Star Wars is one of the most popular movie series of all time. With a voracious fan base that walks a fine line between avowed loyalty and bitter hostility, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s also one of the most popular sources of fan edits. Fans have constantly tried to reinterpret and evaluate the Star Wars saga ever since its original mastermind, George Lucas, embarked on the Special Editions of the original trilogy in 1997. The seemingly superfluous additions to the sacred trilogy were kind of like a dry run for the CGI-centric prequels that followed a few years later. Those forced fans to address the major narrative problems and visual effects tinkering that Lucas kept inflicting on movies everyone had already come to love. Fans, in other words, have continually been taking it upon themselves to save Star Wars from itself.
Adding an atrociously bad Jabba the Hutt scene to A New Hope, throwing in an embarrassing new musical number in Return of the Jedi, and Greedo shooting first — these were Lucasfilm trolling us, softening us up for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the original version of the movie anymore, and even when the pre-Disney Lucasfilm eventually released the theatrical versions (which were still tinkered with, FYI) they weren’t in HD. The best official way to see the complete un-fucked-with original trilogy is on DVD, or you could just find those old VHS tapes in your grandparents’ basement or be that guy and find the laserdiscs on eBay. If that’s not your bag, then fear not! The fans are here to help. Here are some of the best fan edits out there.
5. Star Wars: Episode III.5 - The Editor Strikes Back
Two points to start off with, both of them not so good: First, you probably won’t be able to see this cut in any way shape or form anytime soon; and second, it was done by Topher Grace. Yes, Topher Grace, a.k.a. Eric Forman from That ‘70s Show and that guy that’s popped up in everything from Spider-Man 3 to Interstellar over the years. It turns out Grace is a Star Wars fan that may have had some time on his hands about four years ago and took it upon himself to compress the prequels into one 85-minute movie.
The actor showed his cut only once in a now semi-legendary private screening in 2012 of industry friends because there were obviously huge legal issues that prevented him from screening the edit in public. According to Slashfilm’s Peter Sciretta, who attended the screening, “Topher was able to completely tell the main narrative of Anakin Skywalker’s road from Jedi to the Sith,” and continued by saying, “What’s better is that the character motivations are even more clear and identifiable, a real character arc not bogged down by podraces, galactic senates, Jar Jar Binks, politics or most of the needless parts of the Star Wars prequels. It not only clarifies the story, but makes the film a lot more action-packed.” So it seems good. Hopefully he’ll screen it at some comic-con someday.
4. The Anti-Cheese Edit
One fearless young YouTube user named JeremyMWest-Esquire did the world some justice and created a prequel edit that people can actually watch. “The Phantom Menace felt lifeless, confusing, and more than anything it contained a litany of cringe-inducing scenes, acting, dialog, and characters,” he says in the introduction of his “Anti-Cheese Edit.”
So he took a crack at polishing the turd that is The Phantom Menace to the best of his ability. He removed entire sequences, tightened the podrace, and excised a lot of Jar-Jar. Other changes include re-vocalizing the Neimoidians to make them less racist, excising Naboo pilot Ric Olié’s endless plot exposition, taking out references to Midichlorians, and removing any mention of Anakin’s immaculate conception. The cut gets the job done by trimming the fat and, obviously, removes a lot of the cheesiness.
3.Team Negative One’s Star Wars Silver Screen Edition
The prequels have been well-covered, but the original trilogy needs some work as well. That’s what the fine folks at Team Negative One have done, though they’re going old-school by assembling a full HD version of A New Hope from original 35mm film print in order to preserve the experience of seeing Star Wars the way it was seen in 1977. While not strictly a fan edit, the project seems like a labor of love by a real fan. Started back in 2008, the amateur fans hand cleaned each frame one-by-one, reel-by-reel and just last week announced they’ve completed their work on the first movie.
There’s no news yet about where fans could see the movie, or whether a public screening is even legal, but there’s no rest for the weary, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan. They also just announced ways other fans can take it upon themselves to clean up their original version of The Empire Strikes Back as well.
2. The Machete Order
Here’s a fan edit that requires nothing but popping in your DVD or Blu-rays! No torrenting, no downloads, no nothing, just good ol’ physical media (unless you downloaded the official digital versions of the saga). George Lucas always held that Star Wars is really about Anakin Skywalker. What the so-called “Machete Order” of movies presupposes is, what if it isn’t? In the lengthy but cogent blog post, software developer and Star Wars fan Rod Hilton sets out a way to experience the saga by simply rearranging the movies.
Hilton says to watch ‘em in this order: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and finally Return of the Jedi. This sequence keeps the reveal of Vader as Luke’s father a surprise, and introduces the young Anakin before he bizarrely turns up as a ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi. The Machete Order keeps the saga focused on Luke, while developing the story around him. This allows him to drop The Phantom Menace altogether — an inspired deletion, come to think of it, befitting a genius fan edit.
1. The Despecialized Edition
Much like Topher Grace or Team Negative One, Star Wars fan Petr Harmáček (a.k.a. “Harmy”) wanted to return the original trilogy to its former beat-up glory. Enter: the Despecialized Editions. They’re the most meticulously preserved and definitive editions of the pre-Special Edition trilogy out there. Picture bootleg tapes passed around by band superfans, the basement tapes before The Basement Tapes became an official Dylan release. While the Despecialized Editions haven’t made their way to the marketplace in an official way — because, you know, the law — the versions and Harmy himself have become legendary among Star Wars fans. They’re, quite simply, the perfect pre-1997 way to experience the saga.
The changes made and the methods Harmy used to “despecialize” the movies in HD over his five-year endeavor are too long to list here, and can be found in an official Google doc here. Needless to say the CGI Jabba is gone, “Lapti Nek” is restored in Return of the Jedi, Han definitely does shoot first, and order is restored to the force.