Mark Sykes’s Sixth Sense of Humour
EVERY NOW AND THEN a sci-fi geek needs a little reassurance that the path he’s chosen is a righteous one. While it’s true that there’s a certain portion of them – sorry, us – that are completely immune to any ridicule being slung their way (for they know their detractors could be silenced with but a wave of the hand and the utterance of a level four banishment spell), there’s a number of geek guys – and girls, of course – who, every now and then, wonder if they’re not just a wee bit old to be learning Klingon, or creating a mini-army of daleks in their basement, or preparing for the day they’ll be picked up by the Xyrilian mothership they’ve been signalling to for the past decade.
I myself am about to face yet another birthday, and so I find myself, somewhat involuntarily, doing a little soul-searching… is it still okay to be a sci-fi geek, or should I buckle down and get back to the ‘real’ world? Send me a sign, oh Universe…
Well, a sign I wanted, and by golly, a sign I received: Star Wars Uncut.
For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, I’ll quickly explain. Star Wars Uncut (SWU) is the brainchild of one Casey Pugh, who in 2009 called on Star Wars fans the world over to select a fifteen-second section of Episode IV: A New Hope, recreate it in any way they liked – any way at all – and send it to him so that he could edit it into a full ‘remake’ of the whole film that would be made freely available online. That’s 473 snippets in total, and the scope of imagination, talent and creativity that went into all of them just completely blew me away.
I don’t know where to start when it comes to describing the good things about this project, and what it represents. Everything’s good about it. Even the ‘bad’ clips are good, but these are in the minority. It really can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. Some of the clips were no doubt shot in a couple of hours, yet some of the animation scenes must have taken ages. Some people scrutinized every pixel of the original to produce some pretty eye-popping backgrounds for their live-action scenes (the shootout before going into the trash compactor immediately springs to mind), and yet a simple office corridor doubles effortlessly for the Storm Trooper attack on the Tantive IV.
The only rule that seemed to govern the whole project was this: there are no rules. The majority of the movie sticks close to the original – sometimes with truly admirable results – but every now and then a section will veer off into abject silliness, such as during the holochess game on the Falcon… Divine is apparently alive and well, ladies and gentlemen. There are dozens of ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-them’ cameos by characters such as Robocop, Captain Kirk, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Teletubbies, and several Indiana Joneses (for obvious reasons), not to mention homages to other films that are too numerous to fit in here – besides, I really don’t want to spoil it for you. If, from my description so far, it sounds like an unholy mess, then I apologise – but I can assure that the whole thing has been put together superbly, and completely deserved the accolades it received, namely four Creative Arts Emmy Awards for Pugh and his three co-producers.
It’s safe to say that the more times you’ve watched the original Episode IV, the more you’re going to enjoy this version, as most of the snippets carefully recreate the small things that we love to look out for (sadly, we don’t get the Storm Trooper fracturing his skull on the door in the Death Star, but there are plenty of other great moments).
Quite a few times I found myself thinking ahead to certain scenes (like the Mos Eisley Cantina) and wondering ‘how are they going to do that?’ and then watching with delight as a handful of wildly different styles came together to bring it all about. During some of the more technical scenes (a great example is the TIE dogfight after escaping the Death Star), I realised that essentially there was little difference between these ‘ordinary Joes’ putting it all together with vacuum cleaners and computer software, and Lucas’ fledgling ILM team, back in ’75 and ’76 (budget notwithstanding, obviously). Every day they faced challenges that started with the question ‘How are we going to make this work?’ and somehow found a way to bring it to screen. All of the SWU contributors have arguably done the same, only in miniature – but that’s not to say that their creativity and passion were any less.
It’s now well known that with the increasing availability of simple film-making equipment, and its user-friendliness, just about anyone can make a movie, and SWU is the epitome of that concept. There’s really no excuse anymore – if there are people out there who can rope in a business of ferrets for the trash compactor scene, and still make it as enjoyable as the rest of the movie, then nobody at all can say they don’t have the resources. One guy used a French loaf for a lightsabre, for Christ’s sake.
Yet another marvel about this movie is the number of kids involved, speaking dialogue that was written when their own moms and dads were their age. These kids are truly lucky to have parents cool enough to be Star Wars fans, and you know they’ve got plenty to look forward to in life. Sometimes, you just need to hear the words “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!” spoken by a twelve-year-old to truly appreciate their impact.
Please, do yourself a favour and watch this project. You may not enjoy every second of it; you’ll probably think some of the acting stinks, or that the Lego version of General Motti didn’t fully convince us that he was being choked by Vader. And if you think that some of the sets look like a ten-year-old made them, keep in mind that that’s probably the case. Remember, these people aren’t actors, or set designers, or directors… yet. I wonder, possibly in as little as ten or twelve years’ time, how many wunderkind filmmakers are going to burst onto the scene with the next Matrix or District 9 and tell us in their first interview that the reason they got into filmmaking in the first place was because they had so much fun making a fifteen-second clip for SWU? Bets are on.
And soon the scramble will start, to claim a precious snippet of the magnificence that is Episode V, because it’s only a matter of time before Casey Pugh confirms that he’s going ahead with his next venture (and wouldn’t you, if your efforts had won you a freakin’ Emmy?). But with the first movie approaching two million views on YouTube at the time of writing, I predict that there are going to be a lot of disappointed people out there who’ll just have to wait yet another year, for when Episode VI goes up for grabs. Just don’t be surprised if Phantom Menace gets the same treatment, and there’s a distinct dip in enthusiasm… the Force ain’t so strong with that one.
Image from Star Wars © 1977 – Lucasfilm Ltd.
What can be said about Mark Sykes?
Film actor, world traveller, model, novel writer, piano and violin player, ballroom dancer, deep-sea diver – he is none of these things.
Actual achievements include the odd play or musical, avoiding death by starvation through singing to people around London, and completing all three Halo games on ‘legendary’ level.
Literary influences include Philip Pullman, Carl Hiaasen and Iain M. Banks. Favourite activities include vacuuming, buying stationery, applying sun lotion to total strangers, catoptromancy, going to Paris to see his brother, getting lost in Derbyshire, and trying hard to tell the truth at all.
After being Something Wicked’s “Man In London” he now lives in Cape Town and is enjoying the sun.