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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Finn Takes the Spotlight in 'Heroes' TV Spot

The Last Jedi's marketing hasn't paid much attention to Finn so far. The teaser had a single shot of him unconscious in a medical tube, and his most notable appearance in last month's full trailer was his face-off with Captain Phasma (which generated more excitement for Phasma than him). Now, a new TV spot is giving Finn some serious attention:
A breakdown of all the new footage in the TV spot:
  1. "Rey!" Finn yells as he wakes up from his coma. The last thing he remembers must be Kylo Ren brutally wounding him with a seemingly-defenseless Rey nearby, so it's no surprise that his first thought would be her. 
  2. "You must have a thousand questions," Poe says. "Where's Rey?" Finn anxiously replies. Just imagine Finn's expression when he hears that his scavenger friend used the Force to defeat Kylo and is now visiting Luke Skywalker himself. Her absence will make Finn seriously consider whether he wants to stick around the Resistance.
  3. The Resistance fleet squares off against the First Order. That big Star Destroyer in the middle is the Dreadnought—not to be confused with Snoke's even bigger flagship, the Supremacy. The ships facing them are Resistance bombers, with ball turrets on the bottom (one of which will probably be manned by Paige Tico, Rose's sister).
  4. "I was raised to fight," Finn explains. "For the first time I had something to fight for." This echoes his voiceover from The Force Awakens' trailer ("I was raised to do one thing, but I've got nothing to fight for,") which only partially made it into the final cut of the film. Rey was the only reason why he joined the Resistance, so now with help from Poe and Rose, he'll have to decide whether he wants to commit.
  5. Some new shots of his battle with Phasma. These reveal little about the context for this fight or its eventual victor, but they're still cool nevertheless. Despite its lack of importance in the grand scheme of the narrative, this fight still emerged as one of the most exciting trailer moments (as demonstrated by the StarWars.com poll), a testament to how eager fans are to see Phasma kick this traitor's ass.
What did you think of this TV spot? What are you hoping to see from Finn in The Last Jedi? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Rian Johnson is Making a New 'Star Wars' Trilogy

Everyone loves Rian Johnson. The fans are overall ecstatic with how The Last Jedi is turning out. A recent behind-the-scenes look at the film focused on his direction, with footage of the cast repeatedly praising his approach to the Star Wars universe. Our eternal sage Carrie Fisher even spoke from beyond the grave to join in: "He has flaws in other areas. I just don't know about them."
As it turns out, Lucasfilm loves him, too. And not just in the sense that he's the only Star Wars director of the past few years who hasn't had some kind of falling out with president Kathleen Kennedy. They love him so much that tonight they announced that they're giving him the reigns on an all-new Star Wars trilogy, the first of which he will write and direct.

No details have been given about the topic of these films, but the announcement promises that they'll be "separate from the episodic Skywalker saga" and they'll "introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored." 
In a recent interview on "The Star Wars Show," Kennedy suggested that new and beloved heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe could reappear in stories beyond Episode IX. However, it's clear that this new trilogy will be very different, and not just a money-grab extension on the Sequel Trilogy.

The best way for these movies to venture into truly uncharted waters would be to explore a new time period; specifically, the many, many years before The Phantom Menace. There's huge potential for epic stories involving the Jedi, Sith, and Mandalorians in the Old Republic era. They would be able to show us a whole new side of Star Wars without relying on nostalgia.

In a much quieter announcement, Disney CEO Bob Iger also confirmed that Star Wars will be getting a live-action television series on Disney's new streaming service. The main precedent for this is Star Wars: Underworld, a proposed live-action TV series that was first announced by George Lucas in 2005, put on hold in 2010, and then effectively dead in the water after Disney bought Lucasfilm.


It's hard for us to get excited for this trilogy when we know next to nothing about it. But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this announcement is that Lucasfilm is very confident in The Last Jedi. They're not waiting until after it premieres to make sure that Johnson can direct a film that wows fans, impresses critics, and rakes in tons of money; they're already pretty darn sure that he can. 
The short story? Star Wars: The Last Jedi may very well be as good as it looks.

