Does A Six-Hour Cut Of The Phantom Menace Really Exist?

Actor Jake Lloyd has had a fraught relationship with "Star Wars." At age nine, Lloyd auditioned to play the young Anakin Skywalker — a.k.a. the young Darth Vader — in George Lucas' hotly anticipated prequel film "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace." Although initially beloved, "The Phantom Menace" quickly soured in the mind of the public, and over the course of the following few years, transformed into one of the most hated blockbusters of its era. These days, one can find any number of critical internet videos picking apart "The Phantom Menace" in excruciating detail. Many fans pointed specifically to Lloyd's performance as one of the many culprits in the film's quality, and Lloyd was bullied incessantly online for many years. In 2001, when he was 12, Lloyd elected to retire from acting altogether, burned all his "Star Wars" merch, and has attempted to live in peace ever since. His life since "Phantom Menace" has been difficult. 

Occasionally, however, Lloyd would come forward to talk about his experiences working on the film. In 2011, Lloyd talked with the website — quoted by CBR — to describe auditioning for the film as a child, and to claim that the original workprint of "Phantom Menace" initially ran a full six hours in length. 

Note that standard filmmaking practices often lead to extremely long workprint cuts, as filmmakers need to first assemble all their footage in one place before editing for time and pacing can begin in earnest. These workprints are never intended to be released to the public. Whatever your favorite blockbuster, there is likely an elongated version in its past.

But six hours? That sounds excessive.

The longest known fan edit

The Shelf interview has been recorded for posterity and can be seen on YouTube. In a discussion of "Star Wars" fan edits, Lloyd was asked how he would have edited the film himself. Lloyd replied by saying: 

"Well, I'd have to ask for the original six-hour cut ... Matthew Wood, the guy who did the voice of Grievous, he was one of the first people to watch the six-hour cut and said it was 'mind-blowingly awesome.'"

This, however, seems to be the only reference to a six-hour cut of "The Phantom Menace." The theatrical running time of Lucas' film is only 136 minutes. That would mean there are about 224 minutes of missing footage out there. For reference, just the missing footage would be as long as the director's cut of Michael Wadleigh's 1970 documentary "Woodstock." Is it possible there are three hours and 44 minutes of "The Phantom Menace" that no one has seen? Well, no one but Matthew Wood? 

On Reddit, many fans have shared their editing adventures, and one user calling themselves "Derpston_P_Derp" found what might be the longest edit of "The Phantom Menace." It seems one "Bobson Dugnutt," presumably a pseudonym, edited back into the feature all of the longest takes and deleted scenes that have been included on the various "Phantom Menace" DVDs and Blu-rays. Fittingly called the "Bobson Dugnutt Extended Cut," the Reddit user laid out all the new additions and insertions in detail. 

By the Reddit user's own measure, the mysterious "Dugnutt" didn't add anything close to 224 minutes. The Blu-ray cut ran 2:16:11, while the new extended version only ran 2:24:31. That's only an addition of eight minutes and twenty seconds. Hardly the epic Lloyd alluded to. 

Other fan edits

On the website, many amateur "Star Wars" cuts are laid out in detail. One fan-edited all three of Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels down into a single 179-minute movie. Another shaved "The Phantom Menace" down to a lean 96 minutes. One user merely replaced John Williams' popular score with fistfuls of heavy metal music. None of these fan edits have seemingly gained access to any of the mythical missing 224 minutes that Lloyd claimed existed.

Indeed, there didn't seem to be all that much of "The Phantom Menace" star to start with. The special features on the "Phantom Menace" DVDs revealed that Lucas extrapolated his script from 15 pages of notes he wrote back in 1976 and that he expanded the script to contain five separate plot threads. Culling through the internet will find multiple drafts of Lucas' script, and those tend to average around 146 pages, each of them with all five plot threads intact. 

The general wisdom of filmmaking dictates that one page of a script will equal one minute of screen time. This is, of course, a general rule and there are many exceptions of films that are much longer than their scripts — the script for David Lynch's 89-minute film "Eraserhead" was only 22 pages long, for instance — but there is nothing in "The Phantom Menace" script to account for several missing hours of story, action, or dialogue. To make it to six hours, there would have to be additional dialogue, characters, and subplots that were excised. A 146-page script has none of those things.

So is it real?

To make a workprint, a filmmaker tends to make a print using all of their selected footage on the film's original camera negative. All the editing is done on the copy. When a final cut is arrived at, the edits are then repeated on the camera negative, making a master print. Workprints, being made from a copy, are often of low quality and don't always have the final sound, effects, or music included. Indeed, many scenes contain stock footage, temp music, and animatics in place of final scenes. They are, essentially, the "first draft" of a film edit.

It will be very rare that a workprint makes its way to the public, and when it does, it was usually the result of theft. Several scandals have arisen over the years involving leaked workprints. One might recall an incident from the early 2000s, when Ang Lee's "Hulk" made its way onto internet servers. Even these weren't enormously long. At the very least, one can likely rest assured that a six-hour cut of "The Phantom Menace" was never built into a master print, and never had complete special effects, music, or sound.

The length of Lloyd's claim — six hours! — is enough to elicit suspicion. Even workprints, in a very general sense, only tend to run double the length of any final cut. For example, it was said that the workprint of Lucas' 140-minute film "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" once ran a whopping four hours. That's only 100 minutes of excised footage. 224 missing minutes strains credulity.

So does a six-hour cut of "The Phantom Menace" exist? Probably not. One might think Jake Lloyd was either misled as to its existence ... or he was just having us on.