When The Mandalorian first started, it felt like we were going to see a world where most of what we had learned via the Star Wars films, would take a backseat. Series creator Jon Favreau, looked to be shifting his focus to the grittier side of the galaxy we had glimpsed just briefly in George Lucas’ films.
With The Child showing a resemblance to Yoda and possessing Force-based powers, there was a hint that the Jedi might be showing up in the series…and now, it looks like that time has come.
Going on information given to him by fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan, Mando takes The Child to Corvus, where he hopes to find a Jedi that will accept his young charge.
It is here that he encounters the walled city of Calodan, presided over by the cruel Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), and her lieutenant Lang (Michael Biehn).
Elsbeth requests Mando’s help to take down a Jedi named Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who has been attempting to breach the walls of her city.
It just so happens, that Ahsoka is also the Jedi that Mando is looking for.
While the series has shown us a galaxy following the aftermath of the events of Return of the Jedi, this season has also shown us that the series is not afraid to reference things from the prequel films, let alone The Clone Wars animated series.
With The Jedi, writer/director Dave Feloni gets to bring one of the characters he created to life, showing us Ahsoka Tano far removed from what has been seen. Rosario Dawson disappears into her character, showing us someone who seems to have chosen her own path, but still remembers much of her days before the Jedi Purge. The way she is portrayed here, it’s a good bet that current fans of hers will be pleased, and a number of new fans for Ahsoka will be joining them soon.
The episode also gives us some of the most intimate moments with Mando and The Child we’ve seen yet. It feels like it has been awhile since we saw them connect like this, and Ahsoka acts as an intermediary to help Mando better understand the little one (even revealing it’s name!). Though much like his seeking out Mandalorians in the episode The Mistress, Mando’s search for a Jedi does not quite provide him with all the answers he seeks.
In terms of antagonists, Morgan Elsbeth is more of a low-key villain this time around, a figure who stands calm-and-collected in many situations, but is willing to fight if the need arises. A surprising guest appearance was seeing actor Michael Biehn as her lieutenant. Much like Timothy Olyphant earlier in the season, he just blends in surprisingly well for his brief appearance.
For the theming of this episode, the stylings of samurai films are on full display. From the high walls surrounding Caloden, to the barren stalks of trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky, Feloni is tapping into some familiar theming. Even the opening that introduces Ahsoka feels like it has Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s fingerprints on it. The episode overall feels more like an exercise in quietness and contemplation, than the pulse-pounding action we’ve seen in recent episodes.
This is definitely an episode that requires multiple viewings. Much like how George Lucas would layer in details for the prequels, Filoni does the same here, making me think even a few viewings may not be enough to catch a number of the details included here.
The Jedi will surely provide those with fond memories of Ahsoka Tano, an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Its story swings more towards a samurai tale than a western, but it helps act as a nice change of scenery, where we get to slow down and learn more about our lead characters, without having a major threat to contend with. This may also be one of the most emotional episodes we’ve had in the series so far, but we should be wary as dark clouds still loom on the horizon, and the journey for Mando and The Child, may be a ways off from coming to its conclusion.
Final Grade: B+
Movie Musings: Palpatine’s three key manipulations to becoming Emperor (aka “It wasn’t all Jar Jar Binks’ fault”)
“All democracies turn into dictatorships–but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it’s Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea. What kinds of things push people and institutions in this direction? That’s the issue I’ve been exploring: how did the Republic turn into the Empire?…How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship?” – George Lucas , from the April 21, 2002 edition of Time Magazine
Of all the incidents within George Lucas’ prequel trilogy for his Star Wars saga, the one that has come to light in recent years, has been the constant talk that Jar Jar Binks was responsible for the rise of The Empire. Plus, thanks to a small bit in a Robot Chicken sketch on Cartoon Network, a rumor developed that the dopey Gungan was not only a secret Sith Lord, but the true “Phantom Menace.”
Regarding these fan-theories, I find the secret Sith Lord one to be ridiculous. As for bringing about the rise of the Empire, like most things that people think are so simple, there’s more to that story than people realize.
As we’ve seen from our own real-world political systems, it is often a number of people being manipulated, to get some of those in power what they want. With this post, I hope to shed a little more light on the political chess game of the prequels, and hopefully show ‘a certain point of view’ some may not have considered before.*
Let us consider Palpatine’s first major move to become Emperor. It would involve someone from Naboo…but not Jar Jar.
*Note: This post only takes into account the films and their script information. It does not take into account the Expanded Universe.
In The Phantom Menace, Naboo Senator Palpatine (under the guise of Sith Lord, Darth Sidious) manipulated the Trade Federation to blockade his peaceful homeworld. With a security force made up largely of volunteers, their armed forces would not have stood a chance against the thousands of battle droids the Federation unleashed across the planet.
In regards to her political stance, Queen Amidala put great faith in diplomacy and negotiations, and refused to go to war. Upon hearing that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had sent two Jedi (Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to negotiate a settlement, she was confident the matter would be resolved amicably.
Acting on orders from Palpatine, the Trade Federation attempted to kill the Jedi, but the two succeeded in getting to the capital city of Theed, and alerting the Queen to what had happened.
Though Amidala wished to remain with her people, Qui-gon recommended she escape with them, feeling her first-person account of what was happening, would convince the Senate to help her planet.
Arriving in the Republic capital of Coruscant, Padme was met by both Palpatine and Valorum. Though the Supreme Chancellor informed her that he had called an emergency meeting of the Senate to hear of her situation, Palpatine later told Padme in private, that he doubted anything would be done.
“The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates,” he said. “There is no interest at all in the common good.”
Palpatine also claimed that some felt Valorum himself was compromised, and that he was under the thumb of the bureaucrats. To save their planet, Palpatine floated two options.
The first option, would be to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum. This would (hopefully) allow for the election of “a stronger Supreme Chancellor,” who might be able to help them.
