Posts Tagged ‘Lightsaber as phallic symbol’

And I turned, as I had turned as a boy…

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Comics blogger Kate Beaton regularly creates comics in which she converses with her younger self, and recently invited her readers to do the same, leading to an avalanche of responses. I found about this while looking through Lissa Treiman’s blog (whose strip for the Scary Go Round Feats of Strength competition rightfully won, even though it was up against some, ahem, super awesome entries). So, like many others, I was inspired to make my own:

Conversations with my younger self

Well what else am I going to talk to my younger self about? I don’t know about anything else. I suspect I have fallen into an easy stereotype here. Many of the responses to Kate’s blog post were along the lines of KID: “I like cartoons and comics”, ADULT: “Me too!”, BOTH: “Yay!”. Cartoonists are a predictable lot, and I haven’t exactly moved away from the immature norm. Ah well. On a similar theme, I knocked together another one:

Conversations with my younger self part 2

Now, I am aware of the slightly dodgy Freudian implications of waving around an obvious massive (not to mention glowing) phallic symbol in order to impress my childhood self, but the truth is I would have literally killed for one of these things when i was six.

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Upside Down

Monday, July 28th, 2008

So what is it about upside down lightsabers? Throughout the Star Wars expanded universe artists are constantly depicting lesser known Jedi with their swords held the wrong way round. This year we have two big Star Warsular events on the horizon, The upcoming Clone Wars animated TV series/Pilot movie, and The Force Unleashed video game. The former prominently features a jailbait alien padawan babe brandishing her saber widdershins, whereas the latter (seemingly in development for the last 53 years, and undoubtedly the Shadows of the Empire of the noughties) focuses on Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, the intertextually named ‘Starkiller’, who also doesn’t know the pointy end from the blunt one. Innumerable fan films and comic books also include this bizarre phenomenon.

I once spent a very enjoyable day playing the much maligned Playstation game Jedi Power Battles, in which the token female Jedi Council member Adi Gallia was depicted using a lightsaber in the Australian fashion (and it was red too, what was meant to be going on there?)

Sure it looks cool, and for all I know it could be based on a real martial art technique, but I don’t recall anyone in the actual movies doing it. In order to point the blade out in front of you, you would have to have your elbow up in the air, which can’t be comfortable can it?

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Jedi Poodooh!

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

I’ve always said that going to the cinema just isn’t the same when it’s not a Star Wars film (look, I never claimed to be a complex individual, all right? Like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Jango Fett, I’m just a simple kinda man). The first movie I saw at the cinema was Empire, and a year or so after that I finally got to see Star Wars (on the double bill with Empire), and luckily for me it was before it appeared on television or video. And since then I’ve seen every episode on the big screen, right up till a midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith, amid an audience full of people waving Master Replicas lightsabers in the air.

So how weird then, how odd to go to the cinema to see not a new Star Wars movie, but a cartoon spin off (actually the first few episodes of the new TV series)? The (so far) universally critically panned cinema release of The Clone Wars has the obvious problem of not standing up to its live action progenitors, and the fact that none of its major players can be allowed to be killed, or change, or do pretty much anything of importance that might encroach on the overall saga.

This major stumbling block, along with a much more light hearted, kid friendly tone, appropriate to what is essentially a Saturday morning cartoon, has seemingly outraged the online nerd community. On the plus side we don’t get any teeth grindingly bad angsty scenes like the ‘you are in my very soul’ bit from Episode 2, or Episode 3’s ‘you’re so beautiful’ ‘only because I’m so in love with you’  a scene seemingly included by George Lucas solely to test the patience of his audience. Sure we’ve all said this kind of embarrassing drivel in our private lives but I don’t need to see it in a movie. Actually, I’m sure there was a sarcastic allusion to Anakin’s infamous ‘sand’ chat up line in The Clone Wars.

