Here’s a well-made documentary segment–the second in what’s supposed to be a four-part series–about the constant regurgitation of pop culture. This one looks at how movies build on the cinematic past, with a specific emphasis on Star Wars and (after the credits) Kill Bill. While I didn’t learn anything about the influences behind Star Wars that I didn’t already know, it was cool to see the specific shots from The Searchers, Dam Busters and Yojimbo side-by-side with their Lucasfilm counterparts.
ToyFare magazine is conducting a “fan poll” to determine a Star Wars character to be immortalized in Hasbro’s action figure line. And, against all odds, among the final choices is one I’ve been wanting for many years: Jaxxon, the Lepus Carnivorous!
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of him. He’s part of what is known in fan circles as the “Expanded Universe,” and known elsewhere as merchandising spin-offs.
Back in 1977, if you wanted a regular Star Wars fix, there was only one place to get it outside of a movie theater: Marvel’s monthly comic book. The first six issues adapted the original movie, but issue #7 began a whole new series of adventures that spanned the next decade.
That first brand-new story arc featured Han Solo and Chewbacca on a trip to the planet Aduba 3, where they found themselves in a thinly-disguised Seven Samurai rip-off. Fair enough, since George Lucas himself had admitted to being influenced by director Akira Kurosawa’s other films in constructing his space saga.
As it turned out, one of the seven eight heroes left to save the local villagers from raiders was a six-foot tall, green rabbit named Jaxxon, the Lepus Carnivorous.
Yes, it was as silly as it sounds, and I’ll admit that at the time I thought it was kinda stupid. But time and nostalgia have changed my feelings toward the green galoot. Besides, considering some of the characters that were later deemed good enough to feature in the prequel films, Bugs Bunny with a laser pistol fits right in.
So, here’s what I’m asking. Even if you couldn’t care less, please visit the web poll and cast a vote (or three) for Jaxxon. Do it for the children. (Or rather the fortysomething man-children.) You have my thanks!
Sci-fi fans born in the past 32 years (Great Gazoo, I’m old) have no idea just how massive was the impact of the original Star Wars. There had quite literally been nothing like it before in the history of cinema. It wasn’t just groundbreaking in its technical elements, but in its building of a fictional world. Part of the joy of seeing it again (and again and again) was that there always seemed to be something new lurking in the corner of the screen, some vehicle, droid or alien that you hadn’t previously noticed.
A big part of that was the Cantina sequence. Again, if you’re a youngun’, you just don’t get how much of a showstopper it was in ’77. There’s a good reason that for a time pretty much every space-based TV show/movie had to have a “Star Wars bar scene.”
Prior to Star Wars, the number of big-budget science-fiction films ever produced could be counted without even reaching for your toes. And if a flick had a “real” alien, and not just some dude in a leotard scolding us about our warlike ways, you can bet that they only sprung for one rubber suit.
That’s what made the Cantina such a favorite part of the film: there were dozens of aliens. There were giant preying mantises, humanoid flies and belligerent worms. There were wolf men, lizard men, mouse men and even a few men men for variety’s sake. Some had four eyes, some had only one. And with a couple of exceptions, none of them had names or were important to the plot in any way. Someone had gone to the trouble of designing and building all these things just to provide a backdrop to the main characters.
Without doubt, my favorite one was Hammerhead. Mind you, that was just the nickname that the production team used for him, later adopted by Kenner Toys when they made their action figure.
Hammerhead appears on-screen for all of five seconds, and all he does is sit at a table listening to another patron. But he made quite an impression on me, with his curiously inhuman noggin and his strange vocalizations.
While Kenner released a Cantina playset, they never made the bartender. Wouldn’t want to encourage kiddies to drink, I suppose. And so, in my world, Hammerhead ran the bar. That’s because Hammerhead was the coolest, and besides, who else are you gonna have run the bar? Snaggletooth? I don’t think so. He can’t even see over the counter. Walrus Man? After challenging Ben Kenobi, he’s down to one arm. And Greedo? Shot down in his prime by a mangy nerf herder.
Now, the time came when we could no longer allow all these wonderful creatures to remain anonymous. They had to have fully-fleshed out backstories so that we could use them in role-playing games and write novels about them. Every patron in the Cantina was there for a secret, special mission for either the Rebellion or the Empire. Not a single one could be simply popping down to the pub after work to knock a few down before returning to the hovel with Mrs. Belligerent Worm and the grubs.
And so, Hammerhead is no longer simply Hammerhead. He is Momaw Nadon of the peaceful, agrarian Ithorian race, a priest from the floating city of Tafanda Bay exiled to the desert world Tatooine after revealing his people’s technology to Imperial forces in hopes of saving the Mother Forest. One day, the Imperials demanded his help in locating an astromech droid. Arriving at the cantina…
Oh, fuck that. It’s Hammerhead. That’s all you need to know. And Hammerhead is awesome.
- – -
Bonus content: the 1979 Cantina drunk driving PSA.
I think it’s worth mentioning again just how great Lost has been this season. Even though new questions are being posed, others are being answered at a rapid clip.
One thing that’s made me happy about Season Five is the reintroduction of the DHARMA Initiative. That was an intriguing piece of backstory that was tabled once we were introduced to the Others and the Freighter Folk. However, thanks to this year’s unstuck-in-time storyline, we’ve had lots of time among the DHARMA-ites in their prime. Turns out that they’re not entirely as benign a batch of hippie researchers as it first seemed.
Anyhow, I bring this up because last night’s episode paid off something I’d been hoping for ever since we learned that most of the cast had been transported to 1977. “Hmm,” I thought, “That means that Star Wars should be coming out any day now.” And, sure enough, last night we found out that in his spare time, Hurley has been writing the script to The Empire Strikes Back (with a few improvements) with the intention of saving George Lucas a little work. Cute!
Another year, another movie wrap-up. Here’s the list of all 2008 releases I tramped down to the multimegaplex to watch. As always, films are listed in terms of domestic box-office because I’m lazy and therefore cribbing from the yearly summary at Box Office Mojo.
- The Dark Knight
- Iron Man
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- Quantum of Solace
- The Incredible Hulk
- Get Smart
- Tropic Thunder
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- Baby Mama
- Burn After Reading
- Speed Racer
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars
That’s fifteen, two down from last year. And only five of the top 10, also down two. Maybe I should’ve seen Hancock and Madagascar 2? Eh, maybe not.
Going into 2008, a lot of folks–including myself–were seeing the potential for another 1982, a banner year for filmic geekdom. Certainly, there were a great many prominent genre efforts, despite Star Trek and Harry Potter being pushed back into 2009 for reasons known only to movie marketers.
I suspect that for many geeks and geeks-in-training, it was every bit as big as ’82. Theater clean-up crews are still wiping up the spooge deposited at screenings of The Dark Knight, the bestest movie EVER. Similarly, Iron Man had folks falling over each other on the way to the microphone to proclaim its sublime charms.
For me, 2008 was a little bet “meh.”
First, let’s get The Dark Knight out of the way. It’s telling that I not only didn’t run out and buy the DVD on its day of release (which you can damn well bet I did for Speed Racer), but I didn’t even put it on my Christmas list. Ultimately, I did receive a copy as a holiday gift, and I do intend to give it another whirl.
My relative lack of enthusiasm for The Dark Knight is for much the same reason as my muted reaction to the regenerated James Bond series: it just didn’t give me what I wanted from the franchise. Like Quantum of Solace, I respect the level of talent involved, as well as the need to curb the excesses of the past, but at the end of the day I guess I’m just not ready for a complete reinvention. For me, Dark Knight was only a superhero movie in that someone wore a cape; it was closer in feel to a modern crime drama or even a Silence of the Lambs-style thriller. And I’m sorry, but Heath Ledger is my fourth favorite Joker.
Iron Man was another one that had both fanboys and regular critics touching themselves, but again I struggled to see what the fuss was about. I did actually ask for this one at Christmas, and watched it a second time over the holiday break. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable film. Robert Downey Jr. is having fun, and it shows. On a second viewing, I still found it to suffer from a relative paucity of Iron Man; there are long stretches in which not much happens, and even the final fight is fairly brief. I actually found The Incredible Hulk a bit more satisfying as a superhero film.
The “meh” continued with Indiana Jones and Hellboy II. I enjoyed them, but neither knocked my socks off. I do think that public reaction to Indiana Jones was a bit harsh in that everyone seemed to be anticipating another Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than another Last Crusade. And all the indignation about “nuking the fridge” seemed more about trying to invent a new “jump the shark” meme than a legitimate criticism of a series that has always reveled in unbelievable moments. Back in the day, my dad complained mightily about Indiana Jones getting pulled under that truck in Raiders, and I recall similar audience reactions to Indy using a rubber raft to escape a crashing plane in Temple of Doom. The real problem with Crystal Skull was that damned crystal skull.
Another Lucasfilm release was Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which amounted to little more than a cash-grab culled from the weekly animated series. One thing that has become clear is that for as much bitching as we old-school fans do about the prequels, for today’s kids this is Star Wars, and they love it.
The other entry in the computer-animated space robot sweepstakes was WALL-E, which was a sheer delight, start to finish. I don’t go to enough movies to confidently claim that any of them is the “best of” a given year, but WALL-E was the best that I saw.
Long-time readers will of course know that I absolutely loved Speed Racer. And hey, there are at least two of us: Richard Corliss over at Time magazine put it on his top 10 list. It reminded me of another film I adored, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, not only because of its entirely green-screened sets and hyper-unreality, but because in both cases audiences just didn’t seem to care. A lot of folks who were perfectly okay with the likes of Transformers suddenly demanded complex plots and realistic characters from their popcorn flicks. Whatever. I think that blogger Chris Sims summed it up best when he chalked up its poor reception to people who actively hated joy.
Cloverfield was another movie made expressly for me. Despite my ongoing hassle with Hasbro over my duplicate Cloverfield monster, I really liked this modern take on the venerable giant monster movie subgenre.
