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No films draw fan filmmakers like `Star Wars'

WASHINGTON—"Star Wars" has lured fan filmmakers since 1977.

It started even before the fan-film genre had its name with "Hardware Wars," a parody that opened with steam irons flying through space and facing off against intergalactic toasters.

The 1978 film "sort of set the mark for how funny and how clever people could be making a parody out of `Star Wars,' " said Steve Sansweet, the director of content and fan relations for Lucasfilm.

He expects a record number of entrants at the fourth Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards competition in Indianapolis next month.

One reason for their popularity is the clarity and familiarity of "Star Wars" characters and the dedication of fans. Another reason is simpler filmmaking technology, especially when it comes to animation. "What's really happened is how easy it has become to edit and do special effects on a Mac or a PC," Sansweet said.

The modern "Star Wars" fan-film era began with the 1997 film "Troops." It's a live-action movie that melds the TV show "Cops" and "Star Wars." In it, "Star Wars" Stormtroopers intervene in a domestic dispute between Luke Skywalker's aunt and uncle. The film inspired a host of other experimental fan films, some of which can be found on the Internet at AtomFilms.com and TheForce.net.

Many fan films are begun but few are completed, according to Frank Hernandez, a part-time actor from New Jersey who's acted in fan films. He estimates that maybe 1 in 12 films is finished.

He recalled one failed "Star Wars" fan film for which the director explained, "I held the shoot and none of my actors showed up."

Many filmmakers and computer-graphics artists hope their fan films will show off their abilities, Hernandez said.

"What they will do is a project ... to build a resume, to build a demo reel, and once they get hired professionally, they will only do one or two (fan) projects."

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To see some fan films on the Web, including a "Hardware Wars" trailer, go to

http://atomfilms.shockwave.com/af/spotlight/collections/starwars

To hook into Lucasfilm's "Star Wars" gathering at Celebration III go to http://starwarscelebration.com

To view "Troops" go to www.theforce.net/fanfilms/shortfilms/troops

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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