University of Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley is a proud Star Wars nerd. As a kid he was mesmerized by lightsabers, Jedi Knights and stormtroopers, and he has been a die-hard fan ever since. Last February, Conley was seen in a Jedi costume at a Bulldogs' gymnastics meet, and his Twitter account is full of pictures combining his two passions: football and Star Wars.
In July, Conley took his passion to a new level when he released Retribution, a 26-minute Star Wars fan film starring himself as "the fallen Jedi Khari Vion." Conley had 45 catches and 651 receiving yards for the Bulldogs last season. But the most impressive number on his résumé is 378,000. That's the view count Retribution had on YouTube by the end of July, which was more than Conley, or anyone working on the project, ever expected.
On the Set
Last fall Retribution began with an idea, two Georgia football players, and some homemade lightsabers. Offensive lineman Michael Scullin heard about Conley's desire to create a Star Wars film and approached him in the locker room. The two made lightsabers out of plumbing materials and practiced sparring in Conley's dorm room.
These duels eventually turned into the story that is Retribution. True to the original Star Wars, the film opens with a text scroll introducing the plot of the movie: The masked villain, Khari Vion, returns to the Georgia campus in Athens (from which he was exiled) to defeat Jedi Master Croi and his pupil, Jedi Knight Killian. After a series of epic battle scenes — ranging from one-on-one combat to large-scale clashes — the film climaxes with a dramatic lightsaber duel between Killian and Khari Vion.
Though Retribution was made with Star Wars fans in mind, the film also appeals to college football fans, with appearances from Georgia coach Mark Richt and running back Todd Gurley. Under Conley's direction, special effects editor and videographer Grayson Holt amplified Richt's and Gurley's personalities in the film. In the locker room Gurley has earned the nickname Superman from some of his teammates because of his speed and strength. For his scene in Retribution, Gurley flies into the sky like a superhero to escape a stormtrooper attack. "Todd's a great friend of mine," says Conley. "When I told him I had a video I needed help on, he signed up immediately."
Richt was just as willing to offer his support — and even poke a little fun at himself. His scene shows him calmly reading his iPad while a battle occurs around him, a nod to his even-keeled demeanor on the sideline during games.
To complete the Georgia football tie-ins, several scenes in the movie were filmed in the Bulldogs' Sanford Stadium, and even the school's mascot, Hairy Dawg, makes an appearance. Conley says that while he'd rather play football between the hedges at Sanford, "the Star Wars thing was a plus."
To Be Continued
Conley wrote, produced, and directed Retribution, in addition to starring as the red-eyed antagonist. Of all the hats he wore throughout the process, Conley admits that directing was his favorite. "Being able to work with people dressed as some of your favorite Star Wars characters was just fun for me," he says.
Though Conley's focus will be on football from August to December, he is working on another film to be released after this season is over. His second movie will expand beyond Georgia's campus to the city of Athens. And this time it's a superhero saga. "The last film was more of a satire, kind of a comedy thing," says Conley. "The next one will be a more serious film."
Photos: courtesy of Grayson Holt/Infinite Productions, 20th Century Fox/courtesy Everett Collection