There are many phases associated with making a film. First there’s the preproduction phase where much of your time needs to be invested, otherwise you’re flying blind for the rest of the production. There’s the actual shooting of the live action, known as the production phase, which is where you capture your vision on film. Then there’s the postproduction phase, where everything comes together and you use your skills and talents to create and end result that’s pleasing to you and hopefully to everyone who sees it.
In between those three phases, however, lie many sub-phases too numerous to mention here. From writing and casting to lighting and cinematography to editing and looping dialogue; the process can be very involved but it’s that end result, the zenith of the director’s vision and the crew’s hard work, which makes it all worth it. Getting to that point is the real challenge.
One of the steps filmmakers find helpful takes place near the end of the production phase, going into the postproduction phase, called making a “rough cut” of the film which is a general assembly of all of the available footage shot during the production phase in sequential order according to the script.
There are no rules that say a rough cut has to follow the script but usually the key is to make the film flow as it was originally intended with the assumption that it will be heavily changed as the postproduction phase continues. This rough cut gives the filmmaker a good look at what’s been shot and how it flows from scene to scene. Some things will work, some things won’t. Some scenes will be too slow and some scenes won’t be necessary at all to advance the story. Some scenes will be moved to different parts of the film, if needed. Whatever the case may be, the rough cut provides a nice work print or blueprint for the film, much like a blueprint drawn by an architect gives a construction company the visual toolbox it needs to build a house from the ground up.
Star Wars was no different from any other film at the time of its production. No one could foretell its future success or the influence it would have on filmmaking. It was just this idea in George Lucas’ head and he was translating it to film. Therefore, all of the usual production phases took place without prejudice or expectations from fans. The budget was low, the schedule was tight, and the director was relatively new. Lucas went about things the only way he knew how and decided that he would like a rough cut of the film assembled.
He enlisted the help of John Jympson, a British editor, and allowed him to take the production footage that was shot up until that point and create a rough cut of the film. This 13 reel blueprint was reviewed, logged, sealed, and put away in the Lucasfilm archives for years and there it still resides, dragged out once in a while by the archivists and lucky people like Dr. David West Reynolds (archaeologist and Star Wars author/fanatic; a lethal combination that contains aspects of two of Lucasfilm’s best known film series) and others who have been privy to seeing this one-of-a-kind Star Wars rarity.
This rough cut of the film was later dubbed the “Lost Cut” of Star Wars.
How it got the name, I’m not sure. I can only venture to guess that because it sat in a box for years and was looked up a considerable time later that someone decided it was “lost” and then found again. I doubt that people on the inside of the production completely forgot that it existed. Even Dr. Reynolds says an article he wrote for the Star Wars Insider that it was “carefully stored in the archives for over 20 years” and therefore never truly lost, but nonetheless the name “Lost Cut” stuck. Now, this original cut of the film has become a sort of “holy grail” to many Star Wars fans and historians like myself.
The best description of the Lost Cut of Star Wars so far, without being able to actually see the footage itself, comes from Dr. Reynolds. The reason Reynolds knows so much about this subject is that he’s actually seen the elusive Lost Cut, having been allowed to extricate it from the depths of the Lucasfilm archives, much like the remains of an Egyptian mummy. After a little maintenance and dusting off, the reels of film were once again exposed to light and projected on a wall for careful analysis and research.
Reynolds wrote a lengthy piece on the Lost Cut in Star Wars Insider magazine (Issue #41) and it provided answers to many old Star Wars questions, giving fans unique insight into what it’s like to make a film like the original Star Wars.
In his article, Reynolds describes the Lost Cut as an early prototype of the original Star Wars edited by John Jympson from Britain who also cut together such famous films as Zulu (which Peter Jackson cites as an influence for his Lord of the Rings films) and A Hard Day’s Night. What he did was take whatever footage was completed at the time (1976) and assemble a rough cut of the film, putting the shots in their proper sequence, to give Lucas an idea of the narrative flow of the film. It was, of course, a work-in-progress as there were no visual/special effects, music or sound effects. There were slates for missing scenes that had yet to be filmed or that Jympson didn’t have access to yet.
