Ultimate Star Wars – An Encyclopedia For a New Era

Star Wars Hits the Reset

Ultimate Star WarsSince the Star Wars Saga first hit screens, fans have clamored for more and more information about their favorite space fantasy universe. In 1984, Raymond L. Velasco wrote the first Guide to the Star Wars Universe which attempted to detail many of the characters, aliens, and vehicles which were part of the universe; this guide was followed up with two subsequent editions.  Later, Star Wars super collector, author, and one time Director of Fan Relations, Steve Sansweet took up the task of compiling the first Star Wars Encyclopedia which would cover not only the movies, but the massive amount of books, games, and comics that were now part of the rapidly expanding Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU).  The subsequent release of the Prequel Trilogy and even more materials in the EU called for yet another update to the Encyclopedia.  The result was a massive three tome volume which detail everything from Amee to Hoojibs to Darth Revan; if you read about it in a comic, a book, or saw it in the movies, or on Clone Wars, there was a good chance it was in this book.

EncyclopediaWith the 2012 purchase of Star Wars by Disney that was all about to change as Lucasfilm and Disney needed to wrestle control of the massive beast the Expanded Universe had become and decided once and for all, what constituted canon in the Star Wars universe.  What was officially part of the Star Wars lore, and what was not going forward?  That controversial decision was made in 2014 with the announcement that going forward, only the six films of the Saga, and The Clone Wars series were considered the official history of the universe.  Also going forward, all comics, books would be going through the Star Wars Story Group and as a result would be considered canon as well.

To kick off this new era of Star Wars, Lucasfilm enlisted long time Star Wars writers, Ryder Windham, Daniel Wallace, and Adam Bray , along with megafan, blogger, podcaster, and frequent contributor to Star Wars Insider and the Official Site, Tricia Barr assemble a new Star Wars encyclopedia for this new era of Star Wars.

The results are glorious…

Chock Full of Star Wars Goodness

pagesUltimate Star Wars comes in at a sizable 320 pages, beautifully hard bound with a very nice forward by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO).  Every page is densely packed with information about characters, places, vehicles, aliens and creatures from the Star Wars Saga.  Some entries are fairly detailed with some great information for both new fans, as well as veterans of the Saga.  The layout of the entries is extremely organized and easy on the eyes.

The book is extremely well written, and you can tell the authors put a great deal of care and thought into what they were putting down on the page.  This is not some mere quick cash grab, Ultimate Star Wars is a lovingly crafted introduction into the Star Wars universe penned by writers who truly care.  While I’ve leafed through most of the pages and read quite a few of the entries, there is so much information packed inside, I know I will need a few read throughs to pick up on all of the little hints and secrets the authors peppered throughout the book.  There’s certainly enough information to keep the most avid Star Wars fan entertained for weeks,.

Since this book’s source is the Star Wars Story Group, all of the information contained within is considered Star Wars canon.  The nice thing about this release is it finally puts to bed some of the nonsensical rumors started by Lucas and Prequel bashers that Disney was going to retcon a lot of the Star Wars stories and characters from the Prequel Trilogy.  The most frequent rumors swirled around the origins of bounty hunter Boba Fett.

BobaSome fans simply refused to accept the origin story of their favorite villain; that he was the clone “son” of bounty hunter Jango Fett, and he had grudge against the Jedi for the murder of his father at the hands of Jedi Master Mace Windu.  They wanted Boba Fett to be this mysterious figure, a lone gunman in the lawless west of the Star Wars universe, conveniently ignoring the fact that Boba’s origin, as told by Lucas, is quintessentially Western… gunslinger/bounty hunter father gunned down by the law; son vows revenge against the law and takes up his father’s profession.  Thankfully Boba Fett’s entry in Ultimate Star Wars puts that argument to rest forever… Boba Fett is STILL the clone son of Jango Fett.  However, his fate in the belly of the Sarlacc is still left a little open ended for his potential return.

For those who are shaking their fists to the heavens in rage, I hate to break it to you but there are other surprises in store for you…

Quibbles… Master Evan Piell Is a Zabrak???

Master PiellI have a few minor nerdy quibbles with the book, but they certainly didn’t distract me from my overall enjoyment of Ultimate Star Wars.  The first main hiccup is a few errors have made their way into the text, the biggest culprit being the entry of Jedi Master Even Piell from Phantom Menace and featured prominently in an arc of The Clone Wars.  His entry incorrectly identifies his race as Zabrak when in fact he is a Lannik; yes a goof, but this book has been described as the first official encyclopedic Star Wars resource, it could cause confusion in fandom.  Hopefully future printings will correct these errors or they can be revised in a later edition.

And speaking of The Clone Wars I was a little dismayed at the number of pages dedicated to that show and time period.  In total The Clone Wars accounts for about 25 pages worth of entries, but when you consider over 50 plus hours of storytelling was dedicated to that show compared to the movies, I would have to imagine there’s a lot more information that could have been included.  However, to be fair the Clone Wars entires are outstanding and have some little nuggets of information that were not previously revealed, such as the identity of Padawan Ahsoka Tano’s homeworld.

