Reports from the HoloNet: A Teaser for the Trailer for a Teaser…

So.  It’s come to this.

This morning a teaser dropped for Episode VIII, a teaser announcing that the movie is now in production.  I honestly have no idea what to do with this.

We all knew that Episode VIII was coming, Disney had announced that there would be three new movies; and even if they hadn’t, Episode VII has done well enough that a second movie would be a viable option.  So why did we need a teaser to inform us that Episode VIII has begun shooting?

My griping about the teaser aside, the announcement did come with some other interesting news.  Along with the main three returning, Captain Phasma will be back (good news for me, as I thought Gwendoline Christie was criminally underused in Episode VII) and we’ll get two new characters played by Benicio del Toro and Laura Dern.  Del Toro has been rumored to be playing a bad guy in the movie for a while now, but it might be nice to see him take on a good guy role for once.  As for Ms. Dern, I would think a member of the resistance or possibly a senator from the Republic would be options for her role, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

At any rate, doubtless there will be quite a few more teasers between now and whenever the first trailer drops.

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Adventures in Star Wars – Episode 1: A New Version

So I’ve had Star Wars on the brain quite a bit lately (too much SWTOR probably), so I might as well do something about that.

Originally this first bit was going to be a video, but I’d rather not have my email inundated with content claims, and quite frankly Disney’s lawyers scare me.  So you’re getting an article instead.

We’re starting things off with the movie that got the whole ball rolling in the first place, Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope.  Specifically, we’re going to be taking a look at the changes made to the movie for the “Special Editions” that came out in the late ninties and early aughts.  I have watched both the Special Edition and the original Theatrical Release of Episode 4 (please don’t ask how I got the original version, let’s just say that it’s available if you know where to look.), with an eye towards seeing if the changes made by Lucas to the original alter the movie in any meaningful way.  And they do.  Sort of.

Fans of the franchise have claimed that the Special Editions are simply a blatant cash grab by Lucas and the changes made alter the movie beyond recognition.  I have my own theory as to why Lucas made the changes that he did, but we’ll get to that later.  But are the changes so bad that A New Hope actually becomes a mediocre, or even a bad movie?  Not really.

But before we dive into the changes and why they do or don’t work, a little background on my own history with the franchise.

I watched the movies when I was a kid, of course; Star Wars is an American cultural touchstone after all, but I was never as emotionally invested in them as I was in other things.   So I’m a bit of an outsider in terms of perspective, which means I’m going to be looking at things as objectively as possible.

Deep Background

Most of the changes made to A New Hope are simply background things. Animals added in the background of certain shots, the formerly rotoscoped blaster shots and lightsaber blades replaced with CGI versions, that sort of thing.  For the most part these are unobtrusive changes, they’re just there in the background to liven things up a bit.  However, they can be a bit distracting in some places, but those bits are brief and don’t really harm the flow of the film.  The biggest problem is that the CGI used to make them has not aged well.  Mind you, it was state of the art back in 1999, but film effects have moved forward by leaps and bounds since then (partially thanks to Lucas’ own ILM effects company) and a lot of older CGI just doesn’t hold up.

And this is where my theory about why Lucas made these changes in the first place comes in.  You see, ILM was doing some amazing stuff back in the late ninties, and I would be willing to bet that Lucas looked at all that and said to himself: “Wow!  Just look at all the things ILM can do now!  If I could remake Star Wars with all this new technology, it would be so much better!”  And that’s exactly what he did.

Now, this theory doesn’t excuse Lucas’ alterations, but it does explain why he decided to alter the film so dramatically.  Of course, not all the changes made were simply background stuff and cleaning up things that were a little muddy in the original.  There were two changes made that significantly alter one character in particular.

Han Shot First

Sometimes in the moviemaking process, sacrifices will have to be made.  Certain scenes will end up on the cutting room floor, either for budgetary reasons or time reasons, or simply because the scene just isn’t working.  In the case of A New Hope, the scene in question is one between Han and Jabba the Hutt.  Originally, a live actor played Jabba, but the scene didn’t work as Lucas wanted and it was cut.  In it’s place was put a scene between Han and a bounty hunter who worked for Jabba.  Fast forward to the Special Editions and two key changes were made.  One, the previously cut scene was added back in (with the addition of a CGI Jabba to replace the live actor) and the second was a slight alteration to the scene between Han and the bounty hunter.  We’ll deal with the latter first.

