Star Wars The Lost Cut By Mike White. I have heard about the seven-hour cut of The Magnificent Ambersons that RKO butchered and burned for the nitrates...

I have heard about the seven-hour cut of The Magnificent Ambersons that RKO butchered and burned for the nitrates. I have read about the five-hour cut of Once Upon a Time in the West discovered at Sergio Leone’s estate after his death. I have watched alternate cuts of Heavenly Creatures, Freaked, Hard Target, Touch of Evil and all of Terry Gilliam and James Cameron’s films. I have to admit that with each unveiling of a different version of a film that I get a giddy feeling. It is not that alternate cuts are necessarily better (Blade Runner) or that extra scenes necessarily add anything of interest (1941). Instead, these versions offer viewers a chance to witness the progression of the films from their origins to the finished product.

Looking at the aforementioned films and offering up other films that have been released on video, in the theater, or on television in an altered state (Amazon Women on the Moon, Superman, Jaws, Dune, The Exorcist—in other words, the fodder of feature articles for the last forty-some issues of Video Watchdog). However, one would be hard pressed to find another film with a history as unique and outrageous as Star Wars ; few films have been tinkered with as much since their initial release. Even before 1997’s "Special Edition," Star Wars underwent minor retooling (adding the subtitle "Episode IV" during the preamble scroll, removing and re-adding C3-PO’s "The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations. A power loss at one of the terminals will allow the ship to leave." and the Stormtroopers’ "Open the blast doors!" lines). But more than inserting alternate takes and excised scenes, George Lucas created entirely new shots and changed the tone and intent of scenes—not necessarily entirely due to budgetary and technological limits but because Lucas had simply changed his mind about some things over the years (see the rant about Greedo shooting first in CdC #7).

Lucas needs to learn to put a project to bed when the time is due. Can you imagine the mess that a director could make if his obsessive tinkering got the best of his work? What kind of damage could Orson Welles do to Citizen Kane if he were alive and decided that he really would rather have the story told in a linear fashion? Perhaps notes to this effect rest in some vault under the next two dozen Tupac Shakur films. Not to suggest that George Lucas should have passed on after The Empire Strikes Back but it seems that his meddling is more damaging than helpful.

What is more important than what Lucas added to Star Wars: Special Edition is what he kept out. Lucas put in the scene of Han Solo talking to Jabba The Hutt and justified it by saying that it tied in with Jabba’s appearance in Return of the Jedi. However, using that same logic, wouldn’t have also made sense to put in the scenes early in Star Wars with Biggs Darklighter and Luke so that Biggs’ death is given proper weight when he dies in the assault on the Death Star? Isn’t this inter-film connection even more important because of Biggs’ mysterious appearance of the moon of Yavin? Would it not answer the question of who this mustachioed guy is and why does the music swell after his death? If there was a time to put the Biggs Darklighter scenes (and others) back in, the Star Wars: Special Edition was it. Lucas’ excuse for their continued absence? They are said to detract from the pacing of the film. If that is the case, then the Wampa material and the shot of Darth Vadar’s shuttle returning to his Star Destroyer in The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition should never have been shot and crudely stuffed into that film.

So what is the truth for why these scenes remain out of the public eye?

The last decade has seen four major releases of the Star Wars trilogy; "The Definitive Collection" (complete with footage missing from The Empire Strikes Back and a shot-in-an-afternoon documentary tacked on the end), the "digitally remastered" collection, and the Special Editions’ theatrical and subsequent video releases. It seems that Lucas’ marketing strategy is a combination of Disney’s "release and withdraw" scheme and his old pal Francis Ford Coppola’s "re-edit and release" ploy that he’s been using for years with The Godfather films (The Complete Godfather, The Godfather Epic, the digitally remastered Godfather, et cetera). As long as there is a dime to squeeze out of the Star Wars franchise, Lucas is going to do it. And the best way to milk his cash cow is to dole out extras every few years. In this way, Lucas will continue to release various versions of Star Wars in various formats well into the next millenium.

