Star Wars: A Journey Through the New Canon – Part 6: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir

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A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.

 

Warning: Spoilers

 

Star Wars: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir is a four-issue comic book first published by Dark Horse in 2014. Written by Jeremy Barlow, with pencils by Juan Frigeri, inks by Mauro Vargas, and colors by Wes Dzioba, Son of Dathomir is based on unproduced scripts from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Dark Horse published a trade paperback in 2014; Marvel took control over this comic to make it part of the new canon. I read the digital version of the comics, which were made available on Amazon.com in November 2015.

First big point to make: the cool dude from The Phantom Menace is alive!

Second point: I have no idea how Darth Maul got from Naboo to a junk planet on the Outer Rim, but hey, he’s alive!

We learn Darth Maul is alive in season four of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Asajj Ventress, wanting vengeance on Count Dooku for trying to kill her, has Mother Talzin, the head witch of the Nightsisters, prepare a new apprentice for Dooku, one secretly programmed to obey Ventress. This new apprentice, Savage Opress, becomes strong in the dark side, so he resists Ventress and Dooku and flees back to Dathomir and Mother Talzin.

Mother Talzin gives Savage a magical amulet and tells him to find his brother, Maul. Savage finds Maul’s upper half attached to a mechanical spider type thing. Maul is on the verge of insanity because he has been in this state for over ten years. Savage rescues his brother, has artificial legs attached to Maul’s body, and helps Maul create the Shadow Collective, a crime organization comprised of members of the Mandalorian Death Watch, Black Sun, and Pykes.

The Nightbrothers are successful until Darth Sidious shows up. Sidious sensed the growing power of Darth Maul, and, according to the Sith Rule of Two, only two powerful Sith are allowed to be present in the galaxy at a time. Maul and Savage must die because Sidious does not want to replace Count Dooku. Sidious is surprisingly quick and nimble and easily kills Savage, but he has other plans for Maul.

I covered the material from The Clone Wars because the comic assumes you’ve seen the show, which is a weakness of the book.

Star Wars: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir is a four-issue comic book first published by Dark Horse in 2014.

Star Wars: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir is a four-issue comic book first published by Dark Horse in 2014.

The comic picks up after the events in The Clone Wars. Maul is Sidious’s prisoner, and the Sith Lord has a plan to use Maul to coerce Mother Talzin out from hiding so Sidious can settle an old score. Count Dooku thinks Mother Talzin was killed during the attack on Dathomir, one he ordered because of Savage’s betrayal and the involvement of Ventress and Mother Talzin. But Sidious knows better, and he’s right; Mother Talzin saved her spirit.

Mother Talzin possesses a vast amount of power, and Darth Maul plots to help his mother regain her physical form. Darth Sidious and Darth Maul try to outmaneuver each other, thinking each has the upper hand because they know each other’s tactics. Count Dooku and General Grievous try to destroy Maul’s Shadow Collective in hopes that he will run to Mommy, and he does run to Mommy, but Maul and Mother Talzin know Sidious is after them.

It’s great fun seeing Darth Maul in action. Maul understands how to accumulate power, but as Dooku points out, managing and maintaining power takes effort and patience, which are not Maul’s strongest qualities. Like many villains, Maul is guilty of monologuing and assuming Sith are eager to turn on each other. Maul contacts Sidious after he captures Dooku and Grievous; Sidious tells Maul he can kill both. Instead of killing his captives and striking a blow to Sidious’s plans, he offers Dooku a deal to strike down Sidious so they can be the two ruling Sith. Dooku plays along, but he reveals his true loyalties by freeing Grievous and by helping Sidious kill Mother Talzin in the final battle.

Darth Sidious is pleased. Mother Talzin is dead. Maul’s crime syndicate has collapsed. He believes Maul’s future has been erased.

Not so fast, Sidious. Maul escapes, giving him the opportunity to rise again and seek revenge.

 

 

Up next: Star Wars: Kanan – First Blood (comic)


Star Wars: A Journey Through the New Canon – Part 5: Dark Disciple

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A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.

 

Warning: Spoilers

 

Dark Disciple is a novel by Christie Golden that is based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The novel was originally published in hardcover in 2015 by Del Rey. The paperback version, which I read, was published in March 2016.

The war between the Republic and the Separatists has been raging across the galaxy for three years. Count Dooku, the leader of the Separatists, has amassed enough power that he can act out in the open by demanding the cooperation of worlds. When a planet refuses, he attacks. His slaughter of the inhabitants of Mahranee begins the story, and his actions prompt Jedi Master Mace Windu to suggest a bold idea – assassinate Count Dooku.

The Jedi way is to find light in the darkness, to find order in the chaos, to walk the path of peace, and to not act out of fear. Mace Windu argues Dooku’s death would plunge the Separatists movement into confusion because they would be scrambling to find a new leader (the Separatists don’t know about Darth Sidious). Obi-Wan Kenobi objects, but Windu counters that the Senate has charged the Jedi with fighting the war, a war they are not winning. Master Yoda, the head of the Jedi Council, reluctantly agrees. Save lives, Dooku’s death will.

Obi-Wan selects Master Quinlan Vos with the dreadful task. We met Vos in the episode of Star Wars: The Clone War called “Hunt for Ziro.” Vos is a warm fellow, cheerful, a good tracker, and has a reputation of being late and bending the rules. The Council usually assigns him undercover missions, and his familiarity with the galaxy’s underbelly is why Obi-Wan places this huge responsibility on his shoulders. Obi-Wan tells Vos Yoda’s plan – get help from Asajj Ventress.

Asajj Ventress is the second-best character from The Clone Wars (first place: Ashoka Tano; third place: the pirate Hondo Ohnaka). When she was a child, she was made a slave. After an attack by Weequay raiders, she was rescued by Jedi Knight Ky Narec, and he trained her as his Padawan. They lived on Rattatak for ten years; Narec was killed by Weequay, lighting the fuse of rage that led her to kill the Weequay warlords and take their place. Dooku found her on Rattatak and made her his apprentice, training her to use the dark side of the Force.

Although she was loyal to Dooku, Darth Sidious sensed her growing power and accused Dooku of wanting to strike him down and rule the galaxy with Ventress. To assure his Master this was not true, he ordered Ventress’s death. His betrayal sent her back home to Dathomir, and Mother Talzin helped her become reborn as a Nightsister, a practitioner of dark magic. Yoda wants Vos to solicit her help because she has tried twice to kill Dooku.

The existence of the film Revenge of the Sith reveals that Count Dooku survives this novel, so what the novel does well is explore mastery of the Force and the differences between being a Jedi and being a Sith. Golden’s language conveys what bodies go through and how the senses are activated when someone uses the Force, making you feel like a Jedi, a Sith, and a Nightsister. Another strength of the novel is it doesn’t assume you’ve watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Golden weaves exposition subtly throughout the story, never bogging down the action to dazzle us with unnecessary lectures on Star Wars lore.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Vos earns Ventress’s trust, and she trains him in the ways of the Nightsisters, not of the Sith. The difference is how the Nightsisters don’t completely succumb to the rage and fear like Sith do. The goal is to tap into your emotions while staying true to yourself. Ventress admits she was consumed by hate and rage when she was with Dooku, but as a Nightsister, she gained the ability to not be blinded by any emotion. Ventress insists on training Vos because she concludes that to go against his Jedi teachings he must be able to strike down Dooku in cold blood without hesitation, a quality Sith and Nightsisters have in common.

Unfortunately, intel causes Ventress to rush Vos’s training so they can enact their plan. For a third time, Ventress fails to kill Dooku, and Dooku takes Vos prisoner. Dooku exposes Vos to the ways of the Sith. After he returns to the Jedi, Vos claims that he was not turned, but Ventress senses something is wrong, but Obi-Wan dismisses her claim, thinking her judgement is clouded because she and Vos became lovers.

But Ventress is right, Vos does succumb, and Ventress fights to bring back Vos from the dark side. She’s never been in love before, so she stumbles as she tries to figure out the best course of action. After refusing to run away with her, Vos insists on accepting the Council’s mission, which is trying to kill Dooku again. This time Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker follow.

During the final confrontation with Dooku, Ventress plainly tells Vos the true nature of the dark side. To be Sith, one is a slave to fear, hatred, and rage; the dark side tempts with all one desires, but one is never satisfied because the dark side creates a black hole in the soul, devouring all joy, love, and control. Ventress confesses that she has left the path of the dark side, and she realizes that they have a choice between walking the path of peace or the path of fear. Ventress chooses the path of new beginnings, and she feels the true power of the Force.

Ventress pushes Vos and is struck by Dooku’s Force lightning, which was meant for Vos. Vos attacks Dooku in a rage and successfully gets Dooku on the ground. As Vos holds his lightsaber to Dooku’s neck, he looks over at Ventress’s broken body, and his tears release the pain and anger inside of him. It dawns on him that killing Dooku out of vengeance would be the final step in turning completely to the dark side. He turns off his lightsaber and proclaims to be a Jedi.

Like in many episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Dark Disciple explores the difficulty of being a Jedi. Choosing loving Ventress over hating Dooku saved Vos, and Obi-Wan admits that Ventress’s sacrifice saved them all from Dooku and from the darkness. By engaging in an act regularly used by the dark side, the Jedi Council betrayed themselves and the very nature of being a Jedi.

The Jedi are flawed, and it took the act of a reformed Sith to teach them that one act of evil to stop evil does not make the action good.

If the Jedi are tempted to use questionable tactics, then are they really the hope and the saviors of the galaxy?

 

Up next: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir (comic)


Star Wars: A Journey Through the New Canon – Part 4: The Clone Wars

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A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.

 

Warning: Spoilers

 

Over the course of six seasons (2008 – 2014) and a movie (2008), Star Wars: The Clone Wars explores the devastation of war and explains the machinations behind the war between the Separatists and the Republic. Spanning the time between the films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, TCW helps fill in blanks and develops characters.

The Clone War rages across the galaxy. Although the war is being orchestrated by Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus (Christopher Lee and Corey Burton) and Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian Abercrombie and Tim Curry), their actions widened a crack present before the events of The Phantom Menace. Many are frustrated by the obvious corruption festering in the Republic Senate and are tired of the Republic imposing its will on them. Emboldened by how Count Dooku is willing to stand up to the Republic and form the Separatists army, many worlds decide to leave the Republic. The Separatists, also known as the Confederacy of Independent Systems, see themselves rebelling against The Establishment and only want to be able to govern themselves. They create their own Senate with Dooku as their leader. They see the war as more proof that the Republic is only out for power; after all, if Palpatine would recognize their government and negotiate a peace treaty, the war would end. However, Palpatine, the man who promised to restore peace and order, refuses, claiming that the Separatist undermine order by rebelling against him and the Republic.

What the leaders of the Separatists worlds don’t see is how Dooku and Sidious manufacture conflict to gain power and fuel their needs as Sith, users of the Dark Side of the Force. By season three, Dooku’s method becomes clear. The Trade Federation is supposed to be neutral, but we’ve seen in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones that they are not. Although evidence has been presented of their duplicitous actions, the Senate is slow to act, so the Trade Federation can continue to collude with Count Dooku. This is the pattern: The Trade Federation places a blockade around a world. The world pleads with the Republic to help them, but the Trade Federation claims they are in the right because the world needs to pay a tax or a fee or a whatever. The Republic needs time to investigate the world’s claim, but the blockade cuts off supplies, and the world begins to need food, medicine, etc. Dooku and his Separatist resources come in and help, as long as the world joins the Separatist movement. Feeling abandoned by the Republic, the world agrees. After recruiting many worlds, Dooku becomes bold and begins to openly court worlds to join him and to actively coerce others.

Chancellor Palpatine loves it when his plans come together

Chancellor Palpatine loves it when his plans come together

We see the Jedi as heroes, but The Clone Wars has the time to show us how others see them. The peacekeepers of the galaxy are now generals, leading troops of clones in the war against the Separatist droid army. The Jedi must do the bidding of the Republic Senate, so they are the ones people see leading waves of death. Often, they are called slaves to the corrupt Senate, dogs, and warmongers. They are hypocrites. These guardians of peace turn their lightsabers on and cut down droid after droid after droid. The Council never considers defying the Senate and putting down their weapons of war. In fact, the corruption of the Senate has infected the Jedi. They decide not to tell the Senate or the Chancellor that the Dark Side is clouding and interfering with their command of the Force, and they hide that one of their own, Sifo-Dyas, worked with Dooku when ordering the creation of the clone army. Releasing this information would cause chaos and bring disorder and distrust. The way of the Jedi is to not cling to power, but the Council seems to have forgotten this.

A prime example of the Jedi’s determination in war and how some Jedi are not loyal to the cause are episodes 7 – 10 of season 4, the Umbara arc. The militia of the planet Umbara have sided with the Separatists, but the Republic needs the trade routes and supply lines connected to the world. General Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) needs to conquer a city to get them to surrender. There are air strikes and trench warfare. Obi-Wan’s forces are up against a skilled enemy feeling they have the right to defend their home and rid their world of Jedi and Republic scum. Helping Obi-Wan is the squad led by General Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter). Anakin is called back to Coruscant, and General Pong Krell (Dave Fennoy) assumes command. Krell doesn’t care how many clones he loses; winning battles is all that matters. The clones have named themselves, but Krell calls them by their numbers. Krell ignores the advice from Captain Rex, claiming clones are dumb and flawed. A few of the clones realize they are being used as cannon fodder and that Krell’s tactics are not as helpful as he claims. Those clones are right. Krell, a Jedi, reveals that he senses a rise in a New Order, and he wants to be on the winning side. Eventually, the actions of Captain Rex and his men help Obi-Wan win back Umbara for the Republic.

The clone war is brutal, especially to clones. Although they look the same and speak with the same voice (Dee Bradley Baker), the clones have a sense of individuality. In addition to naming themselves (Rex, Fives, Echo, Tup, Hevy, etc.), they express themselves by tattoos, haircuts, and hair color. They are loyal to each other, they see themselves as brothers, and to the Republic. Clones know their purpose; they know they have been grown and trained to be soldiers who live to die in war. Anakin and Obi-Wan have encouraged their troops to think and to be creative. This is the advantage to having a clone army. Droids are cheaper; machines need battery power while clones require food, water, armor, and sleep. But droids lack an inner strength to do acts for others in risk of self. Clones work together to save each other, to not leave a man behind, and to fight a battle that seems impossible to win. Episode after episode, numerous clones die in horrible ways, and they do so fighting their hardest for a cause they are obligated to believe. It’s heartbreaking.

