Building Future Worlds…

inspirationIn the course of becoming an indie writer, there is one aspect of the creative process which keeps coming back to me. To put it simply, it is the challenges and delights of world building – i.e. creating the background, context, and location in which a story takes place. For years, I have been reading other people’s thoughts on the subject, be they authors themselves or just big fans of literary fiction.

But my own experience with the process has taught me much that I simply couldn’t appreciate before I picked up my pen and pad (or in this case, opened a word doc and began typing). Ad lately, the thoughts have been percolating in my mind and I felt the need to write them out. Having done that, I thought I might share them in full.

alien-worldFor starters, being a science fiction writer presents a person with particular opportunities for creative expression. But at the same time, it presents its share of particular challenges. While one is certainly freer to play around with space, place, and invent more freely than with most other genres, they are still required to take into account realism, consistency and continuity in all that they do.

Sooner or later, the world a writer builds will be explored, mapped, and assessed, and any and all inconsistencies are sure to stick out like a sore thumb! So in addition to making sure back-stories, timelines and other details accord with the main plot, authors also need to be mindful of things like technology, physical laws, and the nature of space and time.

self-aware-colonyBut above all, the author in question has to ask themselves what kind of universe they want to build. If it is set in the future, they need to ask themselves certain fundamental questions about where human beings will be down the road. Not only that, they also need to decide what parallels (and they always come up!) they want to draw with the world of today.

Through all of this, they will be basically deciding what kind of message they want to be sending with their book. Because of course, anything they manage to dream up about the future will tell their readers lots about the world the author inhabits, both in the real sense and within their own head. And from what I have seen, it all comes down to five basic questions they must ask themselves…

1. Near-Future/Far Future:
future-city3When it comes to science-fiction stories, the setting is almost always the future. At times, it will be set in an alternate universe, or an alternate timeline; but more often than not, the story takes place down the road. The only question is, how far down the road? Some authors prefer to go with the world of tomorrow, setting their stories a few decades or somewhere in the vicinity of next century.

By doing this, the author in question is generally trying to show how the world of today will determine the world of tomorrow, commenting on current trends and how they are helping/hurting us. During the latter half of the 20th century, this was a very popular option for writers, as the consensus seemed to be that the 21st century would be a time when some truly amazing things would be possible; be it in terms of science, technology, or space travel.

1984_John_HurtOther, less technologically-inclined authors, liked to use the not-so-distant future as a setting for dystopian, post-apocalytpic scenarios, showing how current trends (atomic diplomacy, arms races, high tech, environmental destruction) would have disastrous consequences for humanity in the near-future. Examples of this include Brave New World, 1984, The Iron Heel, The Chrysalids, and a slew of others.

In all cases, the totalitarian regimes or severe technological and social regression that characterized their worlds were the result of something happening in the very near-future, be it nuclear or biological war, a catastrophic accident, or environmental collapse. Basically, humanity’s current behavior was the basis for a cautionary tale, where an exaggerated example is used to illustrate the logical outcome of all this behavior.

arrakis-duneAt the other end of the spectrum, many authors have taken the long view with their sci-fi world building. Basically, they set their stories several centuries or even millennia from now. In so doing, they are able to break with linear timelines and the duty of having to explain how humanity got from here to there, and instead could focus on more abstract questions of existence and broader allegories.

Examples of this include Frank Herbert’s Dune and Asimov’s Foundation series, both of which were set tens of thousands of years in the future. In both of these universes, humanity’s origins and how they got to where they were took a backseat to the historical allegories that were being played upon. While some mention is given to the origins of humanity and where they came from, little attempt is made to draw a line from the present into the future.

foundation_coversInstead, the focus is overwhelmingly on the wider nature of human beings and what drives us to do the things we do. Asimov drew from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to make a point about the timeless nature of history, while Herbert drew on the modern age, medieval and ancient history, religion, philosophy, and evolutionary biology and ecology to investigate the timeless nature of humanity and what factors shape it.

