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How Star Wars was saved in the edit

how star wars film was saved in the edit
© Lyman Hansel Gerona

Star Wars is arguably the biggest cultural phenomenon of all time. The franchise introduced a magical world that captivated audiences around the globe, leading to a massive fan following that remained loyal to the franchise even 40+ years after its inception.

However, things could have been very different for the franchise, and it could have been one that many may have been talking about in a negative light, rather than the one that is spoken of as glowing all around the world.

Star Wars was not supposed to be the iconic masterpiece it is today. Director George Lucas had a very different vision for the movie that ended up being a complete disaster when the first cut was assembled, or so we are led to believe. The movie was slow, the story was convoluted, and the special effects were underwhelming. Lucas was devastated, and nobody in Hollywood had any confidence in the movie.

Jympson and Lucas did not work out

When Lucas was still filming “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” in 1976, he tasked John Jympson with the challenge of editing the film to create his vision and tell it to the world. The director had liked the editor’s work on “A Hard Day’s Night” – The Beatles film – and felt that he could create something special.

Once Jympson had created a rough cut – after not being explained the film’s material beforehand – Lucas did not like what he had been given. It has been claimed that there were clashes between styles and visions, thus making things difficult. Despite giving the editor more time and opportunities to try and get things the way he wanted, Lucas decided to end working with Jympson as their creative skills did not match with each other, thus creating a production issue.

Hirsch, Chew, and Lucas’ wife were hired

After parting with Jympson, Lucas decided to replace him with three editors to help him create what he had envisioned. He hired Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew, and his wife, Marcia Lucas.

While they would not have had the VFX tools that are now widely available on the internet for editors of all abilities and levels, the three that were hired were able to produce the masterpiece that was released in 1977. What they had managed to create was also very different from what Jympson’s final cut had looked like.

Chew revealed that they had to remove Luke Skywalker and Biggs Darklighter from the first five minutes in order to not overload the audience with new information and storylines that were becoming difficult to keep track of. Chew also played his part in editing the moment where Han Solo, Luke, and Princess Leia jumped onto the Millenium Falcon to escape the TIE fighters while shooting.

Marcia Lucas worked hard to edit the Battle of Yavin sequences. She changed the way that they would be created as she diverted away from the original script. She also had an impact on the fate of Obi-Wan Kenobi. She suggested that Darth Vader killed him to create an impact on the audience, rather than having the character flee and guide Luke from the Rebel War Room.

Editing clearly played a role in the franchise’s success

While each of the editors hired had no experience of working on the type of production that Lucas tasked them with, they managed to make it work. The franchise is one of the most successful of all time and has proven to be a commercial success as well as a cinematic one.

The team employed managed to improve the film significantly from the first cut that Jympson had made that had left Lucas feeling unhappy. At the same time, they also managed to give it a new lease of life as they added aspects that created an impact on the audience watching.

Lucas did not have faith in the Star Wars franchise being as successful as it was, either. He famously told Steven Spielberg that he felt the director’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” would do better than his. It was only when he saw the queues for his own film outside theatres that he realized he had managed to achieve what had once felt impossible.

Editing plays a vital role in the film industry in the present day, and it could be argued that Star Wars is one of the first instances in which it shows why it is so important.

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