Sunday, June 1, 2014

Revising politics in Attack of the Clones

In my article for the Far, Far Away Radio blog, I mentioned that many critics attacked the political scenes in the Prequel Trilogy. I had mentioned that the Prequels sometimes failed to connect the political story with the characters' arcs. Of course, criticizing is one thing; doing is another. So, as an intellectual exercise, I thought I would take one political scene from Attack of the Clones to see if I could retain the substance of the scene but add more of a character moment.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

WHY WE NEED POLITICS IN STAR WARS

The Far, Far Away Radio blog kindly published an op-ed piece I wrote about politics in Star Wars. I discuss why politics is essential to the saga, as well as how it works best on screen. I then propose a few ideas for the Sequel Trilogy. You can read it here. Thank you again to the team at FFAR for sharing my work!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Got to sink the Malevolence!

Historian and teacher Cole Horton has posted an interesting article about the uncanny comparisons between the Confederacy of Independent Systems flagship Malevolence and Nazi Germany's Bismarck. Horton shows how in both cases a seemingly invincible enemy flagship was destroyed by long-range bombers.

I'd be curious if Lucas and Filoni based this Clone Wars arc on World War II history or the 1960 film Sink the Bismarck! based on those events. The movie cottons some historical inaccuracies, but probably nothing that would have been translated into the show.

Read the full article at StarWars.com.

Friday, May 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Science of Battlestar Galactica

As I've mentioned before, I'm also a fan of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, in no small part because of the intelligent way it deals with politics and religion. I've previously reviewed The International Relations of Battlestar Galactica, about the politics of the show, and The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, about the religious themes. Here is a review of a book that deals with the scientific aspects of the show, The Science of Battlestar Galactica, by Patrick di Justo and Kevin R. Grazier.

The word "science" comes before "Battlestar Galactica" in the title of this book, and I think that placement describes this book well. The book is written by BSG science advisor Kevin Grazier and is organized around various scientific issues that arose during the course of the show.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The EU is dead, long live the EU!

UPDATE (4/28/14): Subsequent announcements from DelRey and other sources have now stated that the announcement signals the end of all EU material that had been published up to this point. Thus, the only stories in the canon are now the six theatrical films, The Clone Wars, and Sons of Dathomir, a comic coming out soon wrapping up the Maul arc from The Clone Wars. This is somewhat more disappointing than I'd hoped. Still, I hope to have an article up soon about where politics in Star Wars might go from here.

Disney and Lucasfilm have just announced on the Star Wars website that Episode VII will not follow the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the announcement mentions that Star Wars will continue to draw upon the EU for ideas, this essentially amounts to a reboot.

Most of these characters never existed...
I'm sure the Internet will be flooded with commentary about this. But a few points are worth keeping in mind:

Nixon in Star Wars

I have been reading J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars Return of the Jedi and came across a great quote about George Lucas' early conception of politics in Star Wars. In one the July 13-17, 1981, story conference with Richard Marquand, Lawrence Kasdan, and Howard Kazanjian, Lucas explained about Emperor Palpatine:
... he was a politician. Richard M. Nixon was his name. He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an imperial guy and he was really evil. But he pretended to be a really nice guy. He sucked Luke’s father into the dark side.
It is well known that Lucas based parts of the Original Trilogy on political events in the 1970s, with the concept of primitive natives defeating a technologically superior army taken directly from the Vietnam War (as discussed here). Nevertheless, I was taken with how directly Lucas equated Palpatine with Nixon. To what extent does Palpatine really reflect Nixon?

Friday, April 11, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Theology of Battlestar Galactica

As I've mentioned before, I'm also a fan of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, in no small part because of the intelligent way it deals with politics and religion. I've previously reviewed The International Relations of Battlestar Galactica, about the politics of the show. Here is a review of a book that deals with religious aspects of the show, Kevin J. Westmore's The Theology of Battlestar Galactica.

As a fan of Battlestar Galactica, I already knew that the show dealt with complex issues of religion in faith. However, I hadn't realized how sophisticated its treatment of religion really is until reading about it from a bona fide expert on the subject.

Friday, March 14, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Yoda arc (addendum)

That is why you fail, Yoda
I realize that I was quite tough in my review of the Yoda arc yesterday. I felt my questions were justified given the high standards set by the The Clone Wars. That said, I feel like the Yoda arc is an overly complicated attempt to explain 1) the differences between Yoda's in the Prequel Trilogy or the Original Trilogy, and 2) the phenomenon of Force Ghosts. This is a noble goal, I think it only fair to explain how I would have approached these issues. After all, it's easy to be critical but harder to be constructive.

One of the most important principles in science is Occam's Razor, the strategy that scientists should choose the simplest explanation that best fits the available evidence. I also think this principle applies to storytelling. Simpler explanations tend to work better.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Yoda arc (Season 6, Episodes 10-13)

Yoda, in touch with nature
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuing. With that said, on to the Yoda arc...

