Wednesday, February 28, 2018

'Rebels' Proves Television is Where 'Star Wars' is Truly Innovating

*SPOILER ALERT for the latest Star Wars Rebels episodes*

Star Wars Rebels is rapidly approaching its series finale next week, and the latest episodes have proved how great and relevant this show really is. Last week saw the long-dreaded death of series mainstay Kanan Jarrus in "Jedi Night" as he sacrificed himself to save Ezra, Sabine, and his soulmate Hera, followed by "DUME," an episode that let the crew sort through their grief in different ways, before finally banding together again to continue their fight against the Empire.
But it was Monday night's "Wolves and a Door" and "A World Between Worlds" that truly changed what we thought we knew about Star Wars—both in terms of the nature of the Force and how innovative and abstract the franchise can get. The penultimate episodes brought in Emperor Palpatine (voiced by Ian McDiarmid himself) for his series debut, finally shed light on the fate of Ahsoka Tano, and introduced legitimate time travel to the Star Wars universe in a way that somehow worked.

Wolves, portals, and a tantalizing return

After transporting by way of Loth-wolf to the Lothal Jedi Temple, Sabine and Ezra found a mural of the Ones—the Daughter, Father, and Son of Mortis who were first seen in one of The Clone Wars' best episode arcs. With some key input from Sabine, Ezra used the Force to activate the door into the Temple and the painting moved, with the Loth-wolves forming a round portal into another dimension.
Ezra entered "the world between worlds," an endless, starry plane between time and space that echoed with the voices of the past and the future. Spotting a familiar convor, Ezra found a gate that looked onto the end of the duel between Ahsoka and Darth Vader in the crumbling Sith temple on Malachor—the part that we didn't see in "Twilight of the Apprentice." Just as Vader was about to deal the final blow, Ezra instinctively reached through and pulled Ahsoka into the world between worlds, saving her life. 
Ezra explained the situation to a bewildered Ahsoka and soon realized that there was someone else he could save, too. He found a portal that opened to Kanan's final moments, but Ahsoka pointed out that saving him would just result in Ezra's death (and create an good ol' fashioned time paradox). She pleaded with him to let go of Kanan, and he reluctantly followed her advice. "You can't save your master," she said. "And I can't save mine."
Unlike "Twilight," Anakin and Ahsoka's relationship wasn't one of the focuses of this episode, but this line seems to have brought it to a close. She'd gone from loving him as her master, to (literally) turning her back on him and the Order, to discovering – though not truly believing – that he had fallen to the Dark Side, to facing that evil head-on, and then, finally, to accepting that she couldn't save him from what he had become. It was as huge a moment of growth for Ahsoka as it was for Ezra.

But another presence suddenly appeared in the portal: the Emperor, who was seeking to enter the world between worlds and use its incredible power to control past and future events. Using a method of Sith magic first glimpsed in "Sacrifice," The Clone Wars' Season 6 finale, he sent torrents of fiery blue energy at them. Ahsoka promised to find Ezra later and ran through her portal back to Malachor with little time having passed, while Ezra returned to Lothal and closed the door to the world between worlds, causing the Temple to collapse.
Time travel hasn't exactly been off-limits to Star Wars before; there's a long history of Force visions foreshadowing future events and giving us glimpses of the past. But never before has anyone been able to tangibly interact with the past, and even irrevocably interfere with massive events such as Ahsoka and Vader's duel. 

This also answered the question of what the hell happened to Ahsoka (which has been brewing for two years) in a thoroughly unpredictable manner, while still leaving her future wide open. Now we know the context of that infamous "Twilight" tease of Ahsoka limping back into the Sith temple – she was wounded from both Vader and the Emperor, but resolved to find her way back to Ezra – but we still have no idea what she's been doing since then. 
Has she been stranded on Malachor like Maul was for many years, or – more likely – has she been avoiding the Ghost crew because she carries the knowledge of their future (particularly Kanan's death)? Does that mean she'll return to lend them a hand in next week's finale, or will another Star Wars animated or comic series chronicle her next adventures? Either way, Ahsoka's story is far from over. 