Clones are not perfect. There has been a traitor (“The Hidden Enemy”), and one left the army to live a life of his own (“The Deserter”). A possible reason for the flaws is the rushed production of clones. Without a renewed source of the original DNA, the integrity of the original’s DNA is stretched thin as thousands of clones are created. The cost of the war on the Republic is high; the Separatist’s droid army is endless, and the Republic loses as many battles as it wins, incurring a high loss of life and ships. A few Senators want to curb spending and deescalate the war by negotiating peace, including Senator Padmé Amidala (Catherine Taber). However, petitions for reducing the rate of clone production and for allocating funds away from the war and back to programs to help education and health are seen as unpatriotic, and those who are anti-war are often accused of being pro-Separatist and investigated for treason.

You are either with Chancellor Palpatine or against him. There is no other way.

A person who is with Chancellor Palpatine is Anakin Skywalker. Anakin is now a Jedi Knight – the trials happened off screen again. He quickly earned the reputation of being an impulsive and aggressive general. No one is surprised when Anakin defies the Council or ignores direct orders from Obi-Wan. In “Cat and Mouse,” the Republic built a stealth ship, and Anakin is told to use the ship to deliver supplies on a mission of mercy. Instead, he attacks the Separatist fleet. Anakin succeeds, which stokes his fire more. The Jedi Council doesn’t really discipline him. How could they? The brash leader has the respect of his men, and his tactics win multiple battles.

Anakin's relationship with his Padawan Ashoka is the #1 reason to watch the show

Anakin’s relationship with his Padawan Ashoka is the #1 reason to watch the show

It’s interesting to note that the Council won’t kick Anakin out of the Jedi Order for being good at war, but they would if they knew he was in love and married to Padmé.

Of course, his actions do not set a good example for his young Padawan, Ashoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Anakin was reluctant to accept having the responsibility of a Padawan, but her “snippy” personality won him over by the end of the film. Over the course of the show, their bond grows as she learns the ways of the Force, how to lead a squadron, and how to bend the rules. Anakin tries to teach her the proper ways, but, as Obi-Wan pointed out, he has a “do as I say, not as I do” approach. Anakin should not be surprised when Ashoka disobeys his orders in “The Citadel.” Instead of staying behind, Ashoka thinks the time has arrived for her to decide when to put her life on the line, so she makes herself a part of the mission to save Master Even Piell. Anakin is angry and disappointed that she disobeyed him, but he admits that she becomes a vital part of the mission’s success. Their dynamic mirrors the relationship Anakin had with Obi-Wan, so we can see why Obi-Wan eventually agreed to allow Anakin to go through the trials.

However, Anakin never gets to decide if Ashoka is ready for the trials. Episodes 17 – 20 of season 5 are about Ashoka being accused of killing suspected terrorist Letta Turmond (Kari Wahlgren). Feeling no one is helping her, Ashoka flees in the style of The Fugitive so she can prove her innocence. Anakin does prove her innocence, but Ashoka feels betrayed by the Jedi Council because they banished her and sent her to be tried by the Senate. The hurt on Anakin’s face as he watches Ashoka walk into the sunset punched me in the gut.

Being a Jedi isn’t easy, even Obi-Wan struggles with his love for Satine (Anna Graves), a woman he fell in love with when he was a Padawan. Unlike Anakin, Obi-Wan would have left the Order if Satine said she wanted to be with him. Anakin told Ashoka that she needed to put purpose ahead of feelings, but Anakin fails to do so many times. Palpatine telling Anakin that his feelings make him special doesn’t help. Anakin’s relationship with Palpatine is very important; he will often follow Palpatine’s council before a Jedi’s. Anakin is made for battle, but he loses control over his emotions when it comes to Padmé. He gets jealous easy, especially when Padmé has to get information from a former flame, Rush Clovis (Robin Atkin Downes). Anakin demands she not work for Palpatine when she goes undercover, and he beats Rush when it looks like Padmé and Rush are going to kiss. Padmé stands her ground against tyranny, the Senate, and Anakin, proving she is an independent thinker and a capable leader. Anakin’s erratic nature takes a toll on Padmé, and she questions their marriage, stating the marriage isn’t working is because it is built on lies and secrecy.

Sometimes love isn't enough

Poor Anakin and Padmé. Sometimes love isn’t enough

Watching The Clone Wars clarifies the central conflict of Republic vs. Separatist by exploring this issue in a variety of ways. Does the Republic have the right to demand the loyalty of worlds? What happens to the attitude towards war when you manufacture the soldiers fighting it for you? What does it mean to be a Jedi? Can you be a peacekeeper and a general of an army? Is it okay to lie to maintain order? Anakin’s journey shows how these contradictory ideas can do harm. The season 4 episodes 15 – 18 are about Obi-Wan faking his own death to discover who is behind the plot to assassinate Chancellor Palpatine. This deception is crucial to save a person, but Anakin is outraged because his mentor, his friend lied to him. How many more lies have the Council told Anakin and the rest of the Republic?

Deception, cruelty, fear, and war fuel the Dark Side and have allowed Palpatine to rise in power to legitimately save the Republic and to destroy the Republic as Darth Sidious. The galaxy’s only hope is the Jedi, but Palpatine’s growing influence on Anakin and Anakin’s ability to confront the Jedi Council about their hypocrisy reveals that it is likely that the Republic will fall.

 

Up next: Dark Disciple (novel)

 


Star Wars: A Journey Through the New Canon – Part 3: Attack of the Clones

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A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.

 

Warning: Spoilers

 

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), directed by George Lucas and written by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales, takes place ten years after The Phantom Menace. The film begins with the traditional crawl. Things are not going well in the Senate. A separatist movement threatens to split the Republic in two, which Chancellor Palpatine vows to stop. Because the Jedi are under the Senate’s control, they are spread thin across the galaxy. Some Senators work towards avoiding war, including former Queen of Naboo, Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). A measure is up for a vote; passing the measure will approve of the creation of an army to assist the Jedi. Amidala lobbies for peace, making her the target of assassins.

This film is clogged with more politics than Phantom Menace. You have been warned.

With her life in danger, Palpatine has the bright idea to assign Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to guard her. We first met Anakin in Phantom Menace. He was a kind, sweet nine-year-old boy who was taken away from his home planet of Tatooine to be trained as a Jedi. Obi-Wan promised his former Master to train the potential Chosen One. At the end of Obi-Wan & Anakin, the relationship between Master and Padawan seemed to be set straight.

Well, things got worse between the end of the comic and this film.

Hey, Anakin, why are you so angry?

Hey, Anakin, why are you so angry?

Anakin openly questions Obi-Wan and argues about how to best guard Padmé in front of her and her group. For some reason, Anakin is angry and frustrated. His worst characteristic is his creepy obsession with Padmé. He’s upset when she barely knows him and sees him as a boy. News flash, Ani – she’s twenty-four now and the last time she saw you, you were nine. Padmé is five years older than you, boy, so why are you surprised?

After another assassination attempt, Anakin and Obi-Wan go on a thrilling and dizzying chase through the levels of Coruscant. Because of the information they learn after catching up to the assassin, the film splits, following Obi-Wan and Anakin separately. Obi-Wan investigates who is behind the assassination attempts while Anakin protects Padmé.