For non-purists, Star Wars and Star Trek can also serve as examples of both tendencies in action. For decades, Star Trek used a not-too-distant future setting to endlessly expound on the human race and the issues it faces today. And always, this examination was done in the form of interstellar travel, the crew of the Enterprise going form world to world and seeing themselves in the problems, norms and social structure of other races.

coruscantStar Wars, on the other hand, was an entirely different animal. For the people living in this universe, no mention is ever made of Earth, and pre-Republic history is considered a distant and inaccessible thing. And while certain existential and social issues are explored (i.e. racism, freedom and oppression), the connections with Earth’s past are more subtle, relying on indirect clues rather than overt comparisons.

The Republic and the Empire, for example, is clearly inspired by Rome’s own example. The Jedi Code is very much the picture of the Bushido code, its practitioners a sort of futuristic samurai, and the smugglers of Tatooine are every bit the swashbuckling, gun toting pirates and cowboys of popular fiction. But always, the focus seemed to more on classically-inspired tales of destiny, and of epic battles of good versus evil.

And of course, whether we are talking near future or far future has a big influence on the physical setting of the story as well. Which brings me to item two…

2. Stellar or Interstellar:100,000starsHere is another important question that every science fiction author has faced, and one which seriously influences the nature  of the story. When it comes to the world of tomorrow, will it be within the confines of planet Earth, the Solar System, or on many different world throughout our galaxy? Or, to go really big, will it encompass the entire Milky Way, or maybe even beyond?

Important questions for a world-builder, and examples certainly abound. In the former case, you have your dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and near future seenarios, where humanity is stuck living on a hellish Earth that has seen better days. Given that humanity would not be significantly more adavanced than the time of writing, or may have even regressed due to the downfall of civilization, Earth would be the only place people can live.

Gaia_galaxyBut that need not always be the case. Consider Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. In his dystopian, post-apocalyptic tale, Earth was devestated by nuclear war, forcing the wealthiest and healthiest to live in the Offworld Colonies while everyone who was too poor or too ravaged by their exposure to radiation was confined to Earth. Clearly, dystopia does not rule out space travel, though it might limit it.

And in the latter case, where human beings have left the cradle and begun walking amongst our System’s other planets and even the stars, the nature of the story tends to be a bit more ambiguous. Those who choose such a setting tend to be of the opinion that mankind either needs to reach out in order to survive, or that doing so will allow us to shed some of our problems.

chasm_city_2Examples abound here again, but Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe seems like the ideal one here. In this series, humanity has access to near-light speed travel, nanotechnology, brain-computer interfacing, neural uploading, AI, smart materials, and has colonized dozens of new worlds. However, the state of humanity has not changed, and on many worlds, civil war and sectarian violence are common.

In either case, the setting also bears a direct relation to the state of technology in the story. For humans still living on Earth (and nowhere else) in the future, chances are, they are about as advanced or even behind the times in which the story was written. For those living amongst the stars, technology would have to advanced sufficiently to make it happen. Which brings me to the next point…

3. High-Tech or Low-Tech:
Star_Trek_SpacedockWhat would a work of science fiction be without plenty of room for gadgets, gizmos, and speculation about the future state of technology? And once more, I can discern of two broad categories that an author can choose from, both of which have their share of potential positives and negatives. And depending on what kind of story you want to write, the choice of what that state is often predetermined.

In the former case, there is the belief that technology will continue to advance in the future, leading to things like space travel, FTL, advanced cyborgs, clones, tricorders, replicators, artificial intelligence, laser guns, lightsabers, phasers, photon torpedoes, synthetic humans, and any number of other fun, interesting and potentially dangerous things.

BAMA_3With stories like these, the purpose of high-tech usually serves as a framing device, providing visual evidence that the story is indeed taking place in the future. In other words, it serves a creative and fun purpose, without much thought being given towards exploring the deeper issues of technological progress and determinism.  But this not be the case, and oftentimes with science fiction, high-tech serves a different purpose altogether.

