Star Wars Tapestry Unveiled!

star-wars-prequelsFans of Star Wars are often able to pride themselves on their ability to recount the entire story, scene for scene and even word for word. But artist Aled Lewis took it  step further and hand-stitched a continuous tapestry. The creation process took six months, involved creating each scene on his laptop, and then transferring it in pixel format onto cloth and cross-stitching it in detail.

It is called “The Coruscant Tapestry”, a hand-stitched, 30 foot cotton thread illustration printed on Klostern fabric. The tapestry depicts the memorable moments from the “Star Wars” movies – from “A New Hope” to the way to “Revenge of the Sith” – in a way that is similar in style to that of The Bayeux Tapestry, which tells of the events that led to the Norman conquest of England.

starwars_tapestry1Click on the image above to get a closer look at the tapestry. And if you are in the area the awe-inspiring artwork is on display at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, and available to buy for just $20,000. I know, seems like a lot to spend on something pop-culture related; but then again, I’m not a collector!

Source: news.cnet.com

Worlds of Star Wars

Back with more examples of cool sci-fi worlds. Last time, it was the Dune universe, today it’s Star Wars! Once again, I will looking at the original movies, with some added info from the expanded franchise, but not the prequels. Sorry, but like most Star Wars fanboys, I prefer to pretend that those installments didn’t exist. Nothing personal, its just that aside from tying things up in a nice little package and providing some dazzling visual effects, they really didn’t enrich the universe any.

But this aint a spiel on Lucas and his lost sense of direction. This is about cool Star Wars worlds! And here are the top contenders:

Alderaan:
This planet was apparently the soul of the Republic, much in the same way that Coruscant was its capitol. Renowned throughout the galaxy for its peaceful inhabitants and unspoiled beauty, Alderaan was also a cultural capitol that produced many of the universe’s greatest artists, poets and performers. As the home to Princess Leia Organa and her adopted father, Senator Bail Organa – both of whom were members of the Rebel Alliance – it was also was the first planet to be destroyed by the Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope.

In the expanded universe, Alderaan is depicted as a lush and fertile world covered in oceans, grasslands, mountain ranges and canyons. In order to preserve the planet’s beauty, Alderaan’s cities were built directly into the landscape, either within canyon walls, on stilts along the shorelines, or underneath the polar ice. The planet’s capitol, Aldera, was situated on a small island in the center of a caldera.

In terms of government, the planet was ruled by House Antilles, a constitutional monarchy, of which the Organa family were the last surviving members. Jedi master Ulic Qel Dromo, who’s name comes up in the game Knights of the Old Republic, was also from Alderaan. The popular Star Wars creature known as the “nerf” (which I believe was inspired by Herbert’s “slig”) also comes from this planet.

The name is clearly inspired by the Arabic name for for two pairs of stars alpha and beta Canis Minoris (currently known as Procyon and Gomeisa) and alpha and beta Geminorum (Castor and Pollux). Translated literally, the name means “the two forearms” or “the two front paws”. I can only surmise that Lucas learned of this disused astronomic name and decided to use it in his franchise because of its esoteric appeal.

Corellia:
A bustling world of spacers and traders, Corellia is also the home planet of Han Solo, Wedge Antilles and Garm Bel Iblis. It is also the location of the Corellian shipyards, a series of orbital factories that produce such ships as the famed Millenium Falcon, the Corellian Corvette and the Imperial-class Star Destroyer. In terms of ecology, Corellia is lush world with several highly developed urban centers, resulting in a great deal in trade. Little wonder then why Corellia is famous for its spacefaring culture, smugglers, pirates, and roguish personalities.

During the time of the Galactic Republic, Corellia was the capitol of the system and chief representative of the “Five Brothers”. This refers to the five habitable planets in the system, three of which were home to their own indigenous species.  Being the closest planet to Corel, and the most developed, Corellia was seen as the senior brother in this arrangement.

Another interesting feature about the Corellian system is Centerpoint Station, an ancient installation that was built over a million years before events in A New Hope. Built by an insectoid species known as Killik, the station was apparently a massive tractor-beam array that was capable of towing entire planets from one point in the galaxy to another, which is believed to be the reason why Corell boasts several worlds with their own indigenous inhabitants.

During the reign of the Galactic Empire, Corellia became an imperial mandate, but maintained its fierce spirit of independence until the arrival of the New Republic. This spirit of independence is evidenced by the fact that the Rebel Alliance was founded here when the founders convened to agree on a declaration of principles. It was also shown in the way the Corellians resisted Imperial rule, both through its production of smugglers and pirates and its anti-Imperial demonstrations.

Although it never appeared in the original series, the planet is featured in a number of novelizations and video game adaptations (particularly the Corellian Trilogy and Star Wars: The Old Republic).

Coruscant:
The capitol of the Galactic Republic and Empire in the Star Wars universe, this world was essentially one massive city. According to the expanded universe, approximately one trillion humans and aliens live on the planet, of which humans make up the majority, and the planet-wide city is multitiered, reflecting a sort of class system. Whereas the upper levels are occupied by the wealthiest citizens and members of the Republic’s bureaucracy, the native inhabitants of the planet are largely extinct or live on the lower levels while the planet’s surface is inhabited solely by outcasts and indigents.

The uppermost levels were made up of skyscrapers that dwarfed even the planet’s natural mountain chains. These were lighted regularly by the planet’s sun and a series of orbital mirrors which ensured that shadows cast by the massive structures did not overcast the surrounding environment too much. At the lower levels where natural light could not reach, holograms and artificial lights provided most of the illumination. These regions were often known as the “entertainment districts” due to the availability of bars, gambling halls and other distractions. People who lived in these regions were known as “Twilighters” because of the areas seedy reputation and appearance.

