It’s been one week since the opening of Han Solo: A Star Wars Story was released in movie theaters across the country. To date, I’ve seen it three times, and I have to tell you – I love it! Am I going to say more than that about the newest Star Wars movie? At this particular point in time, no. In the future, sure, but not now. There’s the real possibility that you haven’t seen it yet, and I don’t want to say – even potentially – anything that could/would give away anything. While I’m taking Solo: A Star Wars Story off the discussion table, there is one film I’d like to tell you about – one I recently came across that is impressive, most impressive.
Stepping Into A Larger World. [Top] Both Star Wars fans, Louis Chapman, left, and Reno Muren, right, were thrilled when they got the news they were to be cast in Scout: A Star Wars Story. Louis was in Dubai [United Arab Emirates] when he received word he garnered the lead role, Pvt. Dax Orrell. “It was a great Christmas present!” the avid hiker recalls. “I thought a fan film would be so much fun to do, and it was!” Reno, who took on the part of TB-434, heard about Scout through Louie, a former classmate of hers. “[Louie] said he was going to be in this fan film. He showed me some other clips from Preston’s [Yarger] and Nic’s [Alayo] work, and I’d heard good things about the experience on set with them so I kind of hunted Preston down. [I] sent him a message on Facebook saying I was interested. I wanted to play a female Trooper in a more ‘real’ version of this world we’ve known for years on the big screen. I was too interested to pass it up.”
I was delightfully surprised to find Scout: A Star Wars Story takes place during Return of the Jedi, my favorite Star Wars film. The fan film is a well thought-out, intriguing examination of what might happen to soldiers – on both sides of a battle – who begin to see things a bit differently. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first. The audience is drawn into the story immediately – even though one doesn’t see any action unfolding onscreen when the film opens. Instead, you hear voices raised in alarm as blaster fire rages all around, TIE fighters screech by, AT-STs trudge through the brush. They are sounds Star Wars fans can identify immediately – thanks to the incredible work of Sound Designer Ben Burtt and his team at Lucasfilm. The fact that we don’t see the action happen but merely hear all those sounds emanating through the speakers draws the viewer into the story – because you want to see what is going on. After about one and one-half minutes, you get that chance. 🙂
Before I go any further, I invite you to watch Scout. In fact, I’d really like you to because I am going to talk about it in detail. I don’t want to ruin anything for you [there are a couple of surprises]. The fan film is only 10 minutes, 16 seconds long. So, before reading any further, head on over here, and then come right back to finish reading. 🙂
Wasn’t that good?
“We thought it would be cool to focus on [a story] that doesn’t involve Jedi and lightsabers,” co-writer/co-director Preston Yarger explains. “Both Nic [Alayo] and I are big Star Wars people, and our dream is to work on a Star Wars project. This was a way for us to touch this [dream] lightly.”It seemed as if the Force played a role in bringing the two young men together. Nic, originally from New York and grew up in Florida, and Preston, an Oregon-native, both wound up at the same college – John Paul the Great University [not far from San Diego]. Their friendship was cemented when they discovered they both have a love of filmmaking and Star Wars [The Empire Strikes Back holds top Saga honors for both]. In the fall of 2016, the friends began talking about making a fan film – ostensibly to enter in the Star Wars Fan Film competition in 2017 [sadly, the festival didn’t occur last year, but the twosome decided to create their film anyway]. By the time the young filmmakers returned to school from their holiday break, they had a firm idea in place. “Once we figured out what we wanted to do, we reached out to the San Francisco branch of the 501st,” Preston recalls. “They were a huge help to us.” In fact, the Golden Gate Garrison’s Jonathan Carlson shared the role of TB-434 with Reno Muren, and a few of the legion’s members supplemented crew positions. “I didn’t actually get to move around too much in the armor because of [its] fragility and its protective owner – understandably so,” says Reno, who takes over TB-434’s role at the end of Scout. “That being said, the suit was very much too large for me when my time in it came about [to play my part so I wouldn’t really be able to move in it anyway]. It was still an awesome experience!” Choosing a weekend in February 2017 to film, Preston and Nic piled their cast, crew and gear into two vans. They made the long trek from Southern California [near San Diego] northward to the home of the giant redwoods – and where the Endor scenes of Return of the Jedi were filmed. Everyone’s excitement grew as they neared the Bay Area and the chance to film where George Lucas and Director Richard Marquand brought their cast and crew to “double” as Endor. “One of the best experiences ever was to see those trees,” cast member Louie Chapman notes with awe. “What a sight to drive down the Avenue of Giants. We even drove through a tree!”
