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This review was written by Joshua Griffin
Published on June 11, 2001

The Phantom Re-Edit: Episode 1.1 Review

Ask a child what they thought of Episode I and they will start smiling immediately, telling tall tales of their best friend Jar Jar Binks and the evil Darth Maul who gets split in two at the end of the picture. Nothing is wrong with the film one bit to them, they love it from start to finish regardless.

If I were to ask an average Generation-X fan what they didn't like about Episode I, I could almost list out the top five things:

  • Jar Jar Binks
  • Boss Nass
  • Midichlorians
  • Gungans in general
  • Too little screen time for Darth Maul

Not much can be done about Maul's screen time, I'm sorry to admit. Aside from a few additional scenes that may be included in the Episode I DVD this fall you're about out of luck. The rest? The Phantom Editors may have a solution to your Episode I woes.

Enter the fan-edits of Episode I. People inside the industry at least to some degree are taking their own stab at George Lucas' first return to Star Wars in twenty-something years, creating derivative works that are turning a lot of heads. As of this writing, there are two versions of The Phantom Edit making the rounds. The first, created over a year ago by a couple of guys from New York and a friend in LA, and the second a more recent and simple version by an anonymous LA fan.

Certainly both edits are making the rounds right now and contributing to the feverish hype of creating your own version of The Phantom Menace. Zap2it, USA Today, New York papers and JAM Showbiz are just a sampling of the widespread coverage these adventures are getting. And today here's my look at the picture from start to finish.

The most recent is getting the most attention, and it is called "The Phantom Edit" by "The Phantom Editor" which changes the opening text scroll to explain what it is and why he did it. It was first being noticed early in 2001, but has only received much attention in the past two weeks. It is centered around removing Jar Jar and making the child Anakin more mature. Apparently it is a sharp cut, and much of the attention has been focused on this version.

The second edit, the granddaddy to the entire concept of editing someone else's movie to your personal liking is entitled "The Phantom Re-Edit: Episode 1.1" and has been around subtly since April of 2000. This appears to be a far more extensive edit of the original movie, making Jar Jar into a Jedi, maturing up all of the Gungans and tons of minor cuts, edits and changes to pacing throughout. This is the version we are reviewing this go round (if you can send me a copy of the latest edit, please drop me a line). Both have been sent to Lucas just recently and undoubtedly Lucasfilm will comment on them both in the very near future.

No wonder these folks want to stay anonymous, since there's plenty at stake here. But I'm not going to get into the ethical angle on this much at all. In fact, I'm not even sure where I stand on the whole issue to be honest. There most certainly are copyright infringements involved and cinema has long been considered an art. Adulterating the canvas does stray from the author's intent and purpose in the current edit of a film, and it would seem to the casual observer to be a slap in the face of the artist to change their painting to suit their own wants and desires. This week we'll have a daily series of essays and comments on these issues, but you don't want to read about that right now anyhow, right?

I have to admit it, I really liked it.

It looks and feels like Star Wars, from the very beginning. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the THX sound test and opening crawl all are perfectly identical. But that is just the beginning of the edit to say the least. The Neimoudians have always been unbelievable to me, with their strange accent and poor animatronics masks. Not any more. The editors have scrambled up their seemingly Chinese moniker with a new garbled alien language that must be subtitled. The effort (which improves as the film goes along) is both believable and convincing.

No longer are the Neimoudians bumbling idiots unknowingly aiding the evil Lord Sidious, they are now more apart of the Phantom Menace than before. They have quite a few lines in the movie, so there is a fair amount of time spent reading but it is well worth it. They are both more menacing and evil, their words having to be read also takes time away from looking at the masks I happen to really dislike.

At this point, I think I have to admit that I really did enjoy George Lucas' Phantom Menace. I have watched it many times with many people and think it is a great first instalment to the double trilogy in the Star Wars universe. I have no doubt that Lucas had specific reasons for Jar Jar's antics in Episode I, and the bumbling Neimoudians that are set to return in Episode II. The film is not fundamentally flawed and is precisely the vision that Lucas wanted to create.

But the reaction to new visions like Jar Jar have been less than profound. While a vocal minority loathes the character, others tolerate his personality and the balance are the only ones to truly appreciate the concept that originated in Lucas' mind. In this version of the movie, Jar Jar's role is significantly changed. Not only are his podoo scenes on Tatooine completely removed, but you'll also miss R2 bumping into him aboard the Queen's ship and many other moments of his childlike behavior like snatching the apple at the Tatooine table. He now speaks like a mature member of society, and in the new Gungan dialect.

