Thanks for the suggestions.
To keep going with my idea, I rewatched unedited Phantom Menace and then started watching unedited ROTS immediately after. There’s some huge whiplash but I really like it. The most jarring things are:
- TPM’s mostly restrained aesthetic with lots of beige and mostly practical-looking stuff, three planets > ROTS everything brightly colored, complicated CG, many planets
- child Anakin and young teen Padme > fully adult, lusty married Anakin and Padme who are hiding their marriage for some reason, Padme is a blossoming butterfly compared to how monotone she was as queen
- There are clones
- the Trade Federation guys are loose and they’re now part of a much bigger army that includes previously unseen characters Count Dooku and General Grievous
- The humor is still cornball sometimes but after Jar Jar and the gungans, it feels like a deadly serious adult drama
However, 1 and 2 are just as jarring in AOTC, and Grievous doesn’t appear at all in AOTC either. I think it’s so much better to fill in the blanks yourself.
You can extrapolate how Anakin and Padme got together, and you wonder maybe if they’re just hiding their marriage because it would be scandalous, not necessarily because the Jedi are banned from marriage.
You can assume that Anakin did in fact go back to free his mom at some point but that she later got killed by sand people and he took revenge, because Palpatine alludes to it.
Anakin took C3PO with him and finished him, gave him to Padme.
Anakin and Obi Wan’s relationship is so much more natural without having seen them hate each other for a whole movie. Same with Anakin’s personality in general. He is much more sympathetic and his complaints seem much more legitimate. You can tell that he’s jealous of Obi Wan without him resenting Obi Wan himself, which is some nice subtlety.
The Jedi look a lot less bad, except for Windu, who looks worse since we just saw him try to keep Anakin from getting trained in the first place.
Palpatine being chancellor for a really long time also stands out more.
The Plagueis story reference to midichlorians works better right after midichlorians are explained in TPM. So does all the Chosen One stuff.
I’ll come up with more when I finish watching ROTS but overall I really like it. I think I was right that for a potential fan edit, the parts that would need fleshing out relate to the clone wars situation.