Finally, my biggest gripe is probably the publisher’s decision to release the book when they did.  The book contains almost no references to the current line of Marvel comics which are canon, there are only vague hints from the new novels, and there’s little in the way of hints about the state of the galaxy during The Force Awakens.  Additionally, there are a number of timelines included in the book, but again they are also very vague, no doubt leaving a lot of wiggle room for for future writers and storytellers to be able to come up with engaging adventures that fit within the new canon.  Taking all of this into account I really have to wonder if this release might have been better served happening closer to the release of The Force Awakens, or maybe shortly after it so more information coming from the spin off comics and books could have been included in the release.  Hopefully this book will either be regularly updated, or might have supplementary books released when there’s enough new information to warrant it.

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Yancy, Is It Worth It?

To quote that great fount of wisdom, Napoleon Dynamite: “Heck yeah!!!”

This really is a Star Wars book for everyone.  If you’re new to the Saga, it’s a great primer on the characters, vehicles, aliens, and events surrounding the entire Star Wars Saga to date.  If you are a longtime fan, the first official Star Wars canon encyclopedia is a must.  The presentation is simple gorgeous, and like most of DK Publishing’s Star Wars work, they have been given full access to the Lucasfilm archives, and as a result Ultimate Star Wars is filled with beautiful pictures of costumes, props, and models from the Saga.  Additionally, the writing is outstanding and there are some very informative, and even poignant sidebars (“Anakin’s Choice” in particular comes to mind).

Ultimate Star Wars is a great resource for any fan looking for official information about their favorite characters, starships, gadgets, or aliens from that galaxy far, far away, and it even included a few surprises along the way for me.  So run, don’t walk to your local retail bookstore, or you can find some super deals online.  This is the first must have resource for any Star Wars fanatic.

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Star Wars The Digital Movie Collection – Quick Review

Digital Movie CollectionFor months there had been growing speculation across social media that Star Wars was finally going to make the leap to digital distribution, and be available as a video download.  In fact Kenner recently announced are series of box collections of action figures called the Star Wars Digital Release Commemorative Editions which all but confirmed the release.  Rumors also began to percolate that Disney was taking the Original Trilogy and restoring the films to their pre-Special Edition versions in spite of ample evidence this was not going to be the case.

Finally, about a week before Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, Star Wars The Digital Movie Collection arrived.  After some waffling about whether to buy the release I decided to make the plunge.

So here’s a short review for those that may be considering the purchase:

The Movies:  Contrary to what the Lucas bashers thought these are not new transfers of the film with restored versions of the Original Trilogy.  These are in fact the same transfers from Lowry Digital that were  authorized by Lucas himself for the 2011 blu-ray release.  So if you hate blinking Ewok eyes, Vader’s new “Nooooo,” Han and Greedo shooting simultaneously then this probably isn’t the release for you.  However if you are, like most Star Wars fans, looking for a solid transfer of all six films that you can watch in glorious high definition on your phone, tablet, PC, or gaming device, then this is the release you’e been waiting for.

ANHThe transfers are very good.  Sure there’s the occasional hiccup like Vader’s lightsaber having an overly pinkish hue at times, and Phantom Menace has clearly had Digital Noise Reduction applied to it, but the films have never looked better.  What really surprised me was how well the detail of the image held up via streaming.  The compression used on this release is quite good, and there’s very little artificial noise in the image.  You of course also have the option to download to play directly on your device (I’ve not tried this option).  Sound of course is outstanding as you would expect in a Lucasfilm release.

One interesting tidbit though; this release portends a major change in the Saga going forward.  Gone are the familiar strains of the 20th Century Fox drumroll and fanfare which would introduce each of the films.  Obviously that was going to change going forward for the new films, but what Disney has done however is cobble together a fanfare from the closing credits of The Empire Strikes Back to introduce five of the six films.  A New Hope is still owned by Fox, and for now, will be in perpetuity unless a deal is reached by Disney.  SO the original Star Wars begins with its usual refrain, which I actually found a little odd after getting used to the change.  I suspect John Williams will either compose a new fanfare for Disney’s Star Wars films, or may re-orchestrate the piece from Empire so it flows more smoothly because as it is it’s rather abrupt.

NOTE:  This release is available through multiple video on demand services like Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Xbox Video, and Amazon Instant Video.  However, be aware that due to rights issues, if you purchase the collection via the Disney Anywhere service, A New Hope is not included in the release so I would probably advise staying away from that service.

BonusBonus Features:   Each of the films also comes with a selection of bonus features.  Most of these are culled from the 2011 blu-ray release, and a handful were exclusive features on starwars.com.  However each movie comes with two short features entitled, Star Wars Discoveries From the Inside which highlight historical Star Wars treasures from the Lucasfilm vaults, and Star Wars: Conversations which feature Star Wars contributors discussing their experiences working on the Saga.  These new features are very good, unfortunately they are also very short.

As a whole the bonus features are a mixed bag.  For example the Prequel bonus features include only some of the deleted scenes completed by Lucas for the DVD release, and these are only presented in pillarboxed 480p which is a big letdown.  Additionally this release was an opportunity to possibly delve into some very good Star Wars documentaries which have never gotten a proper release such as From Star Wars to Jedi the Making of Ep1a Saga, and recent Emmy nominated Star Wars The Legacy Revealed.  Neither release is included, and instead we are presented with a hodgepodge of selections from the DVD and blu-ray releases.  However, let me be clear, it is a good selection, and it’s very nice that many of the Prequel Trilogy bonus features which were left out of the blu-ray release have been included.

