Exclusive Chat with 'Star Wars' Revisionist Phantom Editor

By Andrew Rodgers

Wednesday, June 06, 2001

12:06 PM PT

HOLLYWOOD (Zap2it.com) - Nobody knows who the Phantom Editor is. Some people have speculated that he's independent film director Kevin Smith (which is not true, by the way).

But until now, no one has heard from the person behind the mysterious new, re-edited version of George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace. Zap2it has contacted the re-editor, though, and managed to get an exclusive e-mail interview where he tells all about his experience.

Created by an anonymous fan, the film - which is called Episode 1.1 - The Phantom Edit - removes scenes, lines of dialogue and lots of Jar Jar Binks that some fans objected to when the original film debuted in May 199

The general consensus of fans on the Internet who have seen the movie seems to be that the new edit is an improvement on the original version. Many fans have even tried contacting the Phantom Editor to express their appreciation, but haven't heard back much more than a simple "thanks."

Although he's wary of the media and protective of his secret identity, the Phantom Editor responded to some of our questions.

Are you involved in the film community somehow?

"I'll say this, I am in a town where many potential projects gone wrong will lose millions of studio dollars while my demo and resume sit neatly unopened on the desk of someone making lunch plans. I have several years of outside Hollywood editing experience."

How did you come to decide to create this new, re-edited version?

"The concept of Episode 1.1 - The Phantom Edit began soon after the release of The Phantom Menace. I saw it three times at theaters. Like most people, I really wanted to like it; I just couldn't get THAT place. There are things about The Phantom Menace that are bad on paper. There are 'not so great' performances that are permanently burned onto the negative. There is Jar Jar Binks.

"So unlike the rest of the people who simply wrote off Lucas and retreated to some Internet chat room to vocally masturbate about how they could've done better, I decided to challenge myself by making The Phantom Menace into something that, had it been released as THE theatrical version, would not have alienated as many people."

Explain the process of creating 'The Phantom Edit.'

"It was an on and off project over the course of 4 months - weekends, late nights. It was a challenge because I didn't have access to discreet elements of picture and sound. Just the married sound and picture of a VHS videocassette. I made use of every head and tail I could. I faked a couple of shots too. My goal was to be as invisible as possible. So that viewers would notice it was different but not quite realize exactly how.

"Had I Lucas's original elements to work with, I could promise an even better final product. There are things I had to not touch because of this. I promised myself that if I couldn't be invisible about the cuts I was making with what I had, I let it go. If I draw too much attention to the cuts it would take the audience out of the moment, and that's where we started at in the first place.

"The art of editing is one of the most important aspects of a film. Good editing can make a bad film better and a good film great. It can improve bad directing, bad acting and bad story. Bad editing can only make a film bad, period. The process is metaphorically the last and final end to the sentence we know as a 'film.'

"The industry doesn't paint an important portrait of editing or editors. There isn't a wunderkind editor. The editing business card with your name on it isn't quite doing it for the hot chicks at Sunset bars and nightclubs. Editing isn't on the tip of anyone's tongue at Hollywood parties. At least it wasn't until now."

Exactly how much did you cut from the original version?

"The Phantom Edit has a run time of approximately 113 minutes with credits. About 20 minutes have been removed from the theatrical version of 133 minutes... I'd like to note here that the intent was not to simply remove footage that I didn't like for the sake of making it shorter."

Perhaps the largest chunk of the film you cut out was the scene where Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jar Jar Binks are travelling up to the surface of Naboo in an underwater ship. Why did you choose to delete this particular scene?

"I've read a lot now about the underwater sequence being cut. The mass of that scene is to establish that Jar Jar was banished and he is clumsy. Do we really need to be told that? The audience knows both these elements way before this scene so then the scene remains in the film as a showpiece for ILM visual effects. By Lucas's own rule, showcasing effects and sets is the reason most fantasy and sci-fi films fail.

"I've read about the speculated big fish/little fish and the soon to come Rebellion/Empire metaphor of this scene. I will address it this way. It's an analogy. It's a good one and it may be Lucas's intention, but, a four minute super wide shot of a bug on a wall may represent the loneliness of a young slave's life and longing for the future, but it takes the audience out of the experience and it's out of character in a good time popcorn movie like Star Wars."

Are there any scenes that you re-edited that you are particularly proud of?

"One of the less mentioned edits is Anakin before the Jedi Council. Yoda states that there is much fear in the boy, but his dialog and actions don't really reflect that. Anakin doesn't seem scared of anything.

"I re-edited this scene so it shows him reluctant and perhaps afraid to speak as they probe his thoughts and then a foreshadowing glimmer of the anger the audience knows is in him, all by not letting him say a word. I also think Jake Loyd's performance is improved by this. I did small, appropriate dialogue cutting for his character throughout The Phantom Edit."

How many different edits did you make to the film?

"I actually recommend watching The Phantom Edit and then The Phantom Menace. There are a lot of small things you might not even catch with one viewing. I'm not going to get into a play by play because then everyone will just focus on the physical cut instead of how it moves the story along."

How did you distribute 'The Phantom Edit?'

"One day I mentioned it to a friend and they asked for a copy to watch with some of their friends. Next thing I know they're passing around copies and I'm getting e-mails from strangers thanking me. Then came a fan site, Internet chat room discussions, news stories and what I hear is a big media bounty on my head."

Do you know how far the tapes have travelled? Or how many people have a copy?

"I don't really correspond with a lot of the people that have written me lately. Sometimes a simple 'thanks,' but not so much anymore with all the press it's getting. I've gotten emails from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Russia. A lot of fans got my email address but might not have seen The Phantom Edit and want to know where they could get one.

"I've lately been concerned who's at the other end of those overseas e-mails. I don't distribute them or even think of selling them. Somehow people are getting them though. I never knew it would become this big. I'm really not sure who's got copies now. It's been way outta my control for a long time now."

In summary, what did George Lucas do wrong when he made 'The Phantom Menace?'

"George Lucas is a visionary and a pioneer in the technology of film. I believe we would be years behind where we are now without his contributions. (Digital video and 24 frame cameras may not have even been around yet.) With The Phantom Menace, I think he got so wrapped up in the cloud of advanced technology that he overlooked some of the more primitive elements of good storytelling that he became famous for.

"In a sense, The Phantom Menace didn't seem to suffer because he didn't have the technology to do everything he could imagine in his head, it's more likely because he did."

Do you have any advice for Lucas as he continues to work on Episode 2?

"If he looks at the theme in his own work, he can find the answer. The strong-hearted primitive will prevail over technology in the end. I really believe Lucas is going to be back on track with Episode 2. If not, I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again. Let's hope it will be from a more legit position at The Ranch or at a theater near you."

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