Showing posts with label Star Wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Star Wars. Show all posts

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Star S'Mores

I've really been enjoying the Cookie's Crumby Pictures parodies from Sesame Street. The new season of the show (its 45th) starts tomorrow, and they've put some clips online in advance of it. Here's this season's first Crumby Picture, meant to teach us about self-control. That is one adorable cookie.

I hope some kind of cast list turns up for this thing, because it's driving me a little crazy. Groda sounds so much like Frank Oz, who does still drop in from time to time to perform or just dub a voice. If it's not him, Eric Jacobson's Grover has gotten really, really good. (No surprise; his Cookie Monster, Fozzie, and especially Miss Piggy are wonderful, I just don't see Grover as much these days, since I don't really watch Sesame Street anymore. Notice I didn't question whether Frank Oz was voicing Cookie, although I suppose he could be, couldn't he?)

Also, that's definitely Peter Linz, the performer of Walter, doing Luke Piewalker, right?

Monday, June 02, 2014

David Lynch's Return of the Jedi

I've been watching Twin Peaks on Netflix. This just came around at the perfect time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Little TV Report

I'm so glad Netflix put up that final, unaired season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It was a good amount of stuff, but you can tell the cancellation kind of took them off-guard. But that final arc--with Yoda learning about the true nature of the Light Side and Dark Side of the Force--was beautifully done, and not a bad note to end on. I like that even Yoda didn't know everything about the Force. That's been one of the most fascinating things about this Prequel Era to me: the idea that the Jedi had become so overly sure of themselves that they were now limited in their ability to access the Force and in their understanding of it. Hell, they didn't even detect that the Sith Lord was in their midst the whole time until it was too late. It's been a fascinating cat-and-mouse game to watch unfold. That arc also totally redeemed the rather high-handed way Yoda acted in the Prequels.

I do love this show, and I'm sorry to see it go. Like I said, it's not a bad note to end on, even though I suppose it means no official closure on what Darth Sidious' plan was for Darth Maul. And I guess it means the Prequel Era is now over, since the next show deals with the interim between Prequels and Original Trilogy, and we've got Episode VII looming. So there'll be something else for the haters to go after now, I guess.

I'm a little wistful. I really did love the Prequel Era, this show in particular. It gave me one of my all time favorite Star Wars characters in Ahsoka Tano.

Thanks for that, Lucasfilm, and on to the next era.

(And yes, I know you hated it, I just don't care. You're never going to make me hate it and I don't really give a shit if you think I'm stupid because I do. But hey, at least I feel so bullied by hateboys--can't call you "fanboys," really, since fanboys actually like the thing they're fans of--that I can't post this without bracing for the usual nonsense. So, you know, congratulations on making the world a less likable place.)

:: Hell's Kitchen is on again. Did you not realize that? They kind of sprung it up out of nowhere. Does anyone even watch it anymore? I do, but I keep forgetting it's on. Hell, I forget it's on even as I'm watching it. Same routine.

:: Boy, usually a series finale leaves me with something to remember fondly. For as much as I didn't like it, I've forgotten all about the How I Met Your Mother finale. In fact, I've forgotten about the season. There's no hole on Monday nights where it used to be in my usual routine.

Damn, show. You really made yourself inconsequential to me. I don't even hate you, I just forgot about you. And I have the first three seasons on DVD.

:: Loved the Parenthood finale. I really hope it comes back. This season was a bit of mess, but it was also the first time I watched it live (I binged the first four seasons over the summer on Netflix and Hulu). They didn't wrap up the divorce storyline. Honestly, I'd like to see Joel and Julia get divorced. It introduces a different dynamic into the show. Here's something that bugs me about it, though: remember back in the first season when Joel was still stay-at-home dad and that other parent kissed him and he didn't tell Julia until later because he shut it down and it meant nothing? Julia didn't flip out and start screaming that it was time for divorce back then. They talked it out. Same thing happens to Joel and he refuses to even talk about it; he just moves right out and traumatizes the kids. It makes it hard to like Joel.

Oh, and this whole Drew and Natalie thing? I think the producers think we like Natalie way more than we actually do. At least, more than I do. Not a fan. After the surprising, drunken chemistry they had, I was kind of hoping Drew and Berto would do something together. What, you think only girls experiment in college?

Still needs more Jasmine. That's my main complaint. Jasmine is wonderful.

:: Seriously, watch Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge. The creativity on display is amazing.

:: Okay, okay, Dance Moms just had a midseason finale. But I need to know when it's coming back. Don't make me wait through the summer, Dance Moms!

:: It was nice to see Tsai Chin out of nowhere on Agents of SHIELD. Always like her, never see her.

:: Gawd, Nashville, either air an episode or don't, but spare me the concert-laden recaps. I dig the show, but I'm afraid it's not got much of a future. How many shows that I like will be canceled this season? I fear for at least four of them.

:: Has anyone seen Fargo on FX? It's kind of amazing. I didn't know what to expect, but damn, it sucked me right in. A friend of Becca's thought she's like it because "It's like the Coen Brothers decided to do Twin Peaks." I'm actually watching Twin Peaks (finally) on Netflix. so that was an easy sell for me. Really, really digging this show. Both shows!

:: Boy, Saturday Night Live's really in a race to the bottom these days, even for them. What is this Colin Jost shit? Pass. If they had to co-anchor Cecily Strong, I would have rather they tried Jay Pharaoh instead of Blandy McBlanders.

:: On a final note, I just want to acknowledge Jack Gleeson. He's a great kid, and he did a fantastic job for years of playing the most hate-able little psychopath on Game of Thrones. The character was the worst person who ever lived, but it took a truly talented actor to bring that to life in a way that was often casually callous. That takes real talent. Good for him. I don't know if he still wants to act, but if he does, I'd love to see him in something else.

Maybe as a nicer guy this time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Making of Return of the Jedi

Rinzler does not disappoint with his third book about the making of the Star Wars films. This is probably the Star Wars movie I've read the most about the production of, mostly because when the film came out I was 6 and was paying a lot more attention to movies and how they were made. I saw the Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi special so many times as a kid; we had recorded it when it was on TV, and I used to watch it over and over, dreaming of having the jobs those guys had.

But what I've most read about in regards to this one was the creatures, particularly in Jabba's palace. And the book doesn't skimp on any of that. But here are some other things that struck me in the book:

:: This is the least popular of the Original Trilogy, and I think this book helped me to understand why a little better. (No, the answer is not "Ewoks," they're just a scapegoat--and no, if you're my age, you didn't "always" hate the Ewoks. You either got to the point where you didn't like them anymore, or someone made you feel bad about liking them when you got older.) The real answer is that so much of the character development is gone. Han, Leia and Lando are basically just sort of there but don't really have any growth. I'll talk a bit more about that. But it's harder to relate to the people in this one--with the exception of Luke, who has some of his best scenes. I'm not sure why it ended up so bloodless in terms of growth, but it is interesting that George Lucas saw this one as more or less an attempt to redo Star Wars the way he would have done it if he'd had better technology available in the late seventies. George really had to create the process of making these kinds of films from the ground up.

:: As far as the Ewoks go, 31 years of incessant whining about them has really gotten old. They're not for everyone, but let it go. Some of the people working on the film didn't like them, either, which is not surprising. It was interesting to see some of the treatment and draft summaries: the Ewoks (or "Ewaks," at first) were always there. George Lucas gets some stupid flack for having once planned to use Wookiees for the finale (way back in his earliest drafts of the first film), but instead going with the Ewoks. (Interestingly, he also had Yussems in his early drafts, who were in Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye novel, itself conceived as a possible low-budget sequel to Star Wars in case the first film underperformed; it was written with the idea of reusing props and costumes that had already been made. Yussems were sort of Wookiee-lite.)