Bottom Line:  While it is a nice convenience to have the entire Star Wars Saga available at the tip of one’s fingers via mobile devices, I’m not entirely sure this release warrants the $90 price tag.  The collection of bonus features is certainly a nice value, but there’s approximately only one hour of new bonus content, and while there was clearly some effort put into the new features, there’s nothing particularly revelatory or “new” here.  The bonus materials come across as a “best of” selection of features from the blu-ray set in addition to some starwars.com exclusives.  So for someone like me who has collected nearly every iteration of Star Wars on home video, there’s really not much to recommend about the release unless you are strictly looking at the purchase as a means to have Star Wars on the go, or a completist.  If that’s the case then I highly recommend the Star Wars Digital Collection.  It looks great and the quality of the HD presentation is very good compared to other digitalbonus 2 download movies; and of course like every Star Wars release the sound is top notch.

However, if you are someone who has yet to pick up the blu-ray release of the Saga, or has not made the jump into high definition for your HDTV, then I would definitely recommend this release.  Again, it’s a great presentation, and the bonus features are an extra plus for Star Wars fans who may still be holding on to their DVD collection.
Overall I’m happy with my purchase… sure I might have liked MORE bonus features, but what fan doesn’t.  but it’s nice to have the Saga available for those times I might be waiting in line, or on my lunch break, or away from home.  I’m sure my grandson will get plenty of enjoyment from this release so all in all it was a good buy!

Digital Collection

Star Wars Comes Home… Marvel Comics

Star Wars #7In an earlier post, I discussed my early love affair with comic books.  They were are part of my regular reading diet along with classics from H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis and the like. One of the earliest monthly comic titles I regularly collected was Marvel’s Star Wars which was published back in the late 70s through the mid 80s.  The stories we very hit and miss, but they kept me satiated while I awaited the next big screen adventure.

Luke, Han, and the Princess, now called the Star Warriors in classic Marvel fashion, would travel to strange worlds, fighting the oppression of the evil Galactic Empire.  Looking back at the series for every dud there were a handful of excellent stories like the Shira Brie arc, or Luke’s frequent run ins with the Tagge family.  But like all good things, Marvel’s Star Wars title came to an end, and the further adventures of the Star Warriors would go dormant for a few years.

Tales of the JediFortunately the hiatus did not last long, and Dark Horse Comics took up the Star Wars mantle churning out a regular stream of stories over the span of 24 years.  Like Marvel, sometimes they missed the mark, but by and large Dark Horse’s run was brimming with outstanding Star Wars adventure.  From Dark Empire to Tales of the Jedi to Dark Times, Dark Horse always pushed boundries and explored many eras left untouched by the Saga.  Many Dark Horse stories centered on the early days of the Jedi Order and The Republic, while Star Wars Legacy took Star Wars some 100 years after the end of Return of the Jedi.

However, with the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm and Star Wars by Disney, there now appeared to be rough weather ahead as Disney owned rival comics publisher, Marvel Comics.  For the next two years Dark Horse dutifully continued releasing new titles, but it was becoming increasingly apparent the Star Wars licensing would be moving again… Star Wars would be coming home.

Following the release of Dark Horse’s final titles, including the very interesting mini series, The Star Wars, which was based on an early draft of the Star Wars screenplay, Disney/Marvel announced their first slate of Star Wars comics.  Two of the titles, Star Wars, and Vader would focus on our heroes and villains in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin.  Princess Leia, would be a five issue mini series centered on Leia and her efforts to rescue refugees from her homeworld of Alderaan who escaped the planet’s destruction.  Finally, Kanan: The Last Padawan would be a tie in to the Disney XD show, Star Wars Rebels.  Kanan promised to explore our title character’s days as a Padawan in the Jedi Order, and chronicle just how he escaped Order 66, and took up with the Rebel Alliance.  All of these titles held a certain amount of promise, and appeal to me.

Marvel varient

So rather than do a full blown review for each issue, I’ll give a brief summary of the story so far and my likes and dislikes.  Two of the titles are top notch, one I’ve grown ambivalent about over the course of three issues, and one title I’ve grown very frustrated with and wonder if I will collect it beyond the first storyline.

Star Wars OngoingStar Wars –  The first title released under the new Marvel branding, Star Wars begins strong with a riveting story by Marvel scribe Jason Aaron.  Our heroes have been sent to wreak havoc on an Imperial weapons factory.  The action is fast and the dialog at times seems to channel the actors performances; there are a couple of glaring missteps along the way, but Aaron keeps the story moving.  There’s a great moment when Darth Vader arrives on the scene to thwart the Rebels and hopes to discover the identity of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star.  Suddenly he comes face to face with Luke, but he quickly dispatches the young would be Jedi; Luke realizes he has a long way to go in his training.

