Much Geekness: Star Wars; Alas poor Ahsoka, I knew you well.

For those of you who enjoyed Star Wars IV-VI (the original trilogy: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi)  and now VII (The Force Awakens, which rocked, so totally), there is a lot more to the SW universe.

For decades there have been the Star Wars novels covering just about every character seen and every era mentioned in the Star Wars Universe. I confess I have not read them. The Force Awakens definitively showed the novels to be in their own continuity. However, they have a great fan-following, despite being their own cannon.

Now for the most part I am a Star Trek fan (and Babylon 5), but I see no point of dissing one franchise for the other. They are both thoroughly enjoyable with their ups (ST VI: The Undiscovered Country and Empire Strikes Back) and their downs (Star Trek V and Revenge of the Sith). In fact, to compare them is rather like apples and oranges because while both take place in Science Fiction universes, in their stories, Star Trek is more Science Fiction, while Star Wars is more Fantasy.

Think about it, the lowly hero who is “the chosen one” who goes on a journey to find himself and his power, magical power (The Force, mitichlorians be dammed), a weapon of power handed down from father to son (and possibly to granddaughter). Even Joseph Campbell, the scholar who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth (an account of his interview with Bill Moyer) pegged Star Wars for what it was: A Hero’s Journey straight out of our classic legends. (And indeed, it came out that Lucas had read Hero with a Thousand Faces, which had in influence on his scripts.) It’s Epic Fantasy set in a SciFi universe. And there is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, the fact that Star Wars is Epic Fantasy in the mode of a classic legend was probably the secret of its wildly unexpected success. When the first film came out, 1977, it splashed down into a pop culture landscape that had a lot of moral ambiguity and disillusionment. In 1977 the movies were either distracting fluff like Smoky and the Bandit or depressing like A Bridge Too Far. (Annie Hall being the obvious artistic stand out of that year.) And SciFi had almost faded into obscurity. The only competition Lucas faced was from his friend Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was a straight up SciFi film.

Now we think of The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad & Odyssey, Beowulf and the Arthurian Legends as these ancient epics that belong in the realm of scholarly study. But we forget these were the pop culture of their time. These were the stories the working people listened to in taverns and at hearths and in temples and courts, etc. These were cultural ties that connected people.

Star Wars did that for the modern generation because it filled the need of the epic hero’s journey that modern society lacked. The Lord of the Rings film series did that again, reaching across the genre boundaries to touch billions of people with Tolkien’s take on that archetypal tale that is practically the basis of the human conception of ourselves and human universe/worldview.

Anyway, rambling aside.

The Star Wars prequels sucked. We can all agree on that. It really came down to one huge failing (Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting aside, which I blame in direction because how else do you make Natalie Portman wooden?): Anakin was unlikable. He was arrogant, whiny, snotty, and a mass murder (When he said “I killed them all!” why Padme did not back out of that room slowly and jump on the nearest land speeder out of there, I have no idea.)  When you have a character that is going to have a major fall as the audience knew Anakin must, you have to get the audience invested in that character, get them to care about him and grieve when he falls. Lucas did not do that. He had two films to get the audience to like him and Anakin remained an arrogant bratty adolescent that if the audience gave a damn about at all, it was because they wanted to push him into that lava pit themselves.

(Seriously, if I were Obi Wan I heard Anakin going off on one of his “He’s holding me back!” rants, I would have said. “Tell you what kid. I will take the advice of the Jedi Counsel to stop training you, and dump your sorry ass back on Tattooine in slavery were we found you. Then you can think about how you are being “held back.”)

What corrected that grave error in writing and casting in the films was not seen by the majority of the people who saw the films: The Clone Wars TV series. Taking place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, in the six years it was on it showed Anakin as a likeable character! His arrogance is tamed to cockiness and a usually charming, and successful, disregard for the rules. His anger to tamed into a passionate protectiveness for the people in his life (and some jealously over any male that gets near Padme despite possessiveness being a major Jedi no-no). And he has a sense of humor. A real one! The series does hint and sometimes show the darker aspects of his character, that passion becoming rage, the jealously becoming paranoia, the cockiness to the arrogance that would become a single minded belief that what is “right” in his eyes (manipulated by Palpatine, who can be seen gently sinking his hooks into Anakin throughout the series) is worth any cost. And very occasionally they show that, when pushed, he can be a cold blooded killer. From time to time, they do hint heavily at the transformation coming. But for the most part, he is shown as a whole, real person and you actually get to know, like and care about the guy.

