Thursday, December 25, 2008

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 1

Now that we've gotten the preliminaries out of the way, it's time to start reviewing. Our first fan film is Star Wars: Revelations, a 47-minute movie set between the two trilogies, courtesy of Panic Struck Productions.

As it was produced prior to the release of "Revenge of the Sith", the main purpose of "Revelations" is to explain how the Empire hunted the Jedi into total extinction by the time Luke Skywalker reached his teens. This is a fair enough question: it's a big universe, but even the Expanded Universe novels adhered to the idea that Luke had to rebuild the Jedi from scratch because none of the "old guard" survived the Clone Wars.

Insofar as that question is concerned, "Revelations" provides a logical answer by establishing the existence of a sub-group within the Jedi known as Seers - Jedi whose Force-related specialty is seeing the future. The Seers, led by a man named Sakal, were basically excommunicated by the Order because their predictions were thought to be unreliable (but as it turns out, they were all having visions of the Empire's rise to power, and no one believed them).

Taryn Anwar, the film's protagonist, is a Seer hunting for Sakal's Holocron, a cube-shaped data matrix that contains great knowledge (and, potentially, great power as well). Taryn hooks up with Declan, a smuggler, and another man named Cade who is either a defecting Stormtrooper or a fugitive Jedi (that part's a bit unclear). We also learn that Cade was the lover of Taryn's sister Raux, a victim of the Empire's purges.

But Taryn's not the only one looking for the Holocron. Zhannah, one of the Emperor's Hands, is competing with Darth Vader to find both Taryn and the artifact. As it turns out, Zhannah and Taryn have a history: the Emperor's Hand tricked Taryn into using her visions to find other Jedi, who were promptly exterminated by the Empire.

The backstory has a few minor timeline glitches - namely, we have no idea when Sakal and the Seers were cast out; sometimes it seems to have happened during Taryn's lifetime, but there are also references to the Sith Wars which happened thousands of years prior to the prequel trilogy. We're also not sure how long Taryn has been on the run, and whether or not Zhannah's been tracking her all that time. But as I said, these are minor distractions, not especially noteworthy given the pace and progress of the storyline. I'd say a bigger problem is that the distinction between Jedis and Seers gets pretty blurred by the time we get to the climax - Taryn's visions pretty much stop right before they could become relevant to the plot.

However, if the film's own internal continuity is problematic, it does manage some nice tricks with established canon: there's a scene around the midway point where the Emperor disbands the Senate. If you recall the first "Star Wars", this means the Death Star is complete. Now, the scene seems a bit tacked-on... until the epilogue of "Revelations", in which two characters decide to head to Alderaan. It's a sad moment, but only the viewer knows that.

While I said I wasn't going to talk about production values, "Revelations" merits a mention simply because it looks like a "Star Wars" movie. The CGI lacks the fluidity of professional studios, but is impressive nevertheless; the TIE Fighter chase through the shipyards and the lightsaber duels are surprisingly similar to the general look and feel of "Star Wars". Special props go to the actors who recreated Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader - they did so very convincingly.

Here's something I found interesting about "Revelations": both the main protagonist and the main antagonist of the film are women. And... okay, tangent time. I've had a problem with women in "Star Wars" for a long, long time. Leia didn't particularly impress me; Amidala even less so. The Expanded Universe isn't very accomodating either: Asajj Ventress had the makings of an interesting character but lapsed into 2D Land more often than not, Mara Jade is Timothy Zahn's Mary Sue, Mon Mothma's a bit player despite her supposedly legendary backstory... and then you have Admiral Daala, probably the biggest face-palm Kevin J. Anderson ever earned in the Star Wars universe. He makes a big deal about Daala being the only woman ever promoted to the Imperial admiralty, ostensibly on the strength of her impressive tactical skills, and then she turns out to be so incompetent she can't even score minor wins against the New Republic. I'll go so far as to say that if there's one decent, well-rounded woman in "Star Wars", it's Jaina Solo: badass Jedi, navigates her own love life without any help (*cough*Mara*cough*), swerves to the Dark Side and pulls herself out by sheer force of will, and basically becomes the greatest Jedi Knight of her generation.

Unfortunately, Jaina doesn't exist outside the projected future of the novels - a period no other medium or spin-off seems to want to deal with. So, perhaps as a response to that, "Revelations" gives us Taryn, a more compelling character than Luke or Anakin because of her redemption subplot (Anakin just whined a lot, and Luke... well, Luke's the Chosen One because he's born to it, not because of anything he actually does). Zhannah's an interesting counterpart to Vader, and "Revelations" does offer us a scene where they share screen time to highlight the contrast: he's this huge, booming, imposing presence, whereas Zhannah is ice-cold, detached and subtle - the role could have easily degenerated into one of those scene-chomping bits where you can actually see the teeth marks on the set pieces, but the actress playing Zhannah never loses her cool, never breaks character.

All in all, it's a rather enjoyable piece. The story's about average - standard fare for "Star Wars", really - and the cast avoids the sort of awkwardness you can sometimes get with amateur actors. Throw in some surprisingly good special effects, an overall length that's just about right (not too short that we're left unsatisfied with the results, not too long that it starts to drag), and what you get is a pretty decent justification of the genre.