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Synoptic Star Wars
One by one, the students around me open up about an adolescent trauma they have in common. One is telling me about her first steps out of the closet.
"There was no way this thing could have lived up to our expectations. After the first time, I even lied to cover up my disappointment. I told my friends, 'It was great.' Everyone else was saying the same thing. But I was asking myself, 'Is there something wrong with me?' Finally we started asking each other, 'Were you let down too?' And it turned out that everyone felt the same way."
These undergraduates are remembering their first experience of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Some had camped out for days beforehand. All had left the theater with the uneasy feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. Instead of being initiated into the mystical power of the Force, they had endured demythologizing lectures on "Midichlorians" (a kind of spiritual mitochondria). Instead of a fumbling but earnest Luke Skywalker, they had met an irritatingly childish Anakin Skywalker. Instead of the comic relief of Han Solo and Chewbacca, they had met the dreadful wackiness of an amphibious donkey named Jar Jar Binks. Instead of being swept away to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, they felt like they had just been taken in a minivan to a children's pizza joint.
Cut to Santa Clarita, California, where a Blockbuster customer, watching Episode I at home, had a thought worthy of Stanley Fish: Is there a film in this film? He pulled out his PowerMac, started up Final Cut Pro, loaded in the video, and got to work. When he finished, the film (retitled Star Wars Episode I.I: The Phantom Edit) was 20 minutes shorter and ten years more mature. Jar Jar's follies were cut ruthlessly. Anakin's outbursts were trimmed, making him a quieter, more thoughtful youngster. Midichlorians were marginal. There was less patronizing and confusing talk about trade federations and senatorial politics. Scenes were tighter. The distracting Jules Verne-like ...