Everybody wants a piece of Star Wars. There have been so many fan-made Star Wars shorts that Lucasfilm has started openly assisting in their creation. One of the more ambitious projects in this vein, The Dark Redemption, can be seen on TheForce.net. Users with dial-up connections need not apply, but the film has been making the rounds at sci-fi conventions, which is where we picked up our copy.
Set two days before Star Wars: A New Hope, The Dark Redemption takes place on Kessel (of "the spice mines of" and "run of" fame), where Mara Jade (Leah McLeod) has been imprisoned by an Imperial garrison. While imprisoned Mara receives the Death Star plans from Kyle Katarn (the star of the video game Star Wars: Dark Forces). In the obligatory opening crawl Mara Jade is described as a Jedi working for the Rebellion, which is completely contrary to everything we know about her from official Lucas sources, but never mind.
"I know what must be done. I have
to put Mariah Carey's new album
somewhere it can't hurt anyone."
Boba Fett is also on Kessel, negotiating on behalf of Jabba the Hutt for spice rights with the House Harkonnen... er, we mean Commander Garrok (David Wheeler). Boba's presence in this movie isn't surprising; most Star Wars fan fiction includes the popular bounty hunter. However, his presence detracts from the Mara Jade plot it turns out that the movie is much more about Boba Fett's adventure than about Jade's evolution. We hope the fact that Boba will have a large part in Episode II doesn't destroy the character's mystique.
The Dark Redemption is only 24 minutes long, so we didn't expect much of a plot. What surprised us was how much of the plot and dialogue was slavishly recycled from Star Wars. To rescue Mara, two maverick rebels by the names of Zev (Damian Rice) and Klaus (Jason Chong) arrive on Kessel in the stolen Imperial shuttle Tyderium. They disguise themselves as stormtroopers, and pretend that their Aqualish friend Kashyyyk is a prisoner. The scene plays out exactly like the equivalent scene in Star Wars. And that's not the only direct quote from the real films in The Dark Redemption. Someone is referred to as "our only hope," the response to "how are we doing" is identical to the answer to that question given in Return of the Jedi, and the Aqualish is told to "laugh it up." Darth Vader doesn't have a single line of original dialogue. Note to fan filmmakers: In-jokes are funny. Obsequiousness is tiresome.
"Stardate 65.12.33... I really
don't like the Enterprise's latest refit."
Even when the filmmakers stray from Lucas-written dialogue, though, the results aren't pretty. Typical rejoinders include "Wookie breath" and "grow up laser brain!" And when one character gets pulled after a flying Boba Fett he exclaims, "What a drag!" The writers couldn't resist camping it up at certain points, which destroys the supposedly sinister ending. When contrasted with the twenty minutes of comedic hambone that preceded it, the final dark moments with the Emperor come off like one of Dr. Evil's schticks. We can just hear Mike Meyers laughing maniacally for a few seconds too long.
It's a shame that the script is such a sad piece of work, because otherwise The Dark Redemption isn't bad. With the exception of the control room with its miles-deep shaft (shouldn't they put a safety rail around that?) the sets look professional enough for your average episode of Doctor Who, and the special effects, while obviously home-computer generated, are pretty good. They may overreach their abilities a little bit, as with Boba Fett's flying sequence, but at least they're trying. We prefer to watch movies someone with ambition and the willingness to work for their vision over the dreck made by so-called "pros" who merely look for the quick buck.
"Aren't you a little tubby
for a stormtrooper?"
The cast comprises a handful of semi-professional actors who might as well be amateurs. The woman playing Mara Jade is a looker, which is all that's really required. Peter Sumner reprises the uncredited role as an Imperial Officer he had in the original Star Wars. The guys playing Zev and Klaus probably got their jobs because they could provide their own stormtrooper costumes; their glee in playing at Luke and Han is unmistakable. Just about the only guy who truly annoyed us, though, was David Wheeler as Garrok. He plays his role as a villain as if he were a Nazi in an old Allied Forces propaganda film. Like many a Hammer horror movie, the script really needs some favors from the actors, but they are unable to deliver. Even Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee might have had trouble delivering some of these lines.
"Dude! Now we'll never know
what happened to
Gilligan and the Skipper!"
A few years ago, we would have been impressed enough with the technical proficiency on display here to say more positive things about The Dark Redemption. Unfortunately for these filmmakers, however, the bar has been rising steadily on homemade films. A quick scan of theforce.net's Fan Film section reveals a dozen films with near-professional production values and special effects. One of our favorite short Star Wars fan films, Crazy Watto, is notable for its hilarious delivery despite bargain-basement production values, which highlights a basic fact: the only thing that will truly set a fan film apart from the crowd is a clever idea or a compelling screen personality. This is where The Dark Redemption comes up empty. The final product feels like it was rushed into production, as if the filmmakers were so eager to build droids and animate lightsabers that they didn't bother to wait for a story to match their vision.