While the premiere issue started well enough the next two issue took a bit of a step backwards.  It becomes apparent there’s very little plot in the way of this story, and most of that was presented in Issue #1.  The subsequent two issues came across as nothing more than beautiful action panel after panel, lovingly drawn by John Cassaday.  It’s wonderful to look at, but there’s little in the way of substance.  Hopefully, the title can present a few more stories with some depth; the announcement of a flashback one-shot issue featuring Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi fills me with some hope.  Overall it’s a good title, I just hope there’s a little more meat on the bone down the road.

Vader ComicVader – Unfortunately Vader is a title in need of some direction. The story is part Vader as office lackey, part Vader as threatening Dark Lord, part soul searching, angst riddled former good guy. It would work if it could figure out which of these titles it wanted to be. As it stands the title is extremely confused and double minded. The series, penned by Kieron Gillan, tries desperately to walk this tightrope between these three versions of Vader, and what we are left with is an attempt at a post-modern deconstruction of the Dark Lord that leaves us felling neither sympathy or fear of Emperor Palpatine’s dark apprentice.

Part of the problem is this title really makes ample, and I mean ample use of call backs to episodes in the Star Wars Saga. There are so many winks to classic Star Wars moments that any investment you may have felt in the story is lost as your brains replays moments from the films. In one issue Vader is in Jabba’s palace negotiating with the vile Hutt. There’s a good three pages worth of pointless panels wasted on us looking at Vader’s feet as he drifts dangerously close to the trap door Luke fell through into the Rancor pit in Return of the Jedi. Of course this kind of assumes you are pretty familiar with all of the Star Wars films. There’s even one of the more bizarre reference to The Clone Wars animated series as we meet the Geonosian Queen. Vader is apparently needing an army to use against those who would conspire against him, and the Queen, now part cyborg is just the ticket as Vader proceeds to steal her cyborg/insect babies. It’s bizarre and feels completely out of place in Star Wars.

Vader issue 3

AphraTo make matters even worse we are introduced to one of the most annoying, ill fitting character concepts in the entire Star Wars universe…. the rogue archaeologist, Doctor Aphra. My hatred of this character has only grown over the course of the two issues since her arrival. Imagine the most loathsome, computer savvy, whiney, depressed, emo, know-it-all teenager you could find in a coffee shop… that’s Aphra. Constantly juggling between moments of really wanting to help Vader, and depression over her suspicion that he will kill her when her service for him is finished; there is little to recommend about her. She comes across as a character taken from the pages of Tank Girl, or a contemporary angst teen superhero comic. She’s really a poor fit for a galaxy far, far away, and for a brief instant when she demanded Vader kill her and be done with it, I really wished Vader would have choked her out (she deserved this fate… not Padme).

If it sounds like I’m being overly harsh… well I am. I had extremely high hopes for this title and it has been nothing but a let down. The art is fantastic, and there are individual moments that click, but I could not recommend this title to anyone but a total fanatic, or a Star Wars comic completist. The book simply doesn’t warrant the investment, and while it tries desperately to please everyone, it fails to do so in so many regards.

Princess Leia Issue 1Princess Leia (mini series) – Fortunately the bad taste in my mouth that was left after issue 1 of Vader was washed away by this fantastic series. Princess Leia quickly became my favorite of the new batch of Marvel comics. Sure, the art was a little different than either Star Wars or Vader, but it had a neat kind of retro vibe which looked like some of the early materials released by Wizards of the Coast for their Battle for Theed Introductory RPG game. What really made the title stand out though was the story and the characterization of Leia. This is the Leia hinted at in the early scenes of A New Hope, before the arrival of Luke and Han. This is the Princess of the Royal House of Organa who has to exude confident leadership, but is racked with pain over the destruction of her home and the death of her family.

Defying orders from the hierarchy of Rebel Alliance leadership, Leia Organa, along with Rebel pilot, and fellow Alderaanian, Evaan, escape from the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 looking for survivors and expatriates from Alderaan. Realizing her citizens may be in peril, Leia begins to take her role as the head of House Organa seriously. This eventually leads them to Naboo where a large contingent of Alderaan’s artists and thinkers live. Of course all is not what it seems and there’s political intrigue afoot. There’s even a wonderful moment in Theed City when Leia sees an artistic rendering of her mother that ties both trilogies together. It’s a fascinating moment because when we see the portrait of the Queen in her full makeup we realize that Leia shares the same duality as her mother. There’s the proper Princess of the Royal House of Alderaan, and the feisty, blaster wielding, fast talking Rebel resistance fighter. Series writer Mark Waid handles this moment with care and it is much more effective than the ham fisted Saga references in Vader.

Leia issue 2

So far, Leia has been an enormous success, and sales figures have been very brisk. Hopefully this will lead Marvel to revisit the character in another mini-series. I’m not sure Leia needs her own regular monthly title, but she’s a central character to the Saga and deserves a lot more attention.

Kanan Star WarsKanan: The Last Palawan –  Finally, we come to my favorite Marvel Star Wars series to date. Only one issue old, Kanan was released a few weeks after Princess Leia’s debut, but the book quickly became my favorite of the new stories set in the new canon Star Wars universe. The series follows the adventures of Kanan, Jedi teacher and Rebel leader on the Disney animated series, Star Wars Rebels. Kanan Jarrus is a former Padawan named Caleb Dume who escaped the horrors of Order 66 with the help of his Jedi Master, Depa Billaba. However, the first issue of Kanan begins with the closing moments of the Clone Wars, as Billaba and her young Padawan lead their Clone Troops into a final battle against the force of the Trade Federation.

