Tom Veitch: 1941 to 2022

I was sorry to hear that writer Tom Veitch had passed away on February 18th at the age of 80 from COVID-19. Tom Veitch had a career that spanned over four decades. He was a contributor to the underground comix movement of the early 1970s, as well as a novelist & a poet. Veitch was the older brother of acclaimed comic book creator Rick Veitch.

I am most familiar with the work Tom Veitch did in mainstream comic books from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. During this time he did work published by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse.

Animal Man #41 cover art by Brian Bolland, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

Veitch became the writer on Animal Man from DC Comics with issue #33, cover-dated March 1991. He had the unenviable task of following after the acclaimed work of Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan on that series. Veitch’s run lasted through issue #50, August 1992.

I was in high school when Veitch was writing Animal Man and, truth be told, my tastes were, well, less than refined, so to speak.  To be brutally honest, I was a Marvel Zombie, a superhero junkie. I bought several issues of Animal Man for the stunning covers by Brian Bolland. I was definitely caught off-guard by the decidedly unconventional work inside by Veitch, who for most of his run was paired up with interior artist Steve Dillon. David Klein & Mark Badger, Brett Ewins & Jim McCarthy and Steve Pugh also contributed artwork during Veitch’s year and a half run.

Looking back on those issues of Animal Man, and my reactions to them, at the time I was probably lacking in the maturity & knowledge of political & social topics such as environmentalism, animal rights and faith & spirituality, to truly appreciate the work of Veitch and his artistic collaborators.  Nevertheless, I did have a certain appreciation for the stories they were telling. Veitch did a superb job of writing Animal Man / Buddy Baker’s relationship with his wife Ellen and daughter Maxine. I have no doubt that if I were to revisit those comics in the present day that I would enjoy them a great deal, as well as have a much greater appreciation for the themes & subjects which Veitch was addressing in his stories.

Animal Man #41 written by Tom Veitch, drawn by Steve Dillon, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Tatjana Wood, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

In 1988 Veitch and artist Cam Kennedy had collaborated on the six issue creator-owned war / fantasy series The Light and Darkness War published by the Epic imprint of Marvel Comics. As he later recounted in Back Issue #55 from TwoMorrows Publishing, Veitch subsequently sent copies of The Light and Darkness War to George Lucas with a proposal for a new Star Wars comic book series. It’s perhaps difficult to understand now, but in 1989 Star Wars was considered a moribund property, and Veitch & Kennedy were among the few people genuinely interested in taking it forward. Lucas was impressed by their work and gave them the green light.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #1 cover art by Dave Dorman, published by Dark Horse Comics in Dec 1991

Veitch & Kennedy initially pitched this new Star Wars project to Marvel, who had published the ongoing SW comic book from 1977 to 1986. Marvel, however, got cold feet, believing SW was no longer commercially viable.  Veitch convinced Lucasfilm to speak with independent publisher Dark Horse Comics, who had recently done a successful comic book continuation of the Aliens franchise. The project was moved over to Dark Horse, and the six issue Star Wars: Dark Empire by Veitch & Kennedy, with painted covers by Dave Dorman, was published bimonthly from December 1991 to October 1992. The epic, ambitious, galaxy-spanning Dark Empire was a huge success, and Dark Horse retained the Star Wars license until 2014, when Disney bought the entire property up and returned it to Marvel.

Dark Empire was followed in 1994 by a six issue sequel, Dark Empire II, also by Veitch & Kennedy. Veitch’s storyline concluded in the two issue Empire’s End in 1995, this time with artwork by Jim Baike. I’ve always gotten the impression that Empire’s End was originally planned as another six issue miniseries and was chopped town to a third that length. Nevertheless, despite its seemingly rushed nature, it did provide a decent ending to the Dark Empire trilogy.

Veitch also wrote several Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi miniseries . Set thousands of years before the movie trilogy, Tales of the Jedi chronicled the early years of the Jedi and their battles with the ancient Sith.

Veitch is generally considered to be one of the key figures in revitalizing interest in the Star Wars franchise during the 1990s, helping to lay the groundwork for Lucas himself to eventually return to the a galaxy far, far away with the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #4 written by Tom Veitch, drawn & colored by Cam Kennedy and lettered by Todd Klein, published by Dark Horse Comics in June 1992

Some of the ideas & concepts in Veitch’s Star Wars stories have inspired more recent material. Most notably, it was Veitch & Kennedy who first resurrected Emperor Palpatine in a cloned body in their Dark Empire trilogy, a development that was made canonical in the 2019 movie The Rise of Skywalker. Dark Empire also saw Boba Fett return from his seeming demise in the maw of the Saarlac to become a prominent figure, again something that has been adopted by the live action SW universe in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Animal Man and Star Wars were but two facets of Veitch’s rich, lengthy writing career. He was an unconventional, imaginative creator who will definitely be missed.

Star Wars reviews: The Book of Boba Fett

The Book of Boba Fett has come to its conclusion, so I’m going to take a general overview of the seven episode Star Wars series that streamed on Disney+.

As I’ve previously blogged, I’ve been a Star Wars fan since my father took me to see The Empire Strikes Back for my fourth birthday.  Truthfully, I never really understood the appeal of Boba Fett, who made his debut in that movie. Yeah, he looks cool, but he doesn’t actually do much.  He gives Vader some attitude, he then figures out where the Millennium Falcon is hiding and tracks it to Bespin, he takes a few shots at Luke in Cloud City, and he gets away with Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Then in Return of the Jedi he manages to hold his own against Luke Skywalker for a bit before Han accidentally knocks him into the Sarlaac. And that’s it.

If I had been born just a few years earlier I would have understood that Boba Fett had actually made his debut two years prior to The Empire Strikes Back, appearing in a lot of pre-publicity material, featuring as the antagonist in the animated segment from the Star Wars Holiday Special, and being available as a mail-order action figure.  For fans who were older than me it must have felt like Boba Fett was a big deal, and I expect a lot of them built him up to be this incredible figure in their heads long before they ever saw The Empire Strikes Back.

But for myself, having only his two movie appearances to go by, I just didn’t think Boba Fett was anything special.  I must have been one of the few fans who was happy when he was dropped into the Sarlac Pit. And it constantly mystified me how over the next two decades the novels and the comic books kept bringing him back, and offering him up as a hugely important, badass character, and how much other fans absolutely ate it up.

Fast forward to 2020 when Boba Fett was brought back from the dead in The Mandalorian; he shows up in the episode “The Tragedy” and single-handedly defeated a platoon of Stormtroopers, and I was thinking to myself “Well, that’s certainly cool, but he was never anywhere near as competent or dangerous as this in the movies.” It felt like director Robert Rodriguez was literally playing with his Star Wars action figures and giving us the Boba Fett that he’d always wanted to see, rather than the one who already existed.

So when it was then revealed in the mid-credits scene in The Mandalorian season two finale that Fett would be getting his own Disney + series, my immediate reaction was “Why?”  Honestly, I just didn’t think the character was strong enough or interesting enough to carry his own series.

Having watched The Book of Boba Fett, I actually still sort of feel that way. I don’t think it’s accidental that Jon Favreau & Dave Filoni made the series an ensemble piece. Fett works a lot better with the characters of Fennec Shand and Din Djarin / Mando to bounce off of.  Certainly it helps that Fett is played by Temura Morrison, who has an awesome voice, and who gives the character a brooding intensity while nevertheless exuding a certain type of vulnerability. Additionally Ming-Na Wen and Pedro Pascal are both very good actors who help to carry the story.

So, yeah, I do have to say that The Book of Boba Fett is nevertheless the first time I’ve ever been genuinely interested in the character.  A major part of this is that the series takes Boba Fett out of the “badass bounty hunter” niche and broadens him.

After barely escaping from the Saarlac, in a scene that reminded me of Star Wars #81 from Marvel Comics, Fett is mugged by a gang of Jawas who strip him of his armor and who leave him for dead out in the brutal Tatooine desert. Fett is eventually “rescued” by a tribe of Tuskens, who make him their slave, but after he defeats a four-armed monstrosity in the desert, the Sand People recognize his strength & bravery and adopt him into their tribe.

This guy has no luck with Jawas! Star Wars #81 written by Jo Duffy, layouts by Ron Frenz, finishes by Tom Palmer & Tom Mandrake, lettered by Joe Rosen and colored by Glynis Wein, published by Marvel Comics in December 1983.

A few thoughts on this:

Chronologically Fett is supposed to be in his early 40s at this point. Temura Morrison is 61 years old. Having Fett living out in the harsh deserts of Tatooine for half a decade is a good way to explain why the guy now looks much older than he actually is. Tatooine seems to prematurely age a lot of people. Just ask Obi Wan Kenobi, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.

Following on from The Mandalorian, this series does a good job at developing the Tuskens, the original inhabitants of Tatooine, beyond just brutal savages. It’s explained that in the distant past Tatooine was actually a world covered in water, and that after a catastrophic climate change the Tuskens were forced to adapt to their new, harsh environment, with many of them becoming brutal killers, but others, such as the tribe that takes in Fett, striving to maintain some semblance of honor & civilization.

We see Fett extensively training with the Tuskens, learning to fight with their weapon of choice, the gaffi stick, eventually becoming very proficient. This provides a good in-story explanation for how the guy who didn’t do much of anything in the original movie trilogy is now able to wipe the floor with a squad of Stormtroopers.

Finally, Fett’s adoption by the Tuskens explains why the character has changed so much. He hasn’t had a family since his father Jango was killed decades earlier. (I’m sure that Jango loved his son, but let’s face it, he wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest father, and he eventually got himself killed, leaving his young son to fend for himself.) Fett comes to realize just how empty, how lonely, his existence as a bounty hunter has been. And when the tribe is wiped out, it’s a huge loss for him.  It explains why he wants to become “daimyo” of Mos Espa, because it’s a way, however flawed or misguided, for him to try to restore order to his life and establish a new family.

Among the allies Fett and Shand gather in these early episodes are the Mods, a gang of disaffected cyborg teenagers riding around on colorful speeders. Some viewers really didn’t like the Mods, saying they were completely out of place on Tatooine. I thought the Mods were fine, though. The way I figure it, they’re bored teenagers. They are hugely into self-expression and rebelling against the status quo. Getting cybernetic implants is one way they go about that. Having really colorful speeder bikes that totally clash with the whole “beige Tatooine” aesthetic is another way they’re looking to make their own identities.

I also liked Garsa Fwip, the Twi’lek proprietor of the Sanctuary cantina in Mos Espa. Jennifer Beals played Garsa as an intriguing, intelligent character, and costume designer Shawna Trpcic created some amazing, beautiful outfits for her. I was genuinely upset when Garsa and her cantina were blown up by the Pyke Syndicate, but I recognize that it’s important for the drama of a story like this one to occasionally kill characters you like to demonstrate just how dangerous circumstances actually are.

A side note: I felt sooooo bad for the guys who were stuck carrying the Hutt Twins around the streets of Mos Espa. They must have one of the worst jobs in the Star Wars universe!

The structure of The Book of Boba Fett is damn odd. The first four episodes alternate between Fett and Fennec Shand in the present day attempting to establish control of the deceased Jabba the Hutt’s crime empire, and flashbacks showing Fett’s time with the Tuskens and how he saved Shand’s life after her seeming death in The Mandalorian season one.

And then we get to episode five, in which Fett is completely absent from his own series. Din Djarin takes the spotlight in what feels like The Mandalorian season two and a half. Mando still has the Darksaber, but he doesn’t really know how to use it, and in a fight even ends up injuring himself with it. Which, let’s be honest, is actually a realistic thing to happen. Lightsabers are incredibly dangerous weapons, and Mando has had zero training in using one. After fulfilling a bounty on the stunning ringed-shaped space station Glavis, Mando locates the remaining members of his sect, now down to just the Armorer and Paz Vizsla, although he’s soon on the outs when they learn he removed his helmet. With nowhere else to go, he heads off to Tatooine where Pelli Motto (the ever-irreverent Amy Sedaris) has procured him a replacement spaceship. They finish rebuilding it just in time for Fennec Shand to recruit Mando in Fett’s war against the spice-running Pyke Syndicate.

This episode features a brief flashback to the Purge that saw the Empire completely devastate Mandalore. It also helpfully clarifies something that confused a lot of people, myself included. Why couldn’t Bo-Katan just accept the Darksaber from Mando, since she’d already done so years before when Sabine Wren gave it to her in Rebels?  As the Armorer explains, Sabine giving Bo-Katan the Darksaber, rather than Bo-Katan winning it in combat the way tradition demanded, led to Mandalore becoming cursed, enabling the Empire to destroy it.

Then we get to episode six, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” which I jokingly referred to as “Star Wars Team-Up.” Fett shows up again, but just for one scene, and the action is divided between Marshall Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) fighting the Pykes in Mos Pelgo, Mando trying to bring a chain mail shirt of beskar to Grogu, and Grogu training with Luke Skywalker (a CGI de-aged Mark Hamill).

“From the Desert Comes a Stranger” was occasionally frustrating, because as cool as it was to see Grogu again, it definitely felt like a diversion from the main plotlines, although it eventually does lead to Grogu deciding to return to his surrogate father Mando rather than train as a Jedi.

The sequel trilogy told us that Luke turned out to be a pretty crappy teacher, so I’m not too surprised to see him doing a subpar job with Grogu here. The guy who literally saved the galaxy because he refused to give up his emotional attachment to his father who everyone else said was beyond redemption and needed to be destroyed is now going “Attachments are forbidden for a Jedi.” Seriously?!?

All of that aside, it was really cool to see Luke and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) together. I’m sure most of us have been hoping to see that meeting for a while now.

Episode six also brings Cad Bane (voiced by Corey Burton) into live action Star Wars. He’s the “Stranger” who comes out of the desert to seemingly kill Cobb Vanth at the behest of the Pykes.  That scene where the character was on the distant horizon slowly striding towards town, I was wondering who the heck it could be. Then as he got closer, and his silhouette with the wide-brimmed hat became clearer, I literally went “Oh shit!” The thing about Cad Bane is that not only is he incredibly dangerous, but he’s also a stone cold killer.  Whenever he shows up you know shit’s going to go down.

Bane’s definitely got a distinctive design.  He was based off of Lee Van Cleef’s villain Angel Eyes from the movie The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  I was thrilled that not only did Bane look pretty much as he did in The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch, but that he also had that same creepy voice.  At least one person complain that the wide-brimmed hat is too “on the nose” in signposting Bane’s inspirations. But I like the hat. It makes the character instantly recognizable. There was even one episode of The Clone Wars where he murdered someone for their hat. That shows how much he likes wide-brimmed hats… as well as how ruthless he actually is.

Anyway, that takes us to the seventh and final episode. “In the Name of Honor” is a big, loud, action-packed spectacle directed by Rodriguez that has Fett, Shand, Djarn and their small group of allies fighting a desperate battle against the overwhelming forces of the Pykes in the streets of Mos Espa.

The climax of sees Fett and Bane facing off, and it’s no accident that it comes down to these two.  Bane is exactly who Fett used to be, a remorseless killer who works for the highest bidder, and indeed Bane insists that they are still the same.  It’s also deliberate that Bane outdraws Fett, but in the end Fett wins by using his gaffi stick, his legacy from the Tuskens, against Bane, seemingly killing him. So, yes, in a way Bane was correct, Fett is still a killer… however he’s killing not for money, but rather to avenge his fallen family and to protect his new one.

From a critical point of view the final episode (and indeed the whole series) is a bit of a mess, but damned if it wasn’t a huge heap of fun. I mean, Boba Fett riding around on a Rancor would have absolutely blown my seven year old mind, and even at 45 years old I thought it was really cool. Yes, sometimes Star Wars successfully transcends its pulpy roots to tell deep, insightful, nuanced stories. But a lot of the time it’s just an enjoyable mash-up of space opera, Westerns, Saturday morning serials, comic books, Japanese cinema, war movies and mythology.

C’mon, you know that if you still had your Star Wars action figures you’d be doing this with them right now.

It occurred to me that this season is structured along the lines of a comic book crossover. The first four episodes are issues of the Boba Fett series. Episode five is a Mandalorian annual, and episode six is a Luke & Grogu special, with episode seven being the big wrap-up as all characters and plotlines converse. And, yeah, there’s even an epilogue in setting up a future storyline.

A number of Star Wars fans were very unhappy with The Book of Boba Fett, claiming that Fett was acting completely out of character.  And all I can say is, what character?  The guy had four lines of dialogue and about six minutes of screen time in the original trilogy. The most we ever saw of him before now was when he was a teenager in the movie Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars animated series. There are legitimate criticisms to be made about the show, but “It isn’t being true to Boba Fett’s character” is a load of bullshit because he was practically a blank slate before he was brought back in The Mandalorian.

Some people have argued that there were plenty of novels and comic books over the past several decades featuring Boba Fett.  But how much of those is still considered to be canonical? And putting aside the issue of canon, having read some of those books and comics, I never found Boba Fett the unstoppable, faceless, badass killer to be a compelling protagonist.  The Book of Boba Fett actually made him into an interesting character that I actually care about.

If you actually watch the entire series, you see the picture of a middle aged man who decides to change his ways, because he looks back on his life and realizes that he’s unhappy with how it has turned out.  That’s why the guy who was once warned “No disintegrations” by Darth Vader is now going out of his way to avoid killing people unless he absolutely has to, who now values family & honor far above profit.

Sorry, folks, but like Darth Vader said, you know it to be true.

There’s a saying on social media: No one hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans. Two different live action Star Wars television series (with more on the way) and all some people can do is complain because it isn’t exactly what they were expecting or hoping for.  I swear, some people are never satisfied. Ten year old me would have killed to get all of this great Star Wars content back in the mid 1980s.

So, yeah, I enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Favreau & Filoni have in store for us next.

Star Trek and Star Wars signings at New York Comic Con 2021

New York Comic Con 2021 was held a couple of weeks ago, and it was a tremendous amount of fun! After a one year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was great to have NYCC return to the Big Apple.

In addition to a wide variety of comic book creators (please read my write-ups on First Comics News) I got to meet a couple of actors who have been involved in Star Trek and Star Wars.

It’s odd: I’ve been a fan of both series for many years, but until now I’ve never obtained autographs from actors who appeared in those franchises. Well, okay, in the past I met a few people who had appeared in Star Trek, but I got their autographs for other roles. So I’m glad I was finally able to rectify that with two great actors who appeared in Star Trek and Star Wars, respectively.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was a little kid, watching reruns of the original series on WPIX Channel 11 on Saturday evenings in the early 1980s. It was definitely a thrill to meet actor George Takai, who portrayed Hikaru Sulu on the show and in the first six movies. I really admire the fact that Takai has utilized his fame from Star Trek to promote progressive political & social causes.

They Called Us Enemy, the graphic novel George Takei wrote about his childhood imprisoned in an internment camp, is a sad, moving book. I am Jewish, and when I was growing up I was taught about the Holocaust, about the Nazis forcing the Jews into concentration camps. So I remember that when I first learned about the internment of Japanese Americans I was horrified to discover that nearly the same thing had happened here, in this country. It is definitely one of the darkest chapters in American history. Unfortunately I now realize that there are many dark events and periods in this nation’s history. So I am grateful for works like this. They bring those failures to light, and serve as warnings as to what can happen again if we do not learn from the the past. They Called Us Enemy is a great example of how comic books & graphic novels can play a valuable educational role.

Takei came across as a good person. It was a pretty long line to get his autograph, but he took the time to speak with everyone for a minute or two. The day after I got Takei’s autograph, he had a panel discussion at NYCC. He was such an engaging, entertaining speaker.

Another guest at NYCC 2021 was Dee Bradley Baker, the actor who voiced Captain Rex and all of the other Clone Troopers in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, among his many, many other voice acting credits in numerous other series.

My father and grandfather took me to see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater for my fourth birthday, and I’ve been a Star Wars fan ever since. Admittedly, I only saw a few episodes of The Clone Wars during the original run from 2008 to 2014, and at the time I didn’t really care for it. However, I recently watched the entire series on Disney Plus. While the first two seasons were uneven, there were still several good episodes. The show then got consistently good with season three, and steadily improved from there. George Lucas, Dave Filoni & their collaborators also did a great job utilizing the show to explore adult topics such as war and politics, loss and faith, duty and patriotism. The later seasons are among the best SW material ever.

