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The Academy Award winning editing of Episode IV

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I'd like to bring up two points in the old vs. new milieu, and having lurked enough to realize that this site's members are very passionate about film (particularly Star Wars), this seems like the ideal place to post. (I've searched and found no prior thread concerning this, so if this topic has already been covered, please forgive the rehash.)

First, I want to say that the original film editors of the O-OT -- (that would be Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas, Paul Hirsch, and an uncredited George Lucas for Episode IV, winning an Oscar for their efforts; Paul Hirsch, and an uncredited George & Marcia Lucas for Episode V; Sean Barton, Duwayne Dunham, Marcia Lucas and an uncredited George Lucas for Episode VI) outdid themselves on the theatrical cuts of these movies. Nitpicking aside, I think that the pacing and story imparted through these theatrical edits stands the test of time. To this day, they still rock.

However, after the demise of George & Marcia Lucas's marriage, she would no longer have a hand in anything Star Wars-related, so there's strike one -- and a big strike, if you ask me -- against the prequels: One of the original editors is gone, and sorely missed on many fronts. And concerning the '97 and '04 official re-releases, well, I'm not even touching on how it must feel as an editor (much less director) to have your version of the film re-worked and essentially re-tooled for another generation, and then issued in wide release despite how much money it made and how well it all obviously hung together not so very long before. (Mind you, I do believe in fan-edits, though, so I don't know if that makes me a hypocrite or not...)

Second, and more broadly, the pacing of many movies these days seems geared to the short attention span of the average viewer. Compare the first thirty minutes of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. While ANH does begin with a bang, it quickly settles down to the droids on Tatooine, and brings us slowly into the SW universe. It's almost hypnotic. (My nearly 2 1/2 year old son totally loves that part of Star Wars; he excitedly talks of Obi-Wan giving Luke the lightsaber as soon as the old man shows up. But...when I showed my son the opening slam-bam space sequence of ROTS, after several minutes he looked at me imploringly and said, "Watch Star Wars?" See, even the 2 1/2 year old is getting a purist streak.)

I have such a muddle of points beyond that that I'll stop here, because I honestly don't know where to begin breaking down my problems with the prequels. (Mind you, I've not been fortunate enough yet to see any of the great fan edits of the prequels, but I'm hoping that will be fixed soon.)
"Charlie don't surf!" -- Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore
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I agree. The pacing of the PT was horrible. Anakin's turn to the dark side in ROTS could have have been much better executed with some better editing, in my opinion. And someone needed to take a stand and cut out some of the damn podrace in episode one. It just went on and on for ever.
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Two words - Ben Burtt. The man is a sound engineer not a film editor, and it shows. If a proper editor with some balls to stand up to Lucas was hired, maybe we would have better movies.
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Originally posted by: 20th Century Mark Two words - Ben Burtt. The man is a sound engineer not a film editor, and it shows. If a proper editor with some balls to stand up to Lucas was hired, maybe we would have better movies.


Speaking of ol' Ben Burtt, can anyone confirm if this bit of trivia I just stumbled across is true or not? Ben Burtt originally tested for the part of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Something tells me that's just too strange to be true, but hey, I found it on the internet so there's at least a slim chance it's right.
"Charlie don't surf!" -- Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore
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I'm pretty sure Ben Burtt did not audition. He was a just-graduated student from USC--Lucas was looking for a sound man who was young and fresh and asked one of the professors who the top sound student was and they recommended Burtt. Thats the history as far as i know.

As for the editing, yes, Star Wars is magnificent in its flow and pace, as is Empire to a slightly less degree. Let us also not forget credit to Dwayne Dunham for ESB.

The last twenty minutes of ANH are among the tensest in cinema history--even to this day i can still feel the tension as Luke rips down that trench with Darth Vader in pursuit. The breathless finale of Empire works as well, except the ridiculous "alert my star destroyer" sequence that does some major damage to the flow.

I think Marcia was Lucas' biggest asset, she helped bring out the best in his abilities and keep his eccentricities in check while also providing warmth and humanity to the characters.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Originally posted by: zombie84: The breathless finale of Empire works as well, except the ridiculous "alert my star destroyer" sequence that does some major damage to the flow.


That was an SE alteration, as discussed in another thread.

The single change that annoyed me most in 1997!
Don't you call me a mindless philosopher...!
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Lucas may have come up with some ideas but it was his team made Star Wars a success.

I'm very pleased to read such a thread about the editing team, something I've not looked at. I know I read someone's post elsewhere that the producer, Gary Kurtz, may also have been a massive factor in the success, and he bailed after ESB! He went on to produce 'The Dark Crystal' and 'Return To Oz', two of my favourite fantasy movies.

I had a look at iMDB at Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch and Marcia Lucas. Marcia stayed for all three, but Chew bailed after ANH and Hirsch after ESB. All three have worked on superb productions elsewhere (including, collectively, 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore' and 'Taxi Driver' (Scorsese), 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' (Foreman), 'The Conversation' (Coppola), 'Falling Down' (Schumacher), 'The New World' (Malick)) and never worked with Lucas again.

