Chris Conley does not enter Sanford Stadium through Section 312. Instead he does so through the stadium’s concrete bowels, hours before Georgia football fans eagerly shuffle through the gates.
Yet there he stood, and on a Saturday, too. But Conley opted for a dark cloak rather than any red and black or shoulder pads. In that moment, he wasn’t Bulldogs wide receiver Chris Conley at all. He was Khari Vion, and he was standing in Section 312.
Conley’s “Star Wars” fan-fiction film “Retribution” tells the story of Khari Vion, a fallen Jedi Knight, which the iconic, scrolling opening text humorously preludes. References to UGA’s Snelling Dining Hall and jean shorts in the intro were met with hardy laughter at a recent private screening of the film, held at Cine in Athens.
For the next 30 minutes, friends, cast and crew members and Conley’s family watched as the project that consumed much of its star’s life for the past seven months unfolded before their eyes. As of July 5, Georgia football and “Star Wars” fans alike can do the same, either at Cine or on Conley’s YouTube channel.
“We had the first idea initially in November of 2013,” Conley said. “January we started preproduction and choreographing and things. We started shooting in February. … Friday, Saturday and Sunday for three weeks. Ever since then it was editing, sound effects, special effects and lots of revision — lots of revision.”
Although Conley wrote, directed and starred in the film, the “we” to which he refers included about 50 people who ultimately made ideas, characters such as Khari Vion, come to life.
In the project’s infant stages, scout-team offensive lineman Michael Scullin sought Conley in an effort to become his right-hand man.
“What if I told you my ringtone was the imperial march from ‘Star Wars?’” Scullin recalled asking Conley. “And he’s like, ‘There’s no way.’ And I was just like, ‘Yes. Please, can you let me into this movie thing?’”
Conley obliged. The two immediately identified one of the more trying aspects of the preproduction process: those elaborate light-saber duels. What will appear on the screen before viewers is the polished product of two crucial components. The first? Choreography.
“Me and him, fighting in his dorm room together,” Scullin said.
“Scullin was gracious enough to spar with me,” Conley added, “… So that by the time we had our actors and our talent we could teach it to them and make it a little less difficult and a little more seamless. We had to practice for numerous nights during the week — probably twice a week — for about three to four hours.”
The pair’s dorm-room bouts would have been just that — two grown men fighting with sticks — had Grayson Holt, a sophomore engineering major, not provided the second component: special effects.
“If you can imagine, the process is essentially you have a start and an end point and you basically move that along with the light saber as it goes through,” Holt said. “But there are 24 frames in every second of video. And so for a single light saber you have to go through 24 times every second to move those two. But if you have two you have to do that four times. And if you have four …”
Holt sat in front of his computer for the next five months, although not consecutively for the sake of his health and sanity. The reaction from one viewer during a Q&A after the private screening was worth the backaches and carpal-tunnel syndrome that Holt likely developed in the process.
“How does it feel knowing you’re better than the prequels?”
For Conley, that’s enough.
“We wanted to, if not improve on the name,” Conley said of the “Star Wars” franchise, “live up to the name.”