Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Darth Maul Double Feature

This week I picked up Darth Maul: Death Sentence and noticed The Clone Wars: The Sith Hunters on the shelf too, so it's a Darth Maul double feature this week. Both are quite entertaining: The Sith Hunters starts off immediately where season four of The Clone Wars ended, and the characterization in both books pretty much matches what we've seen on the show. That means that I'm not completely happy with it, but with some more space in which to move the books start on a road that explores that characterization. Further issues of Death Sentence, penned by the witty Tom Taylor, will presumably follow that trend. Death Sentence #2 is available today, August 29.

These reviews may contain spoilers for both comics as well as Invasion.

The comic: The Clone Wars: The Sith Hunters

The Sith Hunters cover.jpgThe story: Maul's post-The Phantom Menace backstory is revealed in between a plot about Maul and Savage trying to find a place to live. The Jedi are tracking them all the way.

The art: Maul looks more like Ray Park in some scenes than he does in The Clone Wars, but a lot of the art feels cursory. Detail gets lost in background scenes. Except for some silly character design - a shirtless Jedi who specializes in martial arts seems out of place - the action scenes are entertaining and easy to follow.

The female characters: The Sith Hunters introduces the heir of the Kozinargh trade guild, who at the time of writing seems to be unnamed. The Sith brothers happen to rescue her from a cell, and Darth Maul thinks that her family's fortune is a good enough reason to keep her alive. She's not exactly a MacGuffin, but lack of dialogue at key points means that it's hard to see her as a character with her own motivation either. Her desire to regain her family fortune from her brother regardless of whether it takes his death seems to indicate a vicious (or at least pragmatic) streak - she mourns over her dead pet but is not shown reacting to her brother's body. Afterward, though, she remains almost silent, offering help to the Jedi as easily as to the Sith. She could be frightened into silence, caught between all these Force users, but we don't really know.

The immediate chronological tie to The Clone Wars means we get to see some more of Asajj Ventress and details some of her awkward spaceship ride with Obi-Wan. They're very in-character, which of course means bantering, and she walks away with an insistence that she isn't on anybody's side. 


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Shannon McCormick Talks Red vs Blue

This is Shannon McCormick, a voice actor and improv comedian best known for Red vs Blue and Project Rant.  I spoke to him in an email interview about fandom, Jedi, Agent Washington, and being in the right place at the right time.

Megan: How did you get started working for RoosterTeeth?

Shannon: It’s a story of mostly being in the right place at the right time. Basically, the upshot is Paul Marino, an early champion of RvB and machinima in general, had hooked up the RoosterTeeth guys with Asaf Ronen, who now plays the Counselor. At the time, Asaf was doing some freelance graphic design for them, and they were looking for recommendations for new voice talent when casting Recovery One. Asaf’s a big improv guy in town, in fact he moved to Austin after we brought him in for the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, which I used to produce. He had such a great time he decided to move here. Anyway, the RT guys were looking for voice talent, and Asaf recommended me and Shana, who plays South, along some other improv people in town. Shana and I are in a duo called Get Up, and we have a long history of playing together. I don’t know if the other people that they had audition for Wash were paired up with potential Souths, but the fact that Shana and I auditioned together really helped both of our auditions since we’re so comfortable playing with each other. We’ve joked about it before, but we’ve killed each other countless times on stage, so the Wash/South dynamic wasn’t too much of a stretch. They liked what I did with Wash in the audition, and I’ve just been really lucky that he’s turned out to be such a central character in RvB since his introduction.
   
M: How did you go about creating a unique voice for Wash? Burnie Burns had stated on a DVD commentary that Clint Eastwood was part of the inspiration for the character.

SM: It’s been so long since I first created him that I don’t even remember the initial inspiration. Wash has gotten a lot more complex since he was first introduced, so there’s a lot I’ve forgotten. I do tend to create voices by thinking of various other iconic voices and playing around with them, so I’m sure Burnie mentioned Eastwood and probably some others when I started. Initially I think I was just trying to sound as no-nonsense and hardass as possible within my own speaking register. Of all the characters I’ve done in various media, Wash is probably closest to my own speaking voice. At this point he’s pretty easy to ‘turn on’ when I go into the booth, so I don’t even really think about it that much anymore.

