Rumors of a heavily re-shot movie and even an alternate cut of The Rise of Skywalker appeared soon after it was released. In the wake of the announcement of the Snyder cut, we examine the production of The Rise of Skywalker to explore the possibility a substantially different movie was left on the cutting room floor.
SWSC INVESTIGATES THE JJ CUT:
Not with a Bang, but a Whimper
The reception of The Rise of Skywalker was muted compared to its predecessors. In contrast to the widespread enthusiasm met by The Force Awakens or the divisiveness of The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker was met with what amounts to a shrug. Fans and critics are largely in agreement it’s a poor movie and a lackluster ending to the Skywalker Saga. To make things worse, the movie seemed designed to give a little bit of everything to everyone, but wound up making no one happy. For those who were unhappy with The Last Jedi, the movie seemed determined to address few of their actual issues while introducing all new ones. On the other side, fans of the Rey and Kylo ship (Reylo) immediately started flooding Social Media with calls to resurrect Ben Solo. Clearly, if the movie was supposed to satisfy everyone, it had failed miserably.
The movie’s production itself had been a rollercoaster. When production began, it had been reported Matt Smith would be in the film and conflicting rumors drove fan speculation for almost a year. Conflicting statements by the cast and crew were the norm, with the media coverage just muddying things further. News of massive re-shoots being ordered circulated throughout the summer. The movie itself had been leaked months before in unprecedented detail – culminating in stills of the movie leaking on Reddit while people were lining up for the premiere. In another bizarre episode Burger King’s German branch spoiled the movie as an advertising gambit.
Advertising was late, lackluster and unfocused leading some fans to openly wonder if Lucasfilm and Disney wanted the movie to succeed. Hasbro reported only 30-35% of their Rise of Skywalker merchandise was on shelves with the rest withheld until the movie because of spoilers. Yet, the movie came and the other 65-70% never materialized. Finally, in a surprise move, the art book for the movie was delayed a mere two weeks before it was supposed to hit shelves.
The movie itself looked rushed, with pacing that was breakneck even for an Abrams’ film. The heroes and villains rushed from McGuffin to McGuffin, with the movie finally culminating in a confrontation on the Death Star ruins on Endor. Important information, such as how the Emperor survived both his long fall and the Death Star exploding in Return of the Jedi, were missing. There were amateur FX errors, including one scene where the lightsaber effect wasn’t properly synced to the prop (subsequently fixed for the awards submission). It is little wonder suspicious fans started wondering what was going on behind the scenes.
The rumors of the existence of a very different movie hit a crescendo when a purported leak on the subreddit r/SaltierthanCrait claimed exactly that. This claim sent #ReleasetheJJCut trending on Twitter and fans speculating on whether the movie was really JJ’s vision. Questions asked of the cast and crew led to a mixed bag of replies with Dominic Monaghan stating there was a ton of stuff cut from the film while Greg Grunburg emphatically stated there was no JJ cut. The editor of The Rise of Skywalker, MaryAnne Brandon herself, definitively and emphatically stated in April there is no other cut of the film.
Brandon’s pronouncement there is no other cut would seem to put an end to speculation over the existence of a full, alternate cut existing somewhere (though, there are always NDA’s to consider). However, one can still quibble over the definition of a cut, as the Snyder “cut” requires considerable work to complete, including reshoots. In light of this, the Council will examine the evidence of how much the film adhered to JJ and Terrio’s original vision and whether a very different movie could be assembled from unused footage.
Before examining the evidence, let’s go over what is meant by a ‘cut’ and the different types.
Defining the different versions of a cut
Most people don’t actually know what goes into making a film when it comes to post-production; so, let’s go over the stages of editing that all film productions go through. Most films are written 3 times: once with the script, while filming and once more in the editing room. And if you’re a giant blockbuster, then it’ll be edited a 4th time by the studio to make it represent what they want out of the film as well.
The dailies, which are the raw, unedited footage shot during principal photography, are labeled in ‘bins’. Each take can contain extra notes from the director or the cinematographer. This is the first time the editor sees the film, and since it is shot out of sequence, it is out of the context of the story. This is the first step of all editing and how you go from basically just having endless footage, to taking your first steps to have a complete film.
2. First Assembly
The editor considers all the visual and audio material collected on the shoot for each scene and then reorders it in the way to tell the story best. This is the longest version of the film because it is literally all the scenes that have been shot for the film arranged in order of how they work into the context of the story, but without any of the editing that goes into trimming the fat that all films have to go through. The assembly cut could be anywhere from 4 hours to 6 hours depending on how much was filmed.
3. Rough Cut and Variations
The rough cut is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the roughest version of the complete product. Think of it as a draft, something that is nowhere near done, yet it is presentable in a way that you can get the idea of what the film is going to be and where future versions could go. Speaking from personal experience (TheMandalorianWolf), the rough cut is one of the hardest things to look at due to it being in the stage of what your final product will be, though without any of the polish that makes it look good. You’re gonna see the film go through a lot of different versions and sequences that were in one order in the script, could end up in another order.
4. First Cut
The first cut is the rough cut that is accepted by the editor, the director, and the producer. Selection and sequence are basically fixed, although changes can still be made. This cut of the film is closer to the finished product, yet it’s still not done. Best to walk away for a bit and let everyone involved take some time to let the film process before moving forward. Sometimes what looks right at first, might not look as good later. See through the lies of the rose-tinted glasses.
5. Fine Cut
This version of the cut is all about making the little things pretty. It’s less about the overall picture at this point and more about the individual scene and making sure every moment is polished to perfection.
6. Final Cut
When a fine cut has been agreed on by the editor, director and producer, the sound designer, music composer and title designer join the editor. Sound effects and music are created and added to the final cut. When everyone has agreed to the final cut, the Edit Decision List is sent to the lab where a negative cutter ‘conforms’ the negative to the EDL in order to create a negative that is an exact copy of the final cut.
7. Theatrical Cut vs Director’s Cut
Now a theatrical cut is exactly what it sounds like. This is the cut of the film that, for better or worse, was released in theaters. Sometimes the directors agree with this cut, other times they don’t. This is a cut of the film that the studio has chosen to put out that best aligns with their vision for the film. Sometimes this could mean editing down subplots or removing them entirely, changing giant things about the story for better or worse, or even re-shooting large chunks of the film in order to change the story.
Meanwhile, a Director’s Cut is also what it sounds like. It is the cut of the film that the director feels represents their story the best. Sometimes this can be just a few scenes being longer and a couple deleted scenes being added into the movie. Other times the differences are as different as night and day. This cut of the film as well could lead to re-shoots and certain things being changed to better fit in line with what the director wanted. That being said, a director’s cut is NOT always an extended version of a film. Sometimes it is a completely different version.
For example, Batman V Superman has a theatrical cut and an extended edition. The theatrical version was the one Warner Bros agreed to put out and the extended edition was closer to director Zack Snyder’s actual vision for the film.
Then we have a film like Justice League where the theatrical version of the film is not at all what Zack originally wanted and then we have the Snyder Cut, which will be dropping on HBO Max in 2020, which is actually Zack’s film. The two films are completely different stories – one which was approved by the studio and the other that is the original intent of the director and writers before re-shoots were done and a new director was brought in.
This in and of itself could take an entire essay to explain, so I’ll leave you with a little video that may help.