Also worth remembering are John Dykstra, Ralph McQuarrie and Ben Burtt (on sound!).

Burtt is the only one of the people mentioned above that has stuck with Lucas right up to the present. All the others had bailed by, or just after, 1983. And all of the people mentioned had a pivotal role in creating what has become the Star Wars universe.

It does not (and has not ever) rested upon Lucas alone.
Don't you call me a mindless philosopher...!
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Originally posted by: auraloffalwaffle
Originally posted by: zombie84: The breathless finale of Empire works as well, except the ridiculous "alert my star destroyer" sequence that does some major damage to the flow.


That was an SE alteration, as discussed in another thread.

The single change that annoyed me most in 1997!



Same here - if only for the painful butchering of the 'Losing a Hand / Hyperspace' music cue.


Fair points about Burtt, but let's not convince ourselves that good sound design and good editing are mutually exclusive - Walter Murch sucessfully made the same transition (albeit quite a bit earlier - Apocalypse Now was one of his first picture editing jobs).

His more recent work for Anthony Minghella has been masterful - just look at The English Patient and tell me that the prequel trilogy wouldn't benefit from that kind of restraint...
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It also has to do with the quality of the material you have. I agree that Burtt is a lousy editor but i also think he kinda got shafted because the actual material is so lousy. I should re-watch those Young Indy episodes he edited and see if they play any better.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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According to this interview, Burtt spent so much time doing pre-visualization stuff that in many cases (the speeder chase in AOTC, for example) those early assemblies would be completely his to play with. Then, he'd sit down with Lucas in the editing room, where Lucas (of course) always had veto power over anything. But the point here is that many of the high-action sequences rested initially within the mind's eye of two people: Lucas & Burtt.

At some point on AOTC, Burtt's pre-viz work just naturally bled over into him co-editing the film. And I find it amusing that on AOTC, after Burtt had done his editing of the film, it was only called a 'first assembly'. It wasn't called a first cut until Lucas had combed through it, although Lucas once again gets no credit as an editor.



"Charlie don't surf!" -- Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore
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Originally posted by: RepDetect
According to this interview, Burtt spent so much time doing pre-visualization stuff that in many cases (the speeder chase in AOTC, for example) those early assemblies would be completely his to play with. Then, he'd sit down with Lucas in the editing room, where Lucas (of course) always had veto power over anything. But the point here is that many of the high-action sequences rested initially within the mind's eye of two people: Lucas & Burtt.

At some point on AOTC, Burtt's pre-viz work just naturally bled over into him co-editing the film. And I find it amusing that on AOTC, after Burtt had done his editing of the film, it was only called a 'first assembly'. It wasn't called a first cut until Lucas had combed through it, although Lucas once again gets no credit as an editor.



Thats actually the standard practice for a director. The "first cut" is the directors. An assembly is done by the ediot--basically every single scene with every single dialog bit is edited together, usually producing a very long and boring film that is then whittled down by the director and editor.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Originally posted by: zombie84

Thats actually the standard practice for a director. The "first cut" is the directors. An assembly is done by the ediot--basically every single scene with every single dialog bit is edited together, usually producing a very long and boring film that is then whittled down by the director and editor.


Thanks for clearing that up; Burtt made it sound like a Lucas-rule, and if I'd checked up and thought about the responsibilties of the director in making any film, I'd have eventually come to the light.

What muddies the waters with the work done on the O-OT, and to a lesser extent the PT, is that there really are quite a few uncredited hands involved in cutting the film(s). I mean technically George Lucas should have been up there with his wife, and Chew, and Hirsch to accept that Academy Award, but if I recall correctly didn't he resign from all the Hollywood guilds over the placement of his name at the end of the movie rather than the opening, giving us that all-time classic Star Destroyer reveal?
"Charlie don't surf!" -- Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore
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It has nothing to do with guilds, he was simply not an editor. Every director is involved with the edit, making decisions about what to cut and keep and even sometimes when and where to actual cut between shots. Some are more hands off and some are more hands on. Since Lucas comes from an editing background he was more heavily involved in the edit since he was shooting for the editing room to begin with; I don't think he should be considered an "uncredited editor," because if thats the case then pretty much every director should be.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Originally posted by: zombie84
It has nothing to do with guilds, he was simply not an editor. Every director is involved with the edit, making decisions about what to cut and keep and even sometimes when and where to actual cut between shots. Some are more hands off and some are more hands on. Since Lucas comes from an editing background he was more heavily involved in the edit since he was shooting for the editing room to begin with; I don't think he should be considered an "uncredited editor," because if thats the case then pretty much every director should be.


