May The Fourth Be With You!

Yes, it is now May 4th, making it officially Star Wars Day! And in honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few days to reviewing the classic movies which started it all. Yes, those movies, the ones that made Lucas filthy freaking rich and perverted his sense of creativity.

But I’ve already ranted enough about those… ahem, other movies. Today is all about honoring the good things about this franchise and pop culture phenomena. And it really was a phenomena wasn’t it? When it comes to setting trends, box office records, and inspiring an entire generation of movie makers and movie-goers, few things can measure up to Star Wars.

In fact, part of the reason the fanboys reacted so badly to the prequels was because they loved the originals so much. Were it not for the intense love inspired by the originals, the new ones would never have been able to inspire such hate. Funny how that works…

First up, and in honor of May the 4th, is the original Star Wars, or as its extended title reads:

Episode IV: A New Hope
Plot Synopsis:
The movie opens with a crawl that divulges the bare bones of the movie’s premise. Basically, there’s  an evil Galactic Empire, a band of Rebels, and things are pretty tense ever since the latter won their first victory against the former. But in truth, the audience got all they needed from the opening visual sequence, a touch of cinematic genius if ever there was one!

For starters, we see a small ship running for its life, being pursued by a very large ship that is chasing it down. This tells us two key things: the Rebels are a small but committed band that are fighting for their existence against a very large, very powerful foe. The massive ship and the way it is making a slow, lengthy crawl over the camera lets us see the power and reach of the Empire, and establishes some dramatic tension which last well past the first few minutes.

Meanwhile, the ship is disabled and boarded. Imperial troopers, decked out in their white suits of armor, very clinical and faceless looking, board and kill all the defenders. Then in walks Darth Vader, who stands a head taller than the rest, is clad all in black, and very clearly means business! Cut to the droids odd-couple, C3P0 and R2D2, who’ve been scurrying around since the action started. Though we don’t know who she is at first, we see Princess Leia giving something to the latter, which under the circumstances, is of obvious importance. Shortly thereafter, they eject in an escape pod to the planet Tatooine, located below.

Leia gets her formal introduction after Vader kills the ship’s Captain and brings her forward to demand answers. She’s a member of the Imperial Senate, and apparently also a member of the Rebel Alliance. The reason their ship was boarded was because a certain set of plans, pertaining to the Death Star, were stolen and traced to their ship. After getting nothing from her, the Imperial officers deduce that the escape pod must have contained them and pursue it to Tatooine’s surface.

In time, C3P0 and R2D2 wind up becoming the property of a moisture farmer named Owen Lars. His nephew, a young man named Luke, quickly establishes himself as the movie’s protagonist. In addition to wanting to get off Tatooine, he also dreams of being a pilot and finding out more about his father, a man whom he knows virtually nothing about. Like all classical heroes, his will be a journey of self-discovery which will take him across the galaxy and fundamentally change him.

Naturally, his surrogate parents are afraid to let him go, alluding to the fact that his father’s legacy is not something they want him to be a part off. But in the meantime, Luke has a more immediate problem on his hands. After seeing a fragment of the recording of Princess Leia and learning that R2 was intended to meet a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi, a man whom Luke suspects is actually Ben Kenobi who lives in the deep desert. After hearing of this, R2 runs off, forcing Luke and C3P0 to run after him…

They find him, and Ben Kenobi, after a near-death encounter with some Sand People. After chasing them off and tending to Luke, Ben reveals that he is in fact Obi Wan, and takes Luke and the droids back to his pad to talk. Luke learns, much to his delight, that Obi-Wan knew his father and that he was in fact a war hero and a Jedi Knight. His lightsaber is still in Obi-Wan’s possession, which he gives to Luke to play with. This was audiences first glimpse of one of the coolest weapons in sci-fi history, and impressively, it was done on a rather meager budget!

In any case, Obi-Wan sees R2’s recording in full. Leia reveals that she has come into possession of the Death Star plans, intended to deliver them to her father on Alderaan, but was intercepted in transit. R2 now holds them, and they still must be delivered. The recording ends with her pleading with Obi-Wan to help the Rebels. He asks Luke to accompany him so he can learn more about The Force and his father, but Luke is naturally reluctant. He can’t leave so long as he has ties and family on Tatooine that need him… Ooh, foreshadowing!

