Star Wars: Episode III: Editing the last Star Wars movie isn't a task to take lightly. Editor Roger Barton knows all too well the responsibility of sifting through hours and hours of footage to create the epic finale of the greatest space fantasy ever. His previous editing work includes such movies as Bad Boys II, Ghost Ship, Pearl Harbor, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Armageddon. It was his work as an associate editor working with Director James Cameron on Titanic that eventually led to an Oscar for Best Editing.
It's no surprise that Barton's name was picked to work on Episode III, except to maybe Barton himself.
"I've asked myself this question a lot, 'How did I end up here?'" Barton says. "I'm fortunate to have created some strong relationships with people such as Ted Gagliano at 20th Century Fox. Ted must have believed in me enough to add my name to a list with several other very talented editors, most of whom had much more experience than I had. I think they were looking for someone who could could walk into an environment already set up on the last two movies, someone without any preconceived notions about how this ship would run. I'd like to think that it was just a natural fit."
As Barton starts the editorial process, it begins with the printed word, as he studies each scene in the script, he contemplates the surrounding scenes as well. "It's so I can get a sense of rhythm," he says. Dissecting a scene's purpose helps him answer important questions. "Should the scene be inter-cut, or should it play as one? What are the dramatic beats within the scene? What is it within the scene that is important to tell the story? What are the emotional beats? What beats within the scene are going to make the audience feel something?" Barton adds.
But close scrutiny of a scene as a self-contained entity has to be balanced by keeping in mind where that scene exists in the big picture. "What I want to do is, in the most efficient way possible, try to get to those emotional beats and story beats, and then move on so that the story isn't derailed," says Barton. "A flow should occur between each scene so that in the bigger picture, the movie is always taking you to a new place."
The extensive use of digital filmmaking techniques brings unique challenges to editing Episode III. Cutting together footage where most, if not all, of the backdrop includes yet-to-be-added special effects can be daunting.
"I've haven't worked on a film with this much bluescreen and greenscreen, but in a funny way it's allowed me as an editor to really focus on the performances," Barton explains. "Having no backgrounds to distract me really gives me the chance to examine what's going on with an actor's expressions. It also created some challenges because I'm constantly imagining what kind of environments these people will eventually be put into. It's seducing, in a way, because without backgrounds I'm afraid I'll cut too tight. I don't mean too quickly, but rather the angles I'm choosing may be too tight because I'm not seeing the whole incredible Star Wars universe that will be added later ."
As such, editorial, like filmmaking as a whole, is a mix of technical know-how and artistic instincts. "The craft is not easily appreciated because if it's done well, often it's invisible. Ultimately it's a director's medium and I think as an editor my primary responsibility is to work closely with George, to bring about his vision the best I can, all the while infusing my own instincts along the way," Barton explains.
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