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Star Wars: Return of the Jedi ended on a triumphant high note with Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, R2, and C-3PO celebrating the fall of the Galactic Empire after the Battle of Endor. But what was that crushing defeat like for the losing side, for those Imperial fighters who were left behind?
Writer/director Kevin T. Custer wanted to answer that very question, and the answer became his Star Wars short fan film, Alone, which centers on a lone Stormtrooper (James Shi) evading bloodthirsty Ewoks and coming to terms with the destruction of the second Death Star.
"The celebration scene at the end of RoTJ is what helped ignite the idea that this isn't a celebration for everyone," Custer tells SYFY WIRE. "What happened to the Imperials whose helmets are now being used as drums? I got excited about the idea of diving into the bad guys' point of view with that idea in mind."
Filmed in California's Portola Redwoods State Park, the film totally looks like it's set on the now-iconic forest moon of Endor. Check it out below:
As the trooper (named TK-1138 in a nod to George Lucas's directorial debut) wakes up from a state of unconsciousness, he begins to hear a mysterious voice (performed by boom operator and sound designer Jon Leyden) crackling through his helmet. It tells him to head to a rendezvous point in order to stay alive, but the owner of said voice is never revealed.
"Thematically I really wanted to play around with it a bit given 1138's isolation and point of view. It's completely reasonable and safe for him to assume it's another Stormtrooper, an Imperial Radio Tech etc.," explains Custer. "However 1138 doesn't know. What if it's a Rebel soldier toying with him? What if it's paranoia, heavy blood loss, and survival instinct setting in?"
Custer also praised the physical and emotional performance of his leading man, James Shi. Hearing his despondent 1138 say that he had friends on the destroyed Death Star (throwing out an Empire Strikes Back-esque "that's not possible") almost makes you feel bad for bad guys.
"James has a great natural baritone to his voice, is a massive Star Wars fan himself and really brought a great amount of physicality to the part. Hunched shoulders, subtle head tilts, nervous swaying in his feet," continues the director. "That day was the first time he'd ever actually worn a Stormtrooper costume and that thing is a monster to work in! It's hot, loud, brittle, and completely inflexible. My favorite shot of the film is the extreme closeup of 1138's helmet as he's hearing the Ewoks coming for him toward the end, and we just catch this glimpse of his eye behind the visor and it just reads fear. James was acting with his whole body for the part and I'm really grateful to him for stepping into those white boots."
The real danger for 1138 is not any Rebel Alliance fighters, but flesh-eating Ewoks. Alone closes out with our protagonist stumbling upon one of his fellow Troopers being chowed on by a cute and cuddly Endorian (Trish Connolly), its lips and fur coated in blood. It's a macabre visual, sure, but the teddy bear-like natives were always this savage.
"I think we've all seen these movies so many times, that we sort of gloss over some beats and jokes in the films. But don't forget, they were gonna roast Han, Luke and Chewy! The chieftain is wearing bones! Threepio says they're going to be the main course in a banquet in his honor," says Custer. "It's this deliciously dark joke that gets a little ignored because we're looking at a Baby Ewok and we know our heroes won't get eaten. After I landed on the idea of Ewoks as nasty and scary from an Imperial's perspective, I wanted the audience to see the trauma  feels. An Ewok covered in blood, gruesomely feasting on his friends. That visual made me want to make the short."
Alone was actually filmed over the course of a single day four years ago, the plan being to release it just before The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015. Life got in the way, however, as Kevin got married and had a baby.
"Cut to Summer 2019 and I was finishing a script for another film. My wife Nicole said, 'This is great, but before you make this, you have to finish Star Wars,'" recounts the filmmaker. "She was right, I took another stab at this with fresher eyes and a resolve to see it through. I think it helped me hammer out the tone and atmosphere a lot better than if I had rushed to release it four years ago. Call it 'the Will of the Force'...or maybe just supreme gratitude to my wonderfully supportive wife."
Check out a number of behind-the-scenes images from the short's shoot below: