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The Phantom Edit

There are of course multiple Phantom Menace re-edits out there bearing the name Phantom Edit; this review concerns the one featuring Jar Jar redubbed as a wise, sagelike character. Review commences:

Put simply, parts of this work, and parts do not. Amongst the parts that do are the absence of poop/fart jokes (and I seriously doubt anyone misses those,) the retuning of the ending land battle to remove the slapstick humor that ran throughout it in the original incarnation, and occasional deletion of some of Anakin's "whoopses" and "yippees," resulting in a less kid-oriented feel in some scenes. As Lucas admitted in the Making of Episode 1 book, Jar Jar was a big risk he had never taken with a Star Wars film previously, and which in light of general audience concensus, he is unlikely to take again. Humor has always been a part of Star Wars, but never in such broad doses and in such inappropriate places. A great deal of this particular "Phantom Edit" has been in the service of relieving us from comic relief.

However, it ain't all gold. The other primary change in this version is the distortion of all alien races' speaking parts and the addition of subtitles to take the place of the spoken dialogue. In the case of Jar Jar and the other Gungans, the dialogue was often greatly rewritten, resulting in a Jar Jar that was reflective and philosophical rather than a bumbling fish out of water. However, the Trade Federation officials have been subbed with the exact same dialogue as before, making the exercise rather pointless. Their voices are also rather annoying to listen to now, as the distortion seems to have been achieved by cutting the dialogue into short segments which were then played in reverse (the exact same technique used for the Gungans,) and it frankly made me feel like I was short of breath after listening to so many phonemes running backwards. It may not bother some viewers at all, but I found it aggravating to listen to in large doses. While in most previous instances alien dialogue in Star Wars films has indeed been subtitled (though notably not in the case of Admiral Ackbar, who spoke English without incurring anyone's ire), there is a much greater quantity of it in Phantom Menace and there seems to be no real reason not to minimize the subtitled dialogue; while far preferable to dubs in the case of foreign movies, subtitles do nevertheless distract the viewer from the visuals.

Though attenuating the sometimes unending comic relief was a good thing in theory, the problem with making Jar Jar a spouter of fortune cookie-sized philosophical tidbits is the fact that there's already a Star Wars character who does that: his name is Yoda, and he also appears in this film. And the fact of the matter is that this cut has deleted EVERY SINGLE instance of comedy in the film (a character can't be both thoughtful and a klutz?) which results in some bad continuity at times. The scene introducing Padme is now gone, even though Jar Jar does nothing silly in the scene whatsoever. As a result, Padme now appears a bit out of the blue when she accompanies the party into Mos Espa. We also see Sebulba attack Jar Jar on the street for absolutely no reason at all, even though we still hear Anakin claim that "your buddy picked a fight with a Dug." C-3PO claims that "that Jar Jar creature is a little...odd," without any real reason to. The entire plot point of Jar Jar being an outcast from his city has been removed, though we still see him somewhat incongruously handcuffed in one scene. There's more than one instance wherein an (obviously) added wipe has been used to remove mere seconds' worth of Jar Jar whether he's doing anything silly or not, which is a trifle obesessive, though the worst edit occurs when, in order to eliminate Jar Jar's juggling act in Watto's junk shop, the scene now wipes from Qui-Gon's failed attempt to purchase a new engine to Watto bemoaning the "outlanders," which then almost immediately wipes again at the actual end of the scene; not only is it clumsy and rushed, but it deletes Anakin and Padme's exchange of goodbyes, a bad decision in light of the fact that the entire scene was intended to introduce the two characters to each other.

The reworking of Anakin's handling of the starfighter battle is far more successful, though it strikes a double-edged sword in that while he no longer acts like a cutesy kid, he does act a little too competent in a totally unfamilar situation-there's no reason why he should be able to figure out how to pilot an airplane without a bit of fumbling around (blame it on the Force, I guess), and the fact is that he only acted awkward in the space battle scene-the Podrace shows him as being quite competent and sure, as he's clearly in familiar territory. While it does make the ending more dramatic, it seems to require something in the way of an explanation that we don't get. If the original had played up the notion that Anakin was coming to rely upon the Force to accomplish what he does, it would've worked out better-for either version.

The main failing of this Phantom Edit is that it goes too far in the other direction. A Star Wars flick with NO comedy at all is just as jarring as one with too much. I personally felt that some of Jar Jar's comedy schtick worked just fine; cut the quantity in half, and you'll strike the proper balance. Lucas clearly got at least some of the message from all this, as Attack of the Clones has almost no humor-though some of what it does have is still bad-and in fact almost no Jar Jar. It does have a slew of even bigger problems, but that's a matter for another time.

Plus, you simply cannot cut the "Oh! Goober fish!" line. Don't ask me why. It's just this thing with me.

-review by Matt Murray

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