By way of introduction, I’m a long time fan of the OT.com, from as far back as (checks notes) 2005 (!) when I went under a different username.
I think I was even a moderator at one point?
I’ve been lurking here for many years, dipping in and out of the fan editing scene and have long been an advocate of releasing the original theatrical cuts of the OT. I did my own prequel and SE fan edits a long time ago but never released them publicly.
I recently got back into fan editing as a hobby with the intention of doing something that (I think, but happy to be corrected on!) is fairly revolutionary in terms of a fan edit of the prequel trilogy.
As far as I know, no one has tackled an edit of the prequel trilogy quite like this.
What is Before The Dark Times? A series of vignettes? Long-form trailers? A 3-in-1 edit of the prequels? I guess the answer is…all of the above?
I went about this edit…differently, in as much as I had the thought one day, what if you completely jettisoned the idea of re-editing the prequels as feature length movies, and instead edited the prequels down into short tales about the Old Republic, the fall of the Jedi and Anakin Skywalker? What if you then framed those tales with dialogue from the OT, as if classic characters were narrating our story?
Inspired loosely by the Disney+ series ‘Tales of the Jedi’ (which are great!), I wondered what it would be like if you applied that same short-form storytelling style to the prequels? Would it even work to tell the story of the prequels in such a completely brutalist way? Really hack it to bits and restitch it back together? The idea was intriguing.
I quickly became excited about the possibilities with this approach. I began by experimenting with non-conventional (for Star Wars anyway) editing so that scenes jump around (hard cut) aggressively in time. I still use some classic Star Wars wipe transitions but only when needed.
I’ve seen this style of editing work brilliantly in Christopher Nolan films. For example, in chapter 3, which is set in the AOTC timeline, we actually cut back briefly to a short scene in Episode 1 when Anakin is talking about not having seen ‘her in 10 years’ (but in this case it’s in the context of Shmi, not Padme). It is this repurposing of scenes and dialogue from other PT (and OT!) films too, that really make this edit shine if I do say so myself (once you’ve unlearned, what you have learned).
It’s an editing technique that also works in trailers. At times, I’m also reminded of the ‘previously on….’ catch-ups that happen prior to a new episode of a TV show.
Like many a fan edit, I think this is much more of a mature take on the prequels. What this style of editing has allowed me to do is to cut out all the child-ish elements or (quite frankly), poor creative decisions that undercut otherwise great (or at least, salvageable) scenes.
It’s also allowed me to take a heavy amount of creative license. A lot is inferred. I trust the audience is smart. We don’t waste time. And we don’t need to explain everything.
While the obvious things are gone like the Midichlorians, the Chosen One prophecy, Yoda’s crazy leapfrog antics - plot points and themes that are simply absent from the OT - I feel like the story as originally told by Lucas and countless talented people, is really still there…it’s just told differently. Which is what excites me about this edit.
Whether it’s told better I will leave up to you, the audience. But for me, I would rather watch the PT this way, my way. It’s also a much shorter sitting (clocking in at around 70 minutes watching all chapters back-to-back). I also love the self-contained nature of each chapter, each focussing on a specific part of the PT storyline (see below).
This is Before The Dark Times.
A series of 6 vignettes or chapters, that re-tell the story of the rise of Palpatine, the fall of the Jedi Order, the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker, all told through the lens of the original trilogy (each chapter beginning with familiar dialogue we’ve heard before).
This edit wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant fan edit community and the work of some very talented people whose works I incorporated into my re-telling. I acknowledge those below.
Chapter 1: Palpatine
We begin with audio from one of the ROTS trailers to frame the beginning of our story. The galaxy is in turmoil. The once noble Galactic Senate of the Republic, is infested with corruption. Padme Amidala, the Queen of Naboo, has arrived on Coruscant to seek the aid of Senator Palpatine, her representative in the Galactic Senate. Amidala hopes that with political intervention, the Senate can take decisive action to help her planet break free from the binds of an invading Trade Federation army….
