‘Star Wars Uncut’: The world remakes a classic

Aug. 26, 2010 | 3:22 p.m.

Star Wars Uncut,” which is waiting for you at www.starwarsuncut.com, is a shot-for-shot crowd-sourced remake of “Star Wars,” diced into 15-second segments and re-created, reenacted, reanimated and recontextualized piece by piece by fans from around the world. Conceived by 26-year-old Casey Pugh – formerly a developer at Vimeo, on whose platform “Uncut” lives — the project began last year. But it reached fruition earlier this month when an official, perfectly imperfect shadow version of the original film, stitched together from 472 component parts (selected by vote from multiple entries), went live on the Internet. And on Aug. 21, at the Academy of Television Arts & Science’s Creative Arts awards, the website won a Primetime Emmy in the category Interactive Fiction…


It is, foremost, hilarious and strange, a stunt and a hoot, a crazy idea — crazy good idea! — that actually got done. But in the way it engages mass and individual enthusiasms and kaleidoscopically refracts the source material, focusing so many different points of view back on the same, well-known object, it is also exhilarating, beautiful and, intentionally or not, a sort of work of art. (You could get it into the Whitney Biennial anyway, with the right statement attached.) It’s also just a party, a celebration of a fantasy whose influence unites generations (unlike, say, “The Phantom Menace,” which divides them), and blows across borders.

Appropriately, the characters are played by persons whose size, age, sex or nationality do not necessarily mirror those of the original cast. But there are also roles for store-bought action figures and paper-bag puppets, for items of food and household appliances, for dogs and for cats. It has been shot in bedrooms, backyards, offices and automobiles, animated with pen and with mouse, in ink and in clay. Some of it is rough and naive; some of it expert and allusive; there are parodies of anime, of “Yellow Submarine,” of 1970s grindhouse flicks. But it’s that very range of styles and of capabilities that makes it so unpredictably brilliant. The whole is exactly the sum of its inventive, rapidly changing parts.

For all that it is newfangled, it’s also fundamentally old-fashioned. In days of yore — not so long ago or far, far away as all that, but before movies and television, radio and records turned us into habitual consumers of other peoples’ inspirations — humans made their own fun: They entertained themselves by entertaining one another. They played the piano, sang in the parlor, wrote poetry, painted pictures. (It’s all there to see in Jane Austen and “Meet Me in St. Louis.”) “Star Wars Uncut” may exist by virtue of a fleet of modern technologies, but in that it is homemade and participatory, it recalls an older world of amateur theatricals, puppet shows and party pieces.

It’s an argument — not the first, obviously, but a particularly persuasive one — for the way in which digital technology can profitably democratize the production and distribution of arts and crafts. But at the same time it’s also a reminder that “Star Wars” itself comes out of a different, pre-digital-everything time, that it was made with models and sets, hand-painted mattes and old-school optical printers, back when ILM was just a warehouse in the Valley filled with crazy kids paid to build stuff and blow it up. That’s the spirit at play here.

– Robert Lloyd

twitter.com/LATimesTVLloyd

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