Podcast Episode 26: Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine
Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Nick Montgomery.
Showcasing the fiction of K.W. Ramsey.
I present a slightly different, but no less entertaining, format for this episode of the podcast. We begin with a reading of K.W. Ramsey’s subversive piece of short fiction, The Marines of Space and the Gamma Rabbit. Head over to K.W.’s blog to read the story in all its glory, as well as his many other reviews and musings.
Following that, I’ve got a chat with Nick Montgomery, who is one half of the Limited ReleasePodcast. Nick and I recorded this conversation a few weeks ago, back when J.J. Abrams was only rumoured to be directing Star Wars Episode 7. Naturally, our conversation focuses on how we think J.J. might do at the helm of Star Wars. We also spend a few minutes speculating on some other directors we would have liked to have seen get the job.
On the off chance you’ve been living under a rock on some distant extra-solar planet without access to television or the internet, you may not have heard that Disney bought Lucasfilm. The house of mouse secured Lucas’ brainchild for 4.05 billion dollars. The price is quite a steal considering Disney paid 7.4 billion for Pixar and 4.2 billion for Marvel. Disney’s acquisition includes LucasArts, Industrial Light and Magic, and Lucas Sound, making the deal seem all the more like a fire sale on George Lucas’ life. And as if all that wasn’t enough to get the internet buzzing, Disney paired announcing the sale with news of a new Star Wars film to release in 2015: Details remain unreleased.
Apropos of Obi-Wan, millions of voices cried out in terror…and nerd rage. Scenes with Jar-Jar as a speaking character and Leia reduced to “Disney princess” status raced through people’s minds as Randy Newman played some tedious up-tempo song in the background.
People pleaded with the internet gods, “Please, no more. Why can’t they leave it alone? Nothing good will come from this? They’re going to do more crap from the expanded universe.”
Life rarely mirrors rage comics, but this announcement ushered in one of those infrequent moments of similarity.
You seem upset...
Now that the dust has settled, and fury morphed to quiet discontent I feel it is my duty to say the following. Good people of the internet, I feel your frustration but it’s time to calm the hell down.
Yes, not many among us liked the new trilogy. There was too much green screen, questionable writing, and no real depth to any of the characters. Would that George Lucas’ story telling abilities matched his technical acumen, I too would lament his departure from the Star Wars universe.
However let us explore the idea that some of the best Star Wars stuff has little to do with George Lucas, other than via his role as the progenitor of a mythic cycle, and scant direct tie-in to the canonical movies. In fact, I would go so far as to say that since Return of the Jedi the popularity of Star Wars, as a contemporary mythology, is so far removed from film that even if the next trilogy proves as bad as the last, it wouldn’t really hurt the brand or the reason it is so beloved by its fans.
To illustrate this point I offer five first rate aspects of the expanded universe which would not have been possible if Lucasfilm/LucasArts had left Star Wars alone.
The Heir to the Empire Trilogy
Timothy Zahn published the first of these post-Jedi continuity novels in 1991. In doing so he rekindled interest in Star Wars after many years of creative drought. The first book, Heir to the Empire landed on the New York Times best seller list. It would later go on to be adapted into a graphic novel by Dark Horse Comics. In addition to giving Coruscant its name, Zahn also gave Star Wars one of its most enigmatic villains in the form of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Though Zahn’s novels may show their age, they did bring a new generation of fans into the zealous fold when they hungered for more in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.
Published by LucasArts but developed by the now defunct Totally Games, Tie Fighter is a name spoken with awed reverence among gamers. Though not the first game to put players in the cockpit of a star fighter, Tie Fighter set multiple benchmarks for space combat simulation. In terms of sound, graphics, and mission complexity, it was leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor X-Wing. TF also managed to change the news cycle of the Star Wars universe. For the first time the rebels were cast not as heroes but violent insurgents bent on disrupting the life of innocent imperial citizens. In shifting perspectives, players saw a more pragmatic and practical side to the empire and less of an evil oppressor.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2
The name might be a mouthful but Dark Forces 2 offered the first ever post-Jedi live action glimpse of life in the Star Wars universe. Like so many games of the late 90s, Dark Forces 2 bookended each level with a full motion video cut scene. As a precursor to Bioshock, a player’s decisions in-game dictated clear consequences for lead character Kyle Katarn, a former imperial officer turned smuggler turned Jedi. But more important than that, DF2 gave Star Wars fans what they really wanted: an opportunity to cut down storm troopers with a light saber in a first person shooter.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Because the only thing better than Dungeons and Dragons is a Star Wars RPG governed by D20 rules. KOTOR, and its sequel KOTOR 2, wound back the clock on the decadent, and possibly illiterate, civilization that is the Star Wars universe. Set thousands of years before the Battle of Yavin, KOTOR set the galaxy on fire with a war between the Republic and the Sith empire. As with any good RPG, decisions on the part of the player created multiple paths to stopping the Sith lord Darth Malak. Although far removed from the source material, KOTOR was widely praised by critics and earned multiple awards including the first ever BAFTA Games Award for best X-Box game of the year.
The Clone Wars
Perhaps the most controversial of the expanded universe settings, The Clone Wars follows the exploits of Anakin Skywalker and company during the “fade to black” conflict that occurs during Episode 2 and 3. While the story telling can fall flat with respect to certain characters whose fates are known, the series is at its best when chronicling the war stories of the clone troopers. Indeed, if this series proves anything, it’s that even the worst executed ideas (Star Wars Ep. 2) can lead to better things when fresh eyes get to work within a well established mythology.
So while Disney may own LucasArts/Films, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Star Wars is going to get neutered like so many scruffy looking Nerf Herders. Disney owns Marvel, yet Tony Stark is still an egomaniacal booze swilling playboy. The Hulk still has anger problems, even if they are a little inconsistent. Wall-E, for all its cutesy-poo robot stuff, was a story about unabashed capitalism gone wrong, wrapped in a criticism of the inherent sloth built into a western lifestyles, all told through the lens of ecological catastrophe.
Indeed, if the new trilogy, as well as these examples, prove anything, it’s that Star Wars can often be at its best when it is far removed from the man who created it.
The Clone Wars made its television debut in the unenviable position of having to work out of a deficit. As if the new Star Wars trilogy hadn’t done enough to disillusion the fan base, here came George Lucas with a funny looking 98 minute long commercial for a television series that promised to revel in the crap that had already put fans off the new trilogy. Oh, and it promised to offer “something for the kids”, as well. Great, that’s just what we needed, more of George Lucas talking down to the audience.
Still, I gave the show a chance during its first season. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t hate it either.
One episode in particular got me thinking that there might be more to the series than the whiz-bang flash that I had seen in Attack of the Clone and Revenge of the Sith. Therein, Yoda has a chat with a group of clones. He reminds them that they all have an individual existence. Despite being genetic copies of Jango Fett, they are people whose sacrifices have meaning.
With the force reduced to space parasites, I didn’t think “second trilogy” stories were capable of dipping even a toe into the metaphysical pond.
What put me off season one was Anakin Skywalker’s “I want General Grievous, but once again I’ve missed capturing him by a hair’s breadth” adventures. Of course Anakin’s not going to catch him. Every story that dealt with capturing the General became a throwaway. Despite some cool space battles that included pre-AT-ATs deployed on asteroids to act as fire support for Republic ships in a pitched battle against the Separatists, I didn’t feel compelled to watch season two.
On Saturday night, The Clone Wars managed to keep me up until 2:30am with a four-episode story arc that’s got me thinking I should give this series a re-watch.
The season four episodes Darkness on Umbara, The General, Plan of Dissent, and Carnage of Krell (all written by Matt Michnovetz) tell a story that feels like an honest to god war story.
The quick summary is this: for one reason or another Anakin has to surrender control of his troops to General Krell. Krell is every solider’s worst nightmare, a leader who puts objectives before the welfare of his men. Spoiler alert: many clones die in this episode. In one particular scene I saw no less than thirty clones get vaporized.
Seriously, people are actually dying in a Star Wars thing? Lucas won’t let Han shoot first, but somehow his name is attached to a show that deals with the sort of military issues that were common fare on M*A*S*H*?
