Have you seen the boffo box-office numbers on the latest Star Wars movie?
If you haven’t, that’s because you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s on YouTube, not in theaters—and it wasn’t made by George Lucas. It was made by you. And 1.7 million people have already watched it.
On January 18, blogger Casey Pugh uploaded the full version of his remake of the original 1977 Star Wars—the culmination of a three-year effort by hundreds of fans like Pugh to remake the movie, scene by scene, 15 seconds at a time.
In less than a week, Star Wars Uncut: Director’s Cut hit a million views on YouTube, the BBC noted. New York magazine declared it the “greatest viral video ever.” (Charlie might have something to say about that.) And the views are piling up: By this weekend, two weeks after its YouTube debut, it may well hit 2 million views.
The effort started in 2009—a long, long time ago in the Internet galaxy—when Pugh, who runs the Star Wars Uncut fan blog, asked his readers to participate in a project. Here’s how he pitched it:
“We cut up the movie into 15-second clips. You claim one and refilm it however you like. We put it back together and watch the magic.”
Every style of filmmaking is represented: live action, all types of animation, scenes played out with sock puppets, action figures, Lego toys and more. Some have an almost professional polish; others are laughably crude.
Consider the famous scene in the Tatooine cantina, where Han meets Greedo the bounty hunter. It starts around the 49:15 mark.
The first three 15-second scenes are live action. One is filmed in what is obviously a modern apartment with aluminum foil on the walls, the second in an office supply closet lined with three-ring binders, the third in a sunny living room furnished with lovely Victorian antiques. Greedo’s death is shown in pixelated video-game animation. And yes, Han Solo shot first in this remake.)
Pugh and his crowdsourced collaborators completed Star Wars: Uncut in 2010. The movie was shown at a Copenhagen film festival, and won a 2010 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media.
Lucas himself released a congratulatory statement. He and Pugh had reached an agreement allowing Pugh to make the film, the New York Times reported:
“Because Mr. Pugh has signed a nondisclosure agreement, there is little he can say about the discussions with the company, except that ‘Lucasfilm isn’t out to make money on this, and neither am I.’”
But the movie wasn’t available online in completed form, and the project largely faded from the Internet’s notice until this month, when Pugh uploaded the finished film to YouTube.
To see how the movie’s popularity has waxed and waned, you need only look at the Wall on the Star Wars: Uncut Facebook fan page.
On Dec. 22, 2009, Star Wars Uncut announced “SW:U is 95% complete! We’re almost there!” This update drew no likes and only three comments.
The next post was on March 24, when someone who presumably had just watched the completed film wrote, “Dope … good job man”. And the next post after that is dated April 12, when Star Wars Uncut posted a trailer video, gleaning 18 likes and 8 comments.
Fans made about a dozen approving posts on the Facebook wall throughout April 2010 before posts dwindled to a couple per week, then a couple per month. Then silence.
On Dec. 28, 2010, a mournful fan wrote, “I am a sad panda. No updates for months, momentum has been squandered... We STILL don't know who made the final cut. :( ”
The next wall post, on Feb. 9, 2011, showed only a sad-face emoticon. Things picked up in April, after Entertainment Weekly ran a story about the Star Wars project and many new fans posted their approval on the Facebook wall. “[T]his thing is awesome. i just discovered it today after just reading about it in entertainment weekly. can't wait to see what's next,” said one typical post.
But the EW popularity boost died down after a couple of weeks, and the Star Wars: Uncut Facebook page went largely quiet until last week, on Jan. 20, when with little fanfare, Star Wars Uncut posted another message:
“Uncut fans, the wait is over. The full Star Wars Uncut film has been put online for your streaming pleasure. Get out the popcorn!”
1.7 million views later, the rebel alliance behind this crowdsourced creation can celebrate its victory. And we can all sit back and watch: