Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Clone Wars: Shades of Reason

“Shades of Reason” made a big impact on the world of The Clone Wars, knocking Duchess Satine from her throne and giving people - both in the Star Wars universe and out of it - a convincing argument for why the pacifist New Mandalorians shouldn’t be in power. Satine’s people can’t protect themselves.

With the ineffectiveness of Satine’s bank and dock guards, it’s clear to see how the armed and armored Death Watch Mandalorians could impress the citizens of Mandalore into turning to their side. An original trilogy homage - “We’re Death Watch, and we’re here to rescue you.” - made me smile and gives the Death Watch the heroic feeling that will help them get to their goal. A bright blue droid with a smiley face is shot near the beginning of the attack, a pretty obvious metaphor for how the New Mandalorians respond to the threat. The attack on Satine also puts Viszla and Maul into the perfect position to betray each other.  

Maul’s dialogue is a bit more straightforward than previously. His brusque “Where are my targets?” sets the tone for the episode. He’s still strategizing and keeping calm under fire while he’s briefly imprisoned. The scene with the brothers in their cell seemed perfectly timed to come on the heels of Thursday’s announcement of the upcoming novel Maul: Lockdown. Maul’s expressions and Witwer’s quiet tone make him more convincing as time goes on. Then, when he attacks Viszla, it looks like Maul is finally letting out his pent-up rage and channeling Savage. That’s also when we see the rare smile from him.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Worlds Collide: J.J. Abrams to direct Star Wars Episode VII

It's official: the man behind the Star Trek reboot and Super 8 will be directing Episode VII.

J.J. Abrams injected a sense of wonder into Star Trek. Some of its scenes, like Kirk being chased across a snowy land by a monster, even looked like Star Wars. I'm cautiously optimistic. With the popular awareness that female characters need to be more than eye candy, to hold their own and to also have flaws and comedic moments, there's no doubt that Abrams will at least try to check that demographic box as well as providing the adventures and alien landscapes integral to Star Wars.

Also exciting for me is the involvement of Lawrence Kasdan, who helped make The Empire Strikes Back great.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Novel Makes Darth Maul Even Darker

Geek news site io9 just released the cover and blurb for a new novel - and it's Zabraktastic.

The guy who put zombies in the Star Wars universe is sending Darth Maul behind bars

Maul: Lockdown will be released some time in 2014, according to the Star Wars Books Facebook page via FanApocalypse, and feature a pre-The Phantom Menace Maul infiltrating a criminal empire.

The last Maul novel for adults was released in 2001, and Joe Schreiber of Death Troopers fame is not known for toning down the violence and gore. Add a jail setting and this could be one of the darkest Star Wars novels ever. What better central character for that than Darth Maul, who is now back in action on the small screen in  The Clone Wars, which was recently censored for violence?

I admit that the zombies-meets-Star Wars tagline didn't get me to read Death Troopers, but hey. Now it's Maul.

Billed as part as the same series as last year's well-done Darth Plagueis, could Lockdown connect to The Clone Wars to tell us more about the Sith and about Maul's experience with the underworld?

 The one foreseeable downside: teen-boy-angst-trap cover and prison setting means there isn't much chance for female characters.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Clone Wars: Eminence

“Eminence” was not the most cerebral half-hour ever. It was not even the most cerebral episode of The Clone Wars. I had to get past some aspects that bugged me before settling in to enjoy it, but after I did I appreciated “Eminence” as an episode that draws the viewer in and refuses to let go, throwing in images of new alien species and dramatically colored vistas before whirling off to the next set.  Unfortunately it also fails to answer a lot of questions, mostly serving to set up a battle.

The animation is wonderfully detailed, from the frost on Maul’s skin at the beginning of the episode to the characters interacting in the background of the Mandalorian camp. Unlike most scenes, I actually believed that there was a large army there. The episode also has some great moments without dialogue, where atmospheric coloration and music make the galaxy feel grim and real.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Clone Wars: Point of No Return

Whether or not one believes in a soul, the human body can be said to be greater than the sum of its parts. Our bodily integrity is important to us. The loss of a limb is not routine. We are aware of ourselves as stewards of our bodies.  In the Star Wars universe, the Force is what binds all things together.

Not so with droids. They can be taken apart and put back together to an extent that would be impossible for a human. The droids in The Clone Wars don’t seem to have an “ick” response when BZ’s head is modified to fit Gascon inside. Throughout this arc of episodes droids have been taken apart, exploded, and modified to suit sentient beings’ needs.

When the D-Squad arc in Season Five started, I wondered whether anyone would question their humanity because of this ability, or learn about them in the way that Obi-Wan learned about the humanity of the clones in The Cestus Deception. Gascon never said directly that he thought the droids were subhuman, but he did treat them as inferior. (I got the impression he would do the same to clones, or any rookie soldiers, which undermined this idea a little.) The arc isn’t an exploration of droid humanity either, not as much as I would like it to be. The lesson seems to be that it doesn’t matter whether the droids are sentient, or whether they are “human” or not, because it is their mechanical nature that gives them an advantage over organic beings.

This arc has been unfocused, at times creative and others hackneyed. It also seems largely irrelevant to the characters who have the most at stake this season: Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress, Darth Maul and Savage Opress. The same is true for “Point of No Return,” the last episode in the arc. It doesn’t forward the plot of the show as a whole. It does not redeem the entire arc.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Clone Wars: Missing In Action

Regardless of mixed reviews, everyone can agree that last week’s episode of The Clone Wars was unusual. “Missing In Action” returns to form while adding Gregor, a clone trooper reminiscent of the lost Cut from the Season Two episode “The Deserter” with one important difference - Cut’s exile was voluntary. Dee Bradley Baker gives Gregor a versatile voice, but on the whole “Missing In Action” is not a particularly momentous episode for the occasion of The Clone Wars turning 100.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Timothy Zahn Talks Scoundrels


The eagerly anticipated novel Star Wars: Scoundrels was released on the first of the year, and in honor of the release author Timothy Zahn conferred with me about Han Solo, the women of Star Wars, and very elaborate Easter Eggs.

Zahn is known as the father of all Star Wars novels, with his Thrawn Trilogy kicking off the Expanded Universe in 1991.

Megan: Hi Tim - Thanks so much for speaking with me. Could you tell me a little bit about the beginnings of Scoundrels? What inspired you to want to write this story?

Timothy Zahn: I’ve always enjoyed the twisty plots and schemes found in good heist stories, and I especially like stories with a crew working cheerfully and professionally together without planning any betrayals or back-stabbing. Ocean’s 11 and The Sting are the two that, for me, most exemplify this tone.

My original plan was to have a cast more heavily weighted toward EU characters, including Luke, Mara, Corran, and Mirax. However, as I pitched the idea to Shelly and Sue, I learned they’d been looking for something that might bring in Star Wars fans who weren’t already EU readers. The obvious approach was thus to adjust the Scoundrels cast and timeline so that any reader who was familiar with the classic movie trilogy would be able to pick up the book and not get lost in EU references.

M: I really liked the female characters in the book as well as the emphasis on friendship and family.  Tell me a little about the development of sisters Bink and Tavia.

TZ: Like most of my characters, their personalities were fleshed out as I developed the storyline. I already knew I wanted female twins with very different levels of professional enthusiasm in those roles, and as I plotted I worked out the details of their relationship with each other and the universe at large.

M: Then there’s Han and Lando, a better-known pair. How did you connect your characterization of them in Scoundrels with what we see in The Empire Strikes Back?

TZ: Over the years, various other writers have suggested reasons for the Han/Lando tension in TESB. My take was that Han’s semi-innocent “Who, me?” expression in response to Lando’s accusation is not the look of a man who’s remembering a serious, deadly, life and death incident that came between them. Rather, it strikes me as a “Oh, come on. You’re still mad about that?” sort of thing, which is what I’ve tried to put into this book.

I’m sure the readers will have various reactions to that, both positive and negative, and I expect to hear a lot about it during the year’s conventions.

M: When you’re writing original characters in the Star Wars universe, do you consciously choose their gender, like ‘I’m going to make a female character now’, or does it happen organically?

TZ: It’s a combination. I like to have a mix of male and female characters because I think a varied cast allows more depth of personalities and interactions. But I won’t shoehorn a woman into a role because it’s the PC thing to do. Usually as I’m developing a story the genders of the characters just sort of automatically emerge in my mind. Bink and Tavia’s roles were always women; Dozer was always a man, and so on. It’s mostly a matter of what feels right.

M: How was it working with the Rebellion characters Kell and Winter outside their element? I thought it was a nice touch that Winter didn’t know Leia was alive - or that Han knew her.

TZ: It’s always fun to work with Winter—I really like the lady. As for Kell, it was a pretty daring move (for me, anyway) to use someone else’s character in anything larger than a cameo. But Aaron [Allston] and I have similar views on how the Star Wars universe operates, and I had some discussions with him as to whether Kell would/could have the necessary skills for the tasks I needed him to do.

Still, in keeping with the goal of making Scoundrels a first-time-reader-friendly story the Winter and Kell roles are in many ways just very elaborate Easter Eggs – regular EU readers will enjoy seeing them here, but non-EU folks can meet them for the first time with no problem, or (hopefully) any sense that they’re missing something.

M: The novel’s twist ending was one of my favorite parts. Was the twist one of the first ideas you had for the novel or did it come into being later?

TZ: Actually, that twist was the brainchild of the Del Rey editorial team, who came up with it at one of their roundtable meetings and suggested it to me. Naturally, it was too cool to pass up.

Thanks to Tricia Barr and Greg Kubie for their help with this interview.