What the world between worlds tells us about the Star Wars franchise

First thing's first: the world between worlds isn't a game-changing plot device that we can expect to appear in more Star Wars stories soon. It's a painfully huge concept for any filmmaker or writer to borrow, and Rebels seemed to imply that it's been permanently closed off from the galaxy (though there's still probably some Force trick to accessing it). Rather, it's a testament to how much deeper the franchise can go in its television than in its film. 
A place ringing with the voices of everyone from Yoda to Maz Kanata, Qui-Gon Jinn to Jyn Erso? Where characters and events from every on-screen piece of the Star Wars canon meet? Forget cross-galaxy Force projections and tangible ghosts; this is the kind of jaw-dropping, never-before-seen Force action that Rian Johnson only touched on in The Last Jedi.

It's not that the people at Lucasfilm Animation are necessarily more creative and talented than those who work on the movies, it's just that they're not restricted by the pressure to turn a huge budget into a profitable feature film. As cool and totally appropriate it would be for Rey and Kylo Ren to visit the world between worlds in the Skywalker saga finale, it's just so weird that it would never be allowed to happen, out of fear of it alienating moviegoers who expect more concrete Star Wars action.
The Clone Wars and Rebels are where we can get storylines like Mortis, the Nightsisters of Dathomir, the Wellspring of Life, the Force-neutral Bendu, the Loth-wolves, and the world between worlds, each of which changes our understanding of the Force and its balance. Not to mention characters like Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra who are so popular because they've gotten hours upon hours of character development through television.
The lesson for fans? Keep on watching Star Wars movies for the epic stories and high-budget cinematic visuals, but we can only expect the really weird Star Wars stories, ones that challenge what we know about this galaxy, ones that take their time to build up lovable characters and beautiful relationships, from the animated series. All the sequels and prequels and spinoffs may the most important part of the franchise's future, but television is where some of its very best stories are being told.
What did you think of these Rebels episodes? When and where do you think we'll see Ahsoka next? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

'Game of Thrones' Creators Join 'Star Wars'

Lucasfilm announced today that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will be writing and producing a new series of Star Wars films. There are no details on plots, release dates, or whether this will even be a trilogy versus a string of standalone movies.
The fan reaction to this announcement has been generally negative, and for good reason, too. Once again, two white male filmmakers have joined the Star Wars franchise, while women and people of color are still shut out. And though the director slots for these movies are still wide open, Benioff and Weiss have only collaborated with three female writers and directors (each for only a few episodes) and zero writers or directors of color over 67 episodes of Thrones.

Kathleen Kennedy has cited their character and mythology-building skills as the most exciting qualities they bring to Star Wars, and she's not necessarily wrong. But Benioff and Weiss have also been repeatedly criticized for their treatment of women on Game of Thrones (particularly the frequent portrayals of rape and other abuse against women), as well as a lack of diversity that crosses the line to subtle racism.
Of course, these controversies are nothing compared to the other HBO project that Benioff and Weiss were developing: Confederate, about on an alternate history in which the Civil War ended with the South seceding from the Union and maintaining institutional slavery until modern day. The announcement of the series was met with immediate and near-universal backlash, and though it's probably no longer in development, it hasn't helped their reputation.

The one silver lining is that on Thrones, Benioff and Weiss have demonstrated that they can write empowered (though often abused) female characters like Daenerys Targaeryen, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, and Arya and Sansa Stark. At the very least we can trust them to create a narrative that includes women as leaders and warriors...even if they're all white, and even if there's still some underlying misogyny. 
What do you think of this announcement? What kind of Star Wars stories do you want Benioff and Weiss to write? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Monday, February 5, 2018

