Saturday, October 17, 2015

"The Rebel's Revenge"

Steve writes:

Star Wars toys have long played a key role in recreating that galaxy far, far away in kids' home movies. J.C. Reifenberg's short film Summer '78 which debuted at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim and was recently made available online nostalgically dramatizes a familiar activity from my youth in the 1990s. I spent many a summer afternoon with my mom's JVC camcorder reenacting Star Wars battles with a variety of vintage Kenner and modern POTF2 figures (with Micro Collection and Galoob Micro Machines mixed in to depict a range of scale). Many of those tapes are unfortunately unaccounted for at the moment, but the "project" that served as their genesis has survived -- that being a short film my family made in 1993 entitled The Rebel's Revenge.

My mom had just started her own videography service with the company name of "Cinema 2 Productions" (which stemmed from her tendency to find herself editing projects at 2am), and her new editing system featured tools for creating titles with a starry background, dissolves, and some cheesy sound effects. She had also just purchased the deluxe complete compact disc set of the Star Wars Trilogy original soundtracks. What more could you need to make a Star Wars movie?

Well, there had to be some form of story. With Star Wars, simplicity was intrinsic. Our "opening crawl" reads:

The princess Leia and 
Cindel have been 
captured by the evil 
Lord Vader and his 
men. Their only hope 
is to be rescued by the 
In this case, it was dictated by the props, costumes, and actors available -- and clearly influenced by the awful live action Ewok films that were constantly airing on the Disney Channel at the time. It's the crossover that every Star Wars fan has always dreamed of.

Any Star Wars movie has to begin with a spaceship of some kind. This is where some vintage Kenner toys took the spotlight for a first act that in retrospect really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but...spaceships, rebels, right? The "battle damaged" X-Wing in the opening shot piloted by a B-Wing Pilot exists in essentially the same state on display in my collection. Sadly, the convertible Snowspeeder flown by the Rebel Commando disappeared many years ago. The expository dialogue spoken by my 8 year old self regarding the imminent Imperial attack is supplemented by my childhood friend who wanted to be sure that Darth Vader (whom he played) was a force to be reckoned with, and he was right!

From here, the rest of the story is portrayed by real actors amidst real sets with practical effects (my favorite being our heroes' getaway aboard the family Ford Aerostar, which in our minds roughly resembled the cockpit of an Imperial Shuttle and the Starspeeder 3000 from Star Tours). We pushed the envelope in terms of taking storytelling risks by arming Vader with a blaster and staging the most epic firefight wherein one Ewok staves off a laser barrage in an open battlefield at point blank range over the course of two days (we began shooting one evening and picked up where we left off the next morning). If nothing else, this may serve as the pinnacle of Stormrooper marksmanship -- or lack thereof.

Other highlights include:
  • My mom's ingenious use of the 1992 Playmates Starship Enterprise for live sound effects (she held the toy directly beside the camera).
  • The introduction of dynamic dodging moves to the laser battle on Day 2.
  • My younger sister (playing Cindel) insisting off-camera "I want this poo poo off of me NOW, mom!" What a typical demanding young actress...
  • The power of the "stun blanket."

Here it is...

A sequel was in the works soon thereafter. We added Yoda and C-3PO masks to the prop department, and I distinctly remember typing out a "script" on our newly acquired Macintosh computer, but it was never meant to be. Though we went on to make many more movies in other genres, action figures replaced human actors entirely in the Star Wars movies I made in the years that followed. Perhaps much like George Lucas, I became too attached to my "toys" and impatient with my (sibling) actors. Or perhaps I just never wanted to reprise my role as the chubby blanket-wearing Ewok named "Swinga."   

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