It’s late. For hours, Topher Grace has been staring into the flickering light of his PC monitor – the only source of light that’s still shining in his dim study. He’s tired. With his last ounce of strength, Topher rereads the first lines of the e-mail he’s just written. He pulls a face as he takes a sip of lukewarm water that has been standing around for hours. Maybe it was formerly hot coffee.
His e-mail is only intended for filmmakers, actors and press friends. A screening of his film that shouldn’t exist is planned to take place somewhere in Hollywood. It’s a secret event. Legally speaking, it’s a minefield.
«I’ve made a Star Wars movie and will be showing it just once,» reads a line in Topher Graces’ e-mail.
Topher asks for strict confidentiality as he types the last words of the message. He pauses as his finger hovers over the «send» button. «Is it really worth all the trouble I could get myself into?» he asks himself shaking his head.
Then he clicks on «send» and writes the first chapter of a Hollywood legend.
This is how things may have unfolded in 2012. Nobody knows for sure. What around 50 people supposedly saw in the cinema that day is said to be the best version of the Star Wars prequels. And you’ll never get to see it. Shortly after, details describing how Topher streamlined, shortened and rearranged the story started popping up. Reports suggesting Topher had carried out a daring experiment.
The movie allegedly begins with the battle between Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Darth Maul (Ray Park). Everything else that happens in «Episode 1» was deleted due to its irrelevance in the bigger picture. This includes Midi-chlorians, for example. Qui-Gon’s last wish before he dies from Maul’s lightsabre wound is that Obi-Wan should make the young Anakin Skywalker his student and train him. Anakin, the chosen one, who later becomes Darth Vader.
What a way to start!
Anakin, played by Hayden Christensen, first appears in the film as an adult. Jake Lloyd who played a young Skywalker in «Episode I» is missing altogether. So are the trade federation, political drivel and the droid attack on Naboo.
Several years after the battle against Darth Maul, Obi-Wan and his Padawan Anakin are called to the planet Coruscant to protect Naboo senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) from an impending attack. This immediately leads to the chase through Coruscant’s underworld in «Episode II».
As soon as the danger is averted, Anakin and Obi-Wan want to get to the bottom of who or what is behind the threat. The student becomes a bodyguard and accompanies the senator to Naboo. Their blossoming romance is given a lot of room. Topher even added a scene in which Anakin, Amidala and her family eat a meal together. A scene that George Lucas removed from the prequels but is available as bonus material on DVD and Blu-ray.
This is followed by Anakin being tormented by visions of his dying mother. He returns to Tatooine, where he finds his mother, who has been tortured to death. The scene from «Episode II», in which he slaughters the Tusken raiders responsible for it, is missing.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is looking for answers. His investigations are significantly shortened in Topher’s version: Obi-Wan doesn’t discover a secret clone army on Kamino. Jango Fett’s role is reduced to a bare minimum. And his son, Boba Fett, was scrapped altogether. Instead, the Jedi master immediately encounters evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) on the planet Geonosis. One scene that did survive all the editing is the one in which Obi-Wan sends a message that brings Anakin and senator Amidala to him. The arena scene follows. It’s a much shorter version of the original.
So that’s «Episode II» done. All the descriptions of Topher Grace’s edited version unanimously agree that the word «clone» only arises one single time throughout the whole movie. However, it is unclear whether the clone army itself – particularly at the end of the above-mentioned arena scene – was left out altogether.
Moving on to «Episode III». General Grievous no longer makes an appearance. Other than that, the original story remains more or less intact, and the film fast forwards a few months. Padmé Amidala reveals to Anakin, who has been knighted a Jedi in the meantime, that she’s expecting his child. Like in the original, Padmé and Anakin were wed in secret. Once again, Anakin is tormented by death visions. This time around they involve his wife.
The Jedi council orders Anakin to keep the republic's supreme chancellor Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid) under surveillance, as they are unsure of his trustworthiness. However, they deny Anakin the rank of Jedi master. The decision makes him angry. It is unclear what falls victim to editing next. But it sounds as if Topher proceeds with the scene in which Palpatine reveals himself to Anakin as the evil Sith lord Darth Sidious. Sidious attempts to lure Anakin by assuring him that only the dark side of the force is capable of saving Padmé from Anakin’s death visions.
Then Anakin warns the Jedi council of Palpatine. The council’s members confront the Sith lord. The combat scene in the chancellor’s office was kept. Anakin steps in and joins the dark side. The Jedi council dies. Sidious executes order 66 – a command to kill practically all remaining Jedi in the galaxy.
Obi-Wan returns to Coruscant together with Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz). He tells Amidala what Anakin has done. She doesn’t believe him and travels to the lava planet Mustafar, where now-evil Anakin is said to be. Obi-Wan sneaks onto her ship and confronts Anakin. His former Padawan believes Padmé has deliberately planned this and almost strangles her to death.
A battle ensues. Anakin versus Obi-Wan. Back on Coruscant, Yoda confronts Darth Sidious, who has been appointed emperor in the meantime. In the end, Anakin is defeated by Obi-Wan, and Yoda by Darth Sidious. Obi-Wan leaves mutilated Anakin behind on Mustafar and takes Padmé Amidala to a secret base where she gives birth to Luke and Leia. Then she dies, too. The twins are handed over to their foster parents; hidden from the eyes of the emperor. Obi-Wan stays with Luke to take care of him. Yoda goes into exile in Dagobah – a scene that was deleted in George Lucas' version.
It is only at this point that Topher Grace shows Darth Sidious as he finds pitiable Anakin on Mustafar. The emperor takes his new student to Coruscant. There, Anakin is brutally transformed into Darth Vader. His «noooooo» scream was removed in this version. The final scene is the one in which Vader’s iconic helmet is stooped over Anakin’s head and his deep, eerie breathing sets in.
The galaxy is in ruins. There are no winners. Time for «A New Hope».
Topher Grace’s friends agree: his aficionado’s cut proves that there’s a great movie hiding in those bloated prequels. But Topher is also clear about not wanting to provoke a legal battle with Lucasfilms. This means that he’s never going to screen the film again, let alone put it online.
However, his friends are free to talk about it all they like.
And that's exactly what they did. Some of them were falling over themselves with praise for Topher Grace’s version. This soon gave his fan cut mythical status. In reality, only a handful of people actually saw the edited film. Allegedly. Nobody can prove that Topher’s fan cut actually exists – despite the description above.
Except for Topher that is. And so a legend is born.
Topher Grace has no intention of packing up editing famous films. And yet he has had no training in the field nor does he have ambitions to become a professional cutter.
He recently played in «BlacKkKlansman». The movie is based on a true story about an African-American policeman who claims to be a white racist over the phone in order to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Grace plays David Duke – the most famous neo-Nazi of American history.
Topher spent months researching Duke. He even read the autobiography of this delightful man, whose skills at making racism socially acceptable are terrifying. The role is said to have depressed Topher Grace so badly that he edited Peter Jackson’s «Hobbit» trilogy, boiling it down to a two-hour movie. Just to get David Duke out of his head.
But the true legacy of his work from 2012 is «Star Wars: Always». Together with a friend – their wives supposedly went away on a weekend together – he created his very own Star Wars trailer by editing together all ten feature films released since 1977. Sounds easy, but it’s not. He had to boil down 22 hours and 30 minutes of film footage to just five minutes.
Next, he put this little masterpiece on his private YouTube channel. Without prior notice. What’s more, it’s the only video on the channel. Topher Grace isn’t a YouTube star. Nevertheless, the video was viewed over a million times during the first 48 hours.
I don’t know what other guys do. Go fishing? For me, this is just a great way to relax.Topher Grace, IndieWire, July 2018
40-year-old Topher Grace will probably never become a professional cutter. And he doesn’t want to, either. And he shouldn’t! This film nerd, who’s a Hollywood actor by trade and enjoys letting off steam behind his editing station in his spare time, is great just the way he is.
Speaking of which: I contacted Topher via his official Twitter account to ask him if I could see his version. I have not heard back yet. If you know of any way to get hold of his cut: the name is «Star Wars: Episode 3.5 – The Editor strikes back». Let me know!
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