What I like about this chapter is how succinctly we establish the state of the galaxy. Do we need to see the droid army invading Naboo? No. Do we need to see Naboo at all? No! All we need to know is that Palpatine has maneuvered himself to exploit a crisis on a planet called Naboo in order to be voted Chancellor. And he is successful in doing so. I love how much is inferred from just the dialogue. In a way, it reminds of the Andor series in that respect.
Chapter 2: Anakin Skywalker (part 1)
Obi-Wan begins to tell the story of his first meeting with a young boy, gifted with the Force and the folly of thinking he could train him as well as Master Yoda.
My inspiration for this chapter was the teaser poster for Episode 1. You know the one where Anakin is standing outside a Tatooine hut, the shadow of Darth Vader projected behind him? I had that poster hanging on my wall for years and loved the evocative nature of it. If only the prequels delivered on this imagery. I think my edit does and I love how the finale of my edit comes back full circle to this imagery…more on that later.
It’s confusing to me why Qui-Gon has the role he does. The idea of having Obi-Wan sensing danger in Anakin’s training, along with the Council, only to have them do a complete backflip at the end of the film, still to this day, makes little sense to me.
Only very recently in browsing one of the High Republic novels, I found a mention of a type of Jedi called ‘searchers’, whose job it is to find Force sensitive children to be trained as Jedis. Which got me thinking, what if Qui-Gon was just one of these searchers, called to Tatooine having heard rumors of a particularly gifted child ‘who can see things before they happen’?
What if then, Qui-Gon whisks him away, with the blessing of his mother who wants nothing but a better life for her son (no slavery is suggested here) and Obi-Wan takes the boy as his apprentice, rather than inheriting him out of obligation to Qui-Gon? This would make much more sense in terms of Obi-Wan’s lines in the OT: ‘I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi’. It’s my hope that this inference comes across in this chapter. We don’t bother with Anakin being ‘too old’, which was always a bit silly to me.
We don’t focus on Qui-Gon much at all and its inferred he becomes one with the Force, at some point in between chapters.
A huge thanks to the brilliant music of Samuel Kim, whose beautiful piano rendition of the Imperial March I’ve used in this chapter. I use it in this chapter to create a sense of sadness just as Anakin wins his podrace. While Anakin might be triumphant, his victory will ultimately set him and the galaxy on a tragic path (I love that dichotomy, the same one you kind of get from the teaser poster).
I actually think Jake Lloyd’s performance in the scene where Anakin says farewell to his mother, is his best in the PT. Kim’s music and the new cut, now really make you feel for the kid.
Whilst it pained me in a way to cut the Naboo lightsaber duel and Maul entirely from this edit, it’s all really just eye candy and our tale really does survive (thrive?) without it. Particularly Maul who was completely underused anyway. It makes little sense to me that Palpatine would reveal the existence of the Sith, so early in his grand plan during the events of TPM too - ie couldn’t a bounty hunter have done the job to get Padme back to Naboo rather than show his hand/reveal the existence of Maul the way he does? We’re supposed to believe Palpatine then waits another 10 years to instigate the Clone Wars and for Dooku to warn the Jedi that the Senate is being controlled by the Sith? Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the Sith in the shadows until the events of the AOTC? That’s my intention here: the Jedi don’t become aware of the Sith until the events of AOTC…or our Chapter 4.
Chapter 3: Anakin Skywalker (part 2)
Just like in AOTC, this chapter begins 10 years after Anakin has left Tatooine. In this vignette, we get much more of Anakin’s sense of death and foreboding about the death of his mother, using dialogue from ROTS instead (Padme dying is not a plot point in Before The Dark Times when we eventually get to chapters 5 and 6…more on that later). But more importantly, we get a sense the Jedi are much more aware of his visions but still expect him to commit to his Jedi obligations. That same idea is very much present in AOTC, but I feel it’s much more obvious here in this edit. We’re also laying groundwork for what starts Anakin’s distrust of the Jedi here which is clearly what Lucas had in mind as well. The Jedi have lost their way. They have lost their compassion. And it will have dire repercussions.