While on Naboo, Anakin aggressively pursues Padmé. He confesses that he has thought about her constantly ever since they parted. He touches her without her consent; he kisses her, and she tells him they can’t be together. He continues to flirt with tickles and discussions about politics. And he shows her his emotions, venting about how unfair Obi-Wan is. Anakin believes he is ready for the trials to become a Jedi Knight, but thinks Obi-Wan is holding him back because of jealousy.

Anakin’s outbursts are the opposite of Jedi teachings, as is his romantic pursuit of Padmé. Jedi are forbidden to have emotional attachments, and Anakin’s biggest issue is letting go. Anakin has been plagued with bad dreams about his mother. He tells Padmé that he must abandon his duty to protect her to discover the source of his nightmares. Padmé volunteers to go with him.

On Tatooine, Anakin meets his stepfather, Cliegg Lars (Jack Thompson), his stepbrother Owen (Joel Edgerton), and Owen’s girlfriend, Beru (Bonnie Maree Piesse). After learning Tusken Raiders took his mother, he rushes to her in time for Shmi (Pernilla August) to die in his arms. In a rage, he kills every Tusken in the camp – men, women, and children.

Master Yoda had reservations about training Anakin, sensing fear in the young boy. Anakin’s actions prove Yoda right.

She woke up like this. She woke up like this. Flawless.

She woke up like this. She woke up like this. Flawless.

While Anakin was trying to break the Jedi rule about no sexy times with the fabulously dressed Padmé, Obi-Wan got to work and discovered a huge plot brewing against the Republic. He follows the clues to a planet the Jedi archives says shouldn’t exist, Kamino. The inhabitants of this mysterious water planet with bad weather welcome him, believing he is the Jedi Master who placed an order for a clone army ten years ago. Playing along, Obi-Wan learns the army are clones of Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), a bounty hunter. These clones are designed to grow fast, be easily trained, and obey any command. Obi-Wan wants to question the bounty hunter, but he escapes with his son Boba (Daniel Logan), who is an unaltered clone. Thinking fast, Obi-Wan plants a tracker on Fett’s ship and follows him to Geonosis where he discovers that Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), the former Jedi and Separatists leader, is amassing a droid army.

Earlier, Padmé thought Dooku was behind the attempts on her life. Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) dismissed her claims because a former Jedi would never do such a thing. Wrong.

Obi-Wan gets captured. Padmé and Anakin go to help him. After a silly sequence through the droid manufacturing plant straight out of a video game, they get caught too. Instead of killing their captives immediately, Dooku and company decide to execute their prisoners by big beasts in an arena show, but all does not go as planned.

The best part is when Padmé saves herself by picking the lock on her restraints and climbing to the top of the pillar. Mace Windu appears, thinking a few Jedi can handle a droid army.

Earlier in the film, Yoda (Frank Oz) said that many Jedi have become arrogant; they haven’t turned to the Dark Side, but they have become complacent.

Mace Windu is one such Jedi. He should not be surprised that many Jedi lose their lives and how quickly the droid army surrounds them.

Back on Coruscant, Representative Jar Jar Binks is manipulated into proposing a motion to give Chancellor Palpatine emergency powers. The motion is approved. Palpatine’s first act is to approve the activation of the clone army. This allows for Yoda to swoop in and save the day.

During the second wave of attacks, Mace kills Jengo Fett. Hey Mace, you knew Fett had information about Dooku and the Separatists, but you killed him anyway. Yeah, cutting off his head looked cool, but you’re either an incompetent Jedi or have your own agenda. Either way, your track record isn’t looking good.

Dooku flees, but Anakin and Obi-Wan catch up. Obi-Wan has a plan, but Anakin charges ahead and gets quickly tossed aside by Dooku. Saving the day again is Yoda. The coolest scene in the film is the duel between Yoda and Dooku. Yoda catches the lightening and throws it back at Dooku, and he flips and leaps during their lightsaber battle. Dooku puts Yoda in the position of having to either go after him or save Obi-Wan and Anakin; he decides to save his fellow Jedi.

Master Yoda, Jedi badass

Master Yoda, Jedi badass

Is the film bad? No. Is it great? No. The film is borderline forgettable because it lacks major developments or character growth.  Over the course of ten years, corruption in the Senate has metastasized, allowing for Palpatine to seize control, but he still seems like the man who wants to restore order to the galaxy. He does approve of the clone army, sparking the start of a war, but he claims it is to protect the Republic from Separatists attacks. The Dark Side has become stronger, forcing Yoda to admit the Jedi’s ability to use the Force has weakened, but they haven’t learned who Dooku is working with.

Everything is not good in the galaxy. But the film takes 142 minutes to tell us this.

The biggest change happens to Anakin. The whiney, emotional brat loses part of his arm, but his creepy persistence pays off. Padmé marries Anakin in a secret ceremony.

Oh Padmé, you deserve better.

We all do.

 

Up Next: Star Wars: The Clone Wars


Star Wars: A Journey Through the New Canon – Part 2: Obi-Wan & Anakin

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A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.

 

Warning: Spoilers

 

The Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin trade paperback collects issues #1 – 5 of the comic series written by Charles Soule, with art by Marco Checchetto and colors by Andres Mossa. Published by Marvel.

This series is set a few years after The Phantom Menace but before Attack of the Clones; the comic does not provide an exact amount of time. From the appearance of both – Anakin doesn’t reach Obi-Wan’s shoulder – it looks as though three to five years have passed, making Anakin twelve to fourteen years old.

The Jedi and his Padawan have been given the task of discovering the source of a distress signal on a planet called Carnelion IV. The plot is rather forgettable and inconsequential; what matters are the flashbacks that show the development of Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin has started to question the ways of the galaxy. He is still the caring boy we met on Tatooine in The Phantom Menace, wanting to help as many as possible and expecting the Jedi and Senate to be the same way. The planet he visits with Obi-Wan was destroyed by war. Anakin is shocked to learn the Senate and the Jedi did nothing. Obi-Wan tells Anakin that there are only 10,000 Jedi, which is not enough to help every world; besides, Carnelion IV is outside of the Senate’s control, and the Jedi are under the Senate’s jurisdiction.

The young Padawan’s questioning has prompted him to consider leaving the Jedi Order. In the flashbacks, we learn that he is still good at fixing things; he changes the training droid to mimic the fighting style of Darth Maul, but he doesn’t have good control over his emotions. Because of his actions in saving Naboo, Chancellor Palpatine has been following Anakin’s training. Palpatine’s interest is suspicious. He basically orders Master Mace Windu to send Anakin to his office by citing that the Jedi are under Senate control.

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Palpatine takes Anakin with him on an errand to the lower levels of Coruscant, where the rarest commodity is sky. In a seedy nightclub, Palpatine, who has disguised himself by wearing a cloak, making him look like Lord Sidious, laments about the disgusting fact that lives are being bought and sold around them and tells Anakin about the Senator gambling with money he has skimmed. According to Palpatine, the Senator has avoided an investigation because the amounts have been small, but if he lost a large sum, then he would have to take more, drawing unwanted attention to the Senator. On his next roll, the dice do not fall the Senator’s way, and he loses big. From the expression on Anakin’s face, it is clear he decided to bring justice to the Senator. Palpatine seems pleased by Anakin’s actions.