Cut to the Death Star, the infamous Imperial weapon of terror. Its commander, Grand Moff Tarkin, makes his first appearance, as do the other senior commanders. After some exposition on just how freakishly powerful the Death Star is, it is also revealed that until the plans are found, there is a danger. On top of that, there’s also the consensus that the Death Star needs to be tested by blowing up its first planet. Also, with Leia aboard and not talking, Tarkin concludes that they can kill two birds with one stone.

Luke and Ben meanwhile find a wreck in the desert, a Jawa landcrawler which had been destroyed by Imperial troopers. Luke quickly realizes that the Imperial troops were searching for his droids. He rushes home to find his uncle and aunt dead and their home destroyed. He then returns to Obi-Wan to tell him that he will come with him after all. The two then travel to the planet’s spaceport, Mos Eisley, to find a spacer who will take them off planet.

After getting past Imperial guards, they are forced to contend with some tough barfolk. Obi-Wan quickly dispatches them with his own lightsaber, and they meet Han Solo shortly thereafter. After being treated to some not so idle boasts about his ship (the Millennium Falcon), Obi-Wan determines that Han’s the man to take them to Alderaan. We, the audience, also learn that he clearly has some debts, and an angry creditor named Jabba. Before he can leave to check on his ship, he’s forced to gun down one of the men Jabba sent to collect.

Getting into orbit and away from the planet prove a might bit difficult given the presence of Imperial troopers and Star Destroyers. But Han wasn’t bullshitting when he said his ship was fast. They dust off, jump into hyperspace (another cool visual experience) and elude their Imperial chasers.

Meanwhile, Takin has the Death Star parked in front of Alderaan, which he threatens to destroy if Leia won’t divulge the location of the Rebel base. She does, telling him their on Dantooine, but Tarkin orders Alderaan destroyed anyway. Seems Dantooine is too remote to provide an effective “demonstration”. But it’s okay, since she was lying through her teeth. When Tarkin learns of this, he’s naturally pissed and orders that Leia be executed.

However, this order coincides with the arrival of the Millennium Falcon. Since their destination has been blown to pieces, the crew fly into a complete and utter debris field, and soon find themselves face to face with the Death Star itself. After getting nabbed with a tractor beam and brought aboard, they are forced to stow away in the Falcon’s secret compartments, where Han usually puts his “special” cargo. After popping out and sneaking past more Imperial troopers, they learn that Leia is aboard the station. Obi-Wan heads off to disable the tractor beam, while Luke convinces Han to take part in a daring rescue. Hijinx ensue!

First, we have Han, Luke and Chewi’s rather clumsy attempt to get Leia out of her cell block. The first phase, getting in, goes off without much trouble (unless you count all the shooting). Unfortunately, phase two, getting out, proceeds less smoothly. After being cornered my reinforcements, Leia orders them to jump into the trash compactor to escape. Only the timely intervention of R2 and 3P0 prevent them from being mashed.

Second, Obi-Wan succeeds in shutting down the tractor beam, but comes face to face with his old apprentice, Darth Vader. A lightsaber duel ensues, crossed beams providing a metaphor for the internal struggle between the righteous teacher and the student who went bad. As they head for the ship, Luke sees Obi-Wan locked in this duel, and is forced to watch as Obi-Wan puts up his blade and lets Vader kill him. But of course, he warns Vader that this will only make him more powerful… something we will understand very soon.

Ultimately, the good guys get away, short on crew member, but it seems their escape was allowed to happen. Knowing that they will set course of the Rebel Base, Vader has a tracking device placed aboard the ship, and the Death Star follows them to a small moon called Yavin 4.

Once there, Leia meets with the Rebel command staff and shares the plans. Knowing that the Death Star is likely en route, they prepare a desperate plan to destroy the Death Star using the one weakness they can discern. An exhaust vent located along the station’s central axis, at the end of a long, well-defended trench! Some two dozen Rebel pilots suit up for the mission, Luke volunteering to help, and asking Han to do the same. But, having been given his reward and eager to pay off his debts, Han says good luck and leaves with Chewi.

After slipping past the Death Stars shields, the Rebel pilots begin fighting it out with the station’s defenses and defenders. However, the assault on the vent itself does not go well. One wing of pilots is shot down trying to make the run, and the one pilot to get off a shot misses and is killed shortly thereafter. It now falls to Luke and what’s left of the attack wing, which includes his old friend Biggs Darklighter. Biggs is killed covering Luke, and he himself appears about to be gunned down by Vader’s own fighter, until someone new shows up and saves his ass!

