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Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens

COW Library : Art of the Edit : Tim Wilson : Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
CreativeCOW presents Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens -- Art of the Edit Editorial
Oahu Hawaii USA All rights reserved.

It all seems inevitable now, that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was going to break every box office record, and break 'em all in record time.

But just a few years ago, there was no strong sense that a new Star Wars movie was forthcoming. The lack of pent-up demand reflected the skepticism among a large swath of fans that, even if one showed up, it would have been worth the wait.

The fact is that the stunning success of Star Wars in 1977 (and even moreso, beyond) wasn't exactly a sure thing either. Sure, George Lucas's prior film, American Graffiti, had grown from a word-of-mouth sleeper hit in 1973 to become the 13th-biggest film of all time by the time Star Wars was released, but what the hell was THIS thing?

According to its 1976 trailer, "The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe," that's what. "Somewhere in space, this may all be happening right now."

Original Star Wars 1976 Trailer

Sandwiched on the release calendar between Annie Hall and Smokey and the Bandit, it's unlikely that even Mr. Lucas was anticipating what happened when it opened: not just setting new standards for box office success and fan attachment, but critical acclaim, and with hardware to match. Indeed, Star Wars was nominated for 10 Oscars, more than Annie and Smokey combined. (Don't laugh: among Star Wars' 6 Oscar victories was finishing ahead of Smokey in the race for Best Editing.)

We'll take the jump to hyperspace past two sequels, three prequels, revisions and reversionning, cartoons, clones, controversies, a Holiday Special, and all the love, inspiration, and action figures that generations of nerds could carry.

Among said nerds: one Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, age 11 in 1977. Calling this a pivotal moment in his life as both a movie fan and a filmmaker is an understatement, but it will do.

J.J. Abrams and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

And that's the thing about Star Wars. It's almost impossible to talk about apart from its context in relation to its fans, including the knotty relationship that so many of its fans have with one aspect or another of how the saga evolved over the years. J.J. himself acknowledged this when he confessed that he seriously considered showing the skeleton of the much-reviled prequel denizen Jar Jar Binks sticking out of the desert sands of The Force Awakens.

One reason I suspect that he was able to resist the temptation is that, for all the cheers it would surely have elicited in some quarters, it would have been gratuitous. Jar Jar had found his rest in a galaxy long ago, and the prequels aren't precisely the films to which The Force Awakens is the sequel. The direct timeline link of The Force Awakens to A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983) offered the perfect opportunity to gracefully, organically, return to the production values, and even spiritual values, of the original.

It seems likely to me that he would also not have wanted to draw (perhaps even a literal) line in the sand between eras of Star Wars fandom. There are clearly many fans for whom the prequels were their entrance into this universe.

More important, it's clear that The Force Awakens was meant for much more than a fan's eye-view, even for a passing gag. Here was a chance to, yes, delight the fans who may have given up on the idea of ever being fully engaged by a new Star Wars movie again, but also to delight people – maybe millions of 'em – who never imagined it possible that they might become fans themselves.

And not just become Star Wars fans. Become moved by Star Wars.

It's true. All of it.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

Maryann Brandon
Maryann Brandon, A.C.E.
Mary Jo Markey
Mary Jo Markey, A.C.E.

Which brings us to J.J. Abrams' longtime editors, Mary Jo Markey, ACE and Maryann Brandon, ACE.

They've worked together with him since the TV series Alias in 2001; Mary Jo actually going back to the show before, Felicity, where she edited the first hour of TV that J.J. ever directed, in 1997. Their features with J.J. also include Mission Impossible III, Super 8, Star Trek, and Star Trek Into Darkness.

(They've also each worked on pictures and series on their own. For example, Mary Jo edited The Perks of Being a Wallflower and won an Emmy for her work on the pilot of Lost. She started in LA working for Robert Redford, as Dede Allen's apprentice for The Milagro Beanfield War. Maryann's work has included editing How To Train Your Dragon and directing a couple of episodes of Alias. She started in New York, on Francis Ford Coppola's Cotton Club.)

Having worked with them for so long, J.J. has explicitly tasked them with being his eyes and ears in the edit room. He's a very active, engaged director, but the demands of managing enterprises on the scale of Star Trek and Star Wars means that it's impossible for him to watch all the dailies. Certainly not with the attention that Maryann and Mary Jo do.