Anyway, the flack. "They're just to sell toys!" is the usual complaint, as if Lucasfilm weren't already selling toys and as if they wouldn't have just sold Wookiee toys instead of Ewoks. (George Lucas himself, in the book, dismisses that claim, saying that a teddy bear is a stupid thing to try and cash in on, since there are so many teddy bears and basically everyone already has one, so there's nothing proprietary or creative about it.)

What I like about the Ewoks is that they already go all the way back to what George Lucas was writing in 1973, when he wanted a primitive people with no technology to ultimately be instrumental in destroying the Empire (George's Vietnam War allegory again). The reason he didn't use Wookiees was that we'd already gotten so used to seeing Chewbacca shoot guns and pilot ships and perform complex mechanical repairs that he thought non-technological Wookiees would seem unbelievable and didn't sell the point he was making.

:: That said, George Lucas didn't like the Ewok celebration song at the end of the picture. I love you, George, but you are wrong, wrong, wrong. That New Age piece at the end of the Special Edition is a poor replacement.

:: Honestly, the original drafts of the screenplay almost sound like a better story. I hate saying that and won't bother dwelling on it, because I like Jedi and don't want to spend decades pathetically whining over what the film isn't. But I do like the cross-cutting action in the earlier drafts, which also turn Leia into a much more proactive character and give Lando and Han more to do. Vader also comes across more interestingly, not having abandoned his intent to kill the Emperor and take his place, and the drafts give him Grand Moff Jerjerrod to play off of as a foil. There's also a lot with Force ghost versions of Ben Kenobi and Yoda, including their involvement in staving off the Emperor, which feels much more like the dynamic of the Prequels and of The Clone Wars series.

These drafts also bring back the idea of a city planet (here called Had Abbadon) and has turned his lava planet idea into a throne room for the Emperor made of rock and lava. He tried to get those into Empire and didn't, and didn't succeed here, either, but filed them away for the Prequels.

:: The story notes are also fascinating. Lawrence Kasdan (who also wanted to drop the Ewoks) agreed with Harrison Ford that Han Solo should have a sacrificial, heroic death--and if not him, then Lando Calrissian--, but George Lucas just wouldn't have it. He wanted his fairy tale to have a happily ever after for everyone, hated it when characters died in adventure movies, and felt it would alienate the audience.

Also, once again George Lucas files these things away for later use. He wanted to see celebrations of the Empire's fall across the galaxy, not just on Endor, which he did in the Special Edition. And also, when Ben and Yoda were still in the climactic fight with the Emperor, he talks about how, as part of the living Force, they can cloud the Emperor's mind and his ability to access the Force, which is something he touched on in the Prequels, when Mace Windu and Yoda discuss how the Jedi have been less and less able to use the Force.

Another great bit is Lucas on who the Emperor is: "...he was a politician. Richard M. Nixon was his name." He proceeds to tell Kasdan basically the entire last act of Revenge of the Sith.

And one more bit I liked: Lucas shocks Kasdan by telling him that the Force is like yoga or karate, that everyone can use it if they take the time to train and pursue it. He also says Yoda is a teacher and that he and the Emperor, though skilled in the Force, are not actual Jedi.

:: Richard Marquand, who directed the film, doesn't necessarily come out of this looking great. The book is respectful, and most people who talk about him are pretty tactful or diplomatic, but there are hints of tension that I kind of wish the book had made clearer.

I think it didn't help that Marquand came in expecting more control and changing the entire look and feel of the series. He was vocal about not liking Empire's costumes, considering some things from that film mistakes (like Vader being able to hold a lightsaber with one hand), and criticizing the way that film was lit.

Before filming, Irvin Kershner apparently told Marquand that George Lucas would leave him alone more than any producer he'd ever work with. But this certainly wasn't the case here. Mark Hamill says that Lucas acted on the film as more of a second-unit director, but others just outright say he was basically directing from over Marquand's shoulder. Norman Reynolds and Howard Kazanjian talk around it, but Robert Watts comes right out and says "Richard couldn't grasp it and George was concerned, so he never left." Part of the appeal for Lucas seemed to be that he could leave the directing in someone else's hands so he wouldn't have to do it himself, but the consensus seems to be that Marquand was probably out of his depth and didn't quite understand what George wanted. (It's worth noting that Lucas seemed to feel Marquand's original cut of the film was disastrous and re-edited the entire film, though he certainly would have done that, anyway. It just seems like he had his own idea of Star Wars and it didn't always line up with George's ideas.)

(And yeah, George's first choice was David Lynch. I'm not sure how that would've gone. I think what George really wanted was a team of second unit directors who would get him his shots. Looking at the visuals on Dune, maybe he would've gotten it, since Dune and Jedi have similar looks. But I can't really speculate as to whether or not Lynch would've chafed under the arrangement as Marquand seems to have.)

Carrie Fisher seemed to feel that Marquand's problem was that he never became part of the group, and tried to assert himself rather than ingratiate himself, so things were uncomfortable and occasionally tense. Some felt he was assertive to save face, trying to make George's ideas sound like his own.

:: Marquand seems to have had an especially contentious time with Carrie Fisher, who seems adrift, and not just because of her admitted drug use at the time. It probably says a lot about his approach to the character that he defined Princess Leia as "this perfect little doll-like creature" in the first film and didn't like what a bitch she was in the second. He wanted to soften her up, something Fisher was initially excited about because she wanted to have an emotional response to the destruction of her home planet, something that resonated. Instead, she says she had a lot of difficulty even finding the character in the third film because there was nothing to play. She was especially confused as to why she was so silent with Jabba the Hutt when she had been so defiant with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader.

She also had problems with the secrecy about key plot points. For example, she and Mark Hamill were given their script for the scene where Luke reveals that he and Leia are siblings immediately before shooting it. Where she would've liked to have workshopped it on the set as actors, the way they had done with Kershner on Empire, they simply had to shoot it and move on, and as a result she admits that she's not very good in that scene. (She also says that she's "not much of an actress" and that the long hours in Jabba's palace made her decide to chuck acting and become a writer.)

She also says that Marquand "kowtowed" to Harrison Ford, because he was a movie star and Marquand either respected him or was intimidated by him, "but he certainly didn't respect, as far as I could tell, too many other people." She implies, too, that Ford didn't care for the way Marquand treated the other actors (though Marquand and Mark Hamill got along splendidly).

:: The actors are pretty upfront about being more cynical with the making of this flick. Mark Hamill called the script "a letdown." He went onstage to star in Amadeus specifically to be challenged as an actor, and says that Jedi is the film that made him more interested in the craft and less interested in being so career-minded as an actor.

:: I'm glad this book confirmed there were issues with the Yoda puppet, including the misplacement of the eyes. He's always seemed so off to me. The Yoda puppet seemed even more terribly off in The Phantom Menace. It's a bit of a letdown because those scenes with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back are my favorite in all of the films. (And I've said it before, but I did not mind the puppet being replaced with CGI in the Phantom re-release.)

