With film technology becoming more readily available to blooming film production companies, 2016 has brought some of the best Star Wars fan films to date. There are fans out there that don’t like to think outside of what is considered canon, but I believe that these independent storytellers often have interesting takes on current characters and a knack for introducing new blood into the current themes.
This list contains my top five favorite fan films from 2016. I highly recommend giving them all a shot because each one was driven by a passion for the Star Wars universe and a mission to further the boundaries of independent filmmaking.
1. Darth Maul: Apprentice // T7 Production
Directed by Shawn Bu
Taking the top spot on my list for the top ten fan-made Star Wars films of 2016 is T7 Production’s incredibly realistic film, “Darth Maul: Apprentice”. The time and passion that went into this short film certainly paid off and what we get is some seriously badass Darth Maul footage which is a rarity.
The film follows Darth Maul in what would appear to be pre “Phantom Menace” settings with Darth Sidious testing Maul as a Sith apprentice. Because of the pitiful screen time Darth Maul received in the first prequel movie, it was awesome to see an extension of his cutthroat lifestyle and wicked war paint.
Throughout this short, Maul takes on a squad of Jedi and the result is fifteen minutes of straight action and lightsaber fight scenes. Props to the editing teams on this one. Incredibly realistic special effects in a practical setting is the best way to show the Star Wars universe in my opinion and they certainly did the films justice.
Another thing that stood out for me was a cutscene showing Darth Maul’s ship arriving at the forested planet; not a cheap thing to include in films, let alone a fan-made film. Nonetheless, it is essential for painting the Star Wars universe and captivating the audience with recognizable features.
Learn more about the making of this short film here: https://youtu.be/aDCNTLzTgSo
2. TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story // Unboxed Films
Directed by Samtubia & Samgoma Edwards
Winner of the 2016 Filmmaker Select Award at Star Wars Celebration Europe, “TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story” features a look inside the personal life of a stormtrooper; something you don’t see enough in the Trilogy movies predating “The Force Awakens”. Looking at the galaxy-wide conflict with the Empire and the Rebels, this film promotes the propaganda and experiences from the Empire’s point of view (I’m looking at you, Rebel scum).
Inside “TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story”, you see a young boy whose only dream is to fight for the Empire to protect those he loves. The ending is breathtakingly beautiful and I hope this spurs talk of more Stormtrooper-themed movies in the future.
Looking at the filming style, Samtubia & Samgoma Edwards did an excellent job making the battles feel authentic and raw by using muffled explosions blended with blurry visuals of debris flying around. With the limited budget, this gave it a touch of realism which was a clutch choice from the production team. The climax of this film was extremely heartfelt, and brings raw emotion to the usually faceless Stormtroopers; something “Clone Wars” needed desperately, but ultimately lacked.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film’s story progression and visual effects, but I will say that some of the effects are intense and the shots rely heavily on blurred backgrounds and lens flairs. However, these shots did not stand out from the film as a whole because they were backed up by a fitting musical score and quality acting.
Directed by Stephen Vitale
Directed by Stephen Vitale, “Hoshino” is a short film that follows a young Jedi apprentice and her journey to becoming one with the force. The film surprised me and if it wasn’t for the intense attention to detail and in-depth emotional themes in “TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story”, it would easily make the number two slot.
The visual effects used to show the force were subtle, but also detailed and flawless; proving that you don’t need to pour millions into a special effects budget for quality results. My favorite shot was Hoshino slowly assembling her lightsaber with the force while it hovers in front of her. All of the pieces are floating in front of her and it captures your eye in a visually pleasing way.
Content-wise, Hoshino’s premise is a simple one, but captures your attention with an inspiring music selection and memorable quotes regarding the force and finding balance from Hoshino’s master.
4. Kara // Whitelist Collective
Directed by Joe Sill
“Kara” is the most unique fan-made film on my list as it doesn’t rely on current canon characters. It brings a fresh spin on the casualties of the ongoing battle against the Empire. The cinematography in this short is certainly breathtaking and does a great job of depicting the classic desert planet landscape.
The plot follows a rebel pilot who is shot down over a barren desert. The pilot joins a couple of travelers, one of which is an inexperienced and unstable force user whose family and home was destroyed by the Empire. Even with her inexperience, the force user keeps a whole squadron of Stormtroopers at bay so that her companions can continue their mission to find safety with the Rebels.
5. Rebel Scum // Blood Brother Cinema
The last fan made film on our list shows a grittier side of the Star Wars universe. Similar to the plot of “Kara”, “Rebel Scum” follows a Rebel pilot who is shot down over a Hoth-like landscape. With a bloodied face, this pilot desperately searches for any sign of rescue, but is ultimately failing in his attempts until he comes across a wounded Snowtrooper.
With a dated filter, this film looks like it was filmed back in the days of the original trilogy. I think it pays appropriate homage to “The Empire Strikes Back” (although it doesn’t include any tauntauns). It even features a stop-motion AT-AT. How cool is that! The costumes were weathered to perfection and reflect the hardships of the snowy landscapes. Producing this short was no easy task. It was filmed on location in -30C degree weather at Columbia Icefield in northern Canada.
Check out an informative Behind The Scenes video here: https://youtu.be/eI52miU5Uyk
Honorable mention goes to “Jakku: First Wave”. Three First Order Stormtroopers are humanized during a discussion just before the Battle of Jakku. The emotion is real in this one. Even though it is only three minutes, it really dives into the personal lives of Stormtroopers. I would love to see a longer edit come out of this.