What do you think of this announcement? Who or what do you want this new trilogy to focus on? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Meet Taris, the WOC-Led Planet that 'Star Wars' Needs

You've probably never heard of Taris. It has a pretty rich history in the Expanded Universe involving various ancient wars with the Mandalorians, the Jedi, and the Sith. But in the new canon, there are only a few things we know about it: it's an urban planet (like Coruscant), it's heavily polluted, and it's exclusively led by black women.
First: Star Wars is in desperate need of women of color representation

In the past few years, Star Wars has done wonders for its women and its men of color. The Force Awakens and Rogue One both centered on female protagonists and included multiple black, Latino, and Asian men in their supporting casts. But women of color have still been massively underrepresented.
Rogue One was led by a woman and its supporting cast included a Mexican man, two Chinese men, and a British Pakistani man
Last November, Just Add Color examined the history of women of color in Star Wars, pointing out that Lupita Nyong'o, the first black woman with any real part in the movies, is coincidentally buried under CGI as Maz Kanata. What's even more troublesome is that in the past, women of color have often been cast as scantily-clad, defenseless Twi'lek sex slaves. 

Other stories in the new canon have struggled far less with racial diversity among their female characters. Recent books and graphic novels have introduced tough women of color like Rae Sloane, Korr Sella (whose role was mostly cut from The Force Awakens), Sana Starros, and Doctor Aphra. The singleplayer campaign in the massively-anticipated Battlefront II will also be led by Imperial soldier Iden Versio, played by Janina Gavankar, an American actress of Indian descent.
Rae Sloane, Doctor Aphra, and Iden Versio
These women are beloved by WOC fans who can finally see characters who look like them in Star Wars stories, but the core of Star Wars has always been the movies; that's where representation is most important.

The cinematic side of the franchise has been moving in the right direction, just not in the roles that matter the most. The enormously talented Thandie Newton will be playing one of Star Wars' first on-screen black women in Solo: A Star Wars Story (assuming that her performance won't be motion-captured like Nyong'o's), and Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran is joining The Last Jedi as Rose Tico, but both actresses only have supporting roles.
It's worth noting that when casting the female lead for Solo, Lucasfilm were considering a slew of talented actresses of color, including Tessa Thompson, Zoë Kravitz, and Jessica Henwick. They ended up choosing Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke instead, making her just the latest in a long line of white brunettes at the forefront of Star Wars movies. (At least Thompson went on to star as Valkyrie in the MCU, another mega-franchise in need of WOC representation.)

The galaxy of Star Wars is supposed to be a diverse one, for both aliens and humans. Earth and its continents don't exist there, but we can still recognize different racial groups in the characters that we see and, most importantly, identify with them (as well as describe them with real-world labels such as "black" and "Asian," either because those are the races of the actors portraying them, or because those are clearly the races that they are modeled after).

Simply put, Lucasfilm is constantly designing new aliens, creatures, and droids to add to its mythos; it shouldn't be that hard to include women of color, too.

Now, back to Taris...

In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Kin Robb frequently appeared in the background of Senate meetings, generally associating with political powerhouses like Padmé, Satine, and Onaconda Farr. The series' character encyclopedia identifies her as a representative of the "faded city-world" of Taris. 
At the time of Rogue One, Tynnra Pamlo (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) of Taris was one of many senators who were reluctant to strike against the Empire, prompting Jyn's speech. ("You're asking us to invade an Imperial installation based on nothing but hope," Pamlo said, to which Jyn famously replied, "Rebellions are built on hope.") Though her voice was a pessimistic one, Pamlo nevertheless drew attention from fans as the sole black woman speaking her mind at a major Rebel Alliance conference.
As pointed out to me by Chris Werms on Twitter, Taris' history of well-dressed black female leaders doesn't end there. Star Wars: The Force Awakens' visual dictionary includes Andrithal Robb-Voti, Taris' senator in the New Republic (and a probable relative of Kin Robb's) who was killed when Starkiller Base destroyed Hosnian Prime in the film:
No, none of these women are portrayed in a positive light. Kin Robb is essentially mute when it comes to sharing her own opinions. Pamlo is only used as a plot device to make Jyn look more inspiring (when it would have been so powerful to see her take a stand with Jyn against space Nazis). And to the best of my knowledge, Andrithal Robb-Voti has literally no on-screen presence whatsoever.

But this can't be a coincidence. Someone in the Lucasfilm Story Group must have decided at some point that Taris is a world in which fashionable black women – and as far as we know, only fashionable black women – are in charge. And the best part? All of this is canon.
(Well, actually, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars character encyclopedia is filed under "Legends" on Wookieepedia, so Kin Robb's association with Taris is not confirmed to be canon. But considering her apparent connection to Robb-Voti and the lack of any evidence to the contrary, it's fairly safe to assume that Robb is canonically from Taris. Either way, Pamlo and Robb-Voti are 100% Tarisian.)

