Fan Film, Fan Films

Who Killed Star Wars: The Dark Redemption?

The Dark Redemption was one of the first mega-fan films to be produced in the late 1990s—a half-hour flick with relatively high production values, and even a “real” Star Wars actor, Peter Sumner, reprising his role as Imperial Officer Lt. Pol Triedum, a minor character from the original 1977 feature film.

While it had much to offer, however, today The Dark Redemption is mainly remembered as the only fan film Lucasfilm ever threatened legal action against, effectively forcing its producers to shut down the distribution of the film or face the legal consequences. What would make a wildly successful production company get so red in the face about a homegrown project made by enthusiastic fans? Find out after the jump.

TDR was made for an Australian fan film contest sponsored by Force III—a convention held to coincide with the release of The Phantom Menace. On its own, the film would have been notable as it centered around how the Death Star plans were stolen and sent to Princess Leia, and it marked the first time the “Extended Universe” character of Mara Jade appeared on a screen. What’s more, her creator, novelist Timothy Zahn was on hand at Force III and actually saw the flick. His thoughts on the first visual interpretation of his character? Well, you’ll have to dig through my fan film book, , when it comes out later this month to find out. But one thing you won’t find out is why The Dark Redemption got a Cease & Desist order from Lucasfilm.

There were plenty of versions of the story that have floated around since then, ranging from “Lucas didn’t want competition against The Phantom Menace” (ridiculous) to “he wanted to reserve the right to invent the ‘How Leia got the plans’ story himself” (quite plausible) to the rumor that Dark Redemption T-shirts with copyrighted Star Wars characters on them were sold to help fund the production. While The Dark Redemption gets in-depth coverage in my book, I never got a straight answer from anyone associated with the film as to what exactly was in that C&D…until now.

Dwight Boniecki, who co-wrote the Dark Redemption script, finally got back to me a few months too late. Rather than have his answer go to waste, here’s the scoop on why the film was shut down:

The Lucasfilm reaction occurred at a time when any fan-made material was actively pursued by the Lucasfilm lawyers. Several websites had been forcibly shut down, and the only salvation of TDR was that it was made for the competition, and was not going to make a profit. In fact, the film’s website was in operation for almost a year prior to the Cease and Desist order. Everything was going without any concern of Lucasfilm until a tape was sent to a fan convention in the USA in 1999. After an enthusiastic audience reaction, TDR became the buzzword among Star Wars fans, and within a week, the lawyers had moved in with a Cease and Desist order. (Interesting sidenote: Bootleg tapes of this screening were made and surfaced for sale by several Ebay dealers. Thanks to a combined effort of fans, Ebay finally shutdown these bogus traders)

Essentially the Cease and Desist wording [stated that Lucasfilm felt] Star Wars trademark characters were being portrayed in a way which were possibly damaging to the franchise. More so, as I recall, the Cease and Desist was aimed at the website more than the film. We had to supply how many hits the website had and any profits we had made from the website (there were none, so we weren’t that worried).

There were a limited run of T-shirts made, but they did not have characters on them. It was the TDR typeface you see on the crawl with a tagline, “The Empire’s days are numbered,” on the back. They were gray-colored with black type. These were more crew t-shirts, although some may have been sold; I can’t recall, though Lucasfilm would have a very hard time pulling the plug on those as they were only text and some lawyers investigated the legalities IIRC.

The fall-out of Lucasfilm’s C&D on the fan film would play out for a few years, although now the company sponsors the annual fan film competition beloved by many fan film fans. Still, it’s fair to wonder how popular TDR could have become had it not been stalled by Lucas’ lawyers. Would it have reached Troops-level icon status? Share your thoughts below in the comments.

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No Responses to “Who Killed Star Wars: The Dark Redemption?”

  1. Michelle G

    Unfortunately, George Lucas is a person with much more false importance, than money. I know for some of you, this fact is hard to believe, but it is true. I worked at The Ranch for a short time and saw it first hand. Simply put, he’s the biggest “one hit wonder” in the history of the known universe. If you look at everything creatively, this man has tried to do, outside of Star Wars, they’ve all been artistic and financial disasters (Sorry dude, Spielberg was much more responsible for “Raiders” than you were). Conesequently, he winds up with more money than God, and no “creative outlet.”

    I have seen, on more than one occasion, Lucas himself in the late eighties, through the early nineties, say that he was not making any more Star Wars movies, or doing anything further with the Star Wars franchise. Again, simply put, after all the creative failures, he returned to the Star Wars universe, (much to the delight of the fans) and further embarrassed himself, with not only the horrible butchering of the original trilogy, but those God forsaken prequels as well. Granted, each of those endeavors were very profitable, hence even more crap that gets thrown our way, like the Clone Wars animated movie, but I’ll get to that later…

    That fact however, does not mean those were good creative choices. Hey, I get it… It’s his sandbox and he can do what he wants with his stuff, and believe me when I tell you, I support the hell out of that. BUT, I think it’s pretty damn obvious to more people than Lucas himself thinks, that he’s not the “creative genius” he thinks he is. Now, one might say: “Well, look at all his money, the EMPIRE he built, blah, blah, blah…” Yes, very true… However, what has HE HIMSELF done, since Star Wars, now that he HAS all the money, power and creative freedom to do WHATEVER THE HELL HE WANTS, that’s worth anything??? Zero. ZERO.

    Instead of what the Prequels COULD have been, we got horrible casting, even worse acting, bad story lines, too much CG bullshit, Yoda hopping around like a frog on crack, and to top it all off, JAR JAR BINKS… Need I say more?

    MY opinion on why TDR got the C&D;
    Lucas isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, but the man isn’t stupid… He sees the sheer mass of the fan film movement and what it means to HIS fanbase. Of course, PUBLICLY he’ll support it. But deep down, I think he sees younger, more talented guys doing things with characters HE created that are starting to get better and better… Better perhaps, in the minds of some, than what he himself is doing. So… What does he do? He throws a little temper tantrum and blasts them with a C&D, just like Fox and WB did to the guy who made “Batman Dead End” because they can’t handle someone showing them the RIGHT way to do something.

    So shame on you, George Lucas. Yeah, you’ve got all the best lawyers (not to mention everything else) that money can buy, but what you don’t have, and will never get back, is HEART, PASSION and DRIVE. Those things I’m afraid, just cannot be bought.

  2. While my feelings on the annual Fan Film Contest that Lucasfilm sponsors are mixed—as well documented here on FCT—I have to give the company/Lucas credit for deciding to go with the flow. Seeing that clearly fans were going to keep make these movies despite legal threats, they must have realized that attacking the Star Wars faithful wasn’t a good strategy. Instead, they made the best of the situation and decided to treat it like free marketing, going so far as to make a contest out of it. Now, sure, the contest rules are set up to ensure that fan filmmakers behave themselves when playing in the Star Wars universe—a move that creates something akin to consensual censorship on the filmmakers’ part—but it’s still a positive step.

    Many companies that initially tried the C&D route, like DC Comics and Paramount, have come around to the position that they’re better off letting fans mess with their properties, and they don’t bother with the legal threats anymore. Other comapnies—most recently Fox, which fired off a C&D to a Max Payne fan film this past spring—don’t feel that way.

    As for Batman: Dead End, to my knowledge, Sandy Collora has never said he was sent one; in fact, at least early on after the film’s release, he said on more than one occasion in the press that he was surprised that he hadn’t gotten one. But if he did get one and I just didn’t hear about it, how was Fox involved?

    Thanks for writing in!

  3. Michelle G

    I spoke to Sandy about this last night (He loves your blog, by the way). He did indeed get a C&D from 20th Century Fox, in regrads to the Aliens and Predator aspect of “Batman Dead End”. Again, proving my point; Look at the two AVP films… CRAP. Pure CRAP. What Sandy did with the Aliens and Predators for the 4 minutes they were on screen in his fan film, was far better than anything that was in those abominable AVP movies.

    Here’s another little tidbit that illustrates just how far the people in the studio sysytem have their heads up their own asses;
    Sandy did really meet at Fox to discuss directing AVP. he told me years ago, that there were several meetings with Alex Young and even got in to see Hutch Parker. What he told me, was that they liked him, his energy, and thought he had a lot of talent, but they would never entrust a franchise like this to a first time director.

    Well, AVP came and went… Yawn. Now, regarding the second installment of this masterpiece of a franchise, what do they do? They give it to not one, but TWO first time directors… The Strausse brothers??? Please… Even when you could see what the hell was going on, it was shit. And that script??? Shane Salerno is the biggest hack in the business.

    Granted, I know Sandy very well, and I’m a HUGE fan of his work, so I may be a bit biased, but please… Don’t get me started. Like a lot of fan film guys out there, Sandy has more talent in his little pinky than A LOT of these guys that are directing big budget pictures for nthe studios.

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