Preston and Nic procured the necessary permits to film on location. First order of business upon their arrival at the national park was to engage in some location hunting. “Driving into the area was like entering a new planet,” Louie continues. “Truly, it was absolutely stunning! There’s nowhere that comes close to the redwoods. They’re life on a huge scale! Just being in this environment allowed us to be real.” Reno, 22, concurs: “It was pretty trippy. [It] definitely put me in a different headspace because it really doesn’t look real!” The entourage wasn’t expecting wet weather when they arrived at their destination. “Rain was not in the forecast,” Preston remembers, but because the area is known to get a great deal of rainfall, the crew was prepared. As it turned out, it did rain … but no one really minded the moisture falling from the sky. “It wasn’t so heavy that it was unbearable,” Nic adds. “We all were s-l-o-w-l-y getting soaked. Everyone was so excited and engaged in making this story, though, that it really didn’t matter to anyone that it was raining. Most of all, we were concerned about keeping the equipment dry, and doing our best to keep Louie, Reno and Jonathan as dry and comfortable as possible.” In the end, the rain added a level of authenticity to the story, Nic says.
The story of Scout: A Star Wars Story centers on a young Rebel soldier [played by 23-year-old Dubai-native Louie Chapman]. Pvt. Orrell gets separated from Strike Batallion, and in his effort to reconnect with the rest of his compatriots, finds himself at odds with Scout Trooper TB-434. Believing that he finally has escaped the clutches of his scout trooper adversary, Orrell is surprised to find out that he did not dispatch his enemy. [I hope you have watched the fan film because I am about to announce a huge reveal! (You have been warned. Twice.)] The scout trooper, now helmet-less, stands. The two adversaries take point blank aim at each other. The emotions each is feeling are evident on the faces of both Rebel soldier and Imperial scout trooper. For the first time, each is faced with a huge decision. As Louie puts it, “[Orrell] sees his true opponent is a person who is just as human as he is.” Can he – will he shoot her? Will she shoot him? Rare as it is to find any detractors among the 67,000+ views of Scout, those that do exist have a problem accepting the fact that two enemies would ever consider not shooting – and killing – the other. [From my point of view, they missed the meaning of what Scout is all about.] “I [as Pvt. Orrell] don’t know her, but I see this person, and it goes through my mind that she could be someone’s sister, somebody’s daughter,” Louie explains. “When that helmet comes off, you see a side of someone you didn’t see before.” The fact that the scout trooper is female means she could be someone’s sweetheart, too. Perhaps Pvt. Orrell’s [the thought crossed my mind]? The answer: No.
“Being at war is something I have never personally experienced but just the research and empathetic understanding of the human condition certainly puts you in the headspace of somebody who doesn’t want to see more death than necessary,” Reno points out. “In my shoes, the thoughts and emotions in that stand-off were profoundly impacted by the understanding of one another as people, not just enemies or soldiers. Orders and instinct get confused in situations where you know you’re in danger, alongside your morals and compassion being a bit out of whack. At least I imagine they would be after being forced to kill for a cause, regardless of how much you believe in it. That moment, to me, is as simple as two people staring death in the face knowing that they could choose not to take another life despite their orders, despite their causes. It’s compassion and acceptance of ‘the opposition’ in its purest form. I think moments like that aren’t portrayed enough because in the end, we’re all just people taking the lives of other people just like us.”
Best Friends? [Left] Who say an Imperial soldier and an Ewok can’t be friends? The Golden Gate Garrison’s Jonathan Carlson, who took on the more active portion of TB-434’s role, had a companion during quieter moments on the set of Scout.
While some viewers could not accept the fact two enemies would choose an outcome other than what was expected of them, Reno’s and Louie’s performances were spot on from Nic’s and Preston’s points of view. “It wasn’t meant to be a romantic connection,” Preston stipulates. “The story was geared more to seeing the humanity of the enemy. With the helmet on, the [scout trooper] is faceless. Once it’s removed, he [Orrell] recognizes there’s a human under that mask.” Nic adds: “We know there are plot holes but our plan was to attack this [story] with what we knew we could do in one weekend. We wanted to show the humanity that exists in people.”
Fan reactions to Scout: A Star Wars Story have been predominantly positive, and quite a few have encouraged Preston and Nic to do a sequel to Scout. That isn’t in the cards. “However, we want to do another Star Wars fan film,” Preston proposes. “It just isn’t going to be a sequel to Scout.” Whatever is next on the agenda for Preston and Nic, we’ll just have to wait and see. As far as this effort is concerned, both young filmmakers have created something of which they can be proud. “This was a passion project,” Preston says. “[We were] happy enough just to shoot it. The great reception we’ve had has been a bonus. I’m very proud of it, and very glad we did it.”
I may share with you … from time to time … a Star Wars fan film I come across that I think you would be interested in seeing. Please be advised – these are my opinions only, and do not reflect the opinions of either Coffee With Kenobi or Lucasfilm.
Until next time,
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