Seems Han had a change of heart, and after blowing up Luke’s tails and sending Vader’s ship into a tailspin through space, Luke fires off his ordinance and hits the vent dead on! They break off and get away just in time to avoid the massive shock wave that blowing up such a massive station produces! The Rebel Alliance is saved, and the Empire has been dealt a mighty blow. However, as we see, Vader is still alive and makes it away, letting us know that the war (and movie franchise) will go on…

What Worked So Well About It!:
Where to begin. You know, its always at this point that critics and fanboys say what was so good about the original movies by comparing them to the new ones. To avoid this needless cliche, and perhaps to be a good sport, I’ll keep comparisons to a minimum. Suffice it to say, part of the reason why the first movie was such a smashing hit was because it tapped in to a certain need which was becoming apparent in the movie-going community. In terms of science fiction, audiences were becoming just the slightest bit tired of dystopian stories and dark visions of the future.

After so much technophobia and misanthropy, the stage seemed set for something positive and heroic to come along and renew people’s faith in humanity and the future. So in a way, Lucas’ masterpiece benefited from good timing, arriving exactly when people needed it to. Such timing had not been seen since the arrival of the Beatles to America, an event which came after the assassination of JFK when young people were looking for something happy and joyful to focus them onto new and positive things.

Another thing which worked in its favor was the fact that Lucas had to contend with limited budgets, an largely inexperienced cast and crew, and just about every mishap imaginable. Being in the position of the underdog, having little expected of him, and having to contend with all kinds of difficulties, what came out of it all is best labelled “art from adversity”. There’s just something so purifying about a noble effort which succeeds despite difficulty, isn’t there? It was like Lucas’ movie was living out its own plot, the committed band of Rebels fighting an evil Empire being a metaphor for Lucas’ own fight with the studios and production companies.

The Weak Parts:
But of course, Lucas also benefited from a great deal of help, which came from the highly experienced and talented hands of John Williams, the cinematography of Gilbert Taylor, and a host of editors who helped clean up his movie once the raw footage was slapped together. Arriving just a few months shy of the films theatrical release, these people saved production of the film in many ways, and demonstrated to Lucas that when it came to shooting and dialogue-writing, he needed some help to make it all work (something he forgot in more recent years!)

In fact, it was because these individuals had arrived late to the production that many weaker elements of the movie survived and became part of the original movie. In several scenes, actors and extras made mistakes which Lucas didn’t notice because he was not accustomed to shooting films. Two prime examples are when a Storm Trooper walks head first into a sliding door on the Death Star, and Mark Hamil yells “Carrie!” to actress Carrie Fisher while they were shooting. These were never edited out, as was some of the lazier acting and poor dialogue.

In fact, Lucas gained a reputation for writing wooden dialogue as he was making this movie. During their initial readings, many of the actors complained that it was unrealistic, unnatural, and completely awkward. These sentiments were brilliantly captured by Harrison Ford when he confronted Lucas and told him, “George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!”.

The Enduring Legacy:
Of course, I could get into all the cultural and cinematic influences that were apparent and helped make the movie such a box office hit. But let’s face it, that’s been done to death! I shall just say that in the end, Lucas knew where to borrow from and could make it all work together. Combining elements like westerns, samurai movies, and allusions to ancient and modern history with an epic story of good versus evil, Lucas’ creation tickled all the right bones and gave audiences what they wanted when they wanted it.

And really, it was one of those rare movies where people felt that there truly was something for everyone. It was not strictly a kids movie (despite what Lucas would later claim) because there was simply so much material and attention to detail which no child would have been able to appreciate. So while the kids (and kids of all ages!) were dazzled with shoot outs, dogfigths and lightsaber duels, the adults were able to appreciate aesthetics borrowed from such classics as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Seven Samurai, Metropolis, and costumes and themes alluding to WWII and Nazi Germany.

And of course, with its smashing performance at the box office, Lucas and his crew now had the freedom and the street cred to make some follow up movies and see his vision through to completion. And in no time at all, all the studios and production companies which had doubted him or told him no were lining up to imitate him and finance whatever Star Wars clone they could find. Lucas, I imagine, got a real kick out of that!

Anyhoo, having spilled so much metaphorical ink on this movie, let me just wrap things up by saying Happy Star Wars Day and be sure to check back soon. Next up, I will be covering the even more famous The Empire Strikes Back, one of the few movies in cinematic history to ever be credited as being “better than the first”. In the meantime, check out this shot from the blooper reel. Keep your eye to the right as the Stormtroopers walk in…

 

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 😉