I was on line to get Dee Bradley Baker’s autograph, and at 45 years old I was literally the oldest person waiting to meet him. Everyone else on line was either in their late teens or in their 20s. These fans literally grew up on The Clone Wars animated series. For them, this is their Star Wars, just as the original trilogy was my generation’s Star Wars. I think it’s great that The Clone Wars became an entry point for a new generation of fans.

So I got Baker’s autograph… but until now I had no idea Momo and Appa were in the Grand Army of the Republic. Hmmmm… Star Wars / Avatar: The Last Airbender crossover, anyone? Now I’ve got this image stuck in my head of Ahsoka Tano riding around on a flying bison!

Seriously, I was saying to myself “Oh no! Did he mean to write ‘Captain Rex’ instead but I distracted him by gushing about how much I loved his work on Clone Wars and Bad Batch?” Eh, whatever the reason, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it’s still his signature, and I got it personalized, so I’m obviously not going to be reselling it, and I got to meet him, which was very cool. I guess the Avatar reference just adds to the piece’s uniqueness.

Anyway, Baker is incredibly talented, I love his amazing work on the various Star Wars animated series, so it was cool to meet him & get his signature.

Star Wars reviews: The Bad Batch part two

The first season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch concluded on Disney+ last week. I previously took a look at the first eight episodes, and here’s my thoughts on the second half of the season.

When we last saw Omega (Michelle Ang) she had been captured by ruthless bounty hunter Cad Bane (Corey Burton) who was acting on behalf of the Kaminoans. I was expecting the rest of the Bad Batch to have to come to Omega’s rescue. Instead, she nearly succeeded in rescuing herself, and then the arrival of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) did indeed enable Omega to escape, requiring only a last minute assist from the rest of the Batch. Omega is definitely no damsel in distress.

It was surprising to learn that Fennec Shand had actually been hired by Kaminoan scientist Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo) to protect Omega. Back during The Clone Wars animated series Nala Se had actually been one of the most ruthless of the Kaminoans.  She regarded the Clone Troopers merely as property, and helped the Sith cover up the true purpose of the Clones’ inhibitor chips, thereby indirectly assisting them in wiping out the Jedi with Order 66. So I am curious why Nala Se is now acting so benevolent and trying to save Omega’s life.

The next episode, “Common Ground,” sees the Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) sent to rescue Avi Singh, a former Senator in the Separatist government, from the Empire, who are now occupying his  world. Echo, who was previously a prisoner of the Separatist military and who was experimented on by them, is understandably reluctant to help Singh. However, as was seen in several episodes of The Clone Wars, many of the Separatist’s civilian leaders did genuinely want what was best for their worlds, and just like the Republic’s Senate, were being used & deceived by the Sith. Such is the case with Singh, who is truly despondent at the thought of the Empire enslaving his people.

Singh is voiced by Alexander Siddig, formerly Dr. Julian Bashir of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making him the latest actor to have roles in both franchises. I hope the character will return again in the near future. Perhaps he will become a founding member of the Rebel Alliance?

The next two episodes shifted the focus to a few familiar faces. Hera Syndulla was one of my favorite characters from Star Wars: Rebels, so I really enjoyed seeing a two-part “origin story” for her and her sassy astromech droid Chopper.

I thought Vanessa Marshall did an incredible job portraying a teenage version of the Hera, clearly making it the same character that she previously portrayed in Rebels, but distinct enough that it’s clear this is Hera at a much different time in her life. Marshall is definitely a talented actress. I really appreciated the fast friendship that develops between Hera and Omega, who plays a major role in setting the Twi’lek teenager on the path to eventually becoming an accomplished pilot and an leader in the Rebel Alliance.

I was genuinely surprised to learn that, due to the COVOD-19 pandemic, all of the actors in The Bad Batch recorded their parts separately, and that Marshall had no idea who Omega was or what she sounded like until the two Ryloth episodes were broadcast. Credit to Marshall and Ang for their performances, really making it seem like they were acting opposite one another in the studio, giving the two teenage girls a genuine friendship & chemistry.

By the way, it was interesting to watch these two episodes and then read the novel A New Dawn written by John Jackson Miller, which explores how Hera first encounters Kanan Jarrus. I really appreciate the thought Dave Filoni & Co have given to how Hera develops as a character throughout the years.

What I found really surprising about these episodes is that Hera’s father, the militant Cham Syndulla (Robin Atkin Downes), is shown as initially being willing to give rule by the Empire a chance. After the Clone Wars, he wants peace for his people, and his family. Unfortunately the fascist, duplicitous Empire is completely uninterested in acting in an honorable manner

I like how these episodes also continued to examine the reasons why the Empire chose to replace Clone Troopers with Stormtroopers. On the face of it Clone Troopers were much better soldiers. But as we previously saw in the Umbara and Fives arcs on The Clone Wars, the clones are intelligent beings who are capable of independent thought, of feeling compassion & loyalty, and of disobeying orders that they feel are morally wrong. The Bad Batch has further explored that.

It’s very obviously that without the inhibitor chips the majority of the clones would never have turned on the Jedi, and even with the inhibitor chips functioning we still see Howzer and other clones on Ryloth questioning orders. So from the Empire’s perspective it makes sense that they switch to Stormtroopers, who may be inferior, but who they can just draft wholesale from the populace and indoctrinate to be complete loyal and follow orders without question.

Anyway, props to Dee Bradley Baker for getting so much of Howzer’s internal struggle across vocally. And the animators did an amazing job at the very end when we see Crosshair’s expression, and rather than being gleeful at the idea of finally going after his former comrades, he looks genuinely ambivalent. The animation for the planet Ryloth was also stunning.

The next episode “Infested” was a heist-type episode, with the Batch and their manipulative employer Cid (Rhea Perlman) stealing a shipment of spice in order to pit wannabe crime lord Roland Durand (Tom Taylorson) against the Pyke Syndicate. This one was fun, although it did seemingly come across as unimportant. However, I do wonder if this was a setup for future developments, and if we will see Durand again in a larger role.

This brings us to the final three part story of the season. The Empire accelerates its plans to transition to Stormtroopers, bringing in the clone Gregor to train them. Rex asks the Batch to rescue Gregor, but that leads to Hunter being captured by the Empire. The rest of the Batch now must return to Kamino to save their leader, who is in the custody of their former comrade Crosshair.

The surprising development about Crosshair was his claim that his inhibitor chip was removed some time before (perhaps destroyed in the starship graveyard on Bracca?) and that he’s now acting of his own free will in working for the Empire. Unlike the rest of the Batch, who remain loyal to the principles of the fallen Republic, Crosshair regards himself as a superior being who has an important place within the Empire’s fascist system. The rest of the Batch are despondent at the possibility that their brother is willingly working for the Empire, and that he actually wants them to join him.

There’s a brief interaction between Crosshair and Tech where the later explains that Crosshair has always been like this, and his behavior actually makes perfect sense. It’s one of the very few times Tech has ever been developed at all this season. He remains the most thinly-drawn members of the Batch. I hope that next season he is actually given more material.

The Empire, having seized the Kaminoans’ cloaning technology and forcibly recruited Nala Se, destroys Tipoca City. The finale has the Batch struggling to escape the rapidly-sinking ruins. Truthfully I found this episode to be a bit drawn-out, consisting of an extended action sequence. Nevertheless, it does set the stage for the second season.

There were some criticisms that the first season of The Bad Batch was tonally inconsistent, alternating between light family fare and exceedingly grim, depressing violence. I think that description pretty much sums up the entirety of the Star Wars franchise! After all, in the original movie one minute R2D2 and C3P0 are engaging in their latest round of comedic squabbling, and the next the Death Star blows up Alderaan. Personally I’ve always found Star wars to be at its most effective when it can successfully shift its tone back & forth between comedy and drama.

So what happens next? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait until 2022 to find that out! A few bumps in the road notwithstanding, I did enjoy the first season of The Bad Batch, and I look forward to season two.

Star Wars reviews: The Bad Batch part one

We are now halfway through the first 16 episode season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch on Disney+, which makes this a good time to look at the animated series so far…

A group of experimental and defective clone troopers created by the Kaminoans, the Bad Batch made their debut last year in the seventh and final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  When I first heard these characters were getting their own series I was skeptical. My first impression of them was that they were a set of broadly-drawn stereotypes, i.e. the level-headed leader, the brainy intellectual, the big, angry strong guy, the brooding lone wolf, and the battle-scarred veteran. I really didn’t know if they could carry a series on their own.

So I was pleasantly surprised at how good the premiere episode “Aftermath” actually was. It definitely went in directions that I wasn’t expecting, and left me looking forward to seeing more.

I think the game changer was the introduction of Omega, a young female clone created by the Kaminoans as part of a mysterious experiment. Plucky teen sidekicks can be a tricky feat to pull off, but The Bad Batch succeeds admirably. Omega is just the right mix of clever and innocent. Her presence also pushes the Batch members into unfamiliar territory. Now, instead of a military squad, they are a family, and they have to raise Omega. That really changes the dynamic of the show.

Omega definitely has had a visible impact on Wrecker, the aforementioned big, angry strong guy. Wrecker was previously my least-favorite member of the Batch, but Omega’s presence has really brought out another side of the character. Wrecker is really just a big kid; consequently he and Omega establishing a sibling-like bond which is actually really sweet & funny. I loved the bomb disarming sequence with the two of them at the beginning of this week’s episode.

The Bad Batch has been exploring a number of questions Star Wars fans have had for quite some time: After the Clone Wars ended, what exactly happened to the clone troopers and the droid armies? How did the Republic transform into the Empire? What were the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance? I like that The Bad Batch is exploring these topics, and getting some pretty good stories out of them in the process.

“Cut and Run,” the second episode of The Bad Batch, sees the return of AWOL clone trooper Cut Lawquane, his wife Suu and their children, who previously appeared in The Clone Wars episode “The Deserter.” I was happy to see them again. Cut and his family are actually the perfect characters to appear at this point.

Back in “The Deserter” Cut was trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Captain Rex that the clones were only being used, and that it was more important that they find their own purpose, instead of fighting & dying for the Republic. The audience, of course, knew Cut was actually correct, because we knew how the Clone Wars would end in Revenge of the Sith. So it’s nice to return to Cut, to a point where the rest of the characters have realized that he was right, that the clones were nothing more than pawns used by Palpatine / Darth Sidious to eliminate the Jedi.

