I got into Star Wars fan films because, being the selfish and impatient brat that I am, I was unsatisfied with the quantity of material available from official sources. And nowadays, the bar has been raised so high on fan projects looking for YouTube views that many of them wouldn't look out of place on a movie screen themselves. When I'm sufficiently impressed I make them canon as far as I'm concerned. I marvel at how far they've come in really not very long. Because as I sift through fan films from the early to mid 2000s trying to find the good ones, I find a lot of garbage. Maybe that's a bit harsh. If a group of high school friends made some good memories hitting each other with lightsabers then that's all that matters. But that doesn't mean their film deserves to be remembered or watched by anyone else, and indeed in many cases these early low-quality efforts have all but disappeared from the internet. Many of them aren't even on YouTube.
Of course the main issues are the craptastic special effects and video quality, which again I marvel at because that wasn't very long ago. As a result, the best fan films from this era are often parodies or meta-things that are set in the real world and make no attempt to hide it. For example, "The Emperor's New Job" is hilarious if you have a twisted sense of humor, which I do. But a few "legitimate" efforts managed to shine through in spite of their limitations. I have a lot of respect for creativity and ambition. A few, while they may not be as visually impressive as I generally look for when creating my personal canon, impress me enough to overlook that. And one such effort is "Jedi Heritage". This one deserves to be more remembered and more watched than it is. Made in Australia in 2005, it was ahead of its time for several reasons:
- "Jedi Heritage" doesn't have an opening crawl. Prior to "Rogue One" in 2016, most fan film creators thought an opening crawl was obligatory even if their film was five minutes long. After "Rogue One", most fan film creators have stopped using one and I think that's for the better. It stops being special when it's in everything, let alone when it's entirely unnecessary or redundant. Frankly, when watching these older films I usually mute that part because even the best music in the world gets annoying after a while. This film wasn't the first not to use one, but it was one of the few during that time. It takes a more traditional approach of letting you figure out what's going on by watching it, including an impressive "show, don't tell" sequence at the beginning.
- "Jedi Heritage" has all-original music. Nowadays it's the norm, but at that time most understandably just ripped off the Star Wars movie soundtracks which, again, get annoying after a while, especially the overuse of "Duel of the Fates" or "Battle of the Heroes" for lightsaber duels that are nowhere near worthy of such caliber of music. The music here is of course not as good as John Williams' original scores, as most music even by professional composers isn't, but it's different and that makes it better for this situation.
- This film creates digital settings instead of just being filmed in the woods somewhere. Now in fairness, forests are a convenient setting for filmmakers with little or no budget trying to avoid anything too "Earthy" (houses, cars, etc.) and we can suspend our disbelief that so many planets in the Star Wars galaxy have the same varieties of deciduous trees. Maybe they're invasive species that stowed away on freighters, making them a greater threat to the galaxy than any of the three Death Stars ever was. And in fairness, I don't think forests are nearly as common in Australia as in North America and Europe where most fan films are made. The fact remains, however, that these filmmakers were ambitious enough to create an alien-looking environment instead of just using whatever they could find close to their own homes. The results may not be particularly impressive by today's standards, but they were ahead of their time and a lot of work went into them.
- "Jedi Heritage" has two aliens, including one who's an important character with dialogue. One thing I'm sick of in the official movies, to say nothing of fan films, is that humans appear to outnumber every other sapient species in the galaxy millions to one and get to do almost everything of significance ever. I can only assume they were the first species to invent space travel and the last to invent birth control. In the original movie, this was justified by budgetary constraints and a concern that audiences wouldn't connect with a non-human lead. But times have changed. Ahsoka Tano is neither human nor even "real" (so far she's just a cartoon), but she's become one of the most popular characters and most-requested subjects for a future spinoff film that will probably never happen after "Solo" flopped. And look, if you can't afford an elaborate costume or puppet or CGI, you can literally just paint someone green or pink or blue or red and call them an alien. It's better than nothing. For example, this babe (on the left) is a canonical species from the movies (Mirialan) recreated with ease (though they forgot to paint the back of her neck, but whatever).
(Note: although the above film is set in a forest, I like it for using an alien protagonist and for its clever script and especially the chemistry between the alien and the robot.)
- And finally, "Jedi Heritage" has a thought-out story that doesn't revolve around a lightsaber duel. Really, one can presume that there's more going on in the galaxy than Jedi and Sith/Inquisitors/Dark Jedi dueling each other on forest planets, especially during the era when most Jedi are supposed to be dead. This film focuses more on how the Jedi legacy affects a handful of normal people trying to live in peace or do their jobs, and their interactions are what make it compelling, instead of a flashy fight with little or no substance. (See also one of my other all-time favorites, "Days Past", which is little more than a conversation.)
So without further ado, if you're a Star Wars fan you probably haven't watched this and should do so. If you're not a Star Wars fan, a. you should be and b. I don't know why you bothered to read this far, but thanks.
And now, just because I can, here's a more recent fan film that has no relevance other than also being made in Australia. "Jedi Heritage" is overtly Australian because everyone has an accent. This film is overtly Australian because everyone speaks in Strine (with English subtitles available, though I understood most of it from context and an episode of Irregular Podcast!), the music employs didgeridoos, and the plot revolves around the stereotypical Australian love of alcohol (none of which is racist because the filmmakers are themselves Australian). It's a joke, of course, but since it's actually set in the Star Wars galaxy with Jedi and Sith as opposed to being a straight-up parody, I decided to make it part of my personal canon that nobody can take away from me. On a more serious note, the film uses a lot of CGI, including spaceships, vehicles, robots, and a grumpy alien who looks like something from a Mucinex commercial, yet its settings also put Australia's stunning natural beauty on full display. The only thing that could make it better would be if Icehouse's "Great Southern Land" played over a travel montage. Special Edition, anyone?
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.