid kid from “Jingle All the Way” and Ahmed Best.  Yes, the creative force behind Jar Jar Binks’ last name is Best.  Irony works in mysterious ways.  On the prospect of an alternate prequel trilogy though, how awesome would that be?  You disappoint your fan base for over a decade only to pull the Wrodian carpet out from under them.  Rest assured I’d see each of those movies ten times each.  It would be the single greatest marketing ploy never to happen, that is unless at the end of that “Dark Knight Rises” trailer they threw in a clip of Heath, alive and well, Joker makeup and all, flashing a thumbs up to the camera:  “Nah, just fuckin’ with ya!”

The solution to these films is not, and has never been, to edit them.  They need to be remade, but the likelihood of George bequeathing those rights to Joss Whedon in his will are… slim.  You can probably guess some of the necessary changes, though:

  •  DON’T include the same damn droids.  C-3PO doesn’t need to have been built by Anakin.  It’s not clever, it’s sloppy storytelling.  It’s also stupid.
  • DON’T kill off Darth Maul.  Less is more.  Besides, the villains only get lamer anyway.
  • For the love of God, DON’T start with Anakin as a child.  You could’ve told the entirety of “The Phantom Menace” in two pages of script and been done with it.  This would also critically avoid having to cast Jake Lloyd in anything ever again:

That she-bitch at the beginning of the clip is Robin Gurland.  The fucking casting director.  Look at some of those YouTube comments.  Seriously, even YouTube commenters, who fall somewhere between those preteens that whoop my ass on XBox Live and pond scum, couldn’t have messed up casting that badly.  Yeah, Anakin’s character is just “that complex.”  Jake’s range would be perfect for the role.  At least you can’t screw up the same decision twice, right?

I should start a hit list.

Is George Lucas a bit of an idiot who probably gets more credit than he deserves?  Of course, but here’s an even better question: How can we be surprised when an independently-financed film from a director with virtually no creative restrictions turns out to suck major ass?  At the end of the day, George Lucas is a “big picture” kind of guy.  You know why “The Empire Strikes Back” is so good?  The director, Irvin Kershner, had enough cinematic foresight to look at the script and think, “No, Han Solo wouldn’t look at Leia and say ‘I love you, too.’  That’s terrible writing.”  And what did we get from that?

Now that’s filmmaking.

Take three minutes out of your day and look back at some of the initial reviews for Episode I.  Sure, Wikipedia says they were generally “mixed,” but if you actually read some of them, you’ll find a bizarre mix of denial and confusion.  I don’t know if the site was even around in 1999, but one has to wonder what a collective “WTF?!” would rate on the Tomatometer.  Here’s the kicker.  A lot of nerds just didn’t want to accept that they waited sixteen years, stood in lines for days, and probably turned down a few opportunities for some solid boob grabbage for… well, this:

I get it.  I may have been only eleven at the time, but I get it.  Emotion and ungodly amounts of time were invested in this.  Loins were collectively shat when this sucker first hit in 1998.  But is it too bold to think that “The Phantom Edit” is just regret in the form of fan fiction?  Is there even such a thing?  It’s like we’re refusing to admit that we were excited for this.  But we were.  Everyone was.  If you were the only kid who didn’t see “The Phantom Menace” that summer you fucking sucked.  Some people paid full admission just to see that damn trailer, and I’m no better.  I went and skipped school to see “The Incredibles” back in 2004 for the same reason.

No, you read that correctly.  I was more excited about a Hayden Christensen trailer than PIXAR.  Hindsight’s a real bitch, ain’t it?

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