 M: A lot has changed in five years, both in terms of how the show is made and for your character in particular. Can you elaborate a bit on the different ways you play the Wash we see in the Recollection trilogy versus the Wash in the Freelancer flashbacks?

SM: I’ll be honest, if you see any difference in the way my voice sounds between the Recollection stuff and the Freelancer seasons, I’m a better actor than I think I am. I think the key is really in the writing. Recollection Wash was written way more hardass than Freelancer Wash, and I just played it that way. Freelancer Wash is a lot lighter, both in the flashbacks but also in the ‘current day’ stuff, and I play him accordingly. It’s really all there in the writing, and I don’t have to think too much about how to play the tone, ‘cause Burnie and the guys have given me a lot to work with. That’s probably not all that insightful as far as my process goes--I’m an improviser, so a lot of these things I’m able to dredge up without a lot of conscious thought.

 M: Have you been involved in the motion capture process for seasons nine and ten? Is it easier or more difficult to get in-character when you are providing movements as well as voice?

SM: You're gonna love this one. I have done precisely one motion capture scene, and it was kind of an accident, a lark. My theater company was rehearsing a play we did last year in the RoosterTeeth studio, and as the producer I came down one night to watch how the rehearsals were going. It was late at night, and as usual, Monty was there working. He asked me if I wanted to do the mo-cap for Wash since I was there and that’s what he working on. As far as the mo-cap acting goes, it wasn’t much, but it turned out to be kind of an iconic scene--the Wash/CT “the ball got dropped/don’t called me Connie” scene. That’s me as Wash in that scene. Mostly standing around, gesturing as Wash talks. Nothing fancy.

I would say that I’m pretty animated in the voice over booth. Not like being a spaz or anything, but as an actor I work pretty physically, and if Wash is tense, I need to tense up my body, if he’s supposed to be fighting, I’ll move around like I’m boxing, whatever.

 M: In the flashbacks Wash plays off of the other Freelancers a lot. Do you record with other members of the cast, or separately?

SM: We all record separately. It’s really nice when the released episodes come out so I can hear how, say, me and Shana, or me and Jen Brown, or whomever, sound together. Wash didn’t do much in this last episode, episode 11, but I really liked it because I felt Jen and I sounded really natural together, even though those lines were recorded possibly weeks apart.

 M: How do you feel that Wash himself has changed between episode ten of season ten and the beginning of Recovery One?

SM: Wash is a lot more chill. He’s obviously had a lot of stuff thrown at him, but he’s a survivor. A bend don’t break kind of dude, and I think his exasperated but still kindly attitude toward the Reds and Blues now is a sign of how he’s grown.

 M: What was a particularly memorable episode to make?

SM: Hmmm, sometimes I’m in multiple times covering lines that go into a particular episode, so they all kind of blur together. Ones that stick out are some of the memory is the key scenes with Church, the EMP scene, Wash on the giant iceberg, the flamethrower dude fight scene from last year. The single most memorable recording session, though, is the last one I did with Matt for season nine. We were trying to wrap up all of Wash for the season, and it was longer than usual. It got a LOT longer than usual when at the end of the session Matt went to save an hour of VO work and the sound file disappeared into the ether. We had to do all of it all over again. I’m sure there were some great Wash lines in that first set that no one will ever, ever hear now because they vanished. We’re pretty careful now to save a lot more frequently when we do big long sessions.

 M: You’ve obviously got talent as an improv comedian: how much, if any, of Wash’s dialogue is improvised?

SM: Less than you might think, but then again a lot of Wash’s iconic lines have been ad libs, or semi-ab libs. Worst throw ever, 'why do cars hate me', 'it bounces', 'that guy was a dick', etc, all have been ab-libs to varying degrees. A lot of times, the guys will give me a general direction--say something about cars hating you, and we’ll run through 5 or 6 different ideas; some of them are all me, some of them include suggestions of how to deliver the line or specific words from Matt or Burnie. Sometimes we try to fit in jokes that don’t really end up working. It’s all pretty collaborative.
   
