Patience you must have, my young padawan.
I recently traveled to Walt Disney World in Florida for my honeymoon. Being a huge Disney Parks fan this trip was meticulously planned out, there would be no surprises for us. One attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park that I was quietly very excited to see was the montage film Star Wars: Path of the Jedi¹. This ten-plus minute attraction takes scenes and dialogue from the Star Wars saga and stitches them together to make a nicely edited recap film.
Even if it is not a hugely popular attraction, I was very excited to see it, being a big fan of Star Wars and an editor myself. On the day we went to Hollywood Studios however, it was closed.
It was still a great day, and I can’t wait to go back, especially when the Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge, opens.
I looked up phone-recorded videos of Path of the Jedi once back in Australia. While they show how great the film is, they are not great recordings — just about every video seems to have an audience member coughing and the video quality is never really crisp.
Disappointed that I didn’t get the ‘real’ experience, I decided to open up my editing program of choice and get to work rebuilding Path of the Jedi, shot for shot, in high definition.
I didn’t realise at first just how huge a task this would be. As I found out, I would have to pore over each of the six films, often frame by frame, to find the exact moment. I then had to work frame by frame matching different transitions to poor quality reference files, and also meticulously recreate the added effects and changes by eye to make things look just right. For the audio I listened through more than one hundred audio recordings of the music from the series, looking for the many different versions of the various themes that are present to match the right ones. For the sections where I was unable to find the right track I had to make my own version of the audio by mixing together multiple phone recordings I was able to find.
I first sat down and watched the phone recorded video a few times over, writing down each new shot, what movie I thought it was from and where roughly it would be in the film. I also wrote a quick description of the colours and look of the shot, so I didn’t need to keep coming back to the video. To my surprise I was probably around 90 per cent accurate at guessing the movie based on the shot — a previously hidden talent I was not aware of which just goes to show how many times I’ve watched the series. The few shots that I wasn’t certain of were often of the Millennium Falcon zipping around in space. I started off working through it film by film so I could jump into The Phantom Menace, grab everything I needed from it and jump back out. This fell by the wayside a little as I got excited to work on the more ‘montage-y’ moments, and I also waited to put together some of the larger sections, saving the two lightsaber fights between Luke and Darth Vader for the end².
When I couldn’t identify a shot immediately I worked through some logic in my head to narrow down the place in the saga it would be (So in that shot they’re in the Falcon but Leia is in her Hoth uniform, Han is on the Falcon here so it won’t be from most of Return of the Jedi) and when I really had no context at all I found a few shots by watching through the movies in fast forward, but in reverse. I found this really helped me focus more and not get stuck assuming what the next shot would be. The process of cutting together the video took about a weekend. I was not expecting so many shots to have been slowed down, flipped horizontally, sped up or even completely reversed!
After I had my rough cut of the video I put together a side by side video to compare the recorded version with my final version. This helped me fine-tune the last few shots, and helped me notice a couple of transitions I had completely forgotten to add.
Comparison video screenshots, source video on top and my version beneath it.
The closer I got to finishing the video side of things, the more anxious I got about approaching the task of rebuilding the audio. I figured at least with video I can actually make each shot and transition perfect to the frame, the video reference was more than I needed to go off to get it just right³.
Final Cut Pro timeline of my finished video project.
For the sound side of things, between the fact that I don’t have access to any clean source, audio being harder than video to match for timing and me being generally inexperienced in it⁴, I found this to be an absolutely daunting task and a really tough nut to crack. I decided to go through in three phases: I would put together the music cues first⁵, then the dialogue, then the sound effects.
This didn’t really work out as planned. While I was able to recognise the music cues for most of the video, around about halfway through I hit a road block with what sounds like a version of Yoda and The Force that is much slower than anything I can find officially available⁶, and then right after that a version of the Imperial Theme that was slower and broken down in a way I could not find either. I was able to make my own version of the Imperial Theme by playing around with one version of it in Adobe Audition but I had to go back to the drawing board for my method of putting this all together. If I only used the officially released audio, I would have a big missing section for the part with Yoda and The Force.
I found many more versions online of phone recordings of Path of the Jedi taken in the theatre at Disneyland and Disney World; throwing them all into audition and mixing them together to get the cleanest audio possible for whatever moment. My idea was to then use this track as a bed to replace when I could, but also be able to rely on as “good enough” when I couldn’t. This doesn’t mean that for the parts I couldn’t find the music for I only used this audio, I still layered in dialogue and some sound effect audio over the top, which helped make it a bit cleaner.
Final Cut Pro timeline of my finished audio sync project.
This helped clear my head a little. From playing around with the mixing of these different versions I had spent some time thinking about sourcing some of the sound effects, as that was another beast to tackle. I know that there are exhaustive Star Wars sound effect libraries available online, but I wanted to stay as close to my personal challenge of only using the movies and their soundtracks as sources as was possible. I had already betrayed this by mixing in audio from the phone recording videos, and didn’t want to do that again. I correctly guessed that most of the sound effects were from the moment in the film that was being shown⁷, and so decided to extract the surround sound audio channels from the Blu-ray copies of the films and work with these. The dialogue was pretty simple, though I did resort to reading the scripts of the movies though to find some of the shorter bits of dialogue I couldn’t identify immediately. The surround sound channel containing the dialogue on the discs was not perfectly clean, and often included sound effects and music. This was generally pretty easy to drown out with other sounds and music in the final video however.
For the video, I generally didn’t have to go back and forth comparing my version with the original, as any direct cut I just matched the first and last frame, easy. I did have to do some more detailed comparisons when there were effects or transitions on the shot itself, like fading in and out, speed changes and cropping.
For the audio, almost every moment had one of these detailed comparisons. I would listen through a one second clip from the original, then the same again with my version, then back again, then back again. I was waking up with a clenched jaw having been grinding my teeth all night. I had to take a few days break from this when I realised I wasn’t sleeping very well, suffering headaches because I just had Star Wars music in my head all day. I realised at a certain point that it would cause a lot less stress to treat the audio side as more interpretive, and to be less stringent with finding the exact same sound effect as used in the film. I realised this after I was unable to find any clean version of Darth Maul’s lightsabers igniting. Every channel of the audio found in the film has heaps of music over the top, and was just impossible to work with.
I saved my favourite section for last, the montage towards the end which begins with Han Solo saying ‘Bring ‘em on, I prefer a straight fight to all this sneakin’ around’. This section was a joy to edit, mixing the sounds and the music together was great fun. There was a lot of give and take with the music editing, and a delicate balance to hiding some of the sharper transitions between the different music cues.
The final step was creating the thumbnail image to use for the video. I decided to make a composite image of each star field from the opening titles of episodes one to six, and added the text in. I’m pretty happy with the results!
This has been a labour of love and a homage to a great work and one that I’ve grown up with, Star Wars. If I’ve done my job right, you won’t be able to notice any of this and will just be able to enjoy the video. I’ve really enjoyed it and have learnt a lot of new editing skills, particularly in audio mixing. Maybe I’ll look at rebuilding the newer sections that have been released since with the newer movies. I might also try making my own recaps.
Note: As the video includes copyrighted material I am unable to control any monetisation. I would hope no ads appear however YouTube has informed me that ads may appear on it. If ads do appear all revenue will be paid to the copyright owner.
1 At the time of writing the Walt Disney World attraction web page for Path of the Jedi has the browser page title “The Way of the Jedi: A Star Wars History”, which I can’t find a reference to anywhere else online. Is this a previous working title for this short?
2 Strange little fun fact I noticed that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, the shot where Vader says ‘No, I am your father’ ends with twelve frames that are repeated and reversed. At the end of this shot, Vader does a very short breathe in and out, the ‘out’ breath is actually the previous twelve frames in reverse. I wondered at first if this was a timing change made for one of the Special Editions, however I confirmed this is the same in the original by comparing it with a 35mm scan of The Empire Strikes Back.
3 I did make the choice to use the frame blending option ‘Optical Flow’ in Final Cut Pro for most of the slowed down shots. It appears that the original video occasionally uses the ‘normal’ way to slow shots down but I think it creates an inconsistent look and personally consider this an improvement.
5 Fun fact, most of the music cues that are from themes repeated through the saga are from the version included in the Phantom Menace soundtrack, which is interesting considering how little dialogue is used from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
7 I would guess something close to 90 per cent of the sound effects are from the direct moment in the film that is being shown at the same time.