Did you know Revenge of the Sith had a 4-hour long cut?

Skywalker Sound's Matthew Wood discusses the original version of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and its 4-hour long cut.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Anakin Skywalker battles Obi-Wan Kenobi. Image Credit: StarWars.com
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Anakin Skywalker battles Obi-Wan Kenobi. Image Credit: StarWars.com /

It's no secret that, as far as storytelling goes, George Lucas tackled immensely difficult tasks with his Star Wars prequel movies. Having told the story of the Rebellion and its defeat of the Empire, Lucas backtracked to explain how the Empire came to be. For the sixteen years between Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the rise of Darth Vader and the fall of the Jedi was shrouded in mystery, as was the identity of the mother Luke never knew.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith had the daunting task of ending the Clone Wars that began in the previous movie, turning Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. At the film's center was the alien-cyborg General Grievous, voiced by Skywalker Sound's supervising sound editor and actor Matthew Wood. As memorable for his rasping voice as his lightsaber collection, he was the last impediment to ending the war that tore the Republic apart.

In a 2005 discussion with a Star Wars Interview, Wood described the experience of seeing the third prequel installment for a practical reason:

"I was actually the first person who saw a cut of Episode III. There were two persons working as a picture editor: Ben Burtt and Roger Barton. Ben had the first half and Roger the second. I had to queue gaps where a digital character was going to have a line, like Frank Oz. Both gave me their halves so I could watch the whole movie."

Matthew Wood

Asked about this original cut, he said, "It was close to 4 hours at least. I was just sitting there and thought ‘Wow, I’m the first one!’ Even George hadn’t seen the full movie then."

Episode III runs at 140 minutes and is nearly the longest Star Wars movie. Of course, it would have been great to see four hours of the epic conclusion to the era. It brings to mind the Extended Editions released by Peter Jackson after the theatrical releases of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

What would the 4-hour cut possibly looked like?

Cut Scene Cues

The DVD extras for the original release of Revenge of the Sith included a few deleted scenes. In its current streaming state, Disney+ has made available even more content. Some are amusing additions to the story, such as Anakin and Obi-Wan imitating baseball players to plan their next course of action mid-rescue mission or when Anakin's commlink malfunctions and he has to speculate on the correct translations of R2-D2's beeps and bloops.

On the other hand, there are some foundational stories that are left out of the final project. "Changes to the Constitution" shows Anakin and the Chancellor discussing not only the need for direct control over the Jedi Order but also Anakin's growing suspicion that his powers are feared by the Jedi at the highest levels. Set against this are "Seeds of Rebellion" and "A Plot to Destroy the Jedi," both of which prepare the audience for the actions that will eventually and inevitably fail against the Sith Lord masquerading as the leader of the Republic. "Seeds of Rebellion" even shows why Padme felt the need to side against her husband's most trusted friend and that enriches the conflict between her and Anakin.

For those who want more of the conflict, there are animatics of more Mustafar footage and a scene in which clone troopers attempt to fool Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi into thinking they are Jedi allies.

Between the Lines

In 2006, the author of the Revenge of the Sith novelization, Matthew Stover, engaged in discussions on popular fan forums at TheForce.Net. In "A&A: The Official Mathew Woodring Stovrer Discussion Thread," he was asked if George Lucas was involved in editing Revenge of the Sith. His answer is illuminating, to say the least:

"Though I did not personally watch him do it, I received from LFL a Word document of Revenge of the Sith with Mr. Lucas' edits, which was distinct from the edits I'd already gotten from Sue Rostoni and Howard Roffman and the rest of the LFL crew, and this document was edited in such a detailed fashion that even individual words had been struck off and his preferred replacements inserted, as well as some passages wholly excised and some dialogue replaced with the dialogue from the screenplay. If that's not line editing, I don't know what is. What's in that book is there because Mr. Lucas wanted it to be there. What's not in that book is not there because Mr. Lucas wanted it gone."

Matthew Stover (Posting as MWStover)

The four hours reported by Wood could easily be filled with scenes depicted in the book. Anakin's frustration with being denied the rank of Master is put into context when we realize that it means he can't access information that could save his wife's life. We understand his rage over Obi-Wan and Padme confronting him on Mustafar when witnessing his suspicions (fueled further by Palpatine's commentary) that Padme is consorting with a Jedi. "Seeds of Rebellion" from the deleted scenes is further enhanced by conversations between Bail Organa and Mon Mothma on the growing tyranny of the Chancellor. Anakin's suspicion of Padme's allegiances is fleshed out by her involvement with the Petition of the Two Thousand, and Anakin intercedes on her behalf to make sure she's not tarred with the same brush as people who are considered traitors at the time of Order 66.

There could be many things involved in this director's cut, and I'm sure many of us would love to judge its merits for ourselves.

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