With the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D recently, a lot of people have been thinking and talking about the Star Wars prequels, a series of films that started more than ten years ago and which overcame their mostly negative word-of-mouth to make bucketloads of money.
As far back as when The Phantom Menace was in theaters the first time, though, fans were already pretty sure they could do better. A notorious example is Star Wars Episode I.I: The Phantom Edit, which removed Jar Jar Binks almost completely, as well as quite a bit of dialogue the editor deemed silly or wrong for the Star Wars films.
Following the media attention that The Phantom Edit got, there was a wide variety of fan edits made of each of the subsequent films, although none of them were able to reclaim the energy and attention of The Phantom Edit. Until now, that is.
Last week, Spider-Man 3 actor Topher Grace screened a fan edit he made of the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy for friends and a small number of reporters in Hollywood. Titled Star Wars Episode III.5: The Editor Strikes Back, Grace trimmed the 700-minute runtime of the three films down to one 85-minute feature which, according to those in attendance, actually worked pretty well.
Now, obviously we live in the days of decompressed storytelling and shortening a work to remove what some consider wasted space on the page or screen is not uncommon; when Justice League #1 recently came out by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, a fan edit appeared online that cut the book's page count to only 16 and retained all of the plot. Still, reducing the entire Star Wars trilogy to a single film shorter than The Hangover is a strange, fascinating and ballsy move. While Grace claims to have done it to teach himself editing and says he has no intention of making his cut available, the descriptions available online virtually guarantee that some enterprising fan will attempt the same thing and so fans will likely see a similar cut soon to decide for themselves whether Grace was too aggressive.
In any case, the reports indicate that Grace almost completely removed Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace from his edit, leaving only a few action sequences and character introductions and cutting Jake Lloyd from the film completely. Even with a version of the trilogy that leaves almost everything on the cuttung-room floor, that's a pretty dramatic statement to make about a movie that fans notoriously camped out for weeks to see. Dramatic, yes. But not unprecedented.
A recent blog post that picked up a ton of traffic on Digg offered "the correct viewing order" for the six Star Wars films, intended primarily to preserve both surprises (Episode III's revelation regarding the identity of the Emperor as well as Episode V's big Darth Vader reveal). Called "Machete Order," the post suggests that there is nothing at all in The Phanom Menace which is both necessary to the other episodes and not re-explained in Attack of the Clones, and therefore suggests removing the film entirely when viewing the trilogy for the first time.
If that's who fans perceive The Phantom Menace, maybe it's not a surprise that it became the first live-action Star Wars film in decades not to open at #1 at the US box office when the 3D version hit in February.