A short time ago in a galaxy not so far, far away…
A team of rogue filmmakers had the crazy idea to let an AI bot imagine what the trailer of a Wes Anderson-helmed Star Wars film could look like. The result, The Galactic Menagerie, took Twitter by storm faster than the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel Run.
Created by director Caleb Ward on behalf of his video production company, Curious Refuge, the one-minute clip has been viewed nearly 2 million times on Twitter and 1 million times on YouTube since its April 29 release, prompting thousands of retweets and comments while polarizing fans.
— Curious Refuge (@CuriousRefuge) April 29, 2023
As Ward tells Yahoo Entertainment, the film only took a few days to produce, thanks to AI image generator Midjourney, which created all the visuals, and ChatGPT, which wrote the script. Ward then edited the resulting clips on his laptop into the final product.
"I was curious to see how AI tools could be applied in a filmmaking context, so I decided to combine various AI tools to create a single video," says Ward, noting that the idea was inspired by the success of the Harry Potter by Balenciaga videos, an AI-generated series of Harry Potter clips that went viral in April.
"In a way, AI was the director, I only played a supporting role," he says of the process, stressing that "the core idea, script, shot list, scenes, animations, description and tags" of the trailer were all conceived using AI tools. "Instead of hiring a voice actor, I used an AI voiceover generator for the VO artist. Whenever I needed a script, I simply asked ChatGPT to write one."
"Every time Midjourney created a new piece of artwork I was giddy to see the result," he adds. "I'm a huge Star Wars fan. As a kid my brothers and I would make videos pretending to be Star Wars characters, so I think working on this project unlocked that creative childhood part of me again."
The video begins with an AI-generated voice intoning: "In a galaxy far, far away, prepare for a reboot like never before." The voiceover is layered over an AI-generated shot of Scarlett Johansson as Princess Leia, featuring the signature hair buns made famous by Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: A New Hope.
"This summer, Wes Anderson brings you a side of the Star Wars universe you’ve never seen before: The Galactic Menagerie," the narration continues, over images of a fake Timothée Chalamet as a reimagined Luke Skywalker vying to "steal the emperor’s artifact, save the galaxy and maybe find ourselves along the way."
"With a star-studded ensemble featuring the galaxy’s most eccentric cast, The Galactic Menagerie is the most delightfully offbeat Star Wars adventure yet," the narration continues as the computer-generated cast is revealed: Edward Norton as Han Solo, Bill Murray as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jeff Goldblum as the Emperor, Willem Dafoe as Grand Moff Tarkin and Adrien Brody as Chewbaca.
"Join this ragtag crew of unlikely heroes as they navigate the absurdity of the cosmos, challenge the empire, and reveal what it means to be a rebel," the voiceover concludes. "Coming to theaters this summer. May the force be with you."
I know everyone hates these A.I. trailers, but I think they're good for a laugh. C'mon, it's all for fun.
These two images from The Galactic Menagerie trailer are the funniest. 🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/fou2e2Q9C3
— Alex Billington 🍥 (@firstshowing) May 1, 2023
While it certainly has elements of Anderson's offbeat sense of humor and handmade production design aesthetic, the trailer has drawn mixed reactions on social media. The biggest complaints claiming AI will "never be able to grasp the sincerity" of human emotions, as well as Anderson fans insisting the clip doesn't give justice to the director's vision and body of work.
Not all responses have been negative, however. Ward says the general response he has received from Star Wars fans has been "overwhelmingly positive," noting that "many people have been creatively inspired and excited by this project." He admits that he is aware of the criticism; however, he argues AI is going to greatly impact Hollywood whether we like it or not.
"Some fans and industry professionals have let their disdain for AI filmmaking be known," he says. "While AI can never replace the genius of filmmakers like Wes Anderson, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the industry."
'May the IP be with you!'
Ward's project, as entertaining as it is, also raises questions about copyright law in the dawn of artificial intelligence. As intellectual property attorney Vivek Jayaram, founder of Jayaram Law, tells Yahoo Entertainment, AI brings "extraordinary possibilities" but the technology is still bound by "state and federal laws."
"So, if an emerging filmmaker — or Wes Anderson — endeavors to use AI to create C-3PO or R2-D2, he would be violating copyright, and possibly even trademark, law," Jayaram explains. "If he wants to use AI to create a Luke Skywalker or Han Solo character for his film, there are many tools that can make that dream a reality. However, he would not only be contending with Disney's IP rights, he would also need to clear Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford's name, image and likeness rights, which are guided by state law."
For instance, Hamill and Fisher allowed themselves to be digitally de-aged for, respectively, The Mandalorian and Rogue One. The latter film also saw Disney and Lucasfilm bring back the late Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin with approval from the actor's estate. While only a few years old, the computer-generated rendering of those characters already seem primitive based on the quality of AI-produced visuals. (Fans have re-cut those scenes using deep-fake technology to create more realistic versions of the characters.)
In the case of James Earl Jones, who recently licensed his Darth Vader voice to an AI company upon retiring from the industry, it's a different matter.
"On the voice side, things are getting interesting," Jayaram says. "State law generally says that a recognizable voice is protectable as part of a person's likeness or image. James Earl Jones has assigned his voice to an AI firm so that it can commercialize and license his voice for various commercial activities."
Singer Grimes is in a similar situation, he points out, after setting up a service allowing people to license her vocals for any song, provided they share royalties with her. "Without a license, however, using someone's recognizable voice can land you in court," he says.
For his part, Ward has not run afoul of Disney's notoriously picky legal team. He says he's grateful that his little AI experiment has become a big hit and that he looks forward to a changing landscape in film.
"I honestly feel like the creative potential will soon be here to generate entire film scenes using AI entirely," he says. "What does that mean for Hollywood? Personally, I think things are about to change dramatically. If I could make this video on a laptop in my spare-time, I can’t imagine what a team of people will be able to do. From voice acting to scriptwriting, I think AI is going to change the industry, but to what extent is anyone’s guess. AI tools are moving so fast that it is hard to even contextualize their creative potential."
Jayaram admits AI projects are certainly "exciting," but he cautions creators to familiarize themselves with the "copyright, trademark and state laws around name, image and likeness" in order to secure insurance and otherwise put together a work that can be commercially distributed. As he jokes, "May the IP be with you!"
Looking ahead, Ward believes we're going to see "a plethora of reimagined characters from the Star Wars universe and beyond," all created through AI tools, appearing in movies and shows.
"As a fan, I’m very excited for this new creative chapter in storytelling," he adds. "I love the conversations that this video has started and hope to continue to work with filmmakers explore the storytelling possibilities of AI and teach aspiring storytellers how to unlock their creative potential."