As they put the pieces together, they have so thoroughly embodied the adage that the picture edit is the final draft of the script that J.J. has also explicitly asked for script advice over the years. We spoke to them about this process in 2013 for Star Trek Into Darkness in particular, where J.J. called them in to help decide which parts of the script should be reworked before shooting even began.

How Editors Shaped The Story of Star Trek Into Darkness

Description: How Editors Shaped The Story of Star Trek Into Darkness

That wasn't the case this time. A first draft of the script had been completed by Michael Arndt before J.J. came on, and when he and Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark among many others) turned their own attention to writing. He was of course still counting on Maryann and Mary Jo to do the heavy lifting to get him something that was well along the way to completion before he sat down to take a first look in the editing suites.

Mary Jo: A first cut is never a first cut. It's usually my fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth cut by the time I'm ready to show it to J.J.. It's one reason why I absolutely detest the term 'editor's assembly'. We are taking a point of view, and cutting something with intent. We are not 'assembling' anything.

Maryann: We thought about those versions we were showing, and other versions that we'd tried. I think both of us have what the script version is, what we have in our minds as what it could be, and potentially what it should be.

Mary Jo: I have a bin that says "Alt Scene 1 through 20" and every time I finish something or decide to start a new version of a scene, I'll throw a copy of what I had before in that Alts bin. It's so frequent that if J.J. says, "I wonder if we should try this. Or I wonder if..." that it's like, "Yeah, well, I tried that. Here. You wanna see it?"


Creative COW: Out of curiosity, were either of you Star Wars fans in a major way before this?

Maryann: I was a big Star Wars fan. I had my kids sit through it, and insisted that they be major Star Wars fans. It's part of my culture.

Mary Jo: I was not a fan. I mean, it's not that I was anti-Star Wars, I just wasn't particularly into the films and I didn't see them until it turned out that I was going to be working on them.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) David James. (c)Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens..R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). Photo by: David James. ©Lucasfilm 2015

Creative COW: Really? That seems late in the process to me.

MARY JO: You know there are people like that in the world, Tim.

Creative COW: I'm laughing because there was this woman I really wanted to go out with, but she wouldn't give me the time of day because she'd seen Star Wars 17 times in 1977, and I'd only seen it once!


Her feeling was, anything in the single digits, why even bother wasting time on a date? My priorities were clearly all wrong. She relented because I'd seen The Empire Strikes Back enough times to make up for it, and we're still married 30 years later. So I relate to both sides of this myself.


Han Solo and Chewbacca

Maryann: The beauty of what's going on now is that people who weren't particularly interested in Star Wars are actually going to the movie now. I've gotten emails from people going, "I never was a Star Wars fan, but I loved this movie."

Mary Jo: I just think it's a feel good movie and people are relating to it. I think that's beautiful.

I also think there was an actual advantage to that. I didn't have this feeling of things being sacred. I could just look at it, maybe at times a little more dispassionately. "Well even if it is true that you're making this reference to this thing that you all hold near and dear, it's not really working here," or whatever.

And I think J.J. felt that too. In fact, when I first told him that I hadn't seen the Star Wars movies, he said he didn't want me to see them. That was his first response. "Oh that's great! Don't see them! You'll be be like the person we want to attract who's never seen the movies."

It became clear very quickly that, to me anyway, that it was just not going to work, to try to work that way, but I think it was a real advantage to have the two sides of the coin.

Creative COW: You still both knew that there was obviously a sense in which this was never gonna be "just a movie," right?

Maryann: J.J. is obviously aware of that, but for our approach, we approached it as "just a movie," knowing that certain characters were established, but it's a new story, and we had to treat it as such. We had to reach a new generation, but also, we were hoping that the movie would speak to people who weren't Star Wars fans. So there are things in the script that are a tip of the hat to Star Wars, and are directly pulled from the DNA of Star Wars, but I think it works as a standalone film, and I think that's an incredible feat on everyone's part.

Mary Jo: I know that for J.J. it was really important that this film have the feeling of delight and adventure and fun – the spirit of the original – and I do think that that was something we kept in the forefront of our thinking.

We started with the dialog between the characters, and their actions. We might have something to slot in if there was a previz done for the scene, but most of the time, we didn't have that. The fact that we start with the actions of characters creates a personal way into the action of the scene.

