Before Episode I hit theaters, a very good friend of mine said, “There are only two people in the history of the world who have the opportunity to disappoint all of humanity. One is Jesus Christ, if he never comes back. And the other is George Lucas, if he makes a bad film.” These words never sounded more prophetic than now. Lucas’ attempt at a new Star Wars film has so disappointed a number of fans, that the only thing that may heal those wounds, is re-making the film in a way they see fit.
I had the opportunity to see “The Phantom Edit 1.2” or the “East Coast” version, as it is known, at a buddy’s house. In attendance were many of the people who I saw the film with at the advance screening. It was somewhat cathartic to see this improved cut and kind of sad as well. This movie really had the potential to be good and missed the mark by a longshot.
One difference between the “East Coast” and the “West Coast” versions of “The Phantom Edit” can be seen at the very beginning. The “East Coast” version does not contain a snarky opening crawl. The opening title sequence and crawl is exactly as seen in the original. While it has a slightly tighter running time (112 minutes as opposed to 120 minutes for “West Coast”) the film actually contains more scenes with Jar Jar. This is the other main difference, both the Trade Federation alien Neimoidians and the Gungans like Jar Jar have scrambled alien-sounding dialog that is subtitled. Strange as it seems, Jar Jar is actually wise and speaks philosophically in those subtitles. Here’s a sample of some of the dialog: ^ “I have no weapon.” ^ “Children and fools ask more questions.” He says to the Jedi.^ “Pride will blind you to the truth.” ^ And the best, after the invasion of Naboo, Jar Jar says, “I feel a disturbance in the force, many are in trouble.”
The problem with Jar Jar all along wasn’t that he was cute, but that annoying voice acting by Ahmed Best. The voice is like a shrill that pierces one’s ears. The addition of the subtitles is the kind of drastic improvement that Episode I really needed. Jar Jar’s character is fixed perfectly. He’s not just tolerable, he is an active part of the story and better fits into the overall film as a motivator of events, rather than a liability. Through the use of very cleverly written dialog in the form of these subtitles, Jar Jar becomes an honorable warrior. Wise, philosophical and, dare I say, likable. He is elevated to the part of a meaningful character. Jar Jar’s dialog is rewritten, however, the Neimoidians have the same lame and wordy dialog they always had, but the subtitles make them, well, let’s be honest, less like evil Asians.
While Jar Jar’s character is completely fixed, all it does is call attention to so many other weaknesses that cannot be fixed through editing or subtitling. It reminds me of my 1972 Triumph Daytona 500. I sunk thousands of dollars into restoring this motorcycle and every time I did something to improve it, like add new chrome pipes, all it did was make some other deficiency stand out. The new chrome pipes, made the beat up muffler stand out. After the muffler was replaced, the gas tank then looked bad and so on. The more I attempted to improve it, the more it made the other parts just look worse. At the end of the day, even in this improved version, there are things that still cannot be fixed. Darth Maul’s part is too small, the story is unnecessarily convoluted, the explanation of the midichlorians and it’s still not clear who the central character is. Good arguments could be made in favor of several characters. The various versions of “The Phantom Edit” (and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them) make this very clear – the more “Episode I” is “improved” the more the stuff that you can’t fix stands out.
Perhaps the most noticeable fault of the Phantom Menace has to be the casting of Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker. I’m sorry, kid or not, he just can’t act. He is just plain awful. And you can cut out all the bad lines like “Yippee!” from the movie you want, he is simply incapable of delivering a line reading that doesn’t make you want to groan. At best, it’s a cringe-inducing performance.
Another annoyance is the sheer number of meetings that take place in the film. They say, “Write what you know.” Well we know what George Lucas has been doing for the last 16 years and it has to be taking a hell of a lot of meetings, because more than half of the “action” in this film takes place in a “meeting.” The Jedi come on board to have a meeting with the Neimoidians who then have a video conference with Amidala, then they consult with Sidious who introduces Darth Maul, then Amidala meets with her people, then the Jedi meet with the Gungans, then Maul has a meeting with Sidious, the memorable dinner table meeting on Tatooine, the meetings in the Senate, the meetings in the Jedi Temple, Anakin takes a meeting with Amidala, who has a quick meeting with Jar Jar, who sets up a meeting with Boss Nass, then the volunteer security forces on Naboo meet with Amidala to plan the attack — it starts to feel like this movie is just one big meeting! It’s dull. There are an incredible number of scenes in which characters sit around tables talking. This is a Star Wars movie?! Some ambitious fan should just count the number of “action” scenes versus the “meeting” scenes and you will soon discover the talking head scenes outnumber the action sequences.
Obviously, it will never be perfect, so for future Phantom Editors, here are some other ways you might consider fixing the film. For one, why not make the Battle Droids more threatening by giving them a deeper and more menacing sound? Why would they even speak in English and say things like, “Roger, roger?” That’s lame. Perhaps a series of beeps and tones that might sound frightening? How about scenes where the Battle Droids can be seen slaughtering innocent people? That would certainly raise the stakes and create more motivation for Amidala to take her planet back. And speaking of Amidala, if her family were killed leaving her as the only living member of the Royal Family, wouldn’t she be driven to see justice done? Darth Maul could be less of a loyal boy scout and be seen ordering around his own thugs as more of a leader. All he gets are three sphere-like robots for his help, that’s just weak. And if anyone can figure out how in the hell to fix Ewan McGregor’s bad wig, please get on that immediately because that is a downright embarrassment.
Get the whole story and read a review of STAR WARS EPISODE 1.1: THE PHANTOM EDIT (West Coast Version), plus check out the feature story, “STAR WARS THE PHANTOM EDIT”: THE FAN’S CUT>>>