Put a group of Star Wars fans in a room for long enough and I guarantee the conversation will eventually turn to prequel bashing. No matter how much time has passed, we just can’t seem to forgive and forget the poodoo that our long-awaited prequels turned out to be. Personally, I felt Episode Two was the most frustrating; at it’s core, it has a complex plot and compelling story, but the film is so hampered by clumsy dialog, misplaced humor and bloated action sequences it feels like a Robert DeNiro performance trapped inside the body of Pauly Shore. Imagine a version of “Attack of the Clones” where Threepio’s head doesn’t get put on a Battle Droid’s body, Ben never visits a robot burger joint and Anakin makes no reference to “sand”. Well, Jedis and Jedettes, that movie is here and you can watch it now…
Back in 2001, fans and the mainstream press were buzzing about “The Phantom Edit,” a widely circulated, re-edited version of “The Phantom Menace” that removed the most offending parts of the film and carefully restructured it to more closely resemble the original Star Wars trilogy. It made a big splash not only for being a better version of the movie, but for the sheer audacity of it – some anonymous guy, instead of just griping about Episode One, actually took matters into his own hands by reworking it and releasing it into the wild.
The “Phantom Editor” was eventually revealed to be Mike J. Nichols, a professional film editor and Star Wars nut living in Southern California. He described his fan edit as a work of “constructive criticism,” often citing that in George Lucas’ early years as an editor, he would often provide an alternate cut for the director, usually to demonstrate where he felt the film was straying off-course; Nichols simply did the same for Episode One.
Eventually the hub-bub died down and life returned to normal, but what seems to have gone almost under the radar is that a few years later Nichols also created an alternate cut of “Attack of the Clones,” a more ambitious effort that bests the original in every possible way.
Part of the reason Episode One is such an underwhelming experience is that so little of importance to the Star Wars saga takes place; so while “The Phantom Edit” improves the movie, there really isn’t enough meat to begin with to make it a truly satisfying experience. Conversely, Episode Two, a much denser, plot-driven film, distracts the viewer with so much cheesy dialog and nonsense that their attention is constantly diverted away from the story at hand.
By removing out-of-place, slapstick humor, trimming action sequences to their dramatic core and snipping the eye-rolling dialog, Nichols has created a prequel that I actually enjoy watching. Here is an example of one of the most offending scenes in the film, followed by the “Phantom” version:
See what a difference a few simple cuts can make? By taking out the “sand” nonsense, we take Anakin much more seriously and by trimming Padame’s awkward rebuff, the love story has an intensity missing from the original.
“Attack of the Phantom,” which cuts about twenty minutes you’ll never miss from Episode Two, is a monumental effort and fascinating lesson in the art of editing. In addition to the recut film, Nichols also includes an entertaining, no-holds-barred commentary track, in which he explains and defends his editing choices, as well as provides a keen insight into where and how the original film went wrong.
“Attack of the Phantom” is easily the best prequel movie to date, and I cannot recommend strongly enough that you track it down. Where can you find it? Fortunately, the original “Phantom Edit” spawned an entire community of fan editors, all people who enjoy not just complaining about movies, but doing something about it! The best place to start is FanEdit.org, more or less the home of fan edits. From there you can navigate to a page for “Attack of the Phantom,” which will give you more info on its creation and how to get it.
You may have to do a little legwork to figure out how to download and burn the DVD, but it’s well worth it. On that site you’ll also find fan edits of dozens of other films, all producing varrying degrees of success (one of their favorite past times has been to re-cut both Matrix sequels into one movie you can stomach). Look around, watch a few edits and believe me, one of these days you’ll be walking out of a theater, saying “you know, that movie would have been so much better if it weren’t for this and that,” and, before you know it, you’ll be firing up Premiere or Final Cut Pro and taking matters into your own hands!
[UPDATE: I have tracked down the Phantom Editor and spoken to him at length - check back with Darth Mojo for an exclusive interview soon!]