In many other cases, the advance of technology is directly tied to the plot and the nature of the story. Consider cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer and the other novels of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. In these and other cyberpunk novels, the state of technology – i.e. cyberpsace decks, robotic prosthetics, biotech devices – served to illustrate the gap between rich and poor and highlighting the nature of light in a dark, gritty future.

65By contrast, such post-cyberpunk novels as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age took a different approach. While high-tech and its effects on society were explored in great detail, he and other authors of this sub genre chose to break with their predecessors on one key issue. Namely, they did not suppose that the emergence of high-tech would lead to dystopia, but rather an ambiguous future where both good and harm resulted.

And at the other end of the spectrum, where technology is in a low state, the purpose and intent of this is generally the same. On the one hand, it may serve as a plot framing device, illustrating how the world is in a primitive state due to the collapse of civilization as we know it, or because our unsustainable habits caught up with us and resulted in the world stepping backwards in time.

a_boy_and_his_dogAt the same time, the very fact that people live in a primitive state in any of these stories serves the purpose of  commentary. Simply by showing how our lives were unsustainable, or the actions of the story’s progenitor’s so foolish, the author is making a statement and asking the reader to acknowledge and ponder the deeper issue, whether they realize it or not.

At this end of things, A Boy and His Dog and Mad Max serve as good examples. In the former case, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape where a lone boy and his genetically-engineered talking dog rove the landscape in search of food and (in the boy’s case) sexual gratification. Here, the state of technology helps to illustrate the timeless nature of the human condition, namely how we are essentially the products of our environment.

pursuit_specialIn Mad Max as well, the way roving gangs are constantly looking for gasoline, using improvised weapons, and riding around in vehicles cobbled together from various parts gives us a clear picture of what life is like in this post-collapse environment. In addition, the obvious desperation created by said collapse serves to characterize the cultural landscape, which is made up of gangs, tinpot despots, and quasi-cults seeking deliverance.

But on the other hand, the fact that the world exists in this state due to collapse after the planet’s supply of oil ran dry also provides some social commentary. By saying that the world became a dangerous, anarchistic and brutal place simply because humanity was dependent on a resource that suddenly went dry, the creators of Mad Max’s world were clearly trying to tell us something. Namely, conserve!

4. Aliens or Only Humans:
warofworldsaliensAnother very important question for setting the scene in a science fiction story is whether or not extra-terrestrials are involved. Is humanity still alone in the universe, or have they broken that invisible barrier that lies between them and the discovery of other sentient life forms? Once again, the answer to this question has a profound effect on the nature of the story, and it can take many forms.

For starters, if the picture is devoid of aliens, then the focus of the story will certainly be inward, looking at human nature, issues of identity, and how our environment serves to shape us. But if there are aliens, either a single species or several dozen, then the chances are, humanity is a united species and the aliens serve as the “others”, either as a window into our own nature, or as an exploration into the awe and wonder of First Contact.

Alien OrganismsAs case studies for the former category, let us consider the Dune, Foundation, and Firefly universes. In each of these, humanity has become an interstellar species, but has yet to find other sentiences like itself. And in each of these, human nature and weaknesses appear to be very much a constant, with war, petty rivalries and division a costant. Basically, in the absence of an “other”, humanity is focused on itself and the things that divide it.

In Dune, for example, a galaxy-spanning human race has settled millions of worlds, and each world has given rise to its own identity – with some appearing very much alien to another. Their are the “navigators”, beings that have mutated their minds and bodies through constant exposure to spice. Then there are the Tleilaxu, a race of genetic manipulators  who breed humans from dead tissue and produce eunuch “Face Dancers” that can assume any identity.

