More Star Wars News!

Star_WarsIt’s been confirmed. Contrary to what Abrams said earlier when asked about the likelihood of him directing Episode VII, it now seems that the director of Star Trek and creator of Alias, Lost, and Fringe will be attached to the project after all. The news came just yesterday in a statement issued by Disney Co., putting an end to days worth of rumors that Abram’s involvement might be in the bag.

Kathleen Kennedy, the movie’s producer and president of Lucasfilm, had this to say in the release:

“It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie. J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”

Personally, I still think they should have gone with Joss Whedon, but what do I know? Pitching movies is none of my business!

george_lucas02Another person who expressed approval was George Lucas himself, who said in a statement “”I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.” And last, but not least, was the man J.J. himself, who expressed excitement about being able to work on a franchise he loved growing up:

“To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor. I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid.”

In addition, Michael Arndt, the writer of Toy Story 3, is slated to write the script, and will be getting some help from some rather qualified sources. Simon Kinberg, the screenwriter from Sherlock Holmes and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is one such person. The second, and undoubtedly most qualified, is Lawrence Kasdan, the man who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the original trilogy.

Between these four people and the multi-billion dollar check Disney shelled out for the rights to this movie, its apparent that they’re pulling out all the stops! All that remains is casting… who will be the next generation of Star Wars actors who will take us back to the “Galaxy Far, Far Away…”? Mark Hamil is certainly expected to make an appearance, but who else are we yearning to see? And most importantly, are big bucks and big names going to translate into big quality with his next movie?

Source: IO9.com, Huffingtonpost.com

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!

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!

Star Wars Episode III: Last Chance…

Last time, I believe I left off with a passing mention of how the Clone Wars weren’t exactly given their due in Lucas’ prequels. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my understanding that that was what they were supposed to address, and with a name like Attack of the Clones, I don’t think that would be an unrealistic expectation. But Lucas seemed more concerned with addressing the back-story of Anakin’s fall to the dark side and the love story between him and Padme/Amidala. Everything else was pushed to the side or parceled out between obligatory scenes of (ahem) romance and Anakin bitching about how angry he was and unfair his life is. The end result was a movie that hopped all over the place, moving along with a sense of duty rather than an intriguing story that took its time to build, and with dialogue and character development that was basically info-dumping and pure exposition.

In short, it sucked! But between movies two and three, Lucas appeared to sit up and take notice. Whereas Phantom Menace and Clones were chock full of indications that Lucas held the fan’s feelings in contempt, Revenge of the Sith seemed to contain within it a feeling of humility. It was as if Lucas saw the writing on the wall and realized that if the third movie was to be a critical flop, the Star Wars franchise might forever be ruined. That, I think, was enough to get him to realize that he was still mortal.

Still, the final entry in the franchise suffered from the same weaknesses as the rest. Nobody missed Jar Jar Binks, the cheesy romantic element was toned down (somewhat), the action was a lot better and more relevant, and the motivation was a lot more believable. But the same basic problems of duty, pacing and rushing were there all around. About the best thing you could say about it was that it was salvageable. Not great, but enough to ensure that the whole trilogy didn’t totally suck. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Prior to the movie’s release, Lucas did his usual round of interviews and gave the fans a bit of an inside look at the plot and his process. In the course of this, he admitted that he had to force himself to commit to writing every day, eight hours at a stretch, in order to get the script banged out on time. Now that’s not something you EVER want to admit to as a writer! Automatically it makes people think that what they are about to see is a second-rate effort, done out of a sense of obligation and devoid of any heart. And yet, it was better than the first two, even if it managed to retain their weaknesses.

The War: As I said in the last review, the war happens between movies. We catch the very beginning of it in Clones and the tail end of it in this one, but that’s it. Despite the fact that they are of extreme importance to the story, the war (or wars) are really more of a backdrop against which the main story – Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, takes place. That only drives home the point of how the prequels are dominated by a sense of duty, meant to explain rather than tell their own story. If anything, it should have been the other way around. The war happens, it is the means through which Palpatine seizes power, and in the course of it, Anakin becomes a great hero, falls in love with Padme/Amidala, and then succumbs to temptation. It’d be a lot more fun, more subtle, and more entertaining that way.