Technically it’s an amazing looking feature when you consider it’s meant for television (albeit the High Def end of the market), but on a big screen, some of the TV origins are evident the series was apparently made on the cheap, such as synchronised walk cycles on the clonetroopers. They’re clones not robots! Having said that I’d rather watch these funky CGI marionettes than some big name, big budget, bland exercise in cynicism like Shrek (don’t get me started on Shrek!).

 

A Senuhtuh...? Heeyah...?

A Senuhtuh...? Heeyah...?

 

 

I’m genuinely surprised by the invective that The Clone Wars has provoked, but not as surprised as I am that every single review has not sarcastically stated that Hayden Christensen was out-acted by a bunch of pixels. Incidentally, I never thought he was a bad actor, just a really weird actor! Some of his more bizarre line deliveries in the prequels suggested that he was attempting to channel some of James Earl Jones’ more bizarre line deliveries (such as ‘When I left you, I was a learner. Now I! Am, the master’). I mean that had to be the reason, right? However, his CGI manque still resembles him, which put the thought in the back of my mind that he would not be the most suitable master for a teenage female padawan. I mean, the guy looks like he hangs round high schools after cheerleader practice, looking to pick up chicks in his boy racer speeder.

But as I have said before and I will no doubt say again, I am a massive Star Wars nerd. I can excuse a bit of flat, anachronistic dialogue (did Anakin really say to Obi Wan ‘I’ll call you back’? How did that one get through? And truth to tell, I slightly cringe every time I hear the phrase ‘Padawan learner’. Isn?t that like saying ‘trainee apprentice’ or ‘beginner newbie’?). Throughout Jedi and the prequel trilogy, unlike most, I found a lot more to love than hate. I’m sure in many people’s eyes that makes me an idiot, but I guess that’s central to being a fan.

So I find the prospect of a Star Wars TV series intriguing. Being able to explore that universe, even without the possibility of major revelations or character defining moments is good enough for me. It’s no different than the masses of comic books, novels, toys and games that have been out there for years. And for a series so rooted in action and movement, it’s no surprise that a spin off cartoon, like some of the more recent video games, fares a lot better than aping the essence of Star Wars than, say, a novel about the Bothans finding a new superweapon that’s a bit like the Death Star, or the cantina snot vampire.

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The Fuckest Uppest

Monday, October 6th, 2008

The Force Unleashed is a video game that?s been in development for some time. It was originally described as “The Star Wars Event of 2007″, which obviously didn’t happen, in fact the game was held back for so long that some wags dubbed it “The Force Unreleased”. However, it has finally appeared, and offers the chance to play the part of a backwards lightsaber wielding badass, who generally slaughters people and smashes stuff up with the force. What more could you want from a game?

The game’s technical innovations include Digital Molecular Matter, which applies different properties for different materials, so that wood splinters, metal bends and glass shatters, the Havok physics engine, and Euphoria AI. This might sound totally awesome and groundbreaking (no pun intended), but the reality is that three different software engines rucking up against eachother can create some seriously funky effects. At one point in the game I became entombed in the gooey gums of a sarlaac, which I’m sure wasn’t meant to happen. It brought back memories of an old Nemesis The Warlock game on the ZX Spectrum, in which the player, on reaching a particular level, would invariably appear trapped in the interface under the screen with no way of getting out. Didn’t anyone playtest that thing? That game sure as hell didn’t have any real world physics simulation (but on the other hand it did allow you to spit acid).

I don’t play a ton of games these days, so the prevailing feeling I get from The Force Unleashed is nostalgia for Dark Forces and the Jedi Knight series. It even features Dark Troopers, which initially gave me cause for concern, but when you look at the timeline (a couple of years prior to Episode 4) it’s not too distant from that of Dark Forces (uh, a year after it?). Hey look buddy, that stuff matters to some of us, OK? The original reason I bought a PC back in ’95 was so I could play Dark Forces (along with the excellent flight sim TIE Fighter), and a few years later I upgraded specifically to be able to play Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (do I need to tell you at this point that I’m a Star Wars nerd? Really? Did you not read any of the other posts?).

 

Dark Forces

Dark Forces: Nicking the Death Star plans, Part 13

 

 

In Jedi Knight, Dark Forces? central character, the mercenary Kyle Katarn found a lightsaber and gradually learned the jedi arts of pushing people off ledges and jumping three times higher than normal. This game also featured live action cutscenes, which was pretty damn impressive in 1997. The guy that played Kyle had the grizzled, hero with a past look down, but I think I saw him in one of those soft porn dramas that Channel Five used to show late at night. At least I don’t recall seeing him get down to business, because that would have been far too harrowing. Later, in Jedi Outcast, he acquired lots more polygons and an adversary who bore more than a passing resemblance to Barney the Dinosaur. In Jedi Academy you actually played a different character, but seeing as you could finally use the double bladed saber Darth Maul style, nobody was fussed about whether you were still Kyle.

 

The Force Unleashed: I have a badass feeling about this

The Force Unleashed: I have a badass feeling about this

 

 

So anyway, for all its next gen sparkle, lush graphics and compelling storyline (which I liked, although I’m not sure I quite bought the big twist, and was that droid really using the force?), simply put, The Force Unleashed is the latest iteration of the Jedi Knight games, and as I’ve always been a fan of lobbing stormtroopers about and then lightsabering the shit out of them, that most definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

 

 

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Half Time

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I have a new weekend ritual. As The Clone Wars airs on Cartoon Network in America on Friday evenings, some bright spark has usually put them onto, uh, a popular video sharing website that sounds like Boocube by Saturday morning.

As the series is airing on the pay to view channel Sky Movies in the UK, Spewlube is the only option for the obsessed fan who is not only a tightwad, but cannot wait until the DVD release. I imagine these episodes will look great on DVD, as they have been created specifically for HD televisions, but they lose something of their visual excitement on a small fuzzy, flash video screen. This is a shame, as the crisp imagery and adrenaline fuelled pace is clearly their strongest point, certainly more than the storylines and characterisation that have so far been a bit of a mixed bag.

The “movie” – actually the first three episodes edited together to be shown in cinemas, was mostly notable for its heralding of the TV series and the potential for further, ongoing adventures, rather than its by-the-numbers plotting. It has been easily outclassed by many of the episodes that followed it.

 

Yoda plus homies

Yoda plus homies

The first, Ambush, featured Yoda and the last three clones of his battallion surrounded by the Separatist army, yet winning out with a combination of jedi philosophy, creative strategy and midichlorian fuelled ass kicking. This was followed by a rather?drawn out?trilogy of episodes based on an ion cannon toting Separatist flagship The Malevolence, that ended wonderfully with Anakin, Obi Wan and Padme (not to mention Threepio and Artoo, doing their double act schtick) attempting to escape from the ship in swashbuckling style particularly reminiscent of A New Hope

Rookies was a one off tale in which a handful of “Shinies” (clone slang for inexperienced soldiers, so named for their pristine armour) are trapped on an isolated outpost, (once again) surrounded by Separatist troops. This episode scored on several counts. Firstly it didn’t feature any jedi, instead focussing on the clones who are often relegated to cannon fodder. Secondly they were set against some kind of ninja droid commandos rather than the inept and ridiculous standard issue Trade Federation battle droids. Crucially, though, we had seen none of these characters before, so we genuinely didn’t know who would survive (and there were some particularly gruesome deaths).

 

Is it wrong to fancy fictional cartoon aliens?

Is it wrong to fancy fictional cartoon aliens?

All too often The Clone Wars follows the adventures of Anakin and Obi Wan, or background Jedi generals from the films, such as Plo Koon (inexplicably supervising director Dave Filoni’s favourite character) and fanboy pleasing nubile Twi’lek hottie Aayla Secura. Trouble is, we know what is going to happen to every one of these characters – ie. Order 66. Of course, some character development on the lesser known characters is welcome, but so far the series has been more about incident than any character’s internal life.

I suspect one of the aims of the series is to rehabilitate Anakin as a character (as opposed to the films, in which he is petulant, arrogant and generally unsympathetic). The two part Downfall of a Droid/Duel of The Droids made Anakin’s attachment to Artoo the focus (a neat bit of continuity with the novelisation of Revenge of The Sith that tells us that the droid was a wedding gift from Padme), and foreshadows his inability to let go of things. The creators would do well to continue along this road if the series is to be anything more than some awesome lightsaber duels and shit blowing up. Duel also features another gruseome death, this time an execution by cyborg psychopath General Grievous. For a series that’s aimed at kids, there are some nasty moments, which I thoroughly approve of.

Controversially, a couple of episodes have featured the return of Jar Jar Binks to centre stage. Roundly despised by fans, if anyone needed rehabilitation it’s this guy. Bombad Jedi (written by Troops creator Kevin Rubio) wasn’t a bad episode, just a little undistinguished (its best moment was a subtle reference to Anakin and Padme sneaking off together for clandestine sexy times). Jar Jar was shown to be exactly as he was in The Phantom Menace, good hearted, clumsy and borderline retarded. However, if there’s one thing worse than bringing back an unpopular character, it’s changing his voice, as was done in the later Gungan General.

 

I wouldn't rate this guy's chance of survival

I wouldn't rate his chances of survival

Other episodes include the atmospheric Lair of Grievous, in which the titular General has some much needed backstory hinted at. However, the troubled Mon Calamari ex padawan may as well be wearing a red shirt, his death is so obviously telegraphed throughout the episode. A few more new characters need to be created, but also developed over the space of more than one episode. This way we can have a few characters who can be put into genuine jeopardy. Luminara Unduli pops up in the terrific Paul Dini scripted Cloak of Darkness, but, while I don’t recall seeing her killed during Revenge of The Sith, I’m sure her fate has been marked out in some spin off novel.

At its worst The Clone Wars is at least good brainless, forgettable entertainment (as in Dooku Captured, a fascinating premise that just doesn’t ring true, with innumerable plot holes and a baffling, seemingly unfinished script). Every episode has some exciting battle scenes and badass moments, and is so far never boring. But it has a great deal of potential, and much of the series has hinted at something much bigger and better than crashing spaceships, whirling lighsabers and somebody saying “I have a bad feeling about this”.

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Clone Wars: Full Time

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

On May 1st, Cartoon Network begins airing The Clone Wars Decoded, essentially a rerun of the first season of the animated adventure series, with Pop Up Video style trivia. Well, I guess kids today need to learn to distinguish their Quarren from their Aqualish. Back in my day all we had were poster magazines and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

The second half of Season One built on the successes and discarded some of the failures of the first half. Most notably were some more adult themes creeping in. Sure, it’s still a kids’ cartoon, but in Defenders of Peace and Liberty On Ryloth,  inhabitants of Separatist invaded and subjugated planets wonder whether their freedom at the hands of the Republic comes at too high a price. That’s pretty heavy stuff. Similarly, in The Hidden Enemy a trooper betrays the Republic because he believes the clones are created solely to be slaves and cannon fodder. You can see his point. Certainly Anakin and Obi Wan don’t have any easy answer.

Storm over Ryloth, which I don't mention here

Elsewhere it’s business as usual, lightsaber duels, space battles, amazing visuals, and a series of bizarre and unbelievable accents. As the series goes on we see an increased range of visual assets, so even fairly early on, the episodes outstrip what was seen in the “movie”, but it seems that more importantly the writers are tackling more interesting issues alongside the laser based mayhem and Jedi smartassery.

The draw for old school fans is of course the callbacks to the original trilogy. Trespass features specific references to Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for Hoth in pretty much every aspect, while Mystery of a Thousand Moons is a slightly goofy adventure on a planet populated by a rag tag collection of characters, clearly in homage to the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba’s Palace, although it specifically reminded me of the Marvel comics series, during the David Michelinie/Walt Simonson era. This is no bad thing. If Zeltrons, Hoojibs and The House of Tagge appear in future episodes I will probably punch the air or something.

Okay The Clone Wars isn’t going to change anyone’s life, or rival anything in the original movies. It won’t even change your mind if you think the whole enterprise is just an evil ploy to sell more action figures.  But when Obi Wan and his clones defeat the evil separatist forces on Ryloth, and reunite the cute twi’lek child with her people, I noticed that she only had one parent. That counts for something surely. It’s a war (or more properly it’s some “wars”, although I’d like to know at what point it became plural) and suggesting that everything can be neatly sorted out is dishonest (particularly when both sides are being manipulated by an evil mastermind, but that’s another story).

Ziro Unleashed

I am, as they say “stoked” for the second season if only because the season finale Hostage Crisis was so completely badass. Starting unpromisingly with a romantic scene between Anakin and Padme, in which Ani is actually a bit of a jerk (consistent with his character in the movies at least), it soon introduces a group of merciless bounty hunters led by the gravelly voiced Lee Van Cleef alike gunslinger Cad Bane, and including infamous Phantom Menace bit part Aurra Sing. They then proceed to rack up the biggest bodycount in a children’s TV show I’ve ever seen, and break the ridiculously camp Ziro the Hutt out of prison. Yes! Ziro seems to upset a lot of American fans because he’s “gay” (although that raises all sorts of questions that I’m not sure I want answered), but he was the best part of the film. Let’s have some more utterly bizarre new characters in season two, please.

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Got An Intergalactic Revolution!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

With JJ ABrams’ Shatnerless Star Trek reboot hitting cinemas this summer, the eternal question is back on everyone’s lips. To whit: which is the best out of the major “Star” franchises (Trek, Wars, Gate)? Well. First of all we can disregard Stargate as I have never seen it (except for the original film, which seemed pretty cool in 1994, although that might be because we were so impoverished for space spanning adventure that James Spader versus an androgynous Pharoah was an acceptable evening’s entertainment. In retrospect it can be blamed for paving the way for  Independence Day. So not good then).

So Star Trek vs Star Wars. It’s a debate that has raged among nerds for years, and we can finally put it to bed now. The criteria we will use will be a seemingly inconsequential element of  the most misbegotten moments of each saga. From Scott Bakula helmed crapfest Star Trek: Enterprise we have the overblown, incongruously 80s style power ballad Where My Heart Will Take Me, while the acid flashback fever dream that is The Star Wars Holiday Special provides Jefferson Starship’s “futuristic” performance of Light The Sky On Fire.

Enterprise was an attempt to free the Star Trek franchise from the entrenched continuity that the previous three series had built up, being set as it was before the formation of The Federation and the adventures of Kirk and Spock. Unfortunately this resulted in episodes about making a really good chair. It was also distinct in that it forsook the traditional “spacey” orchestral theme tune (none of them a patch on the otherworldly warbling of the Original Series) and went for a (gulp!) “rock ballad”.

Gratuitously sexy vulcan, Sam Beckett and blue dude - Enterprise had it all

Where My Heart Will Take Me was sung by crossover opera star Russell Watson in full gravelly transatlantic style, and while a bit cheesy, it’s not bad if you like that kind of thing. Not surprising as it was written by uber songsmith Diane Warren, whose oeuvre includes such AOR classics as Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time, LeAnn Rimes’ Can’t Fight The Moonlight and Aerosmith’s That One From Armageddon. That drivel about “reaching any star” notwithstanding,  it’s nothing to do with Star Trek though, which is unsurprising when you find out that the song was originally written for Patch Adams, a Robin Williams (urgh) comedy drama (uurrgh) about a Doctor who treats patients’ spirits as much as their bodies (glurgaargh!!). Spizz  Energi’s Where’s Captain Kirk? would have been a better choice. As long as it was the live version with screaming in the middle.

Diane Warren’s CV also includes Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now from the movie Mannequin, performed by Starship, the 80s stadium rock incarnation of pivotal godheads of 60s psychedelia Jefferson Airplane.

In between their glory days of bashing the Nixon Administration through the medium of acid rock and their latter years, singing of the love between a man and a shop dummy, they were known as Jefferson Starship, and seemingly did a lot of songs about space. This set them up as an ideal “special musical guest” for that infamous, interminable, Star Wars Holiday Special.

Now, much has been written about this 97 minute (but feels a lot longer) toy advert slash variety show slash psychological torture, so I hardly need to get into it here, suffice to say that it has to be seen to be believed, but you’ll wish you hadn’t bothered.

They're really big on Kazhyyyk

Appearing as a pink hued hologram, the band perform the song as a distraction for the Imperial officers, who obviously like a bit of a groove to murky 70s rock during downtime. Marty Balin is singing into what I presume is intended to be a lightsaber, but it resembles a flourescent dildo. At least they make the effort, wearing swishy costumes (pitched between glam rock and male stripper), twirling drumsticks, and generally pulling shapes while their instruments (including the fantastically futuristic keyboard on a shoulder strap) emit sonic waves (or something). The song features a spoken interlude about “The Great God Kopa Khan”, and (apropos of nothing) cries of “Cigar shaped object”! I can’t be certain but I’m sure that’s not canon.

Psychedelic siren Grace Slick is nowhere to be seen in the preformance. She had actually been fired from the band earlier in the year for drunkenly goading German audiences by shouting “who won the war?” while she should have been singing Somebody To Love for the 30,000th time. Nice one Grace. At least she was spared the embarrassment of appearing in the one part of the Star Wars franchise that is deemed too bad to ever get an official release.

Even though I have a grudging affection for Where My Heart Will Take Me, the prize has to go to Light The Sky On Fire, just because it’s so mental. So that’s that settled then. Next week we sort out which is the one true religion.

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Anakinversary

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

A long time ago… ah screw it, everyone’s probably done that one. Today’s the tenth anniversary of the release of The Phantom Menace. Happy birthday Duel of The Fates, Watto and  The Boonta Eve Classic. Although for us in the UK we still had another excruciating two months to wait while everyone else in the world was talking about  it.

He's Behind You!

Like many people who can’t let it lie, I have felt the need to defend the damn movie over the last ten years. Dunno why, it’s neither my fault, nor my problem if someone else doesn’t like it.  But I do find myself wondering why so many people have taken against it, especially seeing as every single film looks like that now (Even the Sex and the City movie had that completely incongruous scene where two vast armies of CGI it girls fought on a CGI battlefield, using CGI Louis Vuitton handbags). Let’s look at the reasons;

  • Enormously clunky plot contrivances. So they need a hyperdrive generator and the only person that has one is immune to the jedi mind trick and also owns a slave who has latent jedi abilities and races pods and has just happened to be secretly building a podracer for a tournament that just  happens to be tomorrow… phew!
  • Midichlorians. Let’s be honest, while it doesn’t invalidate the mysticism of the previous movies, we hardly needed an empirical system of measuring someone’s connection to The Force.
  • Jar Jar. The Star Wars movies were always aimed at a young audience, but never before was a character included specifically for the preschoolers. However, people never complain about “that really bad special effect”, or even “that really bad character”. They actually talk about Jar Jar as if he’s a real person. So really he can be said to be a success… from a certain point – ah screw it everyone will have used that one too.
  • Too many special effects. Seriously, complaining about this in a Star Wars movie is like stopping taking drugs because they make you feel weird.
  • Sixteen (or twenty, depending on how much of a nerd you were) years of anticipation. After that amount of time we could have got the best film ever made and people would have still complained. Not that I’m suggesting it is the best film ever made, you understand.
  • Darth Vader built C-3PO. Actually, I can explain this, no problem.

This piece, written by Using the Force author Will Brooker,  pretty much sums up my experience. It wasn’t my own expectations, any of the (admittedly many) flaws in the film, or even Ben Quadrinaros that ruined it for me. It was knowing everything about it, including how I was expected to feel.

Having said that, I still love The Phantom Menace. As Todd Hanson says in A Galaxy Not So Far Away, it’s just a big dumb movie about space wizards. What’s not to like?

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