The scene in the Cantina gives us a lot of information about Han’s character without infodumping everything about him.  We learn that Han owes money to a local gangster after he had to dump some cargo when he got boarded by some Imperials.  We also learn that Han is not to be taken lightly, he is more than willing to kill in order to keep himself safe.  That last part is changed in the Special Editions when the bounty hunter shoots first thus giving Han a reason to kill him.  He didn’t need a reason before, why does he need one now?  Also, as a side note; Apparently Jabba puts his bounty hunters through the same marksmanship training that the Stormtroopers get.

As for the scene between Han and Jabba, it’s redundant.  There is no reason for it to be there since all it does is give us information that we heard not two minutes ago in the cantina.  It doesn’t really kill the pacing of the film, as the scene is rather brief, but it does slow it down unnecessarily.  I can only think that someone thought that the phrase “With Never Before Seen Footage!” would look good on the posters.

In Conclusion (or TL;DR)

Now then, to the question at hand.  Do the changes and additions to A New Hope significantly alter the film.  Not really, no.  With the exception of the two Han scenes previously mentioned, the changes made do not alter either the plot or our understanding of the characters and their motivations.  However, I can understand why longtime fans were upset by the changes.  When something you love is altered like this, at best you can walk out feeling disappointed; at worst you can walk out feeling betrayed and insulted.

All that said, I think that the movie still holds up quite well.  At it’s heart, Star Wars is a simple hero’s journey tale told well, and that’s what has kept the franchise alive after forty years.

 

See How He Rises Up: Farewell Sir Terry Pratchett

Wow, just when we’d said goodbye to one nerd god, we have to say goodbye to another.

This one hits me hard.  I am a big fan of Sir Pterry’s work; his wit and ability to play with language in an interesting way made his books all the more enjoyable for me.  He really did make the Discworld live in a way that can really never be duplicated.  He wasn’t necessarily a satirist, although his work is filled with satire, he was a fantasy author whose stories are undeniably human at their core.  And that is, I think, why his work resonates so well with so many people, myself included.

At times like this, we have a tendency to remember moments that made an impression on us.  Like the time Lord Ventinari managed to keep his dignity intact after getting a pie thrown at him*, or the time that one of Sybil Ramikin’s dragons managed to literally fart his way to glory**.  Of course there’s also the sadder parts, like Constable Cuddy’s untimely demise***, and what happened in Ankh-Morpork to Agnes (Perdita X.) Nitt****.  Why, yes, I’m still a bit bitter about that last one.

Anyway, to borrow a phrase from the master himself, “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” and Sir Terry left us with seventy books worth of ripples that will, with any help from whatever Gods of Luck you happen to believe in, continue to affect the world long after the coolest anthropomorphic version of a state of being has taken us all to whatever comes next.

If there’s any more of that luck I talked about floating around, I may end up a little wood worm who gets to eat some really —-ing good wood!

* From Making Money

** From Guards! Guards!

*** From Men at Arms

**** From Maskerade

Fair Winds and Following Seas: Farewell Leonard Nimoy

Nimoy

Today we lost one of the great ones.  I can’t really sit here and say that I was a big fan of his, not to say that I didn’t respect the man enormously for his contributions to Science Fiction and Entertainment in general, but it stings less than say the loss of Tom Baker would.  I’m not a big Trek fan, my most vivid memories of Mr. Nimoy come from his stint hosting In Search Of.  Back in the dark times, before the internet, I watched quite a bit of that show (the episode I remember the most being the one on the Hope Diamond), and Nimoy’s voice seemed suited to the often odd material that In Search Of covered.  Everything from Sherlock Holmes to Ancient Aliens, as I recall.  But Leonard Nimoy is a cultural icon with an impressive body of work that he’s left behind for us to enjoy, and perhaps that’s the best way to remember him, as someone who brought us happiness through his abilities.