Gone is the horrendous ‘love story’ and the plot to assassinate Amidala. Instead, the focus is on Anakin refusing to accept he has to allow his mother to suffer because of his obligations to the Jedi. Now, he travels directly from Coruscant to Tatooine with the help of Padme (his loyal friend), against the wishes of Obi-Wan, to try and help his mother but alas….he’s too late.
Whether Anakin and Padme are just good friends or a full-blown couple in this edit, is again inferred (in my head canon they’re just close friends). Instead of jetting off to Naboo to get married, it’s very much implied they become a couple in between this chapter and the next (whether they actually do marry in this edit, is up to interpretation…in my head, they don’t). Personally I like the idea of them just sharing a romance and a pregnancy in private without having actually married.
Chapter 4: The Clone Wars
Is all about the Clone Wars and Dooku as a political idealist, looking to drive his Separatist wedge right through the corrupt Republic. It’s here that the Jedi first get a whiff that the Sith have returned. But they can’t be sure if Dooku is being truthful. Their hubris blinds them.
Chapters 5 and 6: Fall of the Jedi (parts 1 and 2)
Now things start to get interesting. Interestingly, I found the plot points from ROTS the most difficult to edit down to fit the editing style I was going for. It was difficult cutting out General Grievous. And I mean, cutting out entirely. There’s not a single mention of him in this cut.
There were a few plot points I had to maintain, such as Anakin losing his arm to Dooku (which we don’t see in an earlier chapter because we cut the AOTC Obi-Wan and Anakin vs Dooku duel), Padme announcing her pregnancy and Anakin ultimately killing Dooku in ROTS. I struggled for a long-time for the best way to show all this. And then it hit me.
What if we started with a dream sequence to show all these events in quick succession? As a story-telling device, it allows us to quickly intercut a series of scenes to show what events have happened in the past. I wanted to establish the idea that the Clone Wars had changed Anakin. No more quippy ‘This is where the fun begins’. Wars are not fun. He’s tired. In this edit, I try to infer he’s fighting in the Clone Wars with the knowledge that Padme is bringing his child into a war-torn galaxy and the thought of that pains him.
An idea that is implicitly reinforced later when Palpatine says to Anakin, ‘You’ve been searching for a life, greater than any Jedi, a life of conscience’. Anakin hates war and Palaptine getting extra emergency powers in a scene shortly after is genuinely something he welcomes.
I wanted to suggest that Anakin is in fact suffering from PTSD as a result of the Clone Wars, losing his arm to Dooku, his mother’s death and finally killing Dooku which he regrets having letting his hate and anger get the better of him - some background audio of Bail Organa praising him over his decision to kill Dooku weighs on his conscience too. So adds to the internal conflict that he is praised for killing the enemy even though it’s ‘war’ - not a very Jedi like quality. Once we wake from Anakin’s PTSD nightmare, we thankfully get to avoid all the nonsense that came with rescuing Palpatine too.
Like many fan editors, it was difficult for me to accept Anakin’s turn to the dark side as originally portrayed in ROTS as it was all a bit of a mess. Is it because of his distrust of the Council? Is it his tendency to use hate/anger? Is it Padme dying?
I’ve thought a lot about this. About the very nature of ‘a turn’. In ROTJ, the temptation for Luke seems much more simple (he’s pushed to embrace his aggressive side for fear of losing Leia to the dark side) and I wanted to echo that simplicity/idea more here (it’s like poetry, it rhymes).
So I had to think, when exactly does Anakin turn in ROTS? It seems to me Lucas wants us to believe it’s a slow gradual turn based on several compounding events, with the thing that pushes him over the edge, being Padme’s impending death of course and the (false?) promise by Palpatine that only his power can save her. I never liked any of this. The idea of Padme dying as a reason for Anakin’s turn is a device completely reused from AOTC when Shmi suffers the same fate. We’re meant to accept that the same thing happens to the same dude for both women in his life? It’s just lazy storytelling.
