This new feature-length fan-made documentary on the classic 1977 movie is a real labour of love for Jamie Benning, and an absolute must-see for all Star Wars obsessives. Also known as ‘Jambe Davdar’ (don’t ask me, folks!), the 34 year old Londoner works as an editor in sports television, and has already produced two earlier documentaries, Returning To Jedi and Building Empire (as to the content, the clues are in the titles). Star Wars Begins has been four years in the making, and the hard work is clearly evident in the final product. If only the official dvd extras were this good! Thus far there’s been no clampdown by Lucasfilm and one can only hope the great bearded one himself has seen (or been made aware of by his young apprentices) this remarkable achievement. I particularly enjoyed the clips from the film that showcase the original on-set audio; Dave Prowse’s voice is just hilarious as Darth Vader, and one wonders how on Earth the man ever thought that Lucas would keep his West Country tones on the soundtrack. Behind-the-scenes footage of Ford, Hamill and Fisher in action highlight the camaraderie between the three young actors, and it’s particularly refreshing to see and hear Mr Ford apparently enjoying himself, if only the crusty old bugger would crack a smile or two these days!
Benning first saw Star Wars in 1980 on a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back, and that was it. He collected all the action figures, the comic books, and anything else he could get his hands on. After all these years, and countless re-issues of the original trilogy on video and dvd, I asked him why he felt the need to produce his own documentaries:
Jamie Benning: The DVD release of the trilogy in 2004 had a good documentary but it was a straight forward talking heads affair. I wanted more deleted scenes and anecdotal interviews with the cast and crew. I also thought that the DVD commentary idea could be pushed into the visual realm given the amount of material available for the series.
Starburst: But four years?
JB: Star Wars Begins was made over a four year period but it took about one year to research and produce. The reason it took four years was because I had kids, moved house and I have a busy job taking me all over the world. The very nature of making something like this without being paid means that it's hard to be motivated and find the time to work on it.
SB: Despite the deafening silence coming from Lucasfilm, it seems that the fans themselves have taken your films to their hearts.
JB: I've had nothing but positive reactions really. The videos have now had 2.7million views on YouTube since Feb 2011. I've also been interviewed by BBC radio, FHM in Australia, dozens of websites and had reviews in far flung places, from The New York Times to a small based Culture magazine. I receive dozens of emails each week from people thanking me. It's been a great few months.
SB: But an endorsement from the great man himself wouldn’t go amiss, surely? The flip side, of course, is Mr Lucas feeling a bit miffed at being shown how to do his job. Are you worried that your hero could become your nemesis?
JB: Lucasfilm have not been in touch. They are definitely aware though. They have not requested my videos be taken down so that's about as much of a reaction as I expect from them. I do have a contact who knows people at ILM who said they loved it.
Interestingly, Lucasfilm have added a new commentary from archival cast and crew interviews to the Blu-ray. That may be in reaction to my work! I've always stated that these projects are non profit making. In fact they have probably cost me a couple of thousand pounds overall. So Lucasfilm shouldn't be too worried. The minute you start selling DVDs with copyrighted material on them you are entering into a different and dangerous arena. I've never done that and never will. Some people find it unbelievable that I haven't made money from all this work but that was never my intention. I just did it for fun and for the fans.
SB: But it’s the fans that really matter, I suggest, and you must be heartened by their response?
JB: Initially I tried to reply to every comment and piece of feedback. But one day back in February I got 270 emails over night. I knew at that point that I would have to take a bit of a step back. Six months on, things have calmed down a bit so I am able to answer most emails again. Everyone has been so kind. It's great to hear that I have helped rekindle people's interest in the original film amongst an otherwise diluted franchise.
I've had a couple of thumbs down on YouTube. But with 2.7 million views that's pretty good going. There have been no actual negative comments.
SB: And are there more documentaries on the cards for the fans to start salivating over?
JB: I initially made Building Empire in 2006, Returning to Jedi in 2008 and Star Wars Begins in 2009. I have already made some good progress on Raiding the Lost Ark, it should be out in the next 6-8 months. They are some of my favourite films. I love The Empire Strikes Back and I think it's the best of the trilogy. But it couldn't exist without the first, groundbreaking film. Order of preference? Star Wars, Empire, Jedi. I am not a fan of the prequels. Some of the fans can't believe that of me. But more Star Wars isn't necessarily a good thing.
And on that sacrilegious note, it only remains for me to give Jamie a massive metaphorical slap on the back and thank him for his almighty efforts in enriching the lives of Star Wars fans the world over. A job at Skywalker ranch can only be a matter of time.
STAR WARS BEGINS can be viewed on YouTube (until Mr Lucas says it can’t)