And so, farewell Mr. Spock.  Put in a good word for the rest of us.

The Sky is Falling! Or Something Like That…

One could be forgiven for thinking that something truly terrible had happened over at Marvel Studios the way that some fans have been taking to social media to express their anger and distress this afternoon.  So what happened to make a part of the fandom loose their collective minds?  Well, if you believe the internet, Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as the title character in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange movie.  The problem is, that isn’t exactly true.

To quote from the article that broke this news earlier today, “I’m hearing Benedict Cumberbatch is the studio’s choice for the superhero pic, and negotiations are about to begin.”  To point out the obvious, the fact that Marvel would like Cumberbatch to play the role, and that they’re just starting to talk to him about that does not make it a done deal.  Marvel’s negotiations with Joaquin Phoenix broke down right around Comic Con, so there’s no reason to believe that it might not happen again.  Cumberbatch is a busy man these days, so he might turn it down for scheduling reasons.  That’s not to say that it’s a bad idea for Cumberbatch to play the role, in fact I think he would do quite well, but let’s break down exactly why this casting is causing so much frustration.

Northern Overexposure

So one of the most common complaints about this casting I’ve seen is, “He’s overexposed.”  Now, I feel that this is a valid complaint.  As I said, the man’s busy.  Not only is he dealing with the final Hobbit movie, he’s also got the second Hollow Crown series, and The Penguins of Madagascar and a whole slew of other projects.  So I can certainly see how a bit of Cumberfatigue might be setting in.  But there are still plenty of people who like the guy and who will happily shell out to see him on the big screen.

White Knight?

Diversity in casting is a big problem in the movie industry right now.  And the problem isn’t any better over in the comics industry.  And a lot of fans are disappointed that Marvel hasn’t been talking to any POC actors about the role.  Now, not to sound like a massive dick, but Stephen Strange isn’t a POC.  If you look at his Marvel Wiki character page, it lists his parents as Eugene and Beverly Strange and his birthplace as Philadelphia, PA; and he spent his childhood at the family farm in Nebraska.  Not to say that he couldn’t be cast as a POC, but if they’ve decided that they want to stick to cannon, yeah, they’re gonna cast the guy as white.

Now before anyone starts screaming about White Privilege, let me say this.  I would like to see a POC actor in the role myself, I’d really like Alexander Siddig to take the role; but it isn’t my decision, it’s Marvel’s.  And in the end, we’re all going to have to live with that and decide whether or not casting a white actor in a role that a lot of people would have liked to see a POC actor take is worth not going to see it.

Safety First

The third most common complaint I’ve seen is that Cumberbatch is too safe a choice.  I think that this ties in with the overexposure complaint.  He’s a bankable star name, and that’s true.  But here’s the thing, Doctor Strange isn’t a character that most people outside of the comic fandom are familiar with.  To be honest, he seems a bit second string to me.  Important yes, but not someone a lot of fans would know really well.

Now Marvel has done well casting unknowns in the past, but maybe they feel that the movie might do better if it has a name star attached to it.  And lightning seldom strikes twice.  Still, Hollywood does have a reputation for not taking chances when they should, and this might be one of those times.  But I still think that Cumberbatch would do well in the role, and I’d like to see fans give him a chance.

TL;DR

In the end, this is just another rumor.  And as such, I’m taking it with a few pounds of salt.  Marvel will announce who they’ve decided to cast when they’re ready to do so.  And all the metaphorical gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair in the world probably won’t have much of an effect on their decision.  So just calm down, take a breath, and wait.  Marvel might just surprise us.

Doctor Who: Deep Breath First Impressions

Mmkay, I’m not sure that I can form a lot of coherent thoughts about Deep Breath right now; but I’m gonna try.  Spoiler warning.

