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.

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

Clone Wars Review – Ambush

Season 1 Episode 1 – Ambush – Elegant Simplicity

Action YodaFrom time to time I plan on revisiting The Clone Wars animated series and review selected episodes that really stand out to me.  I hope these reviews will encourage readers who have not watched The Clone Wars to seek out the show and give it a chance.  There are a number of wonderful episodes which rival even the movies in terms of story, character and thematic content.  One of those episodes is the show’s premiere episode, Ambush.

Fortune Cookie: Each episode of the show kicked off with a text of some important saying or pearl of wisdom replacing the standard “A long time ago…” title card.  These little nuggets became known as “Fortune Cookies” and were meant to quickly encapsulate the moral of each episode for young viewers.  This particular episode starts off with:

“Great leaders inspire greatness in others…”

It’s a strong message peppered throughout this episode.

As our story begins, Master Yoda and a convoy of Republic ships are en route to one of the moons of Toydaria, Rugosa, where the Jedi Master plans to meet with Toydarian King Katuunko to negotiate the construction of a base to protect the system from the forces of the Separatists.  Unfortunately the convoy is intercepted by the forces of Separatist leader, Count Dooku, and Yoda, along with three Clone Troopers are forced to use an escape pod to land on Rugosa so Yoda can make this important meeting.

VentressMeanwhile the Separatist army, led by Dooku’s secret apprentice, Ventress, arrive on the planet and intercept the King and strongly suggest he join the Separatist cause.  Ventress claims Yoda is dead, and the Republic is too weak to protect his world. However, the King says he is a man of his word, and still plans to at least meet with the Jedi Master.  He offers a counter proposal; if Yoda can still make the negotiations in person, and get past the Separatist army, he will join the Republic, if Yoda fails he will side with Dooku.  The evil Count agrees to the terms and the race is on.

Over the course of the next 15 minutes we are treated to a light-hearted, exciting adventure as Yoda leads three Clone Troopers through a gauntlet of sometimes dangerous, sometimes inept Separatist battle droids.  Yoda’s expertise with the lightsaber, and brilliant tactical keep our heroes out of harms way.  His wisdom inspires the Clone Troopers who manage to save the Jedi Master in the end when he is trapped.Yoda_the_great_warrior

Of course Dooku has no intentions of abiding by his deal with the Toydarian King and orders Ventress to dispose of him, but Yoda and the clones arrive just in time, and the old Jedi Master disarms the young Sith apprentice who turns tail and escapes.

Ambush is a quaint little adventure and a strong kick off to the show with a strong message for young viewers: Regardless of your size, your ability, or your circumstances, we all have a destiny; and if you listen to the wisdom of those around you, you can accomplish things you did not even think you were capable of.

The Good:

Yoda speaksFor years voice over artist Tom Kane had been the official Lucasfilm voice of Yoda for work in video games, commercials, and other animated projects so it was only natural that he would carry on as the venerable Jedi Master in The Clone Wars.  Kane’s performance is simply stunning, and he inhabits the role in a way that feels familiar and fresh.  Kane’s Yoda has a younger sound and the character feels more like he did in his first appearance back in 1980 in The Empire Strikes Back.  There’s a sense of humor and playfulness that was missing during the Prequel era.  But Yoda is not all fun and games; there is also an amazing amount of depth and humanity Kane brings to the part.  In one standout moment, Yoda speaks with each of the clones calling them by their name.  He explains to them that while they are the same they are individuals with their own destinies, and just like all life, are tied to the Force.  It is a powerful moment with a very important lesson for young viewers.

Clone Wars design team and writers do a great job of making each of the Clone Troopers distinguishable from each other, but it is really the vocal performance of Dee Bradley Baker that breaths life into Thire, Jek, and Rys.  Somehow Baker is able to give each Trooper his own distinctive style and manner of speech which elevates these troops from mere clones to individual human beings.  Baker’s talents are stretched in further in episodes later on in the series when he is given even more troops to characterize on screen.  His work only makes the betrayal by the Clones during Order 66 in Revenge of the SIth even more heartbreaking.Yoda and Clones

Kevin Kiner had an insane task ahead of him, and somehow he managed to come through with flying colors.  When George Lucas approached Kiner to score the series he had two demands:  Each planet the show visited was to have its own musical sound influenced by real earth cultures, and Kiner was to refrain for using the Williams library of Star Wars music as much as possible.  Kiner had to develop his own musical style for the show, and turned to both his background in rock music and his experience as a traditional film and television composer.  In the early episodes of the series Kiner’s work has an original sound that feels different, but right for the Star Wars universe.  However, Ambush makes ample, yet restrained, use of the Yoda Theme throughout the episode to great effect.  This episode’s score is both familiar and new, and works beautifully.

The Bad:

YodaThere’s really not a lot to criticize about Ambush.  It’s a wonderful story with a solid script and great vocal performances.  If there is one weak area with the series during its freshman season it is the animation.  Characters are not nearly as detailed as their models in subsequent seasons (or even later in the first season), and their movements are not nearly as fluid; so this might be a little jarring for new viewers who might be binge watching.  However, the unique stylized visuals make for a very interesting looking show reminiscent of the old Thunderbirds marionette series from the 60s; it certainly stands out from other animated shows of the era.

Overview:  Ambush is a terrific premiere to what would become a multiple Emmy Award winning show, and would introduce new fans to the Star Wars Saga, while keeping the fire alive for older fans.  Ambush is filled with action, humor, and some wonderful character moments which help elevate the Clone Troopers from simple soldiers indistinguishable from each other to individuals with their own ambitions (this will become an important theme as the series goes on).  Of course Yoda is the heart of this episode, and Tom Kane’s performance injects a playful impishness we have not seen from the venerable Jedi Master since The Empire Strikes Back.  And while this story is fairly simple and straightforward, there’s a certain elegance to Ambush’s simplicity.

8 of 10

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May the Force Be With You

Kanan: The Last Padawan

In an exciting announcement for Prequel era and Star Wars Rebels fans, Marvel has announced plans to release a new ongoing series, Kanan: The Last Padawan.  The series is being penned by Star Wars Rebels 1st season writer and producer Greg Weisman.

The series will chronicle the adventures of Caleb Dume (Kanan’s real name) and his Jedi master Depa Billaba, in the days leading up to Order 66, and explain how Caleb survives the massacre.

The title debuts April 2015.

You can read the official announcement from Marvel and an interview with series writer, Greg Weisman, here.

May the Force Be With You