What makes this series work so well is the writing. The first two arcs of the series will be penned by Rebels producer/screenwriter (for the 1st Season), Greg Weisman. He has a firm grasp of these characters, and more importantly, imbues them with a reality. Although this is a fantasy series the characters feel like people you might know. There’s a wonderful moment toward the end of the first issue when Kanan is talking with some Clone Troopers about duty, and following orders. The clones relish in ribbing the young Padawan, and the writing just feels right. What really makes this scene work is that we know what’s coming in only a few pages… betrayal. The reader is left with confused emotions; we feel genuine sympathy for these clone soldiers, but we know that they will ultimately turn on their friends. It’s heart wrenching, and only a master storyteller like Weisman could pull off a scene like this.

Kanan

In addition to Weisman’s outstanding script, Kanan: The Last Padawan is graced with the top notch artistry of Pepe Larraz. From top to bottom this is the best of Marvel’s new Star Wars series, and will hopefully fill in some gaps of what happened during the early days of the newly formed Galactic Empire. It’s a very wide open part of the timeline now filled with new dangers and enemies for our young Padawan hero.

 

May the Force Be With You… and “Make mine Marvel!”

My Hiatus – There and Back Again

I’m back.  It took a while for the bug to return, but I’m back.

While I had promised back in late December to return to regular blogging in a “few weeks” a number of events occurred that legitimately made writing regular updates nearly impossible.  Namely my job situation changed, and for a few weeks over the Holiday season I had to look for a new job.  I found that job in early January, but I felt it was inappropriate to be spending my newly found free time writing about my passion for Star Wars when I needed to find work.  Also during this period I went through a fairly profound change in my faith, and moved closer to a more orthodox Christian tradition.  During this same time I spent a good deal of time in prayer, and reading my Bible.  Again, it was a time to be serious and less focused on something that’s let’s face it… a little frivolous.

georgelucasHowever, something else happened that made me really examine my fandom, and what was happening within the Star Wars fan community, and Disney’s handling of the Saga.

Back in January Cinema Blend interviewed George Lucas for his upcoming animated film, Strange Magic.  In the interview Lucas stated:

“The ones that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. So it’s not the ones that I originally wrote.” 

I was floored.  Disney had claimed these films were based on George’s treatments for the Sequel Trilogy.  How in the world could Disney simply discard Lucas’ ideas, and what impact would that ultimately have on Star Wars as a whole?  To me this was akin to a publisher buying the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth sagas, then asking Professor Tolkien, if he were alive, to develop a sequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings, then he turns in the manuscript, and the publisher says, “Sorry, John, we’ve decided to go a different direction.”

Then follow that up with the announcement that Prequel Trilogy basher and writer of the first Star Wars spinoff fim, Garry Whitta, was being replaced by ANOTHER Lucas basher, Chris Weitz.  Of course this announcement, along with the Lucas interview set the internets ablaze, and once again exposed the seedy underbelly of a small, but vocal minority of Star Wars who insist on bashing Lucas, and fans of the Prequels at any turn.

I realized that I had my fill of this nonsense.  The endless online forums battles, my Twitter feed being filled with garbage from countless geek websites deriding fans of the entire Saga, or once again bashing Disney or Lucas for not giving them the “unaltered” Original Trilogy in high definition.  Unfortunately it appeared the continued segregation of fans between trilogies, by fans was going to continue, and Disney was doing little to foster a sense of welcoming fans of the whole Saga.  Even a casual statement like, “We stand behind George’s vision of the Saga and will continue to honor it going forward,” would be a nice sentiment.  Instead they hire yet another Lucas basher, albeit a little less intense, Chuck Wendig, to write the official story of what happened in the days that followed the Battle of Endor.  Is it really that hard to find creative types who have a love for George’s six-part Saga (Disney here’s a hint there’s a guy you are already employing, his name is Dave Filoni)?godfather3

So I decided to step away from fandom for a while… my passion appeared to be waning. But just when I thought I was, as REM put it, “Losing My Religion,” a few things happened along the way that rekindled it.  Just when I thought I was out, Star Wars pulled me back in.

While all of these negative behind the scenes things were happening on the Disney/Lucasfilm front, the actual products being released were pretty darn good.  Marvel Comics began their stewardship of the Star Wars license, and so far the results have been pretty good.  The Princess Leia mini series, and Kanan: The Last Padawan have been outstanding titles.  Star Wars started strong but has kind of meandered as of late, and the last two issue of Vader have been pretty bad (I’ll be reviewing the four titles in an upcoming post soon), but overall it looks like Marvel has a good handle on the Saga and have incorporated elements of the entire Saga in their story telling.  Meanwhile the official canon has also continued in a series of pretty good novels.  So far Tarkin has been a standout among the new books, but the Rebels prequel novel, A New Dawn was quite good as well.  Unfortunately the Luke Skywalker novel, Heir to the Jedi was hit or miss, but all in all the canon novels appear to be well thought out and have tied into the comics very smoothly.Kanan

In addition to this quality expanded canon coming from Lucasfilm, Disney’s animated series, Star Wars Rebels, ended in a rousing fashion.  After some early missteps, and some ratings confusion, the show found its footing and a regular audience on Disney Channel during reruns.  More adventures await as the second season is set to debut and will have a full order of 22 episodes.  Hopefully, Disney will allow the adventures of the Ghost Crew continue for some time, and introduce new Younglings and Padawans to the Star Wars universe.

