Sunday, January 14, 2018

How STAR WARS was saved in the edit

You got eighteen minutes to watch something very cool? This video really illustrates the value of film editing. It's how the original STAR WARS was saved in the editing, and along the way you'll learn a lot about dramatic flow, story structure, building tension, and what not to do. Check it out.

And tomorrow I review the new STAR WARS chapter, THE LAST JEDI.  

22 comments :

Lisa said...


I had asked something similar on Friday after reading Robert Evans' book. The unsung contribution of other people to the final cut. In Godfather's case too it was the final editing which saved it, says Evans.

Brad Apling said...

Oh, this is great! Can learn a lot from these 18min.
Thanks for providing!

Peter said...

Looking forward to your review!

Jeff Weimer said...

I think Mercia Lucas' editing was a big reason why the first two (IV and V) were much better than the rest, and their separation and divorce during Ep VI was where George began to not have someone who could tell him "no" and make it stick.

Pete Sutcliffe said...

That was really cool, thanks for sharing. I also highly recommend reading Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. He has a passage in there that describes the screening of the rough cut that is described at the beginning of the video. He also tells some really good stories about the making of Star Wars. Anyway, that video reminded me why I loved Star Wars so much as a kid. I saw it on opening weekend when I was 9 years old. The special effects were revolutionary, but thanks to this video I understand that the editing was also innovative and is part of the reason the film was so captivating.

estiv said...

My current job involves a lot of text editing. One thing it shares with film editing (or any other kind, such as music editing) is that if it's done well, the viewer, or reader, or listener does not notice it. The end result is something that just works so well that you get lost in the experience.

VincentS said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing that, Ken. Wouldn't have believed the whole story if I hadn't seen the discarded footage for myself. Ironic considering George Lucas started out as an editor himself. Yes, editors are the unsung heroes of film. Many a movie has been saved by them and many an honest "auteur" till admit to that.

Mr. Hollywood said...

I have said many times that the true artists making films today are directors of photography and editors. I have been on enough film sets to know that many of the new breed of directors are rather clueless, no matter what they bloviate about. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard directors say "What do we do next?" or "I'm lost", or "How should we set this up?" ... then watched as the DP put his arm around "the director" and helped set up the shot. By the way, there is another great story that involves Mr. Spielberg when he was completely lost making JAWS. The person who saved that film: editor Vera Fields. But that's a story for another time.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Friday Question:

You've often said that by Season 7 of M*A*S*H, you and the other writers and producers looked for ways to make the show more visually interesting after seeing the same sets over and over again for six years (i.e. filming at the Fox Ranch at night, or having bottle episodes in a cave or Rosie's Bar). Given that MASH units are Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, did any of you play around with the idea of having the 4077th bug out to a new location permanently? That certainly would have broken the monotony of seeing the same sets over and over again, and maybe even provide some interesting storylines stemming from that. But I'm going to assume that from a logistical and practical stand point, it wouldn't have been in the show's best interest and budget to completely move the entire camp to a different spot on the Ranch, and/or completely rearrange the Compound in the sound stage to accommodate such.

E. Yarber said...

A fascinating, if somewhat frustrating viewing for me. It's not that I don't value editors, but that I've worked with amateurish writers who think they can submit sloppy scripts with the expectation that someone further down the chain will correct their mistakes. Not every film gets such a reprieve once production begins and time becomes short.

Films are a visual medium and require a clear progression of action. The most common mistake beginners make is trying to tell the story on the page through characters explaining the plot to one another through dialogue (like the early excised scenes with Luke here). The dialogue fixes here were generally only a line or two, replacing clumsy storytelling by getting straight to the point needed to keep things moving forward. Good choices, but hopefully ones that can be made earlier in the game.

Another example of radical editing from the same year can be found in Ron Rosenblum's book "When the Shooting Stops..." "Annie Hall" was originally a formless hodgepodge of material reflecting Woody Allen's experience as a stand-up comic and sketch writer. His earlier films had been anarchic exercises in stringing jokes together, but Rosenblum cut out the movie parodies and comic detours to focus on the love story that had been often sidelined in Allen's version. The film was a massive hit, winning the Oscar for Best Picture and (somewhat ironically, given Rosenblum's contribution in shaping the story) Best Original Screenplay.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Drop dead fascinating! Thanks Ken. I'd heard that one of my favorite movies, High Noon, was saved from being a confused mess by editor Elmo Williams. Thanks Elmo.