Coruscant is also home to the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Order, the Jedi Temple, the Republic Archives, and the Imperial palace. All trade routes cross at the planet’s galactic coordinates, ensuring a constant coming and going of trade and transport ships in and around the planet.  In addition, several artificial satellites and shipyards were placed in orbit around the planet, especially during the reign of Emperor Palpatine. The massive output of garbage and the need for food and water meant that most of the planet’s needs had to be handled from offworld.

In addition to ejecting all of its non-recyclable garbage into orbit and importing most of its food, huge feats of engineering were required to meet its daily need for water. This was accomplished by piping in freshwater from the planet’s glaciers and underwater aquifers, which were created when the planet’s vast oceans were drained to create room for more urban sprawl. Just about all buildings on the planet also had their own semi self-sufficient ecosystems built directly into their buildings, where water, like most other necessities, was recycled.

Although it did not appear in the regular series, Coruscant was a focal point in Timothy Zhan’s Thrawn Trilogy and made numerous subsequent appearances in novelizations and graphic novels (most notably, the Dark Empire series). The name is apparently derived from the Latin coruscant which translates as “vibrating” and/or “glittering”, referring to its opulent appearance from space.

Dagobah:
A planet in the outer rim of the galaxy, and the home of Jedi Grand Master Yoda during his long exile. Composed of swamps and forests and teeming with life, the planet was devoid of cities or infrastructure. It was the location of Luke Skywalker’s training in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and also the last known location of Yoda before he died of natural causes.

Long before events in the original trilogy, the planet was also the site of a major battle between Jedi Master Minch battled and killed a powerful Dark Jedi. As a result, the cave where he fell absorbed his dark powers and became, according to Yoda, a place that was “strong with the dark side”. It was here that Luke confronted his demons and gained the first hints as to his true ancestry.

Because of its uncharted nature and its resplendent nature, Yoda chose this world for his exile, knowing that the presence of so many creatures and dark side energy would mask his force signature.

Dantooine:
An Outer Rim world, known for its mild climate and resplendent system of grasslands, rivers and lakes. Though far from most galactic trade routes, Dantooine was a popular destination for people looking to escape the crush of the Core Worlds. Nevertheless, its population was largely made up of farmers and small communities.

Being a remote and peaceful world, Dantooine was also home to the Jedi Academy. During the Sith War, most Jedi Masters were stationed here and conducted the training of Jedi Knights. Towards the end of the war, the Academy was destroyed by the Sith during an orbital bombardment. However, the academy was quickly rebuilt as soon as the war was over and a new crisis loomed.

According to the KOTOR series, the planet was also once part of the Rakatan Empire. Remnants of this occupation were demonstrated by a series of ruins which apparently contained the first of several Star Maps, the purpose of which was to safeguard the location of the Rakatan Star Forge. It was here that Revan began his descent to the dark side when he began investigating these ruins for hints as to its location. Exar Kun was also trained here, another notorious enemy of the Republic who began as a Jedi.

Endor:
Also known as the “Forest Moon of Endor” and “The Sanctuary Moon”, Endor was a small moon that orbited the gas giant of Endor. The homeworld of the Ewok race, and the location of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. It was also the site of the Battle of Endor, where Rebel forces engaged the Imperial fleet and army in both orbit of the planet and planetside. Though intended as a trap by the Emperor, this battle became the turning point in the Galactic Civil War and led to the Rebels to their eventual victory over the Empire.

Due to the fact the the second Death Star was supposedly incomplete, the Rebels were forced to put down on the world and locate the shield generator that protected it. In the course of their search, they came upon the indigenous Ewok people and were recruited by them. This alliance allowed for them to locate the generator and, when the Emperor’s trap closed around them, overcome the Imperial forces guarding it.

According to Lucas, this world was inspired by his original ideas for Kashyyyk, the home of the Wookies (see below). Here, the surface of the planet was lush and green, covered in massive natural forests and filled with tons of natural predators. In order to survive, the Ewoks live in villages built above ground, anchored along the sides of the massive trees where land-based predators cannot reach them. These same characteristics would be recycled later in the franchise where descriptions of Kashyyyk came up.

Hoth:
The sixth and furthest planet in the remote Hoth system, this planet is a desolate and ice covered world renowned for its extreme cold and harsh climate. Because of its remote location, it was also the home of the Rebel’s Echo Base for a time during the Galactic Civil War, shortly after the Rebels destroyed the Death Star and were forced to relocate from Yavin 4. The Battle of Hoth, during which time the Empire discovered and destroyed this base, was a focal point in the movie Empire Strikes Back, where Rebels fought a pitch battle to cover their evacuation from the planet.

Beyond the planet was a large asteroid belt which apparently wreaked havoc with navigation and sensors, another reason why the Rebels chose the location for their base. The cold climate resulted in a relatively small amount of native life forms, which included the tantaun and the predatorial wampas. During the events of Empire, Luke Skywalker was attacked by a wampa and forced to flee its lair after cutting off one of its arms with his lightsaber. This encounter and his subsequent near-death experience on the icy plains led to a vision in which Obi Wan instructed him to go to Dagobah and seek the training of Jedi Grand Master Yoda.

From what I can tell, this planet is named after Hermann Hoth, a German General who is best known for his command of the 4th Panzer Army during Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of Russia) and his subsequent defeat at the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. Known for his cunning and icy temperament, it seems fitting that an ice-planet would be named after him!

Kashyyyk:
Also known as “Wookiee Planet C”, “Edean”, “G5-623”, and “Wookiee World”, Kashyyyk is a planet in the Mid Rim. It was the lush, wroshyr tree-filled home world of the Wookiees and the home planet of Chewbacca. During the time of the Sith War, the planet was a source of slaves, all of which were exported by the Cserka Corporation. After slaving operations ceased, the planet became a member of the Galactic Republic, only to be reduced to the status of a slave colony again during the time of the Galactic Empire. With the fall of the Empire, the planet were once again liberated and became a member of the New Republic.

