Return of the Jedi

Well, Star Wars weekend is passed, and my final review of the original lineup is long overdue. Been that kind of weekend, unfortunately, a constant flurry of visiting family, friends, and then coming home to be drowned in Spring cleaning. Luckily, I got some time with my keyboard today and decided I’d dedicate some time to the third and final movie in the trilogy.

And much of this is still fresh in my mind, seeing as how my wife and I were driving up island on Star Wars day, and I spent much of the ride recounting the plot to her. She never saw the original trilogy (crazy, I know), so I’ve been trying to fill her in. Appropriate, no?

Return of the Jedi!
Last time, I mentioned that Lucas claimed that he was following the three-act model when he made this trilogy. Thus if Act I could be considered the intro and Act II the dark chapter, then Act III would serve as the culmination to the whole thing. And that’s exactly what happened. In addition, the film had multiple story arcs towards the end the movie, all of which came together in a single, grand conclusion.

In fact, that’s something I forget to mention last time. You may recall that in the first movie, there was a single, all encompassing climax involving all the main characters, and that was the assault on the Death Star. In movie two, there were two strands, Luke’s confrontation with Vader which ran alongside Leia and Chewi’s escape from cloud city. And in this final film, there were three: the battle on Endor, the battle in space, and Luke’s final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor.

An act of symbolism, no doubt, but it’s also what worked best about this last film. With different things happening in different locations, audiences were kept intrigued and on the edge of their seats, watching how one climactic fight interacted with the next. And since we were emotionally involved with all the characters at this point, each one was about as tense as the last.

Alright, let’s get to the plot of this badboy and see why it worked so well!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens with the new Death Star being introduced. The new weapon of terror is apparently nearing completion and Vader has flown in to inspect things personally. After letting the station commander know that it must be completed on schedule, he lets him know that the Emperor himself is on the way. He is naturally frighten and rightly so, as we are made aware for the first time that even Vader is a pushover compared to the big man himself!

Cut to Tatooine where Jabba’s Palace is located. R2 and 3P0 have entered, apparently to deliver a message to Jabba. Said message consists of Luke Skywalker opening a dialogue, asking to bargain for Han Solo, and concludes with him offering R2 and 3P0 as “a gift”. Jabba’s response is that no deals will take place, as he’s become quite fond of looking at Solo’s carbonite-frozen body. He’s even placed it against the wall like its some kind of artwork. Creepy, though it did bring the room together though 😉

Little by little, the others enter the picture. Leia comes in disguised as a bounty hunter and trade Chewi in for his bounty. As Han’s companion, he too is worth quite a bit of money to Jabba. At the same time, we learn that Lando has already infiltrated the place posing as a mercenary. In the middle of the night, Leia sneaks into Jabba’s palace room and thaws Han, who appears to be blind and sickly from hibernation. They have a passionate reunion, but it’s quickly cut short…

Beginning with a dark, evil laugh, Jabba reveals himself from the corner where they were hiding. Han tries to bargain with him, but Jabba’s pretty intransigent at this point. He has him thrown in the same dungeon as Chewi and Leia is forced to wear a funky-looking bikini (to the delight of nerds everywhere) and become his palace slave. This consists of wearing a choke chain and lying beside him on his floating couch.

However, Chewi let’s Han know that Luke will be along shortly,  and that he’s a Jedi Knight now. And he does, looking a lot more badass than he did last time! After making his way in with some subtle force tricks, he confronts Jabba and demands Solo’s release. However, things go awry when the minds tricks fail to sway Jabba and he sends Luke and one of his henchmen him into his Rancour pit below.

After a tense few minutes, Luke manages to kill it by dropping the cage door on its head. Jabba is pissed, and orders the whole bunch to be put on his barge and flown out to the desert. Seems they are going to kill them in a big ceremony by being tossed into the Sarlacc pit. No shortage of weird aliens or convoluted death schemes in this one!

Once arrived, and overlooking the sucking Sarlacc pit (some people have suggested Lucas might have some issues with female genitalia!), Luke and the others stage their counterstroke. This consists of R2 firing Luke his lightsaber, who then starts cutting through henchmen with it. He then works his way to the other escort, eventually reaching Jabba’s own sailbarge. Meanwhile Han, who’s eyesight has been returning, manages to take out Bobba Fett’s jetpack through blind luck. He flies into the side of Jabba’s barge and falls helplessly into the pit. But of course, he will survive!

Leia manages to turn the tables of Jabba by getting a hold of her choke chain and wrapping it around the big slugs neck. R2 breaks her chains and shoves 3P0 and himself off the barge, leaving Luke and Leia to rendezvous on the top deck where they use the barge’s cannon to set the place to blow. They make it back to their barge with Lando, Chewi and Han, swing around to pick up the droids, and get the hell out as Jabba’s barge is blown to hell.

Once they retrieve their ships, Luke and the rest dust-off from the planet. The Millennium Falcon heads off to join the Rebel armada while Luke, in his trusty X-wing, sets course for Dagobah. Seems he has a promise to fulfill, and some questions he needs answered. Arriving to find Yoda sick and weak, Luke manages to get the answers he needs. It seems that he’s finished his training, but that one final test remains: he must confront Vader again. Yoda also confirms that Vader is in fact his father, a fact he and Obi-Wan withheld. Yoda then warns him one last time of the perils of the darkside, but also that there is another Skywalker. He dies uttering these last words, and then fades away…

Back in the swamp by his X-wing, Luke feels incredibly alone. First Obi-Wan, then Yoda; but wouldn’t you know it, Obi-Wans specter appears and tells him Yoda isn’t really gone, kinda like him! Luke demands to know why Obi-Wan lied to him, to which Obi-Wan replies that his version of events – i.e. “Vader betrayed and murdered your father” – was true… in a sense.

Luke expresses his doubts about being able to kill his own father, but Obi-Wan says a confrontation is inevitable. He also confirms what Yoda said before he died, that there is indeed another Skywalker that was kept seperate from Luke to protect her identity. Luke concludes it’s Leia, which isn’t a stretch seeing as how she’s been the only female lead in this entire universe so far!

Back at the fleet, we are treated to a briefing. Seems the Alliance is poised to strike at the second Death Star before it is operational. Since the Emperor is overseeing the final phase, they plan to kill him and destroy his weapon of terror in one fell swoop. The plan involves two phases: in one, a small team or commandos will land on Endor and disable the shield generator that’s protecting the Death Star.

In the second, the fleet will jump in and send their fighter squadrons into the center of the station to take out its main reactor. Lando is set to lead the fleet, and Han is leading the planetary assault. Chewi and Leia volunteer to help, and so does Luke. Han is also sure to lend Lando the Falcon for the attack, which he promises to take good care of. The mission is on!

After narrowly making it to Endor aboard a stolen Imperial shuttle, Luke sense his father through the Force. Vader has the same experience, detecting him on the shuttle which, for some reason, is allowed to land. He informs the Emperor and asks for permission to confront him. On the surface, their party’s progress is interrupted when Leia gets lost chasing down some scouts. She is rescued by a strange, furry indigenous creature known as an Ewok. After helping her thwart some more scouts, he takes her back to his village.

Luke, Han and Chewi also come into contact with the locals, but in their case, it involves a trap involving raw meat and a net. Once they spring free, they find themselves surrounded by the furry guys, but they turn up their spears when they see C3P0, whom they believe to be a god. They too are brought to the village, and after enforcing some ground rules (no eating of his friends!), they begin conducting some cultural exchanges.

The Rebel party are welcomed into the tribe and the Ewoks volunteer to help them rid their world of the Empire. Meanwhile, Luke and Leia have a private chat where he reveals to her that she is his sister, and that he must go off to confront Vader. He believes he can turn him back, and as long as he remains with them, they will be in danger. Leia is tearful, but can’t stop him from going.

Luke surrenders to the first patrol he can find, and they take him to Vader. During their little reunion, Luke tells Vader that he intends to turn him back to the good side, but Vader is intransigent. He will take Luke to the Emperor where we will either turn or die. It’s clear he’s torn by this decision, but tells his son it’s too late for him to turn good again.

