In 1997, downloading a short video clip took forever, Flash animation was still in development, we had never heard of Midi-chlorians, and people with time on their hands created little pictures with ASCII characters. New Zealand Star Wars fan Simon Jansen was one of those casual artists who tried a little ASCII fan art from the first Star Wars movie, now called A New Hope, that turned into an 18-year project.
For reasons that are a mystery even to himself, Simon Jansen began creating individual frames of A New Hope after a chain of joke emails. Though not particularly keen on animation or ASCII art, Jansen was just enough of a Star Wars obsessive to keep up with the project.
Obsessive is pretty much the only way to describe Jansen’s project. With more than 16,000 frames at 15 frames per second, the animation only lasts about 18 minutes. It’s not a perfect, shot-for-shot recreation. Those 18-plus minutes manage to cover almost 40 percent of the original. And Jansen had much less than that completed two years after he started the project, when he went viral before it was even a term.
As the years went by, Jansen added to his ASCII remake of Star Wars, while technology advanced to the point where amateur animators could turn out Star Wars fan films in a matter of hours. No doubt that's one of the reasons why Jansen quit adding frames in 2015, but what he accomplished is legendary. Read about Jansen's epic project at Tedium. And if you've got 18 minutes, you can watch ASCIImation Star Wars here.