The second option, would be to submit a plea to the courts…which would probably take more time than the Senate to come to a decision regarding the blockade.
When Palpatine and Amidala appeared before the Senate, the Queen’s words were shouted down by the Trade Federation’s members. Objecting to the ‘accusations,’ they claimed Amidala had no proof, and that a committee be sent to Naboo to find out the truth.
Valorum attempted to intervene, before his vice chair Mas Amedda had a few words in private with him.
“Enter the bureaucrats,” Palpatine whispered to Padme. “The true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum’s strength…will disappear.”
It sounded like Palpatine’s words rang true when Valorum conceded, asking Padme if she would allow the Trade Federation’s request to be accepted.
The young ruler refused, claiming she had come for a proper resolution of help, not to see her people be ignored further. It wass then that she took Palpatine’s advice, and called for a vote of no confidence in Valorum.
Following these events, Palpatine ended up being one of the senators nominated to succeed Valorum. Telling the Queen the news, he explained that their planet’s current situation could create “a strong sympathy vote,” that might sway the election in their favor.
In the end, Padme and her companions returned to Naboo, and with the help of Jar Jar and the Gungans, took back control of the planet.
As the Trade Federation leaders were led away, the newly-elected Supreme Chancellor Palpatine greeted the Queen. With a smile, he promised that they would bring “peace and prosperity to the Republic.”
Of course, within that smiling optimism, was the mind of a devious tyrant, happy that his plans were still moving forward.
Yes, Jar Jar Binks did have a hand in Palpatine’s rise to power. No, it wasn’t all his fault.
When we first meet Jar Jar in Attack of the Clones, he is in residence at Amidala’s senatorial apartment on Coruscant. Following the Battle of Naboo, he was chosen as a representative for the Gungans in the Galactic Senate.
Though he was just there in a physical manner, when Padme was forced to go into hiding due to several assassination attempts, she appointed Jar Jar to act as a full representative to Naboo in her stead.
At the time, Padme and a number of other Senators were strongly opposed to “The Military Creation Act” in the Senate. With the rise of the Separatist movement (being led by former Jedi, Count Dooku), there were fears that the powerful group could overthrow the Republic. While some felt a military act would quell the Separatists, Padme and a number of other Senators still believed that diplomacy could win out.
Of course, she couldn’t have foreseen Palpatine’s next move. This would occur due to two pieces of information, uncovered by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The first was the discovery of a Clone Army, that was being created on the planet Kamino, for the Republic (though the order was placed through an unknown Jedi named, Sifo-dyas).
The second revelation occurred on the planet Geonosis, where Obi-Wan found the Trade Federation’s droid factories creating a droid Army, that was to be utilized by the Separatists to attack the Republic.
While some senators felt that a ready-in-waiting Clone Army could be advantageous to the Republic, senator Bail Organa expressed concern that there was not enough support in the Senate to approve such a thing in case the Separatists did swiftly decide to attack.
This was when Palpatine’s advisor Mas Amedda made a shocking proposal: give the Supreme Chancellor emergency powers. This would allow him to override the Senate’s indecisiveness, and immediately approve the use of the clone army.
“But what senator would have the courage to pose such a radical amendment?” questioned Palpatine.
“If only…Senator Amidala were here,” muttered Amedda.
These words seemed to be leveled at Jar Jar, and wanting to do right by Padme and his homeworld, he volunteered to raise the issue in the Senate. Much like how Padme had been sucked in by Palpatine’s manipulations 10 years before…now too, would Jar Jar!
Explaining the dire situation facing the Republic, Representative Binks’ request was approved by a majority of the Senators, and Palpatine addressed the delegates.
“It is with great reluctance, that I have agreed to this calling,” he said. “I love democracy, I love the Republic. The power you give me, I will lay down, once this crisis has abated.”
And thus, the clone army was ordered to Geonosis to try and stop the Separatists. However, the Separatist Leaders and Count Dooku succeeded in getting away, and thus, the Clone War began.
Palpatine had now gained special powers beyond the Senate, and a massive army at his command…but, he was not all-powerful…yet.
As the Clone War entered it’s third year at the start of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine began to finalize his grand scheme. All he needed…was a powerful-yet-confused young Jedi.
Palpatine had befriended Anakin after the Battle of Naboo, and while Anakin seemed to believe in the Chancellor, he saw nothing wrong with the Senate giving him even more power. Unlike Padme, Anakin favored more direct action, and less diplomacy.
During a battle over Coruscant, Palpatine had tested Anakin’s resolve to kill Count Dooku, and Anakin had reluctantly beheaded the former Jedi at the Chancellor’s request. Palpatine could sense his power over Anakin…but, he needed to push him to further doubt his allegiance to the Jedi, to win him over to his side.
This would occur in several ways.
The first was Palpatine appointing Anakin to be his ‘personal representative’ on the Jedi Council. The council found this decision ‘disturbing,’ but made a concession: Anakin could serve on the council per the Chancellor’s order…but he would not be granted the rank of “Master.”
This decision infuriated Anakin, but so did a secret request by the Jedi to spy on the Chancellor for them…a request that was made in secret by his mentor, Obi-Wan.
However, what weighed most heavily on Anakin’s mind, was a vision in which Padme had died during childbirth. In Attack of the Clones, he was unable to save his mother from death on Tatooine, and vowed he would not lose Padme as well. Anakin spoke to Master Yoda of his fears, but all Yoda would tell him was that he must accept the deaths of others he cared for…something which Anakin was unable to do.
Palpatine sensed these roiling emotions in Anakin, and told him of a Sith Lord called Darth Plagueis, who it was said could save others from dying. However, it would require knowledge of the Dark Side of the Force, to gain this ability.
“Is it possible to learn this power?” asked Anakin.
“…not from a Jedi,” Palpatine had responded, sensing that he had piqued Anakin’s interests.