Anakin must trust and respect Palpatine because he ruined a man’s life based on one story Palpatine told. I wonder just how much time these two have been spending together.

What I wasn’t expecting was the revelation of how hardcore Obi-Wan takes his promise to Qui-Gon. In a flashback, Obi-Wan tells Master Yoda about Anakin’s plan to leave. If Anakin leaves, Obi-Wan can’t train him because only Jedi can train Jedi. Obi-Wan understands and tells Yoda that if Anakin leaves, he will follow.

Say what?

I feel for Obi-Wan because I’ve been there too. I made a promise to my dying grandmother, but even she wouldn’t want me to throw my life away to make it happen. I still feel guilty, and sometimes I think her ghost is over my shoulder giving me that disappointed look, but I’ve learned that my life is my own.

Pro tip: Don’t make promises to dying people.

It was Yoda’s idea to send Anakin with Obi-Wan to that planet with the people and the signal and such. In the end, Anakin, still a good kid who wants to help people, decides to continue his training with Obi-Wan.

 

 

Up next: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones


Star Wars: A Journey Through the New Canon – Part 1: The Phantom Menace

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A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.

 

Warning: Spoilers

The Phantom Menace (1999), written and directed by George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars universe, begins the new canon. While I saw the film in the theater, this time my goal is to watch with fresh eyes without comparing the work to any Star Wars property created prior to its release.

A crawl introduces the world to the audience. In this far away galaxy, the Galactic Republic has been in power for a long time. However, there is trouble – the Trade Federation has established a blockade around the planet of Naboo, protesting the taxation of trade routes. From the crawl, I realize The Phantom Menace is not a sci-fi romp; instead, the film is more akin to a political thriller.

It took me eight minutes to figure out who the “bad guys” are. The Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic has sent two ambassadors to help Naboo, but it is a secret mission. According to the crawl, Jedi Knights are “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy,” but the Trade Federation trembles in fear of the news that the ambassadors are Jedi. Clothing is no clue. A man named Lord Sidious is in league with the Trade Federation, but he wears a cloak like the two Jedi. Perhaps the Jedi aren’t as benign as the crawl said. Maybe the Jedi learn that the Senate is the entity acting in the wrong. The mystery of who I should be rooting for is finally solved when the Queen of Naboo states that the Trade Federation has gone too far. In response, the Trade Federation cuts off Naboo’s communications, launches an invasion of the planet with their droid army, and attempts to kill the Jedi.

What kind of people try to kill the galaxy’s keepers of peace and justice? Bad guys, that’s who.

After presenting this politically complex world, the film takes a break and spends time on Tatooine, a planet on the outer rim, outside of the protection of the Galactic Senate, which allows for this Hutt-controlled world to have slaves. Because they need parts for their ship, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Gungan outcast Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), the Queen’s handmaiden Padmé (Natalie Portman), and the droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) venture into town and meet Watto (voiced by Andrew Secombe), the owner of the shop and of two slaves, Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August) and her son Anakin (Jake Lloyd).

Qui-Gon feels that the boy is special and uses those feelings to get the money necessary for parts. Anakin is a kind boy; he offers them shelter during a dust storm and offers to compete in a very dangerous event, podracing. Qui-Gon makes a series of bets with Watto: if Anakin wins, Watto will give them the parts and free Anakin. Qui-Gon places a lot of faith in Anakin, and the nine-year-old boy handles it well.

Anakin had bragged about his talents before, and his performance during the podrace confirms the hype. He built his podracer, which stalls at the beginning of the race, but he fixes the issue and starts in second-to-last place. He has a lot of ground to cover in three laps. The race is intense. The course is full of tight turns, tunnels, and other dangers such as Tusken Raiders shooting at them. Anakin repairs his racer twice during the race and outmaneuvers Sebulba (voiced by Lewis Macleod), a cheater who had dominated the podracing circuit, to win the race.

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Yes, my Padawan, I did put our fates into the hands of a 9-year-old boy. That’s how Jedi Masters roll.

With their ship fixed, our band of heroes are ready to leave the desert planet. Before they can leave, they are attacked by Darth Maul (Ray Park), the apprentice of Lord Sidious. This moment is when these two plots converge. The main story is the liberation of Naboo. The subplot is about the Jedi and Anakin. Darth Maul was sent to get the Queen and bring her back to Naboo to force her to sign a peace treaty with the Trade Federation. Maul’s weapon is what ties the two together. Maul fights using a lightsaber. By having the same type of weapon as Qui-Gon and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Maul and Lord Sidious are revealed to have a connection to the Jedi. This signals a possibility that Lord Sidious and Darth Maul are Jedi with a grudge or something worse.

Queen Amidala finally arrives at Coruscant, a planet that is one huge city. Navigating the sprawling city-planet is easier than navigating the Senate. Naboo’s Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) warns Amidala that her pleas will fall on ears bloated with ego and drowning in corruption. And he’s right. The insistence of Supreme Chancellor Valorum (Terence Stamp) to push the issue onto a committee prompts Amidala to call for a vote of no confidence.

Also in Coruscant, on top of one of the highest buildings, is the Jedi Council. Qui-Gon insists that the Council train Anakin to be a Jedi. On Tatooine, Qui-Gon had Obi-Wan test Anakin’s blood for midi-chlorians, and his count is off the charts, even higher than Master Yoda’s. This causes Qui-Gon to believe Anakin is the Chosen One, a Jedi destined to bring balance to the force.

This development raises three questions:

Question: What are midi-chlorians? According to Qui-Gon, midi-chlorians are microscopic organisms that live in all living things in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, making life and the Force possible. When one quiets the mind, they can hear the midi-chlorians speak. In real life, there are millions of bacteria who live in our bodies, both us benefitting. However, I don’t hear them speak, unless that’s where the adage about listening to one’s gut comes from. Because Anakin has a high count of these magical bacteria, Qui-Gon concludes the boy is destined to be a powerful Jedi.

Question: How can Anakin have no father? During the Jedi Council meeting, it is said that the Chosen One is conceived by midi-chlorians. On Tatooine, Shmi told Qui-Gon that Anakin has no father; she just woke up one day pregnant. So somehow Shmi had a lot of midi-chlorians inside her that fertilized her egg, making Anakin a genetic blend of his mother and magical bacteria. If Qui-Gon is correct. Or Shmi was roofied by a guy who was either a jerk of a Jedi or a Sith. Sorry Qui-Gon, being roofied is more plausible.

Question: Why is there a need for a Chosen One? The prophecy states that the Chosen One will bring balance to the Force. But the Jedi, the good guys, are in power. Sure, the presence of possible Sith surprised them, but currently, the Jedi are not threatened.

Questions aside, Chosen One or not, the Council is reluctant to train Anakin because he is too old and Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) senses much fear in the boy. But Qui-Gon informs the Council that he will train Anakin. However, having two Padawans is against the rules. Qui-Gon says Obi-Wan is ready for the trails, which will promote Obi-Wan from Padawan to Knight. The Council decides to decide Anakin’s fate later.