M: If you could play any character in Red vs Blue besides Wash, who would it be?

SM: Without a doubt, Caboose. He’s hilarious and probably my favorite character in the show. Plus, as Jen Brown can attest, I do a pretty decent Caboose impersonation. Second would be Sarge. He’s probably my second favorite, and I do a decent Sarge as well.

 M: You’ve experienced fandom a lot, through conventions and now recently finding a vocal Red vs Blue fandom on tumblr. Do you consider yourself a fan of any other show or game?


SM: Well, I LIKE a lot things. Adventure Time probably foremost right now on the silly fun end of things, Game of Thrones on the more adult end of things. Growing up I was a huge sci-fi kid, giant Star Wars fan, and I still stay current by watching Clone Wars with my son and playing the various Lego Star Wars games. But I’ve never really been involved in a fan community in the way some of you guys are. I’ve known people who have been, but it’s been a long time since I have and I had kind of forgotten how immersive and passionate fan communities can be. I’ll be honest, it’s pretty weird being the object of some of that devotion. Like I’ve said before, I’m just a dude, you know.
   
 M: Are you a gamer? If so, name some favorite games.
SM: Not really a huge gamer, but since I’ve been involved with RvB I’ve tried to stay more current. Favorite games for me are Braid, Okami, the A Boy and His Blob remake. In general I like platformers and puzzle games over shooters. I like casual iPhone games as well. But here’s a dirty little secret--I don’t own an XBox.
 
M: If you could play any character outside Red vs Blue, who would it be?

SM: I’d love to be involved in Adventure Time or Game of Thrones, but I’d much rather be a new character or one not yet cast. If the live action Star Wars series ever gets off the air, I’d love to play a Jedi. I’m already bald, I can do it!

 M: Here’s a question digging a bit into the past: at the end of season eight, Wash was injured and facing the Meta. He started to say “I can’t believe...” but never finished the sentence, and I’ve always wondered what was supposed to come after. Do you know? Was that something you discussed with Burnie?
   
SM: Ha, I have no idea! He may have told me, he may not have. Things change too, so even if there was some idea originally, it may not be operative anymore.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean, and tease you a little more. I know the identity of the Blue Freelancer. But that identity has changed a couple of times internally over the past couple years, so until it’s out there, everything is fluid. And that’s all I’m gonna say.
    
*

 Shannon's work can be found at RoosterTeeth. If any of you out there make casting decisions for Star Wars, give him a call.

Check here for more voice acting and here for more Red vs Blue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy

I saw the above quote associated with this video lately, and the first thing I thought of was fandom.

Fandom, and pop culture, in general, have these flashpoint moments where everyone is full of rage. Wookieepedia's things that ruined Star Wars forever is hilarious because it's partially true...or at least it was true, for a few moments years ago or right now. Someone in fandom is always angry. A show's writer will make a decision which makes the fans sad and also, even worse, makes the fans doubt the writers' abilities to provide satisfactory content.

But the fans stick around. Not all of them, but most of them. They make things and rage and always come back, because even if everything is terrible, everything is still worth being around. They hold the two opposing viewpoints, everything's amazing and nobody's happy, in their minds at one time.

So this is just me appropriating an idea for myself. Because that's what fans do.

So watch the video. And at least think about the newest thing that you know exists. Maybe that thing is a change to a canon work that you don't think should have come to pass.

A Formal Apology


Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Field Guide to Celebration

I will not be attending Celebration this year. That's a bit of a disappointment for an aspiring Star Wars blogger, but the odds are it will work out well in the long run...and I do in fact want to be told the odds.

I could write about the experience of not  going to Celebration: the blogs I'll stalk, the twitter feeds I'll raptly watch. I could write about my pro tips from last year (arrive either very early or at around 10 am to avoid long lines; Nick Gillard will let you chat with him for free if there's no line; eat).

For now, though, I'm going to go through the schedule and point out where I would have gone, vicariously living through panels, mostly about books and The Clone Wars, that might be interesting to my readers too.

