Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fans take possession of their favorite fictional characters

Officially, George Lucas decides who gets to tell “Star Wars” stories and Paramount Pictures controls the “Star Trek” franchise. But fans of those and other fictional worlds have their own ideas.

Lots of them.

While big media companies can sometimes go overboard when enforcing their copyrights and trademarks, most have gotten the message that it isn’t wise to irritate their fans. So, they increasingly pretend not to notice when those fans play around with the companies’ intellectual property. As a result, fan-made films are popping up all over the Internet.

Only true “Star Wars” fans like filmmakers Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda, for example, could turn Darth Vader into a comedian.

Well, technically it’s not Darth Vader. It’s Chad Vader, Darth Vader’s hapless brother. But they wear the same costume, and they both sound like James Earl Jones.

Chad Vader, however, isn’t a dark lord of the Sith. He’s the day-shift manager at a supermarket. He has an overbearing boss and an unrequited crush on one of his co-workers. But occasionally he does threaten the stock boys with his lightsaber, not that they’re all that impressed.

Chad is also the star of “Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager,” a popular series of short films online at and Sloan and Yonda’s Web site,

Another comedic take on the “Star Wars” saga is the “Pink Five” series (, which follows a clueless, fast-talking Valley Girl named Stacey, who is always one step behind the story’s heroes and refers to Han Solo has her “boyfriend,” although they’re keeping things quiet so “Princess Hairstyle doesn’t freak out.”

While he is usually overprotective of the “Star Wars” name, Lucas has embraced the community of amateur filmmakers that has grown up around “Star Wars.” He sponsors the annual Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards, and both “Chad Vader” and “Pink Five” are winners of the contest’s highest honor, the George Lucas Selects Award.

Fan fiction, stories fans write featuring their favorite fictional characters, has been a staple of the Internet almost since there was an Internet. You can find fan-written stories about almost anything, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to comic-book superheroes to 1980s cartoon characters. And that’s not counting the stories that mix and match characters from different works. I’m sure someone has written a story about Hannibal Lecter somehow ending up in Victorian London where he is chased by Sherlock Holmes.

And if no one has written that story, someone soon will now that I’ve given them the idea. I could Google it to be sure, but I don’t necessarily want to know.

Some of these stories are funny. Some are serious. And an awful lot are erotic — or pornographic, the difference usually being how well written they are. There is an entire sub-genre of “Star Trek” fan fiction in which Kirk and Spock are more than just friends. The now ubiquitous online term “slash,” used for erotic fan fiction, came from writers labeling their stories as, for example, “Kirk/Spock.”

Fan films are the inevitable next step up from fan fiction. Although, so far, there are no “slash” fan films I know of. If they exist, don’t tell me.

With the cost of digital video cameras and editing equipment going down, almost anyone can make a short film — even one heavy on special effects.

The results can be lame, but they can also be amazing. The best “Star Wars” fan film I’ve seen is “Troops,” a hilarious mash-up of “Star Wars” and the Fox TV show “Cops.” In this case, the “cops” are Imperial Stormtroopers. The suspects in this parody are definitely not presumed innocent.

Some Hollywood filmmakers have long admitted that their works really belong to their fans. Now, however, that’s actually true.

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