Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Trailer!

star-wars-episode-vii-force-awakensIt finally happened, Lucasarts and J.J. Abrams have released the very first trailer for the upcoming Star Wars sequel. For months, tidbits of news has been trickling out of the studio – casting info, tentative info on the plot, official posters; and of course, the name. But otherwise, everyone involved in the movie’s production has been pretty tight-lipped about it.

Word is, the studio even ordered a “drone shield” to protect their sets from anyone trying to obtain aerial footage of the production. Pretty neat huh? In any case, the trailer is pretty good at giving us drops that will only make us thirsty for more!

Star-WarsVIIThese include the familiar locale of Tatooine, actor John Boyega in the role of a Stormtrooper, a Sith with a newfangled lightsaber (above), actress Daisy Ridley riding a bulky speeder on Tatooine, actor Oscar Isaac flying a squad of X-wings across open water, Stormtroopers preparing for an assault, and the good ol’ Millennium Falcon dog fighting with TIE fighters above Tatooine’s surface.

All the while, we hear a baritone voice asking us if we can feel it, and by “it”, he means the Force! I tell you, this puts me in mind of the days when trailers for Star Wars Episode I were first coming out. I remember how us Wars geeks were all atwitter and couldn’t wait to see it. Perhaps it’s because I’m older now, or that the prequels have left me a bit jaded and cynical, but I do wish I could recapture that feeling.

star-wars-episode-vii-force-awakens(1)Basically, I think that like many childhood fans, I’m hoping that these sequels will be what the prequels should have been – an exciting and awesome return to the Star Wars universe we all knew and loved. Before the dark times… before Jar-Jar and midechlorians!

For f*** sakes, MIDECHLORIANS!

Check out the trailer below:

News From Space: Astronaut Robots

spheres_1As if it weren’t bad enough that they are replacing workers here on Earth, now they are being designed to replace us in space! At least, that’s the general idea behind Google and NASA’s collaborative effort to make SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). As the name suggests, these robots are spherical, floating machines that use small CO2 thrusters to move about and performing chores usually done by astronauts.

Earlier this month, NASA announced it’s plan to launch some SPHERES aboard an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station to begin testing. That launch took place on July 11th, and the testing has since begun. Powered by Tango, Google’s prototype smartphone that comes with 3D sensors that map the environment around them, the three satellites were used to perform routine tasks.

nasa-antares-launch-photoNASA has sent SPHERES to the ISS before, but all they could really do was move around using their small CO2 thruster. With the addition of a Tango “brain” though, the hope is that the robots will actually be able to assist astronauts on some tasks, or even completely carry out some mundane chores. In addition, the mission is to prepare the robots for long-term use and harmonized them to the ISS’ environment.

This will consist of the ISS astronauts testing SPHERES ability to fly around and dock themselves to recharge (since their batteries only last 90 minutes), and use the Tango phones to map the Space Station three-dimensionally. This data will be fed into the robots so they have a baseline for their flight patterns. The smartphones will be attached to the robots for future imaging tasks, and they will help with mathematical calculations and transmitting a Wi-Fi signal.

spheres_0In true science fiction fashion, the SPHERES project began in 2000 after MIT professor David W. Miller was inspired by the “Star Wars” scene where Luke Skywalker is being trained in handling a lightsaber by a small flying robot. Miller asked his students to create a similar robot for the aerospace Industry. Their creations were then sent to the ISS in 2006, where they have been ever since.

As these early SPHERES aren’t equipped with tools, they will mostly just fly around the ISS, testing out their software. The eventual goal is to have a fleet of these robots flying around in formation, fixing things, docking with and moving things about, and autonomously looking for misplaced items. If SPHERES can also perform EVAs (extra-vehicular activity, space walks), then the risk of being an astronaut would be significantly reduced.

spheresIn recent years there has been a marked shift towards the use of off-the-shelf hardware in space (and military) applications. This is partly due to tighter budgets, and partly because modern technology has become pretty damn sophisticated. As Chris Provencher, SPHERES project manager, said in an interview with Reuters:

We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors [to the SPHERES]. As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands. Let’s just use smartphones.

The SPHERES system is currently planned to be in use on the ISS until at least 2017. Combined with NASA’s Robonaut, there are some fears that this is the beginning of a trend where astronauts are replaced entirely by robots. But considering how long it would take to visit a nearby star, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. At least until all of the necessary terraforming have been carried out in advance of the settlers.