I saw a few good comedies this year. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had a lot of good moments–especially the climactic Dracula puppet musical–but I could’ve done without having to see Jason Segal’s junk. Tropic Thunder was ridiculous fun, with Robert Downey Jr. once again the big draw, though no moment was funnier than one featuring Ben Stiller and his would-be adopted “son”. Despite my well-documented love of Tina Fey, I felt that Baby Mama went a bit flat, and wasn’t nearly as good as Mean Girls. Get Smart managed not to tread upon my affection for the original TV series, and I felt that both Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway acquitted themselves in the roles created by Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Finally there was Burn After Reading, which alternated between hilarious and too weird for words.
Can’t say that there’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2009, aside from the aforementioned Star Trek and Harry Potter (and it must be said that this is my least favorite story in the Potter series). Land of the Lost is on my radar, though the inclusion of Will Ferrell makes me wonder what they’re going for; at least it appears to include old-school Sleestak. Terminator: Salvation has my interest, if only because it’ll finally pay off the future war we’ve been promised since the original film. And the new Wolverine flick looks promising; while I don’t have the Wolverine love that most comics fans do, I’ll admit that Hugh Jackman was a lot of fun in the previous X-Men films. Oh, and Watchmen, assuming it actually comes out.
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.
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.
Two hundred eighty-nine figures. Nineteen vehicles. Grand total: $1,040.84. Packages going to Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Germany, Australia, and Urbana, Illinois.
While I certainly didn’t make back what I initially spent on all these toys, neither did I merely make pennies on the dollar, as I’d feared. I believe that all the homework and sorting helped goose the sales.
The new Clone Wars “movie” opens Friday, and I believe that its impending release and the associated hype provided the tipping point that led to my personal Order 66. In large part, that’s because I see it as a cynical cash-grab: it’s literally three episodes of the upcoming TV show strung together. That sort of thing is nothing new; it used to happen all the time back in the ’50s and ’60s. But I find it a bit more galling in that we’re getting all the usual pre-release parties and Happy Meal toys that would’ve accompanied a “real” Star Wars feature, only this time without the actual film. Heck, with the exceptions of Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee and the omnipresent Anthony Daniels, they didn’t even bother to hire back the original actors to provide the voice-overs. What, Hayden Christensen was too busy?
In the end, though, I think that my lack of enthusiasm about all things Clone (which I’ve previously discussed here) comes down to this: while a tragedy of a fall from grace that ends in betrayal and murder is a perfectly legitimate story, it’s a hell of a thing to base a franchise around.
“This fall, on Cartoon Network: Titus Andronicus, the animated series!”
Outside of the visceral, visual thrill of droids and starships in combat (which I’ll admit is considerable), I’ve got no real stake in the Clone Wars. Who am I rooting for? The clones who eventually turn on their masters and bring about the Empire? The corrupt Republic and its puppeteering Sith Lord? The hapless Jedi, who foolishly fall into the elaborate, and at times obvious, trap?
Besides, we know how it turns out. All those nifty Jedi? Dead. That cute, little female padawan who features so prominently in the trailers? Dead. (And probably killed by her own master, Anakin Skywalker.)
Would you like apple fries with your Happy Meal?
Updated: Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik blogs about this very issue.
It took a few weeks longer than I’d originally hoped, but my personal Jedi purge is finally happening. I’ve currently got 25 eBay auctions running. I’ve still got a few large items (including the massive Royal Starship) to photograph and weigh, but everything else is on the block.
The Emperor had an army of clones to execute Order 66, but for my own sale, it’s just me. (That may be because I’m also purging my Clones!) And it took forever to sort the toys into lots, correctly identify everything, and dig through literally hundreds of guns and other accessories and match them as best I could to their respective figures. That last part was most daunting, as many of their weapons look very, very similar.
But at last the de-clone-ification is underway, and to my utter surprise, more than half of the auctions already have bids!
Update: With a little more than one day to go on the first of the auctions, 22 lots have bids for a total of $579.68! As my recent eBay experience has been that most of the bidding occurs in the last day or so, I’m floored that there’s already been so much activity. And several of the lots have upwards of 30 “watchers,” so who knows what will happen this weekend?
Announced today by Adam Pawlus of Galactic Hunter: an exclusive set of Star Wars figures based “on the Crimson Empire flashback scene in which we see Kir Kanos and Carnor Jax in training.”
Crimson Empire, for those of you who have lives, is a Dark Horse comic book about the guys who make up the Emperor’s Royal Guard: the ones with the red robes and the phallic helmets. If there’s one thing that Star Wars fans love, it’s dudes in all-concealing headgear who stand around looking bad-ass. (See: Fett, Boba.) The Royal Guard are so stone cold that they don’t do a single thing in the entire film saga. They don’t need to prove anything.
But it seems that before donning the Red Robes of Awesome, they go through a training phase in which they dress up as their favorite Power Ranger. I believe that the guy in the black robes above must be the wizard Zordon.
Click through for the full horror.