Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here we go: "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" is coming back to theatres in February. In 3D. Because when George Lucas made this movie back in 1999, he knew that it was such a horrific, truly awful experience that you simply had to see it with a bloated ticket price and half-assed 3D effects. However, the technology for lame overused 3D was just not there in the 20th century, we had to wait until now. Its all part of his grand artistic vision to destroy everything. At this point, I think even George Lucas knows how bad the prequels are - the truth of it could not have escaped him by now. Since he knows what he's doing, asking people to pay money for a movie like this is downright criminal, and I'm begging you not to see the "Phantom Menace 3D" under any circumstances. Instead, go watch Harry S. Plinkett's greatly informative and moderately psychotic review of "Episode I" on RedLetterMedia. All around, that is a superior movie.
We've all been through the Star Wars prequels before this, let's agree that they're... not good. "Not good" is the most diplomatic way I could describe these movies. A year ago, I actually proposed that George Lucas completely remake the prequels, using a thin outline of a script that I wrote in an afternoon. So far, Lucas has not contacted me. Though maybe, just maybe, in the last year Lucasfilm clandestinely made the totally kick-ass movie I imagined last year. In which case, I'll be expecting a very lovely check. Well, let's go see the trailer then.
...Mmm-Hmm... Podracing... Didn't have that in my plans. Or Jake Lloyd. Or stupid robots. Or Jar Jar. Or a big stupid NOO. Yeah... this is the same fucking movie from 1999.
Since "Episode 1" has sucked so bad for so long, it was inevitable that somebody would try to fix it. And that somebody was not George Lucas, he couldn't care less*. Instead, it was a person called "The Phantom Editor", who took a scissor to his "Episode I" DVD and removed eighteen minutes of running time, invented a few seconds of video, creating "Star Wars Episode I.II: The Phantom Edit". This was out of the goal to make the movie better, more dramatic, less stupid, less Jar Jar-y. I first heard about this version several years ago, but never could find it on the Internet, until now. Today I just found it on Youtube, the complete movie. Whoever uploaded it must have balls of castiron, since I'm sure Lucasfilm will shut this thing down by tomorrow, but for now, its popcorn time. Personally, I think "Episode I" is the worst out of all six movies (but not by much), and any attempt to save this trainwreck would be worth it. But can simply cutting out a scene or two make a film worth watching? We're about to find out.
Well, I just sat through that entire movie, and... it still sucks. Our dear Phantom Editor really did not have much of in the way tools here to make a good movie about of "Episode I". Ultimately there's a severe limit to what simple editing can do, especially when you only have the DVD release and none of the unused material. Like, for example, no Phantom can replace Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker, they can just remove a stupid line here or there. But we still have things like "Now this, is podracing!" And a "Yipee!" here and there. The performances are still wooden, the dialog is still awful, the plot is still terrible, and the characters are still pointless, stunted, and underdeveloped. This was a hopeless effort, clearly, and I don't blame the Phantom for trying. Because nobody else will.
If you were going to save "Episode I" it would essentially take the effort of reshooting the entire movie, reuniting the cast, replacing a few people here and there, and making a whole new script. Even the best editor on Earth cannot work with dialog and performances this unbelievably bad. I was bored out of my skull watching this movie. The characters are only slightly human, I can barely get a grasp on any of them emotionally. Who is Qui Gon? Who is Obi Wan? Who is little orphan Annie? Why are they? What do they want out of life? What makes them happy? These are questions that a good movie or story would answer all of that passively, the character development would happen so naturally in the course of the story you wouldn't even notice it occurring. But there isn't character development in "Episode I", there's just people, and they do things. For reasons. Stuff occurs, they fight bad things, they go to pretty places, they meet weird aliens, but there's no point... there's no arc... there's no... hero! Yeah, "Episode I" has no protagonist. That's how incompetent this movie is, there's no protagonist. The main villains are lost bureaucrats who have no idea what they're doing, or why they're doing it. You can't add heart to a movie that has none.
Best of all, at least, the Phantom cut out 90% of the droid army's stupid dialog, 90% of Jar Jar's scenes, and a good deal of Jake Lloyd's childishness. Jar Jar has enough scenes in this recut anyway. One Jar Jar scene is too many. I was eight when I first saw "Episode I" and I hated Jar Jar then, right when I was supposedly in the prime demographic of a character like that. Ten years later, my hatred for this character is no less, if anything, its gotten worse. Its become a primal reaction, a kind of instinctual twitch of pure rage**. If I ever saw a real Jar Jar, I'd murder it. There would be no choice in the action, my biology would demand the killing, and I would be helpless to my animal nature. For Halloween one year I dressed up as Darth Maul carrying a stuff Jar Jar mask on a spike. And I swear to God, if somebody come up to me even dressed as Jar Jar, I'd put their bloody head on a stick. So really, "The Phantom Cut" doesn't remove enough, there is still too much stupid crap in this movie. Jake Lloyd still doesn't act like a baby Darth Vader, he's still just a cute little kid (made a lot less cute by really bad acting). At the very least, the evil robots are a lot less talkative so don't come off as complete jokes. They're still not threats to anybody and amazingly un-scary, but at least they're somewhat colder and more clinical.