Together, they travel to the Death Star and meet with Palpatine himself. He repeats Vader’s ultimatum, turn or die, to which Luke boasts that soon, they’ll all be dead. The Emperor laughs and reveals that he knows of the attack and that it’s a trap! Cue scary music! It seems the Emperor allowed the location of the Death Star to fall into Rebel hands in the hopes that he could lure them into an attack and crush them all at once. Luke is understandably dismayed…

Han and his party, with the help of the Ewoks, find their way to the back entrance of the shield generator. After making their way inside, they are promptly surrounded and taken prisoner. R2, 3P0 and their Ewok scouts can only watch in dismay, but the Ewoks hatch a plan and run off. They return with the entire Ewok nation, and spring a trap of their own on the Imperial troops. A massive fight ensues, with the Ewoks and Rebels gaining the element of surprise but slowly losing out to the Imperial troops superior weapons.

Meanwhile, the fleet jumps in as planned. On approach, Lando’s helmsman tells him they can’t get any reading on the Death Star to know if it’s shields are still active. His helmsman concludes they are being jammed, but Lando knows this can’t be unless… He orders the fleet to pull up, and they narrowly peel off before slamming nose first into the shields. No sooner do they get their fleet reoriented than the Imperial fleet shows up out of nowhere to seal off their escape. Ackbar yells his iconic catchphrase: “It’s a trap!”

Lando and the fleet begin combing through wave after wave of TIE fighters. Despite their superior numbers, he and the other Rebel squadrons manage to hold their own. However, he grows suspicious when he notices the Star Destroyers are not moving into attack range. However, according to the commander of the Executor, their orders are to hold while the Emperor unveils something “special”.

Cut to the Death Star, where the Emperor lets Luke know, in the latest frightening revelation, that the Death Star is also fully operational. He orders them to fire. The big gun blazes up and destroys the nearest Rebel Mon Calamari cruiser. Lando and Ackbar realize the terrible truth. Ackbar orders a full retreat, but Lando insists they won’t have another chance to assault the Death Star, and simply must give Han more time to bring the shields down.

On the Death Star, Luke is finding it increasingly difficult to resists the Emperor’s taunts. He knows the Emperor wants him to give into his hatred, but he must resist or risk falling prey to the dark side. In time, he gives in and takes his lightsaber and tries to strike the Emperor down. However, Vader interferes and the two begin fighting. Luke turns up his sabre several times, but Vader continues to press him and force him to defend himself.

After they lose a second Mon Calamari cruiser, Lando tells Ackbar to move the fleet into attack range of the Star Destroyers. As long as they are tangled with the Imperial fleet, the Death Star won’t be able to shoot them, and at least they’ll be able to kill a few enemy ships in the process. The two fleets close ranks, and all hell breaks loose! Ships on both sides are destroyed, but at least they are buying time…

Back on the surface, the Ewoks and the Rebels manage to turn the tide. Chewi and some of furry friends commandeer an AT-ST and begin using it against Imperial forces. The Ewoks defenses also prove effective once they put away the rocks and wooden arrows and break out the logs. Once they realize that they’ve won but can’t make it back into the bunker, Han hatches a plan. Using the AT-ST’s communication system, he tells the commander inside that they’ve beat the Rebels and need reinforcements. The Imperial commander orders the doors opened, and Han and the Ewoks take the base and plant their charges.

The place blows up and the shield comes down. Ackbar orders all fighters into the Death Star to take out its reactor. On board, Luke continues to try and elude Vader. However, Vader senses his fear and is able to read his thoughts. He realizes Luke has a sister, and threatens to turn her instead. Luke loses it and attack Vader, pulverizing him with lightsaber blows until he takes off Vader’s hand. The Emperor laughs and tells Luke to take his father’s side, but Luke turns back at the last second. He is now a Jedi, he says, and will never turn to the dark side.

The Emperor is… pretty pissed! He replies that, as promised, Luke will be destroyed if he won’t turn. He begins electrocuting him with lighting from his finger tips, and Luke begins to beg Vader for help. Vader intervenes, grabbing hold of the Emperor and tossing him off a catwalk into the depths of the station below. He explodes in a massive cloud of Force Energy. Unfortunately, Vader’s suit has been irreparably harmed by the Emperor’s electrical storm. Luke comes to his aid, but it seems like ol’ Darth’s ticket has finally been punched!

Inside the Death Star, Lando and the Rebel pilots manages to reach the main reactor and hit it hard. It collapses, triggering a chain reaction which begins to destroy the station from within. Outside, Ackbar and the Rebel fleet manage to bring down the Executor through smart tactics and dumb luck. The Super Star Destroyer loses control and crashes into the Death Star. The whole place begins to fall apart.

Luke manages to reach a shuttle with Vader in tow. However, with his suit irretrievably damaged, Vader tells Luke to take his mask off so he can see him once with his own eyes. Luke obliges, and sees the scarred pale flesh that is Vader’s true face. He then tells Luke to leave him, that he already saved him, and to tell his sister what he did. He then dies, in a scene with is truly tearful… Luke and Lando manage to escape as the station explodes, Lando howling a triumph cheer as the Falcon clears the flaming exit tunnel.

Luke makes it to the surface, where victory celebrations are already underway. Leia tells Han about Luke and her being related, and gives him a big kiss. Their little triangle has become a twosome at last! He arrives in the Ewok village amidst music, dancing, and has a final communion with the specters of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father. The final shot shows the entire cast sitting together and smiling broadly as the music reaches a crescendo. The trilogy is done!

What worked and what didn’t about this last installment:
As I said already, this movie packed a triumphant climax that really worked. After two big installments, audiences got to see everything come together with three separate battles, all of which succeeding in capturing a different kind of tension. For example, the battle on the planet was a real heart string puller since we all wanted to see the indigenous furry creatures overcome the imperialistic bad guys. The battle between the two fleets was fast-paced and visually stunning, and the way they were entirely dependent on Han’s ban on the surface made it all the more tense. Finally, the confrontation between Luke and Vader was a whole different kind of action, a battle of wills as much as weapons.

Of course, there were weaknesses. For one, the whole convoluted plot to free Han seemed to contain a few too many twists to be a considered a crafty plan. It was like, why didn’t R2 just give Luke his lightsaber when he fell into the Rancour pit? Why did they need to wait until they were out in the desert? Second, the whole plot involving Ewoks was pretty kid-centric. Originally, Lucas was planning on using Wookies, but decided that something for the kids was in order, reworked the name Wooky into Ewok, and history was made!

And finally, there was some lazy acting this time around that survived the cutting floor. Second, there was the sheer implausibility that a race of small furry creatures armed with sticks and stones could overcome a legion of troops that the Emperor said were his best. And once you took away all the shooting and explosions, this movie really wasn’t as emotionally involved as the other two. Overall, the focus seemed to be on visual effects and action.

Combined with the kid-centric elements, it was clear that by this point in the franchise, Lucas was retaining creative control. So in a way, this movie was a preview of what Lucas would go on to with his prequels. In the end, this movie still kicked ass and was climactic to the point that audiences were blown away and all its weaknesses were overlooked. It was only with hindsight, perhaps with the help of such flops as Phantom Menace, that they became apparent.

But that’s something for the next post. Right now, I must go off on a triumphant note, much like this film! It was a triumphant conclusion, the action rocked, and holy crap that musical score was great! Even now, I find myself humming it as I recount the events of the movie. Epic! So really, this is and shall remain an enduring classic with many memorable scenes. Especially the one near the end where Lando and the Falcon clear the Death Star as its exploding. YEE-HA!

Yaaaay! The good guys one! The Empire has fallen! Bring on the wine and the Ewok music! And until next time… nope, still can’t say it! Good-bye y’all!

Babylon 5, Farewell…

Babylon 5, Farewell…

We come at last to the final season, the fifth and final year in Babylon 5’s planned lifespan. According to legend, Straczynski had been told repeatedly that he was crazy to think that he could ever pre-plan a series like this, that actors quit, budgets got slashed, and time slots got changed around. And that certainly happened in the course of the show, a couple of times. However, somehow he made it work, though apparently he had to take on a huge burden as a result.

