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The idea of a sequel to "Saints and Soldiers," the 2003 made-in-Utah World War II drama, didn't come naturally to Ryan Little, the movie's director.

"We kind of killed everyone off," Little told his producer, Adam Abel, when talk of a sequel first came up. "We can't really make a sequel."

But the movie's popularity, particularly in international markets, prompted Little and Abel to talk about the potential of a follow-up. "We said, 'That's fine, we just won't call it "Saints and Soldiers." We'll call it something else,'" Little said in a phone interview this week.

That's why Little directed "Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed," a World War II drama opening in Utah theaters on Friday, Aug. 17.

Like the first film, "Airborne Creed" was filmed in Utah, and features Corbin Allred as one of the stars — though he's playing a different character this time. The new movie, like the first one, also shows soldiers dealing with their faith.

The new film follows three paratroopers (played by Allred, David Nibley and Jasen Wade) dropped into occupied France a couple months after D-Day. Cut off from their unit, the three come to the aid of some French Resistance fighters and come upon a German Panzer unit — leading to an encounter between the wounded Allred and an injured German officer (Lincoln Hoppe).

"Even though the plot and characters are completely different, there is this overlap," said Hoppe, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lamont Gray. "It's based on the same idea of true-life experiences of faith at war."

Like the first "Saints and Soldiers," "Airborne Creed" was filmed entirely in Utah on a shoestring budget — and enlists World War II re-enactors, who showed up with uniforms, vehicles and plenty of enthusiasm. "They said, 'Can I come? Can I get blown up?'," Little said.

Little said the movie was inspired in part by true-life exploits of the 517th Airborne. The rest — primarily the tense scene between Allred and Hoppe — was adapted from a 1999 short film Little and Hoppe made while students at Brigham Young University. (The film, "The Last Good War," earned Little a student Emmy award.)

The scene depicts two men, on opposite sides of the war. The American is still dealing with the death of his best friend, and his anger at the Germans responsible for that death. The German has done some horrible things in the war (in the film's opening scene, we see him ordering the execution of two Resistance members), but is at the start of an awakening that he must atone for his sins. "He's done some things wrong, and it just weighs heavy on him," Hoppe said of his character.

Hoppe brought some personal touches to his character, inspired by his own grandfather, who fought in the German army in Russia during World War II. He refused to join the Nazi party, or let his son (Hoppe's father) join the Hitler Youth. (When Hoppe's character holds a photo of his son, it's actually a photo of Hoppe's father as a small boy.)

"I don't want to vilify someone just because that's how we've seen it in other movies," Little said of the portrayal of the German officer. "When it comes to World War II, it's just not black and white."

On war and faith

"Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed" opens in Utah theaters on Friday, August 17.