Friday, January 9, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 3

Slight change of plans: since I only had one more "Star Wars" fan film on my list (at least for now), I figured I might as well wrap up this particular franchise before moving on to "Star Trek" next week (and I hope to discuss, in a later segment, why these two particular series seem to have generated the highest volume of fan-produced work - far more so than, say, "Battlestar Galactica", "Heroes" or even "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood").

And while I didn't plan it this way, it turns out the best has been saved for last, as today's feature film is Angelo Licata's Dark Resurrection.

If I didn't know "Dark Resurrection" was a fan film, I think I'd be fooled - that's how professional it looks. The CGI's flawless, the camera work is studio-level, the actors play their roles well, and while the story has a few holes in it, it holds together under scrutiny. Yes, it's in Italian, and the English subtitles can be a bit awkward at times, but that's hardly Licata's fault.

The premise of "Dark Resurrection" concerns Sorran, the most powerful Jedi Master of his era. He's become obsessed with finding the Temple of Eron, a place that can supposedly transform people into living embodiments of the Force. Having sacrificed countless apprentices in vain efforts to find the Temple, Sorran finds himself opposed by the Jedi Council, but when they try to shut him down everything goes south. Some time later (or maybe not, we'll get to that in a bit), Jedi Master Zui Mar and his apprentice Hope stumble onto Eron only to find they're not alone; meanwhile, Sorran and his Sith minion Lord Drown join up with a renewed Empire to invade Keys, the central world of the Jedi Order.

Here's where we hit our first hitch: it's very difficult to construct a proper timeline of the events depicted in this film, because Licata is very, very fond of flashbacks. To be fair, this being part 1 of a duology, I fully expect the second half to be less problematic in this respect, but the fact remains that there's no clear chain of events - the film opens with Sorran and the Council, but we have no way of knowing when that happens in relation to the rest of the movie. Has it been days? Months? Years? Organa has a lengthy flashback relating to Hope's childhood, but we have no visual markers to separate past and present events, or how each of the past events fit together. The final scene of Hope in the Temple is equally confusing, and it might take two or three viewings to sort everything out.

Once again we have women front-and-center in a "Star Wars" fan film: Organa and Nemer seem to be running the remnants of the Jedi Order, with Hope as the protagonist. And while we've seen female apprentices before - canonically with the ill-fated and ill-timed Ahsoka, and non-canonically with the aforementioned Karina (and, to a lesser extent, Taryn) - Licata adds a small detail to Hope's backstory that completely changes the way we see her. SPOILER ALERT: why is Zui Mar so determined to stamp out Hope's fear and anger? Because she's a product of the same process that created Anakin Skywalker - conceived through the Force via the Jedi Council as a way of stopping Sorran, and therefore potentially more powerful than any Jedi or Sith. For all intents and purposes, Anakin Skywalker's backstory is attached to a woman who - like Anakin - struggles with the boundary between aggression and tranquility, but - unlike Anakin - isn't obnoxiously bratty about it. On the contrary, Hope is sympathetic precisely because Marcella Braga really manages to communicate her character's internal conflict, something Hayden Christensen was never really able to do.

I think Angelo Licata's objective here is twofold: first, to tell a "Star Wars" story outside the context of the established canon. Now, apparently there's a whole section of the Expanded Universe that takes place some five thousand years earlier, which... I need to check that out, because I'm genuinely curious as to how that would work. And the "Legacy" comic is set a century later. But "Dark Resurrection" goes even further, and the time jump helps because Licata doesn't have to rely on familiar characters and iconic moments - the focus instead turns to the film's own cast. This wasn't really possible with "Revelations" or "Knightquest" since Taryn, Zhannah, Dannikk and Karina had to share both their screen time and their origins with the Emperor, Darth Vader and other characters who were around at that point in the "Star Wars" timeline (and, more importantly, who were most likely to be highly visible during said point).

The other possible objective for "Dark Resurrection" may have to do with its total disregard of any political context: there's no Rebel Alliance, no Separatists, not even a mention of any kind of Republic. The Empire still exists, but they're depicted as a defeated force making a last, desperate grab for power. This particular fan film focuses entirely on the Jedi and the Force, aligning itself more with fantasy than science-fiction. It's an interesting shift in tone, and one that largely succeeds (if only because Lucas bludgeoned any possible interest in the politics of the Star Wars universe by the time "Attack of the Clones" came out).

So in that sense, "Dark Resurrection" does achieve what it seems to be aiming for - glitchy plot structure aside, it does some fairly incredible things given limited resources and cultural differences (because I doubt Italians and Americans interpret "Star Wars" the same way), and I can't wait for the second half.