Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Prologue

I've decided to start a new feature here at Sententia: fan film reviews. Much like fan fiction, it's a phenomenon that fascinates me both as a reader and as a student of literature.

There are a few "ground rules" I suppose I should get out of the way first: I'm not especially interested in comparing these productions to the source material in terms of visual quality. It's fair enough to do that sort of parallel with text-based fanfic when words - and how they're used - are the only tangible difference between a fan-author and the original author; I hardly think it's realistic to expect fan-level productions to match the CGI budget of Paramount or Lucasfilm (though, if tomorrow's subject is any indication, they can come surprisingly close).

I'm also leaving acting skills (or lack thereof) out of the equation unless it absolutely merits a mention - in a world where Hayden Christensen passed the first round of auditions for the role of Darth Vader, it's best to judge such things on their own merits.

The guiding principle behind these reviews relates to my overall concept of fan fiction as something that exists to address a gap in the source material - whether these are issues and themes the canon can't (or won't) deal with, or scenes and scenarios that didn't textually happen but could have (or, depending on the genre of the story, couldn't have) happened. But it's always a response to something within the original work.

I should note that I find fan fiction to be as valid and as legitimate an exercise as, say, the Expanded Universe novels of the "Star Wars" franchise. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the only difference between the EU novels and "Star Wars" fanfic is that the EU writers get paid and presumably have the parent company's seal of approval - not the most convincing argument, as these things have nothing to do with what's actually published.

In fact, it's interesting to see how EU novels of this sort can fall into the same traps as fanfic - Timothy Zahn is rightly praised for the creation of Grand Admiral Thrawn, but he also inflicted Mara Sue upon us. And it's just as impossible to achieve consensus with published novels: just because you get a rubber stamp from Grandpa George doesn't mean you're not working with your own interpretations of the characters, which may or may not correlate to other authors' interpretations, or even to what the original material (the two trilogies) present. Canon becomes just as malleable as it is in fanfic, and the only thing that matters is whether or not the writer convinces you that his version works.

And, of course, the EU novels were a response to what was likely the most common question anyone was asking at the end of "Return of the Jedi" - what happened next? (Or possibly "Did we really need all those Ewoks?"). Sequels are easy that way. But with fan films, it's a bit more complicated to figure out exactly what they're responding to with regards to the source material.

You may have noticed that I've been focusing on the "Star Wars" franchise pretty exclusively so far. That's because our first entry, to be posted tomorrow, will be a review of Star Wars: Revelations by Panic Struck Productions, located here: