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My Wife Can Only Dream Of This

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the creator of the comic book and subsequent beloved TV series The Middleman, did the unthinkable and took a year off from Star Wars. Then he shared what he learned.

Some choice quotes:

“George Lucas didn’t rape a goddamn thing. He GAVE me my childhood. He provided the fat, pale and sensitive boy I once was with a vibrant, imaginative and optimistic idea of what storytelling could be. George Lucas engineered a waking dream that evolved into an overwhelming desire to become a creator on my own right. I am where I am thanks, in great part, to George Lucas.”

and…

“In my willing estrangement from Luke Skywalker and his merry band of rebels, I came to value their small and very personal adventure in contrast to the massive cultural apparatus it spawned. It now seems absurd that a film as sparsely populated — one whose triumph of the imagination was to imply massive scope through the judicious use of production design, location and editing while telling a relatively small hero’s journey story — has developed so overwhelming a cultural footprint.”

and also…

“While I can’t possibly understand the what drives a man who at a young age single-handedly changed the face of popular culture and was catapulted to a level of fame that would boggle the mind of a mere journeyman television writer, I suffer for having so close a relationship with the work of someone so preoccupied with an ever-so-elusive ideal of aesthetic perfection that he stamps out what made it great in the first place.”

While some of his arguments echo points I’ve made over my past couple of years as a semi-recovering Star Wars enthusiast, he relates them ever so much more eloquently. I think what most resonates with me about his essay is his discussion of accepting and even celebrating one’s past, flaws and all.

A Sith By Any Other Name

December 6th, 2010 No comments

One requirement of creating a fantasy world–particularly one set in a galaxy far, far away from Earth–is that you need to come up with a lot of proper names. Good fantasy monikers are tricky; without careful thought or imagination, you can wind up with the likes of Melf the Elf or the Xyclons. Or, God forbid, you get clever and start spelling normal names backwards, because no one ever thinks of that.

George Lucas actually did pretty well in this regard when drafting the first two Star Wars films. Tatooine, Jabba the Hut(t) and Moff Tarkin sound “spacey” but not silly. Okay, so Luke Skywalker is a generic “hero” name, but even that’s a step up from the early drafts when he had the surname Starkiller.

By the time of Return of the Jedi, we were being introduced to Sy Snootles, Droopy McCool and Ephant Mon. Perhaps Lucas’ creative apathy was starting to show, or perhaps the denizens of Jabba’s court were named by committee.

For The Phantom Menace, we learned that Darth was not Vader’s first name, but rather a traditional Sith title. And so it was that we met the first major villains of the prequels, Darth Maul and Darth Sidious.

I think Darth Sidious is a decent sobriquet. It’s suggestive of dark deeds without being entirely on the nose. Darth Maul is pushing things a bit, but even that didn’t bother me too much. It fit the character of what amounted to little more than a living beatstick.

In Attack of the Clones, we met the new Sith on the block, Count Dooku, aka Darth Tyranus. Dooku was allegedly derived from the Japanese word for “poison,” but that’s the kind of thing that seems witty until people actually start saying it aloud. (Ooo, Count Dooku, I’m so scared.) Then there’s Darth Tyranus, which was so on the nose as to be fully up the nostril.

Next came Revenge of the Sith and its chief baddie, the cyborg-with-a-hacking-cough General Grievous. At that point, we were just one step removed from Admiral Atrocious.

Making matters worse was the named-but-not-seen Sith Lord Darth Plagueis. Yes, Plagueis. It’s like the Sith weren’t even trying anymore.

I recognize that, at least according to the single example we’ve seen, Sith are named by their masters. And as the Sith master/apprentice relationship is antagonistic at best, perhaps the students are deliberately given douchey handles just to piss them off.

That brought us to The Clone Wars. The original micro-series gave us Asajj Ventress–of whom I wholeheartedly approved. On the other hand, it also gave us a bounty hunter named Durge, who might as well have been a ’90s X-Men villain.

It’s gotten worse since then with the advent of the ongoing Clone Wars TV show. General Loathsom is bad enough, but Cad Bane? Cad Bane? Did Mr. and Mrs. Bane say, “Our boy just doesn’t sound despicable enough?”

And recently there came word of a new villain to be introduced during the 2011 run of episodes. A horned creature alleged to be a close relation of Darth Maul, his name is…

is…

Savage Opress.

Savage.

Opress.

For fuck’s sake. Does George Lucas own some sinister Magnetic Poetry set?

Why not dub him Hayt Eyestabb or Mongrel Beatshiswife? Hell, go for broke and call him Evil McSitherson.

Coming in 2012: Meet Count Dooku’s twisted second cousin, Darth Murderpants!

Categories: Star Wars Tags: ,

Excuse Me, But I Need To Be Alone For A Few Moments

May 26th, 2010 No comments

While looking for a good photo of Carrie Fisher for yesterday’s Star Wars anniversary post, I stumbled across these.

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, A Great Adventure Took Place

May 25th, 2010 No comments

I’d intended to mark the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, but I was still en route last Friday. However, I can at least give a tip of my lightsaber to the 33rd anniversary of Star Wars, which was released on May 25, 1977. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but I still divide my life into Events That Occurred Before May 25, 1977 and Events That Occurred After May 25, 1977.

I’ve written a lot about Star Wars over the years, so I don’t know that I have much to add at the moment. I will, however, share my favorite poster from its original theatrical run. It’s the “Style D” one-sheet, aka the “circus poster.”

And, because I always like to send you off with some music, here are two very special renditions of the Star Wars main title theme. First up is the jaw-dropping trumpet solo by beauty pageant contestant Stacy Hedger.

Then there’s Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, singing “A Day to Celebrate” from the dreaded Star Wars Holiday Special. Because what John Williams’ famous theme was lacking was a set of cheesy lyrics. If Carrie hadn’t already been a drug addict at this point, this surely would’ve driven her to the pill bottle. Click on her to hear the song!

May the Force be with you…always.

Chess Grandmonsters

April 23rd, 2010 No comments

Wizards of the Coast recently announced that it was allowing its license to create Star Wars role-playing games and miniatures to lapse. However, before the product line became one with the Force, WOTC gave one last gift to old-school fanboys. The final miniatures set, “Masters of the Force,” includes all eight of the “chess monsters” seen in the original film.

The scene was a throwaway bit in which R2-D2 and Chewbacca passed the time by playing a holographic board game. Chewie’s poor sportsmanship–and the threat that he might pull someone’s arm from the socket–elicited C-3PO’s timeless advice, “Let the Wookiee win.” Special effects artists Phil Tippett and Jon Berg created the charmingly crude stop-motion monsters that squeaked and hissed at each other across the chess table.

I love the odd looks of these whatsits.  They suggest the crazy biological diversity of a galaxy far, far away in a way that subsequent Star Wars productions never have.

These days, they naturally have been forced into codified confinement. The space chess game was given a name (dejarik) and each of the creatures a detailed background. In other words, all the fun has been surgically removed.

As for the miniatures themselves,  I placed an order and received seven of them earlier this week. (The eighth is still to come via a separate order.) Here they are!

Best of all, they’re just the right size to stage my own space chess match! Wookiees, of course, will not be invited.

Categories: Star Wars Tags: , ,

31 Monsters #4: Space Slug

October 4th, 2009 No comments

It may very well have been the biggest monster ever, yet it was little more than a throwaway gag. For The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas needed two things: a place for Han Solo and Princess Leia to hide, and a reason for them to leave. Hello, space slug!

Fleeing the Imperial starfleet, our heroes parked their starship in an asteroid cave that turned out to be surprisingly moist. And squishy. And lined with teeth.

It wasn’t until the Millennium Falcon soared out of the mouth of the “collapsing” tunnel that the true nature of the temporary haven was revealed: it was the gullet of a gargantuan beast!

It’s no secret that I’ve always loved giant monsters, and so it was that back in 1980 I was absolutely fascinated by the space slug. According to Star Wars lore it was 900 meters in length, which meant it could gulp down Godzilla whole and still have room for Rodan and King Ghidorah.

I commemorated the scene that year via birthday cake. A puzzled local bakery was asked to reproduce my space slug sketch in frosting. Now that I think back on it, that was kinda odd.

Categories: Star Wars Tags: ,

Force Majeure

October 12th, 2008 No comments

Star Wars are breaking out all over with a pair of recent projects further expanding the scope of George Lucas’ private universe.

The weekly, computer animated Clone Wars series has begun airing on Cartoon Network. It’s much like the recent theatrical film: it’s impossible for me to become invested in the characters, but at least there are lots of pretty things blowing up.

