Star Wars News!

at_at_cloudThat look like an AT-AT to you? The Star Wars geek in me earns to think that this sort of manifestation is some kind of indication that there is good news, vis a vis Star Wars upcoming sequels. But the realist in me thinks it’s just photoshop. Who knows? The important thing is, in the weeks leading up to the end of 2012, there were some rather interesting flashes on the news circuit regarding Disney’s recent acquisition.

For starters, there was one development with regards to all the talk about who would direct the next installment in the Star Wars saga. J.J. Abrams, who was rumored to be a top contender, recently admitted in an interview with Empire Magazine that the rumors were true. It seemed that Disney approached him shortly after the merger took place, but he was quick to turn them down:

“There were the very early conversations and I quickly said that because of my loyalty to Star Trek, and also just being a fan, I wouldn’t even want to be involved in the next version of those things. I declined any involvement very early on. I’d rather be in the audience not knowing what was coming, rather than being involved in the minutiae of making them.”

Makes sense. Star Wars and Star Trek are two distinct franchises, and never are the twain supposed to meet, except at ComicCon and tributes to George Lucas (apparently).

starwarsIn addition, there has been some news as to who is slated to write it. And in this respect, it seems that Michael Arndt, the writer who brought us Little Miss Sunshine, will be taking the helm. Yeah, you might say what do stories about family, dysfunction, and coming together in spite of it all have to do with Star Wars?

Hello, people! Look at Luke and Vader! A father who turned evil and then tried to convert/kill his own son. And let’s not forget Han, Chewy Leia, Lando and the droids. Han and Leia used to hate each other, then they had a weird triangle involving her brother! Ick! But then, in spite of that, they fell in love. Oh, and Han hates C3P0, Lando betrayed Han, and Chewy tried to pull Lando’s head off on more than one occasion. On top of all that, they’ve been arrested numerous times, and Han and Lando clearly have a gambling problem.

Throw in some alcoholism and a visit to the Jerry Springer show, and you’ve got the perfect dysfunctional family! And yet, the family works, and even wins wars! And on a more serious note, Arndt is a great writer, as anyone who has seen Little Miss Sunshine can certainly attest. And great writers are great writers, regardless of the genre. And since it seems he harbors a serious love for Star Wars, I’m sure he can be counted on to bring give A game and inject it with some serious passion.

No word yet on who will be cast in the roles of the main characters, but rumors abound. Mark Hamil was an early signee, but whether or not he will be reprising the role of Luke Skywalker is unclear at this time. There’s no telling how far into the future the sequels will be, and depending on that, Hamil may need to be recast in order to avoid any questions of aging poorly! However, some more creative suggestions were made, particularly by the good folks at Geek Tyrant.

Luke-Skywalker-Hamill-YelchinFor example, it was said that if Hamil wouldn’t be cast as Luke this time around, that the role would be ably filled by Anton Yelchin – the 23 year old who rose to fame playing the young Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation and Pavel Chekov in J.J. Abrams Star Trek.

Captain-MalSuggestions for Han Solo range from Chris Pine – Captain Kirk in (again) Abrams Star Trek – to Garrett Hedlund from Tron: Legacy and Nathan Fillion from Firely, Serenity and Castle. Do I even need to say it? Fillion for the win, people! He’s already played Solo in the form of Mal, the scoundrel Captain and smuggler with a heart of gold. He would be perfect for the role with his characteristic mix of wit, charm, occasionally seriousness, and general badassery.

anne-hathaway_17Mae Whitman and Anne Hathaway have both been suggested for the role of Princess Leia Organa Solo (yes, they eventually get married), who at this point in the story has gone from Rebel agent to a Senator of the New Republic. Personally, I think Hathaway would be the better choice for the role, for she has some experience capturing Leia’s combination of regality and ass-kicker. She’s also had plenty of experience playing the love interest of many a man in Hollywood cinema.

As for the rest, speculation certainly abounds and will continue to abound for some time. Depending again on when the new movies are to take place, relative to the original storyline, there’s any number of spots they need to cast for. Stay tuned, as I plan to be in the know when things begin to break!

Source: Geek Tyrant, IO9, (2),

Star Wars News!

Big news from a Galaxy far, far away… Sorry, couldn’t resist! There has been some new industry buzz regarding the upcoming relaunch of the Star Wars franchise of late. Ever since the media giant bought out Lucasfilm from Mr. Lucas himself, there has been plenty of speculation about what the focus of the new trilogy will be. According to Marketsaw, an entertainment and movie blog, the primary focus will be none other than Luke Skywalker himself.

Apparently, the source of this news is an industry insider who reported earlier this year that there would be an episode 7, 8, and 9, so fandom is treating this rumor as canon! Though Luke would be the main focus, they claim the rest of the original cast will also play a prominent role. As such, we can expect that Disney will be veering away from prequels and will be either taking the Thrawn Trilogy approach, or just picking up the story where it left off after Return of the Jedi.

What’s more, the age of the original actors was acknowledged as a bit of a hurdle, but the studio still seems committed to working with them. So perhaps a sequel that takes place many years later would be more the goal here. Or, as the source put it: “The main problem was the age of the cast, and the tone of the story. Now I do believe that Walt Disney intend on playing to the cultural significance of that original trilogy. You will see a tone more in line with the original trilogy, and specifically featuring that cast, if everything shakes out as intended. Which it will, I promise you.”

Promise, eh? Wow, that’s a bold statement!

Also of interest was the role that Lucas himself would be taking in the new trilogy. According to the source, the Disney made this decision after they “realized that George Lucas and STAR WARS are one and the same, so George will certainly have a voice on any angle taken, in fact I believe it’s one of many stipulations. However he will no longer have creative control, and as I said before George was already looking at other creative talents to bring his canon to life…”

Interesting. The source went on to say that the new movies were being “rewritten from previously secret drafts from way back during the making of the original trilogy.”

Well… this sounds like good news! In short, the new movies will feature the original cast and will be trying to strike a tone similar to the original trilogy. What’s more, while Lucas would have input and they would be working from his original notes, he would be relying on others to help bring his vision to life. If I recall correctly, it was this combination which made the original trilogy so enduringly awesome, and Lucas’ straying from it which made the prequels suck!

So really… score!

And that’s not all. The source also gave some information as to who would be starring in the new movie and who would be attached to direct. Apparently, many of the original actors have already been approached, and Mark Hamil is said to be “a certainty”. In terms of directors, the studio is apparently considering Steven Speilberg, Neil Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium), Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity), Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, First Class), Darren Arnofsky (The Fountain, Noah) and Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Serenity, Avengers). Personally, I don’t know who would be best suited, as every name in this dossier seems like a winner!

All I can say is, this is exciting news indeed. A new dawning for the Star Wars franchise, with plans to make not just one, but a series of trilogies that turn the story into a multi-generational saga – which is apparently what Lucas originally hoped for. And since the studio is planning on mounting a very aggressive marketing strategy – a la Harry Potter- we can expect to be hearing plenty more before the first movie is set to air in 2015.

And may the Force be with us! Again, sorry!

Religion in Sci-Fi

Since its inception as a literary genre, religion has played an important role in science fiction. Whether it took the form of informing the author’s own beliefs, or was delivered as part of their particular brand of social commentary, no work of sci-fi has ever been bereft of spirituality.Even self-professed atheists and materialists had something to say about religion, the soul and the concept of the divine, even if it was merely to deny its existence.

And so, I thought it might make for an interesting conceptual post to see exactly what some of history’s greats believed and how they worked it into their body of literature. As always, I can’t include everybody, but I sure as hell can include anyone who’s books I’ve read and beliefs I’ve come to know. And where ignorance presides, I shall attempt to illuminate myself on the subject. Okay, here goes!

Alastair Reynolds:
Despite being a relative newby to the field of sci-fi authors, Reynolds has established a reputation for hard science and grand ideas with his novels. And while not much information exists on his overall beliefs, be they religious or secular, many indications found their way into his books that would suggest he carries a rather ambiguous view of spirituality.

Within the Revelation Space universe, where most of his writing takes place, there are many mentions of a biotechnological weapon known as the “Indoctrination Virus”. This is an invasive program which essentially converts an individual to any number of sectarian ideologies by permeating their consciousness with visions of God, the Cross, or other religious iconography.

In Chasm City, these viruses are shown to be quite common on the world of Sky’s Edge, where religious sects use them to convert people to the official faith of the planet that claims Sky Haussmann was a prophet who was unfairly crucified for his actions. In Absolution Gap, they also form the basis of a society that populates an alien world known as Hela. Here, a theocratic state was built around a man named Quaiche, who while near death watched the moon’s gas giant disappear for a fraction of a second.

Unsure if this was the result of a strain he carries, he created a mobile community that travels the surface of the planet and watches the gas giant at all times using mirrors and reclining beds, so that they are looking heavenward at all times. Over the years, this community grew and expanded and became a mobile city, with each “believer” taking on transfusions of his blood so they could contract the the strain that converted him and allowed him to witness all that he did.

While this would indicate that Reynolds holds a somewhat dim view of religion, he leaves plenty of room for the opposite take. All throughout his works, the idea of preserving one’s humanity in a universe permeated by post-mortal, post-human, cybernetic beings remains a constant. In addition, as things get increasingly dark and the destruction of our race seems imminent, individual gestures of humanity are seem as capable of redeeming and even saving humanity as a species.

In fact, the names of the original trilogy allude to this: Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap. Like with everything else in his books, Reynold’s seems to prefer to take a sort of middling approach, showing humanity as an ambiguous species rather than an inherently noble one or foul one. Religion, since it is a decidedly human practice, can only be seen as ambiguous as well.

Arthur C. Clarke:
At once a great futurist and technologist, Clarke was nevertheless a man who claimed to be endlessly fascinated with the concept of God and transcendence. When interviews on the subjects of his beliefs, he claimed that he was “fascinated by the concept of God.” During another interview, he claimed that he believed that “Any path to knowledge is a path to God—or Reality, whichever word one prefers to use.”

However, these views came to change over time, leading many to wonder what the beliefs of this famed author really were. At once disenchanted with organized religion, he often found himself subscribing to various alternative beliefs systems. At other times, he insisting he was an atheist, and nearing the end of his life, even went so far as to say that he did not want religious ceremonies of any kind at his funeral.

Nowhere were these paradoxical views made more clear than in his work. For example, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the theme of transcendence, of growing to the point of becoming god-like, is central. Early hominid’s evolution into humanity is seen as the direct result of tampering by higher forces, aliens which are so ancient and evolved that they are virtually indistinguishable from gods. Throughout the series, human beings get a taste of this as they merge with the alien intelligence, becoming masters of their own universe and godlike themselves.

In the last book of the series – 3001: Final Odyssey, which Clarke wrote shortly before his death – Clarke describes a future where the Church goes the way of Soviet Communism. Theorizing that in the 21st century a reformist Pope would emerge who would choose to follow a similar policy as Gorbachev (“Glasnost”) and open the Vatican archives, Clarke felt that Christianity would die a natural death and have to be replaced by something else altogether. Thereafter, a sort of universal faith built around an open concept of God (called Deus) was created. By 3001, when the story is taking place, people look back at Christianity as a primitive necessity, but one which became useless by the modern age.

So, in a way, Clarke was like many Futurists and thoroughgoing empiricists, in that he deplored religion for its excesses and abuses, but seemed open to the idea of a cosmic creator at times in his life. And, when pressed, he would say that his personal pursuit for truth and ultimate reality was identical to the search for a search God, even if it went by a different name.

Frank Herbert:
Frank Herbert is known for being the man who taught people how to take science fiction seriously all over again. One of the reasons he was so successful in this regard was because of the way he worked the central role played by religion on human culture and consciousness into every book he ever wrote. Whether it was the Lazarus Effect, the Jesus Incident, or the seminal Dune, which addresses the danger of prophecies and messiahs, Frank clearly believed that the divine was something humanity was not destined to outgrow.

And nowhere was this made more clear than in the Dune saga. In the very first novel, it is established that humanity lives in a galaxy-spanning empire, and that the codes governing technological progress are the result of a “jihad” which took place thousands of years ago. This war was waged against thinking machines and all other forms of machinery that threatened to usurp humanity’s sense of identity and creativity, resulting in the religious proscription “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

Several millennium later, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a quasi-religious matriarchal society, are conspiring to create a messianic figure in the form of the Kwisatz Haderach. The name itself derives from the Hebrew term “Kefitzat Haderech” (literally: “The Way’s Jump”), a Kabbalic term related to teleportation. However, in this case, the name refers to the individual’s absolute prescience, the ability to jump through time in their mind’s eye. In preparation for the arrival of this being, they have been using their missionaries to spread messiah legends all over the known universe, hoping that people will respond to the arrival of their superbeing as if he were a messianic figure.

