To this day, one of the most argued points of contention in the DC Cinematic Universe fandom is the potential existence and quality of the “Snyder Cut,” a rumored version of the movie Justice League put together by head DC filmmaker Zack Snyder as opposed to the Joss Whedon version that hit theaters. With Whedon’s cut only ever generating lukewarm reviews due to its tonal dissonance and bizarre post-production color correction, fans insist that Snyder’s version would fix those issues and deliver something more in-line with preceding films Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has since become a rallying cry for this part of the fanbase, and now that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is facing its own problems with critics, the same is happening for Disney’s flagship sci-fi series.
#ReleaseTheJJcut and #ReleaseTheAbramscut both trended on Twitter over the weekend, stemming from a Reddit theory claiming that the version of Rise of Skywalker to hit theaters and the one director J.J. Abrams expected to see differ drastically. Reddit user egoshoppe started this theory on January 2, when they posted a thread to sequel-trilogy-critic forum “r/saltierthancrait” alleging that “someone who worked closely on the production of TROS” informed them of heavy disparities between Abrams’ supposed version of the film and what audiences saw, which is now being termed by conspiracists as the “Disney cut.”
These include the idea that the film originally had the actors behind the voices that spoke to Rey in its final battle instead appear as Force ghosts, as well as canon confirmation of the FinnPoe ship.
“The TROS we saw last night was not the TROS we thought we worked on,” the mysterious source supposedly told egoshoppe after the film’s premiere. “JJ was devastated and blindsided by this…He’s the director and he wasn’t in the know about what they were doing behind his back.”
But after sparking a brief trend of belief on Twitter…
this makes so much more sense now #ReleaseTheJJCutpic.twitter.com/N0jglW3HCe
— sylvia (@stellarcarol) January 2, 2020
For people who are lost disney basically changed the whole movie to sabotage JJ Abrams and Warner Brothers. They want DC to stay in Limbo a few pictures to explain pic.twitter.com/j27d7CntJN
— Marie (@Marie52276042) January 2, 2020
…criticisms of the theory began to take the spotlight instead:
The #releasethejjcut stuff is such a mess.
A Star Wars subreddit has a huge post this morning up outlining instances of major studio interference between JJ Abrams TROS cut and the final version.
There’s an interesting disinfo thing happening here… pic.twitter.com/C9f38ATzuL
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) January 2, 2020
Woman director’s movie has some flaws, but is overall a great film: “This movie has SO many problems.”
Man director makes an objectively bad movie: “IT WASN’T HIS FAULT AND SOMEWHERE THERE’S A SECRET LOCKED VERSION THAT IS GROUND BREAKING THAT NO ONE WANTED FOR SOME REASON!!”
— Maggie Mae Fish (@MaggieMaeFish) January 5, 2020
So much so that a number of major news outlets are already debunking the theory, and egoshoppe has now responded to their thread with a clarification “at the request of my source.” The clarification doesn’t add much to back up their claims, however, only commenting on the film’s kiss between Kylo Ren and Rey as well as the media attention.
Personally, I doubt the theory’s truth.
The Abrams cut theory doesn’t have any proof beyond egoshoppe’s word, and egoshoppe is not a known leaker. Additionally, while egoshoppe says they trust and have verified their source, even they don’t claim to “have proof of many of their claims,” and they refuse to give any information or verification on their source or who they might be. Further, the post’s biggest claim, that actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Hayden Christensen, and Ewan McGregor filmed scenes in costume for the movie that were later cut, points at unreasonably questionable budgetary decisions on Disney’s part, even as the post later states that Disney cut other concepts from even being filmed to save money.
Hiring recognizable names for even a quick cameo isn’t cheap, and cutting their scenes would be wasting millions. The post blames China for this, but Star Wars has never performed well in China, meaning it would be unlikely to cut expensive scenes from the film for the country (and why not keep the scene for domestic audiences if it was already filmed?). Additionally, with Luke’s force ghost already appearing in the theatrical release of Rise of Skywalker, this claim raises questions as to why one force ghost scene would be questionable for a Chinese audience while another wouldn’t.
Overall, it doesn’t make sense why a (slightly- we’ll get to this) better version of the movie would be kept under wraps in exchange for an inferior cut. While films such as Blade Runner prove the existence and severity of studio meddling, the changes to that film’s original theatrical release were made to try to aid audience understanding. The cuts supposedly made from Abrams’ vision of Rise of Skywalker would serve no such purpose, instead wasting costly material for no gain.
More likely is that J.J. Abrams’ cut is exactly what moviegoers saw. The director has already spoken about working on the film up until the last minute, meaning that any changes Disney might have made without his knowledge would need to have been done quickly. Additionally, the director had already proven his worth to the studio with The Force Awakens, meaning that Disney would have had little time to build such mistrust.
Instead, like the Snyder Cut conspiracy before it, the clamoring for a higher quality Abrams cut reveals the threat disappointing final chapters pose to Hollywood’s cinematic universe trend. The theory is important, but not because it is true. It is important because its existence points to issues both with how studios approach serialization, and with how audiences respond to it.
While movies that don’t take pains to establish a larger universe can exist on their own as standalone entities that don’t rely on future installments for quality, films that hint at something larger to come several movies down the line set up promises of payoff for their audiences. When that payoff either doesn’t come, or lands with a thud, it can retroactively hurt fan perception of the films that came before, taking the excitement out of the moments of those movies dedicated to build-up. This forces those already invested to justify their prior enjoyment, which when coupled with the word-of-god obsession constant promises inspire, leads to alternate universe theorycrafting.
Unfortunately, even if the JJ cut theory were true, none of its assertions would solve the central problem behind Rise of Skywalker. Lack of fan service wasn’t that film’s issue. Instead, it was the meandering plot, the reneged promises, the substanceless sacrifices, and the film’s obsession with already well-worn territory. For example, the theory doesn’t mention anything about the Sith wayfinder or Chewbacca’s supposed death being handled differently. It doesn’t mention how quickly this cut might fix C-3PO’s memory loss, if at all, or how it might handle the tension behind it differently. But it does mention the brief “they fly now” joke oft-maligned by the fanbase, to assure readers that, of course, J.J. agrees with them.
But J.J. doesn’t need to agree with them, even as the cinematic universe storytelling approach of enticing and rewarding fans with breadcrumbs implies otherwise. Well argued criticism doesn’t need backing from the film’s director to be valid, and it certainly doesn’t need to pretend that J.J Abrams isn’t the same director behind flops like Star Trek: Into Darkness simply making the same mistakes again.
Think of George Lucas’ original trilogy special editions. Sometimes, the director’s voice isn’t best. Even if a drastically different J.J. cut did exist, would it be much better? What problem would it solve? Disney doesn’t need to acknowledge that one of their films is bad for us to feel that way.
The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi already tell complete stories of their own, even if they hint at something more. Whether or not we ever get that, there is no shame to liking them. And, similarly, there is no shame is replacing Rise of Skywalker with a more fitting headcanon. Even if a J.J. cut were to be released, would it mean anything in light of what came before? Or would handing the studio ownership of even your criticism ultimately just give those who disappointed you more power to do so again?