Maryann: Any action sequence is better if you're in it WITH the character.

Mary Jo: We take our cues from the script. If the script says "Finn and Poe are shot from the sky," and we don't have a piece of previz that shows that, we put in a card that says "Finn and Poe are shot from the sky." LOL Then when we eventually start to get very raw pieces from ILM that show that, then we slot that in, and the cut gets more and more refined.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Finn (John Boyega)..Ph: David James..(c)Lucasfilm 2015
(John Boyega) Finn at the crash site.

Maryann: Mary Jo and I do a lot of designing of it in our heads, we time it out, and we cut the pieces we have around them, and as Mary Jo says, we put in placeholder cards in the sequence. Then we talked to ILM – Roger Guyett, our visual effects supervisor, we conveyed what we're going for, and they talked to us about what they could do.

Creative COW: How did you divide the work?

Mary Jo: We go through the script and, say, if it's 120 pages, and we know we each take about 60 pages, that maybe I'll take 30, and then Maryann will take the next 30, and then I'll take the next 30 and she'll take the last 30, or something like that. In this case, I took the beginning, Maryann took the long middle, and then I took the end.

We used to split it up in smaller chunks, but it just makes it easier for J.J. if we have really big pieces, so that he's not bouncing back and forth between us as much.

Maryann: I think it's also better for us, as well. We get to put really long chunks together and follow the emotional thread. We eventually all come together and talk about the film as a whole, and that's why you wouldn't really notice where the scenes are that one of us worked on.

Mary Jo: Although J.J. has never gotten involved in how we split it up before, on this film he actually suggested, 'One of you take the first half and one take the second half.' That just didn't sound right to us.

Creative COW: Why not?

Mary Jo: It just felt like your work would feel kind of incomplete if you weren't – this is maybe the wrong word to use, but if you didn't have an investment in both beginning material and end material for the character's journey. It wouldn't feel right.

We really mine our dailies, so so much. We both watch all of them, but I don't know the dailies from Maryann's material quite the same way that I know my dailies. And I just felt like if I only knew, say, the dailies for the first half of the movie, I wouldn't have a complete picture of the film.

This is so important because we were moving scenes around, and using shots originally meant for one scene for other scenes.

The thing about having so many characters with masks on, is that even without re-shooting you can change the content of the scenes with new lines in ADR. And with characters who are CG or motion capture, you can change what they're saying.

Creative COW: What are some of the scenes that you moved around?

Mary Jo: We had one problem scene near the end of the film. The scene where the missing piece of the map that BB-8 has been carrying around, fits into the larger map. It just was such a nightmare to try to figure how to make that scene work, without having a long expository scene at the end of the movie, where you absolutely don't want a long expository scene.

And so we just took some footage from another scene that had been eliminated, and dropped it into the middle of the movie where C3P0 sees BB-8 trying to wake up R2D2. And then at the end of the movie we could just say, "Okay he found it" and that's what makes him wake up. This just worked so much better.

Here's the other thing, harking back to your other question about it being "STAR WARS!!!," because there were so many older characters to reintroduce. Han, Leia, C3PO, R2D2, Luke obviously. We started to jam them all in up front, and in the course of the film we realized, no, we really have this great opportunity to hold off. Things started to reveal themselves as to where footage would be more useful. It just worked out better to hold off introducing those characters, and make the audience hunger for it.

Maryann: It's exciting when those things happen. But we also, it used to be that C3P0 used to reveal R2, and it was, "Oh two old friends." And in our version we finally came up with having BB-8 reveal him, which makes it so nice. It's like a hand off between the new, it's the new droid asking advice from the old droid, and that kind of you go, "Oh my god, there, we're discovering new emotions."

And I think for Mary Jo and I, it was really exciting to keep doing, finding these moments that we could create, and make the film really fun to cut and work on.

Every time one of those moments would work on screen after we think in our heads it would work, and then it actually worked, we'd be like, "Woohoo!"



Mary Jo: You probably have heard that Harrison Ford's ankle was broken during shooting, and J.J. has said jokingly in interviews, that in some ways it was the best thing that ever happened to the film, because it really gave him, and us too, a chance to kind of sit back without new material coming in at us every day, and kind of assess where we were, and how things were working, and what maybe needed to be kind of retold a little bit. He really used that time to do a lot of rewriting.

Some of it was at our behest. In the first draft of the script Finn tells Rey right away that he's a Storm Trooper, and J.J. had an instinct, and I did too, that it wouldn't be likely that he would admit to that on first meeting. He doesn't know who she is, he doesn't know who he can trust, and he's terrified of being captured by and sent back to the First Order.

Maryann: Another scene that none of us thought it was working was Han coming back on to the Millennium Falcon for the first time and stumbling on the kids. They're kind of arguing with each other, and I think we were all like, "Well, they're standing right there. Wouldn't they be hiding?" We eventually would have gotten there anyway, but I think it helped everyone stop and take a breath.

Another was the Han-Leia scene when they are talking to each other about the loss of their son. It was all very convoluted about Han being guilty and her being guilty – it didn't really ever land, so he went back and rewrote that scene as well.

Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford reprise their familiar roles with grace and charm.

And I think for Harrison Ford, it gave him a chance to see the work. He came back eight weeks later incredibly miraculously healthy, and raring to go with an entirely gung ho attitude that just infected the set, I think, wanting to make it great.

Mary Jo: Another scene that wasn't working for me is the scene where Unkar Plutt tries to buy BB-8. BB-8 says to Rey that he's got to stay there and wait for someone, and she had said at one point with a lot of vulnerability, "Oh, I'm waiting for someone too."

And I remember saying, "It's too early in her character arc for her to be so open and vulnerable, even if it's to a droid." She still kind of says it in the final version, but it's not in this very vulnerable, sad, way. It's a lot of little things that I think got cleared up, and some big things that ultimately just made the movie and the characters more consistent and better and deeper.


The name of the game for everyone involved was speed. Requests for studio screenings came with as little as an hour or two notice, with changes being made up until the final minutes.


Maryann: Do you remember when we first started, Bryan Burk, one of the producers came to us and said, "When in doubt, cut to BB-8."


Mary Jo: I mean first of all, the design of that little bot is just genius. That was J.J.'s design and he drew that. And then the puppeteers that operated him were brilliant. I remember, I cut that scene where Rey rescues him from Teedo, that's got the net over him, and there's just this one moment where he's just tiny bit rocking back and forth, and he's just looking at Rey while she's fixing his antenna.

Daisy Ridley as REY and BB-8. (c) 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.
An emotional identification takes place between the droid and Rey.

I don't know, you sort of just look at that, and you somehow see this affection or this kind of thrill, that he feels about her already. You just invest that emotion in that little droid, he's just adorable.

Then, figuring out when he should say something and when he shouldn't say something was a long process. The puppeteer made little noises for him and for a while we used that as kind of an experiment of like, should he say something here or should he just be quiet here?

One of the things that we discovered was that a little went a long way. He was more charming if he wasn't too chatty, then the sound team kind of followed what we had done, and put the final sounds in where we had put them.


As an editorial aside, I'm a huge J.J. Abrams nerd. I'm especially a fan of how he approaches the intersection of emotion and action. Mary Jo, Maryann and I touched on this earlier in our conversation, and before I dive back into it again, here's what they had to say when we spoke to them about Star Trek Into Darkness:

Mary Jo: On a lot of action films, the goal is maximum excitement. With J.J.'s films, our action is really cut differently. We always want our movies to be exciting, but we're also really interested in being inside the characters' heads and seeing it from the characters' point of view. The action in J.J.'s movies has to be attached to what the character is experiencing in that action moment. We're always trying to play it through that character's eyes, and not every director is as interested in that.

Maryann: I would totally agree. We find a way to make the action sequences come out of the emotional sequences. It's important for us as a team of filmmakers to find the emotional journey to, say, if a planet is going to blow up. And that's hard to do.

And now as we return to talking about The Force Awakens, I find myself thinking a lot about Daisy Ridley's Rey, who reminds me a little of J.J. Abrams' very first woman action hero, Sydney Bristow in the ABC TV series Alias, which ran for 105 episodes from 2001-2006. As noted earlier, Alias was the first of J.J.'s projects that Mary Jo and Maryann worked on together. Maryann also directed episodes in Season 3 and Season 4.

Sydney was an English lit student recruited by who she thinks is the CIA but turns out to be an even shadier-than-usual shadow group, in a genre-bending mix with mystical artifacts, hard science, family drama (especially the tension between family you're born into vs. the family you choose to build around you), and more – but at the heart of it, a smart, tough, hero who keeps finding ways to survive, while avoiding cliches like "pluckiness" or indestructibility. Her success seems assured, not because the script says so, but because this vivid character so clearly refuses to be denied – a compelling distinction that applies to Rey as well.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..L to R: Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) ..Ph: David James..(c)Lucasfilm 2015
Photo by David James

Creative COW: Male, female, TV, movie, doesn't matter: one of my all-time favorite action characters is Sydney Bristow from Alias.

Maryann: You have to love her because she's totally vulnerable.

Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow in Alias.

Creative COW: She was vulnerable, but she was also fierce. And I liked that she was...

Maryann: She kicked ass, yeah.

Creative COW: You talked earlier about the rootedness of J.J.'s approach to action, and I think that's a big deal. Some of that is the power of Jennifer Garner's performance, but whether she was fighting or running, you could see the weight of everything she knew, and everything she didn't know.

And I think, especially when Rey untethered herself from the past, and acknowledged the truth that she was no longer waiting, she became to me almost a first in the Star Wars universe, because a lot of the characters are so weighed down by their pasts, but Rey pushes herself forward. To me, she's really the first major character in all of Star Wars to decide, "I'm pushing myself forward." I was really moved by that.

Maryann: She has an inner strength that speaks to everyone, I think.

Mary Jo: And she takes the advice of the wise, the 1000-year-old wise woman, Maz Kanata, which is, "The belonging you seek is in front of you, not behind you." It takes her a little while to get there, but she gets there.

If we could go back to Sydney Bristow for a while. The thing I think that was really great about her was that she had both those qualities that you mentioned, that she was vulnerable, she was human, but she's strong. That was always the idea when we were cutting her: you show her in that fight, but you show that she's not a superhero. It is hard for her, but she does it. She pulls it off. She succeeds.

I think basically that has always been J.J.'s approach, and that's why we show close-ups of Rey during the saber fight. She has to summon all of her strengths to succeed in this moment. And at times you're not sure that she's going to, and that makes it a lot more interesting than – well, I don't want to denigrate anybody else's heroes, but it makes it, for me, a lot more interesting than seeing some superhero that just can pull anything off.

Maryann: Yeah. I was going to add to that, that exact quality.

Even with Sydney Bristow, when she was her most vulnerable, or Rey when she runs out of that castle and is saying, "No, I don't want any part of this" – but her friends are in trouble. The first people she's been connected to, and suddenly her world just got bigger, and now she has something to lose. And so, she does summon up her strength. I think it's building that emotion and going "Maybe you won't do it for yourself, but maybe you'll do it for yourself and your friends."

Those are real emotions. That's the classic hero thing. When you think you can't do it but, it's bigger than you.

Creative COW: It's a big deal to me that Rey is not just the first Star Wars character whose forward motion is internally driven, but that she's a woman. The first relatable woman character in the Star Wars universe, but in some ways, the first relatable young woman action hero who's got such a strong emphasis on action.

I mean, I love Katniss Everdeen, and likewise not to disrespect anybody else's heroes, but to me, the most important parts of her journey are mostly internal. I love that Rey is very physical, and driven, and has mechanical skills, and moxie, and is so outward focused in her energy that's also clearly coming from a case of powerful inner resolve, and real joy. She's excited, and I think that's pretty cool. I think that's one of the things that people are responding to.

Maryann: I think that was J.J.'s aim and thus our aim, to make her character like that. We weren't unaware of that. [Laughter] I'd say it was a major point for us.

I'm so excited because, I read an article the other day about somebody talking about their six-year-old daughter who saw the movie, woke up the next day and pulled out her brother's lightsaber. It's great that it speaks on that level. And I do agree, right now is a great time globally for women. Women are taking a stand and staying "It's time, we have all this moxie in us." I love that this film, qnd I think J.J. loves that this film is succeeding on that level. And Daisy Ridley is a extraordinary actress.