Well said, Z., and I certainly respect your knowledge on the subject, which is far beyond mine. But... since Lucas is considered an uncredited editor on Episode IV (as well as V & VI, at least according to the IMDB) is that not considered reliable info? Or do you just beg to differ?

And I meant to jump up and down and cheer more quickly when you pointed out that Marcia Lucas was George's biggest asset at one time. That was perhaps my secret agenda in starting this thread -- to point out the vast disparity in the quality of the O-OT vs. the PT, due largely (in my opinion) to Marcia Lucas's absence.
"Charlie don't surf!" -- Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore
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The IMDB "uncredited editor" credit is just put in there by a fan. It doesn't mean anything. I mean he is the director and a former editor of course he is going to be involved heavily with the editing, just as Ridley Scott is a former production designer so he is always heavily involved with production design and picks fabrics and stuff for his costumes.

As for Marcia Lucas, i agree--i think it was Speilberg or Wilard Huyck or someone who once said that Marcia was "George's secret weapon," and its very much true. People make a big stink about Gary Kurtz and how when he left the franchise went downhill but his creative involvement is heavily, heavily exagerrated--the real loss was 1983 when Marcia finally left Lucas.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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VERY interesting...

Does anyone know what Marcia Lucas does now? According to iMDB she hasn't done any more movies after 1983. Does she still use the name of Lucas?
Don't you call me a mindless philosopher...!
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She ran off with a window designer named Tom Rodriguez in 1983, who designed that beautiful domed stained glass room on the Skywalker Ranch library. Shorlty after she had her first real daughter with him so i assume they married. Marcia reportedly got $35-50 million in her settlement with Lucas so i am assuming she simply took her money, retired and lived the rest of her life in peace.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Originally posted by: zombie84
She ran off with a window designer named Tom Rodriguez in 1983, who designed that beautiful domed stained glass room on the Skywalker Ranch library. Shorlty after she had her first real daughter with him so i assume they married. Marcia reportedly got $35-50 million in her settlement with Lucas so i am assuming she simply took her money, retired and lived the rest of her life in peace.


Wouldn't it be hilarious if she did fan edits of the PT's?

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All of this reminds me of the chapter in "Empire Building" where it mentions how George went nuts and went into the editing room to do his edit of ESB, and it was so fast and incoherent, that the editors had to go back in and fix it.

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Originally posted by: Mielr
All of this reminds me of the chapter in "Empire Building" where it mentions how George went nuts and went into the editing room to do his edit of ESB, and it was so fast and incoherent, that the editors had to go back in and fix it.


That sounds like the last 30 minutes of TPM, which for my money gets the nutso-editing award as far as SW goes -- Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith hit frappe' and let 'er rip, no doubt. And we were all so starved for a new chapter that we refused to immediately entertain its true shortcomings. (As many other threads around here have attested.) Oy vey!
"Charlie don't surf!" -- Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore
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Originally posted by: RepDetect
Originally posted by: Mielr
All of this reminds me of the chapter in "Empire Building" where it mentions how George went nuts and went into the editing room to do his edit of ESB, and it was so fast and incoherent, that the editors had to go back in and fix it.


That sounds like the last 30 minutes of TPM, which for my money gets the nutso-editing award as far as SW goes -- Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith hit frappe' and let 'er rip, no doubt. And we were all so starved for a new chapter that we refused to immediately entertain its true shortcomings. (As many other threads around here have attested.) Oy vey!

Didn't Steven Spielberg suggest alternate editing for the finale of TPM? GL took his advice and re-edited it that way, then decided he liked it better the way he did it, so he changed it back to the original edit.

I wonder what the Spielberg edit was like. Better, probably. LOL

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Originally posted by: zombie84
As for Marcia Lucas, i agree--i think it was Speilberg or Wilard Huyck or someone who once said that Marcia was "George's secret weapon," and its very much true. People make a big stink about Gary Kurtz and how when he left the franchise went downhill but his creative involvement is heavily, heavily exagerrated--the real loss was 1983 when Marcia finally left Lucas.


This is also confirmed by Mark Hamill.
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From an editing standpoint, SW & ESB are far superior to ROTJ, which suggests Paul Hirsch is the secret weapon.
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Originally posted by: THX
From an editing standpoint, SW & ESB are far superior to ROTJ, which suggests Paul Hirsch is the secret weapon.


I think its a matter of the material he had to work with. I think even if I edited it i could still make ANH and ESB better-edited films than ROTJ simply because of the way they were shot.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Originally posted by: zombie84
Originally posted by: THX
From an editing standpoint, SW & ESB are far superior to ROTJ, which suggests Paul Hirsch is the secret weapon.


I think its a matter of the material he had to work with. I think even if I edited it i could still make ANH and ESB better-edited films than ROTJ simply because of the way they were shot.


I don't think I'd agree with that. The 12/76 edit of "The Star Wars" by John Jympson was a trainwreck. It's not as if the film was made of pre-cut puzzle pieces.