When next they met, Palpatine revealed himself as a Sith Lord…but as he expected, Anakin did not kill him. Instead, Anakin reported Palpatine’s identity to Mace Windu, hoping that the Jedi would jail the Chancellor, and allow Anakin the chance to find out more about what Palpatine knew. Instead, Mace felt the Sith Lord was too dangerous to live, and attempted to kill him upon their confrontation!
Fearing the loss of the power to save his wife, Anakin attacked Mace, giving Palpatine the chance to electrocute the Jedi Master with Force lighting, and throw him through a window to his death.
Palpatine knew he now had Anakin in his clutches. Promising the two of them would discover Plagueis’ secret to ‘cheat death’ together, Anakin then pledged his allegiance to the Sith Lord…and was bestowed the mantle, of Darth Vader.
Anakin even gave into Palpatine’s words that all the Jedi had to be destroyed, or they would surely try to take over the Republic. With the promise that their deaths would lead to strengthening his new powers, Anakin led a battalion into the Jedi Temple, and was even willing to slaughter children if it meant keeping his wife alive.
He then traveled to Mustafar, where he dispatched the Separatist leaders. This would mean an end to the Clone War, but the real nightmare was about to begin for the Republic.
During the slaughter on Mustafar, Palpatine called an emergency meeting of the Senate.
Appearing before them with his ‘scarred and deformed’ visage, he told how the Jedi had attempted to overthrow the Republic and kill him, and were now in the process of being ‘hunted down and defeated.’
This should have come as a shock to many in the Senate. The Jedi had been a part of the Republic for many generations, and yet the announcement that the “Jedi rebellion had been foiled,” led to cheers from many (though not from Bail Organa or Padme Amidala, who quietly watched the horror that was unfolding before them).
It was then that Palpatine declared that to ensure a ‘safe and secure society,’ the Republic would be reorganized, into the first Galactic Empire.
This declaration that signaled the fall of the Republic, was met by a look of shock from Padme, as the Senate chamber erupted into a cacophony of approval.
“So this is how liberty dies,” sighed Padme. “With thunderous applause.”
And as Revenge of the Sith drew to a close, it seemed that the Power of the Dark Side had triumphed. The Jedi Order had been destroyed, there was a massive military force at the beck-and-call of the new Emperor, and Palpatine was now the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy.
Though the Sith had taken over the Republic, it would take some time before the Empire would be defeated.
Much like how Palpatine had manipulated Anakin into becoming his apprentice, he soon hoped that Luke Skywalker would be able to replace Vader. However, Luke was not so easily swayed. Though caught off-guard at times, he proved to be stronger than his father had been, resisting the Emperor’s temptations, and even helped redeem his father when Vader threw his master down a shaft in the second Death Star.
And as we’ve seen via The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine survived to terrorize the galaxy another day…but that is another story that we can delve into at another time.
For now, I hope I have opened your minds a little further, and we can give Jar Jar Binks a little more of a break.
Another week, another new episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+.
After time on two desert planets and a forested world, our leading man’s latest journey keeps him out among the stars, but not far enough out of trouble.
The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) reaches out to a mercenary he knows named Ran (Mark Boone, Jr), looking for work. What he gets is a prison break job, where he’s teamed up with Ran’s assistant Mayfield (Bill Burr), a Devaronian named Burg (Clancy Brown), a crazy Twi’lek named Xi’an (Natalia Tena), and a droid named Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).
Mando finds there are added stipulations, but takes the job. However, it just feels like this deal is getting worse all the time.
After a few minutes with this week’s crew, it feels like Mando has fallen into a combination of Suicide Squad and Rogue One with this episode. This is one of those scenarios where it seems the operatives were chosen for their skills, and if they happen to work well as a team…well, that’s just a bonus.
We get some hints of people having knowledge of Mando in this one. From Ran to Xi’an, there are small bits of information that their paths have crossed, but we’re left in the dark regarding most of those past exploits. There also is a continued mention of Mando’s disliking of droids, and a little more information on his ship, the Razor Crest.
Rick Famuyiwa directs his second episode of the season, taking us from open desert terrain, to the confining hallways of a New Republic prison ship. There’s definitely some flashbacks to the sleek-white interior of the Tantive IV from Episode III & IV, mixed in with some new elements as well (after the fall of the Empire, the New Republic now has the credits to afford droids to guard their prisoners).
Fortunately, The Prisoner ends up not relying so much on nostalgia like last week’s episode, The Gunslinger. The little shout-outs to certain areas of the Star Wars universe in this episode, are a little more unexpected. We get a minor reference to The Last Jedi, while one of the character’s call-outs to a certain prequel species, shows that racism is still alive and well in the galaxy.
With a crazy crew of characters, I was hoping there would be some faces here that would be more memorable. Alas, the characters are pretty much here to serve their basic purposes of being colorful scum, that feel like we’ve seen them in other popular culture materials. I’d dare anyone to watch this, and not think of Xi’an as a Twi’lek “Harley Quinn,” or Burg as the team’s “Drax.”
The highlight of the episode is seeing how resourceful the Mandalorian can be in a tight spot, and when things really start to go downhill at one point, some of what he does brought a smile to my face. Pity that I couldn’t have enjoyed the rest of the episode as much as one little scene at the end, where Famuyiwa gets a little “house of horrors” in how he stages a tense scene or two.
Just like last week, The Child is relegated to a smaller role, as our focus is mainly on Mando. All showings of The Child in this episode, seems mainly to let us know he’s still alive, but that’s about it.
In my humble opinion, The Prisoner is definitely better than The Gunslinger for an overall story that doesn’t rely on nostalgia, but it doesn’t give enough decent characters to really make me care much for plight of most on-screen.
With two episodes left in the season, The Mandalorian started out strong, and seems to have become rather middling with it’s recent stories. With two episodes left in this season, I am hoping the first season will conclude in a way that will make us eager for season 2.