Mary Jo: I also saw an essay about the franchise, and someone made reference to the fact that all of these people that grew up loving Star Wars are now dads with daughters, and they're realizing that to identify with a character like Rey, can be very empowering.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Rey (Daisy Ridley)..Ph: Film Frame..(c) 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.
To identify with a character like Rey can be very empowering.

Maryann: It's a very positive message for the world.

While J.J. Abrams has been very explicit about not presuming to question anything that George Lucas established as canon, among the most powerful themes in The Force Awakens is the re-awakening of the idea of The Force as something fundamentally spiritual.

Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata says, "I am no Jedi, but I know the Force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes, feel it. The light. It's always been there. It will guide you." As J.J. told /Film

For me when I heard Obi-Wan say that the Force surrounds us and binds us all together, there was no judgement about who you were. This was something that we could all access. Being strong with the force didn't mean something scientific, it meant something spiritual. It meant someone who could believe, someone who could reach down to the depths of your feelings and follow this primal energy that was flowing through all of us. I mean, that's what was said in that first film!

And there I am sitting in the theater at almost 11 years old and that was a powerful notion. We would like to believe that when sh*t gets serious, that you could harness that Force I was told surrounds not just some of us but EVERY living thing.

That's the stuff that speaks to the "not just a movie" aspect of the Star Wars saga in general, and The Force Awakens in particular. There are plenty of wonderful, very popular movies that don't necessarily give the impression that they're going to alter the trajectory of somebody's life.

No matter how a movie turns out, of course, the making of it leaves its mark on the artists.

Creative COW: What are some insights you gained from working on this that you might take into your next projects as editors?

Mary Jo: It's funny, I was just thinking about J.J. and I struggling with the structure of the village raid, the opening set piece of the movie, but we finally got it when we put all of the scenes with Finn together, and all of the scenes with Poe together, and I just turned around and looked at J.J. and said, "Mission Impossible." It was a reference to something that we had figured out during the bridge shootout in Mission Impossible III, that sometimes these things just work better when you don't intercut too much.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..L to R: Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)..Ph: David James..(c) 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.
Finn and Poe (Oscar Isaac) Photo by David James

Maryann: Yeah, I totally agree. What I would take from this experience is, if you want something to work, just put it in there and see what happens. [Laughs] Nobody knows before you've done it. Never turn down an idea.

Mary Jo: That's true.

Sometimes I think I'm not forthright enough early enough with my concerns about things. You know, you want to be really positive during shooting, and you don't want to call up the director and say, "Hey dude, what you shot yesterday, it's not working for me." But sometimes I think that you just have to make yourself do it earlier in the game if it's really not working for you.

That does depend on the director. I mean, I think some directors would completely freak out if you did that, but J.J. does expect us to do that, and I guess it's a case of see something, say something. [chuckle]

Maryann: Yes, I agree. It's a very tricky thing to do, because you want to be positive, and you want to also be constructive – and sometimes you have to be de-structive to be constructive. Which I guess just means it's hard work. It means try everything.

All images with the exception of "Alias" are from Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame or listed photographer, David James..©Lucasfilm 2015


Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Kamil Wierzbicki
Really interesting article, always nice to see the craft editing behind one of the biggest film franchises.
Good read.
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Mike Cohen
Nice to read a little about the craft of editing this movie, knowing that even Star Wars is prone to story changes during the editing. I was wondering about the BB-8 "dialogue" myself - a slight bob of the head and low tone beep expresses a lot of emotion, something R2 established early on.

I would suggest adding the word "spoilers" to the title of this article. There are at least 6 people who have not seen it yet!

Agree with Mark - the missing map / R2 in standby mode was kind of weak. The opening crawl starts with "Luke Skywalker is missing!" which suggests he has either been kidnapped or left town in the middle of the night, when clearly he is in exile and everyone has been looking for him for a while.

That's my only gripe, and a minor one at that.

I'd be curious to see an interview with the trailer editor - those trailers did a masterful job at revealing nothing while being entertaining in their own right. Add to that the 2015 era fan-made / fan-edited/re-edited trailers that follow almost immediately.

The trailer-only music score for the final trailer took on a life of its own, even including Youtubers doing their own piano renditions of the music.

