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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Star Wars-style lightsaber battle filmed on the Quad

It is remarkable how often Star Wars sneaks into the daily vernacular. How often are people overheard referencing Wookiees, stormtroopers, miscellaneous droids or their own imaginary Jedi skills? Even an innocent passerby who has never seen any of the six Star Wars films could recognize a heavy rasp riddled with respiratory distress as an attempt to imitate Darth Vader.

Well, consider a strip of the Quad the most recent context for the use of the Force. A simple search on YouTube for “UCD Lightsaber Battle” will lead to a minute-long video, created by junior biochemistry major Stephen Leung, of two UC Davis students engaging in some pretty real “aggressive negotiations.” And not with fliers or petitions, but with lightsabers, complete with the appropriate visual and audio effects.

“It was fun. We wanted to do it in public, where a lot of people could see it,” Leung said. “The Quad is the most public place on campus. We didn’t want to act like Jedi, though. We wanted to be as normal as possible — just normal students.”

Leung’s idea to have a choreographed lightsaber fight played out in a flashmob-type demonstration on campus, premiering on YouTube after months of editing. The finished product captured the well-rehearsed fight routine, which was catered to fit the dimensions of his camera while appearing authentic as well.

“We needed to be able to incorporate the routine into a linear progression, so we had to restrict how much we went up and down,” said David Chang, a junior economics major, who joined in on the project after Leung proposed the idea for the video. “We had to develop it as we went through it. We didn’t want to keep repeating hits, didn’t want people to get bored.”

This is not Leung and Chang’s debut on YouTube. Last year, they produced eight episodes of a sitcom inspired by life in the first-year dorms, titled “Freshmen Fifteen.”

“[This] video was just for fun, but lots of work,” said Leung, who said he had the idea a long time ago but just didn’t have the time and the people to work on it with him.

Leung and Chang agreed that short videos such as theirs are a reminder of the extensive production work that goes into such projects, no matter how amateur or professional their nature. The two had no prior directing, martial arts or acting experience, yet they turned a simple fight scene using precarious white pipes as weapons into a Star Wars-inspired duel by means of extensive practice and post-production editing.

Leung used accessible software programs Photoshop and Windows Movie Maker to create the effects.

“The video is over 2,000 frames long and I had to draw the lightsaber in every frame by hand,” said Leung, who had to meticulously add in the accompanying visual effects to make the fight look realistic. “That’s about 10,000 sabers. You have to start with white and then add the glow. And sometimes someone’s body was in the way so I had to draw two. It took me five months.”

He did find an outside cameraman who volunteered to shoot the project and who used the most technologically advanced equipment involved. Jonathan Tse, a recently graduated UC Davis alumnus with a degree in film studies, answered an e-mail Leung sent to the UC Davis Film Club listserv which asked for someone to help capture the footage.

“It sounded interesting, so I said I’d do it,” Tse said. “I met them and we practiced it a couple of times, then used a SteadyCam to film the fight in one long continuous shot. Looking at the finished product, it could have been steadier, but it was still good. Shooting it at UC Davis definitely made it unique.”

The footage was also shot on the day of the general assembly on the Quad after the Nov. 18 pepper spray incident, adding a new dimension to the production.

“There were more people than there ever have been on campus on that day,” Chang said. “We thought maybe we should wait, but then decided, ‘Whatever, let’s do it.’”

Which meant that, in the early morning on that day, news correspondents stationed outside their vans anticipating action around the tents instead saw two guys rehearsing their lightsaber duel. Except at that time, they were just sticks.

“We were using pipes,” Chang said. “But they kept breaking! Stephen had really bad luck. He probably went through three of them.”

But for the guys, the practice and editing paid off. Watch the full battle here.

LANI CHAN can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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