Final Grade: B
Since it’s premiere on Disney+, The Mandalorian has become one of the most surprising things to come out of Disney since the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd.
Creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and showrunner Dave Feloni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), have managed to channel into the gunslinger/samurai mentality that George Lucas often cited in various parts of the Star Wars saga. The episodic nature of the series is one part Saturday afternoon serial, and one part Spaghetti Western, with each week revealing more about our title character, and his place in the world of Star Wars.
Following events at the end of episode 3, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and his new companion (simply known as The Child) attempt to lay low on the planet Sorgan. However, Mando comes across two unexpected encounters.
The first is a woman named Cara Dune (Gina Carano), A former shocktrooper of the New Republic who has settled down in the area.
The second is a small group of villagers, who request Mando’s help to take care of some marauders that threaten their isolated community.
Given the action-packed pacing of the first three episodes, it stands to reason some will be disappointed with how “simple” Sanctuary is. However, it’s the first real “breather” we’ve had since the show began, and I welcomed the chance to see Mando and the Child interacting with other beings. It’s one thing to see characters in intense situations, but it’s another to learn more about them when they aren’t being fired on from all sides.
Cara Dune proves herself to be another worthy addition to the ever-growing cast of supporting characters. Seeing her team up with Mando to assist the villagers, gives us some more insight into her, let alone how her own training can be utilized to help the people. While Cara may have turned her back on the New Republic, that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of helping others in need.
The village doesn’t feel that far removed from a native tribe, intermingled with a Japanese village from the days of the Samurai (those who have seen Akira Kurosawa’s films will surely see some connections!). Our main contacts to this world are a widow named Omera (Julia Jones), along with her daughter, Winta (Isla Ferris).
While Winta happily acclimates The Child into the village’s younger ranks, Omera seems to quickly take an interest in the Mandalorian. Her character isn’t that far removed from the young woman we’ve seen in Westerns, entranced by a strong-but-silent newcomer. In Omera’s case, it almost feels like her type of character is a little “too soon” for the series. The writers still manage to keep her interesting, even if she seems a little “by-the-numbers” at times.
The effects provided by Industrial Light and Magic in this story, really works within the environment. This is the first time we’ve seen The Child really stretch his legs, and while certain scenes may involve an animatronic figure, computer-generated effects are used in a sparing way, almost hearkening back to the days of Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.
Episodes like Sanctuary are a great way to use the slower moments to understand more about characters. We learn not only about the galaxy post-Empire via Cara, but more about the Mandalorian code, and a few more hints about our lead character’s past. The storytelling of Mando being tempted with a life of simplicity however, feels a little too soon to tell, given we’re only four episodes into our adventures with him.
Most will probably discount this episode given it’s tone, but for managing to “simplify” where others want a lot more, I feel it’s a bit more worthy of praise than most will give it credit for.
Final Grade: B+
When I attended the 2013 and 2017 D23 Expo’s in California, I was surprised by a number of Disney-related cosplays I saw, most notably some that were incredibly creative, and would surely never be seen outside of a Disney-related fan event.
Going to Star Wars Celebration Chicago, I was pretty sure I’d see plenty of the same when it came to a galaxy far far away, and I was not disappointed. Here are some cosplays I managed to snap pictures of, many of them characters you probably won’t see outside of a Star Wars convention setting.
There were plenty more cosplays I wanted to post, but I’ve made it a rule to limit the picture count to 30. There was some wonderful dress-work regarding Amidala’s dresses, and even some great family cosplay groupings I saw. It’s often exciting to see when a whole family gets in on the fun.
If any of you readers are the cosplayers I snapped pics of, please leave a comment! Any tidbits about making your costumes, or stories about their creation, are always welcome!
As he worked on editing his Star Wars prequels, George Lucas soon had to make some storytelling choices. Ultimately, he felt the main focuses for his new trilogy, were the rise of the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace.
This would lead to drastic scene cuts for one particular character: Padmé Amidala. Gone was the chance to learn more about the former Queen of Naboo, as she became little more than Anakin’s love-interest in Episode II, and a fretting mother-to-be in Episode III.
There were many like myself that wondered about her political backstory, and one of them was author E.K. Johnston. Having already written a story about Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano, Johnston was excited to go back in time, and reveal more about one of her favorite characters.
Following her final term as Queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala is unsure of what she should do next. Upon meeting the newly-elected Queen, she is surprised when the new ruler wishes her to represent their planet in the Galactic Senate.
Padmé accepts, and soon finds herself in the capital city of Coruscant. With a new chapter starting in her life, she attempts to find her way in a new political arena, far outside the scope of her home world.
For much of the story, Amidala is far removed from the main players of the prequel trilogy. While there are some minor asides to R2-D2 and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, she is usually surrounded by several handmaidens, and some Naboo security forces. It is with the former, that Johnston is most concerned with for supporting characters.
The attempts to give little bits of backstory to almost every handmaiden during the first chapters of the book does become a bit much, and it almost feels like Johnston begins to get a little lost in trying to keep some of them relevant to Padmé’s life. Even a chapter that chronicles part of a mission that her most loyal handmaiden named Sabé undertakes, feels like it could have been jettisoned, and simply replaced with her reporting to Padmé instead.
The main focus of the story regarding Padmé, is her attempting to understand how she can fit into the Senate. Who can she trust? How transparent can she be regarding her actions? And probably most important: does she make decisions for just the good of her home world…or does she have to think moreso of other planets and systems with her senatorial powers?
Much like how some saw parallels to certain real-world events during the prequel film’s releases, some may be a bit surprised at how Johnston writes about Padme’s treatment via holonet newsfeeds. Back in 1999, there were some who mocked Lucas’ idea that a teenager could rule an entire planet when Episode I was released. Johnston channels that mockery into the story, as Padmé tries to prove her worth amid reports that someone like her does not belong in the political arena.
