There’s a really good chance a ton of people navigated away the moment they read the title of this post. Of course, you didn’t and that’s probably because you’re curious. “What does George Lucas have to do with my editing process?” you may be asking yourself.
Well, before I get into that, let me specify that I’m not a huge, totally forgiving fan of everything George has done; this article definitely won’t be forgiving the Star Wars prequel trilogy or trying explain that you should totally watch those movies (because, first, who cares, and second, no you shouldn’t, if you can get away with it).
Unless… of course, you’re watching the prequel trilogy to fully understand how bad it is before watching a professional grade edit of all three movies… like Double Digit’s Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side. Because then you’d be engaging in a solid look at what editing can do for a story.
Of course, unfortunately, someone had to pull Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side from Vimeo because it made the prequel trilogy cohesive (and we couldn’t have that [the universe was slowly imploding, I imagine]), but I’ll sum it up while sharing two important ideas that I took from watching Turn to the Dark Side.
First, No Matter How Difficult, Get Rid of the Distracting Glitz
Here’s a summary of what Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side cut.
From Episode I: Nearly everything. Seriously, everything but maybe four minutes worth of Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn fighting Darth Maul. This winds up being a prologue, ending with Qui-Gon using his last breath to tell Obi Wan to train Anakin. We also get Yoda giving Obi Wan permission to train Anakin, specifying, of course, that the Jedi Council doesn’t like it.
From Episode II: The entire intro remains intact with all of the (what I call) reminder dialogue (“It has been ten years since you’ve seen Padme. As you and I both know, but still, I said it. Ha ha!”) actually setting up the full plot of the movie. The cuts start after that with scenes devoted entirely to Obi Wan’s relationship with Anakin, Anakin’s relationship with Padme, Anakin’s relationship with Senator Palpatine, Anakin’s political views, Anakin’s attempt to save his mother from the Sand People and Obi Wan’s hunt for Jango Fett, because there still needs to be action, after all. However, all of the clone nonsense (including Obi Wan’s fight with Jango Fett on Kamino) is cut, the remainder of the action given entirely to the stadium battle on Geonosis. But even that act is trimmed with no follow up battle between Count Dooku and Yoda.
From Episode III: The intro is cut and so is almost everything else that doesn’t have to do with Anakin’s relationships with Senator Palpatine, Padme, and Obi Wan. Most of Obi Wan’s scenes are also cut (meaning that General Greivous is only briefly mentioned and we only get clips of Obi Wan participating in the battle on Utapau (and even these are just to sell Obi Wan’s friendship with Cody and the rest of the Clone Troopers). I’m not sure how much more of the movie is cut (I watched it the one time when it came out), but Anakin being worried about Padme’s death, the Jedi being suspicious of Palpatine, Palpatine’s playing Anakin, Anakin turning, Palpatine becoming the Emperor, the Emperor’s fight with Yoda, and Anakin’s fight with Obi Wan are all there. The very last shot of the entire edit is Darth Vader taking his first breath (aka the best moment in the entire prequel trilogy).
So, what is there to take from this? Clearly, a very, very minimal amount of Jar Jar. No kid Boba Fett. No oddly disappointing, anti-climatic battle with Count Dooku at the beginning of Episode III. Seriously, I could be here all day talking about the bad things that were cut out.
But, instead, let’s talk about the good things that were cut out. To the general public, the pod racing scene from Episode I was the best part of that entire movie. When I saw Episode II in theaters, everyone went nuts when Yoda pulled out his lightsaber and started fighting Count Dooku at the very end (and, take it or leave it, a Fett versus a Jedi was also a really big selling point). In Episode III, I think General Grievous was the most interesting and likeable of Lucas’ prequel “Bond villains” (Darth Maul, Jango Fett, and General Grievous show up and die in the same movie, like Bond villains always do). These are big, flashy elements that I enjoyed a lot when I first saw these movies. And, to be perfectly honest, a lot of these elements were what I considered the best parts of the prequel trilogy.
And yet, cutting them all out to emphasize what I thought were the worst parts (Anakin’s sappy relationship with Padme and the galactic politics)… actually made for a compelling, interesting, complete story. Because there was an overarching plot present through all three movies and, without Double Digit’s edit, that plot is very, very slowly developed across the three films, easily getting lost under the piles and piles of flashy, distracting CGI we didn’t actually need.