(Big Bonus: No whining.)

So much so that going back and watching Revenge of the Sith after watching the show, the film has a much greater emotional impact.

Part of that journey into likability is that Anakin took on a Padwan of his own: Ahoska Tano.

Ahsoka is just a kid when she signed on as his Padawan. As such she comes to idolize her master under what appears outward to be an almost fraternal relationship rather than that of master-and-student. In sharing rebelliousness and cocky natures, he frequently makes big-brother jabs at her while she frequently takes little-sisterly jabs at him. But the fact is she would follow him into hell. Their relationship is a large part of what humanizes Anakin, but Ahsoka quickly became an extremely popular character in her own right.

And let’s face, the SW Universe was short a few kick-ass women.

She also received a warning about Anakin’s nature and the effect staying with him could have on her life. At that moment, she brushed it aside. But Ahsoka’s time with the Jedi was cut short when she was suspected of being part of a terrorist attack. Anakin defended her constantly while she went on the run to find the real terrorist, another Jedi Padawan who had become disillusioned with the Order and realized that they were the cause of the war, that they was being misled (by Palpatine, though she did not know it) to the Dark Side.

But despite vindication, when the Jedi Counsel, a group Ahsoka had put her trust in since she was a toddler, doubted her, she began to have doubts in herself, of where her life was going. She left the Order and Anakin in what is one of the most heartbreaking series/season finales.

(Big props to the music here)

As someone pointed out, the “I know” says a lot about how far their relationship had come. That she knew how torn he was, and why, and had kept his secret. Far from master and student, they had become two people who knew and trusted each other implicitly.

(And without a hint of romantic tension. Because y’know, that can happen.)

Clone Wars continued for one more season after her departure, but it was never the same. Ahsoka was a vital spark in that show and it simply couldn’t float without her. Her abrupt departure and lack of information about her in the subsequent series/season and Revenge of the Sith (she was not shown among the Jedi killed under Order 66) and other media (I think she appeared in a video game) resulted in fans yelling “WHAT HAPPENED TO AHSOKA TANO!?!” every time a new Star Wars anything was announced.

The current TV series, Star Wars Rebels (which takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), at last brought Ahsoka back as one of a leaders of rebels against the growing Empire. Not a Jedi, but perhaps with something the Jedi had lost.

And what was great is they got the same voice actors for Ahsoka and the rare instances where it was needed, Anakin.

And we learn is that her leaving may have had a more devastating effect on Anakin than we realized.

Ahsoka showed up in the series first, but when Darth Vader (then an unknown figure working for the Emperor) shows up at the end of series/season one, the fans were waiting for one thing: The show down.

And we got it at the end of series/season two. The thing is, knowing that we do not see Ahsoka in A New Hope or any of the subsequent films, I knew that she was not walking away from this. She is the final string to Anakin’s humanity that Vader has to cut (much like Kylo Ren thought killing his father would). But the battle itself, both physical and emotional, was what everyone had waiting for, for four years.

And it did not disappoint.

(And yes, that is James Earl Jones as the Vader, but it’s Matt Latner’s Anakin’s coming through  that kills you. If you spent hours binge watching Clone Wars, that is.)

And did anyone else catch that during the fight there were seconds of Vader’s lightsaber going green?

The writer/director did leave a slight ambiguity for those fans who need to believe she goes on. But if this is the end for Ahsoka Tano, and I think it was as it should be both artistically and in terms of continuity, it was perfectly done with light touches used to the greatest effect. (For example, it was Anakin’s voice very end saying, “Then you will die.” Not Vader’s. *heartbreak*)  A beautiful, if tragic, end not only to Ahsoka’s arc of becoming something more than a Jedi, but also Anakin’s arc into Vader.