Queen Amidala returns to Naboo so she can free her people. Padmé, who is actually Queen Amidala and not her handmaiden, proves herself to be a capable leader and fighter. She negotiates an alliance with the Gungan, and it is her plan that leads to the capture of the Viceroy and to winning the day. Part of her plan included blowing up the ship controlling the Trade Federation’s droid army, which was accomplished by Anakin. He obeyed Qui-Gon’s instructions of staying the cockpit, but he powered up the ship to help Padmé, and the ship’s autopilot took him to the battle. He got inside the control ship and inadvertently destroyed it, disabling the droids.

Best part of the movie. I dare you to tell me otherwise.

Best part of the movie. I dare you to tell me otherwise.

The best part of the film is the battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul. Darth Maul is a unique villain. His red face with black markings and spikes and those red-yellow eyes make him visually striking, and he mainly communicates with his facial expressions and body movements. His fluid fighting style is more elegant than the two Jedi’s, and his mere presence is imposing, quickly conveying to the audience why it takes two Jedi to strike him down.

Yes, one of the best characters of the film, the one dripping with intrigue and vast potential, is cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But not before killing Qui-Gon.

Although The Phantom Menace gets bogged down in a complicated plot, there are plenty of good entertaining action scenes. Sea monsters, blaster fights, a space battle, and a duel between Darth Maul and Jedi are needed to break up scenes with clunky explanations about midi-chlorians, confusing Senate meetings, and dull discussions about trade policy. Even Jar Jar Binks offers relief.

Before Qui-Gon died, he made Obi-Wan promise to train Anakin. After the battle at Naboo, Obi-Wan passes the trials (off screen) and becomes a Jedi Knight. He tells Master Yoda that he wants to train Anakin, even if it means defying the Jedi Council. Defying the Council is something Qui-Gon did in the past, and Yoda says that he senses Qui-Gon’s defiant streak in Obi-Wan. Although they have doubts, the Council has given Obi-Wan permission to officially train Anakin.

Naboo is liberated. Senator Palpatine has been elected to be the new Supreme Chancellor, promising to end corruption and bring peace and prosperity to the galaxy. Yes, a Sith is somewhere out in the galaxy, but there are plenty of Jedi to deal with that. And a young, sweet, innocent boy begins his journey to possibly become a great Jedi.

Everything is good in the galaxy.

Right?

 

Up next: The trade paperback of Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin (collects Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 – 5 by Charles Soule, Marco Checchetto, and Andres Mossa; published by Marvel)


Indy Pop Con Highlight: Michael Hogan

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Indy Pop Con celebrates different aspects of popular culture from movies and TV to comics and YouTube stars. During the con, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Hogan and attending his panels. Michael Hogan is an accomplished actor, best known for his roles on Battlestar Galactica (Colonel Saul Tigh), Teen Wolf (Gerard Argent), and as the voice of Bailey from the Mass Effect video game series.

The first panel began with the moderator asking Michael about his early life and career. His father was a prospector, and he grew up in the bush in northern Ontario, Canada. He went to high school in North Bay, but he quit in twelfth grade and hitchhiked across the country for a couple of years. In 1967, he ended up in Toronto; at the end of the summer, he decided to go back to high school so he could get his degree and go to college. He went to a different high school than before. One day, while walking to class, an English teacher approached him and informed him that the drama club wanted him to be in a play. At first, he didn’t want to be in the play, but he enjoyed the experience enough to want to try acting with professionals at least once. He applied to the National Theater School in Canada and quickly forgot about it. He was working in a mine, planning to work and save for college, when he got the acceptance letter.

During his first year, he noticed “the prettiest girl in Canada,” who was in her third year. After she graduated, he ran away with her. Michael and Susan Hogan did a lot of regional theater together before his first movie. His first film role came about because they needed someone to fight Peter Fonda in High-Ballin’.

The conversation then moved to Battlestar Galactica. He almost didn’t audition because the role was for another military guy. He reconsidered, telling the audience, “Edward James Olmos is playing Adama; he doesn’t just do things; he does things for a reason. And Michael Rymer is directing it. My wife and I saw an independent film called Angel Baby a few years prior to Battlestar Galactica came on the scene, and we’re Canadian, so we do these kinds of character driven, low budget dramas.” The film, written and directed by Rymer, impressed the couple. These factors made him think that “there is something to this Battlestar Galactica.”

Michael Hogan at Indy Pop Con. Photo by Michelle Ealey.

Michael Hogan at Indy Pop Con. Photo by Michelle Ealey.

“I went and auditioned. Michael Rymer is the kind of director who loves the business, he loves actors, and he loves working with actors. So when you go into an audition room with someone like that, it is totally worth the experience.” They worked together for twenty minutes in the room. A couple of days later, he was called back, and Rymer wanted him to do something about his accent. “Is there no Canadians in space?” The audience laughed. Even though others got to keep their accents, he dropped his and got the part.

When asked if he knew about being one of the five, he said, “I had no idea. We knew that the final five were going to be revealed in a certain episode coming up and as it got closer to it, of course we were guessing and teasing each other on set. Someone told me they had been on the net looking at the likelihood of anybody on Battlestar Galactica from like day players to Adama, their likelihood of being a Cylon, and I was the second to the last.” As the reveal drew closer, Rymer asked if someone had spoken to him. Ron Moore eventually flew up to Canada and informed Michael that he was one of the five Cylons. “I vehemently disagreed. I thought it was cheap, and they did it for the sake of surprise, and I thought they were better than that. It’s foolish and cheap.”

Although he was against the revelation, the writing is what turned it around for him. “In the long run, look at what they wrote for Battlestar in [season two], look at what they wrote for Tigh in that season. I’m so proud of what we did down there on the planet with the resistance. So when the Cylon thing came up, you know, I’ll fight it, but I got to go with it. Not that I had any choice, really, but [Ron Moore] was dead right in both instances (the other being about Tigh’s wife). To choose Tigh, he was the most human of everybody alive. He is the most loyal. He is the most dangerous because he had been fighting the Cylons forever, a lot longer. And if he isn’t the oldest human being alive, literally, or close to it, so to choose him to be a Cylon. Wow. I agree, in the long run. And I’m honored.”

The moderator asked how he got into working on video games. “Getting into that is easy because they asked me to do it.” He drew on his past experience performing radio plays and book and poetry readings. “I have done a lot of voice work in that, so voice work for video games is the same thing, but it is different. It is more strenuous.” He is not a gamer; he held up his flip style cellphone and joked, “If you email me, phone me and tell me.”

Michael Hogan at Indy Pop Con. Photo by Michelle Ealey.

Michael Hogan at Indy Pop Con. Photo by Michelle Ealey.

The discussion moved to Teen Wolf. Michael came aboard the show during season two. The self-described journeyman actor was contacted by Jeff Davis, the creator of the show and fan of Battlestar Galatica, and offered the part of Gerard. “What a gift that was,” he said. He thinks the show “rocks,” and said being on the show was fun.

The panel ended with Michael Hogan recounting the first day of shooting on Battlestar Galactica. The first day of filming was the scene in the room with all of the coffins. Adama walks around and gives his speech. At the end of the scene, Adama returns to where he started the speech. It was Edward James Olmos who urged everyone to increase the emphasis of “So say we all” on each repetition. Afterwards, Michael realized that they “were in for a ride.”

And then he gave us a Battlestar sendoff:

Michael: So say we all.

Crowd: So say we all.

Michael (more emphasis): So say we all!

Crowd: So say we all!