Additionally, I felt this episode was a good illustration of creeping fascism. It is very rare that people go to sleep in a free democracy and wake up the next day in an absolute dictatorship. Usually the process is much more gradual, some might even say insidiously gradual (yes, deliberate choice of wording there), with liberties slowly being eroded and freedoms surrendered bit by bit.

Here we see the nascent Empire acting in a seemingly-reasonable way to make its citizens feel that, hey, these new “chain codes” are actually a great development and everyone should be happy to have them. Only a handful of people realize that the chain codes are how the Empire is going to keep track of and monitor the entire populace of the galaxy.

“Cut and Run” also did excellent work showing Omega’s first experiences on an alien world, and Hunter having to adjust to being a parental figure rather than a squad leader.

The Bad Batch also brings back Trace and Rafa Martez from the final season of The Clone Wars. While I felt the four episode arc with the Martez sisters on that show was padded out, I nevertheless thought it was a very necessary one, because it showed the Clone Wars from the point of view of the average person on the street, and caused Ahsoka to realize just how badly the Jedi had become disconnected from the people they were supposed to be protecting.

So I’m glad to see the sisters return in episode six, “Decommissioned.” It once again allows for these events, the transformation of the democratic Republic into the fascist Empire, to be seen from the POV of ordinary people.

Some people were writing off “Decommissioned” as “filler.” I don’t think it’s a good idea to write off something as filler because you often don’t know if it’s actually setting up something for a big payoff later. I mean, when I was watching Rebels, I initially thought the space whale episode was just a throw-away story… and then two seasons later we got to the series conclusion, and it became hugely important.

The Bad Batch also returns to the subject of the “inhibitor chips” which caused the clone troopers to carry out Order 66 and execute the Jedi. I know some fans didn’t like the inhibitor chip retcon. However, reiterating what I’ve said before, I think that once The Clone Wars became an ongoing animated series it was an essential change. It enabled Dave Filoni and the other writers to develop the clones into actual three-dimensional characters and still have a plausible reason for why they would then immediately turn on the Jedi the instant Sidious told them “Execute Order 66.”

In the way, the clone troopers were just as much victims as the Jedi were, having their free will stolen from them, forced to betray their oath of loyalty, turning them into murderers. That’s definitely the case here, with Crosshair being the only member of the Batch to have his chip activate, turning him against his friends. Throughout the next several episodes the audience, if not the Batch themselves, were aware that the chips were bombs just waiting to go off, and it was shown that Wrecker’s was bothering him for several episodes, before becoming active in “Battle Scars.”

“Battle Scars” also elaborates on the effect the inhibitor chips have on the clones, first through Rex’ recalling his experiences during Order 66, and then by Wrecker’s chip activating. As they each explain to the other members of the Batch, they were aware that they were being controlled and made to act against their will, but they were completely powerless to do anything about it. That is just horrifying.

Anyway, I’m glad that The Bad Batch got the business of the chips getting removed out of the way in “Battle Scars” because I really don’t know how much more suspense I could have taken, wondering each week if Wrecker or one of the others would get activated and turn on everyone else.

The voice acting on The Bad Batch is impressive. Dee Bradley Baker returns to voice the clone troopers, including all of the members of the Bad Batch. Baker has always done an amazing job at giving the physically-identical clones individual personalities with his performances. He’s definitely upped his game with the members of the Batch, all of whom sounds different from one another. If you didn’t look at the credits you might think they were each of them was being portrayed by a different actor. This video on the Entertainment Weekly website of Baker going through the voices of each of the Batch members really demonstrates his talent.

New Zealand actress Michelle Ang also does a good job voicing Omega. I was surprised to learn that Ang is actually 37 years old. She does a convincing job making Omega sound like a genuine teenager.

Fennec Shand, the highly skilled assassin played by Ming-Na Wen on The Mandalorian, appears in episode four, “Cornered.” Fennec has been hired by someone (the Kaminoans?) to retrieve Omega. Wen returns to voice this younger version of her character. That’s definitely an advantage of animation: it allows you to play a character in live action who is your own age (57 in Wen’s case, although she certainly doesn’t look it) and then voice the same character in stories set three decades earlier.

Likewise, in the debut episode we briefly see young Jedi padawan Caleb Dume, who a decade and a half later, having adopted the alias Kanan Jarrus, is one of the main characters in Rebels. Freddie Prinze Jr. returns to voice Dume, and does a credible job at performing a teenage version of his character.

Andrew Kishino, who voiced the younger version of guerilla fighter Saw Gerrera on The Clone Wars, returns to the role. Here we see Gerrera immediately transitioning from fighting the Separatists to fighting the Empire, as unlike most of the galaxy he is immediately aware that Palpatine has set himself up as a dictator.

Cory Burton once again voices Cad Bane, that incredibly dangerous and ruthless bounty hunter with a fondness for wide-brimmed hats. Seriously, the second this guy showed up in today’s episode I was like “Uh oh!” Burton has stated that he used Peter Lorre’s voice as inspiration of Bane, and it definitely always results in a creepy performance.

The format of The Bad Batch is effective, with each episode being mostly self-contained, yet nevertheless setting up and advancing various different subplots that arc throughout the entire season. The most recent episode, “Reunion,” does end on a cliffhanger, though, with Cad Bane having captured Omega, and the rest of the Batch being pursued by Crosshair and the Empire. And now I have to wait a week to find out what happens next!

Dave Filoni, head writer Jennifer Corbett, supervising director Brad Rau and everyone else involved have done a fine job with these first eight episodes of The Bad Batch. The stories are well written, the characters are engaging, and the quality of the animation is fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with the second half of the season.

(For some great detailed reviews of the individual episodes of The Bad Bach, I recommend heading over to the blogs Star Wars: My Point of View and Star Wars Thoughts.)

An interview with comic book artist Keith Williams

When I first got into comic books in the second half of the 1980s, and continued reading them as a teenager in the 1990s, one of the names I would frequently see in the credits was Keith Williams. He worked on numerous series: Alpha Flight, Transformers, Action Comics, Web of Spider-Man, Quasar, Robocop, Sensational She-Hulk, U.S.Agent, Ravage 2099, The Mask, Star Wars, and so on.

Keith is one of the various comic book creators who I have been fortunate enough to get to know on social media. He has always come across as a genuinely good person. Given Keith’s lengthy career, I felt it would be interesting to speak with him about his work in the medium.

This interview was conducted by e-mail between April and May 2021.

A recent photo of Kieth Williams at a comic book convention

BH: Hello, Mr. Williams. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start with the basics. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?

Keith Williams: Thank you for asking, Ben. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 1957. My grandma gave me my first comic. It was Batman issue 184. I must have been 9 years old at the time. I always loved comics after that. I enjoyed watching astronauts fly into space, and for a while I wanted to be one.

BH: You attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan from 1976 to 1980. How did you find that educational experience?

Keith Williams: It was wonderful! The main reason I went SVA was because Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, was teaching there. My major was in Cartooning and Will brought fun and a lot of knowledge about the art and business sides of comic books. The other classes were fine and rounded out my art experience. I still have great friends that I talk to from my time there.

Sectaurs #6 (May 1986) written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Steve Geiger, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Janet Jackson

BH: I understand you entered the comic book field as a background inker in the early 1980s. How did that come about, and which artists did you assist?

Keith Williams: I knew Howard Perlin from high school, working on school shows together. He introduced me to his father Don Perlin. At the time he was the artist on Ghost Rider. I had shown him my inking samples. He saw that I had potential and took me under his wing. He mentioned my name up at Marvel when they were looking for a background inker for Mike Esposito. I was hired and have been working in comics ever since. Besides Mike Esposito there was Joe Sinnott, Bob Wiacek, Andy Mushinsky, Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, Vince Colletta, John Byrne, Bob Hall and a few more.

BH: Why did you decide to focus on inking?

Keith Williams: I focused on inking because I learned that I was better at it. I had great people to learn the skills of inking from. Inking became my foot in the door.

Alpha Flight #19 (Feb 1985) written, penciled & figures inked by John Byrne, backgrounds inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Andy Yanchus

BH: At Marvel Comics, you were also the first person to join Romita’s Raiders, the art apprentice program initiated by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and run by art director John Romita. What specific sort of work did you find yourself doing as one of the Raiders? How do you feel it helped you in terms of honing your skills and preparing you for a career as an artist in the comic book industry?

Keith Williams: As a Romita Raider, I, and the other Raiders were art correctors. We would fix storytelling if the panels didn’t flow correctly. If a character was wearing the wrong costume we would correct it. Assist John sometimes in cover design. John Romita was the Art Director at Marvel [and] everything would go through him meaning pages of art and he would assign us to fix things that needed fixing. While we were there as Raiders, we received a master class on how to create a comic.

BH: What was your first credited work in comic books, and how did you get assigned that job?

Keith Williams: My first credited work [was] Sectaurs for Marvel, 1985. I inked over Steve Geiger, another Raider. I think I started on issue 4. Mark Texeira moved on and they needed a new art team. It was a mini-series which ended on issue 7. I got the job because I was lucky enough to be in the office at the time.

Avengers West Coast #53 (Dec 1989) written & penciled by John Byrne, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by Bob Sharen

BH: In late 1984 you became John Byrne’s background inker beginning with Alpha Flight #19. You provided background inks on several issues of Alpha Flight, and when Byrne moved to Incredible Hulk for his all-too-short run you accompanied him. After Byrne left Marvel for DC Comics where he oversaw the successful post-Crisis revamp of Superman, you were his background inker on Action Comics in 1987. How did you come to do background inking for Byrne? What was the experience like?

Keith Williams: Mark Gruenwald, one of the editors at Marvel, came up to me and asked if I was interested in working with John Byrne on Alpha Flight as a background artist. Of course, I said yes. It was a great experience.

BH:  It’s noteworthy that Byrne saw that you were credited on all of those stories as the background inker, something that at the time was not expected, much less required. Do you find that this helped your career? Certainly as a young reader it was probably the first time I noticed your name.

Keith Williams: John put my name on the cover of the books and my name was right beside his in the credits. I would also get pages from the books we did. No other inker had ever done that for a background artist or would expect that to be done for them. I will always be grateful to him for doing it. He helped my career because of it.

