by Joseph Sweeney | staff writer
History began in 1776, but really began in 1977, with the introduction of the Star Wars universe, and since then the series has gained a massive fan following, with people now lining up every year to see the latest hit in the space opera series. Now, the fanbase has something they can truly call their very own, as Star Wars fan films have taken a major boost in popularity after the release of the new movies by Disney. Some of the most popular fan films in recent memory would have to include Darth Maul: Apprentice, Kenobi: A Star Wars fan film, and Vader: Shards of the past.
Kenobi: A Star Wars fan film
Kenobi: A Star Wars fan film is the most recent major fan-made production, having been released on YouTube in Dec. 2019, widely appealing to Star Wars fans on many levels. The film, which has a runtime of about 20 minutes, follows Obi-Wan Kenobi, now known under the pseudonym Ben, on Tatooine years after the fall of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, as he attempts to gain the trust of the Lars family after their adoption of Luke. The film stars Jamie Costa, known for his role as Patrick Swayze on the biographical drama The price of fame, as Kenobi, with Tommy Snider from DC Universe’s Doom Patrol, and Maxine Phoenix of the web-drama Mirror, Mirror as Owen and Beru Lars respectively. What is most impressive however, is the fact that James Arnold Taylor, voice of Obi-Wan in the 2008 animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, also starred in the project, playing the unnamed Imperial officer faced by Costa’s Kenobi.
The film definitely helps capture Obi-Wan’s struggle adjusting to his new environment on Tatooine, and how distraught he feels at the Lars’ disapproval of his Jedi ways. Costa gives an excellent performance as Kenobi, and definitely captures both the look and voice of a slightly aged Ewan McGregor from the prequel era. Even a non-Star Wars fan could definitely feel his pain when Kenobi attempts to connect with the ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn in the opening scene of the film, and when Owen tells him to get off-planet and away from them just a few scenes later.
The sets, costume design, and special effects are also amazing, sporting designs right out of the Original Trilogy. The landscape of Tatooine’s deserts are really captured well by the broad daylight the film was shot in, and the stormtrooper and imperial officer costume design were just what you would expect from an official Star Wars production. The effects used to create the lightsaber and blaster bolts also felt straight out of the movie franchise, making Obi-Wan as alive as ever when in action fighting off stormtroopers.
Overall, if you’re looking for a fan-production staying true to the original source material, then Kenobi: A Star Wars fan film is definitely for you. While it may not be an official story, it can still help fans see a new side of Obi-Wan which hasn’t been seen yet in the mainstream series. Where the prequels showed Obi-Wan at his peak on his journey to being a Jedi Master, and the original trilogy showed him as his old and wise self, this film captures him at his lowest point, struggling to find his new purpose in the world and without any sort of guidance for the first time in his life.
Darth Maul: Apprentice
Darth Maul: Apprentice, is a 2016 fan-production primarily following the titular character facing off against a squadron of Jedi, and since its release has been declared as one of the best Star Wars fan films of all time. The short-film, which has amassed over 21 million views on YouTube, was produced by a group of German Star Wars fans, and took over two years of development to complete.
Taking place shortly before Star Wars: Episode I, Apprentice follows Darth Maul as he is sent by his master, Darth Sidious, on one final mission before his training is complete. The film is focused mainly on action over story, which is by no means a bad thing, as for about 15 of the 18 minute runtime, audiences can see non-stop lightsaber action.
While, aside from Maul and Sidious, this film contains no official Star Wars characters–only fan-made ones–those we do see are diverse and compelling enough to be invested in over the duration of the film, even though none of them are named at all throughout the story. The character and costume design is also excellent, with actor Ben Schamma sporing makeup almost identical to Ray Park’s iteration of the Darth Maul character from 1999, along with other well-made fan-designs, such as Togruta and Jedi berserker designs straight out of something like Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Lightsaber designs and effects are also excellent, though what is slightly disappointing is the lack of characters using force abilities. Many opportunities are presented where these powers would be useful, and it’s frustrating to be left shouting at your screen as the characters die what seem like very preventable deaths.