It was also cut together without the help or vision of George Lucas or producer Gary Kurtz. Reynolds refers to it quite a few times as “documentary-like” and very different from the final cut of the film, but still getting all of the main points across. The Lost Cut just took a little longer to get those points across.
Reynolds’ article was enlightening and brought up a few new things about Star Wars that were previously unknown and unseen. At times, it left me with more questions than answers but still brought up some amazing points and cleared up quite a few issues. I highly recommend it if you can find a back issue.
Will we ever see this Lost Cut? It sure would be great, but I’d have to guess that no, we probably won’t. I think that perhaps parts of it will become available here and there, and in fact already have been made public on items like the old CD-ROM called Behind the Magic released by Lucasfilm many years back, and also in the Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978. Entire black and white scenes can be found on the CD-ROM that perfectly match Reynolds’ descriptions of the Lost Cut, so one can assume that these scenes are taken directly from there. You can see Luke out on the desert flats fixing a moisture vaporator and witnessing the space battle above, some deleted scenes with Luke and Biggs, and an alternate cut of the cantina scenes including more aliens and a girl named “Jenny.” Almost all of the shots contain noticeable differences from the final cut. The only thing that doesn’t match Reynolds’ description on some of these scenes is that there is sound with some of them. Reynolds describes the Lost Cut as “silent.” Reynolds is not exactly specific as to whether there is any on-set audio at all or if the entire cut is truly silent.
So while it seems that parts of the Lost Cut may eek out over the years as little bonus features, I really don’t think the entire thing will see the light of day, even on a DVD – at least anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it, I just don’t think it will happen. This version of the film was a blueprint and never meant to be seen by anyone outside of Lucasfilm. Lucas didn’t have much to do with cutting it together; therefore it can’t truly represent his entire vision. I don’t think he’d want people seeing it, but I’m not him and can’t know for sure. The Lost Cut will most likely remain one of those things talked about but rarely seen.
Quick Lost Cut Facts
Here are some quick facts about the Lost Cut that Dr. David West Reynolds mentions in his article:
- Silent, Black-and-white, 35mm, 13 reels
- Cut together by British editor, John Jympson
- 30-40% different footage (including alternate/longer takes and deleted scenes)
- Reel cans labeled “The Star Wars” which was the original title
- Less dramatic feel than final cut; more documentary-like
- Used live projected backgrounds in place of bluescreen effects wherever possible
- More time given to both main and secondary characters
- Meant to be a work-in-progress, nothing more or less
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the moments from the Lost Cut mentioned by Reynolds in his article:
- Luke at his vaporator with Treadwell droid
- Luke and friends (including Biggs) at Toshi Station
- Han Solo and a human Jabba the Hutt (later restored with CG Jabba fro Special Edition)
- References to the Rebel’s “Hidden Fortress” (Kurosawa reference?) via dialogue from Darth Vader and Tarkin
- Alternate establishing shot of Kenobi’s hut and landspeeder parked outside
- One long shot of landspeeder traveling from trooper checkpoint to the cantina
- Longer indoor shot of the “cantina snitch” who alerts the troopers to Kenobi’s confrontation
- Han Solo and “Jenny” in the cantina booth watching the Kenobi confrontation and kissing afterwards
- Luke decides not to replace C-3PO’s restraining bolt in Kenobi’s hut
- Luke and Han congratulate each other after the TIE attack on the Millennium Falcon
- Footage Luke and C-3PO in the landspeeder looking for R2-D2
- More footage of Kenobi sneaking around the Death Star in search of the tractor beam
- Many extra Death Star corridor shots including gags like heroes walking calmly past officers hiding weapons
- Random Mos Eisley citizens and aliens
- More Rebel Briefing Room shots
- Jawas and a partially built sandcrawler
- View of Mos Eisley from cliff before matte painting added
- Aunt Beru using a blue milk dispenser
- Darth Vader and Chief Bast walking and talking on the Death Star
* Many thanks to Dr. David West Reynolds for all of his invaluable research on the Lost Cut and on all things Star Wars. You can read more about him and his work HERE.