It is also in regards to Padmé’s adventures within the Senate, that I found the story to be lacking. I know politics isn’t necessarily exciting for some, but I felt Johnston could have delved deeper into Padmé’s character, by seeing how she would handle a number of different issues brought before the Senate. As it stands, we only see her tackle a small handful.
There are also a number of references that have been inserted for many different Star Wars fans to pick up on. While I was familiar with names like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, some such as Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri, will probably excite anyone who has watched the Clone Wars television series. We also get a return to some familiar locations, including one I definitely did not expect to visit.
I’ve only read a few books in relation to the Star Wars series over the years, but I was curious as to what Queen’s Shadow could give us regarding Padmé.
E.K. Johnston shows a definite love for her source material, but it feels like she struggles to maintain focus. When the story zeroes in on Padmé herself, that was when I found myself turning pages to find out more. It was half-way through the book that I started to really get pulled in, and it made me a little sad that it took so long for the story to grab my attention.
This isn’t to say I felt Johnston should have jettisoned the handmaidens. Given her wish to hand over some extra character development to them, maybe she could have focused on a collection of short stories regarding the numerous young women who served alongside Padmé during her life.
In conclusion, Queen’s Shadow tells a decent story, but it could have been so much better.
Over the last 30 years, writer/director James Cameron has made a number of memorable, and successful films.
While he has delved into themes of espionage (True Lies) and period romance (Titanic), the bulk of his work takes place within the genre known as science fiction. Some of these films include The Terminator, The Abyss, and Avatar.
Recently, Cameron partnered with the television channel AMC, to create the six-part original series, AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. For the show, Cameron’s goal was to sit down with six of the biggest names in science fiction, and get their perspectives on the importance, and the impact of the genre.
These guests include directors Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.), George Lucas (THX-1138, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar), Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim, The Shape of Water), Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), and actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who portrayed the Terminator in Cameron’s film series).
Insight Editions’ book reproduces Cameron’s interviews in full, and offers several topical summaries by a number of people familiar with science fiction. These topics include dark futures, artificial intelligence, time-travel, and much more.
When I saw the interview lineup, I did question the inclusion of Schwarzenegger (given that Arnold has never directed a science fiction film). However, Cameron seems to have also included himself, as an unofficial interviewee within the book.
One of his cohorts named Randall Frakes (who has worked with him on a number of projects), acts as the interviewer for Jim’s views on science fiction. Over the years, I’ve often heard the story of how Cameron was inspired by Star Wars, quit his job as a truck driver, and got into film profuction. With the Frakes/Cameron interview, it was definitely an eye-opening look into what makes Cameron tick regarding science fiction, as well as some of the decisions he makes regarding his films.
It should be noted that when Cameron gets around to interviewing his guests, he chooses to mainly discuss the science fiction topics their work tends to focus on. For example, you won’t find Guillermo Del Toro expounding on time-travel, but you will get his views on monsters in science fiction (plus, he talks about the time he and a friend encountered a UFO!).
If you’ve studied any of the directors that Cameron interviews, you’re probably going to find some overlap with the information they provide. I was already well-versed in Spielberg’s handling of the late Stanley Kubrick’s unfinished film A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), and most of what he talks about during his interview, I was well aware of.
Of all the interviews, I felt that George Lucas’ discussion with Cameron came across as a bit ‘detached’ at times. One can sense Cameron wanting to possibly steer the conversation a little deeper towards Star Wars, but George doesn’t seem that interested in dissecting something he’s probably already discussed dozens of times before. Of interest to me, was his expounding a bit deeper into his feelings about inter-connectivity and micro-bacteria, which seemed to tie into that most loathed of prequel subjects: midichlorians. George also comes across as more of a realist, than his more optimistic friend, Steven.
While Spielberg and Lucas were two of the guys I was very familiar with, it was the likes of Nolan, Scott, and Del Toro whom I had little knowledge of.
Of the three, it is Ridley Scott who is the ‘old master’ of science fiction here, and one can almost feel Cameron acting like an excited fan, getting to interview a man after his own heart.
In recent years, Scott has made a comeback into science fiction with films like Prometheus and The Martian, which Cameron seems to have been heavily enamored with (he mentions it’s ‘science-fact’ premise to a number of his interviewees). Of course, the pendulum swings both ways, as Scott tells Cameron that Avatar inspired him to consider returning to the realms of science fiction.
The book also gets a teensy bit ‘political’ as it delves into some topics, such as how people perceive science in this day-and-age. I was surprised during one interview where Cameron seemed to ‘hijack’ the conversation, and expound a bit on his own views and research about artificial intelligence. While he didn’t feel that his Terminator films were some form of self-fulfilling prophecy, he does tell about an experience regarding how some people may be looking to misuse A.I., the way people ended up making a mess of things with atomic energy.
Along with a number of visuals from science fiction films (via still-frames and posters), the book is filled with a number of original art pieces created by Cameron. Most people are not aware that he is also an artist, and has been doing science fiction art for many years, whether for his own pleasure, or as concept pieces for films he has done.
Most notable are a number of concept drawings and paintings done for an unmade short called Xenogenesis. It is fascinating to look at these, and see how Cameron utilized them in other films he’s done.
A prime example is this piece on the left. The giant robotic vehicle has elements that would be utilized for the tank-like Hunter-Killers in 1984’s The Terminator, while the female character doing battle with it in her own mechanical vehicle, seems eerily reminiscent of Ripley’s battle with the Alien Queen in his 1986 film sequel, Aliens.
For those expecting Cameron to mostly sit aside and let his guests speak, you may find yourselves disappointed. This isn’t someone from the entertainment section of a news program asking throwaway questions, but someone who is here to ask some very deep questions.