Much like Endor, on which it was based, Kashyyyk was a lush word covered by forests, the greatest of which was known as the wroshyr tree. Due to the presence of natural predators, the Wookies made their home high up in the trees branches, constructing large villages that are anchored to the trunks and connected by bridge ways. Though primitive by Galactic standards, the Wookies demonstrated great ingenuity, especially when it came to adapting and using advanced technologies for their own purposes. In addition to constructing landing pads from the tops of large trees, Wookies are also known for their use of bowcasters, a blaster modeled in the shape of a crossbow.

The forest floor is considered sacred to the Wookies and off-limits to off-worlders. This area is known as the “Shadowlands” due the fact that very little light penetrates the forest canopies and reaches the forest floor. In addition, it is populated by many species of predators that are large and fierce enough that even the Wookies are wary of them. In Knights of the Old Republic, it was revealed that the ancient race known as Rakatan’s once used the planet as a source of slaves and even terraformed it, resulting in its lush forests, as well as its powerful and diverse species. The only remaining trace of the Rakatan empire, aside from the stimulated environment, is a Rakatan Star Map that is hidden in a corner of the Shadowlands.

Korriban:
This planet was the homeworld of the original Sith species, and over the course of many generations became the home of the Sith Order. According to the KOTOR series, the original Sith Lords who defied the Jedi Order and embraced the dark side traveled to this world and subjugated the native species through their command of the force. Seeing them as godlike creatures, the Sith Lords were elevated to the status of divine leaders and were interred here after their deaths.

The tombs of original Sith Masters – Naga Sadow, Marko Ragnos, Ajunta Pall and Ludo Kressh – were all built in the Valley of Darkness. The inspiration for this was clearly the great Pyramids of Giza where the Pharaohs were interred. Each master has their own story, but it is apparenly Naga Sadow, the leader of the Sith during the “Great Hyperspace War”, that is most significant. Shortly after arriving on Korriban, the original Sith Masters began to turn on each other out of jealousy and mutual recrimination. In order to bring unity to them, Sadow took advantage of the arrival of a Republic survey team to convince his people that they were being invaded and needed to go to war.

The war took place roughly 5000 years before events in A New Hope are depicted and resulted in the total destruction of the Sith Empire. Korriban was devastated in the final assault, hence why the climate of the planet is desolate and rocky with little to no native flaura or fauna. In addition, Naga Sadow fled to Yaving 4 where he built a temple to himself and left a trace of his dark spirit, which in turn led to the rise of Sith Master Exar Kun (see below).

In addition, the planet became the home of the Sith Academy during the events of KOTOR 1, after Revan reestablished a base there. This apparently had much to do with the presence of a Rakatan Star Map, which was located within one of the tombs. The presence of this device, which are known to have dark side energy, may have a lot to do with why this planet was sought out by the original Sith Lords in the first place and became the locus of such dark powers. After events in KOTOR played out, the planet was once again left desolate when both the academy and its initiates were all destroyed.

Nar Shaddaa:
Also known as the “Vertical City”, the “Smuggler’s Moon” and “Little Coruscant”, Nar Shaddaa is the largest moon of the planet Nal Hutta, the homeworld of the Hutts. Like Coruscant, it is covered by a planet-wide metropolis. But unlike the galactic capitol – which is only seedy and dark at the lower levels of its sprawl – Nar Shadaa is known for being dirty, dangerous and seedy just about everywhere on the planet.

Nar Shaddaa began as a stopover for merchants and smugglers who are traveling to and from the outer rim. In time, however, cities grew between the refueling spires and loading docks and began to be permeated by illegal activities of every kind. Often serving as entertainment for merchants, bounty hunters and privateers, gambling halls, race courses and seedy establishments quickly sprung up which were either run by organized crime or paid dues to them. Most syndicates have a home on this world, including the Hutts themselves who are known for being notorious gangsters.

Because of its reputation, a great deal of technological research and development also occurred on Nar Shaddaa. Companies that wanted to avoid restrictions and regulations that were commonplace elsewhere would set up shop on this planet, knowing that certain “fees” were the worst they could expect. Hence, in addition to being a place famous for gambling, smuggling, and assorted illegal activity, it is also a technological center of sorts.

Nar Shaddaa makes appearances numerous times in the Star Wars expanded universe, notably in the KOTOR series, the Force Unleashed, and other novelizations and games. Repeatedly, it has served as a hiding place for Jedi exiles or anyone else looking to disappear.

Tatooine:
Possibly the most well-known planet in the Star Wars franchise, appearing prominently in both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, Tatooine is a desert planet that orbits the binary Tatoo star system. Tatooine is sparsely-populated, mainly by moisture farmers, scrap dealers and the indigenous Sandpeople. However, the planet was also a focal point for events during the Sith War and the Galactic Civil War.

In the former case, it was the location of one of the Star Maps, and hence was visited by Revan twice. It was later the ancestral home of Luke Skywalker and the exile home of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, both of whom became involved in the Civil War when princess Leia’s Corvette was boarded and her droids  – R2D2 and C3P0 – were forced to jettison in orbit of the planet.

Tatooine has historically been controlled by Hutts, the most notorious of which was Jabba. During the events of A New Hope, Han was indebted to Jabba and took on a contract with Luke and Obi-Wan in order to pay him back. However, due to the demands of the Civil War, Han was unable to pay off his debt and wound up becoming a fixture in Jabba’s palace. His rescue, which was carried out by Luke, Chewbacca, Leia, Lando, R2D2 and C3P0, led to Jabba’s death and the majority of his crew.