When the main character, Paul Atreides – the product of Bene Gesserit’s breeding program – arrives on the planet Arrakis, where his family is betrayed and killed, he and his mother become refugees amongst the native Fremen. They are one such people who have been prepped for his arrival, and wonder if he is in fact the one who will set them free. In order to survive, Paul takes on this role and begins to lead the Fremen as a religious leader. All along, he contends with the fear that in so doing, he will be unleashing forces he cannot control, a price which seems too high just to ensure that he and his mother survive and avenge themselves on their betrayers.

However, in the end, he comes to see that this is necessary. His prescience and inner awareness reveal to him that his concepts of morality are short-sighted, failing to take into account the need for renewal through conflict and war. And in the end, this is exactly what happens.By assuming the role of the Kwisatz Haderach, and the Fremen’s Mahdi, he defeats the Emperor and the Harkonnens and becomes the Emperor of the known universe. A series of crusades followers as his followers go out into the universe to subdue all rebellion to his rule and spread their new faith. Arrakis not only becomes the seat of power, but the spiritual capital of the universe, with people coming far and wide to see their new ruler and prophet.

As the series continues, Paul chooses to sacrifice himself in order to put an end to the cult of worship that has come of his actions. He wanders off into the desert, leaving his sister Alia to rule as Regent. As his children come of age, his son, Leto II, realizes the follies of his father and must make a similar choice as he did. Granted, assuming the role of a God is fraught with peril, but in order to truly awaken humanity from its sleep and prepare it for the future, he must go all the way and become a living God. Thus, he merges with the Sandworm, achieving a sort of quasi-immortality and invincibility.

After 3500 of absolute rule, he conspires in a plot to destroy himself and dies, leaving a huge, terrible, but ultimately noble legacy that people spend the next 1500 years combing through. When they come to the point of realizing what Leto II was preparing them for, they come to see the wisdom in his three and half millennia of tyranny. By becoming a living God, by manipulating the universe through his absolute prescience, he was preparing humanity for the day when they would be able to live without Gods. Like the Bene Gesserit, who became his chosen after the fact, he was conspiring to create “mature humanity”, a race of people who could work out their fates moment by moment and not be slaved to prophecies or messiahs.

As you can see, the commentary ran very deep. At once, Herbert seemed to be saying that humanity would never outlive the need for religion, but at the same time, that our survival might someday require us to break our dependency on it. Much like his critique on rational thought, democracy and all other forms of ideology, he seemed to be suggesting that the path to true wisdom and independence lay in cultivating a holistic awareness, one which viewed the universe not through a single lens, but as a multifaceted whole, and which was really nothing more than a projection of ourselves.

For those seeking clarity, that’s about as clear as it gets. As Herbert made very clear through the collection of his works, religion was something that he was very fascinated with, especially the more esoteric and mystical sects – such as Kaballah, Sufism, Zen Buddhism and the like. This was appropriate since he was never a man who gave answers easily, preferring to reflect on the mystery rather than trying to contain it with imperfect thoughts. Leto II said something very similar to this towards the end of God Emperor of Dune; as he lay dying he cautions Duncan and Siona against attempts to dispel the mystery, since all he ever tried to do was increase it. I interpreted this to be a testament of Frank’s own beliefs, which still inspire me to this day!

Gene Roddenberry:
For years, I often found myself wondering what Roddenberry’s take on organized religion, spirituality, and the divine were. Like most things pertaining to Star Trek, he seemed to prefer taking the open and inclusive approach, ruling nothing out, but not endorsing anything too strongly either. Whenever religion entered into the storyline, it seemed to take the form of an alien race who’s social structure was meant to resemble something out of Earth’s past. As always, their was a point to be made, namely how bad things used to be!

Behind the scenes, however, Roddenberry was a little more open about his stance. According to various pieces of biographical info, he considered himself a humanist and agnostic, and wanted to create a show where none of his characters had any religious beliefs. If anything, the people of the future were pure rationalists who viewed religion as something more primitive, even if they didn’t openly say so.

However, this did not prevent the subject of religion from coming up throughout the series. In the original, the crew discovers planets where religious practices are done that resemble something out of Earth’s past. In the episode “Bread and Circuses”, they arrive on a planet that resembles ancient Rome, complete with gladiatorial fights, Pro-Consuls, and a growing religion which worships the “Son”, aka. a Jesus-like figure. This last element is apparently on the rise, and is advocating peace and an end to the cultures violent ways. In “Who Mourns Adonais”, the crew are taken captive by a powerful alien that claims to be Apollo, and who was in fact the true inspiration for the Greek god. After neutralizing him and escaping from the planet, Apollo laments that the universe has outgrown the need for gods.

In the newer series, several similar stories are told. In the season one episode entitled “Justice”, they come Edenic world where the people live a seemingly free and happy existence. However, it is soon revealed that their penal code involves death for the most minor of infractions, one which was handed down by “God”. This being is essentially an alien presence that lives in orbit and watches over the people. When the Enterprise tries to rescue Wesley, who is condemned to die, the being interferes. Picard gains its acquiescence by stating “there can be no justice in absolutes”, and they leave. In a third season episode entitled “Who Watches the Watchers”, Picard becomes a deity to the people of a primitive world when the crew saves one of their inhabitants from death. In an effort to avoid tampering with their culture, he lands and convinces him of his mortality, and explains that progress, not divine power, is the basis of their advanced nature.

These are but a few examples, but they do indicate a general trend. Whereas Roddenberry assiduously avoided proselytizing his own beliefs in the series, he was sure to indicate the ill effects religion can have on culture. In just about every instance, it is seen as the source of intolerance, injustice, irrationality, and crimes against humanity and nature. But of course, the various crews of the Enterprise and Starfleet do not interfere where they can help it, for this is seen as something that all species must pass through on the road to realizing their true potential.

George Lucas:
Whereas many singers of space opera and science fiction provided various commentaries on religion in their works, Lucas was somewhat unique in that he worked his directly into the plot. Much like everything else in his stories, no direct lines are established with the world of today, or its institutions. Instead, he chose to create a universe that was entirely fictional and fantastic, with its own beliefs, conflicts, institutions and political entities. But of course, the commentary on today was still evident, after a fashion.

In the Star Wars universe,religion (if it could be called that) revolves around “The Force”. As Obi-Wan described it in the original movie “It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” In Empire, Yoda goes a step farther when he says “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”Sounds rather pantheistic, doesn’t it? The idea that all life emits an essence, and that the fate of all living things is bound together in a sort of interdependency.

What’s more, the way the Force was governed by a Light Side and a Dark Side; here Lucas appeared to be relying on some decidely Judea-Christian elements. Luke’s father, for example, is a picture perfect representation of The Fall, a Faustian man who sold his soul for power and avarice. The way he and the Emperor continually try to turn Luke by dangling its benefits under his nose is further evidence of this. And in the end, the way Darth Vader is redeemed, and how he is willing to sacrifice himself to save his son, calls to mind the crucifixion.

In the prequels, things got even more blatant. Whereas Anakin was seen as a sort of Lucifer in the originals, here he became the prodigal son. Conceived by the “Will of the Force”, i.e. an immaculate conception, he was seen by Qui Gonn as “The Chosen One” who’s arrival was foretold in prophecy. The Jedi Council feared him, which is not dissimilar to how the Pharisees and Sanhedrin reacted to the presence of Jesus (according to Scripture). And of course, the way Anakin’s potential and powers became a source of temptation for him, this too was a call-back to the Lucifer angle from the first films.

All of this was in keeping with Lucas’ fascination with cultural mythos and legends. Many times over, Lucas was rather deliberate in the way he worked cultural references – either visually or allegorically – into his stories. The lightsaber fights and Jedi ethos were derived from medieval Europe and Japan, the architecture and many of the costumes called to mind ancient Greece, Rome and Byzantium, the setting and gun fights were regularly taken from Old Westerns, and the Imperial getup and rise to power of the Emperor were made to resemble Nazi Germany.

However, Lucas also dispelled much of the mystery and pseudo-religious and spiritual quality of his work by introducing the concept of the “midi-chlorians”. This is something I cannot skip, since it produced a hell of a lot of angst from the fan community and confounded much of what he said in the original films. Whereas the Force was seen as a mystic and ethereal thing in the originals, in the prequels, Lucas sought to explain the nature of it by ascribing it to microscopic bacteria which are present in all living things.

Perhaps he thought it would be cool to explain just how this semi-spiritual power worked, in empirical terms. In that, he failed miserably! Not only did this deprive his franchise of something truly mysterious and mystical, it also did not advance the “science” of the Force one inch. Within this explanation, the Force is still a power which resides in all living things, its just these microscopic bacteria which seem to allow people to interact with it. Like most fans, I see this as something superfluous which we were all better off without!

H.G. Wells:
Prior to men like Herbert and the “Big Three” (Asimov, Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein), Wells was the master of science fiction. Since his time, during which he published a staggering amount of novels, short-stories and essays, his influence and commentaries have had immense influence. And when it came to matters of faith and the divine, Well’s was similarly influential, being one of the first sci-fi writers to espouse a sort of “elemental Christian” belief, or a sort of non-denominational acceptance for religion.

These beliefs he outlined in his non-fiction work entitled God the Invisible King, where he professed a belief in a personal and intimate God that did not draw on any particular belief system. He defined this in more specific terms later in the work,  aligning himself with a “renascent or modern religion … neither atheist nor Buddhist nor Mohammedan nor Christian … [that] he has found growing up in himself”.

When it came to traditional religions, however, Wells was clearly of the belief that they had served their purpose, but were not meant to endure. In The Shape of Things to Come, he envisioned the creation of a global state (similar to Zamyatin’s “One State” and Huxley’s “World State”), where scientific progress was emphasized and all religions suppressed. This he saw as intrinsic to mankind’s progress towards a modern utopia, based on reason and enlightenment and the end of war.

In War of the Worlds, a similar interpretation is made. In this apocalyptic novel, one of the main characters is a clergyman who interprets the invasion of the Martians as divine retribution. However, this only seems to illustrate his mentally instability, and his rantings about “the end of the world” are ultimately what lead to his death at the hands of the aliens. Seen in this light, the clergyman could be interpreted as a symbol of mankind’s primitive past, something which is necessarily culled in the wake of the invasion my a far more advanced force. And, as some are quick to point out, the Martians are ultimately defeated by biology (i.e. microscopic germs) rather than any form of intervention from on high.

Isaac Asimov:
Much like his “Big Three” colleague Clarke, Asimov was a committed rationalist, atheist and humanist. Though he was born to Jewish parents who observed the faith, he did not practice Judaism and did not espouse a particular belief in God. Nevertheless, he continued to identify himself as a Jew throughout his life. In addition, as he would demonstrate throughout his writings, he was not averse to religious convictions in others, and was even willing to write on the subject of religion for the sake of philosophical and historical education.

His writings were indicative of this, particularly in the Foundation and I, Robot series. In the former, Asimov shows how the Foundation scientists use religion in order to achieve a degree of influential amongst the less-advanced kingdoms that border their world, in effect becoming a sort of technological priesthood. This works to their advantage when the regent of Anacreon attempts to invade Terminus and ends up with a full-scale coup on his hands.

In the Robot series, Asimov includes a very interesting chapter entitled “Reason”, in which a robot comes to invent its own religion. Named QT1 (aka. “Cutie”) this robot possesses high-reasoning capabilities and runs a space station that provides power to Earth. It concludes that the stars, space, and the planets don’t really exist, and that the power source of the ship is in fact God and the source of its creation.

Naturally, the humans who arrive on the station attempt to reason with Cutie, but to no avail. It has managed to convert the other robots, and maintains the place in good order as a sort of temple. However, the human engineers conclude that since its beliefs do not conflict with the smooth running of the facility, that they should not attempt to counterman it’s belief system.

What’s more, in a later story entitled “Escape!” Asimov presents readers with a view of the afterlife. After developing a spaceship that incorporates an FTL engine (known as the hyperspatial drive), a crew of humans take it into space and perform a successful jump. For a few seconds, they experience odd and disturbing visions before returning safely home. They realize that the jump causes people to cease exist, effectively dying, which is a violation of the Three Laws, hence why previous AI’s were incapable of completing the drive.

