Monday, October 29, 2012

Clone Wars: Tipping Point

“Tipping Points” has some great moments of silent communication, but a corresponding lack of dialogue is both a blessing and a curse that draws attention to the flaws of the entire arc.

    This episode is really good at body language: Ahsoka leaving the scene of the citizens’ rebellion over the rooftops and her sisterly punch on Lux’s arm were paced very well and felt like the story wasn’t trying too hard. Ahsoka’s punch paired with Saw’s glee at getting a rocket launcher brought me the closest I’ve been in this arc to feeling like the rebels are real people.

      The Steela/Lux relationship still seems entirely unconvincing to me, however, and Ahsoka’s response to it even more so. Has she taken Anakin’s lessons to heart? Maybe she has, and quickly, but most of the communication between the three is still all glances and expressions. It’s not enough, even if the animation does have more artistic merit than the script. The question of the age difference between Steela and Lux is still bothering me, too. Although starwars.com does describe Steela as a “young rebel,” she doesn’t look it.

    Usually I’d be pleased if a romance was sidelined in favor of a war, but “Tipping Points” just doesn’t fit with the balance we had in the first three episodes of the arc. Instead, it becomes a loose end. When Lux dropped lines like “What good will [Steela leading by example] do if she gets herself killed,” he sounded exasperated and posh instead of worried. I understand that the writers enjoyed dropping lines from the OT into this arc, but his delivery confused me: Lux seems a lot more caring than Han Solo. And their kiss just seems pointless without some sort of conversation between either Lux and Steela or Lux and Ahsoka about the relationship.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Clone Wars: The Soft War

“The Soft War” is more of the same for the Onderon arc, although the female characters and royals both have expanded and improved roles. The Ahsoka-Lux-Steela love triangle continues without moving forward, while other relationships such as Saw’s and Lux’s rivalry, or Ahsoka and the older Jedi, are set to the side in order to get the plot moving. Once it does it has some fine dramatic moments, especially a public execution threatening both former King Dendup and the rebels.

Steela works well as the leader of the rebellion, with her holographic form projected larger-than-life around the city. I thought toward the end of the episode that Saw’s rashness and Lux’s weapons-toting would save the day for good, but in the end it’s Ahsoka who really brings the rebellion to victory, giving this episode a hefty dose of positive female leadership.

I also liked the presence of an incidental female scout named Dono. She moved organically and unobtrusively within the plot. This was refreshing after characters like Asajj’s Nightsister friend Karis at the end of Season Four, or Ahsoka’s ally Kalifa at the end of Season Three, who die shortly after scenes obviously meant to shoehorn in some wartime bonding to make an emotional moment work. Dono had had me curious to find out what her story was, but if I never did I could imagine her as someone like myself.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Star Wars: The Essential Reader's Companion

The Essential Reader's Companion showed up on my doorstep a few days ago. It's a pretty book, and the art is fantastic. I'm glad I got it.

But here’s a secret: I don’t think the Essential Reader’s Companion is essential.

 In the days of Wookieepedia, few things are if you want reference to the Expanded Universe.

Star Wars has been putting out Essential Guides anyway.

But if you want some fantastic art of never-before-seen characters, and DVD-extra style snippets about the making of books and series, the Essential Reader’s Companion is pretty cool. Pretty Cool Reader’s Companion just doesn’t flow as well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Death of the Divide

This afternoon, the Organization for Transformative Works posted this blog post declaring that the line between the fan and the mainstream had been "obliterated". Their list of fan creators who have gone mainstream include E.L. James, Darren Criss, and that girl who wrote the One Direction book. Fan art contests are becoming a promotional tactic in the video game world, and then there's Burnie Burns, whose fan video recently became the longest-running scripted sci-fi show in America.

Fans can find work as journalists, professors, and sometimes even participants in the canon they're passionate about. Many of them have created niches for themselves, like Darren Criss and the mass of other people who sing about Harry Potter on YouTube.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Clone Wars: Front Runners

A lot of elements in “Front Runners” reminded me of a video game. Although the rebels’ weapons only work against droids, the human civilians react with fear and surprise when they see an attack, like in Assassin’s Creed. The rebels strategized like friends working their way across a crowded game map. In another instance, when Steela stalks forward the camera follows over her shoulder like in a third-person shooter. The bulk of the episode, though, mirrors real-world politics while using the visual language of games.

The city of Iziz feels alive and full of people, and they’re going through some familiar political dissidence. A larger power stepping in to help a small population overthrow its disliked leader – where have we heard that before? I half expected people to start storming the Coruscant embassy and burning pro-droid literature.

“Front Runners” introduces puppet king Sanjay Rash, whose facial hair immediately indicates that he must be evil. His simplistic way of explaining the situation makes him sound like a petulant child who isn’t being allowed to play with the blocks. The voice actor doesn’t bring anything particularly unique to the role, but he also doesn’t have a lot to work with, such as “Do you really want your crown back that badly?” He accuses the rightful king, the elderly Ramsis Dendup, of starting the rebellions during his imprisonment. Dendup has some nice dialogue – “What you are up against is simply the will of the people. It’s up to the king to embrace, bend, or break it, and I am no longer the king.” – but on the whole the two kings were the least memorable part of the episode.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Clone Wars: A War On Two Fronts

“A War on Two Fronts” begins with the question of whether Jedi should use fear as an asset and moves into the story of a fledgling rebellion on Onderon, starting a new arc unconnected to last week’s Darth Maul story.

