Success is not inevitable – How good editing saved Star Wars from failure

Dec 8, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Success is not inevitable – How good editing saved Star Wars from failure

Dec 8, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Star Wars is one of the most well known and popular movies ever. Although, I recently did a poll of my friends on Facebook and it surprised me just how many have never seen it (what’s wrong with you people?). But, the success of the movies and the franchise as a whole was not guaranteed. And certainly not in the beginning.

They say that a story is written three times. First in the screenplay, then in production, and finally in the edit. And it wasn’t until the final edit that Star Wars: A New Hope all came together. This video from Rocket Jump Film School goes through the changes that were made to save a film that, by all rights, should not have succeeded at all.

YouTube video

Star Wars snatched victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to his editing team or Richard Chew, Paul Hirsh, and then-wife, Marcia Lucas. Their job was to remove the bloat, remove unnecessary footage, and tighten up the story. To make things more fluid and consistent. Get rid of all the clunky exposition dialogue and threads left unanswered. To create clarity, drama, and tension in key moments of the film that had none.

In the first five minutes [of the film], we were hitting everybody with more information than they could handle. There were too many story lines to keep straight: the robots and the Princess, Vader, Luke.

So we simplified it, by taking Luke out.

– Paul Hirsh

Taking Luke out of the first five minutes of the film also added some of that drama and mystery to the planet on which C-3PO and R2-D2 landed. In the original rough draft, the film had already cut to Luke several times before this happens, making it a familiar location.

And much of the rest of the film goes on like this. Rough assembly is broken and fragmented, not really telling the story. Originally it almost runs like a Tarantino style Pulp Fiction edit bouncing through time, but without Tarantino’s skill and ability.

In the final edit, a couple of shots were completely cut, because they’re basically just giving out information the audience already knows. The rest were re-ordered on the timeline to give a better sense of progression. It helps to control the flow of information and expand upon what’s already been told to the viewer. The original cut, with clips in a different order, tells a different and very confusing story.

It’s an interesting dissection of the original rough cut vs the final movie. It’s a good job George Lucas had the editors he did. Otherwise, Star Wars would’ve likely never been the hit that it was. Nor would it have a legion of fans around the world, and movies still being produced today.

Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan (again, what’s wrong with you?) it’s a great study in how to tell your story in editing. And this goes along with a recent post here on editing before you shoot. Learning to see your final story before you shoot will save you a lot of time throughout your production.

It’ll also help you become a better storyteller.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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5 responses to “Success is not inevitable – How good editing saved Star Wars from failure”

  1. Les Cameron Avatar
    Les Cameron

    … and music, which I guess you could lump with editing. Turn the volume down and Star Wars is still a good movie, but with the music it achieves “best. movie. ever.” status (or at least top 10)

  2. Rick Avatar
    Rick

    I’m guessing the author is not old enough to have seen the original movie when it came out in theaters. They were not editing “Star Wars: A New Hope”, they were editing “Star Wars”. It was not given the current name it goes by until many years after the original editing was done and that change came with additional edits all its own.

    1. Thomas Roll Avatar
      Thomas Roll

      Correct, it came out 5 months before I was born. But, it’s not 1977 any more. So I used the title that the movie has now. :)

    2. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Correct, it came out 5 months before I was born. But, it’s not 1977 any more. So I used the title that the movie has now. :)

  3. Prince Smart Avatar
    Prince Smart

    And how bas editing FAILED Batman v Superman…