And even after making a season four finale, season five eventually got the go ahead and was made in full. It was a season of epilogues, goodbyes and even a few more threads, previewing events which were portended to take place later in the show’s projected plot. Even with its tight five season storyline, there were still a lot of things that had been previewed for the future, and some explanations needed to be made.

Babylon 5 Season Five:

The last season ended with Earth being liberated, Sheridan being elevated to the status of President of the new Interstellar Alliance, Sheridan and Delenn being married, and Ivanova being saved by Marcus. As the new season opens, Sheridan assumes his presidency, Ivanova leaves the station, and a new captain assumes the role as commander of B5. In an interesting twist, it turns out to be Sheridan’s ex.

Another early development is the establishment of a colony of telepaths aboard the station. There presence becomes an immediate source of trouble, as the psi cops want to bring them in, and Lyta becomes very drawn to them and their leader. Essentially, they are looking to establish a colony for free telepaths, but in time, they learn the truth of their existence from Lyta. In the course of having sex, Lyta’s mind opens and the leader of the telepaths, Byron, comes to learn that the Vorlons were responsible for creating the majority of known telepaths.

When he learns this, he and the others are incensed. All their lives, they’ve operated under the assumption that their gifts were a matter of personal responsibility. Now they see that they were made, and hence were never given a choice as to what they are. They then demand that Sheridan and the Alliance provide them with a home, or else they will begin revealing every member races secrets, which they gathered from having followed the diplomats around for days.

Soon, everything hits the fan, the psi cops and Bester come for them, and Byron sacrifices himself to end the conflict. The telepaths are taken away, but Lyta vows that she will protect them and make sure that Byron is avenged. She begins running stockpiling weapons in preparation for an eventual war with the telepaths, and is soon arrested for her trouble. A showdown with her takes place on the Zocallo, which would have been messy had Sheridan not been there. As the only other person who’s been touched by the Vorlons, he alone is able to withstand her psychic influence.

At the same time, Garibaldi confronts Bester. Once aboard the station, he corners him in his quarters and demands that he confess everything he did to Garibaldi at gunpoint. However, Bester refuses, and when Garibaldi tries to make good on his threat, he can’t pull the trigger. Seems Bester had placed an “Azimov” in his head, preventing Garibaldi from harming him or allowing harm to come to him. Feeling completely helpless, Garibaldi begins drinking again. It’s not long before it interferes with his job, and his wife, Lyse, shows up just in time to ask him to come back to Mars with him.

However, Garibaldi comes up with another plan. He meets Lyta and asks for her help. She agrees, but tells him that in exchange for his help running money and guns to her planned resistance, she will remove the block and let him get even. He agrees, and returns with Lyse to Mars to run Edgar industries (which she inherited since Edgar’s murder), promising to see Lyta again in two years, at which time, everything will be set. The “telepath war” which was hinted at in season four, is thus on its way…

Meanwhile, something is rotten on Centauri Prime. After an assassination attempt on Londo, G’Kar agrees to become his body guard and travels to Centauri Prime. The regent is apparently under the influence of something dark, and preparations are being made for war. Londo narrowly escapes a second attempt, and it seems that whoever is controlling the regent was responsible, and hopes to work with him soon… he returns to B5 with a very bad feeling. And we are made aware that Centauri ships are being used to prey on shipping…

The attacks intensify, and member worlds of the Alliance begin to accuse each other. However, an investigation reveals that Centauri agents are involved, and soon Lennier, now a member of the Rangers, witnesses an attack take place. Centauri Prime is kicked out of the Alliance and put under embargo, a full-scale firefight erupts when they challenge the blockage, and war is declared! Londo returns home, again with G’Kar, to see what is going on. After several weeks of fighting, some frightening facts become clear.

For starters, the Centauri ships that are performing the attacks are using Shadow technology to control them. This is a clear indication that the Drakh, one of the Shadows old friends have infiltrated Centauri Prime, as Morden threatened, and are using the regent to create chaos. This becomes clear to Londo as Alliance forces arrange for an unsanctioned assault on Centauri Prime, and the regent himself performs one last duty… shutting down the planet’s defensive grid. The assault begins, with a combined Narn-Drazi force devestating the Centauri capitol.

The regent and his Drakh masters reveal themselves, and tell Londo that it is his turn to wear the Shadow device that control a person’s actions, otherwise they will blow up the planet. Londo agrees, the regent dies, he assumes the role of emperor (which was also foretold and which he feared for some time), and Centauri Prime surrenders. Now that he’s their unwilling servant, he lies to Sheridan and tells him the Shadow technology was bought on the black market, not acquired from the Drakh. He also declares that Centauri Prime will be an isolationist power and have nothing more to do with the Alliance.

From all this, we are given a detailed preview of what was hinted at in earlier seasons. For one, we now see how Londo became Emperor, how this would lead to his death at the hands of G’Kar years later, how his world would be devastated, and how he would capture Delenn and Sheridan – ostensibly so he could punish them for happened to his world, but would then release them. And as hinted at, we also see how it would be the Drakh who were responsible for Centauri Prime’s devastation, a final legacy of the Shadow War.

Oh, and a couple other side stories take place in the midst of all this. One involves Lennier, who was told by a vision he had of Morden that he would commit an act of betrayal. And he does! During an accident in which Sheridan is sealed in a room with a poisonous gas leak, Lennier is about to help him, but then chooses to leave him there instead. He has second thoughts and returns, only to find that Sheridan freed himself. Shamed by his betrayal, he flees, leaving Delenn only with a message saying how sorry he is.

The other side story involves G’Kar. For some time, he has been garnering popularity among his people since he was the leader of the resistance and the one who liberated their world. Upon returning to B5 from Centauri Prime, he finds that the book he’s been writing since his revelation has been making the rounds. In fact, its even been published and has outsold the book of G’Quon (which is like outselling the Bible!) Despite his resistance, the problem only gets worse, and when a spurned acolyte tries to kill him, he decides its time to leave. Having learned much from his years on the station among other races, he decides he will set out to explore the known universe. He also decides to take Lyta with him, hoping he can help her overcome her pain and hatred as he did his.

Sheridan also discovers that Delenn is pregnant after she collapses and is examined by Franklin. This too matches up with what Sheridan foresaw in the future, that they would have a boy named David. Delenn’s pregnancy begins to take a toll on her health, since her physiology is part-human, part-Mimbari. However, she and Sheridan are committed to making sure she and the baby survive. They also announce that they will be moving the HQ of the Alliance to Mimbar for the next few years, hence they too are leaving B5. A big send-off is held, and Zack Allen remarks how its sad to see everyone go, but that he’ll probably still be there until they “shut the lights off”.

They are met on Mimbar by Londo, who professes his friendship, despite the circumstances of their last meeting. However, it quickly become clear he’s on an errand from the Drakh, delivering a similar device to the one that is controlling him that is meant for their son when he comes of age. After making the delivery, Londo asks them “what now”, to which they reply “now we await the passage of years… we are very patient.” The last hint of whats to come is given!

The final episode takes place roughly twenty years later when Sheridan is about to die. In keeping with Lorien’s prediction that he could only prolong his life by twenty years, Sheridan’s health begins to fail and they arrange a farewell party for him. He says goodbye to Vir, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Franklin and Delenn, and they toast those who couldn’t be amongst them – Londo, G’Kar, Lennier and Marcus. After all this, he has a tearful goodbye with Delenn and flies off to say goodbye to B5. He sees Zack there, who tells him the station is about to be decommissioned. Sheridan then flies off to Coriana 6, the site of their major battle with the Shadows, where he encounters Lorien.

Lorien tells him that he’s not so much dying as taking the next step, that he and the others have not forgot about him and are taking him beyond the rim to where they are now living. Sheridan laments that he can’t ever come back, but is ready. He dies in a blinding flash of light, remarking “the sun’s coming up”. Ivanova then gives the final narration, saying how the Babylon project taught them all how to stand together and look out for each other, calling to mind what was said in the season four finale. The station is then given a big send off and demolished, and the show ends with it being said that Delenn spent every morning thenceforth watching the sun rise and remembering Sheridan.

