George Lucas has always been incapable of allowing cuts to his his favorite ideas. That sentiment played well in American Graffiti because its entirety was made of whimsical and youthful episodes that danced from character to character with only the thinnest connections, like real high school. It worked well in Star Wars in 1977 because we were endlessly entertained by so many innovative science fiction creations. By the time 1999 rolled around, we've watched and rewatched two Star Wars sequels. They've developed nothing short of religious reverence and a following that has scrutinized every minute of running time and an audience that cherishes the gaps in knowledge unexplored by the creator of the franchise. We had been introduced to other rich worlds from The Fifth Element, Aliens, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Dark City. The Matrix was still fresh in our minds from a few months earlier.
We have been spoiled by excellent action sequences in great movies like Die Hard, Terminator 2, and The Road Warrior and even lackluster movies like Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Red Heat and Blind Fury. Modern action movies mostly lose our attention when they string together strong action sequences with menial dialogue and a pedestrian plot. When the initial excitement of seeing new jedis and lightsabers is over, reflection on George Lucas's theatrical release reveal fluff that Lucas forced into the final cut. He couldn't get enough Jar-Jar slapstick or naive exclamations from a young Anakin.
The Phantom Edit was edited by Mike J. Nichols, a professional editor and Star Wars junkie, whose brilliance doesn't come from the removal of inane Jar Jar blathering (which is, in fact, removed) but from trimming long moments of emotional glances and streamlining scenes that hang on special effects shots. Lucas admires his team's extraordinary efforts to mesmerize the audience and perhaps couldn't bring himself to trim the hard work. Nichols had no such issue. The fatty tissue is heartlessly excised. Not only that, he alters the background information that foolishly reassigned the power of the Force to a biological phenomenon and keeps the Force safely mysterious, in accordance with the original trilogy.
Nichols couldn't make Jake Lloyd's acting any less flat. He couldn't give Darth Maul more screen time. But with what he was working with, he gave us the best Star Wars prequel we could hope for. This is the definitive edition for Star Wars fans.