Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do you like Game of Thrones?


This blog is focused on Star Wars and will always be primarily Star Wars focused, but above and beyond Star Wars, I am a fan of good storytelling in it's various forms. To that end you will have noticed me review some none Star Wars content, primarily Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.   

Well like much of the rest of the world I have jumped on the Game of Thrones bandwagon.  I just picked up and powered through Seasons One and Two on Blu-ray and I am hooked.  

To help ease the pain and fill the void that the departure of The Clone Wars has left in my blogging life, I am going to start regular coverage of Season Three of Game of Thrones with a review of each episode.  Hopefully you like my Thrones coverage as much as you do my Star Wars coverage.  

Winter is coming, I better go find a Tauntaun to hide in.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Desolation of Disney: Can the Star Wars Universe Survive Episode VII?


I have been and always will be a Star Wars fan.  I also am rather fond of the Empire of the Mouse, otherwise known as Disney.  With that preamble, I am worried that the cancellation of the animated television series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the indefinite delay of Star Wars: Detours presage a difficult period for Star Wars fans.

The tea leaves and rumors seem to indicate that the Prequel era is going to be mothballed for a while, the cancellation of Episode II and III 3D conversion while at least partially a ownership/distribution issue also serves to clear the theatrical decks for Star Wars Episode VII.  Will all Star Wars storytelling come to a grinding halt to make way for the Episode VII marketing machine, where every consumer channel will be flooded with related content?

How will this impact the two other main Star Wars entertainment vehicles the novel and comic lines?

As of now this is where we stand with future announced published materials:

Novels:

I am hardly an expert on the comics, but Dark Horse has in recent years shifted to a story arc structure that makes most of their Star Wars series either stand alone mini-series or mini-series within a larger story.  There aren't any comic issues or series that have been announced after 2013.  

There are two key decisions to be made that will determine how drastic the changes will be for fans of Star Wars storytelling. The first question is whether the Expanded Universe will be transferred to an Alternate Universe or if it will simply be ignored and replaced going forward? The second question is whether all publishing channels will be devoted to the Sequel Trilogy era or setting up the Sequel Trilogy era by creating new stories after Return of the Jedi that replace the Expanded Universe? 

The beauty of having the current Expanded Universe and a television property like The Clone Wars is that while they are all "Star Wars," there are different flavors of Star Wars.  This allows fans who may be turned off by one product to find another product they can enjoy and spend money on.  A portion of fans may be turned off by the story of Episode VII and the Sequel era, the majority won't be, but you don't kill off properties and piss off fans that help keep the Star Wars franchise relevant in the long period of time between theatrical films.  If Expanded Universe books were not making the New York Times Best Seller list, then I could see justification for obliterating that storytelling universe, but as it stands now preserving the Expanded Universe in the form of an Alternate Universe seems like not only smart fan service by Disney but also the smart decision financially.  It strikes me that the best approach is balanced where the majority of resources and publishing slots  are focused on the Sequel era makes sense, but would allow for keeping a smaller say 25% of these slots and resources reserved for the EU/AU to keep the flame of those stories lit and keep those fans engaged.  

Was The Clone Wars sacrificed needlessly?  If you check out the plethora of Marvel animated shows and other Disney animated properties, there is a wide range of production quality. It would be hard to argue that any of these shows are more well done than The Clone Wars was. In many ways Lucas treated his company a bit like NASA.  By being on the cutting edge of technology and new production techniques Lucas spend more money but also created things that can be used by other film makers and members of the entertainment industry, much like some of the derivative technology that has reached the general population out of the space program.

On the flip side it may be that George Lucas was willing to pour much more money into his pet project to get it built to that level than Disney is willing to spend on one animated series out of many.  Without having a complete picture of production costs, revenue from the show (TV, syndication and home video) it is hard to perform the sort of cost-benefit analysis that they no doubt did within the halls of Disney.

The other aspect of the cancellation of The Clone Wars which makes very little sense to me is that in effect TCW was a giant feeder system for the next generation of Star Wars fans.  Many kids have grown up with The Clone Wars, it is "their" Star Wars and is central to their fandom experience.  How many of these children will be so turned off or upset by the cancellation of the series that they will not come back? How many will simply be apathetic after the loss of the series?  How many will come back but only for the films and how much money will Disney be losing in the intervening years from now until the tentative 2015 release of Episode VII?

How many of these decisions are being made at the Lucas Licensing level, the Lucasfilm level (Kennedy), and how many are being made at the larger Disney corporate level?

I think fans and particularly Expanded Universe fans who have devoted much time and money following these amazing stories deserve to know more about the future direction of "our" Star Wars" universe.  I say our because unlike almost any other property the sense of ownership and community that grew up around Star Wars is unmatched.  There is no Lucasfilm as we know it or Star Wars Episode VII without the legions of fans like myself.

Will the characters and stories that have filled the Star Wars Universe simply wind down like The Clone Wars or will they survive if only in another form?  What say you Lucasfilm?

SOURCE: Wookieepdia for Publishing Information



Monday, March 18, 2013

Star Wars Live Action Series: Two More Writers Revealed


In a recent episode of the ever entertaining and fascinating Nerdist Writers Panel Podcast, hosted by Ben Blacker. One of the panelist revealed that he worked on the mothballed Star Wars: Live Action Series.

Nerdist Writers Panel #77 was published on March 12th and features the following panelists:

Bill Prady (co-creator, The Big Bang Theory); Donick Cary (New Girl; Bored to Death; former head writer, Late Show with David Letterman); Stephen Scaia (Human Target; Jericho; adapting Y: The Last Man for feature film). Recorded February 10, 2013.

Approximately 17 minutes into the podcast, writer Stephen Scaia (@stephenscaia)reveals that he and his writing partner, Matthew Federman were part of the first group of writers brought to a writing conference at Skywalker Ranch with George Lucas acting as show runner and where some awesomeness was created.

The initial conference was a week and a half and it sounds like George Lucas and the rest of the staff had way too much fun.

In describing breaking a scene with a "fan favorite character" flying around in his jet pack, apparently Lucas told Scaia that he had not had this much fun in a writer's room since Raiders of the Lost Arc when they where breaking the truck chase scene.

There is an awesome dry erase board/Renoir story.

A little nuts and bolts on the writing process of the show.

Scaia describes the scripts as "completely unproducable" apparently Lucas' direction was to "make it awesome" and not worry about the practicalities of production.

This part of the discussion is roughly five minutes and length and well worth the time to listen, maybe it will get you hooked on this great podcast.

SOURCE: http://www.nerdist.com/2013/03/nerdist-writers-panel-77-bill-prady-donick-cary-and-stephen-scaia/

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cancelled The Clone Wars is: Initial Thoughts on the Disney / Lucasfilm Decision


All good things must come to an end.  Unfortunately for Star Wars fans, the groundbreaking animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars will be coming to a close very rapidly.  From the sounds of today's announcement they will find a new delivery medium, perhaps direct to video, paid download, or on-line to burn off some remaining story arcs that are already in advanced production.  The Clone Wars will not have a televised Season Six, but just how the series will ultimately be wrapped up remains to be seen.

