Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Clone Wars: A Necessary Bond

t the end of “A Necessary Bond,” I was left wondering exactly which bond was necessary. The one between the Jedi and their lightsabers? Hondo and Katooni? Good dialogue and bad dialogue? The final episode in the Young Jedi arc is a mixed bag. It contains some fantastic character moments for female characters and the cast in general, but also has some corny dialogue and ultimately fails to wrap up the moral storyline presented in the first episode of the arc.

A lot of female heroes shine in this episode. One is Ganodi, who proudly declares “We rescued you!” to Ahsoka. (If there were a Bechdel Test equivalent for when two aliens talk about something other than a human, this episode passes that, too. I declare it the Crouse Test.)  Ganodi even holds the weight of most of her classmates – literally – while Petro steers their stolen vehicle.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Clone Wars: Bound for Rescue

“Bound for Rescue” takes place around Florrum, the planet we’ve seen Hondo Ohnaka use as his headquarters before. While the younglings and Ahsoka both try to escape what Hondo has inflicted upon them, Obi-Wan and Commander Cody are part of a Republic fleet under attack by Separatists. Their subplot served the dual purpose of both being entertaining and explaining why the nearest adult Jedi can’t help out the younglings. It was nice to see The Clone Wars juggle multiple plot lines, even if it didn’t weave them together – although maybe the juggling metaphor is especially appropriate for an episode featuring a circus.

Before their adventure on Florrum, the youngling experienced a quiet majesty in the scene where they built their lightsabers without Huyang’s help. The music was smooth, slightly eerie, and reminiscent of the binary sunset/Force theme. The younglings are falling into established roles that are consistent with their previous characterization and help us to learn more about them: Petro the leader, Ganodi the pilot, and Zatt the mechanic. Byph and Gungi follow Petro’s lead, while Katooni, perhaps still remembering that he left her stuck behind a wall of ice, is usually the voice of dissent. The females have just as much characterization and face time as the males.

Any attempt to make Hondo morally ambiguous is gone in the first few minutes of a scene where he cruelly teases a captured Ahsoka and revels in his success. Hondo notes that his buyer is especially interested in a female Jedi, but Ahsoka isn’t scared. For girls she’s a great example of not letting what other people say – about either her gender or her fate – sway her determination.

Again I like that she’s put in more in the role of a Jedi Knight than a Padawan. It gives her more room to grow on her own, and she doesn’t come off as such a prodigy when we’ve seen that she has four seasons of experience behind her. We don’t learn the identity of the prospective and presumably lecherous buyer.

This episode also featured some gorgeous space battle scenes, with fiery and smoky explosions. The battle is full of dialogue about tactics that feel like classic Star Wars, and it’s nice to actually see clones in The Clone Wars again. Grievous hams it up with an evil laugh, and some of his kills were both violent and satisfying. The battle was big, chaotic, and frightening. It’s one of the first times where I’ve thought The Clone Wars lived up to and captured the feel of the movies, in this case, Episode III especially.

The space battle is then set aside in favor of the younglings, who find a new cast of characters when they use their Jedi acrobatics to join a traveling circus. The troupe has a great variety of characters. I’m partial to the Dug with the elaborate mustache, but there’s also a Togruta – they’re getting good use out of those models – and a variety of animals. The costumes are visually arresting and tribal, too peppered with interesting details like Byph’s handfuls of flowers or Petro’s predatory mask to be silly. There were some great images in this episode, mostly around the circus: Hondo hugging the nose of the big reptilian creature the circus uses in the place of an elephant, or Aleena performers juggling balls against a drum to make a beat. A very drunken Hondo provides some comic relief and also some black humor, as one of his minions holds up the skull of a performer who displeased him.

A few Twi’lek dancers make an appearance to help the younglings dispatch Hondo, and I wondered whether they had discussed this with the younglings beforehand or if coercing unwilling audience participants was just part of their job. If they were part of the plan it would bring the instances of female heroism up to four, as it’s Katooni who rescues Ahsoka, who leads the rest of the younglings out. Katooni still hasn’t completed her lightsaber, and I’m hoping that she instead of Petro will take the spotlight in the final episode of the arc. Petro’s impatience, still firmly present even after his trial on Ilum, could still be addressed some more next week, and Huyang is still knocked out under the care of Artoo.

This arc has been notable for having more gravitas than most, and that’s despite featuring Hondo, six children, and a circus. In part it has achieved this by playing all three as world-building elements instead of jokes, and it’s been fun to see Jedi training, the pirate life, and in-universe entertainers. The Young Jedi arc is bringing The Clone Wars to surprising levels of maturity.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spartan Ops and Singing Halsey's Praises

Halo 4 is out in force, with the online Spartan Ops missions providing even more story. I've spoken before about how Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan program, is one of my favorite characters. She doesn't show up a lot in the game, but she'll be an important part of this Monday's new Spartan Ops mission. After she was pretty much hated by all of the characters in the last few Halo books, and largely ignored by the fandom, it was good to see one site calling attention to her intelligence and ambition.

You can meet Halsey tomorrow on Xbox Live.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Old Republic: Annihilation

Annihilation by Drew Karpyshyn is a shell of a book, with sketchy characters and action written in dry, stilted prose.

It's rare that I actively dislike a Star Wars novel, but there are exceptions. Sometimes it's difficult to find reasons to praise something when it doesn't attempt to break out of the mold. "Intrepid hero and snarky smuggler destroy superweapon" worked well for A New Hope but it isn't a magical recipe for entertainment, and Annihilation doesn't bring anything new to the table or inject any fun or creative wording into the formula. Unless you're a rabid fan of Jace Malcolm or Satele Shan, you'd probably best be served picked up a different Star Wars book.

Is the end of The Clone Wars in sight?

Today Dave Filoni penned a blog about his relationship with Disney. It includes the following lines:

We have many stories left to tell, and every one of them came directly from George himself. Right down to the last one, where that thing with Ahsoka happens…
Is this confirmation that the last episode will reveal Ahsoka's ultimate fate, and that that episode has all ready been written?

Keep in mind that the quote was part of a paragraph specifically telling Clone Wars fans "not to worry" about the show ending any time soon under Disney's rule, and the show is slated to run to at least six seasons. But as big changes to the EU get closer, it will be interesting to see how Ahsoka and company fit in. 

The Clone Wars: The Gathering

I haven’t enjoyed the more child-friendly episodes of The Clone Wars. Droid adventures and The Wizard of Oz references couldn’t save shallow stories.

However, I loved “The Gathering.” I loved the variety of characters: eight aliens to one human. I loved the bizarre landscapes, the way each trial is catered to each character, the clear moral lessons, and the way the Padawans move in sync and chatter like school kids. I loved that they each have the Jedi sigil somewhere on their clothing and that the Rodian has floppy antennae. I loved that we see baby Ahsoka. (I don’t quite love that Ahsoka was put in charge of a bunch of children, but as the newsreel said, the Jedi are low on personnel. I would have liked a moment to explain that perhaps this is ritual to her, as well, and that she remembers her own trial.)

The first few scenes were a montage of background about how Jedi are trained, including baby Ahsoka being found by Plo Koon in a group of Togruta.  (Avoiding any hint that Ahsoka finding her family might become a story, it is difficult to tell what her parents look like.) It was also cool to see one of my personal favorite characters, Tera Sinube, in the background of an early scene.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

I was privileged to see an advanced screening of Wreck-It Ralph this year, and can confirm that it is the kids' movie targeted to adult geeks this year. The script is full of fast-paced puns and clever wordplay, including a bit of jargon that turns out to be an important plot point.  It was movie that brought me to tears (tell no one: the 3-D glasses hid them from the crowd), laughs, joy, and a sense of pride in being a gamer and caring about games. The plot veers off from a straight path and goes through twists and turns that leave it muddled but ultimately rewarding.

Also, I walked into that theatre 99% prepared to love Sergeant Calhoun.

 I did love Sergeant Calhoun, for all that she represented and also mocked. As a Mass Effect and Halo player, she and her game were pretty much the whole reason I wanted to see the movie. The rampancy of PTSD among the space marines was perhaps designed with me as its target audience: the image of one flinching away from a cockroach was hilarious. If you can derive any sort of happiness from two heavily armored people having a romantic picnic at sunset, this movie is for you.

After the special screening the audience had a chance to give feedback, and I drifted over to the rep’s table. A middle-aged woman praised the movie for its strong female characters. I repeated that and added that the conventional romantic ending wasn’t necessary: the other woman enthusiastically agreed.

The central gamer character is a young blonde girl in pink glasses whose femaleness is never remarked upon: an incidental moment where some older kids hog a game works well to humanize her. You can see why she would want to follow Calhoun into battle but she’s just as happy playing as Fix-It Felix Jr., and two boys are playing the Candyland-meets-Mario Kart game Sugar Rush. (One thing I unashamedly enjoyed about this movie was that it has characters who look like me.)

The third female character and perhaps most important is Vanellope, the least annoying character who’s supposed to be annoying whom I’ve ever seen. I really liked her zany, snarky voice acting. The Ralph-Vanellope relationship was by far the best in the movie, although Ralph and Felix had a camaraderie that worked well without falling into schmaltz.

Vanellope’s personal success is a big part of the plot, although Ralph ultimately saves the day and Calhoun is a supporting gun. I could talk about the social justice issues in her first adventure with Felix (a relationship based on abuse and pity?) but honestly prefer not to: the characters are all to an extent meant as good-hearted jokes. The characters were aware of their places as characters, switching to meta-awareness without any sense of devaluing their games.

The story is reminiscent of Toy Story and Monsters Inc., less wholesome (including a character who may be named “Satan” and a conversation mocking the word “duty”) but just as engaging. I’m not sure it’ll have as much lasting value as Toy Story or Tron (which it seemed to try not to emulate), but Wreck-It Ralph was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying, and I expect to see plenty of Calhoun cosplays in next year’s con season.

Disney Aquires Lucasfilm

As those people who have not been living under a hurricane found out on the night of Tuesday, October 30,  Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion dollars. George Lucas himself gets half of the sale price. Kathleen Kennedy, co-CEO of Lucasfilm, will become President of Lucasfilm under Disney.

 I am cautiously optimistic. Disney's Tron: Legacy and (Disney's, Marvel's) The Avengers were some of my favorite movies in recent years.  Disney makes good or decent products and, better, they make a lot of products. A new Star Wars movie is slated to come out in 2015.

This is where the queasy feeling sets in, thousands of voices crying out in terror "We didn't want this!" and being suddenly silenced by money. Lucasfilm commanded a brand loyalty for being the scrappy upstart company that it hasn't actually been since 1977, and I still feel that loyalty. Reports say that many Lucasfilm staff members will keep their jobs, but also I'm afraid this makes the job market smaller.

Many things remain to be seen. How will this affect the EU? The new movies are slated to be "original stories". Most importantly, will they be any good? (They can't be too much worse than the prequels.)

It still feels unreal to me right now, especially since Disney has been allied with Lucasfilm and producing Star Wars-themed products for quite a while. I'll be excited for a new movie, and perhaps new fans, but I always wanted to work for Lucasfilm, not Disney, and now my chance has been eaten by a conglomerate.  

We'll have to wait and see what this means for Star Wars fandom.