What could the future of Star Wars re-releases hold? The Lucasfilm archives hold a treasure trove of material that may or may not ever see the light of a projector bulb again. Sure, there are plenty of embarrassing moments: "The Star Wars Holiday Special" is proof of that. Nevertheless, as cheesy as it is, it still culturally significant and would need to be part of a truly definitive Star Wars collection.

It’s not that Jefferson Starship’s stunning performance of "Light The Sky On Fire" really adds to the overall history of Star Wars, but the special played host to the introduction of Boba Fett through the cartoon that Chewbacca’s son Waroo watched. Moreover, the "Life on Tatooine" sequence contains shots that were originally in Star Wars but not released in any other format, not even the "Star Wars: Behind The Magic" CD-ROM (see next page).

When an alternate cut of Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep was re-released in 1998, audiences were made privy to a view of an American classic in progress. There is a myriad of reasons why this event was not widely heralded. The Big Sleep had a small re-release and virtually no marketing, especially when compared to another classic film noir that had a revival the same year, Touch of Evil. Moreover, if The Big Sleep is famous for anything, it’s for its convoluted plot, begging the question of why it wasn’t as big of a draw as a film directed by "the wine guy." In both cases, however, the stories of both of these films’ discovery and re-release were hot news among cinephiles and even made waves in the mainstream media.

Try to imagine another film that if an alternate version were unearthed might have more significance than Star Wars.

News of this kind could generate enough hype that it might even overshadow the fervor that The Phantom Menace has created. Being more than a new chapter in the Star Wars story, another version of Star Wars would put the original film in a new light by enriching its history and giving us a glimpse into the creation of this cultural phenomenon.

Instead of being the cover story of Entertainment Weekly and burning up the internet, at the time this story was written few folks have heard the news: there is a "lost cut" of Star Wars.

The last time I waited for Entertainment Weekly to pick up a story, though, was when I read an article in Empire that I thought would be burning up the entertainment world shortly—a little story about Reservoir Dogs and City on Fire.

I debated about writing this article, thinking that news of this discovery would be old hat within a few days and the public would be rioting outside the gates of Skywalker Ranch demanding that this version be released. After a few weeks of surveying my geekier friends, I decided that even if the story catches on before going to press with CdC #9, that it’s important enough regardless. I suppose that that is the danger of writing a zine that doesn’t come out for months at a time!

Even if I’m repeating what will have been said a thousand times by the time this issue hits newsstands, maybe I’ll reach some fellow nerd in Podunk who missed the article on I still find it difficult to believe that the write-up of the "lost cut" was delegated to the back of The Star Wars Insider #41 instead of being the cover story!

So what’s different about the "lost cut"?

It’s a given that the scenes of Luke watching the battle between the Rebel blockade runner and Star Destroyer, Luke at Tasche Station, and the original Jabba The Hutt scenes are in place. It’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to know that most of the special effects shots are a lot rougher; rear-projection being used instead of blue screen shots. It’s very interesting that alternate takes in which familiar lines are said with different inflections. But, when looking at the "lost cut" the most startling thing is that the film has an entirely different tone than the version that has become an integral part of American culture.

According to David West Reynolds’ "Revolution of Star Wars", geography plays a much larger role to the "lost cut". Viewers get a real sense of the layout of both Tatooine and the Death Star. This, in addition to a larger cast of minor characters and longer, more realistically paced scenes, gives the film a much more documentary feel, putting it in line with Lucas’ previous feature, American Graffiti and it’s quasi-documentary style.

Will this version ever be readily available to the public? I think that one would have a better chance at getting the full Warren Commission Report and President Kennedy’s brain than getting Lucas to ever release the "lost cut" since it doesn’t match his "artistic vision".

Yet, judging by the release of previously unavailable scenes on the "Star Wars: Behind the Magic" CD-ROM, perhaps a look at this "lost cut" isn’t such a tall order.

Witness the eternal struggle: Greed versus Artistic Integrity. I hope that Lucas can see the importance of preserving a part of filmic history and allows it to be studied.

Back to Issue 9