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Rants and Raves: ‘Star Wars’

Revisiting an Ever Changing Classic

Jamie Benning's fan doc

Credit: Jamie Benning

Above: Jamie Benning's fan doc "STar Wars Begins."

Today, George Lucas' wildly popular "Star Wars Saga" hits BluRay for the first time but once again Lucas has tweaked the original films that fans loved so well. Here's an option for "Star Wars" geeks: a fan-made doc that's free on the Internet.

"Star Wars" fans have an odd love-hate relationship with George Lucas. We love him for giving us "A New Hope," a film that ignited our imaginations. But as Lucas has gained wealth and power in Hollywood, he was able to revisit his past films and tweak them -- adding CGI effects to clean up the original films, changing the storylines (most famously making Greedo shoot first), and basically pissing off his most loyal fans. This relationship is beautifully examined in the documentary "The People Vs. George Lucas."

For me the problem is that Lucas no longer allows fans access to the original films as they were when first released (unless you held on to your VHS copies). I have no problem with Lucas tweaking his films. He has every right and he has the money to do it. More power to him if that's what the artist or the businessman in him wants to do. But let those of us who love the films as we first saw them to have those films.

Jamie Benning is one fan who decided to fight back and reclaim his beloved film. He has made a series of fan documentaries about the original trilogy. He gathered existing material as well as material submitted by other fans, and created what he hopes is the most complete and comprehensive version of the films for fans to enjoy. The result is brilliant and fascinating. Where else can you see Harrison Ford taking a smoke break on the Millennium Falcon?

Benning's love for the films is apparent and that's what's so appealing to a "Star Wars" geek like myself. Benning's films remind us of why we fell in love with "Star Wars" and that's what's so appealing about his films.

Here's the trailer for his most recently completed "Star Wars" doc "Star Wars Begins."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSMHMOf-DPk&feature=youtu.be

The films are all available online at YouTube (see below) and so far Lucas (who is actually quite tolerant of fan-made films) is letting them exist since Benning is not making any money or profit from the films.

Here's a short interview I did with Benning after we appeared together on a podcast for Mike and Ike (thanks to Mike for alerting me to these docs!). He is currently working on a fan doc about "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I will post a link to that interview as soon as it becomes available.

How long did these docs take to make?

JB: I started "Building Empire" in 2006, it took eight months to complete. "Returning to Jedi" took a year or so. "Star Wars Begins" to me four year to finish. But at that point, I had kids and a busy career to contend with. When you are doing these essentially as a hobby, everything else has to come first.

What inspired you to take this on?

JB: I wanted to make the ultimate audio and visual commentary, push the envelope. I had always been a little disappointed with the official documentaries and thought there was enough material out there to tell a different story in a different way.

What about "Star Wars" do you think captured your imagination?

It was the first time I saw something some all encompassing. It was a universe I could happily live in. I adore the design, the characters and the locations. I was then inspired to work in a creative job. I now work in television as an editor. So it's had a huge effect on my life.

Do you have a favorite piece of found footage?

JB: For "Star Wars Begins" it was a real coup to find the last piece of the original human Jabba scene. It's presented in it's entirety for the first time anywhere. It's not even on the BluRay box set!

What kinds of things have fans sent you to use?

JB: The "Star Wars" fan community is a very giving one. People have been so kind in sending me interviews they have recorded from TV and radio as well as rare documentaries only shown in European regions. There is so much material out there, its just a matter of finding the time and motivation to put it together.

Here are the three documentaries:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vW38mY5RHQ&feature=youtu.be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxIaOSyKSVk&feature=youtu.be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWHWm7ZPnK0&feature=youtu.be

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