Things get so bad for the battle hardened clones that a number of them outwardly begin planning a rebellion against Krell. And again, the story takes a turn for the metaphysical. Perhaps it’s a cliché of war stories to hear soldiers talking about their right to refuse orders they know are wrong, but seeing Captain Rex torn between his genetically programmed instinct to obey and his practical knowledge gained through battle experience is a sight to behold.
There are also the little things that make the episode so emotionally charged. The clones all have nick names for each other; CT-5555 is known to his friends as “fives”. Yet Krell refuses to refer to his men as anything other than their serial numbers.
For my time, the most powerful part of the story arc *actual spoiler alert* is when Krell, who comes to see Rex’s men as defective, orders separate elements of his battalion to engage each other in battle. There is a moment of sheer agony when the clones realize that they are fighting each other, and not the enemy in their uniforms. It transcends an appeal to pathos and instead echoes every soldier’s ultimate question, “What are we fighting for?”
Brilliant fucking storytelling.
I’ll even go out on a limb to say that this one story arc has made the clones tragic figures in my mind. Anakin’s fall from grace is his own doing. But these clones, men who fought and died for the Republic, men who came to believe in the Republic through sacrifice, are going to have all of that stripped away from them with order 66. It’s one thing to kill a soldier in a story. Stripping that same soldier of his honour and individual agency, that’s something much more profound.
I’m left with one final question: if I go back and watch season two and three, will I find more episodes like this? Was this a one off? Or did Dave Filoni finally manage to kick Lucas out of the writer’s room? I’ll throw it out to you guys for your thoughts on this point.
I think it’s a fair question. Why should anybody get excited about the re-release of a thirteen year old movie that by all honest measures is a mediocre production?
In case you haven’t been near a television for the last month, the whole thing is now in migraine inducing “Spectacular 3D”. That added dimension will likely see a legion of updates to the dated computer graphics. So there’s some potential for the movie to at least look a little better – unlike Episode Two which would need to be reshot with actual sets and props before I’d admit to it being a visually pleasing film. But let’s return to the question at hand.
Why would anybody want to revisit a movie that scored 56% on Rotten Tomatoes? At this point it’s almost impossible to make any criticism of the film, or the new trilogy, without drawing in some way upon Mr. Plinkett’s brilliant evisceration. However, I’ll do my best to be original.
1 – This movie is primarily about an eight year old.
With rare exception, child actors in dramatic roles are terrible. Adult actors draw upon personal experiences to give their characters a sense of emotional legitimacy. By and large child actors lack that wellspring of experience. In the case of The Phantom Menace, whatever acting skills young Jake Lloyd possessed are totally overshadowed by the likes of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor.
2 – Taxation and inefficient bureaucracy drive the plot.
George Lucas has made multiple statements about how The Phantom Menace is first and foremost a children’s movie. Fair enough, even if making a “children’s movie” is a demarcation from Star Wars’ planet exploding, tantaun disembowelling, and force lightening torturing origins. This begs the question, how many children are going to get worked up about a senator’s evil for the sake of evil intrigues, intergalactic taxation disputes, and an immaculately conceived boy who would be Vader’s heavily Oedipal affections for an older woman. I can only imagine the snark that would come off a group of pre-teens raised on smart phones and reality television if The Phantom Menace was their first introduction to Star Wars.
3 – It kills the two most interesting characters for no reason.
I like to see a movie killing its characters as much as the next guy. Character deaths serve to progressively up the ante and suggest that maybe, just maybe, everybody won’t make it to the credits. Joss Whedon did this in Serenity to much praise. Now I know what people are saying, Lucas “killed” Obi-Wan in A New Hope. True, but he also left the audience with well defined characters in the likes of Han, Luke, and Leia. Killing Qui-Gon is a pointless thing that serves only to weaken the collective acting chops of the surviving cast: a boy who misses his mommy, a neophyte Jedi who spends most of the movie as window dressing, and the servant to a queen who (what a twist) is actually the queen. If I didn’t know what was to come, I would have no idea why I should care about this character triad.