:: After the previous two books, I talked about how the films changed the way movies are made. With this one, Lucasfilm started changing the way films were exhibited, as THX sound was developed. I remember as a kid hearing Lucas talking about digital distribution, which is only now poised to become the norm in theaters. I remember when I first heard him talk about digital streaming as far back as 1990. The man's always been ahead of his time, and I admire the way he forges ahead and creates a culture of being able to make these kinds of movies just because he wants to see them.

:: As to the matter of the nine films we were "promised," it's amazing how quickly everyone got burnt out on this one, which was released to mixed reviews but huge box office. (We saw it 13 times.) George Lucas, going through a divorce during postproduction and rather disenchanted with the whole thing, talked about retiring or closing down for a while to recharge. He almost seemed regretful about spending a decade on the films, having to sacrifice his personal life and, at the end, his marriage. At the time, he was saying any future Star Wars films, which he knew then would be prequels about Anakin Skywalker's boyhood, would probably happen in "about five years." He was also adamant that they would be someone else's vision, and not his, unless making them was easier somehow. And enter digital effects...

And now here we are, 31 years since Jedi, and JJ Abrams is making three more Star Wars films for the internet to bitch about. When I was in high school, and people had mainly forgotten about Star Wars and it seemed like a relic of the past, I would sometimes remember the brief period of time when I was in the Official Fan Club and people were speculating about how Episode I was just a few years away. It seemed like a pipe dream after a while. So much so that, even after the Special Editions, when Lucasfilm announced it was actually making it, I couldn't quite believe it.

I hope Rinzler's not done with Lucasfilm. Honestly, I'd love to read a book about the making of the Special Editions, just because I'd love to get more of an idea of how George's relationship with the movies themselves evolved and what went into some of the decisions. I would love to read that book.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What Is Star Wars Canon and Does It Matter?

I see the news that Lucasfilm, with their move to Disney and with Marvel about to take over the license on Star Wars comics, has officially put together a Story Group to establish what elements of the many derivative works are canon and what aren't. A lot of fans were excited by the announcement, but I just kind of shrugged it off. If you enjoy the works themselves, does it matter if they're officially anointed? Or is it just a matter of needing validation?

I ask because, when it comes down to it, I simply don't care about the Expanded Universe. I was excited 20-odd years ago when Heir to the Empire came out, but I never really got into the whole thing because I just never thought it was very good. To a lot of fans, though, it became more the preferred version of Star Wars than the Prequels. I liked one or two novels here or there, but I stopped reading them pretty early on because a lot of them seemed like the same thing over and over. Same with the Dark Horse comics. I would read a good story here and there, but mostly they just seemed repetitive and too concerned with being "cool" rather than really expanding the universe in an interesting way.

But, as I said, there are a lot of fans who love that stuff and are genuinely worried that the move to Disney is going to erase that work. But I've often felt like, you know, if you deeply enjoyed that work and it enhanced your enjoyment of Star Wars and it became integral to the way you enjoyed the Star Wars universe, does it matter if Lucasfilm proclaims it official?

I guess for a lot of fans, it does. I just can't bring myself to care about Mara Jade or Grand Admiral Thrawn or any of that stuff. It's not that I'm jaded or too above it or anything; it's just that I don't enjoy it. That said, I do enjoy The Clone Wars and the old Marvel comics. You have Mara Jade? I have Plif the Hoojib. You have Jaina and Jacen Solo? I have Jaxxon. I have Ahsoka Tano. I have things that are integral to me and my enjoyment. 20-odd years ago, no one cared about acknowledging anything David Michelinie or Mary Jo Duffy wrote in the 80s as any kind of canon. But you know what? I'm fine with it. The boy who made sure his Luke Skywalker action figure also had a little bunny rabbit from a pack of farm animal toys so he could say it was Plif didn't grow up to be someone who took it personally when Lucasfilm chose not to acknowledge it. I could still enjoy them without official approval.

What I'm saying is, it seems like the works based on Star Wars are so vast, and there's such a deep well to draw from, that it's transcended its origins and can now become whatever you want it to be. Let's be honest: a great deal of the anger at the Prequels comes from the fact that George Lucas almost completely ignored the Expanded Universe and did what he wanted to do with his story. EU fans needed validation then, and they're demanding it now. I've had too many conversations with fans that were angry at me for not giving a shit about the X-Wing novels in my life to really want to be someone who takes continuity and canon very seriously. It's tiresome.

Just enjoy what you enjoy. Not everyone thinks Boba Fett is cool. Not everyone wants every SW story to be about how yet another person had a run in with Han Solo, Center of the Galaxy. And me personally... I really don't care about canon tiers and whether or not a story "counts."

Not everyone gives a shit about Hoojibs or Lahsbees or Iskalonions or Zeltrons or even Ewoks or Gungans, but I do. And it doesn't affect my enjoyment if you don't. And it shouldn't affect your enjoyment if I do. Star Wars is big enough for the both of us, and I do not envy the guys who have to parse through two decades of Expanded Universe in a possibly misguided attempt to be all things to all people.

Whatever movie you make next, people are going to complain about it, anyway.

Monday, October 14, 2013

HALLOWEEN: Verizon Commercial 2013

I realize I'm not sharing much Halloween stuff this year, but I had to sing the praises of this Verizon commercial. Not only is it a Halloween commercial, it's a Star Wars Halloween commercial! That just makes me exceedingly happy. I'm sure I'm just remembering this through the prism of being a kid, but I feel like there used to be more Halloween-themed commercials. I don't see many anymore--instead I see commercials with hipsters enjoying pumpkin spiced everything. And that's cool; I'm sure some people love having their donuts and coffee taste like Yankee Candles. But I also like to see the costumes and the trick-or-treating and the suburbs and the Halloween I loved as a kid. This commercial brought it all back and did it with a Star Wars flourish. I dig this. This is a commercial I'll stop forwarding on the DVR for. It's cute.

That baby-carrier alone is amazing.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Would Love to Have One of These

I'm missing out on so many wonderful collectibles anymore. Oh, well.

I went to see Return of the Jedi probably more times than I have ever gone to see any movie in the theater. (Especially with re-releases.) When I was six, something about it really captured my imagination like no other movie.

See, as I may have mentioned before, when I was a kid, I was all about creatures and comics and special effects and Muppets. So the scenes in Jabba the Hutt's throne room really just pulled me in and fascinated me. I tried to recreate it as much as I could. I had so many of the action figures from Jabba's palace, as many as I could ask for that people would gift me with. I had a model kit of the throne room with all the various figures. I used other toys to create elaborate set-ups with Jabba at the center, Salacious Crumb always by his side.

There was also a TV special that I watched repeatedly: Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi. It was all about making the creatures in the movie and about how they were created and operated. I was fascinated by it, the same way I would later be fascinated with gigantic books about Industrial Light & Magic or the Muppets.

When I was a kid, I really envisioned being some kind of creature maker. I wanted to do something in special effects. I loved to draw as a kid, and I really wanted to do creature conceptual designs. Or maybe I would build models for special effects shots. Or create sound effects. Or do cartoon voices. Or be a Muppeteer. Or something, anything to do with that whole world. That was my passion, and that's why I still get so high on fantasy movies, even today when it's all computers. Computer effects are less interesting to me, but when someone (like Peter Jackson) uses them to just free the imagination, I do enjoy them.

So seeing this Salacious Crumb up here just makes me think how much I wanted that guy in my collection when I was a kid, and how much I wanted to do that kind of work, making kids' eyes light up with wonder or laughter or even terror at special effects wizardry and puppet magic. The guy makes me smile every time.