Best thing about the new cut is that Jake Lloyd talks a lot less. The kid was not directed well - he might not have been a good actor to begin with, but I won't blame him. He was eight, its Lucas's own fault he couldn't get the performance he needed out of this kid. The only thing the Phantom could do to add some kind of enigmatic presence was to simply have the kid not talk. It barely works, but what could you do? The Phantom did give Anakin a bit of heroism by making him take control of the Naboo Starfighter on his own and fly to the battlefield on his own prerogative, not just get flown there by random chance. Still, you can't edit out the fact that the big star battle at the end is completed because the Droid Battleship stupidly left its main reactor in a fighter hanger. The space battle in this movie sucks.
To be a bit more critical of this recut and not "Episode I". The Phantom removed a few flat jokes here and there among the human characters, and I think this is a mistake. Its actually pretty shocking how little screentime Obi Wan and Qui Gon get together, especially when they are (I think) the main protagonists. Obi Wan's lame joke "the negotiations were short!" is his only shine of character for something like the first hour, removing it makes him seem even more disconnected from the audience. The joke isn't funny, but its a human trait, and this movie needs every trace of them. You cut out half of the Queen's scene at one part, then suddenly she doesn't have a major scene at any point in this movie for nearly an hour. You never get any sort of connection with Naboo in this cut, you leave it so quickly. Then again, that's also George Lucas's fault for not really establishing the planet to begin with. The plot feels very rushed, which was ultimately the Phantom's goal, but I don't think it works very well. Naboo gets conquered in twenty minutes, there's no gravity to this action. This is mostly because the Phantom straight removed the underwater sea adventure, which was a big time break between the initial invasion and the fall of Naboo. I like the underwater adventure personally, even though it has nothing to do with... anything, but I really wish there was some kind of scene of Naboo actually falling. Or maybe an action sequence there? You know? But that's beyond the Phantom.
One major issue with this movie is that the opening text crawl was replaced by a note from the Phantom to George Lucas, explaining why "The Phantom Edit" was necessary. Luckily I know exactly what's going on, but the text crawls in these movies provide vital exposition, and now that its been replaced by an apology from the editor, the movie is even more disjointed and hard to follow.
But the biggest fault of the original movie in terms of editing, the insane four-layer final battle, is left in. Plinkett pointed this out brilliantly in his review, showing how completely insane that final battle is thematically and emotionally. You got a mediocre space battle, a silly Jar Jar battle, an amazingly dramatic Jedi fight, and a gun shooting palace raid, all happening at once. I would have simply cut out the Jar Jar battle completely, just ruthlessly removed it, and cut most of the palace raid, leaving only the Jedi fight completely intact. Because the Jedi fight against Darth Maul is not only totally awesome, its also the biggest most dramatic moment of "Episode I".
And the friggin' Pod Race is still ten minutes long. Ugg... I love the N64 game, "Episode I: Racer" as much as anybody, but ten minutes is long sit for a such a crazy action sequence.
In conclusion, "The Phantom Edit" was a nice effort, but its still an unwatchable movie. Jar Jar was a really glaring problem, but when you remove most of his issues, you only find more problems. "The Phantom Edit", sadly, is not a better movie, if anything, I'm afraid to say its worse. "Episode I" is a giant mess, which is incredibly tragic considering at the time it was one of the biggest and most anticipated movies ever made. I can't imagine another film ever reaching that kind of pop culture importance, and I definitely cannot image another movie disappointing as greatly as it did. I won't blame the Phantom for a second for this movie being boring and terrible, that's all George Lucas. I love George Lucas - that's weird to say after this review, but its true. He's made the three best movies of all time, but... he's also made a trilogy of horrible prequels. And no amount of work will ever save those movies. And a 3D rerelease will definitely NEVER add a second of quality to the prequels.
Well, Star Wars fans, I guess we'll be seeing each other soon when I see the Phantom Editor's next outing, "The Attack of the Phantom", the recut of "Episode II".
* It is so weird to me that George Lucas never makes any significant changes to the Prequels, especially considering how utterly awful they are. The guy keeps on tinkering with the original saga supposedly on the point of perfecting his artistic vision. Well, when your prequels are so imperfect, you'd think you'd want to fix that, right? But instead Lucas enjoys adding weird pointless things to the original trilogy like rocks in front of R2-D2, and the now-infamous second "NOOOO!" that Darth Vader makes at the end of "Return of the Jedi". And my favorite, of course, is Obi Wan's truly amazing "WOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" sound. I mean, George, you can fuck with the climax of the entire trilogy, but you can't, you know, make the Darth Vader lurching scene more serious? Perhaps make the "NOO!" a bit less hammy? Can you least cut a single Jar Jar scene? No, its just like "I am altering the original trilogy, pray I do not alter them any further!"
** If you listen to the Phantom's commentary, also on Youtube, you'd discover a few frightening things about the Jar Jar character. Like, Skywalker Sound actually made his voice several octaves louder than any other character in the movie. Did George Lucas actually intentionally make Jar Jar the most horribly annoying character ever?