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The Independent Critic

Thomas A. Johnson, Nathaniel Savidge
Kate Chaplin
Liz Collar, Whisper Schroeder, Jamie Angel, Chris Spurgin, Joshua Ramsey
24 Mins.

 "Leah Not Leia" Review 
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My name is Richard Propes ... NOT, I repeat NOT Dick Probes.

Snicker. Giggle.

While junior high with an easily twisted name was no picnic for me, Leah has it much worse. Born during the Star Wars boom of 1977 and cursed with a name eerily similar to a certain Jedi princess by her well-meaning parents, Leah bitterly yet hilariously endures a life filled with Star Wars quotes, comments, jokes and innocent and not so innocent innuendos.

Co-directed by Thomas A. Johnson and Nathaniel Savidge and written by Kate Chaplin, Leah Not Leia is an entertaining and light-hearted journey through the life of Leah, not Leia, as it runs parallel to the cinematic life of inter-galactic not quite namesake. From Star Wars geeks who've always wanted to date a princess to crude comments like "Want to see my light saber?," Leah Not Leia strikes back for every boy named Scotty who has been subjected to a life of "Beam Me Up!" jokes, every girl named Jenny who has endured countless off-key interpretations of a certain Tommy Tutone tune and virtually everyone else who has suffered because of the ill-advised naming adventures of their parents.

It would have been easy for Leah Not Leia to have become nothing more than a one-note joke that tires quickly, even at a modest 24 minute running time, yet Kate Chaplin's incredibly funny script is interspersed with so many delightful characters and Star Wars pop culture references that it's impossible to not sit there watching and wondering just where Leah Not Leia will go next. Perhaps most surprisingly, underneath this rather silly and funny comedy is a thin layer of heart and sweetness that makes sure you not only laugh but actually truly enjoy hanging out with these characters.

We're introduced to Leia as a 3-year-old (Jamie Angel), then as a 6-year-old (Whisper Schroeder) and, finally, as a young woman (Liz Collar) exploring the world of dating when happiness seems so far, far away. When a co-worker hooks her up with yet another seemingly normal guy, Alec (Chris Spurgin), Leah just find out once and for all if the force will ever be with her.

While it's no coincidence that Leah Not Leia screened this past weekend at Indy's own Inconjunction: A Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention and is already scheduled as part of the program for Gen Con, rest assured that the film has much wider appeal despite its obvious and intentional roots inside the Star Wars universe. Loosely based upon the real life experiences of screenwriter Kate Chaplin, actually born a Leah, there's a human element and a familiarity to the dilemma contained in Leah Not Leia that should resonate in ways both bitter and sweet for the Leahs, Scottys and Jennys of the world. While it's incredibly likely that Leah Not Leia will play better if you actually understand just how brilliantly its Star Wars references are integrated into the fabric of the film, it's the characters that make the film funny and the actors who bring them to life.

Co-directors Nathaniel Savidge and Thomas A. Johnson are gifted with a tremendous ensemble cast, including the film's two adorable yet perfectly cast youngsters, Jamie Angel and Whisper Schroeder. You know that a film's special when you have two youngsters with terrific comic timing and a great screen presence. Fortunately, things don't let up when Leah, not Leia, grows up but can't quite move on thanks to a cinematic series that seems to follow her wherever she goes. Liz Collar adds a nice low-grade tension to the mix, a tension that works nicely with more frequent and slightly naughtier laughs. Leah Not Leia really picks up when Chris Spurgin shows up as Alec, who proves to be quite the trooper in trying to prove himself to Leah. Spurgin is perfection in two key scenes, one in which he displays spot on comic delivery and the other in which his facial expressions are absolutely priceless.

Of course, as someone who is over 40 and still gets called Dick Probes on occasion knows, you can never completely leave your past, or your name, completely behind you.

Sith happens.

Shot on a modest production budget in a half dozen locations mostly in and around Central Indiana, Leah Not Leia works quite nicely because it's clear that the writer (who is also Executive Producer) and the co-directors (also Producers) have communicated their vision for the film to each other and to their wonderfully in sync ensemble cast. D.P. James Panighetti's camera work is terrific throughout, while he also serves up the film's imaginative and fun original music. Speaking of double (or is that triple or quadruple) duty, Chaplin also serves as the film's production designer allowing her to give the film a visual scheme consistent with the light but not quite absurd humor.

Destined to be an audience fave at sci-fi and indie festivals, Leah Not Leia is just beginning its festival life following its premiere this past weekend at Inconjunction and during a special midnight screening at Hamilton 16 IMAX in Noblesville, Indiana just north of Indy.

For more information on Leah Not Leia visit the Karmic Courage website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic