A long time ago in San Anselmo, California In February of 1977, George Lucas invited some of his closest friends to watch a rough cut of his new film: Star Wars. In attendance among a handful of people were
Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma. The response was- -not good. According to Spielberg, this is how De Palma reacted: “Well, Brian went off the deep end.” “WHAT???!!! MAKES NO SENSE! NONSENSE!” The film was in trouble. Sure, you can point at the superficial problems with the rough cut. Such as, placeholder VFX, stock footage, unfinished sound, and temp music. But, we’re not gonna focus on those. No, the real issues were fundamental: the story, the scenes, the characters, the pacing But the film was not beyond saving, because they say a film is written three times: first, in the screenplay, next, in production “You can’t win, Darth. If my blade should find its mark, you will cease to exist.” and finally, in the edit. “You can’t win Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” The success of Star Wars was not inevitable. In fact, the way things were going, it was almost guaranteed to fail. It was only due to their laborious editorial process that Star Wars snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. So Lucas turned to his ingenious editing team: Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch, arguably one of George’s greatest collaborators:
his wife at the time, Marcia Lucas. Their job was to rebuild a bloated first act,
cut tons of unnecessary material, create clarity, tension,
and drama in places that had none, and restructure scenes and
entire sequences to propel the story forward. Basically, they just had to start from scratch. In this video, we’ll compare and contrast these changes from rough to final cut Using references from the script, recovered deleted scenes, and behind the scenes interviews in order to demonstrate just how powerful editing is as a storytelling tool. So, without further redo, let’s go back and examine how Star Wars was saved in the edit. The film always began with the famous opening crawl. However, the text itself in earlier drafts was long. Really long. And it bombarded the audience with information.
Especially for a first-time viewer. It talked about the Republic Galactica, the Jedi Knights, the Dark Lords of the Sith, the Emperor, none of which will be immediately relevant to the story we’re about to watch.
It’s just overloaded. Remember Brian De Palma? He was particularly brutal about the opening crawl. So, George enlisted him and Jay Cox to rewrite it. And that’s how we got the roll up we see today, which is straight to the point There’s a civil war between the Rebellion and the Empire, a Death Star, stolen plans–and we’re off. Then we see an epic space battle.
Star Destroyers chasing Princess Leia’s ship and is quickly captured. Storm troopers blast their way in. There’s a huge firefight. So far so good. Everything was pretty much the same, up until this happens: “Help, I think I’m melting! This is all your fault!” A little awkward place for a joke, and then there’s a scene transition to… wherever this is? And who the heck is that? And what’s he doing? Hopefully, it’s clear already that there’s some problems with this. They just interrupted the pacing of this epic space battle to cut to some rando kid and his robot. This is really how they’re gonna introduce their main character? But it gets worse. “C’mon, Treadwell! Come on, get in gear!” Cutting the deleted scene is one thing.
However, the opening of the film intercut with luke constantly So, let’s break down Luke’s introduction. In the first cut of the film, they intercut with Luke three times before he eventually crosses paths with the droids at the Jawa auction. Which, as we all know, is the first time we meet Luke in the final film. “Luke? Luke!” This scene was never intended to be Luke’s introduction, but it works. “Luke, tell uncle if he gets a translator be sure it speaks Bocce.” “Doesn’t look like we have much of a choice, but I’ll remind him.” Okay, so why were those scenes cut? To put it simply, they’re boring. Nothing is happening and they prevent the story from progressing. And to illustrate that, here’s a quick breakdown of the events laid out in the rough cut. We already saw the first scene, so now we’re back on the ship. We meet Darth Vader, we see him kill a guy, Leia gets captured, and the droids escaped. Then, they cut back to Luke. We see him running, running some more, he meets his friend Biggs, and they look up at the sky. Then once again, they go from epic space fantasy, to a kid spewing pointless exposition Well, I’m serious the sandpeople been getting really crazy.
They’ve even rated the outskirts of angkor thom That’s enough of that. We’ll provide links below if you want to watch the whole thing okay? So even if those scenes had been good Which they’re not in the making of Star Wars editor Paul Hirsch says quote in the first five minutes We were hitting everybody with more information than they could handle there were too many storylines to keep straight the robots the Princess Vader Luke so we simplified it by taking Luke out, and you don’t introduce Luke until he actually becomes a part of the story. okay, Let’s go Don’t you think it’s Hersh continues by stating quote it also made the planet they land on work as an alien place Before by showing Luke on the planet there was no mystery.
You knew the planet was inhabited by people But now you don’t know what you’re gonna find the first characters you see the jawas Which gives it a whole air of exotic mystery end quote now. We’ve seen how intercutting with Luke was completely unnecessary Let’s look at how intercutting was used to its fullest potential Because how and when you intercut is very important? The general pattern is that they intercut between what’s going on with the droids and cut to the empire who’s hunting ahead? But for the first cut of the film you’ll find that none of these scenes really seem to line up So let’s talk about five scenes in particular. The conference scene where Vader chokes a guy. – “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” The look sir droids scene. – “Look sir droids.” The Leia interrogation scene. “We will discuss the location of your hidden rebel base.” The set the course for Alderaan scene. “Set your course for Alderaan.” And the Vader vamping scene – “I want the rebels located and identified.” as it was written and first edited, here’s where those scenes fell. Just after R-2 and 3-PO are reunited “R2-D2 it is you! It is you!” They cut to the conference – “I find your lack of faith disturbing” Then Owen asks Beru “Have you seen Luke this morning?” Then they cut to- Troy Luke and obi-wan talk in the house the force is what gives a Jedi his paw cut to the interrogation location or hidden Luke discovers his murdered family Set the course to Alderaan the Jabba the Hutt scene full of traffic next time you want to talk to me come see me yourself Which we’ll talk about more later followed by the Vader vamping scene in This current form the Imperial scenes sort of feel thrown in at random, which creates several problems But let me show you the final order, and then we’ll go through it scene by scene okay So here’s where the editors made the biggest structural changes The underlying lesson here is how an editor is responsible for controlling the flow of Information how one scene should lead into the next based on what the audience knows up to that point? In the final assembly after R2 and 3PO are reunited they cut to this Which is telling the audience automatically that these characters are still in immediate danger? As opposed to cutting to the conference scene where you’re giving a whole slew of Exposition about things that don’t seem to be related at all to what’s going on the last Remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away another problem about keeping the conference scene here Is that this would become the audience’s first introduction to the force the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant? Next to the power of a force instead of hearing about it from obi-wan the force is what gives a Jedi his path It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us it binds the Galaxy together So by reshuffling these Imperial scenes we get immediate payoffs to the scenes that preceded those So now the conference comes after we meet obi-wan where we learn Vader was seduced by the dark side of the force Then we see then I find your lack of faith disturbing Vader as you wish We also learned that r2 has the stolen plans to the Death Star I have placed information vital to the survival of the rebellion into the memory systems of this r2 unit Followed by the plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands By moving this one scene here the other scenes naturally fell into place when Luke discovers his murdered family Instead of seeing set the course to Alderaan they now reinforce that The Princess and the rebellion are in danger And it’s not until after Luke and obi-wan meet han Solo Chewie here tells me you’re looking for passage to the Alderaan system That we find out the Empire’s going to the same place. She’ll also alter that well Okay, so what about the Jabba and Vader scenes? well You don’t need them both were cut from the released version because all they do is repeat the same information the audience already knows we already know this I want the Located in identifying at any information that we would have got from the java scene was passed on the Greedo They did this by dubbing Greedo with an alien language and adding subtitles Java in Chico But as we all know George Lucas went back and added this scene back in twice But the film worked fine without it so to quickly recap We’ve seen how these editors have cut material will always be the base for more than hand We’ve seen how they’ve intercut and restructured. What was already there Now let’s take a look at some of the more nuanced edits Fine-tuned Star Wars made tons of subtle changes leading up to its release so I might not get to all of them But I’ll highlight a few ok they remove these rear projection shots of the land speeder because they look terrible Instead they dubbed in dialogue over this wide shot look at there’s a droid on the scanner When the stormtroopers are searching the town originally it wasn’t revealed that the droids were behind the door until the very end But there was no suspense that way so in the Edit They reversed this shot of the door opening and added in this line lock the door r2 Alright check this side of the street It’s a small thing again, but every moment helps Then there’s the scene in Obi Wan’s house originally the scene started with Luke and obi-wan watching the princesses message Then they play with lightsabers, and then they consider to go help her Luke she’s a child But upon viewing as they described in the making of Star Wars This seemed a bit heartless because of the lag between her plea and their decision to fly in rescue her So the scene was rieta today, though They had already been talking about Luke’s dad in the force the father’s lightsaber Then they see the hologram and then they consider to help her to smooth over the Senate they cut to an insert of r2 beeping And it wasn’t until the editors had heard Ben Burtt sound design for art too that they started cutting to the droid for more reaction Shots this same shot of r2 was used in two scenes when our two plays hollow chess now be careful r2 And for that little awkward moment we saw at the beginning Which was later moved to after the TIE fighter battle as a way to relieve the tension by showing c-3po looks stupid This shot of the heroes buckling their seatbelts was originally put right before the falcon jumps to Lightspeed But again it’s kind of anticlimactic there So they decided to move it earlier when they’re first getting pursued to amp up the intensity of this chase Once they were on the Deathstar there was another problem Some viewers had trouble understanding that obi-wan was going to shut down the tractor beam so they could escape so the editors added in this exposition in using inserts in voiceover the tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations a Power loss at one of the terminals with allow the ship to leave They also shot this insert for clarity It’s also weird to me that in the special edition Lucas made this insert less helpful by translating the text to a fake Star Wars language, but whatever okay last? But not least there’s one more very large structural change that occurred in the Edit and that of course was the entire finale This entire sequence is truly breathtaking and it’s a remarkable feat of editing, but it took a lot of work to get it there As it was originally written in cut the Battle of Yemen went something like this Golde leader does a pass he gets destroyed Then red leader doesn’t run Just hits the surface then loop doesn’t run and Also fails and Luke does another run And finally succeeds kaboom. Good job But here’s the big difference in that version the Death Star wasn’t about to destroy the rebel base I’ll say that again the Death Star was not about to destroy the rebel base It was literally just sitting there waiting to be blown up. This is where Marshall Lucas came in the first thing She did was recut the trench run basically from the ground up this included removing Luke’s first run, but also more importantly Incorporating the idea that the Death Star was about to blow up the rebel base. If you pay close attention You’ll notice that every single piece of footage that has to do with this idea is being delivered with off-screen dialogue over inserts Or by reusing footage from other scenes Like this shot here, I could safely assume that this was reused from the previous scene when they arrived at Alderaan We’ve entered the Alderaan system for a first-time viewer. You would never know the difference and as Marshall Lucas puts It it was all editorially manufactured, so why is this so important just think about it You may fire when ready if there’s no threat to the rebels then there’s no joy in the victory Essentially they just went and killed a bunch of people Which they did but now it’s a fight for their own survival So there you have it huh Okay The intent of this video was never to dwell on the fact that George Lucas went back and made changes to the original trilogy because Star Wars fans are so hardcore that they’ve restored the theatrical versions themselves and It was this version of the film that received the Academy Award for Best editing the winners are Paul Hirsch Marshall Lucas and Richard Childress Star Wars along with Ben Burtt for his amazing sound design ILM for their groundbreaking visual effects and John Williams for his incredible original score Every step of post-production on Star Wars reflected a revolutionary commitment to the craft every frame every Sound efficient every piece of dial Yosh the Foss lope was given an intense level of consideration Looking at how they refine the film through alumnus craftsmanship should be a lesson to us all Do I think George Lucas made tons of unnecessary changes Yes, I do But for whatever reason he’s continued to go back and re-edit these films. He said quote. I really enjoy editing the most It’s the part. I have the most control over. It’s the part. I can deal with the easiest it’s the part I can rely on the most to save things for better, or worse Everyone has their ace in the hole mine’s editing end quote And so for better or worse Star Wars was saved in the Edit however I think George is ace in the hole was that he surrounded himself with an incredible team of people to work with and for listening and Collaborating with them to help refine his incredible vision Now I’d like to take the time to give a very special Thanks to Garret Gilchrist This essay owes its entire existence to Gerrits research and his monumental opus Star Wars. Deleted magic revisited I highly encourage you to check it out another huge. Debt is owed to JW Rinzler for his book the making of Star Wars and for more on this topic. We’ll provide links below Thanks for watching and may the force be with you always Hey, Joey schoo Mihir if you’re still here that means you either love Star Wars or filmmaking or both? Be sure to check out our film school channel right over here for more filmmaking tutorials. We’ll see you next time. Okay. Bye You can turn off closed captions by clicking on the CC button below