Another interesting angle on Lucas' legacy is the effort by a guy to "de-specialize" the Special Editions

Mike Cohen
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Jannatul Shumi
Being a fan of Star Wars, its really awesome to know about the truth lying behind all of it's episodes. Thank you so much for this. I am amazed to see how much J.J. Abrams needed to be creative to make the recent episode of Star Wars successful.
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Phil Lowe
Great article. As an editor, I can't tell you how many times I was involved in rewrites for major investigative pieces, in the edit bay, at my former TV station in Detroit. Editors need a photographer's eye, a director's mind, a producer's perspective, and a storyteller's imagination in order to help pull something that big together. Most of the reporters with which I worked always appreciated my ability and willingness to bring a different perspective to the edit. Those that didn't got what they wanted. ;)

Canon XF-300, Canon 5DMkIII, Canon 7D MkII, Avid Media Composer 7.05, Adobe CC 2015, iMovie Pro.
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Pierre Haberer
Interesting article, always nice to see that even on big productions where the script was probably revised hundreds of times, there's still space in the editing to improve on the story.

Wonder how much footage they had...?
@Pierre Haberer
by Phil Lowe
The sidebar read that they started with 64TB and went up from there. Even is we assume that was mirrored, that's still a lot of footage!

Canon XF-300, Canon 5DMkIII, Canon 7D MkII, Avid Media Composer 7.05, Adobe CC 2015, iMovie Pro.
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Chuck Stewart
Excellent in depth piece. My confession here is that this was my first ever Star Wars film. I never had an interest in the series. But my SW fan girlfriend, a former script supe, dragged me to see it on opening night. My, how much I have missed in film making excellence. I suppose after sitting in cold, dark edit suites and working on camera crews for a lifetime left me lame and lifeless when it came down to sitting in theatres
But alas and alack, this brilliant work of art gave me much needed adrenalin. For over two hours, I was a kid again enjoying every frame, every mind blowing decibel, sounds exploding in my head and visual candy at every turn.
Thank you JJ, and the entire crew for reawakening this old farts' sense of visual and story telling.
Thank God I won't have to rent VHS to go back to the beginning. Now, where is my Netflix password?

Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Mark Suszko
I think they had an easier time of it on Star Wars than Into Darkness, partly because the script by Kasdan and Abrams was better. Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof gave them a Hot Mess to try to cut their way out of, in "Darkness". Based on the trailer for the next Trek movie, I don't think the writers learned from their previous mistakes, but trailer have been deceptive before.

The Force Awakens certainly keeps up a manic pace throughout; even the moments that are supposed to be quiet and slow, are kept very short in relation to the overall shape of the movie. The blistering editing pace reminds me of the old joke about Lucas' direction to actors being just one or both of two words: "Louder, and faster!" "Force Awakens" is certainly fast and often loud, but it has a lot to tell in a relatively short running time, plus a lot of "Fan Service" to wedge in here and there. I think it mostly works, and I liken it to listening to a jazz improv cover of an old song you know by heart. Part of the fun is seeing where the artist takes an unexpected twist or adds a new riff based off the original, not just copying the original but adding a new harmony or counter-melody, and branching off into a new direction.

Not that my opinion matters, but I notice in a lot of the fan chatter, the same issue that bothered me: the entire "map" plot line is kind of weak as a spine - it's actually remarkable they could hang so much of the movie on it and get away with it. The missing map and mute/sulking R2-D2 didn't work for me story-wise, and I think something better and more relevant could have been written for Threepio and R2, the only two characters to be in ALL of these SW movies. In Awakens, they've been minimized to less than Ronsencrantz and Guildenstern. Even if you want them to pass the torch to a new generation with BB8, they needed a better scene to make that transference. Hopefully, they get more screen time in the next film to fix this. But overall, the movie is a hell of a ride, very successful, met a lot of expectations, no major gaffes. A good foundation to build a new trilogy on.
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Warner Brown
Excellent article. Being an "off/on" editor for a while I related. Insightful interview!
Re: Editing Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Douglas Bowker
Loved this article, and as a fan of pretty much all of Abrams previous productions, it was great hearing from such talented long-time collaborators. These women really have brought it home with The Force Awakens, but I can recall so many fantastic episodes of Alias, often with truly standout editing. Now I know what (and who) was behind all that.

Likewise- great comments, questions and reporting by Tim Wilson. Thanks for being so thorough, while still keeping it fun.

Doug Bowker

Motion Graphics, Video and 3D Animation for the Medical and Technical World

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