Though the acting on the part of the Jedi masters is not the best, Schamma’s performance as Darth Maul feels familiar enough to the original character, being mostly a silent character focusing on the thrill of combat rather than quickly dispatching all his opponents at once. During the film, while Maul only has one line of actual dialogue, he still manages to be the best character in the story, through his excellent facial expressions and makeup going along well with his brutish nature and combat style.
Whereas Kenobi focused more on story and presented us with something new from its characters, Apprentice puts all its attention towards action, while being able to give viewers a feeling of distress when seeing the danger its heroes are put in. Though nothing is added to Maul’s character that we didn’t already know, it is still nice to see the character when we have not seen him in live action since 1999.
Vader: Shards of the past
Released in 2018, Shards of the past takes place a few months after the ending of Revenge of the Sith, showing Darth Vader as he struggles to accept the death of his wife Padmé, who died by his own hands. The production is part of a planned webseries, with episode two, which has confirmed the return of Jedi Master Mace Windu, being planned for release in the distant future. Popular YouTuber Star Wars Theory is attached as creator and executive producer for the series, with video being released on his channel to wide fan-appeal. This has been seen as one of the most ambitious fan-projects within the fandom, due to the creator’s relative popularity; where he holds over two million subscribers on YouTube, and also due to the planned five episode series, with each episode having a year-plus development-cycle, each boasting a budget of over $100,000. With all this hype in mind, it is a shame to say the Shards of the past is quite a disappointment.
The film opens up with a dream sequence, showing Vader facing off against a squadron of clone-troopers in an attempt to overthrow Emperor Palpatine. Vader then sees his late wife Padmé, who is revealed to be Palpatine in disguise just after faking the image of his death. Vader wakes and meets with his master, who senses Vader’s weakness and sends him on a mission to dispatch a Jedi survivor of Order 66.
The main problem with the fan film mainly lies with the fact that nothing happens: the opening dream sequence takes up about half the run-time, and, while exciting at first, becomes very predictable once it is revealed that it is Palpatine that Vader is attacking. For the rest of the film, nothing of note happens, as the next longest scene of the episode is between the master and apprentice duo, who talk but don’t add much new to the story, really only recapping the death of Padmé and showing Palpatine’s low opinion of his apprentice: weak, lingering, and missed-potential.
The film’s characters and sets are still amazing however, and are possibly better than some of what was presented in the prequel trilogy. Unlike the prequels, which used exclusively CGI to create the clone-troopers, Shards of the past uses all live action armor sets, making the film feel more realistic and longer-lasting than the dated designs of the prequels. Vader also looks very movie accurate, with his iconic look and familiar looking red lightsaber, along with his appearance when outside his armor, where we see him in a scene taking place in a medical bay.
What is not impressive however, is the look given to Palpatine, which looks very cheaply made and feels out of place when seeing how movie accurate the rest of the cast looks. The voices also feel sub-par, as the main duo of characters don’t sound familiar at all when compared to the movies, or even to other fan films: in the prior two films discussed, actors perfectly were able to nail characters like Palpatine and Obi-Wan on a lower budget, and in an age where voice altering technology is a large part of areas like the music industry, it makes you wonder why they couldn’t just lower Vader’s voice an octave to make him feel as movie accurate as possible.
While the size and scale of Shards of the past is certainly impressive, the project seems held back by over-ambition on the creator’s part, where it feels as is they focused more on what they wanted out of a full-on web series rather than focus on how to make a compelling pilot episode. Whereas the other two fan productions I watched helped add something to characters, or give me something I’ve always wanted to see more of, Vader felt just like more of the same thing from the same characters, with no real exciting moments beyond the first few minutes.
With the controversy within the Star Wars community following the Disney acquisition, it is great that Star Wars fans are able to create something that they want to see on the small screen rather than wait and be disappointed with Disney’s new image of the franchise. There are many more excellent productions to be seen on platforms like YouTube, such as A New Hope: Scene 38 remastered, a fan remake of the first ever lightsaber duel in Star Wars between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, and the Star Wars vs. Harry Potter duology, a self-explanatory yet comedic crossover between the two franchises, though this was just a look at some of the most popular fan-made material the franchise has spawned.