Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Halo Universe Invades Our Own In The News

According to Yahoo, the BBC mistakenly used the United Nations Space Command logo from Halo to represent the United Nations Security Council (from real life). Causing a collision of fiction and reality as well as some embarrassment for the BBC, the logo appeared on the first broadcast but was replaced in subsequent airings.

The logo the BBC used is the first result on a Google image search for "UNSC logo", as I discovered just now.

The eagle triumphant invaded a broadcast about the very real conflicts in Syria. It's unknown yet whether this was an intentional joke - taking trolling to a mass scale - or a consequence of Googling without doing your research. I prefer to think of it as a screencap from the future.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ten Years of Star Wars

May is an important month for Star Wars fans. Earlier this May we celebrated the ten-year anniversary of Attack of the Clones, and May 25 marks something even more dear to fans’ hearts: the anniversaries of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.

Attack of the Clones has the least re-watch value for me: it's the only Star Wars movie I don't own. However, it's also the first one I ever saw. I walked into that theater with my father on a sunny May day when I was thirteen. I had only learned about the movie because a classmate I had a crush on wanted to go. (The same boy introduced me to Halo.) The projected pubescent date never worked out, but I watched the trailer for AotC and was enthralled by the lightsabers and the cityscape of Coruscant, so asked my dad to take me anyway. He did.

I remember visiting an elderly aunt afterward, clutching a copy of Star Wars Insider in my hand. She told me she still watched Star Wars and other science fiction, and that gave it a sort of legitimacy for me. I had bought the Insider almost immediately after seeing the movie, mostly because there had been an acklay on the cover and I wanted to know more about the creatures. Raised on a diet of Pokemon and Digimon, seeing giant monster battles in what looked like live action was the perfect thing for my teenage imagination.

A few weeks later a friend showed me the original Star Wars films in quick succession, amazed that I had never seen them. "Just try it," she warned, "but you might get bored."

I didn't get bored.

For the rest of my secondary education, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I pretended the sunsets over the trees in my town were the double sunsets over the dunes of Tatooine. It gave me a sense that when I got out of that town I would find a spaceship and a hotshot pilot and be transported to something I could blow up. This explosion would, of course, be a sure sign of success and heroism.

But when I came back from college and I hadn't blown up a Death Star, A New Hope was still there. Success and heroism are fuzzy concepts but a good story is still a good story. No matter how much I know about the movies or how much I watch them there's always the sense of mysterious, amazing things going on just beyond the corner where the camera can't see. I wonder what species a certain alien is, what planet she's from, and then realize I've known that for ten years. Star Wars never fails to make me sit up and pay attention. It's the most complete science fiction universe I've ever known, and not because of the massive EU.

Star Wars also has a fantastic fan base, which has been kind and open enough to let me into their ranks as a write for Fangirlblog and a fanficcer in other places. It's my biggest aspiration to work on official Star Wars material. People like Tricia from fangirlblog and Joe Hogan (just look at that blog title!) have been very inspiring, and I wonder if maybe I'm on the way to getting my name known.  

Right now is a scary time in life, and a time of transition. I wish I had Jedi powers to tell where I would be in five years, but even Yoda can't do that: "Always in motion is the future." On the same note, I realize that this post takes place a little late. In the world of the internet it's fantastic to have things release at midnight on launch day but with my life the last few weeks it hasn't been able to happen. As I look at other fans celebrating, though, I realize that the appropriate phrase is not not “better late than never” so much as “judge me by my time, do you?” Because they don't. Star Wars fans are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met - and the fact is, every fandom says that. Talk to a group of train watchers and they say they’ve met their best friends through their mutual hobby. Everyone has different reasons for joining the hobby that they do, and I chose Star Wars.
This is not a picture of fans' attitudes.

Star Wars fans are the ones for me who have been there to offer emotional support, friendship, and occasionally, a couch. We're a varied group, from the elderly to the very young. We celebrate year-round: not only at conventions or anniversaries, but on any day in which we watch or read or, even better, make our own stories and art inspired by the galaxy far, far away.

So I figure this is a good time to announce that this blog is going to become a bit more Star Wars-centric in the next few weeks. I’ve had a lot on my plate with three animated shows running at the same time, and I feel like I’ve ignored the words of A New Hope and not stayed on target. In the months leading up to Celebration VI, I want to cover more Star Wars stuff than ever before, including new releases and pressing issues within the fandom. There will still be the occasional deviation into other franchises, but Star Wars is going to be the focus. It's been the focus for the last ten years, and brought me pretty far. I can't wait to see where else it takes me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Star Wars: Scourge

 At its best, Jeff Grubb's Scourge reminded me the New Jedi Order, or my beloved Kevin J. Anderson Star Wars books when I was in high school. The main character is a Jedi Archivist from Luke's Academy, a class of character that hasn't been explored before beyond the sedate Jocasa Nu. He is soft-spoken, used to people telling him he isn't what they expected out of a Jedi, and wears glowing red goggles into combat. It's a novel of wacky space adventures and Jedi running around a wild galaxy.

It also isn't particularly smart: protagonist Mander Zuma just skirts the edge of actually standing for something. As an archivist, he doesn't do a lot of researching. The body count in the first few scenes make it clear that compassion isn't his number one priority either. Admittedly, the very first scene is a lesson against the dangers of drugs and violence: Zuma's Padawan does all of his killing under the influence of the rage-inducing spice that drives most of the novel, but once he's provoked Zuma acts in roughly the same way to catch his Padawan's indirect killer.

Tempest Feud Front.jpg
The form  in which
Scourge's story first appeared.
However, Scourge never presents itself as a story about morals, or about ideas in general, and this can be refreshing. Musings on the nature of the Force (or, thankfully, the Force Family) are absent, as are Jedi Counselors of any sort. Although I kept expecting Zuma to contact Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Grand Master was completely absent. While that makes me wonder whether there are a lot of envoys of the Academy out there chopping people up unsupervised, it also means that Scourge doesn't have to wriggle its way into Luke's already crowded history. This is one of the aspects that would make Scourge a good introduction to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The plot, a string of set pieces involving chasing alien drug dealers around, is unremarkable, and toward the end the point of view switches and dramatic reveals seem like excuses to stay out of the main characters' heads. (The fact that the book is pretty much the novelization of a a roleplay scenario might explain this.)

 Of the four characters, Zuma and Angela Krin stand out the most. Angela is a Lieutenant Commander in the Corporate Sector Authority and shows off the ideals of that less-evil Empire well: she's smart, stark and serious and brings in some of the firepower at the finale of the story. Old friends Reen Irana and Eddey Be'ray never seemed convincingly chummy; I would have liked some mention of adventures they went through in the past.

Angela Krin.jpg
Angela Krin
About halfway through the novel, Reen gets kidnapped and the other three heroes have to rescue her. This was around the time my reading slowed, not because the descriptions of a character "chained" and "on display" were wildly offensive, but because I was bored. It was the sort of thing I'd seen before, and the combined charisma of the other three heroes couldn't quite keep the plot device entertaining. I'm not a huge fan of tabletop game writers (or video game writers, or nonfiction writers) being given the task of penning novels, and it is in books like Scourge that show they aren't, usually, novelists.

Scourge displays a lot of fun fights for its characters to go through. It's no Dark Rendezvous, but it's close to Shadowhunter. And, as mentioned before, if you don't know what either of those books are then Scourge is still a good look at the post-movies Star Wars universe. With the exception of Pantorans existing it ignores the Clone Wars and hacks out its own crime-ridden corner of the universe. The prose was decent, and the mild twist - an explanation of where the rage-causing spice comes from - was perhaps the best concept in the book. Mander wasn't the ideal Archivist for my teenage self, but he carried a decent adventure story. That seems to be the usual with a lot of recent Star Wars books that aren't part of massive series. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Return of Toonami

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim announced today that 90s-00s cult classic Toonami will return this Saturday May 26. The exact content lineup is unknown but expect some popular anime such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as well as the return of the Steve Blum-voiced robotic host, TOM.

With my own fond memories of watching Thundercats on Toonami, I'm wondering whether that show will be moved to the new Toonami or kept in its current time slot. Either way, this is exciting news. It also shows the power of fan voices: fans who grew up with Toonami have been clamoring for its return and spreading the desire for this year's Cartoon Network April Fools prank, in which they first announced the return, to be a reality. Now that it is the joke's on us, but that only makes fans happier. I expect a lot of twenty-somethings to tune in on Saturday nights.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Legend of Korra: Spirit of Competition


    The Legend of Korra has been a huge success with both networks and online fan communities. Beautiful animation carries the story, and four episodes in we’re getting to know the three main characters. The fifth episode, “The Spirit of Competition”, hits fans head-on with the love triangle at the center of the Fire Ferrets’ story.

In the last episode, Korra faced her fears of Amon and the pressure of being the Avatar in some of the most realistic ways I’ve seen on screen. I love that she showed her fear, even crying. This makes her relatable, and it makes her successes even more sweet. We also see another trait that comes out even stronger in “The Spirit of Competition”: her bullheadedness. Korra was raised in a secluded Water Tribe, a small village where everyone knew she was the Avatar. She was given freedom to do what she wanted: if she got huffy, a ride across the tundra on her predatory pet would help her out. In the city, her forwardness comes off as uncivilized. We saw this get in her way in the first episode, when she got in trouble with the police; in the fourth episode we see her brashness lead to a humiliating encounter with Amon, who spares her life because it’s convenient for him.
Korra wasn’t entirely fleshed out before: her bullheadedness could have been a ploy by the writers to get her to look tough, but it isn’t. It’s a real trait, and one that means Korra isn’t just a stereotype. She takes “don’t mess with this guy” as a challenge. She’s getting closer to being a person. These writers are good, and we see Korra be rash and forward in social situations in episode five too. There isn’t a clear lesson at the end about whether or not her presence there is right. The consequences are simply felt, albeit wrapped up within the half hour.    
“The Spirit of Competition” uses the love triangle to tell more about each character as well as complicating them. Korra is straightforward and blunt, both when she asks Mako out and when she kisses him. Neither turn out quite how she planned, and the consequences play out in realistic dialogue and dramatic twists and turns. When she says she and Bolin are “just having fun together” instead of trying to bait Mako, I believe she’s doing both at the same time. There is no easy answer.
Likewise Mako could be jealous and protective of Bolin at the same time. Korra goes from doubting herself to being so sure that Mako likes her because of one thing that he said, and while that shows how quick she rallies and how straightforwardly she thinks, it was also one of the few lines I thought came out of nowhere. But we’ve seen Korra suddenly gain confidence in times of stress before, like when she set up a meeting with Amon. She’s good at dealing with fiery emotional moments, but extended ones not so much. And she knows it - her sarcastic “Well played, Korra,” tells us.

Mako is in what appears to be a happy, Eskimo-kiss-y relationship with the suspiciously convenient Asami. He’s also interested in Korra, but thinks that it “makes for sense” for him to be with Asami. I liked that Mako wasn’t fawning over Korra: he seemed pretty lukewarm to her, acknowledging that she would be nice to date but remaining taciturn. Bolin is very conscious that  Mako has most of the fangirls he mentioned in an earlier episode: Bolin’s “leave some ladies for the rest of us” makes it sound like Mako is used to being upstaged. But Korra is “more like a pal” to Mako, and I love that. It’s perfectly possible for people to be friends, or even attracted to one another on a surface level, without wanting to be in a relationship. I haven’t declared a side in the great relationship wars brewing in the fandom, but I like that Bolin is enthusiastic, even silly,  about his feelings for Korra. On the other hand, she uses him as her fallback guy.
 Bolin gets some of the best dialogue and delivers it with an earnest lost-puppy cuteness. His banter with Mako has some of the feel of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo attempting to advise  one another away from Leia. It’s a very funny episode, mostly because of Bolin’s antics and dialogue.

   One question I was left with is this: if a female character had been put in Bolin’s place, sobbing over a crush that didn’t like her back, would I approve? My first instinct is to say no, but then, Bolin’s situation is one a lot of people can identify with, and he carries it with his natural humor and passion. He also doesn’t let his love life get in the way of his relationship with his brother, and mending broken ties of friendship is always a good thing. Bolin stays strong partially because he has his brother. This is an interesting arc no matter what gender the character is.
But the final conclusion I came to from this episode was that there is no neat little moral lesson I can talk about - and that’s great. “The Spirit of Competition” shows the characters being themselves. If a show is so bad that one person’s pet peeve (poorly written female characters or love stories) becomes the dominant thing that person takes from the show, that’s a roundabout critique of the show in general. The Legend of Korra is good enough that the story as a whole feels more important than nitpicking questions about what a show is teaching us. If it was trying to teach anything in this episode, Korra taught that relationship drama happens...even if you’re a Chosen One in a civilization built on magic. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Clone Wars Season Five Trailer

May the 4th Be With You!

 The Clone Wars season five trailer is available now at starwars.com.  With the emphasis put on the bad guys, it will be interesting to see what dark path the series walks this season. I'm also pretty pleased with the Mandalorians' dialogue, which is great since the Death Watch have been pretty much a nonentity to me so far. There's a nice parallel too between the Mandos and the Sith brothers. They're again put in the spotlight, and we do get confirmation that Maul wears a shirt for...well, at least part of this season.

The full version of this teaser trailer will be revealed at Disney Star Wars Weekends. I'm hoping it will add the Jedi in - as members of an ancient order they fit the established format perfectly, and it's very cool to think of the season as a clash of ideologies. Just adding the word "ancient" into dialogue doesn't make a faction feel real all by itself, but it helps.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Look At TCW Season Five Coming Tomorrow

This Friday is the geek world's wonderful punny holiday Star Wars Day (May the 4th Be With You), and along with a marathon of Clone Wars episodes available at StarWars.com, the official newsletter reveals that we will get some news about season five tomorrow. Track #MayThe4thBeWithYou on Twitter for more.