The lesson to take from this is to just get to the point; to not pad your story with nonsense elements, of course… but also to not pad it with awesome elements if they don’t help either. Because distracting is distracting.
And flashy bits and action are always better in controlled moderation; yes, Turn to the Dark Side did cut a lot of action from the prequel trilogy, but it just took the majesty and weight from those scenes… and shifted them to other scenes that had no problem carrying the weight. The best example of that was how Episode III was cut; the only action happened at the very, very end, but it was the culmination of two hours and thirty minutes’ worth of recut drama and felt incredibly fulfilling.
So, if you like to write grand, flashy scenes, moments, characters and events, just remember to always take a step back from the glamour to make sure your simple, tragic love story (or redemption story or revenge plot or whatever) doesn’t get lost along the way.
Second, the Failure Paradox
The other interesting thing about the cuts Double Digit made was how consistently the nonsense they trimmed off… was full of easter eggs. Obi Wan tosses a blaster aside distastefully and says, “So uncivilized.” C-3PO was made by Anakin. Young Boba Fett. These are all concepts that were cut for Turn to the Dark Side.
And they were all fan service. Of course, lots and lots was cut that didn’t have fan service, but the point is, a ton of fan service got axed and it didn’t negatively impact the edit at all.
Now… I don’t want to suggest that a huge series like Star Wars shouldn’t have its fan service, because, come on—that would be kind of silly. However, I do want to stress that the prequels were actually way better… without all of these ideas and scenes; however you chalk it up, the story was more powerful, more focused, and more unique and assertive without the fan service. And whether or not fan service is essential overall…
… it’s definitely never essential in your first novel.
Maybe this sounds really weird and obvious, but, for fantasy writers, there’s an intense urge to add what I always think of as Reread Craft to our first novels. It can be as tiny as a character meeting someone who will be important in a future book or as complicated as them doing or saying something that will come back to haunt them later in your series. To get even more honest and direct about it, it can be as tiny as a character saying a bit of cheeky foreshadowing that, you rationalize, readers will catch when they reread your entire series.
To be brutally honest about it, there’s probably nothing worse we can do as amateur writers than writing easter eggs into our very first books. There is an obvious degree of (for lack of a better word and to continue being honest) conceit there where there shouldn’t be for an amateur writing. But, on top of that, adding invasive Reread Craft creates a strange, writing-specific paradox that we often don’t see (I didn’t for a long time). This paradox is… actually something I learned from George Lucas. I call it the Failure Paradox.
One of the DVD’s of Star Wars featured Lucas talking about a scene he cut from A New Hope. It was the (then) famous scene where Jabba the Hutt meets Han Solo in Mos Eisley. According to Lucas, he cut the scene because it was hurting the flow of A New Hope and ultimately wouldn’t matter if A New Hope didn’t do well (or something like that; I’m paraphrasing).
Now, if you take that point and apply it to the incredibly difficult task of writing a complete novel with a specific word count… it means that easter egg scenes like the meeting with Jabba the Hutt… could actually stop your novel from happening at all; there’s no question of “will it do good” for us because, for amateur writers, the question is (and always should be) “Will my work get published in the first place?” And, honestly, it probably won’t if it doesn’t meet a certain set of very friendly, enticing criteria for publishers (especially in terms of length; publishers don’t want to gamble on a longer book because it’ll cost more to print).
So, in the end, all of this means that stubbornly holding on to fan service in your first novel creates a paradox of failure; you don’t want to let go of fan service to make your book better, thus it’s never released and has no fans.
The goal here is not to make anyone upset, but to be extremely clear and open about this because it’s a writing habit that’s really hard to spot and stop doing. There is, of course, nothing wrong with adding Reread Craft if it’s very subtle and non-invasive; if it’s shorter than a scene or if it’s a bit of dialogue that won’t seem out of place to a first time reader, then by all means, go for it. However, if you’re struggling to stay under your word goal and contemplating what to cut out, Reread Craft is always the first thing that should go. And if you’re ever being stubborn about it, just remember two words:
Man. Whodathunk there’d be all of that to learn from the Star Wars prequels? At any rate, I hope this helped you out. If it did, help me out with a Like or Subscription; I’d definitely appreciate it. Regardless though, thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you. Always.