A poignant and fitting ending! In many ways, season five was an epilogue season, not as exciting or consequential as the previous four. However, I was glad they made it in the end. One finale episode was just not enough of a send-off for this show. What’s more, there were still a lot of plot elements and threads that needed to be expanded on.

Conclusion:

In the spirit of epilogues, let me say some final words about Babylon 5 and what made it such a good show and franchise. Well, to break it down, there was its epic feel, its solid writing, its great and memorable characters, and its tight narrative feel. Unlike many other franchises that start with a sort of open, shoestring plot, B5 was plotted out well in advance, everything that happened in it was part of a single, unfolding story. That meant it didn’t have any of the usual contrivances, plot holes, or third act revelations that other shows are famous for (Star Trek is a perfect example!)

What’s more, the episodes didn’t end with everything going back to a state of balance, with everyone happy. If anything, they ended with a sense of “what’s next?” In every episode they were either in the midst of a conflict or worrying about the next one. That’s where the realism was truly felt. Even in season five, when all things are wrapping up, there was a strong sense of the problems that were to come. Though we got a preview of how things ended happily for the most part, we knew that there would be plenty of speed bumps along the way.

These two elements, a tight plot and realistic tone, are two lessons that have remained with me years later. Whenever I write, I find myself trying to follow Straczynski’s example, both in terms of how he constructing a storyline as well as the tone he struck. In short, when I’m working on a story, I try to write out the plot well in advance so that there’s plenty of hints of what’s to come and as few inconsistencies and plot holes later on. But whereas I am an acolyte, Straczynski was the man who really wrote the book on this for sci-fi serials. I know nothing comparable to his work except for maybe the re-envisioning of Battlestar Galactica… something for another review!

The same is true when it comes to characters, those that are best are the ones who are flawed and complex, ones that have backgrounds and back stories rather than being one-dimensional in nature. And the acting, for the most part, was classical… Shakespearean even. My favorite characters have to be G’Kar and Londo, played by Andreas Katsulas (RIP) and Peter Jurasik. Not only are they great actors, they had some of the best lines between them, especially when paired together in a scene. Jerry Doyle was also great as Michael Garibaldi; in addition to some great lines, he was probably the most realistic character, combining a workaholic’s personality with genuine vulnerability, all the while punctuated by a very irreverent sense of humor!

That, and the fact that the show was really fun to watch! Even now, years later, the CGI and sets are still impressive, which is surprising considering its limited budget. Given all that, its really too bad that the franchise didn’t pan out in terms of spin offs. Crusade and the tv movie Legends of the Rangers were both commercial flops, and weren’t too well received critically either. But that tends to happen with cult hits, they don’t have the deep pockets and mass market appeal of major franchises. On the other hand, the other B5 movies (River of Souls, A Call to Arms, Thirdspace) were well-received, for the most part anyway. I strongly recommend that fans and prospective fans check them out, in addition the full five seasons!

So long B5, you will be remembered…

B5 Continued…

B5 Continued…

Picking up where I left off, Babylon 5, second season!  When season one ended, Sinclair and G’Kar had taken off, both to pursue their own agendas. Delenn was in a chrysalis (cocoon) and undergoing a transformation, and Londo was making deals with “shadowy” forces. Resuming…

Season Two:
Season Two opens with Babylon 5 getting a new commander (Captain John Sheridan, played by Bruce Boxleitner) since Sinclair has been reassigned, somewhat mysteriously, to the Mimbari homeworld. Much like Sinclair, he too has a history that involves the Earth-Mimbari war. Sheridan is a war hero, the only man who ever destroyed a Mimbari ship and lived to tell about it. After receiving his post at B5, his first task is to deal with a renegade Mimbari cruiser that is staffed by warriors who never accepted their surrender. In the course of things, Sheridan learns the truth about the war. Lennier, Delenn’s assistant (who has taken over now that she is in a cocoon!), explains…

At the Battle of the Line, the humans who were captured were examined using a holy relic that came to the Mimbari from their chief prophet (Valen) who came to them a thousand years ago. The relic glowed in his presence, and a few others. When Sinclair was exposed to it, it glowed intensely. They concluded that his “soul” was Mimbari, that it was as strong as Valen’s, and that other humans possess Mimbari souls. This is why they ended the war. Few understood this decision, but given its importance of the Mimbari, they accepted it. In the end, Sheridan is successful and the renegade Mimbari cruiser is destroyed. But he is also made aware of the fact that he’s not too popular with the Mimbari.

Meanwhile, Londo meets with Morden again. Having gotten over the severity of what Morden “associates” did to the Narn border colony, he asks Morden what would happen if he were to ask for another “demonstration” of their power. Morden says plainly that they will provide it, and Londo only need “pick a target”. In return, all he asks is that Londo turn over whatever information he comes across about stuff happening on the rim. Which shortly thereafter comes in handy…

G’Kar returns from his investigation into the attack on their border colony. Going on a tip from some old Narn texts, he began looking into certain worlds at the border of known space. On one such world, he found something and barely got out alive. After determining that the configuration of the ships that attacked him were virtually identical to the ones described in the texts, he concludes that this ancient race is returning and is responsible for the attack. The border world he found is apparently called Z’Hadum, and his world has sent a ship to investigate.

Naturally, Londo tells Morden and the ship is ambushed just as it jumps out of hyperspace. G’Kar’s investigation is halted, and his warnings end up ringing hollow. However, Delenn emerges from her cocoon and appears half-human now. No explanation is given beyond her saying that it was a gesture to bring their two species – humans and Mimbari – closer together. Sheridan is impressed, and we get a preview of the romantic relationship which is to follow.

In time, Londo gets a visitor, a man named Lord Refa, who has heard of what Londo has done and is impressed. He comes to Londo bearing an offer: he and friends back home want to overthrow the current Emperor, who they think of as weak and conciliatory to the Narns, and put their own person on the throne. They want a return to the good old days of power, like Londo, and are willing to do what it takes to make that happen. Londo is enthused and agrees, but gets a word of warning from a seer (a Technomage) shortly thereafter. He is told that he will become powerful, and be responsible for the lives of billions. He is naturally perturbed.

Other developments include Sheridan finding out that Ivanova is a latent telepath who’s mother committed suicide to escape the Corps, that Franklin is running an underground railroad for telepaths looking to do the same, and that the station’s resident telepath, Talia Winters (whom Garibaldi has a thing for) is a sleeper agent whom the Corps planted to keep an eye on them all. They also get a visitor in the form of Lyta Alexander, a telepath who was originally assigned to B5 but has since been working with the Vorlons, and has been changed by them… She has since turned against the Corps, and seems to know a thing or two about the Vorlons secrets.

And of course, the old conspiracy about the president begins to shape up. Garibadli recovers, his old security deputy is busted but disappears on his way back to Earth to stand trial. Before leaving, he also leaves Garibaldi with a cryptic warning, that this is “much bigger than he knows”. Sheridan also learns from his old friend, General Hague, that the destruction of Earth One was an inside job and that the VP was involved. He also tells Sheridan that he was appointed to B5 because the new President, Clark, thought he’d be loyal, being a career soldier. Sheridan and his senior officers decide to join Haig’s counter-conspiracy and begin helping them, which includes giving safe passage to the doctor who had proof that Clark’s cover story about an illness was false.

But by far the biggest part of season two is the “Great War” between the Narns and the Centauri. After the first time he called in a favor from Morden, his “associates” destroyed an entire colony of Narns on the border of disputed space. This incident gained Londo some serious popularity in certain circles back home, including Lord Refa. Things come together again when the Emperor himself decides to visit Babylon 5, apparently to issue an apology to the Narns for his family’s actions. G’Kar intends to assassinate him, but his efforts are cut short when Emperor suffers a near-fatal heart attack. When he learns of the Emperor’s true purpose, he reaches out to Londo for the first time.

