HOLLYWOOD — George Lucas will soon be able to judge for himself whether "Star Wars" fans can do a better editing job than his staff.
A mysterious new, re-edited version of Lucas' "Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace" has been circulating around Los Angeles and has created quite a stir among fans on the Internet clamoring to get a copy.
Now, with the help of Zap2it.com, a copy of the Internet re-edit will be finding its way to Lucas.
Titled "The Phantom Edit," it's 20 minutes shorter than the original. Created by an anonymous fan calling himself the "Phantom Editor," the movie removes scenes and lines of dialogue that some fans objected to when the original film debuted in May 1999.
A recent story by Zap2it.com mentioned that during a June 2 backstage interview at the MTV Movie Awards, Lucas said he hadn't seen the re-edited version of his prequel yet but hoped he'd get the chance to view it.
"The Internet is all about this kind of creativity," Lucas said.
Prompted by that, at least one group of amateur filmmakers sent a copy of their own re-edited version of "The Phantom Menace" to Lucasfilm Ltd. in the hopes the director would watch it. But, it wasn't the Phantom Editor's version.
In an e-mail interview, the editors of the first version to reach Lucasfilm told scifi.com that they had "completely re-contextualized Jar Jar Binks' character, and altered dialogue and subtitled it."
The editor gave the computer-generated, amphibious character a speech that sounded more intelligent and then beefed up Anakin's character.
The Phantom Edit doesn't contain any changes to the film's dialogue from what was in the original version.
JM Dash is a prolific message board contributor to a Phantom Edit fan site members.onecenter.com/hollywood/phantomedit, and also one of the film's biggest supporters.
"The stuff that has all been cut out is all about making it a stronger movie and not just some fan cutting out the crap he/she didn't like," JM Dash said online.
Worried that other amateur filmmakers would be flooding Lucasfilm offices with their own re-edited versions or lower-quality copies of his own, the Phantom Editor then made arrangements to get Lucas an authentic copy of his re-edit.
"I read about the Not-The-'Phantom Edit' version that some kids sent to him," said the Phantom Editor in a recent e-mail to Zap2it. "Great. They'll be coming out of the walls in a week."
Seeking an intermediary, the mysterious re-editor then arranged to have a representative bring a copy of his film to Zap2it's Santa Monica offices to be sent directly to Lucasfilm.
Lucasfilm spokesperson Jeanne Cole said that no one at her company had seen "The Phantom Edit" yet, and they would make copies to distribute to Lucas and other staff members once the tape arrived.
In an earlier story, Zap2it reported that Catalan Jercan, the owner of DJ's Universal Comics in Studio City, Calif., was happily playing his copy of "The Phantom Edit" during the day for his customers.
In the last couple of days, Jercan has been contacted by several people hoping to buy his copy from him. He said one customer even went so far as to try and bribe him with a script and some other rare memorabilia from the TV show "The Simpsons." But he's not selling.
"I made clear from the beginning that I am not selling the tape," Jercan said. "I don't want the Lucas police coming after me."
Even so, "it's been a 'Star Wars' day here," said Jercan.
Another comic book shop, House of Secrets in Burbank, Calif., owned by Paul Grimshaw, has also been playing "The Phantom Edit" in-store for customers.
Store manager Jeff Frank said if the owner can come up with a cost-effective way of producing them, the store might soon be able to give out dubbed copies of the re-edited film.