While I may have been growing weary of Star Wars fandom, and Disney’s apparent miscues, the canon material coming from Lucasfilm kept my fandom on a low burn.  However, what finally put it over the top to a full boil came from fellow fan Mike Klimo and his brilliant blog Star Wars Ring Theory.  I had known about Mike’s blog for a few months, but recent he has been making the rounds on a number of podcasts and will be featured in a write up in Star Wars Insider.  So what is Star Wars Ring Theory… well as I’ve always suspected, Lucas’ entire Star Wars Saga completes a circle in how it presents itself.  Lucas used a writing technique call “ring composition” to construct all six episodes of the Saga.  Basically Mike did the serious research of going episode by episode, and more importantly, shot by shot, and line by line, showing how together the entire Saga makes up a intricately woven tapestry… Lucas constructed the Saga in a very specific fashion, and while it can be enjoyed on just a basic, almost visceral level; if you dig deeper, there’s something more… a lot more.  Digging deep into Mike’s work, and listening to him speak so passionately about it made me realize how much the Saga meant to me, and I wasn’t about to let a bunch of grumpy fans, or misguided corporate suits take away from my enjoyment of George’s work.Ring Theory

So I’m officially back, and will return to my normal writing schedule.  Thanks to my readers for being patient with me, but rest assured there will be some good stuff coming up in the weeks ahead.

Coming soon: The Most Subversive Star Wars Story Ever… The Phantom Menace

Great Article Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Ewok Adventure

Ewok AdventureFriend of the blog, Lazy Padawan has written a terrific piece celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the very first Star Wars spin off film, The Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage.  Like Lazy Padawan, I fondly remember sitting down to it on a Sunday night three decades ago, and once again being transported to that far away galaxy.  Sure some of the acting was a little rough, and some of the effects were a little dodgy, but the film was a cute, whimsical little adventure for kids, and still managed to touch on some big thematic elements found in many children’s fairy tales.

Again, I highly recommend you check out Lazy Padawan’s Holocron, as well as her other blog, the Star Wars Prequel Appreciation Society, where she posts some terrific Prequel related news and articles.

Also, in honor of the show’s 30th Anniversary, the Official Site has posted a summary of 9 Things You Never Knew About The Ewok Adventure.  So you might want to give that a read through as well.

Anyway, I’ll be off for the next couple of days celebrating Thanksgiving with the family, and I think I may just give The Ewok Adventure another spin over the holiday, as well as its follow up, The Battle For Endor.

Happy Life Day – The Agony and the Infamy

Star-Wars-Holiday-SpecialIf you are a Star Wars fan who is active on social media, odds are someone in your timeline wished you a “Happy Life Day” yesterday.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) many fans have never experienced the “joy” and “wonder” of The Star Wars Holiday Special where that Wookiee seasonal greeting found its origins.  However, say the words “Star Wars Holiday Special” to a fan who has actually seen this obscure piece of Star Wars and television history and reactions will run the gamut of dread, embarrassment, nostalgia, or bewilderment… or a mix of all four.

The Holiday Special only aired once on November 19th, 1978, never to be seen again, forcing fans to track down this little piece of Star Wars curiosity through VHS dupes, DVD copies, or on the internet.  For those of us around in 1978, there was a growing anticipation of the show.  STAR WARS WAS GOING TO BE ON TV!!!!  Commercials announced the air date, and showed brief glimpses of our heroes in a brand new adventure.  I was primed and ready to be whisked away to that galaxy far away… I only wish the show had been able to live up to the hype.

Memories, like the corners of my mind… make it stop

I still remember watching the show back in 1978 at my friend Tim’s house.  Tim’s dad was an audio and videophile who had this ridiculously massive stereo setup along with a projection screen TV, pirated HBO, and professional radio broadcast equipment in the house.  He also had the only VCR in the neighborhood, which at the time was nearly a $1000 investment, something my dad had no interest in.  We popped some popcorn, got our sodas and watched…  It was Star Warsish; Han Luke, Leia and the gang were all there, but there was just something off about the show.  Even at 11 I found The Holiday Special to be less than special… but hey, the Kenner toy commercials were cool.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is one part variety show, one part TV sitcom, on part Christmas special, all dressed up with Star Wars trappings.  If this sounds like a mess of an idea to you, you’re right.  The premise of the show is simple, Han is trying to get his pal Chewbacca home in time for Christmas… errr… the Wookiee holiday, Life Day.  Unfortunately the Imperials stand in the way of Chewie reuniting with his family.  Now that could have worked as a general premise if we followed Han and Chewie on their misadventures across the galaxy as they try to beat the clock and make it to the Wookiee homeworld, Kashyyyk, for the traditional Life Day church service.  But this show was made on the cheap, and instead of following our heroes in an action packed Star Wars adventure we are stuck on Kashyyk with Chewie’s family while they anxiously await Chewie’s arrival… and wait…. and wait… and wait.

LumpyWe are introduced to Malla, Chewie’s wife, their son Lumpy, and that irascible old timer, Itchy, Chewie’s father.  For nearly 15 minutes we witness Wookiee family drama unfold, all without the benefit of subtitles.  Malla cooks dinner, Lumpy is bored, and Itchy is annoyed.  It’s fairly easy stuff to follow but ultimately we are left to wonder what the point of this special is; after all, anyone watching the show could find the same gripping drama in their home every Thanksgiving.  And ultimately that’s the biggest downfall of the Holiday Special; it’s simply boring.

Tripping… 70s style

Their are certain points in the show where one has to wonder what narcotics or hallucinogens the show’s writers were taking when they wrote this special.  In one scene, Itchy is trying to amuse his bored grandson by showing the little Wookiee a video program with some sort of bizarre, Cirque du Soleil show complete with alien dancers and trippy dance numbers.  Later we watch a psychedelic performance by Jefferson Starship (minus Grace Slick) in hologram form.  But the piece de resistance is an extremely uncomfortable, hyper-sexualized scene involving Itchy watching singer/actress Diahann Carroll singing on a virtual reality device (this family watches an awful lot of TV).  The lyric are fairly suggestive for a children’s program, and there is a disturbing “dirty old man” vibe in the sequence.  For all intents and purposes Itchy is watching intergalactic porn.

BobaOne aspect of the show I’ve never understood fan fascination with is the 10 minute animated segment of the show which introduces the bounty hunter Boba Fett.  The Star Wars cartoon is broadcast on a channel that Chewie’s son, Lumpy begins to watch on his portable video screen.  The cartoon, like the rest of the special is a hot mess with a mix of highly stylized animation, outlandish story elements, and a very meandering story.  Boba Fett is cool, but its really hard to get past the ridiculous plot which requires our heroes to be hung upside down in order to counteract the effects of a sleeping virus.  I was already filled with a sleeping virus by the midway point of this “Special,” and no amount of hanging upside down was going to alleviate that.

There are some moments that are fun, or at least mildly entertaining.  Most of the laughs are provided by TV funnyman Harvey Korman as a video repairman and as a four armed Juila Child-like alien chef.  The Carrol Burnett Show star makes the most out of some fairly painful material.  TV’s Maude, Bea Arthur, has a great little guest stint as Ackmena, a bartender at a Cantina.  Arthur sings a charming little tune about “last call” at the bar, sung to the tune of the Cantina Band song from A New Hope.  These sporadic moments at least keep the show barely watchable, but even their performances can’t save this turkey.

Cantina

So, if you have managed to make it this far into the show you might as well strap yourself in for the rest of the uneventful ride… because it goes out with a … well, it goes out with something.

Princess Leia didn’t just do that?!?!?!
LukeFinally Han and Chewie show up just in time for Life Day, while thwarting the forces of the Empire who were holding Chewie’s family hostage.  Unfortunately, we’ve had to slog through over an hour of bad jokes, lousy songs, scenes only played out with Wookiee grunts and growls, and 70s drug trips before we get to the finale.  Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and C-3PO arrive just as the Wookiees gather around the Tree of Life, wearing their “Sunday best” for their traditional Life Day services (looking suspiciously like the Heaven’s Gate cultists minus the Nikes).  As a tribute to this moment, Princess Leia sings a Life Day carol, to the strains of the Star Wars Theme.  It’s a cringe worthy moment, not because Fisher can’t sing (this is the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher after all), but simply because listening to the Star Wars theme reduced do a little ditty imploring the viewer to, “live, to laugh, to dream, to grow, to trust, to love, to be!” is painfully bad, and a fitting conclusion to the show.

To be fair, there is a certain quaint charm and nostalgia factor revisiting the Star Wars Holiday Special from time to time, especially if you have a copy which still has the commercials.  Watching the old International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union commercial with the Look For the Union Label song is a hoot, as is watching the promo clips from CBS’ TV lineup.  There are also plenty of great toy commercials from the era, as well ad ads for Hungry Man and MC Donalds.  The actors try to make a go of it, and even Harrison Ford appears to be putting in effort on the show, which is surprising considering his disinterested performance in Return of the Jedi.  Mark Hammil gives his usual buoyant performance as Luke, and Carrie Fisher tries her best to come across as regal, and commanding.

Most of the blame for this mess of a show is often placed on George Lucas’ shoulders, but there is no evidence he was ever involved in the project beyond approving some of the production artwork created by artists Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie.  The Holiday Special was all about promoting the Star Wars band and certainly Lucas deserves some criticism for allowing this project to see the light of day, but the lions share of blame should be squarely placed at the feet of the Fox and CBS executives who actually thought this project was a good idea to begin with.  If any Star Wars production or merchandise ever screamed “Cash Grab!” the Star Wars Holiday Special is it.

I showed the special to my kids once… once; just so they can say they saw it.  Someone probably should have called Child Protection Services on me… I’m not sure if that was the act of a loving father who wanted to pass on his childhood memories to his kids, or the act of a vengeful man who wanted his kids to endure the same pain he had as a child.

NOTE:  One dedicated fan created a two disc DVD set complete with bonus features and with an outstanding dupe of the Special including versions with, and without the commercials.  Also included is probably the finest version of the Holiday Special available… the Rifftrax version, complete with classic commentary by MST3K alum, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett.  They at least make the show watchable.

Gang

May the Force Be With You

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The Star Wars Radio Drama – Stephanie Brown, I owe you an apology

I want to start off this entry with an apology to my grade school friend, Stephanie Brown and any other members of the Phoenix Christian Grade School graduating class of 1981 who attended our graduation party in 1981.  I didn’t realize how much of a totally obsessed nut I was back then; a nut who sequestered himself for 30 minutes during the party just to listen to a silly Making of Star Wars For Radio broadcast. It was rude, and disrespectful, but I was a 13 year old Star Wars junkie… I’m truly sorry.  Star Wars Radio Drama

The Star Wars Radio Drama had just wrapped up its 13 episode run the week before with the epic conclusion, Force and Counter Force.  Normally the episodes aired locally, Sunday at 12PM on our National Public Radio affiliate, KMCR (now KJZZ).  I would get home from church just in time to turn on my dad’s stereo receiver, tune in the station, and get a blank cassette tape ready to record.  However, for some reason this special was going to air Friday evening, the night of the graduation party.  What was I going to do?

Fortunately my parents had bought me a portable Sanyo radio/cassette player for Christmas (I think the reason I got that present in the first place was my dad was tired of me always using his stereo).  I figured I could just take the player with me, tune in like I always do and record the special. No problem…

What I didn’t realize was I was about to do something incredibly stupid.  When people saw me walk in with the stereo I think the natural assumption was I was going to be using my stereo to provide music… and I did.  I brought my little tan cassette case which held some 30 tapes or so.  Now I have to say my musical tastes have always been a bit eclectic, so my selection of music at the time included:  Jim Croce, The Doobie Brothers, Christopher Cross, Chicago, Juice Newton, The Oak Ridge Boys (remember… eclectic tastes), Kim Carnes (yeah it was the album with Bette Davis Eyes), a couple of K-Tel albums I had recorded on cassette, and of course my trusty copy of Meco Star Wars.  For the first hour or two we played music in the background while people went swimming and ate, but then it was show time…Meco Star Wars

Looking back on this some 34 years later, I really have to wonder what in the world I was thinking.  I announced that I had a show to record; so I switched off the music, turned on KMCR, and subjected my friends, and Stephanie’s family, to 30 minutes of my obsession (I think Stephanie eventually brought out her own stereo, so maybe it wasn’t so bad). Now mind you, this is a show I’m recording, I can listen to it later.  But of course being an idiot 13 year old boy I sat transfixed listening to The Making of Star Wars For Radio: A Fable For the Mind’s Eye at a low murmur while my friends continued to have fun.  So, to the PCGS Class of 81 I offer this profound apology.

Some of you reading are probably asking themselves, there was a Star Wars Radio Drama?  How did I miss this? Where can I hear it?

Radio 2Simply put, the original Star Wars Radio Drama is nothing short of nearly 6 hours of storytelling perfection.  Over the course of 13 episodes Brian Daley, the author of a trio of Han Solo novels from the late 70s, retells the original story of A New Hope, expanding on ideas in the movie and giving the audience a glimpse into the events leading up to the movie.

We are introduced to Luke Skywalker (voiced by Mark Hamill), on Tatooine in the premiere episode, A Wind to Shake the Stars. Through Hamill’s performance and stellar writing we come to understand just how badly Luke wants to escape to the stars.  He is surround by friends who really don’t like him, and his future appears to be permanently tied to his uncle’s struggling farm.  His one hope for getting off Tatooine is his friend Biggs who is leaving to join up with the Rebellion.

In the outstanding second episode, Points of Origin, we follow Princess Leia Organa on an adventure to deliver medical supplies to Rebels on a planet under siege by the Empire.  She is nearly foiled by the evil Lord Darth Vader (voiced brilliantly by actor Brock Peters of To Kill a Mockingbird fame).  Over the course of the story we learn about the Organa family’s involvement in the Alliance and their efforts to keep that secret.Radio 1  Leia’s backstory is explored in this episode and in the next installment we learn how Leia got here hands on the Death Star plans.  Moments like these give Leia a chance to shine making her a much richer character

Even though the show clocks in at almost six hours, it is never boring and is always engaging.  The sound editing is outstanding, and the performances are brilliant.  I especially loved Perry King’s (of the 80s show Riptide) performance as Han Solo, a role he was up for in the original film. Also on board is Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C-3PO , and veteran actor, Keene Curtis, as the evil Grand Moff Tarkin.

The Star Wars Radio Drama is engaging theater for the mind and draws the audience into a story that is both familiar and new.  That’s what attracted me to the show so much; it was an inventive way to retell a story that was dear to me.  It gave me a better sense of who Luke, Han, and Leia were, and a greater appreciation for the story George Lucas had crafted.  The show gets my highest recommendation

In closing, to coin a term used by the show’s director: “You may think you’ve seen the movie, wait til you hear it.”

You can buy the original Star Wars Radio Drama (including that Making of special I just HAD to record) here:

Radio Drama

May the Force Be With You!