However, Londo and Refa are already mobilizing. Refa’s people assassinate the Emperor’s Prime Minister back home, and he tells Londo they need an attention getter to set them ahead of the other potential successors. Londo remembers what Morden said about “picking a target” and chooses another military base that borders Centauri space. The dark, spidery ships attack, destroy everything, and Centauri forces move in afterwards. This time around, the Centauri ARE blamed, the Narns declare war, Londo is hailed as a hero by his people, and Lord Refa’s puppet Emperor (Cartagia) takes the throne. The Great War has begun!

And just before the Emperor dies, he is met by Kosh. He asks him how this will end, and Kosh tells him “in fire”. Londo and Refa also come before him to tell him the “good news” about the war. Rather than condone it, he pulls Londo close and tells him “you are both damned”. “Small price to pay for immortality” says Refa, but Londo appears shaken once again. In the ensuring weeks, Babylon 5 is thrust into the middle of the war, being asked to arbitrate and take in refugees from all the Narn colonies that begin to be overrun.

Meanwhile, John is made aware of what’s really going on. After learning the truth about the Earth-Mimbari War, he is told of another, more secretive war, one which has been a long time coming and is imminent. After learning that Morden is aboard the station, and realizing that he was on the same ship as Anna Sheridan (John’s wife) which was apparently destroyed, John orders Morden taken into custody and questioned. Apparently, the ship was lost during an expedition to the world now known as Z’Hadum, all hands thought to have perished. Since he’s not dead and wandering around freely, John wants answers!

His efforst are interrupted when Kosh and Delenn explain. Z’Hadum is the home of an ancient race known as the “Shadows”. They are one of the “First Ones”, a group of races billions of years old, the first to achieve sentience in the galaxy. The Shadows are the oldest, and they have been at war with the others for eons. In the last war, what few First Ones remained defeated them and drove them off, with the help of some younger races – including the Mimbari. Whereas all the others have now died or moved on, only the Vorlons remain. Now that the Shadows are returning, they must prepare! A new alliance must be struck, and both the Mimbari and the Vorlons understand that humanity and B5 are important to that effort, though they don’t fully know why.

According to Delenn, the Shadows are behind the Narn-Centauri war because they intend to weaken the younger races by making them fight each other before they invade. The only advantage they have right now is that Shadows do not know that the Mimbari and Vorlons already suspect what they are up to. He is also told that Sinclair is on Mimbar preparing a new force of fighters for when the time comes; they are known as the Rangers, and Garibaldi was made aware of them some time ago. Sheridan reluctantly agrees to join their alliance, and lets Morden go. In secret, they begin to plot and Kosh begins to teach Sheridan how to, as he says, “fight legends”. Sheridan also vows that one day, he will go to Z’Hadum to find out what happened to his wife, despite Kosh’s warning that if he does, he will die!

Season two ends with the end of the war. After months of fighting a losing war, the Narns prepare for one final assault to slow the Centauri down and prolongue the war. However, Refa’s people intercept their plans and make plans of their own. He asks Londo to arrange for his friends to destroy the Narn attack while they in turn attack the Narn homeworld, using mass-drivers. These are an outlawed weapon of mass destruction, and their use will level Narn’s surface. Londo is very reluctant, he doesn’t want the death toll, and he is growing suspicious of Morden and his “associates”. But, under pressure, he agrees, and everything happens without a hitch. The last Narn fleet is destroyed, he watches as  Narn is leveled and forced to surrender, and then dictates the punitive terms of peace at the B5 Council.

In order to avoid arrest and remain free, G’Kar is told by his people to request asylum. Sheridan agrees, but is powerless to stop the Centauri from imposing terrible terms of peace on the Narns. All he can do is promise G’Kar whatever help he can, and in a meeting later with Delenn, Kosh and the Rangers, he pledges that where they stand, they will draw a line against the coming darkness.

Almost immediately after the war ends with the Narns, the Centauri begin attacking the borders of several more worlds immediately thereafter. In response, a representative of the Earth Alliance came to the station for the purpose of “evaluating the Centauri”. Sheridan and G’Kar were hopeful that this meant Earth was preparing to take sides, but all were disappointed when it was revealed that Earth was signing a non-aggression pact with them, effectively turning their backs on the Centauri’s continued aggression.

However, these efforts are somewhat frustrated due to the appearance of a Narn cruiser which Sheridan offers aid to after it jumps in near the station. This leads to a confrontation with a Centauri cruiser, and Sheridan is forced to destroy it. In order to salvage the situation, Earth orders Sheridan to issue a formal apology. But on his way to deliver it, Sheridan is nearly killed by a bomb that was planted in his car. He jumps from the car and begins falling towards certain death. Miraculously, Kosh reveals himself and flies to his rescue.  When he leaves his encounter suit, everyone sees an angel, though in different guises, depending on their race. People feel the station is now blessed, a good omen in dark times…

At the same time, Zack Allen, one of the station’s pilots, dies pursuing a lead. Some time before, he saw a Shadow vessel in hyperspace, and became obsessed with it. While ferrying the Narn cruiser to safety, he breaks off when he detects a faint trace of neutrinos in hyperspace. He comes face to face with a Shadow vessel, and is then destroyed! However, his gun camera footage survived and was retrieved. Season two thus ends with the footage being aired on interstellar television!

Whoo, I get goose bumps just thinking about it! And I assume people can see by what I mean about the quality of the writing and the consistency of the plot. By this point in the show, things are really starting to come together. But of course, many threads still needed to be tied, and many mysteries still revealed.

Most of these come up in Season Three, coming up next!

The Star Wars Prequels (cont’d)

Isn’t it always this way? I just get finished with a long review of the Star Wars prequels, and I realize I left some stuff out. Not only that, I notice that I made some technical errors as well. Ah well, I suppose its the burden of Star Wars geekdom – anal-retentiveness and a total weakness for details. And if all these Star Wars reviews have proven nothing else to me, it’s that I’m a total geek! So here we go…

1. Anakin is NINE in the original movie: That’s right, nine. Not ten, as I originally said. Boy, I’m splitting hairs even mentioning this, but I don’t want someone noticing it and thinking I’m not up on my Star Wars trivia. Why, to a fellow geek, something like that might just stick in their craw!

2. Good acting: Looking back on my three reviews of the Phantom, Clones and Revenge I realized there was something I neglected to mention. The fact that there was actually some good acting throughout. Liam Neeson, for example. He’s always good, but as Qui Gon he was actually quite capable and had a good presence. Samuel L. Jackson, though his lines were heavy-handed as hell, nevertheless managed to bring some much needed bad-assery to this painful trilogy. And how could I have possibly forgotten Ian McDiarmid? The man who brought The Emperor to life in the originals was back again for more in this trilogy! I honestly think that his character was the only one that was faithfully executed in every one of his scenes. He was certainly the only one who had consistently decent one-liners, and that’s in spite of Lucas’ weak writing! I tell ya, it’s that voice. The man could make dish water sound cool and menacing! And the way he transitions so easily from a prissy, overly-cultured Senator to an evil blood-curdling Sith Lord… masterful!

3. Racial Caricatures: In drawing out Lucas’ use of racial stereotypes, there was one key characteristic I failed to mention. Watto, who is an obvious Jewish caricature, had several characteristics that gave him away. The ones I mentioned were his love of money, yamaka-style hat, and exploitative personality. But I forgot to mention the hooked nose! That above all else was a dead giveaway that Lucas had antiquated prejudices on the brain when he wrote this! I also could have mentioned that he combines several Italian stereotypes into his character as well: the stubbly face, the paunchy belly, the thick, raspy accent, the tank top, the hand gestures and phrases like “whaddyaknow?” In fact, that’s what I thought he was until the Shylock-like parallels were pointed out to me, then I was even more offended. Two stereotypes in one, good job Lucas! *Cough* Racist!

