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This essay is from Chris Knight
Published on June 14, 2001

The Phantom Edit -
Artistic Rape

Even among fans, Jared is pretty unique: there are three and only three Star Wars films in his universe. "I'm not going to see the prequels," he said a month before Episode I's release, sitting among his sizeable collection of Star Wars toys. Why not? "It's too fake," he said: Lucas had diluted what, to him, was "real" Star Wars with too much computer-rendering and "fake" techniques. "Real Star Wars" to Jared meant a big rubber suit for Jar Jar Binks, not Ahmed Best being pixellated over.

That was two years ago and maybe Jared did break down and watched TPM. I thought he was kinda nuts. Heck I told him he was kinda nuts! But I'm looking at eating a plate of crow after seeing where the kid had a point: I don't wanna see "The Phantom Menace" either. or the "Phantom Edit" anyway.

Let's recap, shall we? Up until a month ago we had one Episode I. Suddenly in the past few weeks The Phantom Menace has as many varieties as OJ has alibis. Take your pick: the TPM one-man edit, the TPM three-man edit, Jar Jar-Lite TPM, Midichlorian-Free TPM, XXX-rated TPM, TPM with Nutrasweet, TPM The All-Mime Edition, Inuit-dubbed TPM. Episode I is getting reincarnated faster than Shirley MacLaine.

The new versions have been made so we are told because of certain "weaknesses" in the original TPM: the midi-chlorians. Jar Jar. Anakin's childishness. Slow pacing. Jar Jar. Boss Nass. Not enough action. Too much politics. Jar Jar. you get the idea. So someone came up with the idea of editing TPM per their own predilections: something akin to slicing out Toto from "The Wizard Of Oz" because he's not really important to the plot.

Funny: I always thought the idea of art was to convey the thoughts of the artist, not what other people want the thoughts of the artist to be. From the getgo, I didn't like this (and all I've got to go on are Josh's review and the stories posted at TFN, keep that in mind). Film shouldn't be treated like a "choose your own adventure" artform, unless that's somehow the filmmaker's explicit design. I wonder if someone will have Chief Bromden become a blabbermouth in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Or if it'll be decided that Itzhak Stern's role slowed down the pace; that Spielberg spent too much time lingering his camera on Auschwitz and that Amon Goeth didn't get enough screentime as a bad-a$$. And that 197-minute running time should be trimmed down to at most 130. So then a hack edit of Schindler's List will start floating around and Spielberg will want a copy.

Get the picture? No one in his right mind would touch Shindler's List: it's as perfectly crafted a film as there will be, ever. It's the one film that can be shown on broadcast television, without a single edit made to the swearing, the violence or even for a real commercial break. So why is it that some films are anointed sacrosanct, while others are open for intellectual desecration?

But enough philosophy for now. here's what's chapping my hide about this here Phantom Edit:

Not having seen it, I shouldn't comment on the revamped Neimoidians. but their "expanded role" in the plot deserves some scorn. Giving them a larger hand in the Naboo plot lessens the Sith's self-reliance somehow, like Darth Sidious is going to open up the Sith inner workings to anyone outside the cult. Real power-mongers don't do that: they surround themselves with maybe two or three trusted lieutenants and work through them, like a mad puppeteer pulling the strings. That Sidious conquers the galaxy with one apprentice by his side at any time gives him more potency as a villain: giving him more colleagues diminishes that cunning. Gunray and crew are expendable, not associates. On the other hand and to give the editors some credit for creativity, I am very interested to see what they did with the Neimoidians' speech: it's not so much nitpicking and it doesn't really affect the plot or pacing. But having more subtitles would have, for me at least, given a far greater impression about the rich scope of the Star Wars galaxy in TPM, and the Neimoidians would have been the perfect opportunity to do that. It's still something that Lucas could (and might) decide to do for his own if he wants it though. Likewise, I'm curious to see what they did with the Gungan speech.

Which leads into what they've done to Jar Jar Binks: there was nothing wrong with him to begin with. Neither of the versions (so far) are supposedly faithful to the original character, leading me to wonder if Jar Jar was the sole reason for the edits. And if he received the same treatment as the Neimoidians, his character is also diluted for the story. Jar Jar is something more than a lovable goofball: he also represents how even powerful Jedi need to be humble, as they showed themselves in requiring Jar Jar's assistance. Making him on a level approaching them reduces the relationship between Jar Jar and the two Jedi. There's a richness to the original portrayal of the Gungans in general also: Boss Nass and his people were a foreign power, one that the Naboo had only a tenuous relationship with. There's no real symbiosis (gee whiz wasn't that a theme of Lucas's?) possible between the two in the edits, and it's a lack of understanding that is apparently throughout the edits.