What ultimately happens in my edit, is Anakin’s turn is really about power and the desire for more of it. He’s always been an ambitious Jedi. The ‘push’ that ultimately forces his hand, is really the lack of trust he has in the Jedi order and the lack of trust they have in him. Not because Padme is going to die in child-birth. Are we also meant to accept that with all that technology she couldn’t be saved? I personally find it very poor storytelling that Padme ‘loses the will to live’ - a strong willed, loving person/mother like Padme would not drop dead, having just given birth to her children, because her husband/boyfriend (it turns out), is a dud.
I also like to think that as per his line later on Mustafar (and ultimately in Empire), Anakin really wants to side neither with Palpatine or the Jedi. His ambitions are such that by this point, he wants to run the galaxy his way and is tired of being manipulated by both the Jedi and Palpatine. He figures, I don’t need either of them, I’ll go it alone with Padme (and one day as we find out, Luke attemptedly), at his side.
In my edit, I interpret Anakin’s attack on the temple and the killing of the Separatist leaders as ‘tests’ of sorts, encouraged by Palpatine as an introduction (a sample) of the power that awaits over on the dark side - a push to succumb to the hate that has grown inside him (which we echo using dialogue from ROTJ when Palps says virtually the same thing to Luke).
I love the idea of Palp testing Anakin with these two events (the attack on the temple and the killing of the Separatist leaders) which once completed, complete’s Anakin’s baptism by fire (literally) and ‘rebirth’ (at the same time we intercut with the birth of Luke and Leia) in the dark side.
I like to think Anakin only truly becomes Vader after successfully ‘passing’ these two tests. He officially becomes Vader, only after donning the suit, where again using repurposed dialogue, his old name is thrown aside and he is given his new one along with his new body by Palpatine and the promise of greater power as he continues on his Sith-ward journey. I like the idea of Vader continuing to grow in power from this point on, now that he has embraced the dark side, rather than being less powerful because he lost a couple of limbs. His Sithward journey has only just begun - the next time we see him, he’s kicking serious ass in Rogue One (I love the last 20 minutes of that film).
While I like the idea of Vader existing pre-the suit, I just don’t feel we have the footage to build this up/tell that story well.
Speaking of Palpatine, it was always going to be a struggle showing how he transforms from his pre-force lightning state to the ‘scarred and deformed’ Emperor we know (and love?) Thankfully, I stumbled across the brilliant work of Hal 9000 and his Labyrinth of Evil which uses some cool morphing to show Palpatine is finally revealing his true self to the audience in that scene, an idea that is much, much better than his own force lightning coming back to scar him. He then lies later of course, using this to explain to the Senate how the Jedi are the ones responsible for his scarring.
The conclusion of my edit, really lands with a punch to the gut, as we intercut back to Anakin and Qui-Gon on Tatooine to see just how far this boy and his child-like, wistful ambitions, have led him down such a tragic path (the ultimate goal Lucas was going for).
Chapter 7: Coda (Luke and Leia)
The relocation of the twins, acts as a brief coda (as I quite like those scenes) before we cut to the credits.
In closing, I hope others get as much of a kick out of this edit as I do when I watch it back. I hope you notice all the details that went into it. It took me a long time! I’m also quite impressed that I achieved this edit using just the blurays that I own, iMovie and a 2012 Mac mini(!) (let’s not forget Audacity too).
For anyone with a technical ear for detail, I also used an online AI tool to isolate many bits of dialogue that were otherwise suffering from some music bleed through.
I understand that posting links to this edit is prohibited but if you search a popular video sharing service that rhymes with Wimeo (or PM me for a ink), you’ll find your rebel friends soon enough.
Would love to hear people’s thoughts as to my edit and who knows? Maybe future chapters (Rogue One, the sequel trilogy) might follow.
May the force be with you.