Just finished the edit, and I simply couldn’t wait to share my thoughts.
Good Lord, this edit was amazing. While I had some technical problems with it, those are mostly moot given this is still a WIP. But as for what you did with the story, I was astonished.
I have lots of thoughts, so I’ll go through the film chronologically (sorry in advance, it’s a whole lot of reading…)
The first act has so much more atmosphere and mystique. Recolouring Jakku was a great touch, giving the planet a far more unique feel. Leaving Rey’s introductory sequence to be entirely wordless up until BB-8 was a great idea, further augmenting the atmosphere. The added voiceover in Poe’s interrogation worked very well, though I feel the scene might transition out more cleanly if you kept Poe’s scream, just reduced in volume and maybe with some echo/reverb to blend it with the voices. Moving up Kylo and the Vader helmet completely recontextualises the scene; though I’m a little on the fence about how well it flows from the previous scene - the shift in atmosphere and energy is a bit abrupt - it adds an amazing aura of mystery around Kylo, and his connection to the Supreme Leader and Vader. It also flows brilliantly into the next scene; we think a stormtrooper is coming so Ren can ‘finish what he started’, but nope, it’s actually Finn come to rescue Poe. Great subversion. The general rearranging of the first act was excellent, giving a much better flow to the introduction of the characters and how they all connect to drive the main plot.
Removing BB-8 divulging the location of the Resistance Base definitely works well story-wise, though the scene came across a little clunky; Rey goes from asking where the base is so she can drop them off to saying she’ll drop them off somewhere else for them to make their own way, and I felt the beat of BB-8 doing his ‘thumbs-up’ was a bit too long, which seemed out of place in the energy of the scene. Still, changing the plot point definitely improves the overall flow of the story, and clears up why they need Maz’s help. (I guess you could rationalise Rey’s change of plans as her remembering her priorities, which would give credence to Finn’s surprise and immediate “What about you?”). The rathtar sequence was much improved; the newly darkened lighting was a great addition, and it definitely feels a lot darker and more horrifying than before. Snoke and Kylo’s new conversation was very effective; it builds up the mystery around Kylo very well, showing that these two know things that we don’t. Polishing up the cantina/castle sequence also worked nicely, and I loved the addition of Luke’s TLJ lines to Rey’s visions of Kylo.
The addition of Rey going to the pirates’ ship to join Finn was brilliant, and I felt it was executed seamlessly. The addition of the Sith whispers when she shoots the stormtrooper worked brilliantly; I loved the through-line across the edit that Rey taps into the Dark side whenever she uses the Force. The small changes to the Battle of Takodana were great; the re-edited ending with Han, Finn and Kylo felt a lot more compelling and dramatic. The interrogation of Rey was quite surprising; I really like what you were going for with the reduced lighting, but I felt it was a bit too dark, and there was way too much contrast, leading to it feeling unnatural, and at odds with the rest of the film’s visuals. In some shots Kylo’s face looks incredibly blue/purple, and it doesn’t feel like lighting from the room. Nonetheless, reducing the light of the scene makes it far more sinister, especially Kylo’s face reveal. Snoke taunting Kylo by calling him ‘Solo’ serves as a great confirmation of the suspicions about him built up to this point, and despite not being directly prompted, it actually still fits the scene; after Kylo says he needs Snoke’s guidance, Snoke using his real name works as an admonishment of his failure, shaking his confidence to test him. I did feel it transitioned out of the scene a bit too quickly, not giving this momentous reveal enough time to properly sink in, but otherwise it works very well. Han and Leia’s re-edited conversation was a nice surprise; focussing it more around them than Luke and reducing the overly direct exposition made the exchange much more powerful.
The transition from that convo to Hux’s impassioned speech felt a bit jarring (not sure if it was the music or just because I’m not used to that placement of the scene), but in terms of the flow of the scenes it did overall work nicely (the reconnaissance report about Starkiller Base arrives, we transition to the Base readying to be unleashed, then to the plan to destroy it). Leia’s line in the meeting “The Senate is the next target” feels a bit incongruent; since the weapon hasn’t been fired before, there’s no reason to call it the “next” target, though I understand there’s only so much that can be done with the material available. But from here, I found the re-structured third act absolutely AWESOME. I’ve always had problems with TFA’s third act, but this edit makes it so much more tense and dramatic. The rearranging of Rey’s first mind trick was brilliant, and I loved the redone lighting in the first cutaway to Kylo, showing him walking out of the flashing light of the absorbing sun and into the blue of the corridor (though I thought the music over the second cutaway to Kylo was overly loud, and didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the scene). The re-edited infiltration was a vast improvement over the original, particularly concerning Phasma. And about Kylo entering the Falcon: I didn’t even know this deleted scene existed, but its incorporation into the rest of the sequence was seamless, especially the ending.
The addition of Leia and Han’s voices over the final moments with Han and Kylo were very effective; I do feel this scene doesn’t strictly need voiceover, but going from “There was too much Vader in him” to Han’s death was awesome. As for the moved firing of the laser, I’m undecided as to whether I prefer this edit’s version that combines it with Chewie’s detonation or Hal’s original sequence; I’ll have to watch both carefully. Either way, you edited the sequence beautifully, and the impact this restructure has on the film overall is immense. And now we come to my absolute favourite part of this edit: THAT moment with Rey as she taps into the Dark side to overcome Kylo (I won’t spoil the specifics here for those who haven’t seen it, it’s worth being surprised by). I was completely not expecting that, and when it happened I genuinely jumped out of my seat. So damn awesome. My only complaint about the scene was that maybe the music was a bit loud compared to the dialogue, and the rest of the sequence’s music.
I loved this edit. It made me feel like I was watching TFA for the first time; the film felt much less Disney, and much more Star Wars. I particularly loved the first and third acts; the former just felt like pure Star Wars, and the third act felt much less silly, instead becoming a whole lot more powerful, dramatic and epic. Probably my favourite addition to the story was Rey tapping into the Dark side to use the Force. It’s awesome to finally truly see the ‘quick and easy path’ of the Force like Yoda warned of. Even without your plans for TLJ and TROS, this adds a whole new dimension to Rey’s journey throughout those films: TLJ now shows Rey learning not just how to use the Force, but how to properly use the Force, without relying on the Dark side, lending a lot more power to both when she immediately gets attracted to the Dark cave, and her final lifting of the rocks. It also gives far more basis to her struggles across TROS of turning to the Dark side, as well as Ren’s insistence that she belongs alongside him. It even gives more basis to the maligned Rey Palpatine (for the record I don’t hate this counter-twist on a conceptual level, I just think it needed to be planned from the beginning to be actually compelling).
Even though I already love Hal’s edit, this might well have impressed me more. This is the most I’ve enjoyed watching a Star Wars film in a very long time. I can’t wait to see what you have planned for TLJ and TROS!