Deadpool: The Film

What it got right: Everything

What it got wrong: Nothing to almost nothing.

First of all: Best opening credits EVAR! (Especially appreciated the nod to the writers, without whom Deadpool would not exist, let alone have a film.)

Granted, Wade isn’t as batshit crazy in the film as he is in the comics, but I think introducing him as he is in the comics would have alienated the uninformed audience so I’m cool with toning that aspect of the character down a bit. And he is off the wall enough to be an entertaining, if gorily violent, loon. He also (Spoiler Alert: though if you have not seen it by now, you are either not interested or really? What the hell not?) gets a happy ending (a phrase which the character would make no end of double entendres with), which the comic book character, despite his many flirtations and actual love interests, does not.

The breaks in the fourth wall and meta commentary are well delivered and just enough to be entertaining without overdoing it or feeling kitschy.

They greatly altered Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s powers and gave her a personality, but as the character was just a walk-on (or in that case, a carry-on) in the Genoshan massacre…

Neasonic teeage warhead

…and then showed up as a psychic projection of Emma Frost’s survivor’s guilt, with very undefined psychic abilities, in Joss Whedon’s run of Astonishing X-Men (which is also made of awesome, really brought the x-men back, in Whedon’s own way, to the Claremont era)….

Negasomic v Kitty

…they had a lot of leeway with a character that even the comic book readers had almost no attachment too. Most consider the movie version to be an improvement. Her powers are at least in keeping with her “code name” (which is taken from the name of a song by Monster Magnet).

 

But the story of the film is engaging, the action is imaginative and, of course, the characters are great. A+ all around.

And speaking of imaginative action, this is something that has been, or was when I stopped collecting, missing from superhero comics for a long time. It used to be that writers found interesting ways for the superheros to use their powers or use teamwork to combine their powers to great effect. Then in the 2000’s, the current crop of writers had no imagination and just started giving the characters new powers (“secondary mutations”), some of them completely unrelated to their initial ones. Emma Frost’s diamond form being the most glaring (no pun intended) example. In the films (X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Avengers I and now Deadpool, well, once), you get to see what imaginative writers can do using existing powers in imaginative ways as a team rather than just having the heroes pounding away at the villains one on one.

(Again, another double entendre Deadpool would not let go of for hours.)

If I was to nitpick at one thing, it would be how Colossus was portrayed. Colossus, who is a pure-hearted hero, an honest to the Gods nice guy, is much, *much* more sanctimonious in the film than he is in the comic book. Nor is the comic book Piotr nearly that pushy. He’s pretty humble and leaves most of the speech making to Professor X or Cyclops.

Colossus joke

Also, he is one of the top four physically strongest characters in the Marvel Universe, barring cosmic beings like Thanos. (The Hulk, Thor and the Thing are the other three.) He should not have had his ass kicked like a punk.

Still, It’s an awesome movie and I’m going to see it again. And I almost never do that.

It’s going to be very interesting how they get Cable into Deadpool’s world in the next film. Cable is a character that is…well, his backstory is more confusing than trying to follow the Habsburg family tree. Cable’s no-nonsense attitude and Deadpool’s, well, being Deadpool, make for a very interesting, and one of Marvel’s favorite Odd Couples.

P.S. Also loved the quick nod to Bob: Agent of Hydra.

Into the Storm (Spoilers)

(First of all, sorry for the spelling error in the title of last night’s post.)

I did not get to go with anyone from work, but I understand the physics of the tornado themselves were realistic.

Though one wonders why an airport did not clear out its traffic in advance of a major system like that.

As for the film itself?

Well…erm.

Even taking into account that it was just a popcorn, special-effects showcase, disaster flick…erm.

Seriously, I was re-writing that film as I was watching it. “Set the entire thing in real time. Because of the briefness of the event, you can do that. Ditch offensive stereotype rednecks. If they contribute nothing to the plot, get rid of them. Ditch whiny camera guy who had no redeeming qualities for the audience to get attached to. (And why would someone hire a cameraman who had no experience in dealing with dangerous events?) Because the audience did not get attached, they did not care when he unnecessarily-horrifically died. Having someone in the main cast suddenly killed by just flying debris (notice no one was? Even though that is what kills most people in a tornado) would have not only been more realistic, the suddenness of it would have had more impact. Like a Saving Private Ryan moment where you are following this guy and then *bang* it’s over. That fast.

Honestly, for drama’s sake, I would have killed Richard Armitage’s character right after he saved his son, when the audience assumed that family was safe. That would have been a shock moment that would resonate through the audience and rest of the characters.

If not him, then either develop and then kill the assistant-dude who only had two lines or kill the African American cameraman who was developed and fun to watch. Anyone the audience would care about. Do not simply leave African-American guy, probably the most interesting one on the entire tornado-chasing team, behind for no reason. The whole argument in the church? Cut it, unnecessary time waster. And badly written, so badly written. A somber mood and accusing and guilty looks would have probably been even more powerful. It’s show, not tell people!”

The whole film, I was doing that.

Also, noticing continuity errors.

I will give it credit for having an exciting and somewhat more realistic end than Twister. Also I did not expect the main tornado chasing guy to come back to save everyone. That was well-played. But The Matrix: Revolutions moment of the tank flying all the way up past the cloud layer was stupid.

Also the “Chekov’s pocket knife” and the father-son interaction over it was nicely done.

I Know That Voice

I Know That Voice is a documentary on voice acting that is currently on Netflix streaming. I watch a lot of animation, but this was still had a lot of surprises for me. It’s a truly under-appreciated art form. It is not just about the voice, but inhabiting the character just as any good actor does. As they point out, it’s not just being able to do the voice, but to do that voice in any situation. In short, to be the character as if one was in a TV show or a film.

Another interesting point made is that in every other form of acting, an actor is limited by their physicality. For instance, Richard Armitage is a very good actor, but he would make a horrible looking woman. No one would buy him as a dwarf or an Asian guy on film either.  But with voice acting, he can be/play anything he wants. There is an entire group of extremely talented individuals, of all genders and ethnicities, who are freed from their physicality to play anything, absolutely anything, and they do.

And actors that you know on the screen make a good living at it too. I knew about Mark Hamill playing the Joker, but I never put together that this guy:

ClanceyBrown

Is the same Clancey Brown as this guy:

And is so iconic as Lex Luthor, fans complain if Luthor is in a show and Brown doesn’t play him. Same for Kevin Conroy’s Batman, George Newbern’s Superman and Mark Hamill’s Joker. Hamill has retired, but the actors who succeeded him base their performance on his. (And Conroy’s Post 9/11 story is really sweet.)

The segments about voice direction, the physical issues of what they do and the camaraderie of the community are really cool too.

Anyway, I highly recommend I Know That Voice.

If you don’t have Netflix (and maybe it’s on Amazon as well) then there is this:

Come for C3-Takei, stay for Darth Bubbles.

GoG was Fantastic! (Spoilers)

I finally got to see this last night and I loved it! The thing about Marvel movies is they do what it says on the tin (I love that phrase): These are popcorn-action flicks meant only to entertain, but they don’t do it half-assed. The characters are fully formed, fun and engaging. The plot is satisfyingly complex and satisfying. The action is first rate and my personal favorite: The dialog is thoroughly enjoyable in balancing wit with that Joss Whedon-esque technique of “Regular folks saying regular things in the face of extraordinary, grandiose or melodramatic circumstances.”

““He says he’s an A-hole, but — and I’m quoting him here — he’s ‘not 100 percent a dick.’”

It’s lines and characters like that, or when Quill promptly ruins an act of selfless heroism by milking it to make a pass, that are not only funny, they help keep the audience grounded in outrageous circumstances. That is a real skill, in both writers and actors.

I was also very pleased they kept the “half-alien” aspect of Peter Quill, it served as a nice “Chekov’s Genetics.” Actually, I liked how Quill’s whole character was just one dorky step away from being the pulp-fiction heroic archetype.

The only tiny flaws I found were the “coming together as a team” moment kind of came out of nowhere given the characters’ relationships up until that point. And Ronin, who was an odd choice to warp into a genocidal madman, was rather dull. Against Marvel villains like Loki, Obediah Stane and Alexander Pierce, Ronin only rises slightly above the faceless Chitauri. Slightly.

But Nebula was great, ruthless and self-serving (with some reason) and I’m glad she escaped to scheme and hate another day.

And those minor flaws did not detract from my enjoyment. I will go see this again, and it will be added to my DVD collection.

Also: “Distraction by dork.”

😀

F-ing brilliant.

Also, also: Dancing baby Groot!

Note: Everything You Need to Know about Guardians of the Galaxy (in the comic books)

X-Men: Days of Future Past

So I finally saw this yesterday evening with some friends, and I was very pleased. The story was satifyingly complex. The character work by Fassbender, MacAvoy and Lawernce was fantastic. The action was great. Quicksilver stole the show! (The Avengers film is going to have a very hard time topping that.)  Lots of great fanservice and nods to the comic. Yes, it differed from the story, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The one thing I could not get over was that Kitty Pryde’s power has nothing to do with what she was doing in this film. Kitty “phases” through solid matter by making her atoms (and the atoms of the person she is in physical contact with) pass through the spaces between the atoms of the object she is phasing through. Her power is neither telepathic or temporal. She can’t send someone’s conciousness back in time. There needed to be some technobabble to explain that or set up another ways for this to happen. Also Charles’ serum affecting his telepathy. “Affects my genes” doesn’t make any sense. “Affects my nervous system and therefore my brain” would have worked much better and also made sense in terms of how quickly the effects wore off.

The Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past story was published in 1981. Written by Chris Claremont, who is still considered *the* seminal writer of the X-Men, and drawn by John Byrne and inked by Terry Austin.

(Even some comic book readers do not realize how vital inkers are to what they see on the page. The writer writes the story similar to a screenplay script with some, often vague, stage directions. The penciler/artist choreographs the action, creates the layout and draws in the lines for the figures and usually a vague background. The inker is the artist who gives those lines depth, light, shadow, the appearance of three dimensions. He often creates background detail as well. The writer then goes back in to tweak the dialog or narration to fit what the penciler & inker have put on the page. Then it goes to the colorist and letterer, who do not have quite as much prestige.)

The X-Men were created in 1964 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but it didn’t catch on for quite some time. After a brief run of a couple years, the title was cancelled. There were attempts to resurrect the series, both in a new run (notably Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, who was breaking ground in comic book art at the time) and reprints. But it wasn’t until Chris Clarmeont came along that the X-Men finally found their voice. Claremont, working with penciler Dave Cockrum, picked up the title and restructured the team with new faces like Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee and some little obnoxious dude named “Wolverine.” (Yes, Logan had a single appearance before in The Hulk, but you get what I am saying.) Claremont/Byrne/Austin is the team that catapulted The Uncanny X-Men into one of Marvel’s top selling titles and created some of the most iconic storylines that the comic utilizes and references back to even today.

Days of Future Past was one of them. In the original story, in the distopian future in which the sentinels have taken over, Rachel Summers (daughter of Jean Grey and Scott Summers) utilizes her telepathy with Kitty Pryde’s phasing abilities to send Kitty’s mind back into her younger body in order to stop Mystique from assisinating Senator Kelly whom was introducing the first piece of anti-mutant legislation.

So as you can see they kept the essential premise. However, the changes they did make were big ones. Most of them worked well, but losing Kitty as the focus to the we’re-burnt-out-on-this-guy-please-move-on Wolverine was disappointing. I understand the logistical need because of the timeframes, but it was still disappointing. Storm was horribly miscast so I am glad her role has always been small, but she led the X-Men after Scott left. Emma Frost was criminaly misused in First Class. The Wasp was a founding member of the Avengers, but she was dumped in favor of the sexpot Black Widow who has not even gotten her own film despite the male characters around her getting at least two each. Comic Book films need to bring forward and develop more of the strong female characters that grace their pages.