In both the real world and the Star Wars franchise, women of color have a long history of being marginalized. Taris is a place where they're empowered, where black women seem to have risen to the highest political ranks not because racism and sexism were gradually overcome by their society, but because they never existed in the first place. Is this not a world that we need to see more of?
Ursa Wren and her daughter Sabine, both Asian women, in Star Wars Rebels
Truthfully, Taris probably won't be expanded on anytime soon. It's too much to hope that we'll ever learn more about its culture that seems to favor females. And obviously "black women" and "women of color" are not interchangeable terms; a whole movie centered on Taris still wouldn't rectify the lack of representation for other non-white women.

But if a place like Taris can exist, couldn't there be worlds out there exclusively ruled by Asian, Hispanic, Latina, Middle-Eastern, or indigenous women as well? Maybe they, too, have been lurking just below the surface, waiting for fans to discover them. Maybe they haven't even been imagined yet. What Taris represents is a glimmer of hope that in five years, or 10 years, or even 20, planets like these will be at the forefront of Star Wars stories.
Steela Gerrera, a young rebel leader who was introduced in The Clone Wars before her death
Kin Robb. Tynnra Pamlo. Andrithal Robb-Voti. Remember these women, even if the franchise itself doesn't. Remember Taris, not as a mostly-discarded piece of the Star Wars continuity, but as one tiny corner of the galaxy where women of color get the representation they deserve. 

With any luck, they won't be in the background much longer.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

First 'The Last Jedi' TV Spot Released

Star Wars: The Last Jedi's first official TV spot has arrived. Unlike the international trailer and other alternate cuts of the full trailer that we've seen in the past few weeks, this one has some significant new footage.
A review of all the notable new footage in this TV spot:
  1. A hooded Luke enters the Millennium Falcon's cockpit as it lights up. This is probably the biggest moment in this TV spot. We knew the Falcon was parked on Ahch-To and that Luke would naturally come in contact with it, but we're seeing him start to embrace his old life and old friends. Maybe he's ready to pilot the Falcon again and return to his sister...
  2. "Darkness rises, and light to meet it," Snoke says. He sits in his throne room. We've seen glimpses of this chamber before, but this is our first official look at the red room where Snoke seems to spend most of his time. He's got a big throne for himself, eight Praetorian Guards, and General Hux can be seen on the right side of the frame.
  3. The Falcon flies into action on Crait and blasts a TIE fighter. This is our first real confirmation that the Falcon will be involved in this battle. Crait seems to be the Resistance's final stand against the First Order, so the Ahch-To gang (Rey, Chewie, Artoo, and probably Luke) must swoop in to help save the day.
  4. Finn cheers from the cockpit of a ski speeder. This is a little reminiscent of his cheer when Poe swooped in to save him on Takodana. Once again, he must be able to tell that an old friend – this time, Rey – has come to the rescue, despite not seeing their face.
  5. Leia stands in the busy bridge of her Resistance cruiser. The dramatic look that she gives, coupled with the frantic gestures of the officers behind her, suggests that this is when she first senses the presence of her son who's attacking their ship, leading to their emotional standoff that we saw in the trailer.
  6. The Falcon bursts from the ground on Crait. So now we know that those shots of the Falcon chased by TIE fighters through crystal caverns definitely were below the surface of Crait, not on a different planet (as some had speculated).
  7. "This is not going to go the way you think," Luke tells Rey in the rain on Ahch-To, and she raises her lightsaber in response. This dialogue is nothing new, but Rey's reaction suggests that she's not exactly ready to heed his words. But hey, at least she seems to be learning real lightsaber stances...
What did you think of this TV spot? Do you think Luke will pilot the Falcon? Tell me in the comments, and may the Force be with you all.

'Forces of Destiny' Season 2 Part 2 Review

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny Season 2 is continuing this week, following the four episodes released at the beginning of the month. We're reviewing each of the new episodes as they're released on YouTube.

"Accidental Allies"

We're back on Garel City for the fourth time. Sabine is running across rooftops with stormtroopers hot on her trail. She calls Hera for an extraction. Her holoprojector falls off her belt and lands on the ground, where none other than Jyn Erso picks it up and views the secret Imperial map that it contains, attracting the stormtroopers' attention.
Jyn runs from the troopers, kicking two to the curb. She reaches a dead end in an alley but Sabine saves her, shooting down a large crate to hide her from the troopers. Sabine drops to the street and asks for the projector; Jyn resists but Sabine reasons with her, admitting that she, too, used to be a loner but now people are counting on her for this intel. Jyn gives her the projector and wishes her luck, and the two part ways.

The Garel City setting really is getting boring (with Forces of Destiny's limited budget, it must be easier to reuse locations than animate new ones) but this was still a pretty interesting short that gave both Sabine and Jyn some interesting action sequences.
Sabine and Jyn's meeting is obviously the highlight of this short, and it feels surprisingly true to both of their characters. Jyn's abandonment by Saw Gerrera has left her abrasive and unsympathetic, and Sabine can relate to her on some level, but she's not about to let down her team. Rather than generically pair up and become instant friends, the two rebels develop a more genuine respect for each other.

"An Imperial Feast"

On Endor following the Rebel victory, Han and Chewie look on with amusement as the Ewoks prepare to eat their stormtrooper captives. A frustrated Leia insists that the Ewoks treat their prisoners fairly, to no avail. She asks Han and Chewie to retrieve ration sticks from General Syndulla's camp to satisfy their appetites.
Hera agrees to give them the rations...if Han says that the Ghost is superior to the Millennium Falcon. He reluctantly agrees and admits it. He and Chewie bring the rations back to the Ewok village, where the creatures feast on the newly-provided food. Leia remarks that she'll have to thank Hera, but the Falcon is obviously better than the Ghost.

The coolest thing about this short is that it takes place (very shortly) after the events of Return of the Jedi, meaning that it's our first (and, quite possibly, last) look at how Hera fits into the Rebellion after the end of Rebels. Add that to the surprisingly dark plot point of the Ewoks cooking stormtroopers alive, and you've got an episode that feels like a worthy addition to the canon.
And while it may seem like a missed opportunity that Hera and Leia don't interact directly (considering how much Forces of Destiny cares about uniting female heroes), they did already meet in the Rebels episode "A Princess on Lothal," and Han and Hera's relationship as talented-but-proud pilots is a more valuable one to establish. Plus, Leia still gets to shine as the sole voice of reason among her laser brain friends.

"The Happabore Hazard"

Rey arrives at Niima Outpost and offers to haul a scrap heap back to Unkar Plutt's shop in exchange for 10 portions. Plutt doesn't believe she can do it, and Rey wants to prove him wrong. They agree that if she can do it, she gets 20 portions; if not, he gets her speeder. She goes to the scrap heap, only to find a happabore blocking her way.
After failing to push it away, Rey figures out that it can't breathe. She tries to pull a piece of metal out of its nostril and the creature sneezes, dislodging the scrap. She hooks her speeder up to the scrap and when it won't start, the happabore gives her the nudge she needs. Rey returns to Niima Outpost, wowing Plutt, and demands that he pay up.

This is a pretty typical story with Rey facing classic sexism from a gross, overweight man ("You're just a girl, you're weak and incompetent!" he might as well have said) and making friends with another friendly Jakku creature. It doesn't really add to her character that much, nor does it demonstrate any of her skills besides basic piloting, looking into gooey nostrils, and then reaching into those same nostrils.
Fans right now are waiting for Rey to embrace her Force sensitivity, kick ass with a lightsaber, and discover both her past and her destiny in The Last Jedi; Force-less, Jakku-era Rey just isn't very interesting, especially in animated form. This short would have been infinitely more valuable if it had starred a more underappreciated heroine like Padmé (or the dozens of Star Wars women yet to appear in Forces of Destiny) instead.

"Crash Course"

On Garel City, Sabine finishes up her paint job on her speeder. She and Hera race to the rendezvous point and Ketsu arrives in style, jumping off her bike before it crashes. Hera gives Ketsu a data tape to give to her informant and Sabine prepares to give her a ride, but Ketsu's required to come alone. She takes Sabine's bike and blasts off.
Later, Ketsu returns to Hera and an anxious Sabine, sheepishly offering the remains of her now-destroyed bike. Hera warns Sabine to check her emotions and she forgives Ketsu: "I'm just glad you're okay." But Sabine still wants to teach Ketsu how to repair it, and Ketsu agrees.

Perhaps the best word to describe this short would be "weird," and not in a good way. To call the Garel City setting stale at this point would be a gross understatement, and unlike other Forces of Destiny shorts, this one doesn't even attempt to give us an actual conflict with stakes. Why couldn't those five seconds of speeder bike action have been 30 seconds or more? It's almost insulting how they allude to Ketsu's dangerous mission without giving us a single glimpse of it.
And while Sabine teaches us an important lesson about forgiveness and valuing friends over material possessions, it's not like that bike was ever shown to be especially important to Sabine in Rebels, so it has no business being the episode's central plot point. Other shorts have done a much better job of finding a balance between action and developing relationships, so it's a pity that this one falls so flat.

Which of these shorts is your favorite? Who do you hope shows up in Forces of Destiny in the future? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.