Thursday

If you would like to take some time to rest and watch The Clone Wars on a big screen instead of traipsing about the con, CVI will have a dedicated theater every day playing eight episodes spanning seasons two through four. On Thursday they include the more-impressive-than-usual General Krell trilogy, as well as season two's "Landing at Point Rain". Each subsequent day has a theme: Bounty Hunters, Villains of the Dark Side, and Heroes of the Force.

At 11:30 AM the "Inside The Clone Wars Tech" panel talks about the show's animation and will feature a Q & A with Dave Filoni and VFX Supervisor Joel Aron.

James Luceno hosts a writing panel at 1. He's not one of my favorite writers, but the panel description talks about "imagining alternative sequences and story arcs in the Star Wars movies". Is this a fan fiction panel in disguise?

You've gotta pick between that one and "1313", however: the upcoming video game gets its own panel, also at 1. I'll be eagerly listening for news from that one. There will be a second "1313" panel on Friday.

Here's one I'd schedule dinner around: at 5:30 Dave Filoni teaches a "class" on storytelling "in the true Star Wars style". I attended a panel with him last year that had some great insights into the nature of the Jedi and the saga, and I must say that listening to him for an hour can tell more about his and Lucas' view of Star Wars than a handful of The Clone Wars episodes.

Friday

Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Tom Kane, Matt Lanter, and Dee Bradley Baker appear in a panel about The Clone Wars voice acting at 10:30.

This would really be a tough decision for me, since at the same time Del Rey is hosting a "What's Coming Next" panel featuring authors Aaron Allston, Troy Denning, Drew Karpyshyn, James Luceno, and Timothy Zahn. Maybe we could get them all together for dramatic readings and negate the problem of choice...

At noon, Seth Green and company will be releasing the first snippets of information from their "top secret" animated Star Wars project.

At 1:30 comes the Hour With Anthony Daniels. While not especially relevant to my interests, I happened across Daniels' panel at CV and found it hilarious. Tip: don't film the show. He might take your camera.

Aaron Allston hosts a writing panel at 2:30 which seems to be about his methods instead of Star Wars-specific topics. It suggests ways to cheat writers' block and alternatives to conventional outlining.

Begin the excitement for The Clone Wars season five at the red carpet at 4, when David Filoni and the stars of the show will gather before the premiere at 5.  I wouldn't miss this for the world: it's the key to a good seat, and the voice actors' bright personalities are sure to make it entertaining. The premiere episode, including the next clash between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul, begins at five.

If you're more into books than TCW, Troy Denning has a panel about plotting and how to build a "strong literary climax" at 5:30. Judging by the fact that this man wrote Star by Star, here's betting that one of the tips is to make sure everybody dies.

It's a star-studded day: 7:30 brings Mark Hamill to the main stage. I don't recommend trying to get into this one if you've attended the TCW premiere: the line for Mark Hamill at the previous Celebration had wrapped around a corner of the convention hall by around noon.

Saturday

A "very special" Clone Wars panel at 10:30 seems to be a rehash of Thursday's animation panel, but will also allow fans the opportunity to ask questions about season five.

Seth Green and co. will also host a second panel at noon.

Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo join forces for a no-holds-barred storytelling panel at 7:30.

Saturday is also a great day for shopping, but it's the busiest day of the con: if you're looking for limited edition artwork, reserve it the first day and take it home on Saturday. (Hopefully this year's artists' alley will be laid out a bit better than the last one.)

Sunday 

 Sam Witwer, the voice of Darth Maul, takes the stage at 1:30 to talk about his role in The Clone Wars. The panel description mentions The Force Unleashed, but not The Son. Maybe I'm not the only one who wants to forget that.

The closing ceremony (a "new tradition") happens at 3, but panels will continue to run until 5 pm. The complete, unbiased schedule can be found on Celebration's mobile site here.

Enjoy your Florida! I'll be there in Force spirit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's Not About The Catsuit







I



Club Jade posted an excellent article today about the problems with female fan favorite Mara Jade's costumes. The article focuses on the practicality of the costume as well as the tendency in some art to make it sexier than it was originally. Mara has also been the focus of Tosche Station's costume design contest, aiming to provide an alternative to the outfit pictured above.

