Homegrown Star Wars, with big-screen magic intact

New technology is giving online fan films like "Star Wars: Revelations" the ability to rival professional productions.

Three years ago, graphic artist Shane Felux came home with a digital camera newly purchased on eBay and gave his wife Dawn a deadline: three months to write a 40-minute Star Wars script, and then lights, camera, action.

Now, countless volunteer hours and $20,000 in maxed-out credit cards later, comes the release of "Star Wars: Revelations," one of the most ambitious amateur films based on George Lucas' science fiction universe ever made.

With its audience primed by anticipation for the new Star Wars film slated for release May 19, the film is sweeping the Net as fast as any X-wing.

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What's new:
New technology is giving online fan films like "Star Wars: Revelations" the ability to rival professional productions.

Bottom line:
This community of fan creators is increasingly the subject of study by academics--not to mention marketing departments--seeking clues to tomorrow's trends.

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Clocking in at more than 40 minutes, with high-quality special effects and production that falls just short of professional, "Revelations" is surely destined to be a landmark in "fan films," a genre of amateur filmmaking growing in sophistication with each new generation of digital tools. And if "Revelations" acting isn't quite on a par with Laurence Olivier, well, just remember that Jar-Jar Binks wasn't exactly an Academy Awards nominee, either.

"We always wanted to do this, but there was never a point where we could say there was enough time or money," said Felux, a 33-year-old former professional actor, who studied filmmaking in college. "Eventually we just came to a decision where we said there is never going to be enough time or money for a film. So we did it."

Like many amateur filmmakers, Felux ultimately hopes Hollywood, or even Lucas himself, is watching. But he's part of a broader online culture in which big-screen commercial works are grist for a small-screen creative mill, and the onetime audience is taking over the tools of production.

Indeed, this community of fan creators is increasingly the subject of study by academics--not to mention marketing departments--seeking clues to tomorrow's trends.

Fans have been producing their own versions of works for years. A stroll through Google's Usenet archives or Fanfiction.net quickly turns up tens of thousands of X-Files, Star Wars, and Star Trek stories, ranging in tone from the tenderly respectful to the profoundly obscene.

Lucas' universe has been a favorite for amateur filmmakers and parodists since 1977's "Hardware Wars," with flying toasters and deadly waffle irons. Modern fan productions took off with 1997's "Troops," a spoof of the "Cops" TV show starring storm troopers on patrol.

Lucasfilm has a strong reputation online for quashing any potential moneymaking productions that use the Star Wars name or

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