In addition to its mixed population of colonists and transient inhabitants, Tatooine is home to two sentient races of people: the Sandpeople and the Jawas. Although not indigenous to Tatooine, the Jawas had made a permanent home on the desert world, salvaging droids, ship parts, and assorted electronics for resale and repair. The Sandpeople, who are indigenous, are a fierce, nomadic people who have adapted to desert life and are hostile of outsiders. The native bantha creature is apparently sacred to them, serving as a mount and a beast of burden. Native species also include the elusive Krayt Dragon and the fearsome Rancor.

Legend has it that Tatooine was once a lush, ocean covered world which was ruled by the Infinite Empire (i.e. the Rakata). During the decline of the empire, the indigenous people rebelled and forced them off the planet. In response, the Rakata subjected the world to an orbital bombardment which devastated the planet, turning the surface to glass and rendering it inhospitable for all time. This is apparently how Tatooine became the desert world it is by the current time of the franchise.

Yavin 4:
One of three habitable worlds which orbit the gas giant Yavin in the system of the same name. Known for its lush climate and jungles, this remote world would also play a pivotal role in galactic events. After the Hyperspace War ended, it served as the exiled home of Sith Master Naga Sadow and his followers. Before his death, many temples were built in honor of him and he himself was entombed in a sarcophagus where he waited in a comatose state until the day when a renewed Sith Order would find him.

Several centuries later, he would be awakened by Freedon Nadd, a fallen Jedi who sought knowledge of the ancient Sith. After learning all he could from Sadow, Nadd turned on him and killed him, in true Sith fashion. He then took Sadow’s place as the Dark Lord and died shortly thereafter. After several centuries, another fallen Jedi named Exar Kun came to Yavin and destroyed Nadd’s apparition. He then used the children of Sadow’s followers to build new temples and locate Sadow’s ship, buried beneath some old ruins.

In time, other Jedi began to join him, the most noteworthy of which was Ulic Qel Dromo. After allying himself with the Krath and the Mandalorians, he began waging war against the Republic. In time, the Jedi Order and Republic defeated him, but Kun managed to seperate his spirit from his body and would remain tied to his temples for centuries to come.

During the Galactic Civil War, Yavin 4 served as the Rebel alliances main base after they abandoned Dantooine. The Battle of Yavin occurred shortly thereafter when the Death Star, in pursuit of Princess Leia and the Millennium Falcon, arrived in the system and attempted to destroy the planet. After destroying the Death Star, the rebels were forced to abandon the planet and relocate to Hoth (see above). The moon remained relatively uninhabited and untouched for over a decade when Luke Skywalker chose to build the new Jedi Academy there.

Some Final Thoughts:
Okay, think I got them all. Or at least the ones I could squeeze in without going incredibly, incredibly long. But I’m not sure the datum, as collected from the various sources that make up the Star Wars universe support any conclusions. This might be because there are so many contributing authors, writers and conceptual artists. But I do notice a few things which should be plain to anyone who takes the time to sort through these worlds and the universe which encompasses them.

1. Borrow early, borrow often!: For one, Lucas and the franchise he created borrowed heavily from many sources. One can see without much effort inspiration from such franchises as Foundation, Dune, and various other science fiction serials. He was also not averse to taking from classic cinema, literature, and history. In addition to the familiar notions of galactic empires, an ecumenopolis (worldwide city), ancient alien empires, and multicultural, racial hierarchies, there was also plenty of gun-slinging, swashbuckling, duels, and underworld elements. All of this combined to create a universe that is quite rich and appeals to both the adult and kid in us, more often the latter.

2. This universe be big!: After looking through all the background, details, side stories and spinoffs, I could only feel that the Star Wars universe is expansive and packed. This goes for material happening both before and after the original movies. Long before Lucas and Lucasarts began tackling the pre-history of the franchise, there were writers and graphic novels makers who were writing sequels to the franchise. And while most of the novels got repetitive and cliched after awhile, some of it was pretty gutsy, proposing the fall of the New Republic and the resurgence of the Sith Empire once again.

And when it comes to the prehistory of the Galactic Civil War, it seems that the Old Republic was not as peaceful and boring as it was previously made out to be. In fact, the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith appears to be a regular feature in the pre-New Hope universe, happening periodically whenever a new Sith Lord emerged and recruited people to their cause. Sure, here too, things seem repetitive, but at least they’re not boring. And it also raises some interesting questions, like is this an ongoing fued that will never end, or is there some ultimate purpose behind the battle between the light side and dark side?

Stuff like this makes me both more sad and indifferent to the existence of the Star Wars Prequels. On the one hand, they seem all the more disappointing when held up to a franchise that is as detailed and diverse as this one. On the other, they seem dwarfed by the contributions of so many other creative minds, almost to the point where they can become irrelevant. With this in mind, it kind of makes sense why Lucas has become so jealous and bossy with the franchise in recent years. Perhaps after seeing how others could enrich his creation so much, he realized just how superfluous he could become. Hence all this “I am the CREATOR” talk! Seen this way, it could very well be that this is his way of reasserting ownership over a universe that is outgrowing him.

That was fun! Join me again for another installment in the “Conceptual Sci-Fi” series! And look for my review of Hunger Games and more chapters of Data Miners too!

Of Planetkillers!

What is it about doomsday devices that make them simultaneously scary and freakishly cool? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that they can turn an entire planet into glass, render it completely uninhabitable, or just plain blow it to smithereens? If none of these things do it for you, I suggest you stop reading now, this is what the whole post is about!

Where these ideas come from is a source of debate, but it goes without saying that apocalypticism is part of our collective unconscious. The very concept of the end of the world has worked its way into every world religion and is as intrinsic to our beliefs as creation. And I suppose that it goes without saying that since humanity began to develop weapons that could actually level entire cities, depopulate entire countrysides, or even raze whole continents, that this obsession with the end of days has expanded beyond the spiritual world and has become an everyday preoccupation.

So it’s little wonder then why science fiction writers have taken it upon themselves to come up with concepts of machines that can destroy and sterilize entire worlds. It just seems like the next logical step after anthrax and thermonuclear weapons doesn’t it? And in the course of this, some pretty cool concepts have been thought up. Here are some examples from various popular sci-fi franchises:

The Death Star:
Without a doubt, this planet killer is the best known in the business. Making its first appearance in A New Hope where it destroyed the planet Alderaan, the Death Star was a massive space station that was created to inspire fear and silence all dissent to the Emperor’s rule. At the center of this force of unrivaled terror was a massive, high-powered laser that resembled a huge eye or a massive crater on the station’s surface. A single beam from this weapon was capable of breaking planets apart and obliterating all life on the surface.

Granted, this same station was then destroyed by a ragtag group of Rebel pilots, guys in tiny fighters who knew about a tiny exhaust vent in the side. But its replacement was even more badass! The second Death Star, which appeared in Return of the Jedi boasted a laser that was capable of recharging more quickly between shots and was accurate enough to take out large vessels as well. Before being destroyed by the Rebels at the Battle of Endor, the new Death Star managed to destroy two Mon Calamari cruisers with ease.

But alas, this weapon’s fatal flaw lay in its design. Being so big, small craft were capable of penetrating its defenses and attacking its vulnerable points. In the case of the first incarnation, this involved firing torpedoes into an exhaust port which would then reach the main reactor. In the second version, there were to be no exhaust ports so the station would have no outward vulnerability. But as long as it was still under construction, the station was vulnerable and hence open to attack. And given it’s sheer size and the time it would take to complete just one, that’s a pretty big window! I guess it’s true what they say: the bigger they are…

The Vorlon/Shadow Planet Killers:
In the B5 universe, a few different types of planet killers existed, both of which were the property of the oldest races. Given the amount of energy that would be required to destroy an entire planet, it was reasoned that only ancient races like the Shadows and Vorlons would be capable of constructing such a thing. However, the younger races had their own means of leveling a planet, if not destroying it completely. This involved mass drivers, which the Centauri used in season two to hurl asteroids into the surface of the Narn homeworld, causing massive destruction and forcing the Narn to surrender. But that’s another matter. Here are what the proper examples of planet killers in the B5 universe looked like:

The Vorlon planetkiller was essentially just a massive gun that was built into a ship. The long, flattened spheroid with plenty of tentacle like things would be escorted through space, fly into position around the enemy planet, and then fire a massive energy discharge that would obliterate the entire thing. By comparison, the Shadow’s planetkiller was much more complex, not to mention insidious!

In what appeared to be a massive, black cloud, a Shadows Shroud held a massive buckminsterfullerene-like assembly that would move into position around a planet and then enclose itself around it. The assembly would then unleash a massive swarm of missiles which would bore into the surface and then detonate, releasing a massive thermonuclear payload near the core of the planet which would trigger tectonic activity that would rip the planet apart.

The former planet killer got its fair share of attention in the series proper, where the combined forces of Sheridan and Delenn’s alliance managed to destroy one only by calling in the help of the First Ones. Between all their races, only they possessed the kind of firepower that was needed in order to destroy a ship of that size. Some attention is also given to the Shadow’s Shrouds, but it wasn’t until the TV movie “A Call to Arms” came out that any in-depth explanations of how they worked or how they could be beat ever came up. In this movie, we see for the first time what the internal structure of the Shroud looks like and how the device could be defeated by attacking its nerve center. This alone would not destroy it, but would prematurely trigger it, causing it to unleash all its missiles, which would then impact and destroy the assembly itself.

The Behemoth:
This planet killer comes to us courtesy of the Wing Commander videogame and made its appearance in the third installment in the series. Much like the Vorlon planet killer, the Behemoth was essentially a big gun that was designed to blow up planets by firing a single, concentrated beam directly into its surface. Simple, and effective, were it not for the fact that the weapon suffered from some congenital defects, which included gaps in the shielding array and the fact that it had no defensive mounts anywhere along the hull.

However, given the fact that the Terran Confederation (the good guys in the story) were losing to the Kilrathi Empire (the bad guys), the weapon had to be pressed into service before it was complete. Its intended purpose was to destroy the Kilrathi homeworld, a move which they believed was the only way to win the war outright at that point. Naturally, the vessel was destroyed due to a combination of its weaknesses and high-level treason. However, the good guys still won in the end due to alternate plans and daring-do, so don’t fret!

Unicron:
The Transformers franchise was something I enjoyed for many years as a kid. And were it not for Michael Bay, I might have enjoyed it again as a result! But whatever… In the course of telling the story of machines that could transform to hide their true identities, one robot in particular truly stands out. Mainly because of his size! His name is Unicron, a massive machine that can transform from a robot to a planet-sized sphere, and which preys on smaller planets. A pretty cool concept, really, especially for a children’s cartoon! Unlike other planet killer devices though, Unicron was unique in that he was a sentient being, and not a simple machine that was under the control of others. His first and only appearance was in Transformers: The Movie, where he was also destroyed. He did not appear again in the course of the original series, but was mentioned several times, particularly in the CGI-animated spinoff, Beast Wars.

The Doomsday Machine:
Gene Roddenberry weighed in on the planet killer thing back in the late 60’s with his own version of a doomsday weapon. It was known simply as the Doomsday Machine, a massive, lamprey-like device that was capable of consuming entire planets into its massive maw. In the course of the episode where it makes its appearance (episode 35, of the same name), the crew of the Enterprise learns that the machine is drawn to populated worlds which it then destroys and converts into fuel so that it can keep going. The process is entirely automated, the ship itself having destroyed its masters and sterilized its own region of the universe a long time ago.

Airing in the late 60’s, the Doomsday Machine was clearly a commentary on the Cold War and the creation on doomsday weapons which were intended for use as a “deterrent”. In fact, at one point Captain Kirk theorizes that the machine was never intended for use, merely to serve as a instrument to inspire fear in an enemy. However, once it was activated, it ran amok and destroyed its enemies and those who created it. In the end, the crew manages to destroy it by (ironically) letting it ingest a ship which they rig to go thermonuclear once its inside.

Halo Array:
Gamers are no doubt familiar with this one! In the Halo universe, much of the focus is on alien artifacts which were built by a race known as the Forerunners. The Covenant, the alien antagonists in the game, believe them to be holy, particularly the Halo devices which are central to the plot. These devices, it turns out, are “weapons of last resort” which the Forerunners built to sterilize all worlds of sentient life that are within range. Their reason for this have to do with a hostile organism known as the Flood, a parasitic life form that infects sentient organisms and turns them into zombie-like creatures.

Unfortunately, the Forerunners died off shortly after concluding their war with the Flood, leaving the Halos and several other artifacts behind. In time, these were stumbled upon by the Covenant who began to reverse-engineer the devices and used them to advance significantly. In time, the Convenant came to believe that the artifacts had been left behind by a holy race and built a religion and even a theocracy around this belief.

The Halo is apparently the crowning piece of the Convent faith. They believe that activating them will lead them on the “Great Journey” (aka. entrance into the hereafter). However, the main characters in the story quickly learn that this would actually cause the destruction of Earth and every inhabited planet in the sector. Inspired by Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, the concept of the Halo devices and the thematic elements which drive the story (i.e. blind faith, theocracy, evolution and ancient alien artifacts) are all prime examples of classic science fiction. Nice to see that they make their way into the gaming world once in awhile!

The Necromongers:
The Chronicles of Riddick is yet another example of theocracy, apocalypticism, and doomsday devices. Within the context of the story, we have a faction of hostile force known as Necromongers, a faction of humanity that worships death and believes that better world (known as Underverse) lies at the edge of the known universe. Leading them is a man known as the High Marshall, a person who apparently traveled to Underverse and returned half-man, half… something else. No kidding, this is how he’s described in the movie, verbatim!

In any case, in their drive to reach the edge of the universe, the Necromongers conquer, pillage and convert every planet in their path. The final step in this process, before moving on, is the use of a planet-killing device of their own, one which leaves the planet itself intact, but destroys all remaining life on the surface. In short, after they replenish their ranks and bring in fresh converts from the conquered populace, they commit whats called the “Final Protocol” before dusting off. Basically, it involves a series of ships standing up on end and releasing payloads into the air which then explode, unleashing a massive shock wave that kills everything in its path. This process gives literal meaning to the words: “Convert, or fall forever!”

The Inhibitors:
As I final example, I have included one of my personal favorites: the hostile alien species known as the Inhibitors, which come to us from Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe. According to the first novel in the series, the Inhibitors are all that remains of several ancient alien races which went extinct long ago. These machines, which are semi-intelligent and automated, are programmed to seek out and destroy sentient life.

The reason for their existence apparently has to do with a series of terrible events that are collectively known as the Dawn War. This war was apparently fought by all the earliest sentient races in the Milky Way Galaxy which began shortly after they discovered each other, but which lasted for eons. Finally, what was left of the various races decided to merge their consciousness with a series of specialized machines which they then programmed to ensure that no such wars ever happened again. These machines take the form of tiny black boxes which are capable of multiplying, replicating and seem next to impossible to kill.

Ostensibly, these machines were designed to nip the development of sentient life in the bud by sterilizing any planet that supported a potentially star-faring race. In short, they were meant to inhibit the growth of sentient life, hence their name. However, in books II and III, their motivations are explained further. In addition to wanting to prevent another major war from taking place, the Inhibitors were also concerned about the eventual galactic collision which is scheduled to take place between the Andromeda and Milky Way Galaxies several million years from now. When that happens, our two galaxies will merge, but the consequences for any lifeforms living within either of them will be disastrous.

The only way to prevent this, it is said, is to either ensure the development of a single race that has the requisite technological development to resist the destruction brought on by the collision, or to inhibit the growth of any sentient species until after the collision takes place. Once the collision is complete and the galaxy returns to a state of gravitational equilibrium, life can resume, but not before. Sounds crass, but the way they see it, they are doing sentient beings a favor by making sure they don’t get off the ground, rather than letting them die by the billions when the stars all come crashing together!

In the end, these machines destroy planets through various means. In fact, much attention is given to how the Inhibitors employ a great deal of creativity in designing ways to sterilize worlds. Instead of just parking a giant gun in orbit around a planet or covering with a toxic blanket, they will use the system’s natural resources to construct tools and weapons which they will then use to take planet’s or suns apart, bit by bit. The process can take years, even centuries for them. But they plan ahead, and are very patient…

Ultimately, the Inhibitors are not defeated in the Revelation Space universe, but are beaten back, pushed to the fringes of known space where humanity fights an ongoing fight with them that lasts beyond the final novel in the series. They do this by incorporating technology from other extinct races as well as one’s that have developed extremely clever ways to survive. And like with everything else in Reynold’s universe, it all comes down to technology that is both plausible and fascinating to read about!

Well, that’s about all the planet killing I can stand for now. Sure, there are plenty more examples in the realm of sci-fi, but these are the ones that stand out for me. Plus, if I were to take the time to research and list them all, we’d both be stuck on this one post forever. Remember, it takes longer to write than it does to read! So in keeping with the theme of this post, let me leave you with some words of advice:

No matter what you’ve done, its not the end of the world. Unless it is, in which case, it probably didn’t matter anyway 😉

The Star Wars Prequels…

If only I get my hands on a big, rolling intro the way Lucas did! Man, would THAT come in handy here! Weren’t they just so great? I can remember watching them as a kid, pre-teen, post-teen, and young adult. Those inros and the music that preceded them, they always had a way of getting me into the mood for another Star Wars movie marathon. And weren’t they just the thing for a movie party? Yes, the Star Wars franchise was a masterpiece of pop-culture gold, something we who saw it when we were children could still enjoy years later. Hell, people of my parents generation found them equally appealing, both when they first hit theaters and years after their release. During the 80’s and early 90’s, there was scarcely anyone who wasn’t affected by the Star Wars phenomena. And today, those who haven’t seen the originals tend to get funny looks when they make that admission. I myself have been known to say “Didn’t you grow up in this country” whenever someone admitted it to me!

Sounds a little crass when I hear myself say it now, but you have to admit, I had a point! In fact, Star Wars has been so influential that pop culture experts, cultural historians and media gurus have been pouring over it for decades, trying to ascertain exactly why this ought to be. I mean think about it: a franchise that had a limited budget, an inexperienced director, weak writing/dialogue, newby actors and actresses (with the exception of Sir Alec Guinness), and production problems from day one somehow became a rip-roaring success at the box office and spawned two sequels that did even better. In fact, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was one of those rare sequels that was considered better than the first, right up there with the Godfather Part II, Mad Max, and T2.

Now why is that? Why is the Star Wars franchise so enduringly influential and popular? There is no single answer, but the general consensus seems to be that they were just good at capturing a certain Zeitgeist. In addition to its accessible theme of the hero’s journey and the idealist fighters battling against an evil empire, there was also the classical themes of The Fall, the Redemption, dynastic struggle between father and son, the ties that bind, the hero’s fate, and countless elements borrowed from other popular genres, such as gun-slinging spaghetti westerns and swashbuckling samurai movies. All this came together to create something that some thought was brilliant, others thought was a guilty pleasure. But that all could agree, it worked! People liked it and wanted more!

So it begs the question, how and where did things go wrong? I’ve say how and where at the expense of why because I feel that one is obvious: right around the summer of 1999, when Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. That’s pretty much when things went wrong! From then on, things got steadily worse, with an even-worse sequel and a salvageable third. Fans of the franchise were left sore and dumbfounded, having spent their money to see them, but generally feeling betrayed and confused. From a critical and a popular standpoint, the Star Wars prequels did not hold a candle to the originals, leaving many people to wonder what could have happened.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Naturally, when it was announced that prequels were coming out – movies that would cover the Clone Wars, show the origins of the Empire, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker/rise of Darth Vader – fans were excited. I know I was! Like most men my age, I had grown up on the franchise and lived in a world saturated by Star Wars toys, books, magazines, lunchboxes, figurines, and even novels. So it goes without saying that I wanted to see how Lucas would fill in the back-story. But like most fans, I left the movie theater a little daunted. It was only a few minutes in when I first came to realize who the target audience was, and like most people my age, I wasn’t too happy about it. Sure, the lightsaber fight scene and podrace were both worth the price of admission, but something needed to be done about the rest of it. There were just too many weaknesses that were glaringly obvious. Let me see if I can break them down succinctly:

Weak Plot: It’s a rare thing when a movie can be both technocratic and childish at the same time, but this movie pulled it off! First, we have a plot where the “greedy Trade Federation” is blockading a planet because they’re unhappy about taxes. And we get a big earful about how the Republic is deadlocked and ineffective due to the stumbling blocks of parliamentary procedure. Really? This is how the big, huge saga begins? I know were supposed to be getting a preview of how the Republic became a tyranny due to corruption and inefficiency, but it could have been done in a way that wasn’t so heavy-handed and dull. In fact, nothing about this plot seems realistic or even interesting. A great big civil war and slide into despotism began with taxes on trade routes??? Let’s not forget how the Trade Federation has all these ships and battle droids. When was the last time a Merchant Marine was ever allowed to do that, stockpile weapons and blockade planets? Who the hell is running the Republic that this sort of thing was allowed to take place? And if they really wanted to stir things up, why blockade some backwater place like Naboo (kiddy name if ever I heard one!)? Why not a hub, like Coruscant or Alderaan or something like that? Oh, and Palpatine, the evil Sith Master who will overthrow the Republic and become Emperor, he’s actually FROM there? I’d think a master of the dark side would be better suited coming from somewhere a little less remote, don’t you? I know, I know! Sarah Palin wasn’t exactly from a major hub either. But she’s aint President… yet (gulp!)

Racial Caricatures: Let’s not forget the borderline racist junk that made it into this movie. First, the “greedy” Trade Federation representatives, whom Qui Gon Jinn referred to as “cowards”, clearly a bunch of Japanese businessmen. Why is the Trade Federation run by this one race, for that matter? Aren’t they supposed to be like a guild or something? The fact that they all look and sound the same only deepens this racist impression. Then there’s Jar Jar, a creature so annoying he made most of us want to hurl a whiskey bottle at the screen! He has big flappy ears, is clumsy as hell, has a ridiculous accent and speaks pinyin. Put on a big fro and you got Buckwheat, racist without the folksy! Next, there’s Watto, who might as well be called Shylock for all the obviousness of his character. One, he’s greedy and cares only about money; two, he wears a yamaka-type headpiece; and three, he’s an obvious scam artist. So in essence, Lucas caricatured Black people, Asians and Jews in one fell swoop with this movie. I know he likes to draw parallels to the past, but Victorian-era bigotry is not something any smart man should want to associate with.

Virgin Birth: The original Star Wars movies made obvious use of Judea-Christian mythology, but this movie went above and beyond. Having Anakin be the result of an immaculate conception, where the Force (or midi-chlorians as they call them in this movie) willed him into being, was just plain pushing it! I mean, I know Anakin was supposed to be special, but this whole “Chosen One” thing was too much. The fact that there was a prophecy associated with his existence had potential, and I kind of liked where they went with it in later movies, but in this particular one, it made me want to gag.

Midi-Chlorians: Didn’t you just know I was going to bring them up next? Yes, as someone who grew up with The Force, I can tell you that one of its greatest selling points was its mystery. The way Obi Wan explained it to Luke, the Force sounded very much like an allegory for destiny, history, or the unfolding of a divine plan. No one quite understood it, no one knew with any certainty what course it would take. But in the end it seemed to unfold in such a way that balance was restored and those who tried to control it ended up being screwed. What better allegory is there for Karma, the Divine, or universal justice? You can’t get more mythological and Judea-Christian than that! And how and why some people are more sensitive to it than others was something that was also a mystery. So you can imagine how it might seem disappointing or dumb when Lucas decided to reduce it to microscopic bacteria that exist in your bloodstream! Why not just say there’s a F gene or something? With one stroke of the pen, we went from deep mythology to pulp sci-fi!

Re-use of Characters: Prequels are supposed to use many of the same characters, but that doesn’t mean that EVERY SINGLE ONE needs to be accounted for, or that they have to be part of the same plot. For starters, Anakin build C3PO? And R2D2 knew him as a kid? What they didn’t have other service droids in the past, you gotta re-use the same ones for over thirty years? And if so, why the hell didn’t this come up in the originals? Sure, Lucas did a last minute explanation for that in the third movie, but that didn’t change the fact that this was just weak. And it happened again and again in the second and third movie, as if Lucas was getting a bonus every time he managed to write a character from the original movies into the new ones. You know, the universe is a big place. People’s paths may cross, but not all the freaking time!

Forget your mom, kid: One of the things I heard people complain about a lot with this movie was the way Anakin was being pressured to cut all ties to his mother. In essence, he’s pulled away from her, told that his fear of losing her is a bad thing, and how this could lead him to the dark side. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…” as Yoda put it. So what then? He’s just supposed to turn his back on her and become an emotional ascetic? He’s freaking ten! And with lessons as pedantic and cold as this one, its no wonder the boy turned to the dark side! And really, one can draw a straight line like that through anything! Watch! “Fun leads to enjoyment. Enjoyment leads to fondness. Fondness leads to obsession. Obsession leads to destruction. Destruction leads to suffering…” Or how about discipline? Jedis love discipline. Watch me connect to it the dark side! “Discipline leads to perfection. Perfection leads to arrogance. Arrogance leads to foolishness. Foolishness leads to error. Error leads to anger…” and so on. See? Not hard! It’s like playing “Six degrees of Dark Side”. And the prequels are full of this kind of needlessly harsh reasoning, stuff you’d never expect to hear out of a Jedi. I mean, I know they’re supposed to be disciplined, but isn’t compassion also supposed to be their thing? More on that later…

The Kid: As if Jar Jar wasn’t annoying enough, we got to suffer through all the bad one-liners and atrocious acting of that kid who played Anakin. Another obvious ploy to court the kiddy vote, as was all the podracing and dog-fighting he did, stuff no ten year old would ever do! The former was bad enough, but did Lucas really have to include that horrid dogfight scene at the end where he basically saved the day through sheer luck? I already checked my brain at the door, but I still felt my intelligence being insulted with that scene! Speaking of which, where is that kid now? I don’t recall seeing him in anything after this movie came out. But given the sheer exploitation, odds are good he either turned to drugs or became a petty criminal in order to channel his outrage of being in such a film! Hell, if I were him I’d be suing the bastard for raping my youth!

Okay, so it was a bad movie. However, I remember being soothed by rumors that this first installment was just a first salvo that was meant to get the kids hooked and that the later movies would be aimed more at the adults. Lucas was even rumored to have reported that his second installment would be darker, and since the subject matter was supposed to be how the Clone Wars began, I figured it had to be true. Lord knew, we who were now adults, who had grown up enjoying Star Wars as kids, expecting something from the man. But I learned a lesson from all this, check your sources, and don’t expect nothing from men like Lucas! Sometimes, the fan community makes up stories and puts them in place of real fact. And Lucas, it seemed, had no intention from deviating from the course he set. In fact, he even went on the record as saying that Star Wars was always meant to be a “Saturday Morning serial for kids”. Translation: screw you grown-up fans! I don’t need you anymore!

And it was about that time that I discovered why Lucas was going down this road in the first place. Contrary to what some people had said, he had not gone crazy, or mad with power. In truth, Lucas was never a very good writer or director. The only difference now was that he seemed to think he had overcome these limitations. A few years into the release of the prequels, critics had formed a chorus that could be heard chanting the seminal words of Harrison Ford: “George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!” These words, which were just a heartfelt complaint at the time, have come to be synonymous with everything Lucas did wrong. Apparently, when he was making the first Star Wars, he had a lot of trouble adapting his script to the screen. More than one cast member, aside from Ford, had asked themselves “Who talks like this?” when reading it. But, knowing his limits at the time, Lucas sought the help of others during the making A New Hope and had full-time writing and directorial assistance when making Empire and Return of the Jedi. But after years of success and adulation, Lucas appeared to think that he knew best and didn’t require any help from anyone anymore. In fact, it was rumored that he now did all his writing on the Skywalker Ranch, surrounded by sycophants and yes-men who told him what he wanted to hear and kept the negative reviews from his ears. It was not until the second installment got panned that he seemed to sit up and take notice. But more on that in my next installment…

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 6/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 6.5/10