4. Hard-ass Jedi: In my first review, I mentioned how the Jedi were portrayed as needlessly harsh teachers for the way they told Anakin that his fear for his mother was a bad thing. I even mentioned that this would come up again later, by which I was referring to the third movie. And wouldn’t you know it, I totally spaced on it! Which is nuts because it was pretty damn intrinsic to the plot. To recap, the Jedi Council tells a nine year old Anakin (nine, not ten!) that he must forget about his mother because his fear of losing her will lead him to the Dark Side. Of course I thought that was total BS! I mean, who tells a kid this kind of stuff and expects it to go over well? Not only that, but it seems like such a stretch. “You’re afraid of losing your mom? Why, that’s the gateway to evil!” No, telling a kid he has to forget about his mom and sit back while she’s MURDERED is the gateway to evil! Not that they’d notice, these guys can’t sense evil when it’s three feet in front of them and in the form of a Sith Lord!

But as if that wasn’t enough, Yoda is at it once again in the third movie. When told that Anakin is having premonitory dreams where someone he loves dies, he simply tells him to let it go. Apparently, his love for this person and fear of losing them is also a bad thing! “Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is,” says Yoda. Not only that, he’s told he should be happy that this person is dying! “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.” What the hell kind of advice is this?! Has Yoda forgotten what Anakin did the last time they told him to just let go? Apparently he has because it never once came up again! So not only is he not allowed to have any romantic attachments, he can’t have any attachments period! Seriously, was Lucas so desperate to make Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side seem justified that he had to pitch the Jedi as a bunch of unfeeling jagoffs? Personally, I’d be telling Yoda and the entire Council to get bent and then march straight on home to nail my wife! Them and their whole order of ascetic virgins can kiss my ass! Bunch of self-righteous fops, you ask me!

4. Selling out: Last time around, I lamented Lucas’ selling out but hoped he might take the hint and get back to his base. Alas, I was already too late! Seems that in the last few years, he’s released two more special editions of his movies! Yes, as if the original box set, the THX box set, the Gold Edition box set, and the prequel box set weren’t enough, now we have “Star Wars: the Force”, and “Star Wars: The Complete Saga”, both of which are full volumes of all six movies. Both contain all the usual bonus feature crap and behind-the-scenes documentaries, but the Force edition is apparently a directors cut that includes all the deleted scenes. Yeah, I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of bonus scenes too, but Jesus Christ Lucas, how many new versions of Star Wars do we need?! You got alimony to pay or a dozen bastard children we don’t know about? Stephen Spielberg got something on you that you gotta pay to keep under wraps? Why else would you feel the need to re-merchandize the most merchandized franchise of all time? You know, I think this might just be his way of sticking it to all those people who laughed at him when he said he wanted to retain the merchandizing rights!

Well, that about covers it for now. As usual, reflecting on the path Star Wars has taken since my younger days has left me feeling bitter and jaded. I suppose its all in how you look at it. On the one hand, I could be happy that Lucas, who started as a humble purveyor of sci-fi (like me!), became a man with the power to shape several generations worth of popular culture. Or I could be pissed that the man who created something that helped shape my and many other people’s childhood went on to rape it! Tough call man…

Dune Miniseries (best lines, revisited)

dune_miniseriesYesterday, more lines were coming to me as I busted my butt to get through Taekwon-Do class. I don’t know, it seems plyometric exercises are all the rage these days. Did I mention I hate them? I hate em, I HATE EM! But my aching shins and stiff muscles aside, it was good in that it shook some things loose from my mind. Basically, I realized that there were several more lines I didn’t post, and with something like Dune, you got to give it its due. That kind of sounded like a play on words, doesn’t it? Dune, due, no? Whatever, just read the damn list!

So, here are some of the ones I forgot the first time around…

Paul: What did you do to me?
Jessica: I gave birth to you!
Paul: A freak!
Jessica: No!
Paul: Then what?
(Of course, she has no answer for that one!)

Paul: Submit Captain! (Using the Voice) Submit Captain…

Guild Agent: We have surrendered without resistance, we have put ourselves at your mercy.
Paul: Mercy is a word I no longer understand.
-extended scene in which Paul and the Fremen take a Harkonnen stronghold and capture a Guild agent

Paul: Othyem, get Stilgar. Tell him to summon a Maker.
Chani: You know what this will mean. Between you and Stil… the man who wants you to call him out.
Paul: Only if I survive the Maker.

Fenrig: Her majesty has a perceptive mind.
Irulan: Should I take that as compliment or a threat, Fenrig?
Fenrig: I meant it only as a sign of my respect. I share your fear of the Baron’s schemes.
Irulan: My father can handle the Baron, Fenrig. It is this Muad’Dib that I’m curious about.

Baron: Your majesty, these people are mad! The women hurl their babies at us. They hurl themselves onto our weapons to open a wedge for their men to attack. I could wipe the planet clean of the entire race, your majesty, but then who would mine the spice? It’s a terrible dilemma.
Emperor: Do you have any idea where this Muad’Dib character came from? What he wants? What his price is?
Baron: He’s a Fremen fanatic, a religious adventurer. They crop up regularly from the fringes of civilization. You’re majesty knows this. Most seem to be simply bent on suicide.
Emperor: Have you ever stared into the eyes of a religious fanatic, Baron? Suicide and martyrdom are often the same thing.

Chani: This can’t go on. You are asking too much of yourself!
Paul: I want you to take Leto and return to the southern sietch. I want you safe.
Chani: I’m safest when we are together!
Paul: But I’m not.

Baron: You’re good material, Feyd, and I hate to waste good material (Slaps him). Now give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right here.
Feyd: My brother…
Baron: Yes! That’s right, you’re dim brother. If I kill you, then he would be my only heir, and he can’t even put down a dirty mob of religious lunatics. Yes, you’re clever Feyd… but not that clever.

Irulan: History will say that the Fremen were about to find their Messiah, that Paul Atreides would find his revenge, and the world we knew it would change… forever.

Chani: Your visions frighten me, Muad’Dib
Paul: There are things still hidden from me. Places I can’t go, things I can’t see.
Chani: Do you ever worry that just trying to see the future changes it?
Paul: We’re speeding towards the abyss, Chani. I have to see a way around it.

Chani: Will we ever have peace Muad’Dib?
Paul: We’ll have victory…

Jessica: We thought you were dead…
Paul: You have no idea! (Takes her hands, shows her his vision) I’ve seen things for which there are not words to describe.
Jessica: You’ve seen the future?
Paul: The NOW mother! The future and the past! All at once, all the same… I am the whirlwind!

Jessica: You Are the Kwisatz Hadderach!
Paul: No, mother! I am something more… I’m something unexpected. I am the fulcrum, the giver and the taker. I am the one who can be many places at once. I am the master of FATE! I am the tool of that fate…

Paul: A terrible purpose awaits us mother. This vast organism we call humanity is about to reinvent itself from the ashes of its own complacency. The Sleeper has awakened… anything that tries to stop it will be crushed.
Jessica: Even the innocent?
Paul: There aren’t any innocents anymore!

Paul: Take a good look at me, mother. See something I learned after I took the Water of Life. Look into my eyes. Look back through them into my blood… Harkonnen blood, flowing in mine. It flows from you…
Jessica: (scoffs) No… I won’t believe it.
Paul: Who was your father?
Jessica: You know I can’t answer that.
Paul: Who?
Jessica: I don’t know. I don’t know, I’ve never known!
Paul: Because they hid it from you!
Jessica: Because they took me when I was an infant, and raised me in the Bene Gesserit ways. Like all the others before and since. None know their mothers… or their fathers.
Paul: THE BARON HARKONNEN MOTHER, YOU’RE HIS DAUGHTER! … The product of a clever seduction. The handiwork of your precious Bene Gesserit breeding programmers. I’m his grandson… They wanted to control things, but they couldn’t control you. You changed everything. You had a son, and now I’m here… the one they were seeking. But I’ve arrived before my time. And they’re just beginning to realize it.

Yep, amazing how many lines I forgot. I’ll admit, some of them are a little B-list, but they’re still gold in my opinion. Amazing, most of them I made a point of mentioning in the course of my review, not just because they were significant but because they were damn good bits of dialogue! And yet, somehow I forgot about them when it came time to list the most memorable lines… But I can see why, list one was dominated by the Baron’s gems, whereas this particular one seems to be all about Paul and the women in his life. I guess that’s to be expected, main characters do tend to be show-stealers!

Best Dune Lines!