The Council scene is brief but thematically important, and gives some background for the Jedi that is missing for the rebels. Anakin thinks that arming a rebel group as a new weapon against the Seperatists could be “great.”, Yoda, for whom “war does not make one great,” is skeptical. He’s outvoted, though, and the Council sends the brash Knight, along with Ahsoka, to Onderon. Obi-Wan going along only serves to mollify Yoda slightly. This question of Jedi possibly “funding terrorists,” or doing bad things to win the war, is central to The Clone Wars. It’s nice to see this theme reinforced here. Even though this is a multi-part arc, the Jedi’s moral high ground is brought up again toward the end of the episode, and worked as a nice, if brief, framing device.

One aspect of this episode that I thought was also notable, although not especially sensational, is that Jedi cloaks are actually useful for disguise, and Ahsoka dons one along with the boys.

The rebels are a small group of humans with some nicely detailed and textured armor and astoundingly cute Avatar-style creatures. They are led by siblings Saw and Steela Gerrerra. Steela, the new female character glimpsed in the trailers, has a great character design, with fierce eyes and stylized hair. She’s introduced affectionately punching her brother. Without backstory as to how and why they joined the rebellion, though, the two are a bit hollow. I would have liked to know more about their specific motivations.

It’s a beautiful episode, with lively backgrounds that often contain an animal or a person not directly related to the main characters. I like the textures – both the rebels’ and Rex’s armor is dirty – and the complexity of Lux’s armor, which seems to incorporate strips of torn cloth as well as neon lights.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fan Fiction Novel For Teens Bought by Penguin

If you trawl certain parts of the internet it's hard to miss the fans of a band called One Direction. They've pushed the formerly marginalized "bandfic" subsection of fan fiction into the mainstream. Sure, people were writing about members of nineties rock bands left and right, but One Direction as a fandom has taken over some of the more public fan fiction sites. And now a fan has been really pushed into the mainstream with  a sixteen-year-old girl getting a book deal from Penguin for her novel based on the band.

Picture of One Direction
One Direction is a UK-based pop band.
Penguin calls the novel "fresh, romantic, and current", none of which I doubt. I haven't been able to find excerpts from the book yet, but immediately assume the worst about the quality of the writing, knowing "50 Shades of Grey". But as a fanfic writer, maybe I shouldn't.

My first reaction is to think that this is an outrage, a gross dumbing-down of literature, a celebration of infatuation, a way for Penguin to pay a first-timer less than they would an established author, and an opportunity taken away from said previously established author and/or a writer with talent.

However, I realize that I am incredibly bitter about the whole thing. This girl is ludicrously lucky - she's getting paid, and famous,  for something she did in her leisure time. Of course I'm jealous. But then there's the people who don't seem so jealous but who still post comments referencing "50 Shades of Grey" and saying that a high-profile book deal like this embarrasses both the fan and the band. My attempt to be impartial leaves me not knowing what to think, except for the words "cheap" and "unfair".

But then are the comments like these, left on the site I linked to above: "Emily is an inspiration to other young people out there who want to make a name for themselves! instead of loitering on street corners drinking taking drugs and harassing people. A credit to her mother and family, i wish there were more people with her drive and enthusiasm", or "That's my sister!!! Well done".

Is this a good thing? Is it, like, a way to encourage kids to read or something?

So let's talk about this book and about the fan fiction - to - novels trend in general.

Is this a good thing? Is this insane? Is this any better or worse than writers who get published because their parents know people in the business? Is there no such thing as luck? Is the publishing industry, as a friend of mine said, "just trolling us"?

Or maybe it's as simple as the fact that trends sell. In the article I linked to above, Penguin states that "Penguin's Razorbill imprint had been looking to commission a writer to pen a romantic young adult fictional novel that tapped into the market's current obsession with boy bands." This young author, an "authority" on teenagers who love bands, just happened to have gotten there first.

(Via Club Jade)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Star Wars Reads

I've been trawling the Star Wars Reads website for information about local events, and found a couple stores in the area that advertised the event. One plans to have kids crafts; another themed food and drink; a third is restricting their celebration to a display table but also featured some fantastic violin arrangements of the Star Wars theme wafting from their speakers today, three days before the event.

It's made me think about my long, tenuous relationship with Star Wars novels. Recommended the classic Thrawn trilogy and Splinter of the Mind's Eye as a teenager, I instead gravitated to odder fare like the Jedi Academy trilogy and the dated Return of the Jedi Choose Your Own Adventure. (No one has dared to try to fit the main character from that book, known only as Luke's [male] best friend, into continuity.)

My Star Wars reading picked up steam in the New Jedi Order, perhaps helped along by the fact that the first Expanded Universe story I ever read was the grim, alien Emissary of the Void- quite the adventure to be hurled into for a girl who didn't know what Yuuzhan Vong were and hadn't even seen the entire original trilogy.

I've gained some knowledge since then, and probably wouldn't recommend tossing a new fan into that particular deep end. With resources like The Essential Reader's Companion, the EU is big and limitless, with plenty of places to start.

So you can use Star Wars Reads day as a way to enter the EU informed, or to pick up some kid-friendly books for new readers, or just to buy that one NJO novel you still haven't managed to find at a garage sale. Check out the official site for a full list of locations.


Monday, October 1, 2012

The Clone Wars: Revival

This time last year I was watching “Water Wars,” the technically proficient but underwhelming premiere of The Clone Wars Season Four. Season Five’s premiere, “Revival,” shows off some of the show’s more gradual technical achievements while also providing an exciting, dark, and funny story that corrects a lot of the faults of last year. This episode did more than barely move the war forward, instead setting up tension between a variety of characters.

The stars of the show this week were Hondo Ohnaka and, of course, Darth Maul. Obi-Wan and Adi Gallia appear, as well. With the emphasis on the Sith brothers’ relationship, this episode created a unique experience for me where I was rooting for everyone – Obi-Wan because he was the good guy, Hondo because he was funny, and the Sith because they seemed to have a lot of room to grow. This was one of the things that made “Revival” an enjoyable episode.