So perhaps robots will only be used to do the heavy lifting, or the work that is too dull, dangerous or dirty for regular astronauts – just like drones. Hopefully, they won’t be militarized though. We all saw how that went! And be sure to check out this video of SPHERES being upgraded with Project Tango, courtesy of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP):


Sources:
nasa.gov, extremetech.com, techtimes.com

Star Wars News: Vader WASN’T Luke’s Father Originally

SW7You know, it’s been awhile since I spoke about anything related to one of the greatest science fiction franchises in history. I am of course referring to Star Wars. Lucky for me, a series of stories have popped up on the news lately, so I thought now would be the perfect time to remedy all that. And this story is quite interesting, as it has to do with Lucas’ original plan for a major plot element in the series.

In short, Lucas’ original draft for The Empire Strikes Back, which was recently leaked to the public, and in that version, Darth Vader was NOT intended to be Luke’s father. That major plot twist, which proved intrinsic to the series’ story arc, was introduced by another writer, Leigh Brackett. As a veteran Hollywood writer, and given the success of the first movie, Lucas wanted her help in making sure the script for the sequel was up to par.

starwarstheempirestrikesback2Working from Lucas’ original plan, Brackett turned in an initial draft where Luke travels to Dagobah to receive instruction from Yoda, the ghosts of Obi-Wan AND his father. As for the major confrontation between Vader and Luke aboard Cloud City, the entire scene has no major twist, and instead consists of Vader offering Luke the chance to rule the Galaxy with him. Not “as father and son” mind you, just as two bad guys!

Sounds pretty weak doesn’t it? Well, turns out it gets better. In addition to there being no major twist, the original draft also had Han Solo showing Luke the basics of how to use a lightsaber (what WHAT?), featured a boatload of Wampas with the ability to freeze people, and had Han Solo spending part of the movie trying to recruit his stepfather into the Rebel Alliance.

Empire strikes back_338858Tragically, Brackett died shortly after sending in this first draft which was worked from Lucas’ notes, so she never got a chance to rework it. That task fell to Lawrence Kasdan and Lucas, who eventually worked from Brackett’s draft to create the film we all know and love. Alas, it was a good thing Lucas brought in some outside talent to help him with his script, or he would have had a Phantom Menace situation on his hands two decades too soon!

Going from the original story, as Lucas had it, the story not only loses most of its intrigue, but it’s also becomes bogged down in superfluousness and one-dimensionality. Part of what made Luke’s character so interesting was the inner turmoil he faced – being torn between stopping his father and wanting to help him, but also knowing that by killing him, he would risk becoming him.

empire strikes back_duelWhat’s more, in this version Vader loses all depth and becomes a cardboard-cutout bad guy. By learning that he was in fact a once-great man who “fell from grace”, his character became far more interesting and involved. And of course, knowing that he was once good presented Luke with a third option and a resolution to his quandary – redeem his father rather than kill him, thus ending the war in a way that would not damn his own soul.

And sure, Obi-Wan did tell Luke point blank in the original movie that Vader betrayed and murdered his father, but that was what was so cool about it looking back. In that film, Alec Guinness’ abilities as an actor really made it seem like he was holding something back with Luke. Knowing that his tale was meant symbolically rather than literally just made sense. I mean, he is a warrior-mystic after all. He’s supposed to be all meta!

empire_strike_back_endshotAnd really, this twist was what made the Star Wars trilogy work on so many levels. The idea of a son having to face his father, a fallen angel, in a titanic struggle of good and evil with immense personal implications and the fate of the universe hinging on the whole thing. It’s like Judea-Christian and classical mythology, Jung, Freud, and Existentialism all rolled into one!

To know that Lucas never intended it to be such, well that kind of puts a damper on the whole thing doesn’t it? But then again, it also answers a lot of nagging questions: like how the man who created the original saga could have created such fluff just twenty years later. Good thing he knew how to accept help back then, otherwise we’d have all missed out on a massive sci-fi pop cultural phenomena!

And in the meantime, enjoy some of these outtakes from the original movie which also recently emerged. Apparently, these come from the movie archives of the original film, which strangely, Lucas claimed had been destroyed. Wasn’t that the reason he couldn’t release the originals alongside the heavily CGI’d versions on DVD? Ah, who cares! Enjoy the clip:


Sources: blastr.com, uproxx.com

The Phosforce: A Real-Life Lightsaber?

phosforceSure, it may not be able to cut your hand off or deflect blaster shots, but this invention has geeks and engineers all experience a collective fangasm! In honor of Star Wars Day this year, the company known as Wicked Lasers debuted the Phosphorce, a laser-turned flashlight with the power to both illuminate and incinerate. Now tell me that doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping and make you wonder if it comes in designer shades and in both the single and double-bladed form!

As the video below shows, the Phosphorce is the company’s most powerful handheld laser married to a special lens. Attached, the lens turns the laser into a flashlight that produces some 500 lumens of power, making it the most powerful light on the market. Once removed, the device is back to being its usual, single-watt Spyder 3 Arctic laser, which is capable of projecting a beam up to a distance of 10km and incinerating at close range – just balloons, in case you were worried.

phosforce1And if case that’s not enough, the company also designs handles like the SABER, an attachment that turns their Arctic or Krypton lasers handhelds into the most stunning approximation of a lightsaber available. Already, BMW is in talks with Wicked Lasers to use the technology to fashion laser headlamps for their cars. The laser goes for a hefty $299.95, while the lens is available for a comparatively modest $79.85.

Yeah, not the cheapest lightsaber replica on the market, but at least it comes in Arctic blue. Tell me that doesn’t bring the Jedi’s weapon to mind! And be sure to check out the video, it is sure to pop your eyes!

Star Wars News!

star-wars-episode-7You’re not going to believe this. But just 15 minutes ago, on his Facebook feed, George Takei announced that he will be starring in the upcoming Star Wars remake. Not only that, but he had a few newsworthy items to share about the upcoming sequel that the studio has not been sharing just yet. These include the name of the new film and when filming will begin.

Friends, I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be starring in the Star Wars reboot directed by JJ Abrams. I’ll be playing Master Ceti Maru, a member of the Jedi High Council. The new film, entitled “Star Wars: Galactic Empire,” is greenlit and will begin filming sometime early next year. It is truly a moment for The Star Alliance. Thanks to all my fans for their decades of support.

You may not think it, but even a little hint like the name of the film can tell you volumes. In this case, it would seem to confirm what Hamil has been saying, that the movie would be set in a time when the children of Han and Leia were growing up, a time where the Republic had been resurrected and was fighting the remnants of the Empire to take control of the Galaxy.

In addition, since he will be playing a Jedi Master, its clear that in this time period, the Jedi Order has been restored. So Luke won’t be the only one anymore. Perhaps he’ll just be the head honcho, which is a bit of a change-up ever since Yoda passed away. What’s more, Takei was sure to provided a little mockup photo to get fans in mind of what he would like sporting a Jedi robe and a lightsaber (I see he went with the Windu model). Excited yet? I know I am.

Addendum: It’s officially midnight, so Happy April Fool’s Day! George, you’re one mean SOB!

georgetakei_jedi

Darth Vader POV Video

RS_darthEver wonder what it would be like to be Darth Vader while he was kicking some Jedi ass? Well, the stunt people over at Geeks of Doom decided to put together a lovely first-person video that gets you about as close as you can to the real experience. The entire thing was caught on a GoPro camera, was choreographed using those kick-ass lightsaber replicas that light up and add sound, and took only about half an hour to film. Impressive!

Watch and experience the Dark Side for yourself!

Star Wars Meets Mortal Kombat!

diamond-light-saberHere we have a video game concept that was proposed by Studio Gigante for the Xbox gaming system. Merging Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter style fights with Star Wars characters and lightsaber moves, the idea never made it to the production line. In fact, until the other day, no one outside of those who worked on it knew this proposed Star Wars combat game even existed.

But thanks to a recent tweet by Josh Tsui, currently of Robomodo and co-founder of the studio that made it, the demonstration video is now making the rounds. As the demo shows, it was a game that was meant to incorporate lightsaber duels, Force moves and some limited hand to hand fighting. You played as your favorite character within various Star Wars settings and, presumably, made you way up to the boss (smart money said it was either the Emperor or Yoda, depending on whether your character was good or evil).

Why he chose to do it on Valentines Day is anybody’s guess, but I’m thinking that might just be coincidental. Nothing says love like a simulated lightsaber in your gut!