Hey all! As you can plainly see, I did a rather long review of Dune, the movie and miniseries, recently. One thing that kept coming to mind was all the great lines that made it in. Some of these were taken from the novel, others were the result of John Harrison’s imagination. Either way, they were cinematic gold and I found that I could only write in a few. If I had taken the time to include them all, my connection might have done down. DSL can only handle so much…

Anyway, here is a brief list of some of the gems that have stuck out for me.

Baron Harkonnen:“By the time the traitor is fully revealed, the fate of Atreides will already be sealed.”

Paul: “Without the spice, the navigators will become blind, the Bene Gesserit will lose all power, and all commerce between the Great Houses will cease. Civilization will end! If I am not obeyed… the spice will not flow!”

Mother Superior (using the Voice): “What do you think they mean, these dreams of yours?”
Paul (Voice): “Why don’t you tell me?”

Baron: “Perhaps your incompetence will prove useful after all, in hastening the day House Atreides will fall.”

Guild agent: “It is said that the Fremen of the deep desert drink blood as well. Isn’t that true Doctor Kynes?”
Doctor Kynes: “Not the blood, sir. All of a man’s water. The body is over eighty-percent water. A dead man surely has no more use for it.”

Baron: “Never trust a traitor, even one you created yourself.”

Paul: “Then may your knife chip and shatter.”

Baron: “My family has hated the Atreides for centuries. They have been the sand in our eyes, the stink at our meals, these arrogant Atreides, always standing in our way. I want Leto to appreciate the beauty of what I’ve done to him. I want him to know that I, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, am the instrument of his family’s demise!”

Jessica: “He has never had to kill before…”
Stilgar: “Then he had better learn!”

Baron: “Then you will squeeze, like the grips of a vice, so that our coffers become fat with the profit of spice.”

Fenrig: “ten million…”
Irulan:“Toughened by conditions worse than your own prison planet, father…
Fenrig: “The Baron would have a force to rival even your dreaded Sardaukar.”

Paul: “I knew Jamis. He taught me that when you kill, you pay for it…”

Baron: “So let the emperor mock house Harkonenn, Call us swine. Because in the end his throne will be mine.”

Jessica (using the Voice): “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll find an honorable way to let this go…”

Baron: “If you wanted to kill me, Feyd, why not just do it yourself? You’ve had plenty of opportunity.”
Feyd: “You always taught me that my own hands must remain clean.”
Baron: “Oh quick, boy! Very quick!”

Jessica: “I was supposed to have a daughter, one that could be wed to the Harkonnen heir. A way to end the feud and possibly produce the Kwisatz Haderach…”
Paul: “…the one who can be many places at once.”
Jessica: “The ultimate achievement of centuries of Bene Gesserit breeding. The man who could go where we could not. The one with perfect memory, who could provide perfect predictability.”
Paul: “And perfect power to the Bene Gesserit of course.”
Jessica: “I did what I did because I loved your father! I only wanted to give him a son. I didn’t want to create… a God!”
Paul: “Then you don’t believe its true?”
Jessica: “I’m your mother, Paul! I know who you are!”
Paul: “Do you?!”

Feyd: “You intend to draw the Emperor into this?”
Baron: “See, Feyd, this is why you need me alive: to help you think, to help you plot. Why do you think I tolerate your dim brother’s incompetence, because it amuses me? Think Feyd! There has to be method to this madness, though you’ve been too dull to divide it.”
Feyd: “The spice?”
Baron: “Of course, Feyd. The spice. The one thing important enough to draw the Emperor out here, away from his royal pleasures to the fringes of the empire. Where he is vulnerable, where he can be reached.”

Dune, the miniseries (Part III)

We come at last to Part III and the final act of the Dune miniseries! Been a long time in coming, and funny thing is, I tried to do all in one post. Now here I am breaking it into four just so I can cover the original movie and the miniseries faithfully. But as I’ve said many times before, the book is long and dense, and requires lots of time and space to do it justice. Wow, is there some weird weird esoteric shit going on here? Are all these posts visually demonstrating how length is the difference between success and failure here?

Sorry about that, I think my latest batch of moonshine’s got some weird properties… making me talk funny! Let’s just get to the third act and wrap this baby up!

The final act opens on an attack being made by the Fremen on the city of Arrakeen, capitol of Arrakis. We see Paul as he’s overseeing this attack, now a full 17 years of age and hardened by desert life and the gift of his prescience. At this point in the story, they’ve been waging their war against the Harkonnen’s for a full two years now and things are finally coming to a head. The Harkonnen’s forces no longer go into the desert, the Fremen has free reign there, and are basically trapped inside the capitol while the Fedaykin strike at them with impunity. Paul stands on the edge of achieving his revenge and the Fremen are on the verge of receiving their messiah. But first, a few things need to happen before they can make their final assault and Paul can become the Mahdi. In order to become a true leader, Paul must ride the worm and assume control over Fremen tribe in the desert (at some point, this will involve calling Stilgar out, as hinted at earlier). And to become a true prophet, he must take the Water of Life.

What’s good about the miniseries at this point is that they take the time to flesh out the events that took place in this time. In the novel they were talked about, but not shown. We skip from the point where Jessica becomes the Reverend Mother to where Paul is riding the worm and all that happens in between is described but not shown. But here, in order to provide additional pacing and keep the audience up to speed, we have several scenes which were both important and well executed. One is where Irulan, upon returning from Geidi Prime, begins to share her suspicions with her father, and I can honestly say its one of the best scenes in the entire series. It begins with her father pointing out how the Baron is loosing men on Arrakis and pleading for help. And replies by indicating that the kill-loss rate is a clear indication of how superior the Fremen fighters are. She then ventures that the only reason the Baron would allow Raban (who is clearly incompetent) to deal with this problem is because he has a plan to enlist the Fremen, and that he is grooming his nephew to take over. Hearing this, Irulan and Fenrig finally say flat out what’s been hinted at repeatedly throughout the series. “(Ten million people)… toughened by conditions worse than your own prison planet, father…” “The Baron would have a force to rival even your dreaded Sardaukar…” Fenrig is impressed, but Irulan concludes the scene with an obvious declaration. “My father can handle the Baron… it’s this Muad’Dib that I’m curious about.” Aka. she’s almost positive its Paul!

We also get to see Paul and his mother talk about the path he’s on, something that was quite important and never really included in the book. She expresses concern that Paul is beginning to believe in the legends they’ve been exploiting, to which he counters with another legend: the Kwisatz Haderach. Again, the name is dropped, Paul explains how the Reverend Mother came to him in a dream and told him. Jessica then explains what the Bene Gesserit had planned, what the KH was supposed to be. Now the audience, having been primed, knows exactly what the KH is, and what this means for Paul. Jessica says that she only gave the Duke a son out love, that she never meant to give birth to “a God”. But alas, we can see that even she’s not sure who Paul is anymore…

In between all this, we get the important stuff that did make it into the book. For one, we see Paul ride the worm for the first time. He knew he would have to do this eventually, due in part to all the Fremen warriors who have come to challenge him over the years, and to the fact that sooner or later, he will have to demonstrate this ability if he’s going to lead the Fremen. The scene where he does this is certainly cool, better than the original because its not so over the top (aka. no internal monologues, no really epic music, just a high-energy scene that’s faithful). It also ends with a fitting reminder: now that Paul has shown he can command the worm, there’s the little matter of him and Stilgar. If he’s to lead, he will have to best him in combat… Paul is clearly saddened by this realization, and you can see it. But for the moment, they’re riding a damn worm! Not to the time to be worrying about other things!

We also see Paul’s reunion with Stilgar. Earlier on in the series, he saw him working with smugglers, a preview of their eventual encounter. During an ambush, Paul recognizes him and the bring him and his men back to the sietch where they Paul asks him to enlist with him and his Fremen. “I never left your side,” he says, predictably. Good ol’ Gurney! But of course, he is surprised to hear Jessica is alive, and suspects SHE was the traitor. Then, in a scene which never made it into the movie, he confronts with her with his knife drawn, bad Gurney! But of course, Paul and Jessica talk him down once they reveal that it was Yueh and why he did it. Everything is resolved… though Gurney obviously feels like a douche! We also get a gander at Paul’s son who was born in the preceding two years and see the blossoming relationship that’s taking place between Chani and Jessica. These are not just filler, they preview the decision Paul will have to make, the same one his father made. For the sake of politics, the Duke never married Jessica, thus ensuring he could marry the Lady of another house and create and alliance. Paul, it has been hinted at, may have to do the same at some point. Hence, Chani will also be only ever be a consort in title, but in reality, will be his true love.