Friday Question:

The video states that Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg disliked the Star Wars opening crawl, and that De Palma and and Jay Cox rewrote it. As their only contribution to a long, complex film would be that crawl, how would De Palma and Cox have been paid and credited? Screenwriters, consultants, friends?

gottacook said...

It was Jay Cocks (onetime movie critic for Time Magazine), not Cox.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I've seen other pieces on the importance of editing. The chase scene in "The French Connection" is another good example. They say that a single frame can make the difference in an edit. I find writing is similar in that sometimes a single syllable can turn an O.K. line into a great line. BTW, R.I.P. Keith Jackson. I'm surprised you didn't post anything about him. Even in a supplemental blog.

Twintone said...

To be fair, a lot of movies are "saved" in the edit. That's why it takes months to edit a movie. This video does a lot to highlight how much the public doesn't understand the importance of or what a film editor does.

Ken, don't you have stories of sitcoms you directed or worked on where jokes or entire stories really came together with the editors help?

Andy Rose said...

Film-making Lesson #2: Give as many characters as possible indistinct mouth movements so you can change all their dialogue later.

Can you imagine what seeing this film the first time was like for Garrick Hagon, the actor who played Biggs? He went into the shooting thinking he was a significant figure at the beginning and end of the film, the main protagonist's best friend. As edited, he's seen so little, he's not even credited under his character's name (they just called him "Red Three").

Lisa said...


Thanks Mr. Hollywood.

I was waiting for someone to post a comment about "Jaws". I hope someone gives the true picture whether it was Verna Fields who saved the movie with her editing or she got undue credit as Spielberg claims.

Here is an article which takes Spielberg's side to the point of hero-worship:
http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/06/movies/l-film-editing-jaws-did-not-need-saving-303995.html

Ken, it would be great if you shared your experience of working with editors and their contributions on the TV Shows/Movies that you worked on.

Dana Gabbard said...

Marcia also pointed out Raiders of the Lost Ark ended without a resolution of the romance. When she pointed this out the scene on the steps was added.

Ray Morton said...

It's an interesting piece, but it should be retitled "How Star Wars Was Shaped in the Edit." The notion that Star Wars needed to be "saved" is a weird one -- every movie goes through this process. Every rough cut is terrible and every film is reworked in the editing process (some more than others of course, but this is not an occurrence unique to SW). The author's thesis and smug tone is part of a very strange recent movement among SW geeks and film nerds -- who, mad at Lucas for his changes to the original movies and the lackluster prequel trilogy -- have decided that SW was good in spite of Lucas rather than because of him. That is was Marcia Lucas and Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew and John Williams and ILM and Ben Burtt who made all of the good decisions about the movie while Lucas sat around reading magazines or something. A notion that does not seem to understand the collaborative nature of moviemaking and especially of editing and also ignores the fact that nothing went into SW that Lucas didn't approve of. The team that made SW was fantastically talented and of course everyone made wonderful contributions. But to pit one group of those folks against the director seems uninformed at best as childish at worst

MikeN said...

Lucas's primary contribution is for the Sound in Star Wars. Not just the music, but the sound of different actions, which are primarily Lucas's doing and moves it up from B movie status.

MikeN said...

The video makes a mistake in calling the Jabba scene unnecessary because it adds something we already know. It is not merely repetitive, it takes away a core element of the movie. There is a difference from Han being on the run, and Han being given clearance from Jabba.

Donald Benson said...

Yeah, but who kill the chauffeur in "The Big Sleep"?

JAhn Ghalt said...

About films MR. Hollywood wrote:

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard directors say "What do we do next?" or "I'm lost", or "How should we set this up?" ... then watched as the DP put his arm around "the director" and helped set up the shot.

Given the money involved one would think that the director and DP would stay at least one day ahead of the production.

What's up with that?