The most recent episode was rather neat in a way that only old-school fans would likely appreciate, at last paying off a design concept from more than thirty years ago.

In the original Star Wars, one of the Rebel ships was the “Y-Wing fighter” (below, left) which got its name because the top view resembles a capital letter Y. The craft was given a “stripped-down” look, in part to appeal to Lucas’ love of hot rods. The idea, as related in books of the day, was that the Y-Wings were originally sleek spaceships that were such a pain to maintain that the Rebel techs removed their outer plating.

I had thought that we might eventually see these sleeker Y-Wings in the prequels, which very deliberately started out with a design aesthetic emphasizing smooth lines and unbroken surfaces. The idea there was that with each subsequent film, the ships would come ever closer to the angular, utilitarian look of the original trilogy. I was sure that Y-Wings would make an appearance in Episode III, and disappointed when they didn’t.

As you can probably gather from a couple paragraphs above, Clone Wars stepped in to complete the circle, with Anakin Skywalker leading a Y-Wing squadron (below, right) in a bombing run on General Grievous’ battle cruiser. It was a nice Easter Egg for us old-timers.

The other recent attempt by Lucasfilm to milk the cash Bantha is the long-gestating The Force Unleashed video game/comic book/novel/toy line. The game was delayed several times, coming out nearly a year after its initially announced due date. (The toy tie-ins arrived on the shelves eight or nine months ago.)

The Force Unleashed is a more ambitious effort than Lucas’ first attempt at building a multi-media event around a non-movie storyline: the ill-fated Shadows of the Empire. This time, the setting is between the two film trilogies, a couple of years before Luke Skywalker’s battle against the Death Star. Luke’s nowhere to be found, though; instead the main character is “Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice.” In another fan-friendly nod to us old-school fanboys, his nickname is Starkiller, Luke’s original surname in the early script drafts.

Starkiller isn’t just some punk farmer whining about his moisture vaporators. Don’t get me wrong, he is a whiny punk, but he’s also the baddest-assed bad-ass that ever swung a lightsaber. The game amps his Force powers up to absurd levels; Episode III Yoda’s got nothing on this emo kid.

The storyline (which is presumably fleshed out in the novelization) has an interesting core, with Vader sending Starkiller out in search of the remaining hidden Jedi Masters, all the while plotting to use his apprentice to overthrow the Emperor. (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know.) The twist is that the entire thing is an elaborate plot orchestrated by Vader (with the Emperor’s blessing) to lure the Empire’s enemies into open rebellion. Starkiller is tasked to found the Rebel Alliance so that Vader can capture the lot for public execution. Naturally, the apprentice turns on his masters and frees the prisoners at the cost of his own life. I don’t know that I find it necessary for the Rebel Alliance to have a secret origin story, but I can appreciate the irony of the Emperor setting into motion the army that eventually brings down the Sith. (END SPOILER.)

In Entertainment Weekly’s review of the game, they compare it to the Grand Theft Auto series, something I hadn’t considered. However, it makes a lot of sense; in both games, you play a morally-challenged character who kills hundreds, possibly thousands of sentient beings. And like GTA, I’ve found it quite impossible to NOT accidentally kill innocent bystanders. When our emo boy starts whipping out his Force, he wrecks pretty much everything in sight.

One difference here, though, is that in The Force Unleashed, you’re supposed to be the good guy. Sort of. When you start out you’re very much in full-on Sith-wannabe mode, not letting anything stand between you and the Jedi you’re hunting. But as the story progresses Starkiller goes on a familiar redemptive path…except that the murder rate never decreases. Sure, most of the time you’re Force-choking stormtroopers or (my favorite) tossing them into the Death Star’s planet-destroying laser, but there’s almost no one, friend or foe, that you don’t wind up either trying to kill or claiming as collateral damage.

Not saying that I’m not enjoying it. I especially like the visceral feel of the Wii version, in which you literally punch the air to create your Force blasts. And throwing stormtroopers into bottomless chasms never gets old. But, as was the case when Darth Vader’s one redemptive act in Return of the Jedi somehow washed away twenty years of sins, it’s a little hard to swallow that I’m getting away with being the hero after my epic mass murder spree.

Clone Of Silence

August 18th, 2008 No comments

According to Box Office Mojo, The Clone Wars brought in only about $15 million this weekend, landing in third place behind the Dark Knight cash machine. That’s still five million better than The X-Files managed, but just the same, I doubt anyone at Lucasfilm is all that happy about it.

