Mention empires and chances are a good chunk of people will immediately think of Star Wars. I know I do anyway. The Galactic Empire features some of the most iconic villainous characters in all of pop culture. I mean the likes of Darth Vader and the Emperor go without saying. And then, of course, there are the Stormtroopers - the Empire's military forces. But unlike main villains such as Vader, the Emperor, or for example Governor Tarkin, Stormtroopers are most of the time seen more or less as a faceless mass. The Force Awakens has changed this somewhat by making a rogue Stormtrooper who switches sides into one of the currently on-going new trilogy's main heroes, but for the most part, at least in the context of the original trilogy, we aren't given a chance to see any of the Stormtroopers as individuals. But things are a bit different in the short Star Wars fan film The Empire Falls.

The Empire Falls follows a man seemingly enamored by the Empire who wants to enroll as a Stormtrooper to do his part in maintaining order and keeping the galaxy safe. However, when he does become a Stormtrooper, he is thrust into battle, and it's not as glamorous and honorable as he might have hoped. The battle in question, we discover, is in fact the climactic battle on the forest moon of Endor from Return of the Jedi. This is of course when the Empire's troops faced off against Rebels lead by the likes of Han Solo and Princess Leia, as well as the inhabitants of Endor, the Ewoks. But while in Return of the Jedi the Ewoks were cute, cuddly teddy bears, this is not the case in The Empire Falls. Here The Ewoks are portrayed as bloodthirsty monsters who lurk in the shadows, violently picking off the Stormtroopers. The scenario is like something out of a horror movie - like a scene out of Predator.

The Empire Falls is a good example of how one thing can be perceived in so many different ways depending on how it's portrayed. The point of the Ewoks being cuddly teddy bears in Return of the Jedi is to make them feel sympathetic and cute so you want them to win over the cold, faceless military forces of the Empire. Ewok characters like Wicket are given personalities so you can root for them and deem them likable, while with the Stormtroopers you rarely really register that there's a person inside the armor. When the bad guys are given personalities, it's to characters such as Darth Vader - not Stormtroopers. This changes in The Empire Falls. We see Stormtroopers not as bad guys being defeated by cute and cuddly teddy bears, but by savage beasts that they're afraid of. The Stormtroopers show fear, and they feel pain. We see that our main protagonist has a wife that he left behind to go fight for the Empire. He is not a faceless expendable drone. He is a man with hopes and dreams who is willing to sacrifice more than most for what he feels is right.

This is a key aspect of The Empire Falls - it paints Stormtroopers, who we are used to seeing as villains, as the good guys. We see a man who wants to become a soldier to uphold order and help secure peace, being brutally murdered by ferocious woodland monsters. The last thing he sees is the second Death Star explode in the sky before the light in his eyes dies. All he has fought for, all he believes in, falls apart in front of him in those last moments. And if you had no clue as to what Star Wars was, to contextualize the short for you, you could easily see the Stormtroopers as heroes. Because in The Empire Falls, they kinda are.

A story is very much defined by its narrator. If the story of Star Wars is told from the point of view of, say, Princess Leia, it's the story of a group of freedom fighters trying to free the galaxy from the tyranny of the fascistic Empire. But when told from the point of view of a Stormtrooper, such as the one in The Empire Falls, it's the story of ordinary men in the state army trying to uphold order and restore peace which has been disrupted by terrorists. One person's hero is another person's villain. And as they say, the villain is always a hero in their own story.