Archive for movies

Top 10 EU Moments in Film

Posted in Spotlight with tags , , , , , on 9 March 2017 by Megan

The Star Wars Special Editions turn 20 years old this year, and thinking about these much-maligned, much-misunderstood installments to the Star Wars saga got me thinking about how they demonstrate a very important point.

Something you’ve heard me assert over and over is that to George Lucas, the EU was just as canon as his films. Now, people get off on tangents of “he didn’t think the EU was canon because he didn’t follow it,” but that’s absurd. He was the creator. Why should he follow someone else’s ideas? But that doesn’t mean he didn’t consider the ideas he authorized to be just as “true” as the films he made.

Lucas asserted this himself over and over. But actions speak louder than words. Here’s eight times George Lucas went out of his way to reference the EU in his films, demonstrating his belief that it was canon and “counted.”

Honorable mention: Prince Xizor

Did you know that the Prequel Trilogy used more models and miniatures than the Original Trilogy? Despite criticisms that they’re “all CGI” and “CGI heavy,” the PT actually won awards for its miniatures. In one such model, the Phantom Menace crew inserted a Xizor action figure among the filler for the crowd attending the Boonta Eve Podrace. This pretty obviously isn’t intended to be a canonical reference, but it’s fun and so I point it out.

10. Twi’leks and Rodians

Although both species were obviously Lucas’ creation — Rodians appearing first in 1977 (Greedo) and Twi’leks in 1983 (Oola) — they weren’t named until later in the EU. West End Games published The Star Wars Sourcebook in 1987, coining the word “Twi’lek,” and their 1989 Galaxy Guide 1 gave us “Rodian.” published by West End Games. Although neither word is ever spoken in any of the films, George Lucas used the names freely and they appear in production notes and interviews throughout production of the prequels.

(Bonus points: Rystáll Sant, pictured with the Twi’leks and Rodian dancer above, is part Theelin, a species that first appeared in Dark Empire.)

9. Bogden, Muun, Rishi, Tund

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These planets all appeared first in the EU in various places — Tund is oldest, from 1983’s Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka — and were used by George Lucas to seed the dialogue with the rich geography we could expect from a galaxy far, far away.

8. Force speed and Force grip

Force-users have special powers in video games, and some of those powers made it onto the silver screen. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon use Force speed to escape droidekas in The Phantom Menace, and Dooku uses Force grip against Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith.

7. Aurebesh

“Alien gobbledygook characters” appear in the films, but it was Stephen Crane who designed a legitimate, sensible alphabet with the characters for West End Games in 1994. The DVD editions of the film edit Aurebesh translations into places where English was originally seen, and the PT uses Aurebesh meaningfully as well.

6. Quinlan Vos

In an interview in 1999, George Lucas stated that he wanted the EU to pick up background characters and give them stories. He used Aurra Sing as a specific example — but Aurra Sing had an identity supplied by the film. Jan Duursema asked for permission, picked a random person out of the background, and created Quinlan Vos from him. He got two comic series and some other appearances in the EU before George Lucas picked him up for Revenge of the Sith. Although his scene never made it to filming, Obi-Wan Kenobi still mentions “Master Vos” in a briefing to Anakin.

5. The Outrider

It’s fitting that Shadows of the Empire should have so many references in the special edition: Steve Perry’s work was used to test whether the public was receptive to such a major project as a restored re-release and new trilogy. A New Hope SE is full of swoop bikes, labor droids, and other minor ephemera from Shadows and WEG sourcebooks, but the most notable of all is Dash Rendar’s Outrider, seen flying over Mos Eisley.

4. Double-bladed lightsaber

The first double-bladed lightsaber in Star Wars belonged to Exar Kun. It appeared in 1995, in Tom Veitch’s Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War 3, The Trial of Ulic Qel-Droma. The same weapon then arrived in the hands of Darth Maul four years later in The Phantom Menace.

3. Lightsaber deflecting lightning

Timothy Zahn first considered that a lightsaber could deflect Force lightning and asked Lucas if he could include it in his Thrawn Trilogy. The Maker approved, and the combat move first appeared in The Last Command in 1993. Apparently the Maker approved so much that he had Obi-Wan Kenobi do the same thing in Attack of the Clones in 2002.