(As you can guess, I'm hugely looking forward to The Making of Return of the Jedi coming out this year.)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

TV Report: Clone Wars and Ahsoka Tano

After a gripping, emotional season finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it was announced that Cartoon Network would no longer be airing the show. This wasn't really a surprise--the finale was the 100th episode; Cartoon Network had only ever contracted for 100 episodes; and with the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, a lot of people speculated that the show would end up on Disney XD instead.

And then the bottom sort of fell out of all that.

First Lucasfilm Animation announced that it would be wrapping up all of the loose story threads in a sixth season, but they never specified just where and how people would be able to see it. Then Lucasfilm suddenly laid off a bunch of people, dissolved the team that has spent the last half-decade making the show, and put the key personnel to work on other projects (presumably pre-production on Episode VII, but no one's really said, I think). Only two finished story arcs will be released, and neither of them address the final fates of Asajj Ventress, Cad Bane, or that giant cliffhanger they left us with for Darth Maul.

And the fate of Ahsoka Tano remains up in the air.

Now, I am disappointed not to be getting more Clone Wars, because I loved the show. A lot. I looked forward to watching it every Saturday morning.

But I'm not disappointed that we won't find out what happened to Ahsoka Tano.

I love Ahsoka. Over the course of five years, Ahsoka became one of my favorite characters in all of Star Wars. I don't know if this show is officially canon or not, but I don't really care; the journey of Ahsoka Tano and what she meant to Anakin Skywalker and how she developed and reached the point she reached on that final episode was a journey worth taking, and one of the best Star Wars stories I've ever experienced. I love how it ended on the note it did: Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Council and Anakin losing the one person he could almost openly treat like family.

A lot of people still don't seem to get or want to get that a big part of the story of the Prequels is the failure of the Jedi Council, a group that has not only betrayed its ideals (the peacekeepers become generals at the head of vast armies), but it has also grown so arrogant and complacent that it doesn't even notice that Chancellor Palpatine is the Dark Lord of the Sith. That's something that always gets me: people who complain about how they find that unbelievable, that the Jedi can't figure it out. Well, that's the point: he's a better and more powerful Jedi than they are. They're so corrupted that they've become weak. They make terrible decision after terrible decision, especially with Anakin, which is why everything in Episode III happens the way it does. That's a large part of the point George Lucas is making.

The Jedi Council not trusting Ahsoka and not standing by her and her basically deciding the Council isn't the place she should be is a massive step, especially in Anakin's path to the Dark Side. Anakin, removed from his mother at such a young age, is basically an orphan, and like a lot of orphans, he's looking for family. He loves Padme, but he can't be open with his feelings because of his position. Obi-Wan has no interest in being a family figure, as much as he will later claim otherwise, because I think Obi-Wan was too young to take on a student and, in Episode II, you can see him being short and cold with Anakin. In Ahsoka, Anakin had someone he could be openly caring about, and someone who looked up to him in return. He was looking for a father figure; when he didn't find one, he became one. And now she's grown up and left him and told him that she cares about him, but she doesn't think his ways can be her ways anymore. That's a lot of fantastic character development on both sides.

But, from a fan point of view, I think what's great about this development is that it adds more shades to what Anakin does in Episode III, and it also removes Ahsoka from danger. Did she ever come back? Did she die when the clones executed Order 66? Or was she still out there somewhere, safe from harm? You can basically write your own ending now and imagine it however you want, and it seems to be driving everyone nuts. (And by "everyone" I mean "the very few people who actually watched the show and talked about it online, only a small fraction of whom liked it.")

One of the things that used to be cool about fandom--at least how I experienced it growing up--is that continuity freaks were rare and it used to be about telling good stories. Sure, things that happened in Star Wars novels weren't "official canon," but that didn't mean you couldn't enjoy them. You could pick from what happened in the Marvel Comics or in the Droids cartoon and make them part of your own personal canon, the way you saw the series, the things that made Star Wars what it was for you. Everyone didn't have to like it or not like it the same way. So maybe Plif the Hoojib isn't an essential part of the Star Wars universe for you, but he damn well is for me, even though I know he matters not one whit to what happens in the films.

It's the same with Ahsoka Tano. I like believing that she wasn't part of the Jedi slaughter. That she had a happy ending somehow, became a teacher somewhere, or a farmer, or anything but a bounty hunter, which seems to be the only alternate career in Star Wars sometimes. Somewhere way out on a rim world. She lived in peace. And since nothing contradicts me, I can totally believe that if I want to.

No canon explanation given? Don't need one, thanks.

I'll miss Clone Wars, but I'll always be glad for what I got and for the essential addition of Ahsoka Tano to my Star Wars universe.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Stuart Freeborn 1914-2013

BBC News is reporting the death of Stuart Freeborn at the age of 98. Freeborn is one of the architects of how I think about science fiction for his work designing makeup for 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Star Wars trilogy. He famously designed Yoda as a combination of his own face and Albert Einstein's. As the designer of Chewbacca, Yoda and Jabba the Hutt, I see his work every day of my life on my own walls. I'm glad he did that. Thank you.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

JJ Abrams to Direct Next Star Wars Movie

Millions of fanboys who briefly fooled themselves into believing that there was ever any possible future where they actually didn't hate Episode VII immediately decide they hate it, thus saving themselves another couple of years of swearing it's going to be good if only George Lucas isn't involved.

In all seriousness, I kind of figured this is where they going with this. I like Abrams' three previous films. I like the Star Wars prequels. I don't have a problem with it. I don't have the energy for the inevitable tidal wave of entitled fandamentalist whining this news has unleashed. See it or don't, I really don't give a fuck, and neither, you will find, do most people. If the worst thing that happens to you as an adult is that you don't like a movie, you've still had it disgustingly good. If you can't get over not liking a flick within two years, you don't have enough in your life that takes up your attention.

I've spent enough time in my life whining, sight unseen, about how bad some movie is going to be, only to end up liking it. And the reverse is true, too. I'll just wait and see and if I don't like it, oh, well. I have six other Star Wars movies I like just fine.

Well... five.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Carrie Fisher Bids Farewell to Princess Leia

Every link I see to this is all about how Carrie Fisher's piece for Bullett Media is "bitter" and "angry" and "self-loathing." I thought it was acerbic, witty and hilarious, but maybe that's just me. Neither Carrie Fisher nor I regard Star Wars with the reverent seriousness of Star Wars fans.

Read it here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Star Wars Director Speculation

The endless speculation over who is going to direct Episode VII was inevitable, but that doesn't make it any less irritating. People seemed to start with the attitude that literally every director alive was a possible candidate, and anyone who made an off-the-cuff remark--like Ben Affleck's "I'm glad I don't have that job"--had "officially taken them out of the running!" It's kind of a sad, hilarious thing to watch, because fanboys are never going to like it no matter who does it or how it's done. It just makes this whole process truly funnier, because everyone's acting so excited because of (a) the stupid opinion that the whole series of films is going to to be so amazing, even though they've despised everything any Star Wars film did from the Special Editions onward, (b) the idiotic and frankly classless opinion that Star Wars will automatically be good when it's taken out of the hands of the man who created the whole thing for you ingrates, and (c) the way half of this craziness is being pushed by the very people who said they should never make any Star Wars movies ever again. So, you know, the usual points for rabid fan consistency and hypocrisy.

Honestly, I don't find the prospect of who's going to direct Episode VII that exciting or interesting, given the current state of American filmmaking overall and given the fact that I'm not really looking forward to everyone despising a film they asked for for years and then having to hear how "wrong" it is. If it's too funny, fanboys won't like it because it's not dark and serious enough. If it's too dark and serious, they won't like it because it won't be more fun. Whomever goes into directing this is just asking for it so, hey, good luck.