Michael was not pleased. “ATTENTION! On your feet, maggots.”

We obeyed our Colonel and stood.

Michael: Gods damn it! So say we all!

After a better performance of the “So say we all” refrain, our Colonel yelled, “Dismissed!”

 

On the last day of the convention was his second panel, which was the panel for the Not Another Teen Wolf Podcast. The hosts interviewed Michael Hogan for episode #128. After the panel, I cautiously approached him, calling him “Mr. Hogan” of course, and told him that I’ve been to many conventions and attended several celebrity panels. I can tell which celebrities are just there to pay their rent, and I’ve been around some standoffish and rude celebrities. I told him that I appreciated how much he loves his fans and how much joy he has in sharing his stories with us.

He looked me in the eyes and told me how much he appreciated hearing that.

And then he hugged me.

Thank you, Mr. Hogan, for the best con experience I’ve ever had.


Highlight from Indiana Comic Con: Ian McDiarmid and Ray Park

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During the recent Indiana Comic Con, I attended the “A Long Time Ago in a Q & A Far, Far Away” panel featuring two stars from the Star Wars universe, Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) and Ray Park (Darth Maul). There were no empty seats in the hall. Over the course of forty minutes, the duo answered questions from a moderator and fans.

Before he answered any questions, Ian, as Palpatine, growled, “Welcome to the Dark Side.”

The crowd roared. After the crowd settled, he recounted how the part of Palpatine came his way. He was working in theater when his agent called. The part came out of the blue. He went to a meeting with the director of Return of the Jedi, Richard Marquand, and George Lucas. On his way out, George said, “Nice nose,” to Ian. When he got back to his flat, his agent called and told him that he got the part. He accepted it after his agent told him that he would be playing “the Emperor of the Universe.”

Ray grew up loving action; his idols were Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Lee. He started studying martial arts around the age of seven. When Ray got called in for Phantom Menace, he hoped it was for a Jedi, but the Star Wars fan was stoked to be Darth Maul. For the look of Darth Maul, the makeup team tried a bald cap first, but it took over thirty minutes to get it on and glued. He figured he would be bald one day, so wanting to see if he had any scars on his head, Ray shaved his head. He ended up finding his shaved head liberating.

Makeup was a big part in creating the role of Palpatine for Ian. He confessed to not seeing The Empire Strikes Back before he got the role, so he didn’t know what the Emperor looked like. The first time Ian went in for makeup, the person suggested he go to sleep in the chair. Four hours later, Ian woke up, looked in the mirror, and screamed. He had found the Emperor. After Return of the Jedi, Ian thought he would never play Palpatine again, considering George Lucas told him that Palpatine was dead in all forms.

Thanks to technology, we got more Star Wars, and Ian was given a chance to explore more aspects of the role. As he read the script for The Phantom Menace, the character of Darth Sidious was more appealing than the ordinary politician, Senator Palpatine, the man playing a long, subtle game. He didn’t know they were the same man until the first day of filming with Ray. According to Ian, many of the actors didn’t realize he was both until the film was released.

Ray Park and Ian McDiarmid. Photo by Michelle Ealey

Ray Park and Ian McDiarmid. Photo by Michelle Ealey

To prepare himself for the role, Ray regularly trained with the stunt crew for about twelve hours a day, living the dream of playing with lightsabers. The stunts set the foundation for Darth Maul, but working with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson helped him find the character because his fellow actors brought their characters to the fights.

Darth Maul pacing up and down during the last battle was George’s idea. Liam sitting and meditating wasn’t in the script; it was done during rehearsal, so he wasn’t sure of what to do. Ray tried to get a little Jean-Claude Van Damme in there somewhere, so he did the splits. George called cut, not liking the splits. Ray admitted that he was showing off, not knowing if he would ever get to work in another movie again. George told him he wanted Maul to be more like a caged animal, like a tiger.

The duo took questions from the audience.

A young fan asked if they liked playing the bad guy. Ray confessed that he had to learn to like playing the villain. Ian said that playing someone who is just bad can be dull. With the Emperor, he tried finding some redeeming features, but he could only find one – Palpatine enjoyed the opera, so he had to be a patron of the arts.

Ian got asked which character, Rey or Kylo Ren, would the Emperor want to train. He decided to answer as diplomatically as possible. The Emperor would want a young, lively mind, with an innocence that he can work on to convert to the dark side.

Another fan asked Ian what the inspiration was for the voice of the Emperor. Ian was surprised that he had to work on the voice to make sure his voice wasn’t replaced, something George Lucas has done before. He was told that if he could get his voice close to Clive Revill, the original voice of the Emperor, then he could keep it. After he had seen the face of the Emperor, Ian thought he looked like a repellent toad, which became the starting point for finding the voice. Seeing a performance by a Japanese actor whose voice seemed to come from the stomach motivated Ian to try to do the same. He practiced getting his voice as deep as possible. During rerecording of the dialogue in postproduction, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were there, encouraging him. Spielberg said at one point, “Oh my God, you’re so evil.” Ian was please that his hard work got to stay in the film

And then I got to ask my question.

Me: I’m curious, what do you, my Emperor, think of the fan theory that Jar Jar Binks is some sort of Sith Lord?

Ian: I like Jar Jar. I really loved the actor who played him, Ahmed Best, a wonderful actor and a great original talent. I wish George had concentrated on Ahmed instead of making him the first digitized creature, but there was a whole section in Clones where the Emperor had reason to be grateful to the creature and George cut it, I think because he felt the fans had had enough of him, but I have affection for him, and I think George still does. But as to whether he engineered any plot or had any sort of interesting plan hatched for the Emperor is a little farfetched. But we shouldn’t be too cruel on him.

 

The Emperor has spoken. Jar Jar is just Jar Jar.


Highlight from the 2016 Indiana Comic Con: Brent Spiner

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During the 2016 Indiana Comic Con, I attended a panel featuring Brent Spiner, best known as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Spiner has also worked on other sci-fi projects; he’s the voice of Gall Trayvis on Star Wars Rebels, and he is reprising his role from Independence Day – Dr. Brakish Okun lives again in Independence Day: Resurgence.

Mr. Spiner has quite the sense of humor. He started the panel by saying, “Welcome to the Indiana Comic Con, I’m Brent Spiner, your moderator for today. The buses are right outside. Please do not be unruly when getting on the buses. We’re going to take you to St. Elmo’s for lunch.” [St. Elmo Steak House has been in Indianapolis since 1902.]

And the jokes continued throughout the entire panel.

The moderator hasn’t asked a question yet, but Mr. Spiner is a pro at attending cons, so he knows how to handle himself.

“This is a really nice town. I’m serious. A lot of people, when I come to their town to do a convention, they say to me, ‘How do you like our city?’ And I usually say, ‘Not so much.’ Isn’t that the most leading question? What are you supposed to say? ‘Oh, it’s just great. I love it.’ But Indianapolis really is nice. What’s the deal? I live in L.A. It’s not so nice.”

The moderator chimed in, “We have water.”

Brent replied, “You have water. Yeah, that’s true. We do not have water. We have vodka.”

He then explained why he felt his voice wasn’t 100%. “A couple of weeks ago I was doing looping. Do you know what looping is? It’s when you make a movie, after the movie has been shot, while they’re editing it, sometimes they bring the actors in later because an airplane was going over while we were saying something or they just thought you were lousy, and they have you redo dialogue to picture. They watch you listen, they give you three counts, you then come in on the fourth one and try to match your lips. And I had to scream because I was doing Independence Day 2.