But the real money is in the palace scenes where the Baron is summoned and makes excuses for his inability to crush the Fremen rebellion. His exact words were said later in the novel, when the Emperor showed up on Arrakis demanding answers. The effect of this was to make the latter chapters feel rushed; putting it sooner in the series, before the Emperor decided to intervene, was a good idea on Harrison’s part because it helped with the pacing. It also makes the Emperor’s eventual intervention seem that much more justified. But alas, the lines: “Your majesty, these people are mad! They women throw their babies at us! They hurl themselves onto our weapons to open a wedge for their men to attack… I could wipe the planet clean of the entire race, but then there’d be no one left to mine the spice. It’s a terrible dilemma…” The Emperor, naturally, is unconvinced. The Guild and the Bene Gesserit, fearing what Muad’Dib represents, want him to intervene, and Fenrig points out that they can’t attack the Baron directly because of their past involvement together. I.e. he secretly helped the Baron destroy House Atreides, can’t have that coming out! So the Emperor decides to send the palace to Arrakis, along with the armies of every major house. He’ll deal with the Fremen rebellion first and the Baron later.

And then, Paul takes the Water of Life! The experience almost kills him, and the scene is detailed and long, reflecting its true importance. In the original movie, it was quick and rushed, Paul did it and it was over. In truth, the experience was nearly fatal, and having come through it, Paul now knows he’s the Kwisatz Haderach, his visions are complete. He sees the future and all the terrible things he will do, but now knows they are necessary and inevitable. He also sees that the Emperor and the great houses are coming! War is upon them at last! When he announces this to the Fremen, they know at last that he is truly their prophet, and demand he call out Stilgar. Paul refuses, saying that their ways must change and he will not cripple himself by sacrificing his best warriors. To resolve this impasse, he declares that he is not their naib, but their Duke! In other words, he asserts his royal claim over the planet and asks for their loyalty, and they give it!

The time has come at last to mount their assault on Arrakeen, now that the Emperor is there! This was apparently the point in holding back. If they took the capitol before the Emperor and his legions were on the ground, the Emperor could always attack and retake the planet. This way, he will defeat both the Emperor and the Harkonnen’s in one blow, and dictate terms to them. But… there’s one more card he needs. He hints at this by telling Othyem, one of his loyal Fedaykin, to take a supply of changed Water of Life to a large pre-spice mass. Otheym knows what this means, and is aghast, but obeys. We don’t… yet, but we can tell its significant. We’re getting the impression that this is the whole “You alone know what I can do!” that Paul said in the original movie. Good! I was wondering… Paul takes the time to bury his father’s remains in a Fremen tomb, and has one final conversation with his mother about the future. She is afraid, naturally, but Paul has become fatalistic about the whole thing. It must be, and he has no qualms anymore because as he says “there aren’t any innocents anymore!” Paul then takes this opportunity to reveal to hes mother that he knows her ancestry. She’s a Harkonnen, and therefore so is he! Cruelty is natural to them, as is nobility. Because of this, he has everything he needs to be the KH, and it’s the perfect irony. The Bene Gesserit wanted someone like him so they could control things, but since they couldn’t control Jessica, she’s changed everything. But has arrived before his time, and the consequences they were told to expect are now here! Bad things will happen, bad, necessary things. A shocking revelation! And perfectly timed since its act III and the attack is about to come.

But, true to the original story, the Sardaukar attack sietch Tabr, where Paul and his family have been living for the past two years, and murder Paul’s son! They also take Alia hostage, the bloody bastards! Paul knows his son is dead just before they mount their attack, rather than hearing about it in the course of it – as happened in the novel, which was weird! Like most of what Herbert wrote in act III, it kind of felt he was rushing towards the climax, getting that writer’s itch to draw things to a close! I know the feeling… But, important here, Alia being taken hostage puts her inside the palace and before the Emperor, where she can deliver her messages to him and the Mother Superior who is there with him. She sees her and recognizes her as “the abomination the ancients warned us about”, i.e. a preborn child, which the BG’s naturally fear. Irulan also connects all the dots now that she has Muad’Dib’s sister before them. She is Atreides in appearance, hence Muad’Dib is Paul! Everyone is breathless!

And then, boom! Paul attacks! Again(!), this battle scene is a lot more impressive here than the in the original movie. Not because of special effects, but because its much more drawn out and the camera gets around. We see fighting in the city, fighting in the desert, at a distance and at close quarters, not just a bunch of Fremen shooting down Sardaukar from the backs of sandworms. What’s more, its true and detailed to the story. They use a tactical nuke to blow up the natural shield wall that protects Arrakeen from the terrible sandstorms, the ensuing storm neutralizes the palace shields, and then, they attack with the worms and take down the Sardaukar and Harkonnen armies! And of course, while scrambling, Alia stabs the Baron with the Atreides gom jabbar (a poison needle), thus killing the bastard! And in the ensuing scene where Paul has his defeated foes before him and is dictating terms, the miniseries takes the time to explain exactly what Paul can do and how he will do it… if he’s not obeyed.

As I said in the Dune movie review, Paul has not truly won at this point. Though the Emperor’s legions are dead and the Harkonnen’s defeated, the Emperor still has the armies of the royal houses to call in. Paul tells them, don’t bother! His men are in the desert over a pre-spice mass with changed Water of Life, which is fatal to the worms, and ready to introduce it in. This will destroy this mass, but also create a cycle of death amongst the sandworms as they spread it to other spice masses and other worms. All the worms will die, and hence all spice production will end; civilization will end! And, classic line to top it off: “If I am not obeyed… the spice will not flow!” So naturally, Irulan intervenes and suggests she be married to Paul, giving him the throne and staving off disaster. But not before Feyd offers his own solution: a knife fight! It all looks hopeless when Feyd is about to slip Paul a poison needle (the cheater!) but Paul manages to whisper to Feyd that they are cousins! The momentary distraction gives Paul the edge to slip away from the needle and he slips the knife in his throat. Then… (again!) faithful to the novel, and (again!) way better than the original, Paul snubs Irulan, his wife to be, stands before Chani and looks at her lovingly, and Jessica concludes the whole thing with a voiceover (Irulan style): “Let us hope she finds solace in her writing and her books, she’ll have little else. She may have my son’s name, but it is we, who carry the name of concubine, that history will call… wives.”

And that’s the full tamale! All three acts, one big miniseries, one REALLY deep novel! And alas, the creators didn’t stop there. With Frank Herbert’s Dune garnering such high ratings for the Sci Fi channel, it wasn’t long before they tackled books II and III, combining them into a single miniseries named Children of Dune. I shan’t get into that one though, that’s something for another day, a long time from now! In the meantime, let me just conclude by reiterating everything I loved about THIS miniseries. The direction and pacing were great, the acting solid, and with the exceptions of Thufir and Duncan, the characters well-developed and fleshed out. The plot and execution were also faithful to the original, improving it on it in many cases, especially where revelations and twists were concerned. All of this was great in its own right, but especially so since all other attempts to adapt it to the screen failed. For the fans of the Dune franchise, this took over three decades, and Herbert himself didn’t even live to see it. Sure, it wasn’t the silver screen, who who cares? Chances are, this accomplishment was never going to happen on the big screen, and never will. The scuttlebutt says more cable adaptations are in the works, with God Emperor of Dune (Book IV) on the way, and possibly even another attempt at the big-screen. But we’ll leave that to history…

Frank Herbert’s Dune:
Entertainment Value: 8/10 (not recommended for people with short attention spans or special effects fetishes!)
Plot: 10/10 (Yo!)
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10

No endnotes! Ya’ll should know what’s what by now! 😉