I did think it was funny how everyone spent weeks getting all pissy over how they didn't want Disney doing Star Wars because of whatever reasons we're supposed to hate Disney owning things, because god forbid someone gets too commercial and merchandises the shit out of Star Wars. It was extra hilarious when the same people who were saying "Keep all the Disney people away from Star Wars!" were pretty much the exact same people saying "Let Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles, make it!" And, like, totally without irony, too. "Yay, the writer of Toy Story 3 is writing it! Don't let Disney people near it!" I know, I know, Pixar is a company that Disney merely owns. Like Lucasfilm.

So now the Speculation Machine has supposedly narrowed it down to three candidates: Matthew Vaughan, Jon Favreau and David Fincher. Apparently, since David Fincher did actually work on Return of the Jedi, this somehow makes him more qualified to be involved with Episode VII than anyone (like, say, George Lucas). No one ever points out that Jon Favreau does a voice on Clone Wars, which as far as I can tell makes him just about equally as qualified as Fincher to direct Episode VII, since their contribution to the actual storyline is pretty much the same.

I really don't like the idea of a David Fincher-directed Star Wars movie. Yeah, he's slick, and his movies look pretty, but he's really only directed three or four movies I've ever liked. He's not quite on the Neil Jordan level of making movies that are instantly forgettable, but Fincher's movies would be a lot better if he was less interested in pretending his mysteries are complex instead of just needlessly complicated and figured out how people work.

Matthew Vaughan is also slick, and his films also look pretty, but it's pretty much the same problem. And the more characters you give him, the less he's able to juggle them around. X-Men: First Class looked good, but it had a thousand characters and exactly one of them was interesting or well-acted. His films are okay fun for a while--I liked Stardust but never felt the need to watch it again, and I liked Kick-Ass but it holds up less each time I see it (and that's overlooking a lot of the narrative stupidities that take away from the point of the premise, because it's basically just a dumb cartoon and not smart like it thinks it is). And anyway, if history is any indication, Vaughan will just talk about it for a year before deciding to go do something else instead and being replaced by Brett Ratner or Bryan Singer, and that's just too horrible to contemplate.

Of those three--and no one seems to be able to prove if these are just the biggest fan rumors or if this is actually what Lucasfilm is considering--I really only like Jon Favreau to make it. And that's just because Favreau makes movies that are like the big fantasy movies I liked when I was a kid. I can see him making a movie like Return of the Jedi, or at least how I remember experiencing Return of the Jedi as a 7 year-old--and let's face it, when people get all pissy about the Prequels, what they're really getting pissy about is growing up and not liking films aimed at kids anymore. Nostalgia is a lot of what makes the films you liked as kids work over and over again.

Favreau's made Elf, Zathura, and Iron Man, three movies I dig. I wouldn't mind seeing an Episode VII that was closer to those kinds of fantasies. I suspect I'm in the minority on this and that what most fans want to see is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Kick-Ass. And if they get it, whatever; I've already got six Star Wars movies I like...well, let's be honest, five, but Attack of the Clones doesn't ruin it for me.

Either way, I'll just see what happens. It's not a big priority to me because, you know, I don't think I love movies the way I used to anymore. But I love Star Wars. So I hope things go right.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TV Report: Clone Wars

Is anyone out there still watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars? I'm enjoying this show as much as I ever did. Some of the recent political storylines have been a bit obvious and gone on a little too long, but this most recent story arc really redeemed the direction of this season for me.

This arc had a lot of things going in it--the return of Hondo (a great character because he truly has no allegiances), the return of General Grievous (a great villain that the show never overuses), Ahsoka being in the lead--but it also had a bit of lightheartedness after what's been a pretty dour half-season.

It involves Jedi younglings, so I know most people are out right away. The first of the four episodes introduces us to a group of younglings who go to Ilum, led by Ahsoka, to enter a cave in a Jedi rite of passage. Once in the cave, they have to use aspects of their faith in the Force to find a crystal to power the lightsabers they will have to build. The episode would have been great as a one-off, but they build it through four episodes and introduce us to a wonderful character who I'm very pleased to have as part of the Star Wars universe: Huyang.

Voiced by David Tennant as a sort of cross between See Threepio and Mr. Ollivander from the Harry Potter books, he's a droid master who provides instruction for the younglings as they build their lightsabers. The great sequence where he teaches the younglings about using materials that will make them feel strong and confident in the force--for example, the Wookiee youngling Gungi builds a lightsaber made of strong wood--is very much like the wand shop scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. They show admirable restraint by not just having Huyang say "The lightsaber chooses the Jedi, younglings." But, seriously, it's a great scene, and one of a too-small number of scenes on the show of late that really feel like the Star Wars universe is a magical place. Yoda teaching the younglings to find their crystals was the same. It was nice to have a break from the political murkiness and the darkness of Darth Maul's resurrection and just enjoy some Jedi children learning about how profound the Force can be. It's like watching a child watch Star Wars for the first time. (Which is an experience I highly recommend.)

Also: Wookiee youngling. That was just cool. There was an Ithorian youngling, too, named Byph. I don't know why I love Ithorians, but damn, I sure do love Ithorians.

I wonder if Byph is the same Ithorian Jedi who fought General Grievous in Genndy Tarkovsky's Clone Wars cartoon...

*Checks Wookieepedia*

No, that guy was named Roron Corobb.

Good. Byph is still a youngling and I'm comfortable not knowing how he dies yet. Because, you know... all of these Jedi are going to die. Even my beloved Ahsoka Tano. And the show keeps toying with the fact that I know that...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Couple More Thoughts on Episode VII

I see a lot of people online talking about how the next Star Wars trilogy "needs" to be some adaptation of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy or some other Expanded Universe et cetera. Honestly, I think nothing else sounds more boring.

I don't exactly hate the Expanded Universe... I just don't give a shit. I stopped reading all of that stuff in the mid-nineties. With the exception of some of the stuff that really did try to explore other parts of the Star Wars universe (Rogue Squadron for example), it just became continuity porn about making sure every minor character half-glimpsed in the corner of a frame had had a run-in with Han Solo at some point, or assuaging people who apparently really, really, really couldn't live without knowing whether or not Walrus Man and Hammerhead had real names. I don't consider that stuff necessary, and it's wonderfully easy to ignore.

Do the films have to follow the continuity of the Expanded Universe? I know The Clone Wars hasn't been, which is apparently pissing off a lot of fans of Mandalorians. I don't know that Heir to the Empire has to be an official part of the films just because George Lucas liked the name Coruscant and used it in The Phantom Menace.

I don't know, when it comes down to it, I just don't think the Thrawn Trilogy is all that good. I know a lot of people love it, but I think a lot of that comes from their primacy; they were first, and they made everyone excited about Star Wars again around the time that everyone had moved on and let those movies be part of the past. But the story itself is only okay. And here's the thing about making those into movies now: you either have to have a Han Solo who's 70 years old, or you have to watch someone like Gerard Butler or Bradley Cooper playing Han Solo, and who the fuck honestly wants either of those things to happen? It's kind of super-irritating watching the same fanboys who complained that Harrison Ford was too old in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls clamoring to see him play Han Solo again, like they really think this is the time they're not going to complain.

The Star Wars saga is really the story of the Skywalker family. Let's just let it be the next generation. A new Jedi Order, a new Republic. Frankly, the only characters I think should really, really come back are Luke Skywalker (because it's the Skywalker family and I think Mark Hamill would be there on day 1 to play an older, wiser Jedi Master Luke), See Threepio and Artoo Detoo, and maybe Chewbacca because Wookies live so long. The first trilogy was the fall of the Republic. The second trilogy was its restoration. The third? Redemption, maybe? I think Luke redeeming the Jedi Order is what that's about; an Order redeemed of the hubris that made the fall possible in the first place, and a Republic redeemed of the political corruption that tore it apart and made the Empire possible.

It makes sense. Let's not rehash books we've already read. Let's go into an unknown future and see what's there. That's where I want to go.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

My Favorite Part of the Lucasfilm Sale

Disney paid George Lucas $4 billion for Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Of all the hypocritical fan whines possible, the last one I expected to hear was people calling George Lucas--the grand merchandiser of Star Wars--a sellout. That one was totally bizarre. Especially after all of the shit they called him because they still can't get over not being 6 when the Prequels came out. Every time I think the fanboys have given me enough reason to really despise them, they do something even dumber. I think Hank Hill said it best: "Every time I think you've said the dumbest thing ever, you keep talking." Sellout? The guy who's been making money off of Star Wars bedspreads for almost 40 years is a sell-out now?

(And not that I really accuse him of that because, let's face it, things like bedspreads are what made Star Wars an institution of our childhoods, if you're the right age. The guy's not a sell-out, he's just canny and knows how to make money. But, once again, that money's given him independence, an opportunity to stay true to his vision--even if you don't like that vision--and the ability to invest in the kind of technological research that's made Pixar and The Lord of the Rings possible. Then, as he's retiring, he makes sure to place the grand institution that is Star Wars with people who will see it carries on, which is what the same people screaming "sellout" now have been whining about since they made that idiot petition almost a decade ago to take Star Wars out of George Lucas's hands and give it to Peter Jackson instead. You're lucky you're even getting an Episode VII, because you sure as hell don't deserve one, you ingrates.)


My favorite part of this is yesterday's announcement that George Lucas would be giving the majority to charity. Most likely his educational foundation. So George Lucas has enjoyed the fruits of his labors and creativity for many years, given countless filmmakers opportunities to do work of their own, started a number of careers, made technological R&D possible in ways no one else in Hollywood was willing to do, made Star Wars as much a part of your American childhood as Disney and the Muppets, helped set Pixar on the path to revolutionizing the world of animation, notably shared a lot of the money he made off of Star Wars with the people who actually worked on the movies themselves, then finally decided he had enough money, sold his creations to people he hopes will shepherd them for generations to come, and is now giving away most of that money to education?

Yeah, guys, what a sellout.

UPDATE 2:05 PM: Two more favorites today. First, that Disney will somehow make Star Wars movies that are more mature and adult. "Remember when the Star Wars movies weren't made for 8 year olds?" one blogger asks, to which I have to answer, no, I don't remember that ever being the case. They were always family movies and you're just going to have to get over that because you're too old to be whining about this. My other favorite is the idea that a non-George Lucas Star Wars movie at Disney means that some director is going to do without so much CGI. I think it's naively cute that someone thinks this is just going to happen, especially because Disney is involved. Disney has always been an innovator of special effects, and just earlier this year made John Carter. So good luck with your cute fantasies.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Initial Thoughts on Disney Buying Lucasfilm

1. It's surprising, but also seems inevitable, given how much of an attraction Star Tours is. I think 90% of the theme park advertising I've seen in the last few years has been Darth Vader-related.

2. Damn: Mickey Mouse, Kermit the Frog, the Incredible Hulk and Artoo Detoo all live under the same roof, so to speak. It somehow seems so right.

3. How many inevitable hypocritical fanboy laments will I see? And will they all be from the same people who have wanted nothing more than to take Star Wars away from George Lucas for the past decade?

4. I'll believe this Episode 7 stuff when it actually happens. Though I'm sure Disney wants it more than anything they hope to gain from this purchase, that seems like a long shot. Unless all of this Star Wars TV show preparation has really been development for Episode 7. And I really want George Lucas to be heavily involved. I'm just not ready to see someone else start shepherding the whole thing, unless he's actually ready for that. But seriously, I'm not holding my breath on this one actually happening by 2015. Not that I wouldn't be happy to be wrong...

5. How are we doing on making another Muppet movie, anyway?

6. I like George Lucas. He's one of my heroes. Filmmaking owes him a debt. He changed the very nature, process, and technology of filmmaking. I hope he gets to do what he wants to do and can make smaller, more experimental movies and just tinker around however the hell he wants in his retirement. He's more than earned that. But seeing someone else in charge of the whole thing just makes me feel a little bit like I did when Jim Henson died. Like it's really the end of an era, of an important piece of my childhood. I don't think it's overdramatic to say that.

Still, the Muppets have done a lot of good things since 1990. I'm sure there can be good Star Wars things, too. I'll keep an open mind as a fan.

But wow, does this feel weird.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back

Well, that took me a while to get.

After reading and loving JW Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, I was excited to start the second book right away. Turns out my library somehow lost their copy of the book. I was going to get it through inter-library loan, but then they decided to completely change the card catalog program, so I was stuck waiting until that was ready. So now, finally, I was able to sit down and read this book.

I loved it just as much as the first. Again, Rinzler manages to create suspense where, based on what we know historically, none should really exist. I know that The Empire Strikes Back was made and released and was a gigantic success. But Rinzler is a talented writer and there are times in the book when I wonder, jeez, what's going to happen? Is everyone going to get out of this okay? I realized while reading it that, unlike Star Wars, I haven't really read that much in my life about the making of the second film. This one presents a definitive story. And like the film whose making it chronicles, it's both a wonderful book on its own and a nice return to a world that the author has already made us comfortable spending time in.

Some things that struck me about the production of the film:

:: George Lucas had in mind both a lava planet and a city planet, both of which would finally appear in the prequels. He also had, for some time in the story, "tall, thin, white, ethereal aliens" which seem to have become the Kaminoans of Attack of the Clones.

:: The original title Lucas had for a while was Star Wars Chapter II: The Empire Strikes Back. Again, the question remains of how big this saga was meant to be. Early on in the development of the sequel, Lucas is outlining a prologue film, three episodes, and calling Star Wars episode 5 and The Empire Strikes Back episode 6, with one other film and an epilogue to follow. By the end, after the movie's released, he's talking about 9 or 10 movies. And somewhere in the middle, he talks about the entire saga as though it were to be a continuous, ongoing series of films, with himself directing one "in about 20 years."

Sometimes I wonder if there's more we'll never see because he's tired of the way people bitch about everything he does "wrong."

:: Some of the plot elements that are left behind are kind of interesting. There's a whole development about Han Solo's stepfather being a guild master who would be the key to a massive assault if he joined the Rebel Alliance. That would've been a more interesting way to play it out for the third movie, but it kind of cuts the drama in the third act of Empire. Maybe they could have made it work; for most of the third movie, Han Solo doesn't seem to really have a story arc.

I also find it interesting that George Lucas had meant from the beginning for Leia to really love Han and for Luke to move into the more monastic life of a Jedi Knight. One of the major criticisms I hear from the internet "fans" is that the trilogy resolves a complex love triangle with the cliche of Luke and Leia being siblings, but I never felt there was an ounce of complexity in the love triangle or that one even existed. I find it interesting here that in his notes Lucas is already envisioning the possibility of a long-lost sister for Luke who is also learning about the Force. I wonder how long that's been in his back pocket. In the book, they talk about Mark Hamill's car accident and Lucas says if Mark had died he'd have found another Skywalker relative to go with instead of recasting Luke. Was that the inspiration? (Somewhat-related: I always thought it was fairly clever to have Luke get swiped in the face by the Wampa at the beginning of the film to explain why he looks so different, if that's a concern for anyone.)

There are notes, too, about Ben Kenobi and whether he'll appear as a ghost of the Force or Luke will only hear his voice. The original treatment and Leigh Brackett's first draft feature Luke's father as a Force ghost, too, so he's not Vader yet.

:: Speaking of Leigh Brackett, I thought it was pretty classy for George to give her a screen credit, even though he didn't like or use her draft. (I've read it; it's not bad, it's just not in the tone of Star Wars.)

:: And speaking of Luke's father, it was smart of George to not tell anyone about that development until they shot the scene. I was amused a bit by how he had David Prowse say different lines on the set because Prowse had rather loose lips when it came to plot leaks. (Prowse, for his part, was annoyed because he'd have played the scene differently had he known.)

:: It's interesting to see, too, how the story was more or less there right away; the drafts of Star Wars were all wildly different from one another, but The Empire Strikes Back stayed more or less constant.

:: The book does gloss over the horrible Star Wars Holiday Special. Let's have a book about the making of that awful thing. I'm just fascinated by what kind of thinking went into such a miscalculation. (Though I'm sure it was mostly along the lines of "Need money to finish movie.")

:: I was fascinated by the discussion of the growth of Lucasfilm as a corporate entity because the business aspect of filmmaking is always kind of fascinating to me, but I thought it was sad watching the close-knit community atmosphere of this group of people slowly and inevitably turn into a corporate culture. One of the necessary evils of achieving filmmaking independence, I suppose.

:: Boy, George Lucas really put himself on the line with this one. How many filmmakers do you ever see who have such a belief in their vision that they put themselves on the hook for literally millions and millions of dollars? In the late 70s, sequels never did as well as their original counterparts--and Empire didn't; it was phenomenally successful, but still didn't equal the success of Star Wars--and if the movie had failed, he'd probably still be paying back the money he borrowed. He would have been financially ruined. Big risk, but what a reward.

His success allowed him to talk at the time about wanting to change the nature of the filmmaking process itself--he points out rightly that film photography is a 19th century technology and that he'd like to update it and make it more accessible. He was talking in 1980 about doing things that have only become possible in the last 15 or so years. That's a big part of the reason why these films are so important in the history of entertainment; they changed the way films are physically made. You can draw a line from Industrial Light & Magic to kids who can make and edit movies with a laptop, an internet connection, and a Flip camera.

:: The biggest triumph of The Empire Strikes Back is Yoda, and I was especially interested to see how that developed. I didn't realized they'd saved his scenes for the end, mainly because they couldn't figure out how to make him work for so long. (There are some amusing pictures of a monkey wearing a mask in the book, one of many failed attempts to find a way to realize Yoda.)

I also find it interesting that they tried to get Frank Oz an Oscar nomination. There was some talk from the time of whether or not Darth Vader or See Threepio could be nominated as actors. They don't mention it here, but I remember reading once where James Earl Jones had asked to be uncredited on Star Wars because of similar talk about who should have been nominated for playing Regan in The Exorcist.

:: I was so young in the interim between Empire and Return of the Jedi that I had forgotten that there was a debate over whether or not Darth Vader was lying when he claimed to be Luke's father.

:: For me, the heroes of the film's production are really Irvin Kershner and Mark Hamill.

Kershner comes across in a really fascinating way. I know he could be slow-paced (he needed a stronger producer than Gary Kurtz, I think), but his sort of holistic approach to filmmaking is utterly fascinating to me. The way he keeps talking about zen, for example, or the way he kept trying to direct Yoda as a person instead of directing Frank Oz... I just found it all really interesting. I think he's one of the major reasons that the film is so believable; he led that from the set. There's also a long sequence in the book where he, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams discuss the scene where Han and Leia say goodbye. It's transcribed from a behind-the-scenes recording, and it's completely fascinating. You can see the frayed nerves and bruised egos and frazzled tension that come with being on a project of this magnitude for so long, but the insight into the creative process and the amount of thought being given to each scene and each line are powerful to read.

Mark Hamill, for his part, was the real workhorse of the cast. No one worked as much or as long as he did, sometimes through injuries and sickness and his wife giving birth while they were shooting. The blizzard conditions in Norway alone would have tired me right out, but he really kept going, sometimes putting his life in danger on those sets. I always loved the guy, but I really have a new respect for him as a professional after reading this book.

Just as I felt after reading the first, I feel like the least I can do is watch the movie today. They went to a lot of effort for a film that I've enjoyed as often as possible ever since.

Man, I can't wait for the next book to come out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I Hate Being a Star Wars Fan on the Internet


ME: I always thought Boba Fett was pretty overrated.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Making of Star Wars

Five years later, I finally got around to reading JW Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film.

These are the kinds of books I always liked to get lost in when I was in high school. I couldn't carry them around at school to read between classes because they were big coffee table books, so I'd sit and read them at home for hours, usually sitting on my bedroom floor with the book propped up, eating a peanut butter sandwich and dreaming about one day being a special effects technician or a puppeteer. Since high school was awful for me, a surprising amount of my best memories of the period were of getting lost in Jim Henson: The Works or George Lucas: The Creative Impulse or especially Thomas G. Smith's Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects, which I must have read four or five times.

The Making of Star Wars is the first book I've read about George Lucas and his film in many, many years. As I've documented here, I've had a troubled relationship with Star Wars over the years, in large part because of my difficult and frankly terrible experiences with internet fandom. It's been nice in the past few years to reconnect with the giant that dominated my childhood, bringing in memories of my attempts to make stop motion films with my Return of the Jedi action figures or playing Star Wars out in the woods with my friends--we used sticks for guns and lightsabers and pretend our bikes were Imperial Speeder Bikes, like a thousand other kids in the suburbs.

The book itself is fantastic. It really is the definitive story of the film, from conception to premiere and pop culture phenomenon, without presenting the film's eventual success as a fait accompli, or becoming self-important about fan mythology. It offers some different perspectives because the author is able to go through the Lucasfilm archives and pull out old progress reports, memos, interviews and George Lucas's notes. Like I said, I've read a lot about the making of Star Wars in my life, but here are some things that struck me while I was reading it:

:: There's been a lot of debate over the years as to whether there is any political allegory in Star Wars. It's interesting to look at Lucas's handwritten notes now and see that the Vietnam War shades were there from the very beginning; he compares the Rebellion explicitly to North Vietnam, characterizes an early character's journey as "like a Green Beret who realizes wrong of Empire," and says that "the Empire is like America ten years from now" with a corrupt, corporate-backed leadership and people on the brink of either accepting fascism or fighting an armed revolution. So... yes, there's a political allegory in Star Wars.

:: Famously, nearly every studio passed on the film and Fox was able to lock down George Lucas before American Graffiti was released and became one of the most successful films of all time up to that point. What I never thought about was that Fox had less fear about a science fiction movie because they were still making Planet of the Apes movies and making money off of them. They saw science fiction as profitable.

