The Mandalorian, Troops, and the Fan-Filmification of Star Wars
If you were alive and online in the 1990s, there is a reasonably good chance you stumbled on the fan-made short film Troops, which reimagines the white-and-black-clad Imperial stormtroopers of Star Wars as head-knocking beat cops in the style of the then-popular police reality show, COPS. Just 10 minutes long with credits, this short went viral back not only before the concept of virality was widespread, but before YouTube or other websites made uploading digital videos easy. Viewing Troops meant downloading the video, typically using a modem and telephone line if you weren’t in an academic or corporate setting with access to high-speed internet; this could take minutes, even hours. Signing up to watch Troops was a commitment.
But people made that commitment, and in droves, partly because the effects-work was surprisingly high-quality for a nonprofessional production and partly because it was genuinely funny, with amusingly accented ride-along confessionals by stormtroopers on the beat, recasting Jawas and other Star Wars–universe types as local ruffians. The mashed-up elements weren’t original, but the parodic synthesis was, and by treating the stormtroopers as ordinary beat cops patrolling local communities, it delivered the sort of world-building that helped make Star Wars an obsession for a generation.
Meanwhile, the distribution mechanism—online fans and friends who insisted that you just had to see it, that it was worth tying up your phone line for an hour or more—was new to most viewers as well. Troops sold the promise of the early internet: that anyone, anywhere with sufficient talent and ambition could make neat stuff and that anyone, anywhere with a connection could have it delivered to their screen without deep-pocketed gatekeepers or intermediaries.
Troops—which went online in 1997, two years before The Phantom Menace and the start of the Star Wars prequel trilogy—also delivered on another promise: At last, there was more Star Wars. Although the franchise had been built out in comics and novels that comprised what was then known as the Expanded Universe, filmed entries in the series were largely dormant. The franchise’s creator, George Lucas, was holding out. Troops was clearly created by a devoted, loving fan. And it catered to a then-unsatiated fan hunger for more (and more and more and more).
Today, Troops is sometimes credited—at least on Wikipedia—as helping to launch the modern fan film movement, and it’s easy to see its legacy, not just in the f
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