2007-8-18_DuneAxlotlTank

Basically, in the absence of aliens, human beings have become amorphous in terms of their sense of self, with some altering themselves to the point that they are no longer even considered human to their bretherin. And all the while, humanity’s biggest fight is with itself, with rival houses vying for power, the Emperor gaurding his dominance, and the Guild and various orders looking to ensure that the resource upon which all civilization depends continues to flow.

In the Foundation universe, things are slightly less complicated; but again, the focus is entirely inward. Faced with the imminent decline and collapse of this civilization, Hari Seldon invents the tool known as “Psychohistory”. This science is dedicated to anticipating the behavior of large groups of people, and becomes a roadmap to recovery for a small group of Foundationists who seek to preserve the light of civilization once the empire is gone.

foundation

The series then chronicles their adventures, first in establishing their world and becoming a major power in the periphery – where Imperial power declines first – and then rebuilding the Empire once it finally and fully collapses. Along the way, some unforeseen challenges arise, but Seldon’s Plan prevails and the Empire is restored. In short, it’s all about humans trying to understand the nature of human civilization, so they can control it a little better.

Last, but not least, their is the Firefly universe which – despite the show’s short run – showed itself to be in-depth and interestingly detailed. Basically, the many worlds that make up “The Verse” are divided along quasi-national lines. The core worlds constitute the Alliance, the most advanced and well-off worlds in the system that are constantly trying to expand to bring the entire system under its rule.

verse_whitesunThe Independents, we learn early in the story, were a coalition of worlds immediately outside the core worlds that fought these attempts, and lost. The Border Worlds, meanwhile, are those planets farthest from the core where life is backwards and “uncivilized” by comparison. All of this serves to illustrate the power space and place have over human identity, and how hierarchy, power struggles and  divisiveness are still very much a part of us.

But in universes where aliens are common, then things are a little bit different. In these science fiction universes, where human beings are merely one of many intelligent species finding their way in the cosmos, extra-terrestrials serve to make us look outward and inward at the same time. In this vein, the cases of Babylon 5, and 2001: A Space Odyssey provide the perfect range of examples.

B5_season2In  B5 – much as with Stark Trek, Star Gate, or a slew of other franchises – aliens serve as a mirror for the human condition. By presenting humanity with alien cultures, all of whom have their own particular quarks and flaws, we are given a meter stick with which to measure ourselves. And in B5‘s case, this was done rather brilliantly – with younger races learning from older ones, seeking wisdom from species so evolved that often they are not even physical entities.

However, in time the younger race discover that the oldest (i.e. the Shadows, Vorlons, and First Ones) are not above being flawed themselves. They too are subject to fear, arrogance, and going to war over ideology. The only difference is, when they do it the consequences are far graver! In addition, these races themselves come to see that the ongoing war between them and their proxies has become a senseless, self-perpetuating mistake. Echoes of human frailty there!

2001spaceodyssey128.jpgIn 2001: A Space Odyssey, much the same is true of the Firstborn, a race of aliens so ancient that they too are no longer physical beings, but uploaded intelligences that travel through the cosmos using sleek, seamless, impenetrable slabs (the monoliths). As we learn in the course of the story, this race has existed for eons, and has been seeking out life with the intention of helping it to achieve sentience.

This mission brought them to Earth when humanity was still in its primordial, high-order primate phase. After tinkering with our evolution, these aliens stood back and watched us evolve, until the day that we began to reach out into the cosmos ourselves and began to discover some of the tools they left behind. These include the Tycho Monolith Anomaly-1 (TMA-1) on the Moon, and the even larger one in orbit around Jupiter’s moon of Europa.

2001-monolith-alignmentAfter making contact with this monolith twice, first with the American vessel Discovery and then the joint Russian-American Alexei Leonov, the people of Earth realize that the Firstborn are still at work, looking to turn Jupiter into a sun so that life on Europa (confined to the warm oceans beneath its icy shell) will finally be able to flourish. Humanity is both astounded and humbled to learn that it is not alone in the universe, and wary of its new neighbors.

