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How One George Lucas Fan Takes Fan Filmmaking Into His Own Hands

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How One George Lucas Fan Takes Fan Filmmaking Into His Own Hands

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How One George Lucas Fan Takes Fan Filmmaking Into His Own Hands

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It pretty much goes without saying that "Star Wars" fans can be obsessive. That's the whole point. Some keep toys in their original plastic packaging. Others collect merchandise or may have a Han Solo in carbonite standing in their living room. This weekend, George Lucas hopes fans will buy tickets for a new 3D version of the "Phantom Menace." From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando explains how one obsessed fan was inspired to make his own Star Wars films.

BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: Blame Jar Jar Binks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PHANTOM MENACE")

AHMED BEST: (As Jar Jar) No, no, meesa stay, Meesa called Jar Jar Binks. Meesa your humble servant.

ACCOMANDO: When "The Phantom Menace" first came out in 1999, the annoying, slapstick-prone, computer generated Jar Jar Binks became the focus of fan hatred and ridicule.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PHANTOM MENACE")

BEST: (As Jar Jar) Eh gads. Whatta meesa saying.

ACCOMANDO: Meesa saying Jar Jar should have his Gungan tongue cut out. Jar Jar came to symbolize what fans saw as Lucas's flawed creative judgment. One fan was so incensed that he re-cut the movie to reduce Jar Jar's onscreen time. It came to be known as "The Phantom Edit," and gave Star Wars geek Jamie Benning his first taste of fan filmmaking.

JAMIE BENNING: I think when "The Phantom Edit" first came out of "The Phantom Menace," where the editor tried to remove a lot of the silliness and Jar Jar Binks from the movie, you know, I think a lot of people realized that the ability for people to do that kind of thing had finally arrived.

ACCOMANDO: Then in 2006, Benning joined an online group petitioning Lucas to release the Star Wars trilogy in its original form. You know, the one where Han, not the bounty hunter Greedo, shot first. Lucas ignored their pleas. So Benning, a professional editor and full-time Star Wars nerd, took matters into his own hands and created a fan film.

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR WARS" THEME)

ACCOMANDO: Benning's films are unofficial documentaries. He uses footage from the original movies without permission from Lucas. Benning follows the flow of the original films but expands them with things like alternate takes and interviews from commentary tracks. Take this sequence where Benning edits audio from a Star Wars radio drama over footage of deleted scenes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

MARK HAMILL: (As Luke) There's two ships out there, all right. Come on, Treadwell. Get yourself over to the landspeeder. I've got to get into Anchorhead and tell Fixer about this.

(As Luke) Well, get it in gear will you.

ACCOMANDO: On screen text explains that the grainy black and white images comes from what's known as the Lost Cut.

FRANCINE STOCK: Jamie Benning's Star Wars documentaries are like DVD extras squared or even cubed.

ACCOMANDO: Francine Stock is Presenter of BBC 4's "The Film Programme."

STOCK: They're amateur in the true sense of being made by someone who really loves his subject.

ACCOMANDO: But professional in terms of the craft. Benning calls them filmumentaries, and has spent close to a year on each. He makes no money on any of the films because of copyright issues. But Stock says this isn't a hobby, it's a calling.

STOCK: They're more of a compulsion. And indeed they stand or fall on their energy and style.

ACCOMANDO: You could call them a total geek fix.

BENNING: When I made "Star Wars Begins" and put that on YouTube it just seemed to touch a chord with people. I think people had become disillusioned with the Star Wars franchise being spread too thin - certainly people of my age.

ACCOMANDO: Benning's trilogy got more than three million views on YouTube. But just recently the site requested he remove the films. Benning has now uploaded them to Vimeo.

Fan films like his place studios in a quandary. Legally they feel an obligation to defend their copyright, but from a promotions perspective they see how fan films generate and maintain interest in their products in ways that no amount of money can buy. Benning's latest fan doc is called "Raiding the Lost Ark." It focuses on the first Lucas-produced, Steven Spielberg-directed Indiana Jones film. And it serves up another slice of geek heaven.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR WARS" THEME)

INSKEEP: It's NPR News.

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