Anakin and Dooku, take two: Here was a fight scene that was due, and it was enjoyable to see Anakin take down Dooku. But it was pretty much a total rehash of the first time these two fought, sans the ridiculous walk-on by Yoda. As predicted, Dooku has to take out Obi Wan in order for him and Anakin to duke it out between themselves. And its perfectly contrived, the way he tossed him aside with the Force and uses a gangplank to pin him down. It’s also perfectly contrived that Obi Wan would thusly be unconscious and totally unaware of how Anakin kills Dooku. That was another problem I had with this fight scene. After cutting off Dooku’s hands, Anakin is told by Palpatine to execute him. This is in keeping with the whole Sith thing: “you beat my apprentice, now take his place”. But what is so stupid about it is how Anakin beheads him with barely a second thought.
It’s like “You know, I really shouldn’t…”. “Do it, Anakin! He’s too dangerous.” “Okay!” Slit! “Gee, That felt wrong.” “It’s okay Anakin, he had it coming!” And then, barely another word on the subject. As if to remind us how this has happened before, Palpatine brings up how Anakin wiped out all those Sandpeople. Once again, it seems like the Jedi have no clue and Anakin has got away with cold-blooded murder.

The Love Story: We’re fortunate not to get an earful of awful, cheesy dialogue between Anakin and Padme in this one, but there’s still enough to bring the bile to the edge of your throat. For what its worth, the two seem to have a little more chemistry in this one, but it still feels forced. “You are so beautiful” says Anakin. “That’s because I’m so much in love,” she replies. Ugh!

Grievous: Here is a character who is not bad, as far as conceptuals go. But the fact that he’s introduced in this last movie where he then dies, that’s kind of weak. You can’t expect to introduce characters who are central to the plot in the third act and expect people to develop some kind of attachment to them. What’s more, in this movie, Grievous sounded oafish and really wasn’t that threatening. In the Clone Wars cartoon (the original by Genndy Tartakovsky, not the crappy Lucas remake!) Grievous was a frightening, bad-ass mutha who took down multiple Jedis at once. His voice was deep, cold, and metallic, and he had some truly bone-chilling lines! “Run, Jedi run! You have only prolonged the inevitable. But I will give you the honor of a warrior’s death.” Did I mention he’s also a master of psychological warfare?

Yes, that’s what’s wrong here! Between the cartoon and the third movie, Grievous goes from being an unstoppable malevolent force to a veritable heel! This was the guy who cut his way through clone troopers and Jedi alike and even managed to kidnap Palpatine in his own capitol building. And yet, we’re to believe that Obi Wan is able to take him down all by himself. There’s even a joke that fans made about this: Right before their big fight, Grievous turns to Obi Wan and says “It’s a good thing this is the movie and not the cartoon version, otherwise you’d be right fucked!” Ha! It’s funny because it’s true.

Anakin kills kids: Okay, really? I mean I know Lucas is trying to establish that Anakin’s turned evil, but are we seriously to believe that he’s gone from being conflicted and afraid about joining Palpatine to murdering children? How exactly does the Force work? Do one bad thing and BOOM! You’re an evil psychopath? If it’s that easy a transition, no wonder the Jedi are so pedantic. What’s more, I loved Padme’s reaction when she finds out about his crime. “No! Not Anakin! He couldn’t…” she says. What, this surprises you? You barely batted an eye when he told you that he slaughtered women and children, now you’re surprised he murdered some Jedi younglings? A more fitting reaction would be, “Not again! Christ, that boy’s incorrigible!” Not saying I approve, but if you’re going to have such a casual attitude the first time your hubby commits mass murder, you kind of forfeit the right to be surprised when he does it again. Or is Lucas trying to say indiscriminate murder is okay when it’s Sandpeople? Dude… that’s racist!

Anakin and Obi Wan’s big fight: Now, it’s been well-established at this point that Anakin is a better swordsman than Obi Wan, right? I mean, Dooku kicked Obi Wan’s ass twice with little effort, and Anakin kicked Dooku’s ass with energy to spare. So… how is it that Obi Wan was able to stand toe-to-toe with Anakin for like ten minutes straight and then beat him? Seriously, this fight scene makes no sense! Just like with his one-on-one with Grievous, Obi Wan, who’s been a bumbling dope up until this point, seems to suddenly acquire some mad fighting skills and saves the day. What’s more, this fight scene drags on forever! The choreography is beautiful, like watching fire dancers do their thing, but there’s no real tension. Not like there was between Vader and Luke in Empire. That fight scene went on for awhile, but it was well-paced and punctuated by terror. You could see how Vader was slowly beating Luke down and you feared for him. This time around, it was just a lot of visuals with little to no emotional content. And the fact that we knew ahead of time that Obi Wan would win removed any sense of anxiety from it.

“Nooooo!”: Now I know for a fact that few among us thought Hayden Christensen could possibly fill Vader’s shoes. The whiny, bitchy stride he struck in movies two and three hardly seemed consistent with the Darth’s deep voice or malevolent nature. Still, that scene at the end, where Anakin/Vader asks the whereabouts of Padme and then emits a pained shriek when Palpatine tells him she’s dead… painful! Not to mention kind of dumb. It goes without saying that if Anakin is truly going to cross over, Palpatine needs to make him sever all ties to his past. But telling him he killed his own love, strange, but I’d think that’d have the opposite effect. The whole reason he sided with Palpatine was to save her. Now that she’s dead, there’s really nothing to hold them together. Not only that, but in light of Padme’s death, all the sacrifices he’s made to earn Palpatine’s help would seem like they were done in vain. Personally, I’d be pissed! Rather than commit wholeheartedly to Palpatine’s plan, I’d want to kill Palpatine and take his whole plan apart piece by piece! Or, in keeping with the whole Sith thing, kill Palpatine and take over the whole operation myself. That’d make way more sense than serving him like a slave, “I must obey my master,” and all that. Really, what’s he done for you Darth?

Well, that about covers it. To be fair, I’d like to point out that there were some things I actually liked in this movie. Unlike the others, it wasn’t saved merely by its action. No, this one actually had a little depth that managed to justify the expense of seeing it. The fact that Anakin’s fall was born of fear, that he did it because of the promise of powers that would make him what he wanted to be (powerful enough to prevent death) actually made sense. Knowing that Lucas had to force himself to get this script out didn’t help things much, I knew in the back of my head as I saw it that he kind of pulled it out of his ass. But like most critics, I was willing to forgive this. It seemed like we were all pulling for him because we didn’t want to see Star Wars fail. After growing up with it and spending so much time and money on the toys, books, etc, we just weren’t prepared to abandon ship!

However, I personally feel that enough time has passed so that we might finally able to put the prequel trilogy and everything else Lucas has done in perspective. Despite his weaknesses as a writer/director, Lucas has an undeniable talent for borrowing elements from different genres and combining them in just the right way with some classical mythology and history to create an enjoyable experience. The original movies called to mind all kinds of things that the audience could relate to. The Battle of Hoth was like Dunkirk, the (first) assault on the Death Star like the Doolittle raid, and I don’t think anyone wasn’t on the edge of their seat with the final battle! Luke’s journey to find himself and learn the truth of his ancestry was like the Odyssey, the redemption and sacrifice his father made like something out of Greek tragedy.

It’s ironic then that Lucas himself would succumb to the temptation and allure of money, fame and power. In the end, they led him to believe that he was the master of Star Wars and that he alone knew what it was all about and what made it great. He was wrong, of course. One of the most enduring powers of Star Wars was its mass-appeal, how it could snatch up the youth and adult vote in one swoop. By snubbing advice and letting his age-old fans know that he didn’t care what they thought, he ended up churning out two movies that were almost universally panned and nearly cost him his legacy. It was only in listening to the critics and accepting his limitations that he was able to create a passable third and thereby “redeem” the franchise before it was too late. Yeah… irony!

But alas, Lucas appears to be up to his old tricks again. No sooner had Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars begin to garner critical acclaim that he snatched it up and began making his own version. It seemed that he was perfectly happy to let someone else tell the story of the Clone Wars until they began to do a better job of it than him. Then, I’m guessing ego or greed got the better of him and he came out with a cartoon movie and a series! And of course, they are just like his first two prequels – kiddy, cheesy, and razor thin in terms of plot. And it seems as though he isn’t finished just yet. Word is, he’s thinking of making sequels; that is, movies that pick up where the originals left off! If so, I’d say he has an opportunity on his hands to do what all the fans want – i.e. get back to what made the originals great and stop churning out the kind of crass, commercial crap that’s been spewing from Lucasarts for so many years.

So on behalf of all fans everywhere, I’d like to make a plea to Lucas. Dear Sir, I urge you to consider the lesson of the prequels and incorporate it into your future work. First, check your ego at the door. You created Star Wars, but that doesn’t mean you’re infallible. Second, ditch the adulators who are keeping you from hearing the truth. It’s always a true friend who’ll tell you what you need to hear even if you don’t want to hear it. Those who tell you flattering things with shit-eating grins plastered on their faces will only bring you down. Third, your foresight to retain the merchandising rights may have made you filthy-fucking-rich, but it’s also what’s been polluting your mind. There are things more important than money, merchandise, spin-offs, re-releases, and digital remastered editions! In the end, it should be about the story, not the returns. Fourth, get back to your fan base and really try to connect with them. I know, who are they to question you, right? Simple, they’re the ones who grew up watching Star Wars and made it the success that it was. Had they not paid their hard-earned money to see your movies and buy your paraphernalia, you’d have spent the last thirty years writing fan fiction and paperback space opera out of a studio apartment in downtown LA. Whether you like it or not, the franchise does in part belong to them. As its creator you can make it good, but only they can make it great! Without your fans, there is no phenomenon, so take what they say seriously.

That’s all! And as cheesy finish, let me just say “May the Force be with you” and not worry about reprisals ;)!

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 5/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 7/10

The Star Wars Prequels…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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