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Troops (1997)
Tonight's Short Presentation

TROOPS (1997)

Starring: Cam Clark, Jess Harnell, Drew Massey, Paul Pistore, Neil Elliott, Susan Hindshaw, Eric Hilleary

Written and Directed By: Kevin Rubio

See It Here: http://www.theforce.net/fanfilms/shortfilms/troops/

The Story

The Galactic Empire has allowed camera crews to tag along with a couple of different Stormtrooper patrols on the planet of Tatooine for an experimental type of program called “a reality show.”  Apparently, there are some stolen droids out there today, and the Jawas are the chief suspects.  Meanwhile, there’s a little domestic dispute happening on a moisture farm.  Whatcha gonna do… whatcha gonna do when they come for you…

The Rundown

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Of course it’s Imperial Stout.  Don’t even think about trying to push any Rebel contraband around here.

“’Troops’ is filmed on location with the men of the Imperial Forces.  All suspects are guilty.  Period.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be suspects, would they?”

Here it is, folks: the original internet short film sensation.  It may not have been the first short made with the net in mind, but in terms of taking the World Wide Web by storm?  I’d say this is the one you go back to.  (How far back?  Fifteen years, as in eight years before YouTube; so when I say that this was a film made for the net, I mean it was made to be downloaded from the net.)  Like the first captioned photo of Happycat asking for his cheezburger, Kevin Rubio’s Troops is an internet landmark.

It’s also a damn good – and damn funny – movie.  Let’s face it: what’s not to love about a spoof of “Cops” starring Imperial Stormtroopers?

First off, it’s a crossover that makes a bizarre kind of sense as soon as one thinks about it.  Cops on patrol… Stormtroopers on patrol… It works!  With the solid crossover concept firmly in place, Kevin Rubio and company then go on to make sure that the spirit of each of the two sources being lampooned is faithfully maintained.

Let’s start with “Cops,” from which the narrative framework is drawn.  From the very beginning, all of the familiar elements are there.  The “Bad Boys” theme music by Inner Circle.  Check.  The title written in the stamp-style font.  Check.  The silent and unseen cameraman taking it all in from the shotgun position while the officer being documented narrates what’s going on.  Check.  And, of course, the stupid perps.  Check.  One really couldn’t ask for a more perfect lift without actually including a trailer park and a runaway perp tripping over his own baggy pants… but hey, a Sandcrawler might count, and who’s to say what’s going on under those Jawa robes?

The adherence to the source frame continues with the vocal performances of the Troops themselves, who talk just like you’d expect regular cops from the heartland of America to talk.  “Most people would call this the ass end of space, but I like the small town feeling you get around here.  I mean, we know everybody.  Everybody.  And I feel like I really make a difference here.”  Priceless.

Meanwhile, as “Cops” provides the frame, Star Wars gives us the story.  (And let’s just make this clear, whippersnapper: it’s Star Wars.  Period.  Not A New Anything and not Episode Anything.  Got it?  Good.)  This is where the real brilliance of Kevin Rubio and company shines through, because not only have they found a way to seamlessly merge the concepts of “Cops” and the Star Wars universe, but they’ve also constructed a script that fits perfectly into the actual plot of Star Wars itself, almost as if you’re watching a pair of deleted scenes.  Sure, the tone is different, but all of it does fit.  That’s some very deft maneuvering, and a job well done indeed.

I won’t give away everything about the two major skits that make up Troops, but they are very much in the “Cops” mold.  The first one involving the Jawas is a perfect send up of the “I didn’t do nothin’, officer” type scene, complete with escape attempts and a cameo appearance by a character from yet another series who will be instantly identifiable to the geeks in the crowd.  As noted above, the closing dovetail into Star Wars as we know it is perfect.  The real scream, though, comes from the second skit, which portrays Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru as a dysfunctional couple who have had more than one domestic dispute requiring official attention.  Aside from the spot-on “Cops” parallel, the tweaking of Owen and Beru is a laugh riot that no Star Wars fan will want to miss, and the dovetail isn’t just flawless: it’s hilarious.

As for the look of the film, it’s nothing short of astounding, especially remembering that this is a home grown piece shot before the rise of digital video.  (In fact, at more than one point, you can see some telltale VHS artifacts.  Anybody out there remember tape?)  The visual effects in the establishing shots with speeders, a parked walker, and a shuttle taking off are of outstanding quality and blend into the “live” action even more convincingly than some of what the real ILM crew would achieve two years later in the series prequels.  Even more impressive, though, are the Stormtrooper uniforms, which go far beyond even “First Place at Gencon” quality and go straight to “you won’t believe someone didn’t raid a Lucasfilm storehouse for them.”  (They didn’t; Eric Hilleary, David Max, Caleb Skinner, and Kohar and Kenar Yegyayan did the phenomenal work on them.)  This is important, because with Stormtroopers, the costumes are the characters, and the focus is on those characters for the entire ten minute film.  It’s a make or break detail that Troops not only gets right, but knocks out of the park.  The Boba Fett costume that they show off during the opening credits is quite impressive, too.  At that point, who cares if the Jawas are about a foot too tall?  And really, I think the look they get because of it brings to mind the “Cops” baggy pants cliché mentioned earlier, anyway.

As for any flaws… forget it.  The VHS artifacts noted earlier are just a product of the era during which Troops was filmed, and that’s getting beyond picky.  For all realistic measures that can be applied here, Troops is about as perfect as a fan made short flick can get.

Bottom line, if you’re into Star Wars or “Cops” in any way, shape, or form, you need to check this flick out.  Even if you’re not into either one, it’s still more than funny enough to be worth ten minutes of your time, with an extra minute or two to download and another to install Quicktime if you didn’t have it already.  Besides, Troops is a piece of real internet history, and that’s worthwhile in and of itself.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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