Then there’s the dark side of the force. Darth Maul is a fantastic antagonist. There’s no moral ambiguity or doubt about his intentions; he’s a Sith, and just like Darth Vader in Episode Four that’s all you need to know. The fact that he gets replaced by Christopher Lee and then an asthmatic cyborg is a travesty. Imagine Vader dying at the end of A New Hope only to be replaced by Admiral Piett in Empire. It is the height of anti-climatic writing.
I could go on at length, but at this point, you, gentle reader, either find yourself wondering why anybody would watch this movie or preparing a scathing rebuttal against my perceived heresy. In either case, no more words need be spent on my part. Save to say that George Lucas won’t be collecting any more box office returns from me.
If somebody asked me what I think of George Lucas, I don’t know that I would be able to give them a short answer. I have to resist the temptation to dwell on the unholy nightmare that is the second Star Wars trilogy. Looking at Lucas in a more general sense, he’s an art house director who made good as a commercial commodity. For that I say good on you, George. Despite this success, I was thrilled to see a recent article on The Guardian announcing that Lucas is returning to his roots as an indie director. What sort of bat-shit crazy thing on the order of THX-1138 could George come up with now as stinking rich elder statesman of cinema? But as quickly as I got my hopes up, George sent in a squad of Storm Troopers to cut them down to size. In announcing his retirement, George Lucas has turned into a troll.
It started with Lucas responding to a question about the now infamous edits to the original Star Wars trilogy. Rather than attempting a classy answer that would have justified why those changes needed to happen – I for one would love to know why Luke would see a young version of ghost Anakin at the end of Jedi and not the old man who he met on the Death Star – Lucas opted for snark. “On the internet, all those same guys that are complaining I made a change are completely changing the movie. I’m saying: ‘Fine. But my movie, with my name on it, that says I did it, needs to be the way I want it.’
Oh George. If your publicist told you that attacking the internet was a good idea, you need to fire him/her right the hell now. You think you’ve had a hard go of things? Keep biting the hands that fuel your commercial empire and you will see just how ugly things will get. Lucas’ diatribe continued with, “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
Is anybody else hearing a petulant teenager sulking for more approbation and love from the rest of the kids in high school?
The conversation descended further into banality when Lucas defended the nuclear refrigerator scene from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Where Steven Spielberg had previously taken the flak for this eye-rolling bit of whimsy, Lucas now claims it was his idea. Apparently Spielberg was attempting to protect Lucas’ reputation. According to Lucas, “the odds of surviving that refrigerator – from a lot of scientists – are about 50-50.”
Bullshit, George. I am officially throwing out the bullshit flag on this 50-50 blast shelter. Common sense dictates that this scene is a pile of crap. I’m okay with trans-dimensional aliens and even the giant bugs, but I draw the line at this. For want of ready access to an engineer who could explain how a refrigerator would protect against the heat, shockwave, impact and radiation of being at ground zero of a nuclear blast, I turned to the highest power that I know, Mythbusters.
“”The lead would liquefy,” says Professor E.L. Mathie, a scientist who researches intermediate energy nuclear physics at the University of Regina.
Had Indy been further away, the force from the explosion would have had time to dissipate, and the fridge would have protected him from harmful gamma rays.
But at such close range, Professor Jones would definitely not have survived.
George, you need to stop and listen to Yoda for a moment. Once you start trolling people, forever will it dominate your destiny. Don’t destroy the good will that your audience has toward you with nonsense like this. A Jedi admits their mistakes, reflects on them, and grows from the experience. The best thing you can do right now is release your new movie, shut-up for a little while and then find a new publicist who can train you in the ways of humility before the public. Or else the conceptual genius that is George Lucas will be lost to arrogance and insecurity.
Featuring the voices of: Adam Shaftoe and Matt Moore
Topics under discussion include: The Auroras, fan fiction including Star Wars fan fiction, nerd rage, nerd rage as applied to perceptions of genre lit, Michael Bay, movie remakes, Matt’s review of Red State and a more general thoughts on Kevin Smith.
Matt Moore’s full review of Red State, as well as links to his Aurora nominated short story Touch The Sky, They Say, can be found at mattmorewrites.wordpress.com
For more information on the Aurora Awards click here.
Opening Editorial: 0 to 0:45
Matt’s Aurora Nomination: 1:00 to 6:00
Fan Fiction: 6:00 to 9:00
Star Wars and SW Fan Fic: 9:00 to 15:00
Nerd Rage: 15:00 to 28:30
Michael Bay/Remakes/Cinematography: 28:30 to 37:00
Today in geek news, we take some time to look at fan made movies.
Fan productions can be a bit of a touchy subject. To some people they stand as a tribute to a particular work of genre fiction, a way to give something back to a story that has provided countless hours of joy. A very good fan production has the capacity to go beyond self-gratification, standing as an example of how the professionals ought to do things. In the case of a certain game studio that shall not be named, fan productions represent the voice of devotees who want a group of lazy gits to hurry up and finish the Half-Life trilogy.
But for every well acted and well written fan project there are those other ones; the ones that feel like plagiarism of the highest order. The ones that seem like fetish pieces designed to edify the producers’ kooky views instead of honouring their source material. The only benefit to these crappy productions is that they are easy enough to ignore.
In that light, I thought that it would be fun to use today’s geek news to show off some of the better entries in the world of fan made movies.
#1 TryForce Productions – Gears of War 3 Live Action Trailer
Why it’s awesome: The amount of work that went into the set shows a clear respect for the Gears of War mythology. While the costumes don’t look quite like what you’d expect to see for gears in full armour, they are suitably dirty and hodge-podge for a world where the last human city was just sunk into planet’s outer crust. There’s no doubt in my mind that the music in this fan-made trailer carried a hell of a lot more emotion than the recent use of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs in the actual Gears of War 3 trailer.
#2 Wayside Creations – Fallout: Nuka Break
Why it’s awesome: Fallout: Nuka Break revels in the dark humour that is an essential part of the Fallout mythology. Maybe the actors aren’t quite grimy enough given their lives in the wasteland. Perhaps bare midriffs and short shorts aren’t the most functional for UV protection. However the ruined landscapes and fatigued props, all of which are accurate renderings from the Fallout series, make up for a lack of hair loss from prolonged exposure to radiation.
#3 The Purchase Brothers – Half-Life: Escape from City 17
Why it’s awesome: The brothers Purchase have done an impressive job of importing SFX from the Half-Life games into their movie. Although the audio isn’t quite perfect; the detail in the costuming is fantastic. Of all the Half-Life fan movies floating around the internet, Escape from City 17 does the Combine’s Overwatch the best. I’m also rather impressed with the skilful use of shaky-cam. Normally, I hate camera shake. In this movie it seems fitting. The only problem, and I use the word very loosely, is that Half-Life fan movies are usually done by people younger than myself. As such, the actors seem impossibly young given the fact that The Combine’s suppression field stops all human conception. Not really a big deal, but the hardcore Half-Life fans are apt to complain about this fact.
#4 Infectious Designer – Beyond Black Mesa
Why it’s awesome: Where Escape from City 17 works as a gritty vignette, Beyond Black Mesa offers a slightly more cinematic experience. The movie boasts impressive visuals, a fantastic soundtrack and very slick special effects. While I find the Combine Overwatch less impressive in this film than I do in City 17, there’s nothing bad per se about their design. The only real flaw here is that there are zombies running about without headcrabs affixed to their noggins. I guess we can chalk that one up to budgets and concern for actor well being. At least we can console ourselves with the fact that the zombie make-up job is first rate.
#5 Angelo Licata and Davide Bigazzi – Star Wars: Dark Resurrection
Why it’s awesome: Grown up actors with what appears to be an impressive budget set out to make a high quality Star Wars movie. Written and directed by Angelo Licata, this Italian language Star Wars fan film is pure genius. The special effects, costumes and location shots in this fan movie look better than what Lucas turned out in any of the last three films. Perhaps it has something to do with not shooting the entire movie in front of a green screen? Although the subtitles do get a little wonky, the movie is well worth watching if you’re interested in a Star Wars story that is reminiscent of the tone set in The Empire Strikes Back.
Five movies, five wins. Awesome.
And that, Earth-Humans, is your geek news for June 2, 2011. Force be with you.