So Anakin's supposed to have more maturity in the Phantom Edit, with "a few yippees and other childlike behaviors removed for your pleasure." Well whoop-tee-do!! And what, pray tell, were the Phantom Editors hoping to accomplish with that?! Because if they start tinkering with Anakin's life journey then I seriously gotta question whether these guys understand Star Wars at all. Anakin's tale beginning as a child was part of the whole scheme: you know, starting innocent, hero's journey, Joseph Campbell and all that? He's not supposed to start out a brash, headstrong young Jedi-turned-brooding Sith Lord at this stage in the game. No, we really need to see an earlier chapter in his life, when he's wild and carefree and na?ve to the seductions of the larger world awaiting him. The TPM Anakin should act innocent, because he is innocent, and that has to be established now, if his fall to the Dark Side is going to have any heartbreaking impact in the least and we can appreciate his journey from beginning to end. Else we might as well throw out any character development and chuck in one of those "paper dolls" from Star Trek.

For all these reasons and more, I don't like the idea of the Phantom Edit, even though I haven't seen it. Nor do I really care to see it. And it has to do with what film is as an art form: behind every film you'll watch, there was one individual however curious or eccentric who invested his or her time to translate the vision from their head onto the big screen. And it shouldn't matter about what film that is, and not every film is a good one even. Many are mediocre if not downright unwatchable: for every Titanic that's made there's a dozen Fat Guy Goes Nutzoids collecting dust and dead roaches on the shelf of the local Blockbuster.

But that shouldn't mean that even a mess like Yor: The Hunter From The Future doesn't have intrinsic value: as wretched as that. thing. is, it still makes me wonder about how delightfully warped a fun mind it was that made it. It was someone who believed enough in that vision to commit it to film, for all the hard work that that entailed. Maybe someday Lucas will go back and re-work TPM as he did the original trilogy, and it will still be his vision. But for the same respect that I wouldn't change a thing in Yor, I wouldn't want to be the one who changed Episode I in the least.

Y'see, a filmmaker also is trying to contribute something of his or her own to the world. Something that will be lighting up a screen long years after they've left this earth. Why should they want someone else to not in remaking per the original spirit but take that contribution and alter it for their own sake? A filmmaker is trying to express his vision, so that maybe someone might take notice, and maybe stop and say "hey, I wonder who this guy was?"

George Lucas has already succeeded in doing that. He's worked to make his life count for something ever since almost dying in a car crash at 16. And he's doing it in a very special way: by sharing his dreams with us. We should be thankful that he's opened the door this far into his creative process for us to enjoy. And maybe we can't all be blockbuster filmmakers, but each of us does have something we can call our own, to help those around us in the belief that maybe we are leaving this place a little better than we found it.

So why the "Phantom Edit"? Why alter someone else's mark in the world? Or is it that the editors haven't the courage to leave their own, so they try riding another's path to honor and glory?

Or maybe they made it to satisfy an action-glutted Generation X mob. the kind that cares less for childish antics and character development as it does for fast motion for less thinking. That the innocence of Jar Jar and Anakin are diminished bothers me, because appealing to the child that (I like to think anyway) is in all of us is what Star Wars is about. isn't it? Well, there's where the people of my own generation have gone way off the mark: we want things fast, the way we want them and we want it now! I don't doubt that TPM fails to satisfy, because this movie isn't for us. This isn't Burger King where you can have it your way: this is a movie for the generations that will follow after us, a parable to them. And we need to begin looking at TPM through those long-sighted, childlike eyes again. It's not a film for the moment, but one step along a greater journey. And we need to start having faith that Lucas knows where he's taking us.

All that said, I can't but believe that the Phantom Edit is an effort insincere and unfaithful to the spirit of Star Wars. It should be disregarded as anything but a curiosity (maybe less than the Holiday Special, parse THAT as you will). So to the Phantom Editors, I beseech you: if you've got a vision, then work to realize YOUR vision, not what you think someone else's vision should be. We already know what George Lucas is thinking up. what can you think that we haven't seen yet? You've got drive and you've obviously got talent. might you hitch your own wagon to a new star?

We're waiting to see. In the meantime, any re-editing of Episode I is tantamount to hijacking another's vision, if not outright artistic rape.

 

What do you think. Is Chris right? Is the re-editing of Episode I by the Phantom Editors artistic rape? Email us and let us know what you think.

Feedback welcome

 

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