Taken together, these sources would seem to illustrate that Asimov was a man who saw the uses of religion, and was even fascinated by it at times, but did not have much of a use for it. But as long as it was not abused or impinged upon the rights or beliefs of others, he was willing to let sleeping dogs lie.

Philip K. Dick:
Naturally, every crowd of great artists has its oddball, and that’s where PKD comes in! In addition to being a heavy user of drugs and a fan of altered mental states, he also had some rather weird ideas when it came to religion. These were in part the result of a series of religious experiences he underwent which began for him in 1974 while recovering from dental surgery. They were also an expresion of his gnostic beliefs, which held that God is a higher intelligence which the human mind can make contact with, given the right circumstances.

Of Dick’s hallucinations, the first incident apparently occurred when a beautiful Christian woman made a delivery to his door and he was mesmerized by the light reflecting off of her fish pendant, which he claimed imparted wisdom and clairvoyance. Thereafter, Dick began to experience numerous hallucinations, and began to rule out medication as a cause. Initially, they took the form of geometric patterns, but began to include visions of Jesus and ancient Rome as well. Dick documented and discussed these experiences and how they shaped his views on faith in a private journal, which was later published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.

As he stated in his journal, he began to feel that his hallucinations were the result of a greater mind making contact with his own, which he referred to as the “transcendentally rational mind”, “Zebra”, “God” and “VALIS” (vast active living intelligence system). Much of these experiences would provide the inspiration for his VALIS Trilogy, a series that deals with the concept of visions, our notions of God and transcendent beings.

In addition, many of Dick’s hallucinations took on a decidedly Judea-Christian character. For instance, at one point he became convinced that he was living two parallel lives; one as himself, and another as “Thomas” – a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century AD. At another point, Dick felt that he had been taken over by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. These experiences would lead him to adapt certain Biblical elements into his work, a prime example being a chapter in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, which bore a striking resemblance to the a story from the Biblical Book of Acts, which Dick claimed to never have read.

All of this is a testament to the rather profound (and possibly nuts!) mind of PKD and his fascination with all things divine and spiritual. Though not a man of faith in the traditional sense, he was very much a part of the counter-culture in his day and experimented with drugs and alternative religious beliefs quite freely. And while most of his ideas were dismissed as outlandish and the result of drug abuse, there were many (Robert A Heinlein included) who saw past that to the creative and rather gifted artistic soul within. It is therefore considered a tragedy that PKD died in relative obscurity, having never witnessed how much of an impact and influence he would have on science fiction and modern literature.

Ray Bradbury:
Next up, we have the late great Ray Bradbury, a science fiction writer for whom all literature was of immense import. This included the Bible, the Tanakh, the Koran, and just about any other religious text ever written by man. What’s more, many of his works contain passages which would seem to indicate that Bradbury held religion in high esteem, and even believed it to be compatible (or at least not mutually exclusive) with science.

For example, in his seminal novel Fahrenheit 451, one of the most precious volumes being protected by the character of Faber, a former English professor, is the Bible itself. When Montag confronts him and begins ripping the pages out of it, Faber tells him that it is one of the last remaining copies in the world that actually contains God’s words, instead of the newer versions which contain product placements.

As the story progresses and World War III finally comes, Montag joins Faber and a community of exiles, all of whom are responsible for “becoming a book” by memorizing it. In this way, they hope to preserve whatever literature they can until such a time as civilization and the art of writing re-emerges. Montag is charged with memorizing the Book of Ecclesiastes, and joins the exiles on their journey.

In the Martian Chronicles, Bradbury is even more clear on his stance vis a vis religion. In the short story “-And the Moon Be Still as Bright”, the Fourth Expedition arrives on Mars to find that the majority of the Martians have died from chickenpox. A disillusioned character named Jeff Spender then spends much time in the alien ruins and comes to praise the Martians for how their culture combined religion and science.

Humanity’s big mistake, according to Spender, was in praising science at the expense of religion, which he seemed to suggest was responsible for modern man’s sense of displacement. Or has Spender put it: “That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.”

In short, Bradbury saw humanity as lost, largely because of it deification of reason at the expense of faith. However, he did not appear to be advocating any particular religion, or even religion over science. When it came right down to it, he seemed to be of the opinion that faith was important to life, an outlet for creativity and inspiration, and needed to be preserved, along with everything else.

Robert A. Heinlein:
As yet another member of the “Big Three”, Heinlein’s own religious view bear a striking resemblance to those of his contemporaries. Much like Clarke and Asimov, he was a committed rationalist and humanist, and varied from outright atheism to merely rejecting the current state of human religion. According to various sources, this began when he first encountered Darwin’s Origin of the Species at the age of 13, which convinced him to eschew his Baptist roots.

These can be summed up in a statement made by Maureen, one of his characters in To Sail Beyond the Sunset, when she said that the purpose of metaphysics was to ask the question why, but not to answer. When one passed beyond the realm of questions and got into answer, they were firmly in religious territory. Naturally, the character of Maureen preferred the former, as the latter led to intolerance, chauvinism, and persecution.

In Stranger In A Strange Land, one of the most famous science fiction novels of all time, plenty of time is dedicated to the main character’s (the Martian Smith) experiences with religion. After becoming disillusioned with humanity’s existing institutions, he decides to create a new faith known as the “Church of All Worlds”. This new faith was based on universal acceptance and blended elements of paganism, revivalism, and psychic training. In short, it was an attempt to predate major religions by reintroducing ancient rites, nature worship, and the recognition of the divine in all things.

What’s more, Stranger’s challenge to just about every contemporary more, which included monogamy, fear of death, money, and conventional morality could only be seen by religious authorities as an indictment of traditional values. In that respect, they were right. Heinlein plotted out the entire novel in the early fifties, but did begin writing it for a full decade. He would later of say of this, “I had been in no hurry to finish it, as that story could not be published commercially until the public mores changed. I could see them changing and it turned out that I had timed it right.”

But just in case his work did not suffice, Heinlein expressed his opinions quite clearly in the book entitled Notebooks of Lazarus Long (named after one of his recurring characters): “History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.” These and other quotes illustrated his issues with religion, which included their irreconcilable nature with reason, their inherent contradictions, and the ludicrous things done in their names.

Summary:
And that’s what the masters had to say on the subject, at least those that I chose to include. As you can plainly see, their opinions ran the gambit from outright condemnation of religion (but not necessarily of faith) to believing that religion had it’s place alongside science as an equally worthy form of expression. And of course, there were those who fell somewhere in the middle, either seeing religion as an ambiguous thing or something that humanity would not outgrow – at least not for the foreseeable future. Strangely, none of them seemed to think that religion trumped science… I wonder why 😉

Sexy Star Wars Costumes!

droid_costumesCame upon these entirely by accident. I love living in an age when geekiness and sexiness come together so nicely! Observe the following sexy takes on classic Star Wars characters. They are pretty hot, in the right hands of course!

Sexy C3P0:
This one I found as part of a Star Wars burlesque show. Dancers come out dressed as various characters with a sexy twist… and then proceed to get naked! Here we have a sexy twist on the effeminate, whiny, and possibly homosexual robot known as C3P0. Other pictures in this series featured another dancer in the argubaly less attractive R2D2 costume, hence why I selected this one on its own. Personally, I think ol’ “Goldenrod” looks a lot better this way 😉

 

Sexy Darth Vader:
This costume appeared as part of a Comic Con search. This is where most sexy twists on traditional Star Wars costumes are to be found. It’s a testament to geek culture and the versatility of science fiction that more and more women are coming to these things and dressing so lovely!

Sexy Death Star:
Here we have another entry that made its appearance during Comic Con season! And it’s a rather interesting take on the space station which is no moon, isn’t it? For all intents and purposes, it’s a bustier which opens up into a Death Star skirt. And check out the hair pin. An actual Tie Interceptor. Wow, this woman has it all covered. Beauty, brains, and a true geeks appreciation of Star Wars!

Sexy Jedi:
No idea where this one came from, but who the hell cares? It works, and on a number of levels. More and more, sexy, ass-kicking women are making their mark in the world in sci-fi. And there are few things more sexy than a Jedi woman in skin-tight leather and tall boots, weilding a lightsaber over the bodies of dead Stormtroopers! If Luke knew Jedi like this, he would have never wasted so much time with a little green man on Dagobah!

Sexy Leia:
Next up, there’s the sexy Leia costume. Unlike the others, this aint no sexy variant on an original theme, it’s the original costume! If there’s a heterosexual man who was born before 1980 and tells you he hasn’t fantasized about this outfit at some point in his life, he is either lying or dead! And here is an especially sexy take on the slave outfit. Sure, technically Leia was asked to wear this as part of mean plan by Jabbah to degrade the proud warrior, but in truth, she knew how much her fans would appreciate it and donned it for our sakes. And I speak for us all when I say we were REALLY thankful 😉

Sexy Stormtrooper:
Last, but not least, we have one of many sexy female Stormtrooper outfits that have made the rounds over the years. This one does not come from any Comic Con footage, however. No, this one is a professionally posed shot performed with a model and a factory spec costume. Ergonomic, sleek, and pretty easy on the eyes huh? Minus the exposed midriff, this costume could signal an end of the Empire’s highly sexist “men only policy” in their Stormtrooper outfits!

Addendum: Sexy Miss Chewbacca
Somehow I forgot this one, and granted the name sounds a little suspect and weird, but one look at this outfit will dispel any notions that a Wookie can’t be sexy. Check out the strategically placed furry bits that make us this outfit! Of course it would come as a belly shirt and mini skirt, right? But hey, Wookie fur don’t come cheap (sidenote: no Wookies were harmed in the making of this costume). Yes, one sight of this outfit would make even Chewie say “Wraaaaaarrrrr! Wump-wump! Wooh!” (translation: Whooooa! That’s hot!)

A Tribute To Sidekicks

Hey all! Today, I thought I’d cover a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time. Over the few years that I’ve been writing now, something has been missing from this site. I’d payed tributes to franchises, novels, series, movies, heroes, and even robots. But not once have I acknowledged the critical supporting characters who have provided comic relief and made the lives of the heroes that much easier over the years.

And so I present the following list of the top 13 sidekicks from the field of sci-fi, at least the ones that I know of and/or care to acknowledge. Not  a lucky number I know, but I couldn’t bring myself to exclude any of the people here. They are hardly alone in being faithful companions, comedic foils or much needed helpers, but they are the people that I feel capture the full range of side-kick abilities and personalities. Hope you enjoy, and as always, suggestions are welcome, just in case I decide to make further installments.

Abraham Whistler:
This first sidekick comes to us from the Blade franchise where he serves the vampire hunter as mentor, weapons maker, and surrogate father figure. This last aspect is especially important, since it forms the basis of his relationship with Blade. Whereas Blade never had a family, Whistler was robbed of his. Both blame vampires for this travesty, and therefore make the perfect team. Whereas Blade provides the muscle and the daring, Whistler makes the weapons and is the voice of reason.

According to his bio, as provided by the both the Marvel Universe and the movie adaptation, Abraham became a hunter after his family was murdered by a vampire. It was in the course of hunting one evening that he came upon  a teen-aged Blade who was in the midst of preying on a homeless person. After realizing that Blade was a half-vampire (aka. a dhampir), he chose to spare his life and began training him to become a hunter himself.

Like the bad-ass vampire hunter he helped create, Whistler is a man of few words who seems pretty rough around the edges. But, also like Blade, underneath that gruff exterior beats the heart of a man who still seems to care. While he’ll often advise Blade against sticking his neck out or taking unnecessary risks, in the end he’s still willing to go the extra mile to help those in need.

Bender:
From a distance, Bender might seem like a wise-cracking, alcoholic, kleptomaniac robot, but once you get to know him… well, you pretty much realize that’s who is! On top of that, he seems to have a moribund fascination with killing all humans, a theory he has occasionally attempted to put into practice!

However, it would be wrong to say Bender’s a superficial kind of guy. In addition to being terrified of can openers and secretly wanting to be a country-western singer, he’s also shown himself to be pretty sensitive at times. When Fry moved out of their apartment, he went on a Bender of non-drinking, which for him is a very bad thing!

On top of all that, he’s also come through on numerous occasions to save Fry and the crew of Planet Express. Never without complaint, of course, but still. I guess you could say Bender is an exercise in contradiction. An automaton designed to bend girders who excels at not making human lives any easier!

Chewbacca:
Here’s the hairy side-kick who taught us the immutable lesson about living in the Star Wars universe. When you’re in a jam, it’s always good to have a Wookie in your corner! And of the universe’s many Wookies, Chewbacca is probably the best. In addition to being delightfully shaggy, he’s very strong, fiercely loyal, and mechanically inclined. Not a bad guy to have around!

Intrinsic to Chewie’s relationship with Han is the concept of the Wookie life-debt. At some point in the unspecified past, Han came to Chewies aid by freeing him from an Imperial slave-labor camp. As a result, Chewie is bound to Han for life. This is something Chewbacca takes very seriously, as any attempt to put Han is danger is usually met with a severe beatdown! When Han’s family expanded, after marrying Leia later in the franchise, Chewie’s life debt extended to them as well.

Chewie’s past also shows through when it comes to his attitude about restraints. When Luke tried to put some on him, even though it was part of ruse, he didn’t react too well! Beyond that, not much is known, like whether or not he has family back on Kashyyk or elsewhere in the Galaxy. But then again, Chewie doesn’t talk about this stuff. Like most Wookies, he doesn’t talk about himself much, preferring to express himself in a series of warbled utterances or loud growls.

Gabrielle:
The next entry on this list is the faithful, staff-twirling sidekick from the Xena: Warrior Princess franchise. Gabrielle, a former farm girl turned warrior companion, became the model of friendship and loyalty for countless girls and young women all over the world. In addition, numerous Lesbian rights advocates saw her and Xena as examples of the kind of love and dedication that can exist between two women. Whether or not they had this kind of relationship is a matter of speculation; the point is, they did love each other, regardless of whether it was platonic or romantic.

Gabrielle’s story as Xena’s sidekick began in small Greek village after she and her sister were taken as slaves. After being rescued by Xena, Gabrielle wanted to become just like her, in part because she was impressed by her fighting skills but also because she didn’t want to end up in an arranged marriage. The two women became friends and enjoyed countless adventures over the course of their many years together.

As time went on, Gabrielle evolved from being a young, naive girl who stood in Xena’s shadow to being a fully-fledged warrior. Her choice weapon was the staff, but in time, she also incorporated kicking and acrobatic abilities. Eventually, she became a heroine in her own right and was even replaced by the klutzy Joxer as the dependent sidekick.

Harley Quinn:
Here we have an interesting side-kick, one who exemplifies dedication and diabolical intent. A one-time psychiatrist who was brought in to assess Gotham’s criminal mastermind, Dr. Harleen Quinzel soon found herself sympathizing and even becoming enamored with the Joker and helped him escape from custody. Once her involvement was made clear, she fled herself, changing her name to Harley Quinn and becoming the Joker’s full-time assistant.

Making her debut in the Batman animated series, she was quickly incorporated into the DC Comics series. Ever since, she has made numerous appearances in the graphic novels, spin-off shows, and video games. Unlike the Joker’s usual henchmen, she has staying power and the ability to live to fight another day much “Mr. J” himself, as she affectionately calls him.

Though her affection and attachment to the Joker is the picture of obsessive and unhealthy behavior, it is precisely because of this that her loyalty and commitment shines through. No matter what nefarious schemes the Joker gets up to or who he hurts, she sticks by him and always has his back covered!

Kaylee:
Next up, there’s the spunky, charming, cheerful and mechanically inclined engineer of the Serenity! Yes, in the Firefly universe – a universe permeated by thugs, freelancers, mercenaries and privateers – Kaylee is a breath of fresh air and a spot of sunshine. Not what you’d expect in a ship’s mechanic, but that’s an undeniable part of her charm! When it comes right down to it, she is as much at home in coveralls and machine grease as she is in a pretty dress and a parasol.

According to the series, Captain Mal first met Kaylee during a chance encounter when his previous mechanic brought her to the engine room for a little sumthin’ sumthin’! After realizing that she had more talent in her pinky finger than the other dude had in his entire frame, her promptly hired her! Since then, neither Mal nor Kaylee has ever looked back.

On top of all that, Kaylee is quite the romantic. All series long, she held an obvious torch for Dr. Simon Tam, River Tam’s protective brother and the ship’s doctor. Although her early attempts to facilitate a hook-up failed, she later learned that he held the same feelings, but denied them because he was too focused on protective his sister. In the end, they got together, a fitting and happy ending for this pretty ray of sunshine!

R2D2 and C3P0:
Yes, they are technically not a single side-kick, but they come as a pair so I shall not deal with them separately. And when it comes right down it, they really don’t work well on their own since they’re essentially comedic foils for each other. Together, they are the comic relief and workhorse of the Star Wars universe.

Making their debut at the very beginning of the original trilogy, R2 and 3P0 captured people’s hearts as the unlikely duo on whose shoulder’s the fate of the universe rested. Whereas R2 was an astrometric droid, a rolling Swiss Army knife with a stubborn attitude and endless gumption, 3P0 was a prissy, effeminate translator who specialized in protocol and etiquette. Together, they were the robotic odd of the universe!

As time went on, the two bonded and became totally inseparable. In addition, no matter where the main characters took them, they both seemed to always be indispensable. R2 opened doors, interfaced with machines and disabled traps, while 3P0 talked to the natives and advised the group on the safest course of action. While they frequently fought and lobbed insults at each other, their affection for each other was clear. When R2 was damaged during the Battle of Yavin, 3P0 selflessly offered his own components to help fix him. As the franchise expanded after the original trilogy, they even got their own animated show, aptly named Droids.

Robin:
Where would Batman be without his trusty side-kick, Robin, “the Boy Wonder”? Probably dead, to be frank. Yes, this sprightly acrobat has been their for Bruce Wayne on many occasions, pulling his chestnuts out of the fire and taking down the villains who were about to get the best of him. And yet, Batman has gone through several Robins over the years. Only one died, and was even resurrected. But still, that’s a high turnover rate!

The first Robin was known as Dick Grayson, an 8 year old who’s parents were murdered by mobsters, prompting  Bruce Wayne to take him under his wing and teaching him the ways of vengeance and justice. After taking down the man responsible, Batman and Robin went on to have many adventures together until Dick eventually went independent and became Nightwing.

He was replaced by Jason Todd, a young man with a similar backstory. Like Grayson, he was an acrobat who’s family was murdered. But in Todd’s case, he reacted to this trauma by becoming a hard-nosed street kid who stole to survive. After catching him in the act of trying to steal his tires, Batman began to train Todd as his new Robin. Unfortunately, this side-kicks life ended tragically when the Joker killed him and his birth mother with a bomb.  He was resurrected as the Red Hood shortly thereafter, but never reprized the role of Robin.

Thereafter, a string of Robins came and went, but in each case, their basic role and characteristics remained the same. Whereas Batman was always the tall, strapping and bulky hero, Robin was always smaller, faster and slighter of build. And whereas Batman was always the quite, ultra-serious brooding type, Robin could be counted on to tell a joke and crack a joke.

Roger:
Some people might disagree with my choice to include Roger on this list, as he is as much an independent character as a side-kick. However, I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about Roger on this site and this seems like the perfect one! Also known by various personas he’s assumed over the years, Roger is the alien from American Dad that lives in the Smith’s attic, coming down every so often to take part in family affairs and hijinks.

From a passing glance, Roger might seem like a drug-addled, alcoholic sociopath. But there’s a reason for that! In addition to being an avid wine guzzler, coke head, pill-popper, and pansexual weirdo, he’s also reputedly the one who invented disco, the drug ecstasy, Jar Jar Binks, and the man go got the Captain of the Exxon Valdez drunk! Aside from all that, he’s spent the majority of his life avoiding government agents and impersonating colorful men and women.

In fact, Roger is so in love with impersonating other people that fashion montages have become a recurring part of his existence. And while he can certainly impersonate men well enough, his preferred aliases tend to be women. This is in keeping with Roger’s pansexual identity, which seems to involve gender confusion, bi-curiosity, and a total lack of boundaries. In fact, when in women’s constume, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he’s a bit of a tramp!

Many years back, Roger came into the Smith household after saving Stan’s life in Area 51. Since that time, they have had a dynamic not unlike Han and Chewie, where obligation gave way to lasting friendship. Years later, Roger is considered a fully-fledged member of the Smith family, despite his ruinous activities and the high cost of keeping him entertained and under wraps!

Saul Tigh:
Okay, this guy might not be the perfect side-kick, but he’s definitely a rich and interesting character. On the one hand, he’s lived a rather rough and gruff life as a man, participating in the First Cylon War, going through a divorce, then developing a recurring drinking problem. On the other, he was a freaking Cylon and didn’t even know it! So yeah, maybe not the best guy to have in your corner, but he does have his upsides!

According to the relaunch series, Saul Tigh met William Adama in a bar a few years after the First Cylon War. After bailing him out of a close shave with several angry men, the two became fast friends and bonded over their shared experiences. Many years later, when Adama became commander of the Galactica, Saul was appointed as his XO. When the Second War began, he and everyone else were forced back into action.

In time, he became reunited with his estranged wife, a manipulative woman who also turned out to be one of the “Final Five” Cylons. Over the next few years, he maintained his position as XO, continued to have a rocky relationship with her, and never quite shook his drinking problem. In fact, it seemed that whenever times were tough, Saul would turn to the bottle.

Nevertheless, through it all, Saul remained a committed and loyal officer, one could be counted on to whatever what was necessary when the pressure was on. During Cylon offensive, when the Galactica was hit by a tactical nuke, he stepped up and made some tough calls which may have prevented the destruction of the ship. When Adama was shot by Boomer, herself a Cylon sleeper, he stepped into the Captain’s shoes and did his best to keep the fleet together. And when New Caprica became occupied by Cylon forces, Saul led a human resistance that kept up the fight against the occupation until Adama and Apollo could liberate the planet.

All in all, Saul was complicated. He was gruff, short, and had absolutely no patience for people he didn’t approve of. He could also be violent sometimes and was definitely a problem drinker! But he had a good heart and somehow managed to stay sane through it all, even after he learned that he was a Cylon. In truth, a lot of people would probably be dead were it not for this man, which is probably one of the reasons that Adama kept him around. That and the fact that, like Saul, Adama too was a fiercely loyal man.

Samwise Gamgee:
When it comes to dedication, selflessness, and versatility, Samwise Gamgee definitely takes the cake! The noble, stalwart and immensely loyal friend to Frodo Baggins, Sam was the very reason the quest to destroy the One Ring succeeded. Though a bit of a simpleton, his levelheadedness and stout heart were a constant source of strength and support for the Ringbearer. Hell, had it not been for his tireless help, cooking, and ability to come through in a pinch, Frodo would have been dead for sure!

Ostensibly employed as Frodo’s gardener, Samwise became involved in the quest to destroy the One Ring after Gandalf caught him eavesdropping on their little conversation. Before parting company with them, Gandalf instructed him never to let Frodo out of his sight. Sam took these instructions very literally, and thereafter did not leave Frodo alone for one minute! After setting off together, it was Sam who made sure they always had food and their spirits were high.

When Gollum entered their party, Sam never once stopped warning Frodo about him. Though Frodo seemed to think that Gollum had a role to pay or could be redeemed somehow, Sam remained committed to the belief that he was evil and untrustworthy. In the end, he was proven right, but then again, Frodo was in a way too… whatever, it’s complicated!

Towards the end of their quest, when things became truly difficult, Sam came through like never before. When Frodo was paralyzed by Shelob and taken captive by Orcs, Sam risked everything to rescue him, charging headlong into Minas Morgul and kicking the crap out of every Orc that stood in his way. And when Frodo finally faltered under the weight of the One Ring, Sam carried him up the Mountain to the Cracks of Doom.

Through it all, Sam never once complained or considered leaving Frodo’s side. Naturally, some speculate this was because the two were more than just friends. Lousy gossip mongers! But in truth, Sam was just that committed to those he considered friends and what he considered to be right. These are qualities he passed along to his thirteen children after he and Rose Cotton got married. Wow, loyal, friendly, and fertile too! Samwise has got it all!

Wedge Antilles:
When it comes to side-kicks, Wedge has some of the best characteristics of all. He’s loyal. He’s reliable. And best of all, he never dies! In addition, Wedge (who’s name alone makes him cool) is also one of the best pilots in the Rebel Fleet and the co-founder of Rogue Squadron (along with Luke Skywalker). Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy and the expanded universe, Wedge has always been there in his trusty X-wing and other attack craft, providing much needed support and kicking Imperial ass!

His impressive resume includes an assault on the First Death Star, where as a junior officer in Rogue Squad, he provided cover for Luke as he launched the torpedoes that would destroy the terrifying space station. When Imperial Forces attacked Echo Base on planet Hoth, he was there in a speeder and scored a major victory by being the first to take down an AT-AT walker with a tow cable. And finally, he played a major role by helping to lead Rebel Forces to a decisive victory in the battle of Endor.

Because of all this, Wedge gained the reputation of being the greatest pilot in the Galaxy. As the sole survivor of both Death Star runs, he was given command of Rogue Squadron before being promoted to General and given command of an entire fleet. Throughout it all, Wedge never once lost his soft-spoken and humble attitude. It just goes to show you, nice guys really can kick ass!

Zoe Washburne:
And last, but definitely, DEFINITELY not least, there Zoe, the heroine of the Firefly universe. As a veteran soldier, freelance butt-kicker, executive officer, and loving wife, she’s got the whole package, at least when it comes to science fiction heroines. A good woman to settle down with and to have aboard your ship, guarding your precious cargo and your ass. No wonder Mal trusts her with his life, and Wash loves her so!

Having served in the War of Unification as a Browncoat, Zoe served under Mal when he was a Sergeant in the Independents Army. In the end, they were the only two to survive the battle, which bonded them for life. Afterward, she took a job as his XO aboard the Serenity and never looked back. Of all the other crewmembers, she was the only one who routinely referred to Mal as “sir” and obeyed his orders. However, that didn’t stop her from expressing concern over his decisions and letting him know when she thought they were totally stupid!

In the course of her service as XO, she met Wash, the ship’s pilot, and the two fell in love. They got married shortly thereafter, and even talked about settling down and having children (something their lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive too). Due to her close relationship with Mal, Wash was often jealous of then, which at times caused friction. However, Wash soon realized that his concerns were for naught, as it became clear to him that the loyalty she had towards her commander did not conflict with her love of him.

In short, she’s the kind of woman a man would want as a friend, a sidekick, and a lover. Though tough as nails and the kind of no-nonsense lay who’d kick your ass if you messed with her or her crew, she could still be tender and make her man feel like a man. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge! Know what I mean? Just don’t tell her I said that, she’d kick my ass!

Summary:
So, having looked into all these personalities, I think it’s fair to say that I have some inkling of what makes a decent sidekick tick. In short, I think the following characteristics, alone or in combination, are what add up to a good supporting character, one which the hero is likely to want to keep around.

  1. Loyalty: This, above all, seems to be what makes a sidekick both desirable and endearing to audiences. As heroes undergo their trials and tribulations, they need someone who will stick with them, keeping them on the straight and narrow and making sure they don’t succumb to temptation or their enemies machinations.
  2. Levelheadedness: As the saying goes, “It’s always a true friend who will tell you what you need to hear, even when you don’t want to hear it”. And when it comes to sidekicks, this is not only desirable, its a job requirement. When the heroes life is on the line, the last thing they need is an ego stroke or to be let down easy. And frankly, the view really is better from the cheap seats!
  3. Sense of Humor: And remember, it’s important to keep things light. Whenever the pressure is on, danger is all around, and the tension is palatable, a good wisecrack or a little slapstick is usually in good order. Just refrain from poop jokes or overtly juvenile humor (look at you, Jar Jar!) And if were talking comedy instead of action and drama, the sidekick should be especially comedic! Their antics should inspire hysterical laughter from time to time, even if it’s a little in bad taste 😉
  4. Mad Skills: Remember, just because the hero is the focal point of the story doesn’t mean that you can’t steal the show every once in awhile. In fact, said skillz can pay the billz! And by that I mean a skilled sidekick can come in extremely handy to a hero from time to time. After all, if you’re constantly requiring rescuing, the hero will very quickly grow tired of you and find someone to replace to you! It also doesn’t hurt to have a gimmick, a weapon or characteristic that sets you apart. For example, if the hero is a big, He-Man/Amazon kind of hero, go small and wiry. If they are a smaller, wisecracking personality who relies on their wits more than their physique, be the muscly, enforcer type. It’s also good to carry your own unique brand of weapons. They set you apart and diversify your killing power!

That’s all I got for now. Like I said before, I’m open to suggestions for other candidates. If I can assemble enough, I’ll be sure to do a second installment. Otherwise, expect more of the usual posts dedicated to franchises, concepts, technology, and the latest in science fiction!

Cool Cyborgs (updated)!

8 Man:
Always good to start with a classic, don’t you think? Especially one that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In addition to being Japan’s first cyborg superhero, this 60’s anime character was also the inspiration for Robocop. You heard me right!

Apparently, the main character was a Detective who was murdered by a group of ruthless criminals, but whose body was retrieved by a scientist who conducted an experimental procedure to transfer his “life force” into a machine body. Having failed the previous seven times, his eights and successful attempt is aptly named “8 Man”.

But unlike Robocop, this cyborg can do some pretty freaky stuff! In addition to being heavily armored, he can run at incredible speeds and shape-shift into other people. His true identity is kept a secret from everyone except his old police chief and the professor who conducted his experiment.

But like Robocop, 8 Man chooses to go beyond his crime-fighting mandate to find his old girlfriend, best friend and attempt to rebuild his old life. His attempts are often marred by the fact that he is no longer human, but as they say, it’s the journey that counts!

Bionic Woman:
Sure, Steve Austin was pretty cool, but did he look this good? Hell no! And in the case of the Bionic Woman, the hero story was far less crude. Though the original series was little more than a spinoff of The Six Million Dollar Man (featuring Oscar Goldman as the scientist again), the re-imagined series was far more original and endearing.

In this version, the main character (again named Jaime Sommers) is a surrogate mother and bartender struggling to make ends meet. After a near fatal car accident, she is saved by an experimental procedure involving advanced prosthetics and implants (no, not those kind!). Afterwards, she goes to work for the people who performed her operation – the Berkut Group, whom he boyfriend works for.

Through her work, she is responsible for thwarting crimes and evil machinations, while trying to explore her role and the changes she’s endured. As with the original series, Jaime’s modifications include bionic legs, a bionic right arm, a bionic right ear, and a bionic eye like that of Steve Austin. In the updated series, she also gets a dose of nanomachines called “anthrocytes” which are capable of healing her body at a highly accelerated rate.

The Borg:
Now here is a race who’s name is the second half of Cyborg! No chance for misunderstandings here! And as all fans of Star Trek know, the Borg are extremely proud of what they are. A race of beings dedicated to the perfection of life by merging the organic with the synthetic. And of course, they are all networked to a hive mind known as “the collective.”

Native to the Delta Quadrant of the Star Trek universe, the Borg occupy thousands of systems and hundreds of races. No indication is ever given where they originated from or what their intentions are, beyond adding “the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to [their] own” in pursuit of “perfection”.

Is there a more perfect metaphor for runaway progress and the deification of technology? It’s not exactly a subtle commentary on the issue, but it does encapsulate the kinds of fear many people have when faced with a rapidly changing world that seems to be growing more complicated all the time. I imagine the Singularitarians don’t like the analogy much, but then again, Star Trek has been known to send mixed messages 😉

Cylon:
In the original series, the Cylons were lumbering, chrome covered robots that kind of resembled toasters. It was for this reason that they frequently got a shout out in the re-imagined by being referred to as such. However, the re-imagined versions were quantum leaps ahead, the result of bioengineering rather than conventional robotics.

Unlike the “skin jobs” (a reference to Blade Runner), Centurions and Cylon Raiders were only partially organic, consisting of organic brains inside machine bodies. Much the same is true of the Cylon Hybrids, the minds that operated their Basestar’s jump systems. In their case, their bodies are largely organic, but their minds are enhanced with advanced machinery and networked into their ship.

Because of this combination of organic and synthetic, Centurions and Raiders are capable of being “lobotomized”, which took place in the third season when their handlers became suspicious of their behavior. Ultimately, these three begins represented a key step in the Cylon’s evolution from mechanical to biological, which achieved perfection with the creation of the seven purely biological models.

Cyberman:
A fictional race taken from Dr. Who, these cyborgs were another one of the good Doctor’s recurring enemies. But unlike their Dalek counterparts, they seemed to change with every appearance. A possible inspiration for the Borg, these being were as humans who chose to begin experiment more and more with artificial implants.

This eventually led them to become the cold, calculated and ruthlessly logical beings that are, with every emotion all but deleted from their minds. While they do maintain their human brains and some human organs, they possess little of their original humanity, which is why they don’t get along with us decent folk!

Another parallel they share with the Borg is their means of proliferation, which is to turn other organic beings into Cybermen (a process known as “cyber-conversion”). However, they remain few in number during the course of the series and therefore prefer to act covertly, conducting their schemes from hiding places and using human pawns or robots to act in their place until they need to appear. Quite unlike the Borg, who prefer to get right in there, blow shit up, and assimilate anything that’s left!

Darth Vader:
“He’s more machine than man… twisted and evil!” That’s not to say all people who are more machine than man are evil! But it is the working definition of “cyborg.” Having lost both arms and legs in lightsaber duels and much of his body severely burned, Darth Vader (nee Anakin Skywalker) had to be put in a protective suit that regulated his breathing and bodily functions… I don’t even want to think about that!

But there was an upside to all those enhancements. For one, he got James Earl Jones vocals and the most intimidating, badass exterior in the Galaxy! Hell, even his breathing sounded scary. And it didn’t encumber his use of the Force at all, as exemplified by his ability to crush throats and toss objects around at will. And the ghosts of many dead Jedi and Luke’s missing hand can attest to it not hampering his sword fighting skills either.

Ultimately, this suit proved to be his undoing when, in the course of betraying his evil master, most of its circuits were fried by the Emperor’s electrical bolts. He died shortly thereafter, redeemed and looking upon his son for the first time “with his own eyes.” Sniff… I hate this mushy stuff!

Motoko Kusanagi:
The star of Ghost in the Shell, the beautiful, deadly and artificially enhanced Motoko Kusanagi. Known by her fellow officers as “the Major”, Kusanagi is a member of Section 9, a counter-terrorism squad working for Japan’s National Public Safety Commission. As part of her commitment to her job, Kusanagi underwent cybernetic enhancements, marrying her human brain to the “shell” that is her new body.

Throughout the original manga, anime and cinematic versions, Kusanagi’s basic role is the same. She fights all kinds of criminal elements: kingpins, warlords, and cyber terrorists, but also uses these experiences to reflect on the larger issues and her fateful choice to become a cybernetic being. These issues include what it means to be human, what constitutes life, and the line between authentic and artificial.

In addition, she’s also a pretty vivacious and good-looking being! Though technically not flesh and blood, she still maintains a pretty active sex life, at least in some versions of the story. In others, her personal life is not dealt with, but there are still plenty of nude shots, provided exposed synthetic flesh can be counted as nudity 😉

Robocop/Murphy:
Here we have another case of tragedy yielding the perfect union between man and machine. Alex Murphy, dedicated cop and family man, gets ruthlessly gunned down by a bunch of criminal thugs, only to be resurrected by a bunch of corporate thugs as a cop cyborg. Heavily armed, armored, and programmed to serve and protect, he became the Detroit Police Departments signature weapon in the war on crime.

But of course, things begin to go awry when Murphy’s memories and personality began to re-emerge. For one, there was the question of his wife and son, both of whom had been led to believe he was dead. Second, there was the psychological and emotional strain of knowing you could never be fully human again.

Alas, Murphy resolves the sacrifice of his identity and humanity by doing what he did best, kicking criminal ass and taking criminal names! These of course included crime lords, drug bosses, and the thugs who murdered him, but also the corporate crooks who created him and were plotting to take over Detroit. So aside from the sci-fi elements and human interest angles, there was also some social commentary in this franchise. Lots going on here!

Nexus Six Replicant:
“If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.” What is a machine when it has feelings, thoughts, and even memories?  Is it, as the Tyrell Corporation motto goes, “More human than human”?

Sure, some purists would say that a Nexus 6 isn’t technically a cyborg. But as I recall, the working definition of Cyborg is a merger of the cybernetic and organic. And as any fan of Blade Runner knows, Nexus 6’s are not so much built as grown, the product of biomedics rather than mechanics. And if that’s not good enough to get this one past the censors, screw em! Moving on…

Designed for service on the off-world colonies, every Replicant was designed to fill a certain role, ranging from military, to worker, to pleasure. In short, they could do the work of any human while simultaneously being denied the basic rights humans take for granted. However, since it was understood that they could become unruly after too much time, each unit was built with a four-year lifespan.

Inevitably, the Replicants of the movie came to Earth seeking a reprieve from their inevitable deaths. Their leader, Roy Batty, was especially obsessed with buying more time, since he himself was near the end of his lifespan. When told that there was nothing that could be done, he went a little beserk, but also came to appreciate life all the more in his last few moments.

T-800 Terminator:
“The Terminator’s an infiltration unit, part man, part machine. Underneath, it’s a hyper-alloy combat chassis – micro processor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it’s living human tissue – flesh, skin, hair, blood, grown for the cyborgs..” That’s how Kyle Reese, the warrior from the future, describes them. Arny’s version was a bit less… loquacious. “I’m a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.” Take your pick, they’re both right!

Designed to impersonate human beings, mainly so he could get close to them and kill them, the two Arny models were quite at home in the past. If you looked like this, would anyone really complain if you chose to walk the streets of LA naked? It’s LA man, anything goes! What’s more, Arny’s cyber strength and tough skeleton make him deadly and very survivable.

This proved quite the headache when one was sent back to kill Sarah Conner, but was quite a plus when one was later providing protection for her and her son! In the end, it took a hail of bullets, some well placed plastic explosives and a machine press to kill the first one. And the second one managed to survive an impalement, the loss of a limb, about a million bullets, and still managed to lay the smack down on a T-1000. Perhaps they should amend the name… Endurinators!

Thank you all! Stay tuned for the follow-up, Sexy Female Robots! I guess I’m just in a robot kind of mood 😉

GIANT ROBOTS!

Forgive the all caps, but with a name like this, you gotta go big! Thanks to a helpful suggestion from a respected colleague (thanks Rami!), I’ve finally found the latest for my series on conceptual post. And I think my reasons for going with it are clear. Whether we are talking about mechs, mechas, walkers or sentient machines, giant robots are just plain cool! And here’s a list of some memorable ones from various franchises that have come down to us over the years:

AT-AT Walker:
It’s only right to start the list with a classic example from the classic franchise. Though I’m sure this giant needs no intro, I’ve recently come to learn that there are some people who really haven’t seen the original trilogy. Yeah, I can’t believe it either!

Known officially as the All Terrain Armored Transport, this beast was the Empire’s weapon of choice for digging Rebel troops out of fortified emplacements. It’s size alone made it an intimidating sight to behold, which was kind of the point! But in case that wasn’t enough to make people run, it also packed quite a punch.

AT-AT cross-section

Although they were invented by the Republic during the time of the Clone Wars, the AT-AT didn’t emerge as a weapon of terror until the time of the Empire when it was resurrected by General Veers. During the Battle of Hoth, her personally led a force against the Rebel Echo Base and overwhelmed its defenders. Its armor proved too strong for conventional blasters, and its weapons were devastating once they were in range.

Under Luke Skywalker’s command, Rogue Squadron was able to destroy one using their tow cables while Skywalker destroyed another using his lightsaber and a concussion grenade. However, this did not stop Veers from destroying the shield generator and reaching Echo Base in the end. On Endor, an AT-AT would make an appearance guarding the Imperial shield generator.

Broadside Battlesuit:
Finally, I’ve found an excuse to use something from Warhammer 40k! It’s a little hard to incorporate ships when the focus is really on cool battlefield stuff. But hey, the sign says Giant Robots, so we’re all good!

The Broadside Battlesuit is the Tau Army’s heavy hitter, marrying the concept of a tank with that of an infantryman. Armed with two arm-mounted missile launchers and two rail guns on its back, the Broadside is more like a mobile artillery piece than a mechanized suit of armor.

But of course, it also has a thick hide, which is a necessity given the mighty kickback of its weapons. Though they are comparatively slow and have no jetpacks, like other Warhammer mechs, they are able to entrench and kill their enemies from a distance.

Destroid Tomahawk:
Speaking of walking tanks, this next example comes from the Robotech universe and is the mainstay of Earth’s mecha forces. Big, bad, heavily armed and armored, the Tomahawk is essentially a walking version of the main battle tank.

In terms of armaments, the Tomahawk carries just about every weapon under the sun. It’s two heavy beam cannons constitute its arms while two missile launchers make up the shoulders. It also carries two head-mounted machine guns, two gun clusters in the lower chest consisting of an auto-cannon, flame thrower, laser and direct-fire mortar. On top of all that, it also has an outboard missile launcher over its right shoulder.

Measuring almost 13 meters in height and weighing a whopping 31 tons fully loaded, this beast is still capable of running at 88 km/h. It also came equipped with vernier thrusters, making it capable of limited space operations. Unfortunately, its size and weight made it somewhat cumbersome when engaged with Zentraedi Battlepods (see below), which is why the design was eventually abandoned in favor of lighter designs.

Dragoon:
You know, I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned Starcraft in the context of one of these posts. Bout time really! And as a primary example of something cool from this universe, here’s the Dragoon! Much like other examples on this list, this machine requires an organic operator, or at least parts of them…

A quadrupedal attack walker employed by the Protoss, the Dragoon was considered a second chance for templars who had been seriously wounded in the line of duty. These pilots would generally be submerged in a fluid-filled tank in the Dragoon’s interior and operate it through an “essence translator”.

The Dragoon’s main weapon was of a centrally-mounted cannon which fired phases antimatter at targets. Combined with the units speed and maneuverability over unstable terrain, the Dragoon was a highly effective fighting vehicle and played a crucial role in the Brood War. It was due to this success that other factions, such as the Dark Templars and the Confederates, attempted to copy or adapt the designs for their own armies.

Fuchikoma:
Also known as “Tachikoma”, these walker/rollers are essentially tanks that are used by police in the manga series “Ghost In The Shell”. Heavily armored, packing serious weapons and run by a simple artificial-intelligence, these robots can act independently but are generally used for fire support.

Every unit is based on the same quadrupedal configuration with two three-fingered hands which double as machine guns. They carry their sensor equipment in their “heads”, which consists of a large main lens and two sensors mounted on the “mouth” below. Heavier weapons can also be mounted on the underside, which can either be a heavy machine gun or a grenade launcher.

In addition to their firepower, the Fuchikoma is also highly versatile. They can handle many different types of terrain, are able to walk up walls, rappel, walk, extend wheels from their feet and drive, and are also even submersible. After missions, the AI’s also share their experiences with all other units so that they can learn and anticipate different scenarios.

Goliath:
Back to Starcraft for another prime example of supreme robotry. And fans of the Marine campaign will certainly recognize this one. Officially, it is known as a Terran all-terrain combat walker. But to those who fight alongside it, it’s known simply as a Goliath.

Designed to provide support for troops in urban settings, the role of the Goliath expanded to providing infantry assault in all terrains and conditions. Employed by just about all sides during the Guild Wars, the Goliath became the backbone of Confederate forces against the Zerg and Protoss.

Composed of neosteel alloy, the Goliath’s exterior is highly resistance to small arms fire and most munitions. It’s weapons consist of two arm-mounted autocannons, two shoulder-mounted missile launchers. With the arrival of the UED during the Brood War, the Goliath’s design was upgraded with a belly-mounted machinegun and improved missile range. By the time of the Second Great War, the design was retired in favor of updated designs.

Metal Gear Rex:
Seems like a fitting name when you look at that gaping maw doesn’t it? And given its size, shape and terrifying power, the comparison seems even more apt. The focal point of the Metal Gear game series, this behemoth was a prototype weapon developed by DARPA and Arms Tech for the US Armed Forces.

Based on stolen designs from the former Soviet Union, Metal Gear was a revolutionary concept for a “bipedal tank” which would be capable of carrying nuclear weapons. After decades of toying and production, the end result was Rex.

In terms of armaments, the Rex has two 30 mm rotary cannon, a compliment of anti-tank missiles and 100 megawatt free-electron laser. However, its biggest surprise comes in the form of a massive shoulder-mounted rail gun which is capable of deploying stealth nuclear warheads. So in addition to being able to gallop into the field of battle and level everything in its wake, it was also capable of nuking an enemy city from several kilometers away.

Scary! I want one! Several version of Metal Gear would appear in the subsequent games with various modifications. But that’s something for another post (or more) 😉

Timberwolf:
No list of giant robots would be complete without at least one example from the Battletech universe. And here it is! The Timberwolf, otherwise known as the Mad Cat. Fast, heavy and quite formidable, this vehicle puts the “mech” in omnimech!

According to the series, this vehicle was the first omnimech to be encountered by the Inner Sphere Clans invaded. It was here that it earned the name “Mad Cat”, being similar in design to both the Marauder (MAD) and Catapult (CAT). It’s rare combination of speed, heavy armor and armaments also led to this designation. Apparently, this combination is quite rare!

In its primary configuration, the Timberwolf packs a good balance of energy and projectile weapons. It’s main armaments consist of arm lasers and two shoulder-mounted missile pods, both of which are effective at long range. It also carries two medium lasers and a medium pulse laser for close range combat, and a set of cockpit mounted machine guns for point defense against infantry.

Though it has no jump jets, the Timberwolf is capable of running at over 80 km an hour and is capable of some nimble maneuvering. It’s composite ferro-fibrous armor also mean it can withstand several directs hits from enemy fire.

Unicron:
You know, I’m loathe to use the same example twice. But hey, the name says Giant Robots, and Unicron is nothing if not both of these things! Taken from the Transformers movie (circa. 1986), this big bot is the biggest bot in the universe, and an appropriate one to end this first installment on.

Also known as the “Lord of Chaos” and “Planet Eater”, Unicron is essentially a planet-sized transformer who goes about the universe consuming stellar objects. These can include planets, asteroids and even stars.

Powered by an array of massive quantum computers, Unicron is dedicated to being a force of uncreation, traveling across universes and consuming all he can to bring about an end to all existence. In addition, he is apparently able to confer powers on lesser beings, using the impressive technology which powers him to upgrade other machines.

In the end, the only thing that could stop him was the Matrix of Leadership, which contained the essence of his equal and opposite – a being known as Primus. Being a creature of destruction, such a creative power could only be seen as a threat. And it certainly was! In the end, the Matrix was opened inside his hull and unleashed a force which completely consumed him.

Well that’s all I got for now. Hope people enjoyed this little display of oversized automatons, mechanized vehicles and massive war machines. And like the song says:

“You dig giant robots
I dig giant robots
We dig giant robots
Chicks dig giant robots
Nice.”
-theme song from Megas XLR

And it’s true aint it? Except for the part about chicks, I can’t say with any authority that they actually dig giant robots. But I know I do! See ya next time.

Cool Ships (volume V)

Back again! More ships, more designs, more franchises too. Like I said last time, there’s just no limit when you get right down to it. And in the course of doing my homework on cool sci-fi concepts, I’ve found that there are hundreds of franchises out there that I’ve never even heard of before. Of those I have heard of, I always seem to miss a few obvious candidates. That’s the beauty of ongoing segments though. Here are the latest, with some suggestions thrown in too 😉

Colonial Raptor:
Another late entry from the Battlestar Galactica universe, the updated version. Designed for reconnaissance, transport, atmospheric and space flight, and capable of making short range FTL jumps, the Raptor is the workhorse of the Colonial fleet and one of its most versatile vessels. Ordinarily, the Raptor is operated by a crew of two, one pilot and one Electronic Countermeasures Officer. Given it’s size and shape, it cannot launch from a launch tube and must take off and land from a Battlestar’s forward launch bay.

Having served with the Colonial fleet for over 40 years, making its debut in the first Cylon War, the versatility and reliability of this craft have prevented it from being phased out by newer generations of Colonial ships. During the second Cylon War, Raptors were used regularly in order to dust off survivors from Caprica and other colonies. Relying on a fly-by-wire system, rather than the new defense network systems, it also proved invulnerable to the virus the Cylon’s used to cripple the fleet.

Cygnus:
Now here’s one that people probably won’t remember. In fact, I didn’t recall it either until I did some reading and realized I had seen the movie which featured it – The Black Hole – as a child and quite enjoyed it. Though a little Buck Rogers-y by modern standards, the concept and the movie and this ship still stand the test of time.

Released in 1979 by Walt Disney Pictures, The Black Hole was one of many movies that sought to take advantage of the sci-fi craze that Star Wars had unleashed. The plot centers on a derelict ship, known as the Cygnus, which is run by an android crew and a brilliant (albeit mad) scientist named Doctor Hans Reinhardt.

In addition to looking pretty cool, with its glowing transparent sections and old-school design, the Cygnus is apparently able to withstand the gravitational pull of black hole due to its ability to generate its own gravity well. In addition, its commander, Dr. Reinhardt, theorized that he would be able to fly it through a black hole and see once and for all what lay on the other side… It didn’t take, but still a cool idea!

Guild Heighliner:

Artist’s concept for a Guild Heighliner

Here’s one I couldn’t believe I had forgotten. In fact, I will accept any and all chastisements for my failure to include Dune craft in this series thus far. This can include physical beatings, just stay away from the nads… not quite done with those yet!

Anyhoo, when it comes to Dune ships, the Heighliner definitely takes the cake! Massive as all hell, this ship was the backbone of all commerce, diplomacy, travel and tourism in the Dune universe. Like all shipping, it was the exclusive property of the Spacing Guild and subject to their many controls, laws and whims.

Boasting Holtzman engines – a FTL drive system that was capable of “folding space” – the ship still required the services of a Guild Navigator. This person, a semi-prescient mutant due to years of living in a spice tank, would see a path through time and space and thus navigate the ship safely to its destination.

According to the original Dune, a single Heighliner was capable of lifting an entire planet’s worth of personnel, goods and supplies from one point in space to the next. As Duke Leto tells Paul in Part I of the story: “A Heighliner is truly big. Its hold will tuck all our frigates and transports into a little corner — we’ll be just a small part of the ship’s manifest.” Later in that same installment, House Harkonnen used a single Heighliner in order to lift an entire army to Arrakis for a surprise assault on the Atreides, and the cost was nothing short of punitive!

Given that the Heighliners are the sole means of commerce in a Empire as massive as that of the Dune universe, its little wonder why Heighliners are so freakishly big. Chartering one aint cheap, and if you do stowe aboard, you are expected to mind your business and wait until you arrive at your destination. Due to their high level of secrecy and sensitivity, no one is even allowed to venture beyond their own boarding craft when on a Heighlinger, and virtually no one outside of the Guild has ever seen a Guild navigator. Considered to be neutral territory by Imperial law, any and all acts of violence aboard Guild Heighliners carry stiff penalties.

Gunstar:
Ah, another childhood classic! Taken from the film The Last Starfighter, the Gunstar was the first line of defense of the Star League against the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? Well, it was the eighties! And this was yet another Disney franchise that seemed to be riding in the Star Wars wake. Still, this movie was one the first to make extensive use of CGI (Tron being the only other) and had a none-too-bad storyline too boot!

Boasting multiple guns, missiles and a “Death Blossom” trick that is nothing short of devastating, the gun star is a rather unique and innovative design. Apparently, it was meant to be a class of ship that would never go out of style, merging functionality with lethality and being able to take on any class of enemy ship.

Every Gunstar is a two seater, with the starfighter (gunner) in front, and the navigator in the rear. While the navigator flies the ship, the gunner directs fire from a swivel chair, which gives them control over the ships moveable weapons batteries. Although it has no shielding to speak of, the hull is protected by armor plating which can withstand multiple direct hits. When cornered, it is also capable of unleashing the “Death Blossom” where it will begin to rotate at a furious speed and unleash gun and missile fire in all directions. This however, is considered a weapon of last resort, since it will drain the ship’s power supply completely.

Heart of Gold:
Now here’s an interesting, and highly improbably, entry! Coming to us straight out of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, the SS Heart of Gold is rather unique in that it merged scientific theory with Douglas Adam’s notoriously quirky sense of humor.

Being a prototype vessel, it was the first ship ever in the universe to boast the “Infinite Probability Drive”. This drive system is essentially a Faster-Than-Light engine which is actually based in quantum theory. Essentially, the theory states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place at a particular time, but that there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin. Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space as long as it had sufficient control of probability.

Pretty cool huh? In the original radio series, the shape of the vessel was not specified. In the novelization of the series, it was described as a “sleek white running shoe”. For the sake of the movie, artists went with a tea-cup design, and added some brake lights for good measure. Originally built as part of a secret government project on the planet of Damogran, the ship was stolen by President Zaphod Beeblebrox during its launching ceremony and became the means through which the main characters began exploring the universe.

Minbari Cruiser:
Back once more to the B5 universe for another fine example of kick-ass shippery! Known officially as the Sharlin-class Warcruiser, this Minbari vessel is the mainstay of the Minbari fleet in the original series. Big, bold, stealthy, and packing a sh*tload of firepower, this vessel is veritable nightmare for all but the most powerful of races. Even Shadow vessels mind their business when some of these are in the field.

Making its appearance in season one of the show (episode 17: “Legacies”) and went on to become a regular feature. When Sheridan assumed command of the station in season two, the renegade cruiser Trigati was destroyed in the course of a standoff. After B5 broke away from Earth in season 3, a force of Sharlin cruisers arrived just in time to prevent the station from being captured by forces loyal to Clarke. Many went on to serve alongside Sherian and Delenn in the Shadow War and even went on to help liberate Earth from Clarke’s forces.

According to Delenn, Minbari ships do not rely on conventional engines like other ships. Instead, a system of gravitational and electromagnetic fields for propulsion, which have the added benefit of supplying artificial gravity. This frees up their ships from the needs of rotating sections and makes for a more effective combat platform. Sharlin cruisers also boast a significant amount of weaponry, which consists mainly of heavy beam cannons, but also includes missile launchers, neutron guns, and electro-pulse cannons.

During the Earth-Mimbari War, Earth Forces were completely outmatched by this class of Cruiser. In addition to being highly resistant to Earth force weapons, the Sharlin cruiser also boasted a stealth field which prevented Earth ships from being able to lock onto it. In the course of the war, only one human Captain ever survived combat with one, Captain John Sheridan. Relying on a phony distress signal and several well placed tactical nukes, Sheridan was able to lure the Black Star, the Minbari flagship, into a trap and destroy it. Though the Minbari considered it a cheap victory, Sheridan’s fame and renown quickly spread throughout the fleet.

During the battle of Sector 83, the Sharlin-class Cruiser proved an effective weapon against the Shadows. Although somewhat slow and providing a large target for Shadows, their powerful beam weapons were capable of destroying a Shadow ship unassisted. When protected by smaller, faster craft like the White Star, it proves to be a very effective combat platform.

Nebula-B Escort Frigate:
More Star Wars! God, I think I’m OD’ing on this franchise. But the sign says “Cool Ships” and this one is no exception. Known as the Nebula-class frigate, this ship is probably best remembered as the “Medical Frigate” which appeared in Empire and Jedi. 

Measuring some 300 meters long and designed to defend Imperial convoys from Rebel attacks, this ship was more famously used by the Rebellion as a hospital ship. During heavy fighting, Nebula-B’s would be on hand to pick up pilots that had ejected and provide them with life-saving assistance, ensuring that Rebel pilots could live to fight another day.

The most famous appearance of a Medical Frigate was during the Battle of Endor, when several medical frigates were on hand to service Rebel pilots who had been shot down by superior Imperial forces. It was also on board the Medical Frigate Redemption that Luke Skywalker received his prosthetic hand after losing it in a lightsaber duel to Vader.

In addition to providing escort and as a hospital ship, the Nebula-B was proved useful as a deep space scout and reconnaissance ship, due to its sophisticated sensors. During raiding missions or less intense combat operations, many also served as command ships given their speed and defensive capabilities. One weakness of the Nebula-B however was its thin fusilage. Though this made the ship an inexpensive vessel by most standards, it also made it a poor choice for heavy combat. Hence why it was relegated to support, scouting and medical roles.

The Nostromo:
You know, I really thought I covered this one already. I already mentioned how the Alliance Cruisers from Firefly appeared to be inspired by this baby. And it just makes sense that if you’re going to cover ships from the sequel, (the USS Sulaco and the Cheyenne Dropship) that you cover the original first. But alas, the Nostromo was somehow passed over by me, another act of wanton insensitivity! Beating shall continue until my attitude improves!

Okay, now that we got my punishment out of the way, allow me to pay this ship it’s due homage. The main set for the movie Alien, the USCSS Nostromo was a deep space commercial vessel which belonged to the Weyland-Yutani corp (much like everything else in this universe!).

Overall, the Nostromo was a curious design which made perfect sense from a space-faring point of view. Doing away with such things as streamlining and aerodynamic sleekness, the ship was well suited to deep-space travel and hailing. In addition, it was also taller than it was long, another common aspect to spaceships which are confined to the whole sea ship/airplane paradigm.

It’s massive refinery, which it towed behind, would process its manifest of mined ore while it made its way back to Earth from wherever it had been deployed. Thus, in addition to providing transport and amenities for a crew of miners and spacers, it was also a mobile refining platform that could deliver processed materials to factories rather than just unrefined ore.

While on return from the distant planet of Thedus, the Nostromo was rerouted to LV-426 where it picked up the alien organism known as a xenomorph. After all but one of the crew were killed the by creature, Ellen Ripley, the ship’s Warrant Officer, set the ship’s to self-destruct and escaped aboard the ship’s life craft with the crew cat, Jones. According to Weyland-Yutani execs, who were some pissed when she returned without her ship, the destruction of this vessel cost them 24 million in adjusted dollars. Damn penny-pinchers!

The Sathanas:
What do you call the most fearsome, intimidating and powerful ship in the universe, without being too obvious, that is? The Sathanas, that’s what! Being the Latin name for Satan, this title is very apt when applied to a massive juggernaut built by a race known as the the Shivans (i.e. Shiva, Hindu god of destruction).

This last entry, much like The Colossus and Deimos from my last list, comes to us from the game Freespace 2. Making its appearance midway through the game, this terrifying vessel was the most powerful space-faring ship ever encountered by the human race or its allies.

Boasting four massive beam cannons which are situated at the end of its claw like appendages, this ship best exemplifies the offensive fighting spirit. Jumping into a field of battle, it is capable of dealing devastating blows on a target head on, keeping its flanks and rear hidden from the enemy.

Above all, it is clear that the Shivan built the Sathanas to act as a terror weapon in addition to a capital ship. One look at its design confirms this, given its clawing appendages and thorny skin. Defeating this ship outright is quite difficult given its reinforced plating and terrible array of weapons. Disabling this ship, through EMP missiles and guns, is not much easier given the incredibly density of its hull and many redundant systems. In the end, the only way to beat it seems to be for lighter craft to take out its “claws” while heavier vessels strike at it from a distance. However, this still proves to be a suicidal mission given the Sathanas’ many missile and defensive batteries.

Ultimately, taking down this ship in the game is much like the real-life campaign to sink the Bismark. This dreadnought, which was the pride and joy of the German navy in WWII, also boasted massive weapons, a heavily armored hull and superior systems. In the end, the Royal Navy brought it down through a combination of luck, persistence, and careful engagements, taking their time to disable it and then closing in to pound it relentlessly! Hmmm. I guess good history makes for good gaming 🙂

Final Thoughts:/strong>
The suggestion box, as always, is still open. Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting the Gunstar, I knew I’d have to include it sooner or later and I’m glad someone asked. Anything else? I got another installment on the way, and probably a few more after that. No? Sigh, alright, bring on the beatings! No nads!

The Star Wars Prequels, Duty Strikes!

Hello, welcome to my last installment on the Star Wars franchise in honor of May the 4th. Only took six days, and I still got the final three movies to cover. Not my best work. But as they say, we all have lives. Well, some of us do. For those who have nothing better to do than read what I write I can only say… you poor things!

In any case, I promised when reviewing the originals that I would dedicate at least one post to the Star Wars the prequel trilogy. But one can scarcely do that without getting into the whole Star Wars legacy and addressing questions about Lucas himself and the directions he’s taken. Love them or hate them, the prequels remain a bone of contention for original fanboys and the new generation of acolytes.

To start, I’d like to give a very quick recap of the three movies before saying what was good and bad about them.

The Phantom Menace:
This movie was without a doubt one of the most anticipated releases in the history of cinema. After years of waiting and hearing that Lucas intended to revisit his universe with some prequel pictures, fans finally got their big break in the summer of 1999. If you’ve seen some of the footage of opening night, where people were lining up around the block, in costume, kissing the floor upon entry, and waving around multicolored lightsabers inside the theater when the movie came on, then you’ve got idea of just how raw and powerful the atmosphere was.

And yet, the Phantom Menace would also go down in history as one of the biggest disappointments of all time. One could easily say that all the build-up made that inevitable. But there were clearly some other factors as well, and people would spend years speculating on them. Of that, more later. First, let’s recap the plot.

The movie opens with the declaration that there is a taxation dispute going on and that the “greedy Trade Federation” has decided to blockade a remote world named Naboo in protest. Sounds a little dry and implausible but okay. We see two Jedis, Obi-Wan and Qui Gonn, being sent to reach a settlement with said Federation.