Jar Jar now speaks in a garbled version of Ahmed Best's voice, with very different subtitles below the widescreen bars. Instead of being his usual stuff you are familiar with, he now takes an active role in the solutions of the movie. Instead of being a casual bystander to the action and direction of the plot, the character now instigates solutions including the alliance between the Naboo people and the Gungans, and mentions how upset the Gungans will be if they disturb their aquatic domain. In one scene that had me laughing out loud, inside the bongo transport Jar Jar actually feels the anguish of the Naboo people in their losing battle with the Trade Federation like a true Jedi. Shades of Obi-Wan having to sit down as Alderaan cried out to him in A New Hope. Now that is a whole new Jar Jar!

Other Gungans get the presto-chango as well, including Boss Nass as a far wiser leader of the underwater race. He also speaks in the new Gungan dialect, and his screen time has also been reduced with that of other Gungan moments like the core journey as well. Gone are the Gungan council scenes which were overplayed to the hilt by Brian Blessed and the Captain Tarpals electric prod scenes as they initially enter the city. Surprisingly enough the last line of the movie ("Peace!") was not translated into his subtitled language, which may have been a purposeful oversight by the editors to show Boss Nass making an effort to relate to the Naboo language after making peace with the symbiotic nation. Or maybe I'm just getting WAY too much into this edit of the film.

Speaking of cuts, the film runs at a fast-paced 119 minutes, so there's been plenty of new deleted scenes though all of the action. Wipe transitions and music has been melted back together so it is hard to tell the difference from how it originally went. There are no new added scenes in the movie, just new cuts, transitions and edits to move the story along a bit faster.

Anakin is also matured a bit in this version of the film, with a few yippees and other childlike behaviors removed for your pleasure. There is undoubtedly some great moments in here worth mentioning, but I was so overwhelmed by all of the changes I'm sure I missed many. Midichlorians are also out the window, with the scene with Qui-Gon testing his blood ending abruptly without ever talking to Obi-Wan about his extremely high count.

The film quality is about right on, though the original was probably just a copy of the widescreen tape, and not the Laserdisc from Japan. It is still sharp and clear in the widescreen format, but there is a generation gap. Undoubtedly some the copies flying around are beyond second generation as well, with third and forth generation copies probably more lacking than the copy that landed in my mailbox this past Friday. Most of the edits are clean and crisp, though some feel forced or leave a scene open-ended. The nature of the beast though, not having the benefit of a cutting room floor and editing an already edited film.

While the picture was still very sharp considering it was not made off of a master or a digital format like DVD, the sound does suffer to a degree. Even though I have a killer Dolby 2.0 Hi-Fi system for videocassettes (VHS), it wasn't nearly as good as the original VHS version of TPM. Of course, nothing like that was expected so no love lost there. It works just fine but feels more like a television airing than the theater version. Of course, until the Dolby 5.1 DVD arrives, I still can't be satisfied even with the official copy of the movie.

So all in all, your typical gripes of Episode I by many older fans has been answered in a resounding way. Simply re-edit the film to your liking, and like a software upgrade give it a new version number. The Phantom Menace 1.1 is an intriguing look at what a fan with a bit of imagination can do with a few tools and a vision for making a movie their own. Or is a message to all of us that perhaps we should take a step back from Star Wars like a child and love it for what it is?


Some other thoughts:

To some degree, I feel like this is almost one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books that let you choose what you want to see and do next. A typical novel reads start to finish straight through, but this kid's book let you choose the ending and pathways to that destination. But where will it all stop? Perhaps someone wants to see Darth Maul return so they'll make it where he escapes from Obi-Wan at the end of this first movie. Or the fan favorite Boba Fett can't really die in Return of the Jedi so a jetpack scene was added back in for Episode VI - 1.1.

While the edit has been terrifically fun to watch, it is just that. It is not the Star Wars that was given to us by Lucas in May of 1999, like it or lump it. But by the same token I hope Lucas takes some of these ideas into his Star Wars DVD Double Trilogy: 12 Disc set Ultimate Special Edition we're bound to see in 2006.

While Episode I was his definitive vision, he has a tendency to revisit his movies again and again, taking the canvas back off of the wall for another healthy dose of paint. Perhaps the fan versions of his films are breaking new ground, sending a message to the Lucasfilm world what many fans have been saying all along. Or perhaps in a few years we will all understand just how wrong we were enjoying the new cuts, when Lucas is finished showing us all of the paintings in his mind (Episode II and III), how Jar Jar, the Gungans and Midichlorians really are supposed to fit in.

What ever your opinion is on the ethics and legality of chopping up someone else's property, stay tuned to TFN in the coming days for detailed articles of opinion and thought on the Edits of Episode I.


After reading this review, are you desperate to get your hands on a copy? Have you seen any of the fan-edits of "The Phantom Menace"?

Feedback welcome

 

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