And yes, that total includes my own five bucks.

Oh, don’t look at me like that. Like I wasn’t going to go. Grow up.

It was strange to attend a Star Wars flick that began without most of the traditional trappings: the familiar theme music, the receding logo, the expository crawl or the 20th Century Fox fanfare. The latter is considered so much a part of the Star Wars experience that most of the soundtrack CDs begin with it.

Still, I got about what I expected from The Clone Wars: lots of glorious eye candy and things exploding. Since the droids and vehicles were built from the same digital assets as those used in the real Star Wars films, the battle scenes were on par with the prequels. One action set-piece arguably exceeded anything from Episodes 1-3: a spectacular sequence in which Ashoka the Jedi padawan rode atop the windshield of a Republic walker as it climbed up a mountainside.

The human characters were, as reported elsewhere, surprisingly stiff, springing into action only during the lightsaber duels. Digital Padme, I must note, did have a nice ass.

I found that I didn’t miss the original voice actors much. The guy that played Obi-Wan channeled Ewan McGregor, just as McGregor had previously channeled Alec Guinness. And at least Christopher Lee had a fair amount to do reprising his Count Dooku role.

I did find myself questioning one character choice: the decision to play the villainous Ziro the Hutt as a gay stereotype dolled up with feathers and given a Truman Capote voice. Like Jar Jar Binks–a character in the Stephen Fetchit tradition who was cast with a black voice actor encouraged to perform with a rasta accent–it’s one of those “what were they thinking?” things. Note to George: making him an alien doesn’t help.

As for the story…well, it was more a series of events than a story, which befits its origin as several kludged-together episodes of the forthcoming TV show. And I couldn’t get very invested in it. Will Anakin come to accept his new padawan pupil? Of course he will, until he kills her. Will the Republic convince the Hutts to permit military supply lines through their territory? Could I possibly care less?

Supercollector Adam Pawlus over at Galactic Hunter appears befuddled by the poor reception of the new film by Star Wars fans, but I think it’s pretty obvious. For one, this was more obviously kid-focused than the live-action films. (Indeed, virtually everyone at the 4:00 pm Saturday show I attended was a young child or a parent.) I would also point to the backlash against Lucas not only for the prequels but for the recent Indiana Jones feature.

But more important, I think, is that the fans could smell that there was no movie here. Lucasfilm has tried similar tactics before: the first Clone Wars cartoon was originally conceived as little more than a series of one-minute toy commercials until animator Gennedy Tartakovsky lobbied to make them longer and more elaborate. Prior to that was “Shadows of the Empire,” a between-the-movies, multi-media project that involved books, comics, toys and even a soundtrack, but no film. I believe that the fanboys saw that Lucas wasn’t even trying, so why should they bother?

And honestly, while I can’t say that I disliked the “movie” or felt that I wasted my money, neither can I recommend it to anyone who isn’t a diehard fan in it to see Shit Blowing Up. Or digital Padme ass.

The Jedi Purge

June 22nd, 2008 No comments

Last week, I made a major lifestyle choice. No, not what you’re thinking, though it’s now legal in California. Rather, a few days back I decided that enough was at last enough. It was time to stop the madness, and take back the toyroom.

As you know, I’ve been collecting Star Wars toys since they first arrived on store shelves in 1978. Back then, I idly thought one day that eventually there might be as many as sixty or seventy different action figures based on the promised nine films, and that it would be fun to set them up in little dioramas.

I had no idea what I was getting myself in for.

By the time the original Kenner toy line ended in 1985, 96 different figures had been released. (The most figures to come out in a single year were the 17 that accompanied the premiere of Return of the Jedi.) That was more than I had originally expected, but still a pretty reasonable total. With extra “army builders” such as stormtroopers, I had perhaps 130 total.

And indeed, I did follow through with my grand plan of collecting them all and setting up my little scenes. There were usually two reactions to my display: visitors were either impressed or frightened. (Vic was unusual in that she didn’t react at all.)

Flash forward to 1995, when the line was relaunched. While the early releases were absurdly beefy, with time the sculpts improved and they began to replace their so-called “vintage” counterparts in my scenes. Eventually, I purged most of my original figures, partially because I wanted to take advantage of their escalating secondary-market value, and partially because the plastic used to make them was getting tacky with age.

