by Paul L. Tomlinson
Most fan films are made for fans: that is, they rely on a very particular audience to imaginatively fill in gaps as well as rip it apart as the seams. The result is the telling of very small stories - bumper stickers tacked often haphazardly on the back of the Lucasfilm Star Wars vehicle. The stories, settings, and characters are dramatically if not woefully
underdeveloped in their own right.
Granted there are many necessary trade-offs for what we want them to know versus what can be assumed the already do. Prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe of course is necessary for understanding the foundations of other stories. Lucas has done a wonderful job in setting the stage and creating a universe in ways we cannot hope to duplicate technically (yet... We're getting close, but not on the same scale); his efforts should not, however, be used as a premise. Many fan film plots are akin to an actor responding to something off stage which the audience never sees. Not everyone will be able to mentally reconstruct that whatever-it-was, only those in the know: fan films appeal mainly to fans with little spill over into a more general audience because only hard core fans understand them and all the stitched together vague references composing them.
This niche focus, while having produced many wonderful films, hinders escalation of the artistry and cinematography. The "Hey, nifty! Look what we can do!" amateur spirit is unfortunately apparent as special effects and production fads make it to film only because of their ability to do so. Everyone's a jedi/sith, they've all got light sabers and will find many opportunities to wield them against one another in blazing combat. The most
potent elements of the original SW movies were potent because of their reserved use, aura of mystique and intrigue, and treatment within the film *commanding* the viewer to be in awe. Lucas himself states that special effects without a story are just pointless pretty lights.
Examine your objectives: what are you intending to communicate, and to who? What elements of the story should be most powerful, and how will the film carry that? The original trilogy told of struggle: emotionally as internal reconciliation of conflict, externally as a rebellion seeking against probability to overthrow unimaginable evil. They do this with all the enrapturing mystery of a wizened figure under lit with firelight spinning a yarn to wide eyed children. All the eye candy on the screen acted only as a tool to frame the familiar and yet exponentially intensified trials and triumphs of wars in the stars. How else could there have ever been a successful Star Wars radio series?
The true test: Grab a mediocre Star Wars fan. They exist, even if you don't know any - hold walk by interviews on the street or in a shopping center to find them if need be. Find someone who would only be moderately interested in the prospect of watching a fan film (but still cooperative, no chloroform or blackjacks please) and excite them. Watch their eyes light up as they're enveloped in the story, the cinematography acting only as a transport to feed imagination directly through the eyes and ears.
To do this, explanation and exhibition of the appropriate premises must be subtle, background and underlying. The story must be romantic: personally identifiable protagonists in which we see ourselves, in amazing and fantastic situations. Taking us with them so we feel again that reverence and excitement of possibility Star Wars first inspired in our youth. I once worked with an actress who performed a one person vignette on an empty stage. The monologue was so entrancing that the audience later
actually remembered her as sitting in the desert she described, interacting plainly with what had been so invisible before. There are ways of telling a story that transcend the instruction of narratives and actions - she didn't have to dictate her setting, but laid it out gently while/by telling the story taking place within it. She balanced well the weights of how much of what to say to still keep the exposition invisible to her tale.
Truly fantastic elements should be treated truly fantastically. The characters in SW never react to the foreignism of the species surrounding them because the varied peopling of their universe is accepted and understood. An old man, weak by galactic physical standards, ignites an ancient weapon in the dark recesses of a thinly veiled underworld on Tatooine and dispatches an opponent with a quick demonstration of power, arresting all activity. Eyes lock on the almost mythical glowing blade until Ben Kenobi doffs his authoritive stance and sheaths his weapon. Shaken, though unable to show it for fear of revealing any thoughts to the underworld around them, the occupants pick up their collective jaw and continue on. The lightsaber is a weapon of power in many senses.
This scene is spectacular. It was of course much more so the first time round, but the fact still remains: this event is *made* spectacular only because it's contrasted to the normality (normal for that realm, anyhow) surrounding it. Something white looks it's most brilliant when composited against black. For us to feel the uniqueness of the situation we had to be brought in with perspectives that felt normal to us: the characters portrayed were such that we could connect with them. Very human, individual in personality, flawed in core or emotion. Slightly exaggerated to make this more obvious but overall imperfect and regular. Us.
Keep the effects as a tool. Houses don't prominently display the nails and wall studs holding them together: they are to be forgotten, invisible as we take in the home itself with our senses. The atmosphere, the pervasive sense of place and history, is not made of nails. Just held together.