2. Aayla Secura

Speaking of Quinlan Vos — Padawans get all the luck, don’t they? Jan Duursema and John Ostrander came up with Aayla for Quinlan’s apprentice and she appeared in Star Wars 19: Twilight 1 in 2000. George Lucas was so taken by the artwork created for her that he created scenes for her in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

1. Coruscant

The biggest of all the big tamales: Coruscant. George Lucas had created the galactic capital city-planet for A New Hope, but he called it Alderaan and budget prevented him from ever realizing it on screen. The WEG sourcebooks Zahn was asked to use for canon material simply called the capital “Imperial Planet,” so he chose a word to capture the image of a city planet glittering in the cosmos: Coruscant. The planet first appeared — nameless but known — in Return of the Jedi in 1997, but Lucas vindicated the entire EU as co-canon with his films when he designated the galactic capital Coruscant in 1999. And there was not a Star Wars heart in the place that didn’t burst with pride when we first heard Qui-Gon Jinn say, “I’m taking these people to Coruscant” and we all knew.

My First Marathon

Posted in Fun, Spotlight with tags , , , on 23 February 2017 by Megan

In my last two posts, I told you all about how Star Wars and I met. Yesterday was twenty years since Return of the Jedi blew my mind and became my favorite movie of all time. Today is twenty years since I first watched the original trilogy in a marathon.

Star Wars Marathons are a sacred tradition that, I’m sure, go all the way back to 1983, though I wasn’t around and can’t personally vouch for that. Three movies though they may be, they are simply parts of a whole, and to do the story justice, they must be watched one after the other.

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My first marathon was mismatched and a matter of sheer pragmatism: we only owned A New Hope and V and VI were due to return to the video store the next day. It was a Sunday, and back then a marathon only took about six hours. I had no idea when I would ever get to see E5 or E6 again, so I can tell you I was rapt for the whole thing.

That evening, my diary was bursting with six Star Wars-packed entries in a row; determined not to take up more than one page per entry (for some reason), I turned to the second string — the Lisa Frank diary from the year before that had exactly one empty page left. So February 23 has two separate entries about Star Wars . . . and a rather embarrassingly bad crayon drawing of “Good vs. Evil.”

February 23 also marks the date I heard my first prequel rumor: sure, Star Wars fans had been bandying the idea of a new trilogy for years, but two weeks before, I’d never even heard of Star Wars at all! “Mom said that Corey said that they are coming out with episode I (one) II (two) and III (three) When they were kids!!!”

There’s a tremendous irony to the fact that even though February of 1997 is crammed with diary entries featuring the words “Star Wars,” the same diary goes absolutely silent until October on the subject. I watched A New Hope four times in two weeks (and E5 + E6 twice in two days), had to write sideways in the margins of my diary to cover all my thoughts about it, and yet for all intents and purposes, utterly forgot the movie existed for the next six months.

It’s interesting that just as I had to have Return of the Jedi to really care about the trilogy, I didn’t really care about Star Wars until . . . the Expanded Universe.

And I guess you’ll just have to wait until December for that story. But don’t worry, I’ll post again in October to tell you all about the next big event in my Star Wars life ;)

Twenty Years, Part 2

Posted in Fun, Spotlight with tags , , , , , on 22 February 2017 by Megan

It’s amazing what things stick with you and how clearly they stick. As I said in the last post, I remember with absolute clarity the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope. I even remember when I saw E4 for the second time and, with similar exact clarity, when I saw The Phantom Menace in the theater two years later. Ditto Revenge of the Sith. Yet for all that, I don’t remember the first time I saw Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, even though E6 is my favorite and the most important of the six.

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The first Star Wars I ever saw!

As I said last time, the first time I ever saw E4 was February 12, 1997. We watched it again the next day — 10 AM on a Thursday, my older sister grabbed me and said, “Hey, see if Mom will let us watch that movie from last night again.” A third, but partial, rewatch occurred again on February 18th, so already there was something major and significant about this movie.

Then, nine days after I saw A New Hope for the first time, Mom rented The Empire Strikes Back. I must have been after her to see it; I’d been watching anniversary interviews with the cast on Rosie and Oprah, not knowing who Billy Dee Williams was as he described angry kids yelling at him for betraying Han Solo. Han Solo got betrayed?! Was he killed?! I had to see this movie! Kroger — which did video rentals back then, if you can believe it — didn’t have any, so I remember Dad pulling a few doors down to the West Coast Video where Mom ran inside. It was raining. Can you believe I remember rain from 20 years ago? Yet I don’t remember the actual moment we sat down to watch the movie.

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I didn’t have much to say about it in my diary that night, either. The most significant thing was “It was almost 70 degrees!!!!” followed by how much I hated doing English (ironic given that I later majored in English…)

Then the bombshell. Then Return of the Jedi.

1983 ROTJ Poster

It was partly a bombshell because of how clever my mom is. She went into the video store alone because it was raining and we had groceries in the car. She let me hold the E5 VHS on the way home and put it on top of the TV for viewing. I absolutely took for granted that it would be at least one week before we could get E6. (“Town” was 18 miles away and going in for groceries was a weekly thing.) So I was pretty nonchalant about the cliffhanger ending.

The next day was February 22, a Saturday, and I was replaying The Island of Doctor Brain on our Windows 3.0 Compaq in Dad’s office.

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Even though that picture was taken in 2003, Dad’s office pretty much never changed the entire 16 years they lived there. Same computer! So the point is that’s where I was sitting sometime after lunch when I got to this screen:

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I’d played the game before, so I knew where all the Easter eggs were — the best thing about Sierra computer games was that you could right-click for jokes. And I called for Mom, always my first response upon a new discovery, and said, “LOOK! I never got that before!!” Right-clicking on the hut at the top left of the screen produced a box of text reading Don’t mess with Jabba the Hut.

We laughed and then Mom got a mischievous glint in her eye. “You want to see what he looks like?” she asked. I was like, Huh? and followed her out of the office, which was right next to their room, and she opened their closet and pulled out the opaque rental case for Return of the Jedi. My mind was absolutely blown that she’d rented both at once and kept it a secret.

So late in the afternoon, before dinner, I tore around the house rounding up Dad and my sister and we started to watch Return of the Jedi as the sun was going down. Huh, guess I remember more than I thought about the moment I first saw E6!

My diary couldn’t even handle all the information I had to unload:

Dear Pal,

We saw return of the Jedi. Lai is Luke’s sister! And Darth Vader is Luke’s father. But the Emperor was killed and Darth became good, only he was killed.

Love Megan

I like Luke, Leia, C3Po R2D2 Ham Solo best.

The clearest thing I remember is that when it was over, I passed by the front door to go upstairs and I stopped to watch the moon rising through the cut glass windows. It was nearly full, huge, and felt closer than ever. No movie had ever made me feel that way before. I loved stories, I loved reading and telling stories, but not even any of them had ever made me feel like that.

I wrote that Han Solo was my favorite, but even then, even before I bothered to notice Luke, he was the reason my imagination caught fire — the hero whose journey was the reason Star Wars changed my life.

Star Warsiversary

Posted in Questions with tags , , , , on 12 February 2017 by Megan

Let’s talk about what I was doing around this time twenty years ago exactly. It was a Wednesday. We’d moved from Columbus to Champaign County only about six months before, the house wasn’t even painted inside, and I was only just embarking on a decade of epic sulking about being removed from the house I was born in. I was eleven, loud and always in a hurry, emotional and easily frustrated, passionate about reading and spending every possible hour out in the woods.

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We were never a very TV-oriented family. Didn’t even have a set until I was three and that was just because Grandma got a new one. However, shortly after settling in Champaign County, we got a television four times bigger than the old one, and we started getting a pizza once a week and watching a movie over dinner. Being a homeschooling family with a full-time mom and a dad working from home, we defied traditional “weekends,” and Wednesday was pizza/movie night by virtue of being the day we went to the store. Unbeknownst to me, Mom had picked up a movie that afternoon that would change my life.

We gathered round the TV, I was sitting in my usual spot on the Mission oak couch with my legs drawn up so I could balance my plate on my knees — pepperoni pizza — and I could look out the sliding glass door to the screened in porch and the yard beyond. February 12 was a cold snowy day and there were the remains of several miniature snowmen I’d made and painted that afternoon.

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“Today I played in the snow. Made 5 snowmen (small ones) and made snow paint. Mom bought STAR WARS. We still have to get the other two in the trilogy. Played computer.”

I remember a lot of things very clearly about that first-ever viewing. Hearing the first lines and almost forgetting about my pizza. Being amazed that the first characters were so unapologetically robots. I thought the Stormtroopers were robots themselves. Actually I thought Vader was one, too. It was like a nothing but robots celebration! Like so many others seeing Star Wars for the first time, I was awed because it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. At 11, I’d seen very few movies at all, mostly animated or time-honored musicals like The King and I and Sound of Music. Definitely nothing like this 1970s scifi flick. I misheard half of what was going on (“Jedi knife” and “cologne wars,” for example) and thought Han and Chewie were the most interesting things in the whole film. I was impressed that the heroine looked exactly like me if I didn’t have bangs, though — I was going through a fit of being sick of every girl being a freakin’ blonde.

There’s a curious contradiction in the first time I saw Star Wars. On one hand, I was clearly struck by it enough that I recorded it in all caps and underlined in my diary. On the other hand, it was as much a footnote as the forgettable snow paint. I don’t remember being any more enthused about it than any other movie during pizza night (which included The Great Panda Adventure, a film about which I remember nothing except the kid said “American Gladiators” a lot . . . and there were pandas), but I must have expressed some extreme interest in it because in the two weeks between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, I watched every interview on TV that even remotely referenced Star Wars. I believe I’m the only person on the planet who saw the carbon-freezing scene for the first time on Oprah (or Rosie? I could never tell those two shows apart) during an interview with Billy Dee Williams before I even knew the name of the second film.

Yes, Return of the Jedi is the film that made my obsession bloom, but A New Hope gave me something. Over the years, it’s traded orbits with Attack of the Clones for being my least favorite of the six, but it is an amazing movie and it planted the seed of a love and passion that has been part of me for twenty years. Twenty years, beginning with stories scribbled in atrocious handwriting, making my own paper dolls because I wasn’t allowed to buy action figures, reading the books at the speed of light so I could get more; twenty years of anticipating new releases, of rewatching a film more than anyone could think possible, of buying books and toys and games. Twenty years of loving a film franchise as I’ve loved nothing else and as no one else has ever loved it.

Happy anniversary, Star Wars. Here’s to the next twenty years!

Review: Fanboys

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , on 7 January 2017 by Megan

All right, so this is not a canonical entry. But it’s the seventh greatest movie ever made. I watched it yesterday and was so hit between the eyes at how excellent a film it is that I wanted to review it for you today.

First of all, Fanboys is a movie that could never be made today. All the 1998-authentic fanboy language could get you arrested in the ironically-named “free world” today, but far more striking, imagine supreme hateboys Harry Knowles and Kevin Smith doing appearances in a film that welcomes and praises Lucas’ films for what they are? Geddouddatown. Even beyond that, a group of fanboys like the ones who created the film would no longer be interested in making a heartwarming tale about how Star Wars unites us, binds us in a commonality of love for one man’s genius adaptation of a mythological staple. In the 2010s, “fanboys” are more interested in division and discord than they are about the things we have in common. In a post-2014 version of Fanboys, the protagonists wouldn’t be assaulting Star Trek fans for their differences. They’d be attacking other Star Wars fans who have the gall to love the prequels or call the EU “canon.”

My point is, the world was so much better back before 2010. But I digress. Let’s review the awesome movie, eh?

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I first learned about this movie back in ’06 or ’07; it was a preview before a horror movie (maybe Pulse?) oddly enough, and I was instantly hysterically looking forward to it. A movie about Star Wars fans? A movie about Star Wars fans so excited about Episode I that they go to steal a print? SIGN ME UP. (Remember that before 2011, fanatical prequel hatred didn’t exist or was so rare as to be unheard of.) But the film’s release was delayed and I forgot about it on and off until 2009 when I was finally able to score a copy. I watched it with a best friend as we were on a road trip from seeing another best friend in Maryland. We were staying in a place called . . . well, I forget what it was called, but here’s the last ever picture of me as a person who had not ever torn a toenail off, and the bag that I tore the toenail off with about 12 hours after this picture was taken.

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Also, this is where I was and what I looked like when we watched Fanboys for the first time. I have a weird memory. Okay, so I first saw Fanboys in 2009 right before ripping off my big toenail and experiencing the 2nd worst pain of my life, so that’s fun trivia. The point is that in 2009, I had never encountered any prequel hate despite being a big time fanboy who spent lots of time online with other fanboys. The concept of prequel hate was so foreign to me that I thought the last line of the movie was a joke, and I still inevitably take it as a joke (“What if the film sucks?”)

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It’s Halloween 1998. Windows, Hutch, Linus, and Zoe have been friends since they were kids, and they all love Star Wars — even if Zoe is a stereotype girl who scoffs at their passion; that myth is a little frustrating in its perpetuation — so much so that they reminisce about their childhood plot to drive to Skywalker Ranch and watch Episode I before it comes to theaters. Enter Eric Bottler: he used to be the gang’s fourth, but after graduating high school, he spent three years not talking to any of them except for, apparently, Zoe. After Hutch and Windows see the hostility between Eric and Linus, they take it upon themselves to meet with Eric the next day and tell him something incredibly important — Linus has terminal cancer and has less than six months to live.

This is where Star Wars fans understand each other in a way no one else does. The blow that Linus probably won’t live to see Episode I is as strong on its own as the blow that he is going to die and that Eric has spent the last three years alienated from the man who used to be his best friend. In a desperate attempt to redeem that time, Eric convinces them all to join him on a cross-country road trip to steal the Episode I film like rebel agents obtaining the Death Star plans.

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Ebert, who so rightly hit the nail on the head with his review of Episode I, really missed the point of Fanboys and said it was weak for taking itself too seriously. But that’s just the point. Fanboys take themselves seriously because no one else does. And this is a serious film. As Eric struggles to reconnect with lost friends, and his own lost self, Linus struggles to come to grips with his impending mortality. Windows struggles to make his relationship with females work, and Hutch struggles to make something real of himself. With the backdrop of Linus’ illness (almost tragically cut from the final version), Fanboys is no more a geeky comedy than A New Hope is a Kurosawa film with lasers. There’s something more to it. It follows Lucas’ lead, incorporating the patterns of mythology and elevating its subject matter in a way you’d never expect. It’s a film that can make you laugh as well as cry while celebrating something we all had in common when it came out, before the dark times, before the Disneypire.

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So, yes, Fanboys is both hysterically funny and deeply moving. There are parts of this movie that I’ve wrapped up and stored in my memory to help when things get hard. As I struggled through a year full of unemployment, almost literal homelessness, and a tragic death in the family, I could turn to this film and be reassured that no, it’s not trivial to love Star Wars. Star Wars is not trivial. There’s more to it.

In closing, I’d like to give you my two favorite lessons Fanboys takes from Star Wars. First, regrets can shape you but they shouldn’t define you. Everyone has mistakes, but don’t wish you could undo them. “You’ve got to keep the flaws. Crappy effects, real puppets. That’s what makes it so good, you know?” Linus explains in his last scene. Sometimes I feel like I wear regret like a cloak, and I almost burst into tears hearing that last night as I rewatched it.

Second, “You just gotta find your Death Star. The greatest thing Luke Skywalker ever did was take down that Death Star. You just gotta find that one great thing you can do that makes you live forever.” That’s what Hutch tells Eric as the latter struggles with an ocean of indecision about what to do with himself. Everyone, every life has a “Death Star,” one great thing; you just have to find yours. It’s out there and you will have it one day. That’s a guarantee.

Prequel Appreciation: Favorite Film

Posted in Opinion, Questions with tags , , , , on 4 August 2015 by Megan

Day 4 of the Prequel Appreciation Week.

Well, you know this. There’s only three of them. And as much as I love Episode I, Episode III still claims the title. (Sorry, II is not and has never been in the running.)

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I don’t know what to say. It’s barely been over a year since I posted about “Favorite PT Movie.” What can I tell you?

Most anticipated film of my life, check.

Most epic lightsaber duel ever committed to film, check.

Most hilarious Chinese bootleg? Double check . . .

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I don’t love Episode III the most because it has the least sketchy material of the PT. Actually, it has some of the stuff I hate most — for having the most lightsaber duels of any of the six films, most of those don’t count because either people who should be stunning duelists get taken out like punks, or they’re visually absurd Yoda stupidity.

It’s all about subtext. Episode III is a great object lesson for why “show, don’t tell” is important, because an aging George Lucas became all about telling instead of showing. “We’re best friends,” says Obi-Wan. “The Sith are bad!” says the Council. “I don’t want you to die,” says Anakin. Nothing in the film backs up the statements; you have to import it on your own. But I like importing things on my own.

Episode III made A New Hope worth watching. Right before going to see E3 at midnight, I watched I and II back to back. The next day, I watched A New Hope and actually saw it for the first time. Episode III came out just over eight years since I first saw ANH, but with the context of III, I suddenly noticed every long look, every hesitant pause, every flicker in the eyes of Obi-Wan, Owen, Beru. I’m with Mark Hamill: I don’t know how Alec Guinness was able to do that, knowing less than we know now, but it was masterful.

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Visually stunning, Episode III is almost so beautiful, I can’t stand it. That sweeping view of the Battle of Coruscant is etched on my memory. The blaze of blue sabers against red lava was straight out of the dreams I’d been having for eight years. Anakin, matured and handsome after three years of war, is a tormented creature you want to pull out of the cage before he’s destroyed by people who only pretend to be friends so they can use him.

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And Obi-Wan is a warhorse, a general, but one so blinded and in thrall to the Jedi Council that he can’t see the big picture, can’t see the threads of deceit and betrayal from both Jedi and Sith.

The whole thing is heartbreakingly Greek tragedy. It’s the perfect center to the saga, and well deserves its place as my #2 favorite film of all time.

Review: The Original Storyboards

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , , , on 27 July 2014 by Megan
10:20 AM, not 12, Lilly! Get your head in the game!

10:20 AM, July 25!

Friday was my birthday! (*is quiet a moment to facilitate well-wishes*) Why, thank you! And I finally had a nice one, which is a nice change. Amongst the serious highlights of the weekend, though, were these Star Wars themed gifts:

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Birthday the RebeLibrarian way

That’s right, my very own Commadore Librarian mug and the original storyboards for the OT. You can’t have the mug, because it was made for me♪e♫e♪ — so it is the latter item that concerns us today. J. W. Rinzler, the man who gave us The Making of the Empire Strikes Back and The Sounds of Star Wars (just to name two of the veritable empire of coffee table books he’s been producing for grown-up Star Warriors), has absolutely done it again. With “unprecedented access” to the Lucasfilm archival vaults, and an impeccable taste for the sort of history we crave, Rinzler has given us the Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy.

And so color coordinated, too.

And so color coordinated, too.

This huge and hugely delightful book reproduces the original storyboards from the trilogy, interspersed with the reminiscences of the artists. It showcases alternative early versions as well as the earliest visions of scenes that have become iconic. Did you know in one early draft, Vader ripped Captain Antilles’ arm off instead of strangling him? There’s discussion of technique (they used tempera paint on toothbrushes to create starfields), materials, and crew, plus the artists’ memories of work and their hijnks — such as the time Mark Hamill wandered in and commented that Han in carbonite would make a great coffee table.

Some of these sketches have not been seen since 1977, and all of them are recreated in (presumably) faithful colors, expanded and enhanced so you can actually see the indentations on the paper from the pens and such. Just really impressive, high quality images expertly edited. As usual, the most detail is paid to ANH, particularly early and alternate versions (such as when Luke was a girl with a brother named Deak).

The history in this volume is just incredible, and it’s also just a really lovely book. Any film buff would love it, and a Star Wars fan must definitely treasure it. Good stuff.