Sensational She-Hulk #33 (Nov 1991) written & penciled by John Byrne, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Jim Novak and colored by Glynis Oliver

BH: Later on you had the opportunity to do full inking over Byrne’s pencils on Avengers West Coast #53 in late 1989 and on several issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1991. How did you like that experience? As a reader, I felt you did a good job. Looking at that Avengers West Coast, in particular I was very impressed by the detailed, intricate inking you did on the sequence with Immortus in an alternate timeline where Queen Elizabeth I was executed instead of Mary, Queen of Scots. The storyline in She-Hulk where she ends up in the Mole Man’s subterranean kingdom and fights Spragg the Living Hill also had a lot of interesting, detailed work by Byrne. You did a fine job embellishing all those caves and rocky textures.

Keith Williams: Actually, working fully on John’s pencils, scared the daylights out of me. As an artist, you always feel there is still so much to learn. Am I ready? I guess I was. All of the background inking got me ready to do full inks with John and I loved making his lines come to life.

BH: Jumping back a bit, you and penciler Alex Saviuk became the regular art team on Web of Spider-Man with issue #35, cover-dated March 1988. How did you get that assignment, and how did you find it working with Saviuk? You stayed on Web of Spider-Man through issue #85 in early 1992, so I’m guessing it was a good experience. Of course, as you were a freelancer, I’m sure you were also grateful to have a regular monthly assignment.

Keith Williams: Jim Salicrup was the editor on the Spider-Man books at the time. He must have seen my work here and there in the office and tried me out. I worked over Steve Gieger on an issue of Web of Spider-Man and then worked with Alex. I guess he saw something in us working together and we stay together for almost five years.

Web of Spider-Man #35 (Feb 1988) written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Bob Sharen

BH: Speaking for myself, I find Saviuk very underrated. I feel he was overshadowed by Todd McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man, which at the time was in the spotlight. I think that was a shame, because you and Saviuk were doing good, solid work month after month on Web.

Keith Williams: Alex is a great artist. I feel he’s up there with Romita in style. It was very enjoyable working with him.

BH: You worked on a wide variety of titles throughout the 1990s, inking a diverse selection of pencilers. I wanted to briefly touch upon the work you did for Dark Horse. You inked Doug Mahnke on The Mask Strikes Back and Bill Hughes on Star Wars: Droids, both of those coming out in 1995. Any particular thoughts on those two jobs? Mannke and Hughes both seem to have detailed penciling styles, so I wondered how you approached inking them.

Keith Williams: Doug Mahnke’s style on The Mask was different than any I‘ve encountered. It was zaniness stuffed into reality. Bill Hughes had more of a cartoon style which fit into the loony situation the Droids were put in. I try to go with the flow of the penciller. With Doug it would be more of a hard edge, using crow quill Hunt 102 pen point nibs. With Bill it more of a softer look. I used a Winsor Newton Series 7 No. 3 brush and a Gillotte 290 flexible pen nib.

The Mask Strikes Back #1 (Feb 1995) written by John Arcudi, penciled by Doug Mahnke, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Lois Buhalis and colored by Gregory Wright

BH: In 1994 you became the regular inker of The Phantom newspaper strip written by Lee Falk, inking George Olesen’s pencils. You were on the strip until 2005, when Olesen retired. Had you previously been a fan of The Phantom? Although it isn’t especially popular here in the States, it has an absolutely huge following in other parts of the world such as Sweden and Australia.

Keith Williams: I wasn’t really a fan of The Phantom. That was because it wasn’t in any of the newspapers in New York. I did learn to like it. The Phantom has a great cast of characters.

BH: I’ve heard working on a daily newspaper strip described as a grueling, endless treadmill run. What did you think of the work? How was it different from monthly comic books?

Keith Williams: I really had no idea what it was like to put out a six day strip every week. There was no time for a real vacation. So, even when I would go away on a trip, the Phantom would be with me. I’m not really complaining, because it was always better to have work than not. It was different than a comic book because, working on dailies, you only had as much as three panels to work on for a strip.

Star Wars: Droids #6 (Oct 1995) written by Jan Strnad, penciled by Bill Hughes, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Steve Dutro and colored by Perry McNamee

BH: Finally, what have you been working on in the last decade and a half? Do you have any new projects coming out soon?

Keith Williams: Actually, I got to work for Marvel again with the help of Ron Frenz in 2019. It was a 10 page story in Thor the Worthy. Other than that, it’s been conventions and commissions for me.

BH: If people are interested in hiring you for commissions, what is the best way to get in touch with you?

Keith Williams: You can DM me on Instagram or Facebook: keithwilliamscomicbookart. You can also email me at keithwilliamscomicbookart@gmail.com.

The Phantom pin-up penciled, inked & colored by Keith Williams

BH: Thank you very much for your time!

Keith Williams: Glad to do it.

Star Wars reviews: The Clone Wars Season 7

Presenting a really late entry in the latest round of Super Blog Team-Up, looking at Expanded Universes. Everyone else got their contributions up around June 24th. Oh, well, maybe that’s actually appropriate, since I’m looking at the much-delayed conclusion to The Clone Wars.

The long-awaited seventh and final season of the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars was released earlier this year thru the online streaming service Disney+.

My initial experience with The Clone Wars was underwhelming.  In the three year period between Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) there had already been numerous stories set during the Clone Wars presented in Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic books, in various novels, and the original Genndy Tartakovsky animated series.  So when the computer animated movie The Clone Wars was released in 2008, followed by the ongoing series on Cartoon Network, my initial reaction was basically “Why do we need more of this?”

There were a couple of other reasons.  I actually read Karen Traviss’ excellent novelization of The Clone Wars before I saw the movie.  Traviss gave the characters some very complex, subtle motivations, and explored the ambiguity of the conflict.  None of that was present in the actual movie, leaving me disappointed.

And then there was the character of Ahsoka Tano, the teenage Jedi padawan introduced as Anakin Skywalker’s student in The Clone Wars movie, created by George Lucas & Dave Filoni and voiced by Ashley Eckstein.  I’m going to quote Wikipedia here…

“Although initially disliked by both fans and critics, Ahsoka developed into a well-rounded, complex character who received positive reactions from both groups. Serving as a foil for Anakin Skywalker, she has been highlighted as a strong female character of the franchise.”

Yes, that sounds very accurate, and it was basically my experience with Ahsoka Tano.  At first I did not like her, and I thought she was a pointless addition to the Star Wars mythos.  I never followed the ongoing television series, only catching an episode here or there, so this impression lingered for a while.

However, over the next several years The Clone Wars developed a huge following of younger viewers.  For these new fans, this was their Star Wars, and Ahsoka Tano was their Jedi hero, just as Luke Skywalker had been mine growing up in the early 1980s.  I did catch a few of the later episodes, and read some summaries of the others.  I realized that the overall writing on the series had improved tremendously, and Ahsoka had developed into an interesting, three-dimensional character.

Season Six came out in 2014, meaning there’s been a six year wait for the series’ conclusion.  In that time another animated series, Star Wars: Rebels came out, in which we learned Ahsoka Tano and clone trooper Captain Rex both survived the war.  I’m sure this must have left a lot of regular viewers with plenty of burning questions about what had actually happened.  So now we finally have the conclusion, and the answers.

Season Seven is 12 episodes long, divided into a trio of four-episode storylines:

The first four sees Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) working with a misfit group of clone troopers known as the “Bad Batch” to go behind enemy lines in order to discover how the Separatist armies are seemingly anticipating all of the Republic’s battlefield plans, and to find out if Rex’s comrade, the missing and presumed dead clone trooper Echo, is actually still alive. (A spin-off animated series featuring the Bad Batch was just announced by Lucasfilm.)

The second storyline features Ahsoka, who has left the Jedi Order due to the hypocrisy and politics she saw the Jedi Council practicing.  Ahsoka’s speeder bike breaks down in the undercity of Coruscant, and she meets teenage sisters Trace and Rafa Martez (Brigitte Kali and Elizabeth Rodriguez).  Trace is a brilliant, idealistic mechanic, and Rafa is a more cynical figure who believes that breaking the law is the only way the two of them will ever escape poverty.  Ahsoka initially sympathizes with Trace, but she comes to realize that Rafa has a legitimate point, that the sisters’ socioeconomic circumstances have left them with very few paths.  When the sisters’ involvement in a spice-smuggling operation goes pear-shaped, Ahsoka helps them escape from the ruthless Pyke Syndicate.

I did think this four part segment was a bit padded out.  It reminded me of a Doctor Who serial from the Jon Pertwee era, with Ahsoka and the Martez Sisters getting captured, locked up, escaping, running around, getting recaptured, locked up again, escaping again, running around again… you get the idea.  Nevertheless, it was still a fun and thoughtful story.  It also leads into the next segment, as Ahsoka learns that Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) is working with the Pykes.

The final four-parter chronicles the Siege of Mandalore.  Ahsoka has joined forces with a group of Mandalorians led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) who want to liberate their planet from Maul’s control.  Realizing they don’t have the numbers to stage an assault, Ahsoka goes to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Sywalker, who she has not seen since she left the Jedi.

Unfortunately the Separatists have launched an attack on Coruscant and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, and Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) has orders to return there right away (placing this immediately before Revenge of the Sith, with these four episodes then running parallel to the events of that movie).

Ahsoka accuses the Jedi of once again playing politics, of prioritizing the Chancellor over the people of Mandalore.  Anakin (Matt Lanter) agrees to split up his clone forces, giving Ahsoka and Rex half of them to take to Mandalore.  Ahsoka, Rex, Bo-Katan and the clone army arrive, and there is a huge, stunning battle against the Mandalorian commandos allied with Maul.

Ever since the introduction of Boba Fett waaaay back in the animated sequence from the Star Wars Holiday Special and The Empire Strikes Back, there has been a lot of speculation about Fett and the other occupants of Mandalore.  Due to the technical limitations of the early 1980s, as well as Fett actually being a fairly minor character in the original trilogy, very little of this was ever explored on-screen.

I think part of the appeal of this storyline is that we finally get to see the mythical Mandalorians in combat.  The same goes for the live-action series The Mandalorian, also on Disney+.