But once they get aboard, things get hairy. The Feds destroy their ship, on the orders of some “Phantom” dude who’s clearly manipulating things back home. He orders them to begin an invasion of the planet while he covers their asses in the Galactic Senate. Meanwhile, they try to kill them using poisonous gas and some rather inept robots.

Obi-Wan and Qui Gonn manage to escape, relaying on some sweet combat moves and Jedi springing, stow away on one of the troop transports, and are taken down to the surface. Somehow, they are landed on the other side of planet and must find a way to reach the capitol to “warn the Naboo”. Uh, what good does it do to warn people in the midst of an invasion? And why are they on the other side of the planet if the robots are invading the capitol anyway? Bad navigation console?

They come across a glaring stereotype named Jar Jar, a bumbling Gungan idiot who tells them his people can help. They swim underwater to the Gungan city where the Boss Nass, through a little force persuation, gives them a pod and lets them take Jar Jar with them, mainly because he owes his life to Qui Gonn (echoes of the Wookie life-debt there). They make it to the capitol and manage to the save the princess, a monotone teenage Geisha named Amidala. Turns out, royalty is elected on this world, and she agrees to go with them to Coruscant to plead their case before the Senate.

After a daring escape, which is facilitated by R2, they make it to space. However, there hyperdrive is damaged and they must land on nearby Tatooine. Qui Gonn goes off to find a parts dealer and meets another stereotype, an alien named Watto (who might as well be called Shylock given his caricatured appearance and character). He won’t take their credits, and since they don’t have anything to barter with, Qui Gonn concocts a needlessly convoluted scheme.

Yes, instead of simply going to another dealer or hiring a ship (a la Star Wars I), he decides to back Watto’s slave (a boy named Anakin) in a pod race using his ship as collateral. If the boy wins, Watto keeps the money and Qui Gonn gets his parts. But after determining that the boy is force sensitive – via a midichlorian count, one of the biggest let downs ever! – and (according to his mother) the result of immaculate conception, he decides to up the ante. If the boy wins, he gets to take him and the parts with him. For some reason, he seems completely remorseless about seperating the boy from his mother, but whatever.

Oh, and did I mention he built 3P0 – a factory model protocol droid – from spare parts to help his mom around the house? Weird, I thought these things were designed for, you know, protocol, as opposed to doing dishes! But whatever… He meets R2 and the they have immediate chemistry 😉

After the big ass pod race, clearly inspired by Ben Hur, Anakin wins using his Force abilities and Qui Gonn has his bounty. Their departure is momentarily interrupted when a Sith named Darth Maul shows up, seeking the princess, and Qui Gonn must fight him. They make it out and head to Coruscant, which is introduced for the first time in the franchise, and begin to attend to all the dry political crap that is waiting for them.

There, Senator Palpatine, representative of Naboo (and the man posing as the “Phantom”) tells them they’re in the thick of it. The Chancellor could force the issue but can’t since he’s been marred by accusations of corruption. Palpatine recommends calling a vote of non-confidence to unseat him so that someone less weak-kneed will take over. After finding nothing but gridlock in the Senate, Amidala concedes and makes the motion. Palpatine is happy, since he (surprise, surprise!) gets nominated!

Meanwhile, the Jedi Council has a look at Anakin, and is worried. It seems his fear of losing his mother is a bad thing, at least according to Yoda. Fear, through commodius viccus, leads to the Dark Side. Seems harsh, but this combined with his age, leads to their decision not to train him. Qui Gonn goes to bat for the little kid, but they are stubborn.

However, things change when Amidala decides she must go back home and the two Jedi are ordered to go with her. For some reason, they take Anakin and his two droids too, and Jar Jar is coming too to provide more slapstick. When they arrive, they begin plotting how their going to overthrow Federation occaption. The Gungans are recruited to help, and agree to lure the droid army into a battle as a feint to leave the capitol open. They decide to make Jar Jar, the idiot they exiled for being clumsy, a General and charge him with leading their attack. …Really?

Meanwhile, Amidala, the Jedi and a handful of her security people infiltrate the capitol. After Amidala and her people take the throne room though a little decoy and switch, Qui Gonn and Obi-Wan come face to face with Maul. A brilliant duel ensues, Qui Gonn dies, and Obi-Wan defeats him by pulling a flip and slice routine that frankly, Maul should have been able to prevent. Hell, its the same thing Anakin tries in the third movie and Obi-Wan lopped both legs and one of his arms off! And Maul’s way more badass!

But the really objectionable part comes when Anakin, through sheer dumb luck, ends up commandeering a fighter and flies into orbit with the Naboo fighters to engage the Fed command ship. Those watching couldn’t help but notice that the other ships have all left for some reason, but again, WHATEVER! Anakin, despite the Feds claim that nothing can get through their shields, manages to do just that when he accidentally flies his fighter into their bay and fires some torpedoes into their main reactor. The ship blows up just as Anakin flies out.

Down below, the Gungans are having a hard time tackling the droid army, and Jar Jar’s constant slapstick and bumbling aren’t helping things much. But somehow, he manages to stay alive, and eventually the destruction of the command ship renders all the droids inoperative. The day is won and the capitol celebrates. The Jedi have a memorial and speculate on how Maul must have had an accomplice, since Sith always work in twos. The camera then pans to Palpatine to let us know, as if we hadn’t figured it out already, that he’s baaaad!

And that’s how the movie ends. With lots of fanfare that calls to mind the medal ceremony of the first movie, we see Gungans, the Princess, Obi-Wan and Anakin all standing on ceremony as people cheer and blow horns. The credits rolled, and audiences everywhere were left speechless…

The Reception:
After the movie finished on opening night, it was like the fans everywhere were going “uh, what just happened?” Seriously, if you watch the documentary footage, you can’t help but notice how underwhelming the mood was once the movie was over, nothing close to the electricity that there was going in. It was as if they’d come to witness the second coming and were forced to watch cheep parlor tricks instead. The critics weren’t too kind either, most giving it mixed reviews based on its weak scripting, the inclusion of Jar Jar, the dry political content, and the saccharine character of Anakin.

However, there were good things about this movie too which did not go unnoticed. Just about everyone acknowledged that the pod race and lightsaber duel were worth the price of admission. But overall, this movie fell far short of expectations. And with the benefit of hindsight, the weaknesses became all the more apparent.

  1. The plot stunk of duty: This is something that would become more apparent as the trilogy went on. For all three movies, the entire plot seemed like a set-up for a bunch of explanations. This is a weak basis for a story and makes the audience feel like the movie is plodding along out of a sense of duty rather than a desire to tell a story. In the Phantom Menace, the focus was overwhelmingly on explaining how Palpatine got into power, even if that was only a small part of the story. Aside from that and the introduction of Anakin, there was nothing of importance happening elsewhere. I mean seriously, a taxation dispute? A blockade of a remote world? THESE things put the Galactic Republic in turmoil? I know this was all meant to show how inefficient and corrupt the Republic had become in its dying days, but c’mon! Give us something of consequence!
  2. The plot just plain stunk!: Throughout the first half of the movie, so much happens for which there is no decent explanation. Mainly, audiences just followed it along, waiting to see where it went and only realizing with hindsight that it didn’t make any sense. For starters, why did the Trade Federation agree to this risky scheme when they didn’t even know who they were dealing with? Were they that desperate to getting out of paying their taxes? Second, why was it necessary to fly to the surface to warn the Naboo if they were already being invaded? Third, why did Qui Gonn go through all that trouble just to get some parts? Why not go to another dealer, find a smuggler, agree to pay them ten times what they wanted once they got to Coruscant? Why sponsor a pod race, plot to free a boy, use his force power to manipulate the situation, and ultimately leave the boy’s mother behind in the end? It all seemed so reckless and silly, not what you’d expect from a Jedi Master. What’s more, everybody and their brother was warning him against taking on Anakin, saying they foresaw danger in his training. So why then was he so obsessed with training him, because of that vague prophecy? If this is such an important factor, why weren’t audiences made aware of what that prophecy was? Maybe then we might understand why he was so intent on seeing Anakin become a Jedi and the Council was not. But this was never done, not in this movie or its sequels. And Qui Gonn’s death-bed request that the boy be trained was a pretty weak excuse for the Jedi Council accepting him after all.
  3. One-dimensional characters: There’s this hilarious clip over at Red Letter Media where a guy asks a bunch of people to describe characters from the Star Wars universe. The rules are, say stuff about them without mentioning what they look like or what their job is. In the case of the originals, the people selected could say volumes about Han, Luke, Leia, et al. But with the prequels, they couldn’t say jack! There’s a reason for this. Beyond their basic roles, every character in this movie had no real substance or character. Hell, it wasn’t even clear who the main character was. So many people are the focus of the film and doing things to advance the plot that it doesn’t feel like their is a protagonist at all. Ah, which brings me to point 3!
  4. Who’s the focus here? All good stories have a protagonist. A person’s who’s journey is the focal point of the story and helps the audience to identify with them and become emotionally involved. In the originals, that person was Luke Skywalker. By no means was he the only character, but he was clearly the focus of the story. His own journey of self-discovery was the main driving force of the plot, and his battle with his own demons and his past provided the resolution. In the Phantom Menace, all we get is snap shots of different people doing things to advance the plot towards a resolution, which feels too tidy in the end.
  5. Too much reliance on CGI: It’s an easy thing to criticize a director for relying on CGI, but when you consider the fact that Lucas managed to capture lightning in a bottle using nothing but stop-motion, animatronics and puppets, you have to wonder why he was so obsessed with using the latest technology. Granted, it allowed him to do things he couldn’t before, but it also limited his shoots and made the movie feel incredibly sterile. In just about every shot in this movie, you don’t have real sets and actors on location. You have actors walking in front of a green screen and looking at hanging lights instead of physically real stand-ins. And no matter how advanced the technology, people will always know what they are seeing isn’t real. And when all the backgrounds look so perfectly glossy, clean and packed to the hilt with digital effects, it all just feel fake.

Some Possible Explanations:
As all fans of the Star Wars franchise are aware of by now, Lucas was never that good at scripting or directing. In fact, it was well known that in the first movie, help needed to be brought in to complete the film. In the second movie, that help was on hand from the beginning and it showed. But by the third, Lucas was clearly back at the helm and making the big decisions. With this in mind, it’s little surprise why the Phantom Menace was the way it was. With the success of the original franchise, Lucas had grown richer and more powerful than anyone thought possible, and with companies like Lucas Arts and Industrial Light and Magic behind him, who the hell is going to question him? He’s George freaking Lucas!

Surely, the man must have thought himself immortal by the late nineties when he began writing the script. All those people who used to tell him what to do or challenge him were now gone, replaced by sycophants and suck ups who grew up idolizing him. And can you blame them? It’s George freaking Lucas! How could the creator of Star Wars be wrong?

Sure, there were plenty of cool action scenes and the new technology was pretty damn effective at letting Lucas do all the things he couldn’t do before. But this was Star Wars, dammit! Where were the classic characters, the epic storytelling, the stuff that went beyond special effects and eye-popping visuals? Part of what made the originals so damn good was the depth that went far beyond the ships, guns, and lightsaber duels.

When you look at the originals, at all the things Lucas wanted to do but got called on, you begin to understand. According to rumor, Luke Skywalker was supposed to be a half-cyborg, Han was supposed to be a green alien, and the dialogue was supposed to be a lot more wooden and cheesy than it turned out to be. But thanks to dedicated professionals who knew how to rely on Lucas’ strengths and help him with his weaknesses, something truly awesome and classic was made.

But, as with most things, this success proved to be the downfall. Like Lucas, we all seemed to think he was solely responsible for the creation of Star Wars. Granted he was, in his own words, “the creator as well as the decider” (a cheesy reference to that awful Bushism), but he was never the sole voice of the project. Literally everybody, from the co-directors, co-writers, and even the actors themselves had a role in helping him to make his movies. Without them, we are left with Lucas as he is, warts and all. And after years of success and a growing obsession with the latest special effects, that’s not a very pretty sight!

Well, that’s what I thought of Phantom Menace. Stay tuned for Attack of the Clones… This aint gonna be pretty! But in the meantime, here’s some funny news. It turns out Topher Grace, who played Eric on That 70’s Show, has made an 85 minute editors cut of the three movies. Follow this link to read more on this interesting and funny story:

http://www.bestweekever.tv/2012-03-07/topher-grace-edits-star-wars-prequels

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!