This story, rather than using aliens as a mirror for humanity’s own nature, uses a far more evolved species to provide a contrast to our own. This has the same effect, in that it forces us to take a look at ourselves and assess our flaws. But instead of showing those flaws in another, it showcases the kind of potential we have. Surely, if the Firstborn could achieve such lengths of evolutionary and technological development, surely we can too!

5. Utopian/Dystopian/Ambiguous:
Inner_city_by_aksuFinally, there is the big question of the qualitative state of humanity and life in this future universe. Will life be good, bad, ugly, or somewhere in between? And will humanity in this narrative be better, worse, or the same as it now? It is the questions of outlook, whether it is pessimistic, optimistic, realistic, or something else entirely which must concern a science fiction writer sooner or later.

Given that the genre evolved as a way of commenting on contemporary trends and offering insight into their effect on us, this should come as no surprise. When looking at where we are going and how things are going to change, one cannot help but delve into what it is that defines this thing we know as “humanity”. And when it comes right down to it, there are a few schools of thought that thousands of years of scholarship and philosophy have provided us with.

transhuman3Consider the dystopian school, which essentially posits that mankind is a selfish, brutish, and essentially evil creature that only ever seeks to do right by himself, rather than other creatures. Out of this school of thought has come many masterful works of science fiction, which show humanity to be oppressive to its own, anthropocentric to aliens and other life forms, and indifferent to the destruction and waste it leaves in its wake.

And of course, there’s the even older Utopia school, which presents us with a future where mankind’s inherent flaws and bad behavior have been overcome through a combination of technological progress, political reform, social evolution, and good old fashioned reason. In these worlds, the angels of humanity’s nature have won the day, having proven superior to humanity’s devils.

IngsocIn the literally realm, 1984 is again a perfect example of dytopian sci=fi, where the totalitarian rule of the few is based entirely on selfishness and the desire for dominance over others. According to O’Brien, the Party’s mouthpiece in the story, their philosophy in quite simple:

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.  If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Hard to argue with something so brutal and unapologetic, isn’t it? In Orwell’s case, the future would be shaped by ongoing war, deprivation, propaganda, fear, torture, humiliation, and brutality. In short, man’s endless capacity to inflict pain and suffering on others.

invitro2Aldous Huxley took a different approach in his seminal dystopian work, Brave New World, in which he posited that civilization would come to be ruled based on man’s endless appetite for pleasure, indifference and distraction. Personal freedom and individuality would be eliminated, yes, but apparently for man’s own good rather than the twisted designs of a few true-believers:

Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered… People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.

But even though the means are entirely different, the basic aim is the same. Deprive humanity of his basic freedom and the potential to do wrong in order to ensure stability and long-term rule. In the end, a darker, more cynical view of humanity and the path that we are on characterized these classic examples of dystopia and all those that would come to be inspired them.

Imminent Utopia by Kuksi
Imminent Utopia by Kuksi

As for Utopian fiction, H.G. Wells’ Men Like Gods is a very appropriate example. In this novel, a contemporary journalist finds himself hurled through time into 3000 years into the future where humanity lives in a global state named Utopia, and where the “Five Principles of Liberty” – privacy, free movement, unlimited knowledge, truthfulness, and free discussion and criticism – are the only law.

After staying with them for a month, the protogonist returns home with renewed vigor and is now committed to the “Great Revolution that is afoot on Earth; that marches and will never desist nor rest again until old Earth is one city and Utopia set up therein.” In short, like most Positivists of his day, Wells believed that the march of progress would lead to a future golden age where humanity would shed it’s primitive habits and finally live up to its full potential.

Larry Niven_2004_Ringworld's Children_0This view would prove to have a profound influence on futurist writers like Asimov and Clarke. In the latter case, he would come to express similar sentiments in both the Space Odyssey series and his novel Childhood’s End. In both cases, humanity found itself confronted with alien beings of superior technology and sophistication, and eventually was able to better itself by opening itself up to their influence.