When the first of the prequels premiered in 1999, I had a choice: should I continue my collection with the new characters, or just stick with the original films? I thought “Do I really want to spend another eight years incessantly running to toy stores?” But I thought “At least then it will be over.”

Hah, hah, hah.

Nine years later, the line is still going strong. Too strong. The allegedly final film was released in 2005, but there are dozens and dozens of Star Wars toys planned for the next several months alone. Some of that is due to new media projects in the works, some due to the mature collectors market which allows the creation of ever more obscure characters to serve in “exclusive” boxed sets, and some due to what I believe to be sheer cussedness on the part of Hasbro.

The latter has manifested itself in a never-ending, rainbow coalition of droids in new paint schemes. Hasbro learned that people such as myself would buy R2-D2 dozens of times over if each was a different color. (And of course, the same trick was used for the many “astromech” droids seen in the films.)

The clone troopers have been even worse. Unlike the stormtroopers of old, which came solely in white, the many squadrons of clones seen in Revenge of the Sith each had their own unit colors. (The better to market to you, my dear.) There were orange clones, red clones, purple clones (yes, really)…

Then someone got the bright idea that the ones from the film weren’t enough. It was child’s play to create brand new clone squadrons. Bring on the “exclusives!”

The poster child for this trend was last year’s 14-figure set of repainted clones and Boba Fett knockoffs. Fourteen figures–nearly as many as the most prolific year of the original Star Wars toy line–and ten of them couldn’t even claim a tie to an “official” film, comic, novel or videogame.

I surprised myself by not being suckered into buying them for the sake of completism. It was harder than it sounds; I sometimes think I’m borderline OCD. But once I passed on those, it became just a little easier to avoid other “exclusives” of similarly dubious provenance.

Still, the toys piled up, and spilled off the overcrowded shelves onto the floor. It was a mess, and the collection was becoming harder to manage. It was starting to become more frustrating than fun.

Plus, I got fucking sick of this face:

It’s what you see every time you look under a clone trooper’s helmet. Naturally enough, as they’re all meant to be identical. But still, what’s the joy of an action figure with a removable helmet if it’s always the same damned face underneath? And now they’re even giving us classic trilogy stormtroopers with that same head!

As I sat in a movie theater a few weeks ago watching the trailer for the newest Star Wars media project, an animated film based on the Clone Wars, I realized that George Lucas had learned his lesson. Last time a Star Wars trilogy ended, it was a mere two years before the merchandising empire died out. He’s not gonna let it happen this time. After the Clone Wars cartoons there’s going to be a multi-season, live-action series set in the time period between the trilogies. And of course, an endless supply of spin-off stories spinning off an endless supply of figures…and on and on and on…

So, as I said, enough is enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I won’t buy any more Star Wars toys. And I’m not saying that I’m getting rid of all the ones I’ve already got. But what I am doing is getting back to my roots, and as a consequence, giving up any pretense of completism.

The truth is that while I’ve made my peace with the prequels, I’ve never really loved them the way I do the original trilogy. What I’ve decided is that all those Jedi, battle droids and especially those thrice-damned clones need to go.

And so, last week I began to cull my toyroom on a larger scale than ever before. In honor of the secret command that led to the purge of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, I’m calling it “Order 66.”

I tore down the displays and rebuilt them from scratch with a sole focus on the original films. No more scenes with fifteen guys in identical brown robes. No more Creamsicle colored clones. And no obligation to buy every damned thing that comes from Hasbro even if it did show up in a comic book once.

The toyroom now looks great. Most everything is off the floor. And losing the prequel displays gave me more room for Lego models. I even completely reorganized the closet. It’s very satisfying.

I did keep some prequel figures: background aliens, astromechs, and the various Sith lords. Also a few favorite items, such as General Grievous’ wheel bike and the vicious Acklay beast.

As for the rest…well, that’s phase two. The next step is to sort several hundred action figures and vehicles into lots, and to dig out their respective accessories. Then, it’s on to eBay!

I know that you probably don’t realize how big a step this is for me. I’ve been collecting this crap for thirty years, and whatever frustration I and my wallet have been feeling lately, there was a lot of inertia willing me onward. I’m not exactly Rosa Parks on the bus here, but I am taking back at a little piece of my life, and it feels good.

I Think I’m In Love

October 12th, 2007 No comments

Vic, have you considered taking up the trumpet?