*   *   *   *   *

I know many fans are already calling the Yoda arc - "The Lost One", "Voices", "Destiny", and "Sacrifice" (Season 6; Episodes 10-13) - one of the most important stories of The Clone Wars. For me, it seems a case of style over substance. I get the sense that The Clone Wars team wanted us to believe that these episodes explained key aspects of Yoda's character and the Force, but there were just too many plot holes and questionable choices for me to become fully invested. However, ignoring the story, the episode features some interesting abstract imagery and symbolism, as well as some innovative ways to allow viewers to see fan-favorite characters one last time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Disappeared I & II (Season 6, Episodes 8-9)

Jar Jar Binks, superhero?
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuing. With that said, on to the Disappeared arc...

*   *   *   *   *

The Disappeared arc ("The Disappeared" Part I & Part II) does not have a complex plot or character developments. It features Jar Jar Binks, which is ordinarily enough to doom it from the start. However, "The Disappeared" is a fun ride in the style of Indiana Jones. The arc uses Jar Jar well and even gives him some nice character moments. Visually, this episode is a treat and highlights how far animation techniques have progressed in this show. Ironically, I found myself enjoying this pair of episodes more than any other arc in Season 6.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Clovis arc (Season 6, Episodes 5-7), Part II

The most interesting politician in Star Wars
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Clovis arc...

*   *   *   *   *

The Clone Wars has had a mixed history with telling stories about politics, but the Clovis arc ("An Old Friend", "Rise of Clovis", and "Crisis at the Heart"; Season 6, Episodes 5-7) finally gets it right. While stories about intergalactic politics will never be the most popular amongst fans, the political decisions in this arc actually seem to matter. More importantly, this arc keeps the focus where it should be: on the characters, particularly Clovis. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé get some much needed development. We also get a few fun chase scenes with everybody's tenth-favorite bounty hunter, Embo.

I split the review into two parts. Part I was posted yesterday; Part II is below...

Monday, March 10, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Clovis arc (Season 6, Episodes 5-7), Part I

The most interesting politician in Star Wars
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Clovis arc...


*   *   *   *   *

The Clone Wars has had a mixed history with telling stories about politics, but the Clovis arc ("An Old Friend", "Rise of Clovis", and "Crisis at the Heart"; Season 6, Episodes 5-7) finally gets it right. While stories about intergalactic politics will never be the most popular amongst fans, the political decisions in this arc actually seem to matter. More importantly, this arc keeps the focus where it should be: on the characters, particularly Clovis. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé get some much needed development. We also get a few fun chase scenes with everybody's tenth-favorite bounty hunter, Embo.

I split the review into two parts. Part I is below; Part II will be posted tomorrow...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Order 66 arc (Season 6, addendum)

A serial killer or zombie?
Since posting my review, I've tried to think about how to fix the problems in The Clone Wars Season 6's Order 66 arc with as little editing as possible. I hit upon the unlikeliest source of inspiration: Star Trek: Voyager. During the second season episode "The Meld" (see here for an excellent review of the episode), a crewmember on board the starship Voyager killed a fellow crewmember and soon reluctantly admitted his guilt. He explaining his motivations - or lack thereof - he said that he feels compelled to murder and cannot resist the urge, even though he knows he gets no long term satisfaction out of it. So, in one sense, he was programmed due to his psychology and biology, but was still forced to wrestle with the moral consequences of his actions.

If Order 66 had to be a biological program, I'd at least have liked something more along those lines. Make the Clone Troopers conscious of their actions but also irresistibly compelled to kill Jedi. That way Fives' struggle would still have meaning because the clones could then try to resist Order 66, even if most of them would have failed. Morally they'd still be interesting characters. Because of this, the execution of Order 66 would still have its tragic meaning because it would still be a betrayal. However, given the clones' programming, we'd also still be permitted to feel some sympathy for the clones' plight even as we abhor their actions.

I suspect producer Dave Filoni and scriptwriter Katie Lucas decided on the "zombie" route because it does absolve the clones of responsibility. The Clone Wars is a kids' show and there are many kids who buy Clone Trooper costumes, toys, etc. For some kids, the Clone Troopers are the heroes of the story, not the villains. It probably would have been quite traumatic if these kids realized they were idolizing the moral equivalent of the Wehrmacht. In terms of responsibility to their primary audience, The Clone Wars team probably made the right call, even if it makes for poorer art.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Order 66 arc (Season 6, Episodes 1-4)

In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Order 66 arc...


*   *   *   *   *

The Order 66 arc (Season 6, Episodes 1-4) builds upon what made the Clone Troopers such fascinating characters in the series, but unfortunately it also undermines that in an important way. As suggested by the title, this arc is intended to serve as an explanation for Order 66, for why the Clone Troopers suddenly turned on their Jedi compatriots after receiving an order from Emperor Palpatine. In short, the clones were programmed with a sort of tumor. As an explanation, I find it extremely unsatisfying. However, the second half of the arc focuses on Clone Trooper Fives and his reaction to the discovery. It's a great character moment and raises some great questions about the nature of individuality amongst the clones.