The Lucasfilm Announcement on Starwars.com:

A NEW DIRECTION FOR LUCASFILM ANIMATIONMarch 11, 2013 
As we enter into an exciting new era focused on the next Star Wars trilogy, Lucasfilm has decided to pursue a new direction in animated programming. We are exploring a whole new Star Wars series set in a time period previously untouched in Star Wars films or television programming. You can expect more details in the months to come.  
As part of this shift, we have also made some key decisions affecting Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Detours. 
After five highly successful and critically acclaimed seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we feel the time has come to wind down the series. While the studio is no longer producing new episodes for Cartoon Network, we're continuing production on new Clone Wars story arcs that promise to be some of the most thrilling adventures ever seen. Stay tuned for more information on where fans can soon find this bonus content. In the video below, Supervising Director Dave Filoni offers a peek of what is to come in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
At Star Wars Celebration VI last year, George Lucas gave fans a glimpse at the animated comedy series Star Wars Detours from Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, and Todd Grimes. Detours was conceived and produced before we decided to move forward with the new Star Wars trilogy, and in the wake of that decision, Lucasfilm has reconsidered whether launching an animated comedy prior to the launch of Episode VII makes sense. As a result, we've decided to postpone the release of Detours until a later date.
We are incredibly proud of the teams at Lucasfilm Animation for creating some of the most amazing animation ever produced for TV. Keep checking StarWars.com for new developments on these and future projects.
The three big takeaways from this announcement are the fate of The Clone Wars, putting Detours on the shelf, and a new animated series in previously unexplored television or film ground.

In terms of Detours, as entertaining as this comedy show would have been it doesn't carry the canonical and story telling impact of The Clone Wars. I am first and foremost a fan of stories, and as such my interest in Detours is at a lower level than The Clone Wars, the Live-Action series or this new animated series.

Regarding The Clone Wars, it is good to know that they simply aren't going to lock up the unaired but in production episodes.  There are two very curious phrases in the announcement.  Instead of calling future Clone Wars stories "episodes" they are referred to as "story arcs."  The reference to arcs makes me thing that they are going to be shown in an unconventional way. Either these story arcs are going to be edited together to make feature length specials or they could be broken down into micro-episodes and perhaps aired on-line on Starwars.com in a simlar fashion to Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.

The other phrase that is curious is referring to these story arcs as "bonus content" that makes it sound like it comes in addition to another purchase.  Could they be launching a new Hyperspace like on-line membership soon?  Could the episodes come as digital copies attached to the Season 5 blu-ray?  Much remains to be seen.

The new series that is being "explored" can go in a number of directions based on the line that it will take place in "a time period previously untouched in Star Wars films or television programming." The two most likely settings are the era between Episode III and Episode IV or the era between Episode VI and Episode VII.  If the series was set during the rise of the Empire between Episode III and Episode IV you would likely get a Jedi purge story focused on Vader and the hunt for Jedi and Rebels.  This would very cool but probably a little too mature in terms of content for Disney animated standards.

The more likely scenario is that we will be getting a new series set after Episode VI that will preform a Jedi mind trick and erase the events of the Expanded Universe from the minds of fans before Episode VII.  Of course if the new series was set between Episode VI and Episode VII, one wonders how long it would run given Episode VII's tentative release year of 2015.

Either way I am very curious in look forward to more Star Wars stories.  I would lie if I didn't say I am sad to know that The Clone Wars is wrapping up soon, but I think we all knew that there was only a couple seasons left ultimately.  The main thing for me at this point is to try to resolve some of the fates of characters created for the series, but that is the subject for another post.

I'll leave you with Dave Filoni's comments and an awesome video clip with the return of a very cool villain who is now more machine than...spider?

Dave's The Clone Wars Eulogy:



SOURCES: Starwars.com

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Battle Meditation Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Wrong Jedi (Episode 5.20)


Yoda: "Ready he is, to teach an apprentice. To let go of his pupil, a greater challenge it will be. "
 The Season Five finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an amazing piece of cinema shown on television. Complete with a full orchestral score, stunning animation and the best voice acting of the lead characters in the series, the story of Padawan Ahsoka Tano wrapped up in compelling, satisfying and heart-wrenching fashion.
"Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem."
On trial for murder, Ahsoka faces her greatest challenge.
There is so much to say about this episode, but the highest compliment I can pay is that it made me care and feel about characters in a way that no animated television series ever has.  The relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka is so deep and complex by this point in the series that the emotional pain that both are feeling during this episode is clearly conveyed to and felt by the audience.  I was very skeptical of Ahsoka's character at her introduction, but I can without equivocation say that she is my favorite character in the series.  Her relationship with Anakin is an odd amalgamation of parent-child, teacher-student, friend, and at time co-conspirator.  

The trial scenes both in the Jedi Temple and in the Republic military base where dramatic and well done.  The revelation of Barriss Offee as the traitor was handled well and the action and story where so compelling that even a Expanded Universe devotee such as myself didn't event think about continuity once while I was devouring this episode.   The exchange between Anakin and Asajj was beautifully done and  Nika Futterman  once again delivered some incredible acting.  

I could say more, and I have speculated on Ahsoka's ultimate fate and the fate of the series, but what I want to focus on are the final two scenes, the Jedi Council's apology and Anakin and Ahsoka's goodbye. 

The Jedi Council, so quick to bow to political pressure and self-doubt to believe that Ahsoka could be guilty comes back to the Ahsoka in what can only be considered a half hearted apology. As Yoda says, "back into the Order, you may come." The council acts as if it is doing Ahsoka a favor by asking her back and offering her the promotion to Jedi Knight. 

Ahsoka's rejection of the Council and the Order feels to Anakin like a personal rejection.  The animators really worked over time in this scene. From the body language of Ahsoka and Anakin, the moment as Plo Koon reaches out to restrain Obi-Wan from going after his former Padawan as Anakin chases down Ahsoka, and the look of sadness that washes over Yoda are all conveyed beautifully.  







In the final scene on the steps of the Jedi Temple, Ahsoka reveals to Anakin that she needs space to work out everything that happened. This is important because it doesn't foreclose the possibility for her rejoining the Order at some point down the road. It is clear that whatever happens with Ahsoka's relationship to the Order it will be on her terms not Anakin's and not the Councils.

This scene also shows the desperation and attachment that Anakin has developed for Ahsoka.  Anakin cannot handle loss, it isn't in him to give up or let go.  This is both his greatest strength and his greatest flaw, Anakin wins in battle because of this, but it also causes him to lose himself.  

His confession to Ahsoka of his thoughts of leaving the Order and her simple yet full of meaning "I know" reveals just how close the master and padawan have become. Not only can Ahsoka sense Anakin's emotions and desires, but she knows his great secret and his forbidden love of Padme.  This scene works so well because Ahsoka treats Anakin not as her master but as her equal and her friend.  It is clear just how much she cares for him and how difficult Ahsoka's departure will be for both of them.  




 I could watch that final scene on a loop and be a very happy Clone Wars fan.  From lighting, animation, sound and acting it was pitch perfect. It was worth every minute I have spent obsessing over this series to reach this point.  Thank you to the entire cast and crew at Lucasfilm for this brilliant episode.



SOURCE: StarWars.com

The Final Fate of Ahsoka Tano and the end of The Clone Wars

Yoda: If into the security recordings you go, only pain will you find.




As the dust settles following the developments in The Clone Wars Season Five finale, it is time to revisit the fate of Ahsoka Tano and how the series should end.  I am not going to even deal with the issues of production and distribution in this post, this is purely about what I really care about, the story.

Just as the Jedi Council lost faith in Ahsoka, her faith in the Order and the Republic has been shattered.  So quickly they were to believe in her guilt despite of her devoting her life to their cause, can you really blame her?

The Jedi try to make it up to her by granting her the rank of Jedi Knight based on her experience in this arc representing her great trial.  The irony is that even the council seems not to understand that the rank bestowed by the Order means nothing to someone who no longer respects the Order. Their olive branch is meaningless to Ahsoka, the only thing that even makes her briefly question her decision to leave is her familial love for Anakin.

What does Ahsoka's departure from the Jedi and from her role as a Commander in the Grand Army of the Republic mean for her and for the series as a whole?

For Ahsoka her life is at a cross-roads.  She is no longer a Jedi, but her separation from the Order could allow her to be a true Jedi.  This story line also strikes me as a bit of insurance.  If the show is not picked up for distribution and continued production on a new channel or avenue, leaving Ahsoka alive but outside the Jedi Order and the GAR allows for a plausible explanation of her absence from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and allows for her character to survive and be used in other storytelling venues, be it books, comics, a spin-off TV series or a stand-alone film.

I am an eternal optimist so assuming arguendo, that The Clone Wars continues to be produced let me lay out how I see Season Six and Season Seven going.

Season Six would see the Clone Wars ramping up to the wars end, we would continue to see stories focusing on Anakin, Obi-Wan and the rest of the background Jedi leading the Grand Army as they get closer and closer to capturing Dooku and Grievous. At the same time we should see at least two full arcs or between 6-8 episodes focusing on Ahsoka.  The first arc would be Ahsoka finding her own new path, the second would be a more action packed adventurous arc as Ahsoka is being a galactic do-gooder.

I think it would be interesting to see TCW borrow a bit from the Expanded Universe and Ahsoka seeking out some other Force using groups a bit like Jacen Solo's off-screen five year Force journey. Ahsoka could visit a few different Force using groups seeking to find answers or inner peace on what she should do in her future apart from the Jedi.

Ultimately I think Ahsoka finds her role by acting to help those in the galaxy, doing things that the Jedi would normally have done in the past but are too consumed with the war to currently do.

Then either in the Season Six final arc or early in Season Seven, something happens that causes Ahsoka to cross paths with Yoda, Anakin, or Obi-Wan and causes her to either re-join the Order or to work as a Jedi Independent Contractor.

In Season Seven or possibly in Season Eight if it continues that far, I believe we are now on an inevitable course that will end with Ahsoka's death.

The only question in my mind is if George Lucas and Dave Filoni are willing to deal Ahsoka as tragic an end as I have in mind.

If I were telling the story, Ahsoka will selflessly return to the Jedi Order in a time of their great need just before Order 66, this act of selflessness ultimately leading to her own death at the hands of her former Master.

Anakin Skywalker when confronted by Obi-Wan on Mustafar doesn't believe that he had killed Padme, it is only after when Palpatine convinces him of it that he comes to this "knowledge." The Clone Wars gives us the chance to expand on what can feel like an abbreviated and rushed fall to the Dark Side of Anakin.  If there is one act short of killing Padme that Anakin could never forgive himself for it would be killing Ahsoka. As such I believe Star Wars: The Clone Wars will end with Order 66's Operation Knightfall.  I believe that this fate is foreshadowed by the inclusion of the Young Jedi arc younglings in the Season Five finale. Ahsoka will be in the Temple when Anakin comes in with the clone troopers, she will step between Anakin and the younglings and they will duel. Ahsoka will actually duel Anakin to an advantage but hesitate and be unable to kill Anakin.  Sensing this moment of hesitation Anakin kills Ahsoka and then proceeds to the slaughter at the Temple.  This is the moment that Anakin is reliving on the balcony on Mustafar, the guilt, shame, and regret that he is overwhelmed by.  This helps push Anakin so far that neither Obi-Wan or Padme can reach him at the end.  At the end as the Vader personae takes dominance, he hates himself more than anything else.

The only other ending that feels right to me at this point is the same set up except Ahsoka escaping her duel with Anakin, much like Yoda escaping his duel with Sidious and fleeing into hiding with a small group of padawans or younglings. This would be the less tragic and more commercially friendly ending for future projects, but to me would be less emotionally profound.

I am very pleased to say as skeptical as I was of Ahsoka during The Clone Wars movie, she is now one of my all time favorite characters in the vast Star Wars universe. I care about the character's fate and that means that the goal of any good storyteller has been accomplished. As much as I wish Ahsoka could live, when the series ends she should die.





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