Review: Star Was Theory’s Vader fan-film, Shards of the Past

Darth Vader in Shards of the Past

Minor spoilers for the Star Wars Theory fan-film ahead!

If you’re a big Star Wars fan, and I assume you are if you’re reading this, you might be aware of the YouTube channel Star Wars Theory. The channel has been run by a mysterious and unknown Star Wars fan, putting together exciting movie theories and explaining events from comic books and novels for the last few years. The videos are typically short, often falling between 10-15 minutes, so it’s a fun way to kill a little time online while satisfying your inner nerd.

A while back, SWT began work on a massive fan-film project. He started a Kickstarter with a goal of over $1 million to make a feature-length Darth Vader film, complete with high-quality special effects. But through an agreement of sorts with Lucasfilm, SWT was forced to scale it back to just a 16-minute short film that ended up costing around $150,000 – personally financed, with none of it coming through crowd-funding. And so on December 20, SWT released the final cut of Vader Episode I: Shards of the Past.

It should be noted that the other stipulation from Lucasfilm was that he not run ads or take admission for the movie, effectively refusing to make any money off of it. While we have linked the movie at the bottom, we at the Cloud City Chronicle also do not run ads and therefore are not aiming to monetize his good work in any way. All of our content is offered for free, although we do have a Patreon account which is linked at the bottom of every story. Anyway, on to the review!

When grading Shards of the Past, you can’t ignore the fact that it’s a fan-film. Held up against a major production with a Disney-scale budget, no fan-film could possibly measure up. That all being said, Shards of the Past is really well done. It might be the best Star Wars fan-film out there. The movie is set eight months after the events of Revenge of the Sith, and while it’s obviously not part of the official story, it does well fitting into the timeline without taking a wrecking ball what has already been established in Star Wars canon.

What I really love about how the movie is written is that Vader still feels the conflict after having chosen the path to the dark side, which cost him his wife and his body. The entire opening sequence hammers that home in a display of stunning visual effects. There are plenty of twists and turns, but it’s all very true to the character in this moment of his development. Even the dialogue, although spoken from Vader, echoes the submissive tone of Anakin Skywalker.

That brings us to Jesse Gomez, who voices Darth Vader. In short, Gomez is absolutely phenomenal. The voice is Vader, in both the sound and the tone in which the lines are delivered. It’s clear that it’s not James Earl Jones, but that’s not a negative nor is it distracting. As an aside, if Disney ever decides to do a real Darth Vader movie someday, Gomez should absolutely be considered to voice the character (assuming Jones, who will turn 88 in January, is not an option).

Stormtroopers are seen and heard throughout the movie, and Darec Goheen does a marvelous job with the voices. Any time a stormtrooper can be heard speaking, it’s an immediate throwback to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It’s not just about the sound of the voice, which is spot on, but also the way the dialogue is written. In general, Goheen knocked it out of the park.

The scenery in Shards of the Past is somewhat hit and miss. On the planet that Vader visits toward the end, it’s absolutely exquisite. It would be too much of a spoiler to name the planet or describe the surroundings, so you’ll have to take a look for yourself to get a better idea. But that’s probably only about two minutes of the overall movie, with the majority taking place in Emperor Palpatine’s throne room aboard a star destroyer.

The room has an extremely small feel to it, without any sort of décor on the walls. That doesn’t exactly jive with what we know of the character and what we’ve seen in the movies. Palpatine’s throne room on the second Death Star was massive – and for some reason, contained a giant shaft leading to a reactor – while his office in the prequels contained all sorts of little statues and artifacts in the background. The guess here is related to budgetary restrictions, which is understandable.

While we’re on the topic of Palpatine, there is one minor downside in the film. Bradley Klein’s Palpatine impression comes off more like parody in delivery. Often the lines are spoken too quickly, and the tone frequently lacks the gravel of Ian McDiarmid. When attempting to replicate familiar words or phrases such as “Anakin Skywalker” or “there is a great disturbance in the Force,” Klein comes very close. But when unable to mimic lines directly from McDiarmid’s Palpatine, he unfortunately falls short.

However, it’s a minor blip in what is otherwise a fantastic film. Director Danny Ramirez needs a mention, as does the really cool scene where the burned remains of Anakin’s body are briefly on display. Shards of the Past simply doesn’t disappoint.

During a Q&A session after it premiered, STW noted that making Episode II would cost roughly $200,000. Again, Lucasfilm insists that he not raise money via crowd-funding, but instead use his own money. So while he wants to continue his fan-film saga, it may be some time before the cliffhanger at the end of Shards of the Past is resolved. Although, there are some major context clues as to who the mystery character is.

When Disney planned to release Solo: A Star Wars Story last April, they missed out on a big part of what Star Wars is today. The first three movies of the Disney era all released in December, making the holiday season synonymous with Star Wars. Considering how close Solo was in proximity to the release of The Last Jedi, possibly the most polarizing Star Wars film to date, it’s fair to wonder whether it might’ve been more successful at the box office had they simply waited.

So what we’re left with this December in the way of Star Wars content is Shards of the Past. Yes, it’s a fan-film and yes, the run-time is less than any episode of Clone Wars. By the time you get really excited about where it’s headed, the credits are rolling. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Shards of the Past is really good for what it is, and a total joy for any die-hard Star Wars fan.

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