:: I'd heard many times about Lucas being influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell and Bruno Bettelheim, but I didn't realize Carlos Castaneda was an influence. It makes sense, of course, but it just made me idly wonder how Castaneda is regarded now. I remember when I worked at Barnes & Noble in Oakbrook Terrace and we did a pretty brisk business in his books, but I haven't heard his name for years.

:: Very interesting to see George Lucas already talking about sequels in late 1975, including the promise that we'll learn who Darth Vader is at the end of the second movie (a movie he also says will focus on Princess Leia's feelings for the "Clark Gable-like" Han Solo). I wonder if Lucas had in mind what he eventually revealed. He also mentions that "someday I want to do the backstory of Kenobi as a young man--a story of the Jedi and how the Emperor eventually takes over," a story he describes in 1975 as "impossible to do, but fun to think about."

:: I actually did not know that Rick Baker and Ron Cobb worked on Star Wars. How did I not know that?

:: Nice to see Alec Guinness was at one point enthusiastic about the film. (Also, as an aside, I don't like how many people we see in the book who have to qualify their enjoyment of the film with lines like "Well, the dialogue is childish" and "It's not that sophisticated." These are quotes from 1977. I don't always cotton to those kinds of comments, because they scream "I'm afraid of being judged because I liked something that was on a level children could enjoy.")

:: I knew Luke Starkiller became Luke Skywalker, but I had never before heard George Lucas's explanation that he came to feel the name "Starkiller" had "Manson Family connotations." Yikes!

:: There's a lot of wonderful technical and technological information in this film which makes me excited... Man, if I'd been born 10 years earlier and could have gotten into physical special effects... It's always exciting to me, too, to hear stories about how things had to be compromised because of physical, financial, or time constraints. I think there's a lot of true creativity that asserts itself by accident. One of my favorite instances in the making of Star Wars is the switch to bluescreen. Lucas had originally wanted to do the backgrounds as front projection, which always looks hokey as hell to me. Bluescreen is so much better and creates a much better illusion.

:: It's very interesting seeing in the progress reports and interviews with his producers, lawyers, etc. what Lucas's approach to the look of the film was. Executives at Fox were very upset about Lucas spending so much money on sets and not lingering over them, but that was intentional. He wanted the film to feel like a documentary, with dirty sets, unclean costumes, and beat up equipment. The idea--and I honestly had never even thought about how much this adds to the film--was that it would look more real and less like a movie, as though you were observing real life somewhere, and obviously that's a big part of what made the film and the experience of seeing it what it is. Star Wars, more than any science fiction film (particularly of its time) looks like a real place. That's what the location shooting in Tunisia was all about--grit and realism. I just never consciously realized it before, but that's an essential component of what makes the movie work on a believable level. It impresses me all the more.

:: The fan myth (or, I guess, anti-fan myth) that Brian DePalma was "brave enough" to "tell George Lucas to his face that his movie was shit" is put in a more realistic perspective here, with Steven Spielberg describing DePalma as caustic and occasionally over-the-top, and Lucas dismissing it as brutal honesty about the film's structure and whether the audience knew what was going on instead of the confrontation it's been characterized as. I didn't know DePalma helped write the opening narrative text.

:: One of the sections at the end of the book is a series of quotes pulled from interviews George Lucas gave in 1977 about expanding the universe of the film through books and comics and other ancillaries. He was coming up with ideas and explanations for things writers might explore, and in doing so he approaches ideas that later became canon, including that C-3P0 was rebuilt by a young boy working for a junk dealer, and that Vader led the way in killing the Jedi in order to consolidate the Emperor's power. He also explains the Force as "a perception of the reality that exists around us" that, when understood, can be used as extrasensory powers. He even mentions the dreaded m-word: "It is said that certain creatures are born with a higher awareness of the Force than humans. Their brains are different; they have more midi-chlorians in their cells."

:: I hadn't realized just how badly 20th Century Fox jerked George Lucas around on preproduction time, principal photography time, money for special effects, and even Lucas's contract itself. I've read many times that George Lucas financed preproduction and the development of Industrial Light & Magic with some of his own money, I just never realized the extent of that was so extreme. Given the story of what he goes through here, I'm amazed he didn't just collapse at the end of it.

That last part is kind of sad, I think, in light of his recent announcement that he's going to retire and just focus on making the kinds of small, experimental films he made in college. And that all comes down to how appalled I am by the way internet fandom strengthens fan entitlement and turns it into one demanding voice. It made me a bit sad to see Lucas say just a couple of weeks ago: "Why would I want to make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?" Reading once again about what he put himself through at every stage of production just to get this movie made and released--a movie he remained humble about and said over and over again that he was profoundly disappointed in--just makes fan entitlement seem more than ever like ingratitude. I do get tired of the people who want Star Wars to be what they demand and not what its author intends. These people haven't risked financial and professional ruin, even seen their health deteriorate, simply to tell the story they want to tell. George Lucas did, and for that he's rewarded with constant gripes about Gungans and midichlorians. (And billions of dollars, of course.) He went through hell and when he came out through the other side, he ended up changing the way films are made--and I mean technologically, not thematically. The physical process of filmmaking was altered forever.

George Lucas owes me nothing, Han shooting first or not. Would it be nice if I had a choice of which version I wanted to watch on DVD? Sure. But I'm not owed that. I, however, kind of feel like I should watch Star Wars again today. After what George put himself through, it feels like the least I can do.

:: Also, I like how Lucas spread the profits around, giving percentage points or pieces of points to a lot of the key people who worked on the movie. He says in the book that the people who worked so hard on Star Wars deserved to share in its financial success. Classy guy.

:: In the end, I really like Rinzler's assertion that Star Wars was the culmination of a trilogy about George Lucas's youth and his realization of his place in the world, starting with THX 1138 (which I've still never seen), continuing through American Graffiti, and completing its theme in Star Wars. I think that explains a lot about why Star Wars feels so much like a film unto itself and less like part of a series.

What a terrific book. It's really strengthened my appreciation for Star Wars and put certain aspects into a perspective I didn't really have before. Now I have to go to the library and get his book The Making of The Empire Strikes Back. Oh, and I see he's got a book about the Indiana Jones movies to tide me over until the book about Jedi comes out next year.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I Think This Card Series Went On a Little Too Long

The original Star Wars trading card series went through five sets (with blue, red, yellow, green and orange borders) and 330 cards. And while I'm all for movie marketing and used to love trading cards, I think this series really went on long past the point of quality control.

I was looking at scans of the series the other day and noticed that by the time the green series came in, the makers were getting a little desperate to keep stretching this thing out. For example, look at these two cards:

Okay, this sort of makes sense, although I find it jarring that the two cards are in reverse order. They've taken the two furthest sides of the same frame, but they've put the right side as card number 248 and the left side as card 249.

Now here's card 250:

So, that's three cards in a row, and one image, just in different proportions. So... I don't know, it just feels like someone is getting really tired of making these things and just doesn't care about his work anymore. Someone's phoning it in.

Here are the next two cards:

I'm just kind of amazed there's not another card with the Luke and Leia half of the still image.

Then, a few cards later, we get a close-up and, immediately after, a mid-shot of the exact same frame of film:

There's Luke, fighting impossible odds and challenging the evil Empire all at once! (Depending on your proximity to Luke, I guess.)

These are all within 10 cards of each other.

I mean, I know it doesn't matter or anything, but it just makes me laugh. All I hear is Lisa Simpson asking "Do you remember when you lost your passion for this work?" I'm sure making these gets tedious, but wow. Just 70 cards left to go, man.