I really love all the discussion that's going on in the fandom right now about this character and what she means to the fans. Mara has been around since the EU began, and set the mold for almost all other female characters in the franchise. However, the more I thought about the discussion of the bare-armed leather outfit colloquially called the "catsuit", I realized I didn't really care about that as an issue.

The Club Jade article states that the catsuit itself isn't the source of the problem. I agree, but I have to add that it's simply the straw that broke the camel's back. It doesn't make her a "cheesecake" character (to quote CJ) all by itself, but neither would it make her one at all if she had other, less perfect traits as well.

They see the catsuit as something of a tipping point: "Mara’s a character whose innate personality makes her engaging."

This I disagree with. Mara's a character whose personality is effortlessly cool, positive, and not too difficult to sum up in a few words. That is not the same as being engaging. Mara suffers but it is in grand ways, noble ways: war, disease. She is effortlessly, gratingly cool. Little to no negative things that happen to her are her fault.

Mara's image - fiery red hair, superheroine body - matches her personality. Wookieepedia defines Mara as skilled in infiltration, digital systems, disguise, piloting, weaponry, memory retention, vehicle repair, Force powers (including invisibility and flight), dancing, teaching, analyzing, public speaking,  and getting the attention of men from diverse species.

This is not characterization.

This is a laundry list of talents.

"I'm not a victim. And I'm not prey," Mara says in the comic book By The Emperor's Hand. "I am the ultimate predator." In the comic she's serving the dark side, but the quote seems just as applicable to her career as smuggler or Jedi. Yes yes, very inspiring, very frightening. These words would sound just as natural coming from Darth Maul, or a Yuuzhan Vong, or any number of video game protagonists designed to be a shell in which a player vicariously beats up bad guys. 

I'm not even going to get into how her snappishness toward and around Luke Skywalker - a character who prizes Zenlike calm - somehow translates to true love. 

I don want female characters to be more awesome: I want them to be more human. Luke is cool, but he is a distinct character with human flaws (the whining, the getting shot with training lasers) and a culture. He looks at things like a Tatooine farmboy, comparing a trench in wartime to a desert canyon. Mara looks at things like...what, exactly? The hook should come before the awesome. With Mara it works the other way around.

Mara wears the catsuit because it, like the rest of her, is designed to be appealing. Mara is not too good for her costume. The catsuit may be a problem, but it's only ancillary to a bunch of others that can't be fixed with a drawing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill

Mercy Kill is full of joyful silliness. It also contains death, double-crosses, and the gross-out factor of Yuuzhan Vong technology, but the image of a half-dressed Gamorrean sensuously dancing is the one that I had trouble burning out of my brain.

That's the beginning of my Knights Archive review, which can be found below. It's also the start of some thoughts I left out of the review, because the book was good and did not take itself too seriously.

I, however, did.

It’s hard to take a Gamorrean doing the “Walk Like An Egyptian” dance seriously, except that he’s so obviously pastiching the role of the Twi’lek dancers that show up as background in most Star Wars media. It’s humor of substitution, but also played straight: Gamorrean ladies cheer when Voort takes his clothes off. The dance is also made a big part of Voort’s characterization in that it helps him on missions and he enjoys it.

If this was any other sort of character - Twi’lek female, human female, human male - I would think that readers would look at these scenes a little differently, with more of an eye for whatever statement it might make about the taboo or empowerment of sensuality. It might generate uncomfortable feelings instead of a laugh. 

Author Aaron Allston is careful to provide diversity elsewhere too, with enemy soldiers described in all genders, species, shapes, and sizes. Although some descriptions tried too hard to reference real-world culture, the mooks were far from faceless. Everyone has an equal right to being beaten up. And everyone has an equal right to what might be called objectification, which in this book is portrayed as a very positive thing if it helps the person who is choosing their role as object.

I don't think that Allston intended for Mercy Kill to make any grand statements. I don't think that the film Magic Mike intended to make any grand statements. But I invite you to think about what kind of buzz Mercy Kill might have generated if the main character was human.

My original review appeared on Knghts Archive: