“TK-436” is not the catchiest name for a film, even less for a fan-film, yet it was exactly this film which received the Filmmaker Select award in this year’s fan-film competition, Star Wars Fan Film Awards. This competition has already several years long history (with some break in between) and is officially blessed by Lucasfilm, resp. Disney. TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story has been selected among the contest entries for this year by a jury which included even the director of Rogue One, Gareth Edwards. And when you watch the film, it is easy to see why.
I cannot really describe the most intriguing thing about the whole fan-film without giving away spoilers, so maybe it is the best if you watch it before I get to the core. Generally speaking, the film is the story of a stormtrooper – and, what makes it unusual, you get to see the Galactic civil war from the common trooper’s perspective. Before The Force Awakens, we never got a chance to look inside a stormtrooper’s mind in film – especially in the old trilogy, stormtroopers are just a bunch of bad guys to fall before the heroes. Because of this, the fan-film is very touching and perhaps even a bit unsettling – I guess all these were the factors that brought it so high on the list of the jury.
Despite its focus being the life of an ordinary trooper and his participation at war, the film is not a “military movie”. I am grateful for that. A film like “how our commando conquered the Echo Base” would certainly have its value, but it wouldn’t really be as interesting. Most of fan-films take this route anyway, and while I applaud the immense effort and enthusiasm and resources the creators put into them, I think I have seen “Johnny the Jedi meets Steph the Sith and they duel for ten out of fifteen minutes of the film” already too many times. It is nice, therefore, that TK-436 – and what sets it apart – focuses on psychology of its protagonist. A comparison to Finn from The Force Awakens pops into mind, but if you start that comparison, you are bound to notice the differences, and that is at least what made me appreciate the work the creators made.
The whole piece is essentially a “documentary” of TK’s life, accompanied by narration – from his own perspective, delivered in the most persuasive manner. All the actors, especially the four lead ones (portraying young and old versions of the two main characters) deliver very good and believable performance. Special effects are great (it is much easier nowadays to make your film look good than it used to be, but still the team obviously did a great job in making everything look smooth and polished). Nice candy is the couple of scenes referencing events from the old trilogy films.
The whole film has a bit over ten minutes (the version intended for the competition had to be originally cut even shorter because the entry to the contest had limit of five minutes), and I can tell you it is not a waste of time to watch it… and then perhaps think about it a bit. Which it will inevitably make you do.
Speaking for myself, TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story was a kind of chilling probe into the mind of a character whose kind we have always seen only as a white mass. The scary part was not seeing what totalitarian propaganda and war can do to people – many people can at least theoretically imagine it; the scary part was realising that TK-436 is human, and how much human he is. And how he remains human even after experiencing the war and being brainwashed by the propaganda. He does not become a monster, despite what he is saying, we can still see the human in him, and that, for me, is the scary thing. I will ask one question in the end: after you consider all this, what do you think Nissa (the other main character) was thinking? Ask yourselves the same question TK is asking himself in the end. What would you answer to TK? And, is it also possible that Nissa is merely a victim of propaganda in the same way TK is?
The writers and directors, Samtubia and Samgoma Edwards, and all the folk who participated, did a fantastic job. What I certainly hope for is that their example will prompt more fan filmmakers to make their ideas into reality. And if you are one with such ideas, perhaps it can be your film next on the Star Wars Fan Film Contest?