Readers may also grow a little tired, as Cameron tends to monopolize some conversations. This is most notable in his own interview with Frakes. It seems that Jim could go on-and-on with all the information he’s accumulated over the years.
Even so, James Cameron’s The Story of Science Fiction is a book I would highly recommend to those who are fans of Cameron, or any of the guests he speaks with. Even if you may know a lot about a few of those being interviewed, what you glean from reading about the additional guests and the science fiction genre in general, will surely be an eye-opener to many.
To many, it seemed that the Star Wars prequels could be summed up in four words: George Lucas blew it.
However, in the years since the three films were released, and despite the neverending flogging from a very vocal (but usually online) fanbase, I often found myself still intrigued by what had been laid out before the public.
While many had high hopes of a film trilogy that would have shown Anakin Skywalker ‘hunting down and destroying Jedi,’ Lucas instead attempted to tell a story of how a giving and caring person, was corrupted into craving ultimate power.
Unlike a mere rehash of the films many knew and loved, the Prequels attempted to tell their own tale. Notable, was how Darth Sidious (under the guise of a Senator-turned Chancellor named Palpatine) managed to not only bring down the Jedi Order, but coerce the Galactic Republic into giving him total control, and forming the Galactic Empire.
Of course, Sidious continued to play with the ‘rule of two,’ when it came to doctrine of the Sith: there would be only a Master, and an Apprentice.
Over the course of the three films, we’d see several of Palpatine’s apprentices rise and fall. One looked like a demonic bad-@$$, another was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side, then a mechanically-aided alien creature, before Sidious finally set his sights on Anakin.
With Skywalker at his side, Palpatine could have had one of his most powerful apprentices ever. However, circumstances left him with a badly-wounded husk of a human being…one who was then transformed into an imposing dark presence, who became one of the most visually-distinctive figures in the Star Wars Universe.
While many were let down with Lucas’ depiction of the Jedi Council (a rather pompous lot whom had become lazy after a millennia of having no Sith to counteract), there was also some negativity bandied towards his depictions of the multiple Sith Apprentices as well.
Many fans were used to the general idea of there being a ‘constant’ apprentice to the Emperor, as it was in The Original Trilogy with Vader.
However, what some may not have considered (from a certain point-of-view), was that the three figures we see being loyal to Darth Sidious, might in fact, be considered as ‘puzzle pieces,’ that together, form Darth Vader.
In several making-of pieces, Lucas makes note of what he calls, ‘an echo.’ This is usually in reference to something we see, that will also come back later in some form.
The first time I recalled this word usage, was during a “webisode,” discussing the creation of General Grievous.
Lucas was adamant that the concept artists not ‘recreate Darth Vader,’ but was taken by an image that showed a metal creation, with organic eyes. This was the birth of Episode III‘s new bad guy.
His telling of how Grievous was “an echo of what Anakin is going to become,” started the wheels in my head to turn. Soon, I began to think deeper, about the apprentices to Darth Sidious.
This post, is the result of those thoughts. So, let’s see what I’ve dug up.
From the moment he was introduced visually to the public back in 1998, many eagerly clamored for more of Episode I’s Sith Apprentice.
His kicks and flips were one thing, but his tattooed visage and double-bladed lightsaber, quickly made him the ‘Boba Fett’ of the first prequel film. Many were eagerly snapping up toys of Maul, and speculating on just how he’d fit into the grand scheme of the new trilogy.
…and then he was cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi, infuriating many! How could Lucas throw away what was (essentially) an awesome character, many wailed.
The truth is, George Lucas rarely goes for what’s ‘cool.’ This explains why fan-favorite character Boba Fett, was so easily dispatched in Return of the Jedi. To George, Fett had served his purpose, and there was no further reason for him to live on.
Of course, George’s vision was mere peanuts compared to the fans and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, that soon made Fett out to be ‘The Most Interesting Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy.’
When going over Maul’s appearance in The Phantom Menace, I soon thought I had figured out what Lucas was trying to do.
To me, it boiled down to a line that Luke Skywalker told the Emperor in Return of the Jedi: “Your over-confidence is your weakness.”
Maul is much the same way. He’s been trained by Sidious, and like a brash young upstart, he seems to think he can take on anything. With his whirling dervish moves, he feels his skills will give him the upper-hand in getting revenge on the Jedi.
Maul’s skills come into play when he stuns Qui-gon and take him out, but his over-confidence gets the better of him, when he revels in Obi-Wan hanging over the pit on Naboo.
Obi-Wan ended up getting the upper-hand against Maul, by jumping over him, and slicing him with Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.
This also serves as an ‘echo’ in Revenge of the Sith.
When Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on the planet Mustafar, Anakin is confident in his powers, and much like Maul, his moves are fast and vicious.
We also get an ‘echo’ to Obi-Wan in Menace, when Anakin attempts to jump over Obi-Wan. However, Obi-Wan has been in this situation before, and he knows what to expect (even cautioning Anakin not to do what he knows he’ll do).
Just like Darth Maul, Anakin’s over-confidence becomes his weakness, and Obi-Wan mortally-wounds his former apprentice, with a well-placed slice of his lightsaber.
In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku was revealed to be a former Jedi (and Master to Qui-Gon Jinn), who left the Jedi Order.
Word was that Dooku became disillusioned with the Order, and how it was conducting itself. It was briefly mentioned that Qui-gon himself was sometimes at odds with the Council, and these tendencies may have been instilled in him by his own Master.
It surprised the Jedi, when Dooku was soon mentioned as being a member of the Separatist Movement, which seemed intent to try and take control of the Galaxy, away from the Republic.
Just as Dooku found disillusionment with the Jedi, an ‘echo’ of this seemed to be mirrored in Anakin as the Prequels continued onward.
Anakin’s emotional turmoil is on display in Attack of the Clones, most notable in regards to the death of his mother, as well as his feelings for Padme Amidala. The monastic lifestyle of the Jedi began to clash with Anakin’s thinking, and as he tried to wrestle with those around him telling to let go of his emotions and feelings, he often found himself unable to do so.
We see more of Anakin’s disillusionment in Revenge of the Sith, when he is given a position on the council, though mainly out of obligation to the requests of Chancellor Palpatine. The Council does so at the request of Palpatine, but Anakin does not become a Master simply by sitting on it. Anakin in turn, is upset by this, but is further upset upon being given a secret request by Obi-Wan, to spy upon the Chancellor, at the Council’s request.
Being used to spy on the Chancellor feels like a further crumbling of Anakin’s faith in the Jedi Order, and he grows upset as well, when Padme asks him to speak directly with Palpatine. Because of his closeness to Palpatine, she requests he ask him to consider diplomacy against the Separatists, to end the war (“Don’t ask me to do that,” he snaps at her. “Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs!”).
I will admit when it comes to Dooku, there isn’t quite as much in regards to him, as he’s a bit less ‘confrontational’ than Maul or Grievous.
Even so, Dooku was powerful enough to channel Force lightning upon Anakin, while also maneuvering his own lightsaber, with an aire of grace and fluidity.
We also see, that he was not above playing mind games, even with the Jedi.
Notable is when he has Obi-Wan Kenobi captured on Geonosis.
At one point, Dooku tells Obi-Wan point-blank, that a Sith Lord is controlling the Galactic Senate. Dooku even tries to use this information to turn Obi-wan, claiming the two of them can destroy the Sith. It could be that Dooku hoped that Obi-Wan’s loyalty to Qui-Gon could make him able to be turned, but Kenobi stays strong and refuses the offer (it almost ‘echoes’ Vader’s attempts to turn Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).
The information is later relayed to the Council, and rattles them slightly. Though they don’t wholly believe what has been told, they decide to keep a closer watch on the Senate.
This tactic of trying to turn good people to the Dark Side, is almost ‘echoed’ in Revenge of the Sith with Anakin. When he meets Padme on Mustafar, he tries to convince her that he is powerful enough to overcome Palpatine, and that this can pave the way for them to be happy. With Palpatine overthrown, Anakin claims that they can ‘rule the galaxy, and make things the way they want to be.’
Though just like Kenobi, Padme refuses to give in to this Sith Apprentice’s offerings of power.
Of course, Anakin’s confrontations with Dooku in Episodes II and III, resulted in dismemberment for the both of them.
Dooku cut off Anakin’s arm in Episode II, and in their next confrontation, Anakin cut off Dooku’s hands, and decapitated the former Jedi, at the behest of Palpatine.
One could almost see that moment, as Palpatine testing Skywalker, to see how loyal he could truly be. Though Anakin shows a slight remorse, Palpatine claims that his actions were justified (“He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge,” says Palpatine).
During the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious and Count Dooku employed an overseer for the Separatist’s Droid Army, in the form of General Grievous.
When first introduced in the Cartoon Network animated series in 2004, Grievous was seen as a cunningly-fast, and dangerous threat to the Jedi.
It was a far cry from his appearance in Revenge of the Sith though, where he seemed to be one of those villains who talked big, but then quickly ran away, shaking his fist at the “Jedi scum,” as he made his way to a new location (usually with a raspy cough).
Just like Maul and Tyrannus, Grievous also supplies a piece in the evolutionary puzzle of Darth Vader.
Whereas Maul shows how overconfidence can cloud a Sith’s judgement, and Dooku shows how a Jedi can be turned to the Dark Side via disillusionment, Grievous shows himself to be an early predecessor of a creature, kept alive via technology.
However, the mechanics are far from perfect, as seconds after he is introduced in Episode III, a raspy cough can be heard, a sign that the technology that Grievous is encased in, can’t cure all his ailments.
George Lucas has often been fascinated by the concept of man-and-technology, a theme that winds it’s way through his entire filmography.
Some could almost consider Grievous to be Vader’s predecessor. With his imposing height and appearance (at times looking like a living alien skeleton), let alone his threatening demeanor, the two almost seem cut from the same cloth.
While some criticize the rasping cough that accompanied the general in the film, it can be considered another ‘echo’ to the ‘creature/man-in-suit’ theme surrounding Vader.
The technology to save Grievous, is shown to have flaws, notably in how it cannot cure his cough. There is also the not-so-protective chest cavity, where his vital organs are stored. We see this flaw when Obi-Wan Kenobi manages to pry it open wide enough, to eventually fire a blaster, and cause the contents to catch fire, leading to the General’s death.
When it comes to Anakin, the cybernetic enhancements and the dark suit that he is encased in at the end of Episode III, are the final steps to erasing all traces of the former human being he once was. Plus, one assumes that since the Empire didn’t tell what had befallen Anakin (probably writing him off as another Jedi casualty), many never knew who was behind the imposing mask, and simply referred to him by the title of Darth Vader, as the Emperor requested.
I imagine some feel that my inclusion of Grievous here is somewhat of a ‘cheat,’ given that he was never a true apprentice to Darth Sidious. However, we did see in one scene, that Grievous was taking orders from Sidious (such as being told to move the Separatists to the planet Mustafar). Plus, he claimed that Dooku trained him in the Jedi Arts.
I feel that Grievous could be considered an unofficial apprentice for the first half of Episode III, after the death of Count Dooku. Shortly after Grievous is destroyed by Obi-Wan, that is when Anakin is given the title of Darth Vader, pledging himself to Palpatine’s teachings, and the Dark Side.
When it came to the Prequels, George Lucas strove to make us question just who Darth Vader was.
Throughout the Original Trilogy, and the many years of advertising, Vader’s helmeted visage became an icon for the series. However, this was counter to what Lucas originally envisioned.
An example is in A New Hope. Whereas many thought it was Vader who was running much of the operations for the Empire, he was little more than an overseer to certain events, and little more than a lapdog/assistant to Grand Moff Tarkin, who was running the show on the Death Star (it was Tarkin after all, who ordered the destruction of Alderaan).
Throughout the years, many have often complained that Episode I’s storyline should have been excised. They claimed the story should have started with Anakin as a teenager, with him ‘falling’ in Episode II, and then in Episode III, there’d be images of him being totally evil, destroying Jedi left and right!
However, many fail to comprehend that most of what Obi-wan ‘fed’ Luke, were stories like the kind a Grandfather would tell his Grandchildren, about how the old days were so much better…but oftentimes, keeping out certain details. After all, most never realize that Obi-Wan (and later Yoda) pretty much lied to Luke about what really happened to his father, seemingly trying to set the young Skywalker up to murder his own father.
To many that grew up on the series, it was these little tidbits of background information, that fed our imagination, and made it hard to fathom the notions that this imposing dark figure, was once a Force-sensitive little boy, who would happily shout “Yippee!”
Despite the flaws of the prequels (yes, I will admit they aren’t perfect) there are some ideas and areas of interest in them, that still keep me thinking all these years later.
One of George Lucas’ strengths, are his thoughts and ideas. We see these played across in many of the films he’s not only directed, but also produced. Some times he hits the sweet spot, and other times, his visions clash with those of the viewers.
This is true of Vader’s big moment at the end of Episode III, after his new suit is completed. The scene is almost an ‘echo’ of the carbon-freezing scene in Empire Strikes Back, only instead of Han Solo encased in a carbonite block, Vader is now encased in his suit. A heavy metallic sound upon the table’s rotation, almost makes it seem like he is now forever ‘trapped,’ both physically and mentally, by what he has done, and what he has now become.
Of course, Lucas tries to make us feel sympathy for Vader, but he ends up somewhat ruining the mood, in a moment that became more cringe-inducing than emotional.
Even so, he’s given me plenty of ‘food for thought’ over the years, and this post is the results of some of it.
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Those were some of the first words, that introduced millions of people to George Lucas’ Star Wars universe. While they offered a small backstory as to this ongoing war raging across the galaxy, there were some over the years who wondered, if they could be expanded upon.
That’s what The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm Ltd have done with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set between the events of Episodes III & IV, we follow that small group of “rebel spies,” and find out how they got those secret plans, into the hands of Princess Leia Organa.
The team consists of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed).
Jyn and Cassian are our main leads in this story, with both having had their fair share of troubles, thanks to the machinations of the Empire. However, it largely feels like we’re supposed to care about them, because they’re the main characters. Most of the time, it feels like they’re simply the driving force in the story, to propel us from one location, to another.
When it comes to director Gareth Edwards, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of his work. Having seen his films Monsters and Godzilla (2014), I can’t help but feel he likes to focus more on the atmosphere and supporting characters, that revolve around his main ones.
Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s tag-team of Chirrut and Baze, was a bit of yin-yang characterization that held my attention when they were on-screen. While Chirrut seems to be strongly willing to believe in the power of the Force, Baze relies on his wits and weaponry.
Two other characters that I think will also stick in most people’s minds, are pilot Bodhi Rook, and K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid.
Bodhi is almost like our ‘Finn’ of the piece, and it seemed whenever he was on-screen, I was very much enamored with what he was doing. It feels like out of all the supporting characters, he gets the most development.
Much like BB-8, K-2SO proves to be another entertaining droid for people to smile about. The filmmakers manage to find the sweet-spot between making him both informative and humorous, and it was one of the droid’s first lines, that made many in the audience give some of their first applause of the evening.
Also on hand as a new face in the Empire’s cadre of suited figures, is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). This (previously unseen) mastermind behind the Death Star’s construction, almost seems written in, to give us a taste of how credit and bureaucracy, often don’t see eye-to-eye.
The Force Awakens last year, definitely touched off plenty of similarities to the films we remembered from our past. Rogue One does some of the same, but moreso feels like a less-pandering extension of those worlds we were first introduced to. We get plenty of new set-pieces, and some familiar ones, expanding on our past knowledge. Plus, for those of you that are die-hard fans of George Lucas, it appears that there’s a subtle reference to another of his early works.
Of course, the time-frame of the film, also gives us a chance for a few cameos. These can often bounce around from good, to bad (though I will admit there were a couple that made my face light up like a Christmas tree!).
Composer Michael Giacchino fills our ears with a score that sounds like a ‘distant cousin’ to the works of John Williams. While a few familiar musical strains are heard, he is able to walk into the universe, and add his own inspired touch to a number of scenes.
Some of the battle sequences, also feel like they are a bit ‘scattershot’ in the way they are put together. While I like a good action sequence in a Star Wars film as much as the next person, it felt like they carry on too long in certain places. This almost made me pine for the tighter editing of battle scenes in some past films. Say what you will about the prequels, but it felt like even the act of juggling multiple scenes at the end of The Phantom Menace was handled better.
That isn’t to say Rogue One is a bad film. I walked into it just like I did Episode VII last year, asking only that it entertain me, and it did just that.
Like any film that attempts to rewrite something we’re already familiar with, there are certain elements that are embellished and expanded upon. Given the way the series’ fandom functions, it will be entertaining to see if some of the ret-conned items, end up becoming as ‘scandalous’ as some of the items that Lucas wrote about in the prequels.
The film proves that Star Wars can build an expanded universe on film, and should probably give plenty out there hope, for additional Star Wars Stories in the coming years.
Final Grade: B+ (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is the first attempt to expand the film universe of the world’s most famous space saga beyond it’s typical ‘episodes,’ and succeeds in being an entertaining prequel to the events of “A New Hope.” While our main cast of characters doesn’t prove as overall satisfying as the ragtag band of rogues in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there’s still enough here that should please “Star Wars” fans, both old and new.)