  • Capaldi:  Capaldi is good.  I think it’s going to take me some time to get used to him though.
  • Concerning Moffat’s writing: He could really use a female editor to go over this stuff for him.
  • Clara: I can’t be the only one who hated when the Doctor ran off without her, he doesn’t do that!  Ever!
  • More Clara: On the other hand, Clara was pretty awesome for someone who was scared out of their mind.
  • The Paternoster Gang: Pretty awesome as usual, but see my previous comment about Moffat’s writing.
  • The Marie Antoinette: I’m betting Madame de Pompadour would be pretty pissed that the Doctor doesn’t remember her.
  • Did he jump, or was he pushed: I kind of hate the idea that the Doctor would either straight up kill another sentient being (no matter how much of them is organic), or talking the same being into suicide.
  • The Last of the Eleventh: This I did like.  It was Moffat talking to the fans.  He does want us to keep watching, and he wants us to root for this new Doctor; but I would really like it if he softened the Twelfth up a bit.
  • Missy: Not sure what to make of her yet, but part of me really wants her to be the Rani.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic.  We’ll have to see how everything plays out, but I’m willing to give Moffat and the new Doctor the benefit of the doubt.

 

Edit: After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to think that most of the problems I had with Deep Breath stem from Moffat’s writing.  Strangely enough, I think that Moffat’s problem is similar to RTD’s, in that he doesn’t have someone standing over his shoulder (so to speak) telling him to tone it down.

Also, Missy.  I was listening to Diamanda Hagen’s podcast on the subject, and she said that Missy might be short for Mistress, which is the female version of Master.  As in Master, The.  It’s an interesting theory, and it works well given what we’ve seen of Missy’s behavior and what we know of the Master’s.

A Trip to Night Vale

Last night I went to the Denver Welcome to Night Vale show; it was a ton of fun.  Things started out promisingly when I got downtown and spotted a group of cosplayers.  These weren’t Night Vale cosplayers mind you, I spotted an Ariel, an Assassin’s Creed assassin, someone from Attack on Titan, and a large, blue, furry something that I couldn’t quite identify.  But it was still a good start to the evening.

When I got to the theater, the line was already pretty long.  I saw plenty of Cecils and Carloses as I made my way to the end of the line, and then the two Glow Clouds showed up.  Cries of “All Hail!” could be heard along the line.  And here I’m going to point out the creativity of the cosplayers I saw last night.  Amongst all the Cecils and Carloses there were a couple of Kevins, at least one Lauren Mallard that I saw, a really cool Night Vale Ms. Frizzle, several Strex Pets, a Night Vale girl scout, and a Man in a Tan Jacket cosplay that was handing out flyers for the Night Vale subway.  Half the fun of last night was seeing the creativity of the fans there.

The show itself started out with a very nice performance from Eliza Rickman (Night Vale fans might recognize her from Episode 45’s weather).  Rickman has a lovely voice that she accentuates with delicate sounding instruments like an autoharp and a toy piano.  If what I heard last night is any indication of the rest of her work, and I think it is, I’ll have to get her album.

Without giving away spoilers to anyone who either hasn’t gotten to see the show yet, or didn’t get the chance to see it when it was near them, the show was exactly what you would expect.  Meaning that it was pretty darn good overall.  There were some nice Cecil/Carlos moments, Tamika Flynn made a generally awesome appearance, and although I heard that the appearance of Steve Carlsberg was a Denver only thing, I’m not entirely sure that’s true.  If it isn’t, you can definitely look forward to a very funny and energetic performance.  One of the biggest things that stood out to me watching the show was Cecil’s hand movements, especially as he described the skittering, slythering way that librarians in Night Vale move.  I have no idea why that particular thing stood out to me, but I felt that really added to the show.

After the show was over and I was making my way out of the theater I could hear a few people chanting “All Hail.” as one of the Glow Clouds left, and later a spontaneous, if worrying chant of “Bring down Strex!” started in the lobby.  In short, a fun night, and a great performance.  Those of you who have yet to experience it are in for a treat.

Also?  Shout out to the Carlos cosplayer who drove from Cheyenne for the show, hope you got home safe.  And to the girl in the NASA dress who sat next to me, thanks for making an already great night even better.