Initially I thought bringing Darth Maul back from the dead was a bit ridiculous, but it is another area that worked out well in the long run.  Maul is a lot like Boba Fett, a visually interesting character who was ultimately underused in the movies.  Maul in The Phantom Menace was basically Darth Sidious’ attack dog, nothing more.  Maul, resurrected in The Clone Wars, and then later seen in Rebels, is a cunning, dangerous agent of chaos who seeks to carve out his own power base and undermine the plans of Sidious.

There are definite parallels to Ahsoka and Maul at this point.  Both of them have become disenchanted with their previous beliefs.  Ahsoka has lost faith in the Jedi Order, and Maul wants revenge on Sidious for casting him aside.  Maul makes a pitch to Ahsoka to join forces with him, and we can see that she is definitely tempted.  In the end, though, she rejects the offer, and the two come to blows.  Ahsoka, with the aid of Bo-Katan and Rex, eventually defeats the former Sith.

And then everything goes to Hell.  Anyone who has seen Revenge of the Sith knew this moment was coming, but it nevertheless remains a wrenching experience.

I really thought The Clone Wars would end before the events of Revenge of the Sith, because I just could not imagine the series actually showing Order 66.  But they went full-in.  Palpatine / Sidious orders the elimination of the Jedi.  Ahsoka, just like all of her former comrades, finds the clone troopers turning against her.

A good development introduced in The Clone Wars was the idea that the clone troopers had control chips implanted in their brains, chips that when activated would make them follow Sidious’ commands without question.  This enabled the clones to be loyal, courageous, honorable soldiers throughout the series, and explain why they so quickly turned on the Jedi.  In the end the clones were also victims of Sidious, robbed of their free will, reduced to mindless assassins, forced to murder their own generals.

Ahsoka discovers the existence of the chips and is able to extract the one in Rex, freeing him from Sidious’ control, but she is unable to save the rest of her troops.  The final scene of Ahsoka and Rex standing before the graves of the clone troopers is genuinely haunting.

Someone on Twitter recently commented “The last four episodes of Clone Wars was some of the best written, acted and directed Star Wars ever created.”  That’s a sentiment with which I definitely agree.  Those final four episodes are exciting and moving and heartbreaking.  Dave Filoni’s scripts were incredible.  The voice acting by Eckstein, Baker, Witwer and everyone else was superb.

The animation on this final season was absolutely stunning.  There were moments when I forgot that this wasn’t live action, that’s how good it was.  I realize that there is a large group of people involved in creating the animation for this project, and the majority of them unfortunately do not get the recognition they deserve.  My compliments to everyone involved in literally bringing all of these characters and all of these action sequences to life.  Job well done!

I recognize that some of the Star Wars movies released under Disney have been underwhelming.  This final season of The Clone Wars, as well as the first season of The Mandalorian, are refreshing reminders that there is still a tremendous amount of potential to the franchise, that there are many more fun, exciting, interesting stories that can be told within this fictional universe.

Here are links to all of the other #SBTU contributors. We had a lot on entries this time. Please check them all out. Thank you.

Star Wars birthday memories

A number of people on social media noted that May 21st was the 40th anniversary of the release of the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  This prompted me to revisit my own memories of seeing it.  Giving it some consideration, it’s one of the earliest memories I have.

My father and grandfather took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at the movie theater, probably in early June, 1980. I was three years and eleven months years old at the time, so truthfully I remember very little about watching the actual movie that day.

As is probably typical of childhood memories of movies and television, my recollection of that first viewing is vague & distorted.  For example, I remembered the scene from near the beginning when Luke Skywalker was hanging upside down in the Wampa’s ice cave.  I also remembered the scene in the cave on Dagobah where Luke fights an illusion of Darth Vader.  However in my young mind those two moments got squished together, and for a while there I really thought there was a scene in the movie where Luke is hanging upside down in a cave and gets loose just in time to fight Darth Vader.

Oh, yeah… I think I remembered the Imperial Walkers attacking Hoth. As a kid I thought they were pretty scary, and I referred to them as “Metal Dinosaurs.”

I much more vividly remember the experience that surrounded going to the movie. My father and grandfather took me to see it at The Central Plaza Cinema on Central Avenue in Yonkers, NY.  We got Burger King for lunch beforehand, and I seem to recall that we brought the food in with us to eat during the movie.  I definitely remember that I had a fun time. That was the beginning of my lifelong love of Star Wars, and of science fiction in general.

Obviously it must have been apparent to my parents that the movie made a huge impression on me, because a few weeks later at the end of the month I turned four years old and they had a Star Wars themed birthday party for me.  They even got a cake with a spaceship on it.

I mentioned this to my mother last week, and she was able to locate a couple of pictures from that party in one of the old family photo albums. In my memories I recalled the cake being decorated with a generic sci-fi rocket ship, but looking at that photo I see the bakery actually did a fairly good job drawing a Star Wars type ship along the lines of an X-Wing Fighter.

I guess that was also when my parents got me that large toy R2-D2.  I remember having that as a kid, but I’d forgotten it had been a birthday present.

Yes, that is four year old me in the photo below holding the R2-D2.  I guess my hair was always a mess!

When you are a kid time seems to pass by very slowly. The three years until Return of the Jedi came out felt like forever.  Since this was before the era of affordable home media, both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back returned to the theaters during that three year period, so I was able to see the first entry in the theater, as well as watch the second as a slightly older viewer.  I also filled that seeming eternity by making up my own Star Wars adventures with the action figures my parents bought me.

When Return of the Jedi came out in late May of 1983, I was well and truly ready for it.  It was amazing, and for many years it was my favorite Star Wars movie.  Why?  It’s very simple: I was almost seven years old, which is probably the ideal age to be watching the Star Wars movies.

I really believe that a great deal of what we enjoy as genre fans is subjective, heavily reliant on when and where and with who we experienced it for the first time.  I would not be at all surprised if there are people who saw the prequels when they were seven years old who regard them as their favorites.  The same thing holds for The Clone Wars animated series, and for the recent sequels from Disney.

In any case, thinking about all of these old memories, I realize that I was fortunate to have good parents.  Back when I was a kid I often had a difficult time recognizing this, probably due to a mixture of immaturity and undiagnosed childhood depression.  As an adult I am now able to look back and understand that they did the best they could to raise me, and I appreciate their efforts.

Star Wars reviews: The Rise of Skywalker

The reviews and reactions to the new Star Wars movie The Rise of Skywalker have been extremely mixed.  In a way, that is to be expected, because this movie is intended to be the conclusion of the decades-long saga that has unfolded through the eight previous “episode” installments of the franchise.  Episode IX had an extremely formidable task to fulfill and, let’s face it, there was almost no way writer / director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio could possibly fulfill everyone’s expectations.

Here are some of my thoughts about The Rise of Skywalker.  Call it a review, an analysis, or just the ramblings of a 43 year old fan, and (as always) feel free to disagree.

SW TROS

1) Star Wars is for kids

I have been a Star Wars fan ever since my father and grandfather took me to see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater in 1980 when I was four years old.  In the early 1980s I was absolutely mad about Star Wars.  I had a whole bunch of the action figures, and I would make up my own adventures.  The three years between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi felt like an eternity to my young self.  Finally it arrived in the theaters.  My father took me to see it, and I absolutely loved it.

Star Wars creator George Lucas has long argued that the series is really intended for kids.  I believe there is some truth to this.  Yes, there are quite a few elements to the movies that older viewers can appreciate & enjoy.  But at its heart Star Wars is basically a space opera, the big budget descendant of the old movie serials featuring Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, high tech fairy tales set in outer space.

As an adult, watching first the prequels from Lucas and now the sequels from Disney, I have always endeavored to try to remember that I was a kid when I saw the original three movies, and to mentally bring myself back to that place.

Seven year old me would have absolutely loved The Rise of Skywalker.  It was a really fun, exciting movie.  There were a lot of parts that I genuinely loved, that caused me to laugh out loud, and that left me gasping in awe.

Having said that, I am an adult, and there were several aspects of The Rise of Skywalker that my older sensibilities found to be flawed or problematic…

SW TROS Finn Rey Poe

2) Rey of sunshine

Two of the best parts of the sequel trilogy have been the characters Rey and Finn, played by Daisey Ridley and John Boyega.  Both are great additions to the mythos.

In the previous installment, The Last Jedi, it was revealed that Rey’s parents were basically nobodies, and she was not the heir to any kind of family legacy.  This was a crucial aspect of the movie’s main theme, that the Force was not just for the Jedi, that anybody had the potential to access it, no matter who they were or where they came from.

I liked this development.  Unfortunately others did not.  Following Rey’s introduction in The Force Awakens there had been a ridiculous amount of speculation on social media about who she really was.  There were some really insane theories put out there tying her to established characters.  So when Rian Johnson revealed that Rey was no one in particular, these people lost their collective minds, seeing this as a huge disappointment.

Unfortunately Abrams either disagreed with Johnson’s approach, or was pressured by Disney to reverse this because of the supposed fan backlash.  So in TROS we find out Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine.  Watching the scene where this is revealed, in my head I could almost envision Disney shouting to the audience “Okay, okay, stop yelling at us! Fine, Rey isn’t a nobody! She’s actually Papatine’s granddaughter! Are you happy now?!?

This felt like an attempt to placate angry fans, with the story falling back into the well-trod, traditional structure of myths & fairy tales.  I don’t think it was necessary.

Having said all that, Ridley does her best with the material. She really shows just how shocked & horrified Rey is at discovering she’s kin to the most evil being in the galaxy.  Ridley definitely sells the character’s inner turmoil, as well as her struggle to leave her heritage behind and become her own person.  Obviously the theme of “transcending your family’s dark legacy” was already done with Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, but Ridley nevertheless does a good job showing Rey’s journey through this difficult process.

I’ve also enjoyed the character arc of Finn through these three movies.  He really grows during the course of the storyline.

When you think about it, Finn is a brave, extraordinary individual.  When he was only a child he was kidnapped by the First Order and conscripted into their Stormtrooper army.  Despite years of indoctrination by his fascist masters, Finn was able to retain a conscience, to recognize what the First Order was doing was wrong.  More important, he found the strength to actually do something about it, first by deserting their ranks, and then by standing up to his former masters, actively fighting against their tyrannical cause.

TROS continues Finn’s development.  He is a much more confident figure than he was in the previous two movies.  Additionally, the idea that potentially anyone, no matter what their background, can use the Force is basically transferred from Rey’s character to his, and it is revealed that Finn is Force-sensitive.

Another important development for Finn occurs when he meets other ex-Stormtroopers who have also fled the First Order.  Boyega’s really does a good job of showing just how much it means to Finn to find others like him who have broken free from the First Order’s brainwashing and are now fighting against it.

SW TROS Kylo Ren vs Rey

3) Ren faire

One of my favorite online bloggers / reviewers is Darren Mooney.  He is an intelligent, insightful writer.  Even when I disagree with him, I find his arguments & reasoning to be well-constructed and thought-provoking.

Two months ago Mooney wrote a piece entitled “The Rise of Skywalker Can Correct Return of the Jedi’s Failings.”  One of Mooney’s criticisms of ROTJ is as follows:

“Return of the Jedi isn’t interested in whether Vader is redeemed. It only matters that Luke’s idea of Vader is redeemed. Vader never faces any justice for the crimes that he has committed. But Luke is able to convince himself of his father’s decency rather than confront the reality of what he’s done. The Star Wars franchise has always been about generational strife, with children inheriting a world scarred by their parents’ mistakes. Return of the Jedi retreats from that concept and betrays the franchise.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, but possibly accurate.  Now, none of what Mooney argues ever occurred to me when I was seven years old watching ROTJ.  Indeed, in 1983, having only seen Vader’s very limited actions in the original trilogy, killing the Emperor to save his son did appear to be a genuine act of redemption.

However, in the decades since, having witnessed Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side depicted in detail in the prequels, actually seeing the atrocities he committed in Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, the Rebels animated series, and the comic book stories set during these periods, you might very well find yourself asking if turning against the Emperor in ROTJ to save Luke really does balance the scales, if it is truly enough for him to earn redemption.

So I had what Mooney wrote in mind while watching Kylo Ren’s arc unfold during TROS.

Leia uses the Force to connect with Kylo Ren, dying in the process.  A distracted Ren is mortally wounded by Rey, but she immediately uses her own Force energy to heal him.  After his mother’s sacrifice and Rey’s act of mercy, it’s clear that Ren no longer wants to continue down the terrible path he is on.  At the same time, he is fully aware of all the horrible crimes he has committed, including the murder of his father, and he is afraid that, with all the blood on his hands, he does not have the strength to change.

Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren / Ben Solo really is haunted, especially when he reaches this turning point.  The conversation between him and his dead father Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is both well-written and subtly performed.  I appreciated that it was left ambiguous if Ben is truly communicating with his father’s ghost, or is actually struggling with his conscience within his own head.

Looking at it from an adult perspective, Ben’s ultimate act of redemption does feel more genuine than Vader / Anakin’s did.  Yes, Ben turns against the First Order and stands side by side with Rey in opposing the Emperor.  However, he truly redeems himself after the battle is over, Palpatine has been destroyed, and victory has been achieved.  Rey has been killed, but Ben uses his own life energy to revive her, sacrificing his own life.  His final act is not killing an enemy, but selflessly saving the life of a friend.

SW TROS Leia

4) Farewell to a Princess

One of the obvious obstacles that faced Abrams & Terrio in making TROS was Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death in December 2016.  Early plans for the movie would have had General Leia Organa as one of the main characters; obviously all of those plans had to be scrapped.  Abrams & Terrio were left with about eight minutes of unused footage from TLJ featuring Leia, which meant that they had to write the story around that.

To their credit, Abrams & Terrio do a good job of smoothly incorporating the footage of Fisher into the movie.  None of it feels forced.  If you were watching the movies and had no idea how real life events had dictated the production you might be left wondering why the character of Leia had so little screen time, but there wasn’t anything there that leaps out to indicate that Daisey Ridley was acting opposite footage of Fisher that was shot two years earlier.

5) Cavalcade of cameos

It was good to have Lando Calrission return to the series. I had a huge smile when he first appeared on screen.  It certainly seemed like Billy Dee Williams was having a blast playing the character again.  I think Lando’s character was pretty well served by the screenplay, so his presence wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia to please older fans.

We also see a glimpse of Wedge Antilles during the final battle, although in that case it was unfortunately just a cameo.  It would have been nice if Denis Lawson’s character had gotten a bit more screen time.  I realize Wedge was a minor character in the original trilogy, but he became a major figure in the X-Wing comic books & novels from the old Expanded Universe.

The most surprising appearances by older characters were during Rey’s confrontation with Palpatine.  Rey taps into the Force to give her strength, and she hears the voices of a number of Jedi Knights, both from the previous movies, as well as from the animated series Clone Wars and Rebels, certainly a cool nod to those characters.

SW TROS Lando

6) United we stand

The Rise of Skywalker is much less overtly political than The Last Jedi.  Nevertheless, there is a message to the movie.

We meet Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) a smuggler Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) knew from his pre-Resistance days operating on the fringes of the law.  Speaking of the threat posed by the First Order, Zorii tells him:

“They win by making you think you’re alone… There’s more of us.”

This is later demonstrated when Lando organizes a fleet made up of ships from numerous planets to stand against the Emperor’s armada on Exegol.  On their own, none of the ships from these disparate civilizations would be able to stand up to the First Order, but united together they are a match for Palpatine’s forces.

Without getting into too many specifics, the point here is that the far left, liberals, moderates and centrists need to set aside their differences and work together to fight against fascism.  Once that is accomplished then we can sit down and hash out compromises for our various positions, but until then we must present a united front.

Also, the whole subplot with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) turning out to be the spy in the First Order giving information to the Resistance feels timely.  Considering what a smug, sadistic creep he it, at first Hux would appear to be the last person you would expect to help the Resistance, at least until he explains to Fin and Poe: “I don’t care if you win. I need Kylo Ren to lose.” Yes, that is perfectly in keeping with Hux’s petty, selfish nature.  I was instantly reminded of the numerous anonymous leaks out of the Trump Administration, as well as the backstabbing and scheming that has taken place over the past three years as the grifters and opportunists have jockeyed to grab power.

Likewise, it is not surprising that General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) takes the first opportunity available to shoot down Hux in cold blood.  Later, after Kylo Ren abandons the First Order, Pryde quickly & eagerly switches his allegiance to the Emperor. There is no loyalty or honor in the First Order, only a craving for power at any cost.

7) Bursting at the seams

There was enough material in TROS to fill at least two movies.  That resulted in some rushed scenes, and certain characters getting short shrift.

The most notable instance was Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran.  Rose was a central figure in TLJ, but she spends most of TROS sidelined.  Maybe it was that there were too many characters.  Maybe it was because Rose was created by Johnson, and Abrams didn’t have much interest in her.  Whatever the case, it’s unfortunate, because following the release of TLJ both the character and the actress were subjected some truly vile racist and sexist attacks on social media.  Even if it’s inadvertent, Rose’s diminished screen time here feels like Disney kowtowing to toxic fandom.

Another area where there wasn’t anywhere enough development was with the mysterious Knights of Ren, who were first briefly glimpsed in TFA.  They finally show up in TROS, but they’re just a bunch of faceless, nameless mooks who silently follow Kylo Ren around for most of the movie and then, after he turns away from the dark side, unsuccessfully try to kill him.  And that’s it.

8) Let’s get Sidious for a moment

The return of Emperor Palpatine, played by Ian McDiarmid, was certainly one of the most noteworthy aspects of TROS.  Even though he was spectacularly killed off at the end of ROTJ, it does feel appropriate to bring him back.  While Darth Vader is, thanks to Ralph McQuarrie’s design and James Earl Jones’ vocal performance, the most iconic villain of the whole SW saga, it is the Emperor who is the true Big Bad of the first six movies.  So if TROS was to be the conclusion of the Skywalker family story then it makes sense for the ultimate evil of the saga, Darth Sidious, to play a key role.

The Emperor’s return doesn’t make much sense in-story (more on that below) and the actual mechanics of his resurrection are left extremely vague.  When Kylo Ren threatens to kill him, Palpatine merely responds by saying “I have died before” and then repeating his famous declaration from Revenge of the Sith: “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.”

Later on a member of the Resistance suggests a few possible explanations, one of which is cloning.  Perhaps this was a nod to the now out-of-continuity comic book miniseries Star Wars: Dark Empire by Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy, published by Dark Horse in 1991, which saw the Palpatine return in a cloned body.  (Likewise, the ancient Sith planet Exegol might be inspired by Korriban, which appeared in several of the Dark Horse SW series.)  Whatever the process the Emperor returned to life, it was apparently not perfect, as he spends the entire movie looking even more ancient & wizened than before, hooked up to an elaborate framework of life support machinery.

The Emperor’s plans are also left vague, other than a general “conquer the galaxy again” type of thing.  He seems to alternate between wanting Kylo Ren to kill Rey so that she can’t oppose him, and getting Rey herself to kill him so that his spirit can transfer into her younger body.  Towards the end of the movie Palpatine seems ready to abandon both those plans when he suddenly discovers he can drain energy directly from Rey and Ben to restore his own body.

However dodgy the plotting is, it was good to have McDiarmid back as the Emperor.  He’s played the role on & off for over three and a half decades now, and he effortlessly slips back into the Emperor’s foul persona, turning in an evil, twisted performance, once again making Palpatine the man we all love to hate.

The resolution of the battle between Rey and the Emperor was also well done.  Rey is faced with a seemingly-impossible conundrum.  If she kills the Emperor his spirit & powers will inhabit her body.  If she doesn’t kill him than he still has more than enough life in him to live long enough to destroy the Resistance.

In the end Rey wins by turning the Emperor’s own power against him.  She uses her lightsabers and the Force to deflect the Emperor’s lightning bolts back at him, in effect causing him to kill himself. As Yoda advised in TESB, “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

SW Dark Empire 2 pg 18

9) Making shit up as we go along

It’s pretty obvious that bringing back the Emperor in TROS, revealing that he created Snoke and was controlling the First Order from behind the scenes all along, was something that Abrams & Terrio came up with pretty late in the day.  There’s absolutely no indication of any of this going on in either TFA or TLJ.  A revived Palpatine hiding away on Exegol and preparing a massive fleet of Dark Side Star Destroyers capable of obliterating entire planets, and using the First Order to keep everyone occupied in the meanwhile, doesn’t make much sense, because the previous two movies already showed the First Order wiping out the New Republic and making good progress in seizing control of the entire galaxy all on its own.

Over the past few years several people have suggested that it was a mistake to have the First Order simply be the Galactic Empire with a new coat of paint.  It would have made more sense to have the First Order be some sort of insurgent group organized by Imperial war criminals who had escaped justice, a subversive entity undermining the New Republic via terrorist attacks.  That sounded like it would have been good idea even before TROS came out.  It would have made even more sense now that it’s actually been established that the First Order was always intended by Palpatine to be a diversion while he rebuilt his forces in secret.

All of this speaks to Disney’s failure to plan this trilogy out ahead of time.  It was a mistake to have the writers / directors working in isolation, with no general overarching plan.  Abrams did TFA, then passed the ball to Johnson to do TLJ, and who in turn was supposed to hand it off to Colin Trevorrow to do TROS before that fell through due to “creative differences,” with Abrams getting brought back late in the day to wrap things up.

Honestly, this has been a problem with Star Wars throughout much of the series’ existence: it was made up on the fly.  Despite what Lucas later claimed, it seems pretty obvious that the original was intended to be a stand-alone movie.  Otherwise Lucas would not have asked Alan Dean Foster to write Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as a story that could be filmed quickly & cheaply, using as many existing costumes & props, just in case Star Wars happened to do well enough for a second movie to get the green light.

It was only when Star Wars unexpectedly became a gigantic runaway success that Lucas really committed to the whole nine episode storyline, and even there he continued to make it up as he went along, working with several other writers.  For example, Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were still separate characters in the early drafts of TESBThe early plans for ROTJ were for only Darth Vader to die, and for the Emperor to escape at the end.  That was supposed to set up the next trilogy, which would see the Empire rebuilding, and Luke searching for his twin sister, who was hidden away at the opposite end of the galaxy. Unfortunately while Lucas was starting work on ROTJ his marriage fell apart, and he was in such a bad place emotionally he decided to just bring everything to a close with that movie.  So suddenly both Vader and the Emperor died, the Empire was defeated, and Leia was implausibly revealed to be Luke’s sister.

This meant that three decades later, when Disney decided to finally make that third trilogy, they found themselves having to undo the final, decisive defeat of the Empire in ROTJ.  So all of a sudden the First Order appears out of nowhere, and the New Republic is quickly wiped out, in a really blatant resetting of the status quo.

Looking at all of the movies, it’s clear that the ones that are most internally consistent are the prequel trilogy, all of which were written & directed by Lucas.  Say what you will about the scripting or the acting or whatever, the fact is that Lucas appears to have plotted the whole thing out ahead of time, and stuck to that plan throughout the making of all three movies, resulting in a trilogy that actually does feel like a cohesive story with a beginning, middle and end.

Disney really should have looked at the missteps that Lucas made with the original trilogy, and the successes that he did actually achieve with the prequels, and planned the entire storyline for their trilogy out right from the start.  Instead they just rushed into it without any concrete idea of where they were going, and it shows.

SW TROS Emperor

10) To make a long story short… Oops, too late!

I’ve already written over 3,500 words about The Rise of Skywalker, so let’s cut to the chase.  I enjoyed it.  It had some really great action sequences, as well as some genuinely good, moving character arcs & developments, and felt like a pretty good emotional conclusion to the overall saga.  Nevertheless, it also had a lot of flaws.  It was good, but it could have been better.

I really think Disney should step back for a bit, learn some lessons from the missteps of this new trilogy, and take the time to decide exactly what they want to do next with Star Wars.  The franchise still has a ton of potential to tell all sorts of stories, but it’s the kind of property that cannot be approached half-assed, that needs a certain amount of thought & planning.  I wish them luck, because I would love to one day see Star Wars return better than ever.

Star Wars reviews: Allegiance

Star Wars: Allegiance is a four issue miniseries published by Marvel Comics.  Allegiance is written by Ethan Sacks, drawn by Luke Ross, colored by Lee Loughridge, and lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles.  Cover artwork is by Marco Checchetto.  The miniseries is set between the events of the movies The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

SW Allegiance 1 cover

Back in 2015 Marvel published Shattered Empire, which was set after Return of the Jedi, in order to explore into some of the events that eventually led to The Force Awakens.  Marvel did not do one of these linking miniseries bridging The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi since there’s only a day or so between the two movies, which really doesn’t give much room to tell any stories of significance.  I suppose Marvel could have done a story about the Resistance packing up their base on D’Qar, but maybe they figured they’d be pushing their luck trying to stretch that out into a four issue miniseries.

In any case, The Last Jedi ended with the Resistance down to one ship and a couple of dozen people.  I’m sure a lot of people were left wondering what the heck was going to happen next, how the Resistance could possibly recover from their devastating losses to again pose any sort of impediment to the First Order.  I definitely was!  It certainly seemed there would have to be some gap in time between TLJ and the next movie during which the Resistance reorganized.

Indeed, Allegiance sees the Resistance attempting to acquire new ships, weapons, recruits, and allies.  Unfortunately the First Order is trying to prevent this by ruthlessly destroying any planet that give aid to the Resistance, or that has spoken to the Resistance, or possible has even simply heard of the Resistance.

The First Order’s action here are not surprising, given that it is ruled by Kylo Ren, a spoiled, entitled brat with no impulse control whose first instinct is to lash out at anyone that pisses him off, and who is served by such deplorable sycophants as General Hux, a petty sadist who is looking for an excuse to bully others.  The writing by Sacks and artwork by Ross depict the First Order’s actions in a very brutal a light, never glossing over their evil.

SW Allegiance 1 pg 5

The original plan for The Rise of Skywalker was to have General Leia Organa as one of the main characters.  The unfortunate death of actress Carrie Fisher in December 2016 obviously prevents this.  Reportedly Leia will appear in TROS via several minutes of unused footage from TLJ, but her role will no doubt be limited.

Keeping this in mind, it feels like the Allegiance miniseries sets out to rectify this by focusing on Leia, giving the character one last opportunity to  step into the spotlight and play a central, important role in the SW narrative.

Rey and Rose Tico are supporting characters in this story.  Rey is basically trying to figure out how to handle the burden of now carrying the legacy of the Jedi squarely on her shoulders.  Rose is fully on board with the Resistance movement.  It seems likely both women will have a lot of screen time in TROS, so Sacks understandably limits their roles here, instead focusing on Leia.  That said, Rey does get a couple of good action sequences, which are well-rendered by Ross.

Leia, accompanied by Rey, Rose Tico, Chewbacca and C-3PO, travel to the planet Mon Calamari to mourn the passing of her longtime comrade-in-arms Admiral Ackbar, as well as to ask for new ships for the Resistance.  Given how perfunctory Ackbar’s death was in TLJ, it was good to see Leia take the time to pay tribute to the character here.

Ackbar’s son Gial wants to help the Resistance, but others on Mon Calamari, witnessing the First Order’s violent crackdown on anyone who has aided them, and remembering the Empire’s brutal occupation of their planet, are extremely reluctant to offer assistance.

It is to Sacks’ credit that he offers no easy answers, demonstrating that sometimes people are only left with different bad choices.  Avoid fighting evil in an attempt to protect yourself and you may only be postponing your own subjugation.  Actively fight against evil and you will be placing not just yourself but your family and friends and neighbors squarely in the crosshairs.  Our own real-world history unfortunately has all too many examples of this bitter choice having to be made.  During World War II, the Nazis routinely responded to the actions of resistance groups throughout Europe by brutally massacring civilians.

The Mon Calamari do eventually provide ships & personnel to the Resistance, but at a very clear cost to them.  The miniseries ends on a very grim note, with the First Order descending on the planet, ready to exact retribution on the planet’s civilian population.

SW Allegiance 2 pg 12

The B-Plot of Allegiance is Poe Dameron, Finn and BB-8 searching for a cache of New Republic weapons while avoiding a gang of mercenaries who want to claim the bounty the First Order has placed on their heads.  This provides a more fun, light, humorous storyline to balance out the somber A-Plot of Leia on Mon Calamari.

Sacks does a good job of scripting both Poe and Finn, having the two play off each other as they sort of bumble their way through their heist.  They get some humorous exchanges.  I laughed out loud at one particular moment…

Finn: This is shaping up to be the easiest mission we’ve ever had.

Poe: Why… why would you say something like that? Don’t you realize that’s just asking for trouble?

The miniseries has really nice artwork by Luke Ross.  He is an artist who has definitely grown immensely since he entered the comic book field in the mid 1990s.  He started out with a very Image Comics inspired style on New Gods and Spectacular Spider-Man.  A decade or so later he worked on several issues of Captain America.  I found his work there impressive.  Now, in the present, looking at Ross’ art for Allegiance, it is obvious he has continued to improve, turning in art that is even better.

Ross does a great job with the likenesses here.  As I’ve said in the past, I think likenesses on licensed comic book series can be a real balancing act.  You don’t want to go too photorealistic, because that can seem too posed & artificial, standing out from the rest of the art.  I feel it’s more important to capture the essence of the characters, their personalities and mannerisms, than it is to exactly capture the features of the actors.  Ross certainly does that here.

SW Allegiance 3 pg 6

Marco Checchetto has worked on several previous SW comic book series, including the aforementioned Shattered Empire.  His covers for Allegiance are beautiful.  The four covers link together to form one larger image, an impressive montage of the new trilogy’s characters.

Of course when Marvel collected Allegiance into a trade paperback, they put out four different editions, one with each cover.  They don’t seriously expect us to buy four copies of the same collected edition, do they?  I hope not.  I mean, it’s not like Disney to engage in a shameless Star Wars money grab, is it?

SW Oranges

AHEM!!!  Well, looking on the bright side, the multiple trade paperback covers do allow you to buy whichever one has your favorite image.  And if you really want to put them all side-by-side to get the full picture by Checchetto, just look for copies of the original single issues.  Or, y’know, do a Google search online for the complete image…

SW Allegiance covers

As a longtime Star Wars fan I enjoyed Allegiance.  I did go into it recognizing that obviously too much could not actually happen in Sacks’ story.  The big character and plot developments are being saved for The Return of Skywalker.  Nevertheless, it is an entertaining, thoughtful story that works well to bridge the two movies.  It is also an excellent opportunity to have the quieter, more subtle character moments that sometimes get lost in the action-centric pace of the movies.  At the very least Allegiance serves as a nice spotlight on Leia Organa, helping to bring some closure to a character many of us grew up watching on the big screen.