May the footage be with you! Or, at last! A Star Wars book for Editors
I received an email from Linton Davies and an invitation to download his book for free for review purposes. Glad I took this UK editor up on his offer. The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic offers insights to Star Wars fan boys and girls as well as professional editors. I learned a few things myself and was impressed by Davies’ astute diagnosis of the editing in this classic, game-changing film as well as editing in general. Before I talk about what I learned, to make a short story short – the book is a pithy 86 pages here’s a bit from the author himself.
Davies reasons to write the book
Davies emailed me:
“As a long suffering editor in the trenches I became frustrated about how little this side of filmmaking is discussed in relation to actual ‘cuts’, not just in purely technical (‘my RAM’s bigger than yours’) or philosophical (‘you just have to feel it!’) terms. The book seeks to address that, using one of the most popular films of all time as a peg to go into the practical cause and effects of the choices editors make.”
In the book’s preface Davies writes, “My goal is to demonstrate how ‘cutting’ is at the very heart of everything we love and remember about Star Wars, hiding in plain sight since its initial release. I believe there to be tremendous value in spending time thinking about editing in this way, not just from a purely theoretical perspective, but through the lens of a real world example, where cuts take on a life of their own. Editing is ultimately and essentially the art of storytelling, so how can it be rationally discussed if separated from the story itself?
Davies succeeds at his task and more.
A few of the interesting things I liked and/or learned
1. Rhythm section
Davies devotes the second most space (19 pages) to discussing the pace and duration of cuts and relating to the overall rhythm of scenes, evoking Eisenstein, Hirsch, and other illustrious editors. He includes a graph of ASLs (Average Shot Lengths) that covers all the scenes of Star Wars and another of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to compare the first and last movies in the series.
2. Editing Section (22 pages) and the meatiest section
a. Droids and the Cold War
Davies relates, “Lucas viewed the droids as key to his Cold War message, cultivating the idea that seemingly ‘disposable’ civilians can have a huge impact if they have the right spirit, that they can take down the seemingly all powerful evil Empire.”
b. Cheating Dialog
Obi Wan Kenobi’s famous line “May the force be with you” was neither scripted by George Lucas nor uttered by actor Alec Guinness who made himself unavailable after production. Editor Paul Hirsch wrestled the sentence, sans light saber from several sentences Guinness voice during production.
c. Movie Roots
Davies digs at the roots of the Star Wars saga and uncovers just how derivative the time honored movie is. For instance, the opening credits are taken in 1940 from Flash Gordon, an early space series.
Davies has put his love of a film as a kid together with his time in the cutting room as an adult to put forth a book well worth reading. The force of editing – and love – is with him in The Editing of Star Wars: How Cutting Created a Classic.