The crowd cheered. He continued, “That’s right, I’m alive. And no one can be happier about it than I. Well, perhaps you. I am the happiest. And I had to scream, and I remember later that when I actually did it on the set, I sorta prepared for it and did it properly and supported my diaphragm and did it correctly. For some reason, in the looping stage, I threw caution to the wind and just screamed. And I haven’t been able to talk for two weeks, not properly. I hope one day my voice will come back.”

Brent Spiner enters his Indiana Comic Con panel. Photo by Michelle Ealey

Brent Spiner enters his Indiana Comic Con panel. Photo by Michelle Ealey

When asked if he thought Star Trek: The Next Generation would last as long as it did, he replied, “No. I had no idea. I thought basically I’m going to pay my rent, which I owed at that point, and it would be on for a year, and hasta la vista. That was almost thirty years ago. And it’s still going on. I’m still here, talking to you about it. People still shout the character’s name in my face. Who knew I could have that joy?”

He is happy that there will be a new Star Trek series. “But I am excited the series continuing, the show continuing, because I think Star Trek is the great American epic. It really it is. I am a Star Wars fan, I love Star Wars, it is a wonderful thing they’re doing more of it, but there have been 800 and something hours of Star Trek. They’ll never catch up at this point. I think there’s Doctor Who, there’s James Bond, there’s Star Trek, there’s Star Wars, but Star Trek is the great American epic. I hope it goes forever. It very well might. I mean fifty years this year. You know once something goes fifty years, you sorta have to take it seriously.’”

The moderator mentions that he has worked with Patrick Stewart, and he immediately goes into a perfect imitation of Sir Patrick. “You know I can still do his voice even better that I’ve lost mine. You know, perhaps that’s what I’ll do, I’ll become Patrick.” He briefly discussed how funny Patrick is on Blunt Talk, which Brent has appeared on.

Before he got the role on TNG, Brent was doing theater in New York. He auditioned for a part in Little Shop of Horrors, and he got offered a role in the show, but not in New York; he got offered a part in the L.A. show. On the last night of the L.A. run, a casting director helped him get work. He worked on various projects including Night Court as Bob Wheeler and on Hill Street Blues as Larry Stein. Eventually he got a call from his agent about a new Star Trek series. After he read the script, he auditioned for the casting director. He couldn’t tell from the script if they wanted Data to be more machine or more human, so he made a choice to go more human than machine. Six auditions later, the part was his.

At first, he watched TNG when they aired, but soon quit. “In truth, I’ve only seen about twenty of the ones we did. I started watching it when it was first on to see what we were doing, and then it occurred to me this was sort of redundant because I had read them, I had acted on them, I really didn’t need to watch them. And I was also spending so much time. We shot for sixteen hours a day, almost every day, so ten months out of the year we did over twenty episodes a year, so I figured out I was Data more than I was myself. Then to watch them, literally there was almost none of me left, so I decided to watch other things and act on the show.”

Although days were long on set, they had a lot of fun. “We really pretty much all enjoyed each other. I enjoyed working with everybody on the show, except for Dorn.” The crowd laughed. “We had a good time, we laughed all day long, every day. And we laughed most when we were doing serious scenes. The more serious the scene, the more trouble we had getting through them.”

Brent Spiner at the 2016 Indiana Comic Con. Photo by Michelle Ealey

Brent Spiner at the 2016 Indiana Comic Con. Photo by Michelle Ealey

During the last part of the panel, Brent took questions from the fans. Fortunately, I was able to ask a question.

Me: I was raised on the films with the original cast, and that’s what got me interested in science. I’m actually a science teacher, so I feel like I’ve earned this color [I was wearing my science officer blue Star Trek hoodie]. Have you had any fans come up to you and say it’s because of Data, it’s because of Next Generation that got them into science?

Brent Spiner: We did this series and it was just, our idea was to entertain people, that was our work, we’re actors, that’s it, nothing more important. We just wanted to do the best we could with the material, that’s our job, you illuminate the material as best you can, the author’s intent, and entertain people, and I was perfectly satisfied doing that. That’s what I wanted to be doing. But subsequently, in the last few years in particularly, so many people have come up to me and said, “I’m a doctor, I’m a scientist, or I do research, or I do physics or whatever, and it’s because I was so dedicated to Next Generation and it inspired me to do these things.” It’s kind of overwhelming if you think of this. It’s really just an ancillary thing, it’s nothing we planned on. But the impact, it just landed in such a profound way that we had nothing to with really. I’ll tell you what though, there’s one thing that even more that means more to me than anything and that is, I’ve had a lot of young people come up to my table when I’m signing autographs or whatever, and say, “I have Asperger’s or I am autistic or in that spectrum, and when I was a kid, the only character I could relate to on television was Data.” For obvious reasons, because of his struggle to understand emotion and humanity and so on. I actually met Dr. Oliver Sacks, who wrote Awakenings and an expert on autism, and he came to my trailer while I was shooting and said, “You’re the poster child for autism.” And I didn’t know what he was talking about at the time, but now I do, and it really is so overwhelming and moving to think that we had that sort of impact. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time because I think I would have pushed to the writers further to do more about that, and I probably would have ruined everything. But it’s been a very rewarding thing to see the ancillary impact the show had.

I was not expecting such a beautiful and heartfelt answer, and I appreciate the time he took to answer my question and go beyond it as well.

September 8, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Like Mr. Spiner, I hope Star Trek continues far into the future.


iThing of the Week: Yahoo! Weather

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Cold. Snow. Even colder. More snow. That’s basically been the weather for the past month here in Minnesota. To help me keep track of weather conditions throughout the day, I’ve been using Yahoo! Weather.

Yahoo! Weather is a much better app than the one included on an iDevice and other weather apps I’ve used because of its design. When you open the app, the first thing it does is update. The display has a pretty picture in the background representing the current weather conditions. On the bottom left is the temperature, what the high temperature is expected to be and the current weather like fair, rain, snow, etc. The name of the city, the time, a button to quickly access other cities and Yahoo! apps, and a plus sign to add more cities are at the top of the screen.

The best parts are when you swipe up. Scrolling up reveals the forecast for each hour (swipe the times of the day right and left to see the hour by hour) and for the next five days with an option to see ten days. Next are the current details: more information about the forecast for the day, what it feels like outside, the humidity, visibility and UV index. As you keep going down, there is a map of your area. Tap the map to make it larger. The initial map is the one from U.S. Radar, but you can change the map to the satellite view, heat map, and wind.

yahoo weather

Below the map are three more sections. The precipitation segment displays the chances for rain, sleet, hail or snow for the morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Next is wind and pressure with the speed and direction of the wind and a barometer reading. Last is the sun and moon with the times of the sunrise and sunset. The section has an arc that shows you where the sun is at that time and the phase of the moon.

The Yahoo! Weather app is easy to understand, loads quickly, and has a lot of information about the current weather conditions and the forecast so you can plan your day. During days with snow, I’ve also used it to determine the best time to shovel my driveway.

Yahoo! Weather, by Yahoo!, is available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, requires iOS 6.0 or later and is rated 4+. The app is also available for Android on Google Play.