In both series, humanity is shown the way to betterment (often against their will) by cosmic intelligences far more advanced than their own. But despite the obvious questions about conquest, loss of freedom, individuality, and identity, Clarke presents this as a good thing. Humanity, he believed, had great potential, and would embrace it, even if it had to be carried kicking and screaming.

And just like H.G Wells, Clarke, Asimov, and a great many of his futurist contemporaries believes that the ongoing and expanding applications of science and technology would be what led to humanity’s betterment. A commitment to this, they believed, would eschew humanity’s dependence on religion, superstition, passion and petty emotion; basically, all the things that made us go to war and behave badly in the first place.

Summary:
These are by no means the only considerations one must make before penning a science fiction story, but I think they provide a pretty good picture of the big-ticket items. At least the ones that keep me preoccupied when I’m writing! In the end, knowing where you stand on the questions of location, content, tone and feel, and what your basic conception of the future, is all part of the creation process.

In other words, you need to figure out what you’re trying to say and how you want to say it before you can go to town. In the meantime, I say to all aspiring and established science fiction writers alike: keep pondering, keep dreaming, and keep reaching for them stars!

Movie Trailer Monday: Star Wars VII

Morning folks, and welcome to my second installment for Movie Trailer Monday. Today, it’s not so much a trailer as it is a fan-made teaser for the upcoming Star Wars VII. Given that Disney is still in contract talks with cast members and they haven’t even begun to shoot, no trailer could be feasible at this point. But that won’t stop fandom from making special videos presentations of what they hope to see.

And this one contains quite the eclectic bit of source material, splicing video game scenes from Knights of the Republic and Force Unleashed II, with some footage from Serenity and other movies. And in what I can only assume was a nod to Abram’s other works, there were also some scenes from Star Trek and the voice-over from the upcoming sequel, Into Darkness.

It seems that fan-made videos are begging better all the time, which just goes to show you how far software and computing have come. Soon, we may not even need Disney, Lucasarts, or any of the major studios at all! But until such time, I guess we’ll have to be content to rely on them to shoot all the cool footage so we can steal it and make our own shorts. Enjoy the show!

Upcoming Movie: Knights of Badassdom!

Larping_hobbiesI’m not sure why, but I’ve been inundated with movie previews lately, ones which I feel I must pass on to others. And this is just the latest and most awesome! Seriously, it was like this thing was created with me and my fellow nerds in mind! Some might think it an overly-appropriate commentary, others might sense some irony, but I look at it and just see fandom, nerdom, geekdom goodness!

As would be expected, this low-budget indie film was written and directed by relative newcomers, but happens to star some real heavyweights of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. They include Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister from HBO’s A Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (River Tam on Firefly and Serenity) and Ryan Kwanten (Jason Stackhouse from True Blood).

And of course, the plot is something that will appeal to the nerd in all of us. It begins when a group of friends travel into the woods to do some LARPing (Live Action Role Playing for those not nerdy enough to know). After the wizard of the group accidentally casts a real magic spell, the group must contend with a real-life succubus and an army of dark forces that are suddenly summoned to Earth. In short, a group of people who specialize in make-believe are called upon to become real life heroes and save the world from the forces of hell.

See? I told you it was an awesome concept! Between some genuine talent, a hilarious premise, and a metaphor that couldn’t be more frank, this movie has a lot of promise. The film previewed during ComicCon 2011, but is yet to be released to theaters. And did I mention it stars Peter Dinklage and Summer Glau? Their presence alone in this flick alone are worth the price of admission! Check out the trailer below…

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!

Favorite Cult Classics (Part The First)

It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.

Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!

Akira:
One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.

And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.

All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.

Army of Darkness:
Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!

Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.

Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).

But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!

Blade Runner:
Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.

And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.

On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.

The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?

Conan The Barbarian:
Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.

Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.

One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.

Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.

Serenity:
Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!

Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.

And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.

Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!

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For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

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!