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The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic

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Mike Cohen
The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic
on Apr 6, 2018 at 5:09:07 pm

I recently read this book by Linton Davies. Davies discusses editing techniques used in cutting Star Wars (the original non-numbered one, which is simply known as "Star Wars" to us geezers) as well as some of the creative decisions made to make the story better for the audience.

Without giving too much away, the original edit was apparently a mess and more documentary style. Paul Hirsch was brought in to re-edit the film. Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew are also credited with editing, but the author does not mention them by name very much. I have read in other books about how Lucas filmed the action many ways, with traditional master shots and closeups as well as more documentary style and some hand held. Apparently there is a black and white documentary style version somewhere that only Lucasfilm insiders have seen. Steve Sansweet, if you are reading this, please let us know.

Anyway, the book makes many many references to other classic films and editing techniques. If you are not a video or film editor some of it may be too esoteric to be interesting, but I enjoyed reading about these things, such as montage as not only a technical method but also a storytelling aide.

A few unexpected revelations, such as the fact that originally R2-D2 was supposed to have English dialogue, and during editing they decided to make him beep. And the sound of Obi-Wan talking to Luke during the trench run was pieced together from other dialogue, because Alec Guinness was not available for recording more audio. A few parts of the movie were moved around to different places vs the script, and some shots were used multiple times. If you have seen the movie a lot then this all makes sense. And if you have done a lot of editing it also makes sense.

One gripe about the book is that it should have been checked by someone before publication. In a few places the author misspells Vader and Leia. A minor gripe but it looks sloppy. At least they never mention Hans Solo!

Overall it is a quick read, sometimes overly technical and perhaps a few too many references to other films, but interesting. Along with "In the Blink of An Eye" it is a nice addition to a film editing reading list.

Mike Cohen


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Mark Suszko
Re: The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic
on Apr 6, 2018 at 6:55:47 pm

But does it rip the lid off Tashi Station, and the Biggs Darklighter controversy? ☺

Lucas seems to have kind of retconned himself as the editing genius of this movie, but I think there's enough evidence to show different. And later as he gained stature, and people began to fear losing their jobs for contradicting him, Lucas became less able to take suggestions and "notes" from others, leading to great decisions like jar Jar Binks.

There are a few pretty good YouTube videos that deconstruct the editing decisions of the film in a similar fashion to the book, though obviously not as detailed.

This is a good place to start:








And of course, there is the deep background piece:







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Mike Cohen
Re: The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic
on Apr 6, 2018 at 7:10:46 pm

The book does mention removing the Luke backstory stuff on Tatooine to speed things up. Lucas has discussed the concept of entering a story after it begins and letting the audience figure it for themselves. For example when Vader is giving orders aboard the Tantive IV he says "...see to it personally commander. There will be no one to stop us this time." He is referring to something that happened before the movie started, probably the events of Rogue One, but who knows. We are not supposed to think too much, just enjoy the show!

The special Edition did add a few moments with Luke and Biggs meeting just before the final battle. Prior to that all we knew of Biggs was one line from Luke about "Biggs and Tank leaving for the academy."

For those that have not seen it, here is the cut Toschi Station scene:






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