'Solo' Teaser Trailer Breakdown

Barely 12 hours after releasing its first look during the Super Bowl, Solo: A Star Wars Story unveiled its full teaser trailer on Good Morning America. 
We're breaking down all the new footage from this trailer (excluding the shots previously seen in last night's TV spot): 
  1. "I've been running scams on the streets since I was 10," Han says. He races a landspeeder with a bewildered Qi'ra next to him. This would seem to suggest that he's known Qi'ra since his youth; it almost looks like they're on a date gone awry. But she looks more excited than terrified by his antics. Hanging between them are Han's gold dice, a hallmark of the Falcon's cockpit and a significant prop in The Last Jedi.
  2. A stormtrooper gives chase on a speeder bike but Han sends him crashing. "I was kicked out of the flight academy for having a mind of my own," he explains sarcastically. While the Super Bowl spot highlighted Han's recruitment to the Empire, this one brushes it off with one sentence. 
  3. Han and Qi'ra walk through a vast desert. "Hey kid, I'm putting together a crew," Tobias Beckett tells him. Here we go. This is where the "heist movie" theme kicks in, not unlike the way the second Rogue One trailer introduced us to an array of exotic, dangerous characters.
  4. Qi'ra and L3-37 walk into smoke from the Falcon's landing ramp. A Lucasfilm press release today confirmed this to be the name of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's droid character. If Qi'ra was going on joy rides with Han on Corellia then she must have come from meager beginnings, so this cape might be an elaborate getup as part of their mission.
  5. Lando Calrissian smirks. That pose, that smile...yep, Donald Glover is gonna make Billy Dee Williams proud. We're meant to believe that Lando and Han first meet through Beckett, though the real story might be a little more complicated.
  6. Val readies a blaster. Nope, as confirmed by the press release, Thandie Newton's character isn't Rae Sloane (as some fans were hoping for). But we can still be grateful that the first major on-screen black woman in Star Wars looks like a trained killer who's fed up with Han's BS. (The afro is another nice touch.)
  7. A small, four-legged creature sits in a pilot's seat. Okay, we have no idea who this is, but it's nice that this crew will be almost as diverse as Rogue One's main team.
  8. Han is silhouetted in a bar. This is more like his type of place, a cantina that looks straight out of the Wild West, not the fancy establishment seen in the Super Bowl spot (and later in this trailer).
  9. "You in?" Beckett asks. Chewbacca growls. "That's yes," Han says. We know that Solo will show us how Han and Chewie first met, so it's interesting that at this point, they're already friends and Han's learned his language. This would also seem to suggest that the team heist doesn't start until the second or third act of the movie, with Han and Chewie meeting towards the beginning.
  10. Lando and L3-37 salute each other and together send the Falcon into hyperspace. This is a little hint at L3's personality (or at least, the human mannerisms Lando teaches it). It's interesting to see Han in the Falcon's backseat for once.
  11. Han readies his blaster in a standoff with a squad of thugs, led by a masked figure with a staff. We saw this guy battling Beckett in the Super Bowl spot, so it looks like he'll be joining the ranks of Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Captain Phasma as another mysterious masked villain.
  12. A dark, helmeted figure with a cape rapidly dispatches two masked beings. Another mystery guy, this time giving off serious Darth Vader vibes. Maybe he's deliberately dressing like the legendary Sith Lord in order to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies.
  13. Han pulls a lever. A freighter and several small speeder bikes fly in a snowy mountain range. The huge crate underneath them matches the cargo boxes on the train seen in the Super Bowl spot. If you look closely there's wires tying it to the bikes, so this definitely looks like the climax of a train heist.
  14. "I might be the only person who knows what you really are," Qi'ra tells Han. This is the key piece of dialogue in the trailer, making us question what Han Solo is on the inside (at least at this point in his life). A good-for-nothing scoundrel? A natural hero? Or just a sad, neglected boy? Either way, it gives us great insight into Qi'ra's, uh, close familiarity with Han. (Let's just say he might not have mentioned her to Leia.)
  15. Han pilots the freighter away from a huge explosion next to the same snowy mountains. This is some Jedha-level destruction right here. That train must be carrying some pretty volatile cargo...
  16. "What's that?" Han replies to Qi'ra with a grin. This is our best look yet at how Alden Ehrenreich captures Han's cocky and flirtatious attitude. Here, it's a defense mechanism in response to the one person who understands his true vulnerability.
  17. The Falcon is pursued by TIE fighters and a Star Destroyer in a stormy vortex. "Get ready," Han tells Chewie, Lando, Beckett, and Qi'ra, before tipping the side of the ship to knock a TIE into an asteroid. Nothing like a trademark Han Solo piloting stunt. This definitely looks like a climactic sequence, meaning it could be part of the Kessel Run itself.
  18. "Thought we were in trouble there for a second but it's fine, we're fine," Han assures them. The crew suddenly freaks out as gigantic electric tentacles fly past the ship. Lightning, wind, asteroids, the Empire, and now an electric space octopus? If this were the Kessel Run, it would certainly make sense why it has a reputation for being so dangerous.
Yeah, this was a big step up from the Super Bowl spot. This trailer gave us some basic plot details, first looks at most of the characters, and a much better look at Ehrenreich's performance. Whether or not you approve of his take on Han Solo – for many, Harrison Ford's is the only one they'll recognize – you can't deny that the supporting characters all look great.

It's also refreshing that Solo seems to be embracing its irrelevance in the greater scheme of the Star Wars universe. It's not pretending like Han, Chewie or Lando aren't 100% guaranteed to make it out alive, or that it'll have any effect on the story we really care about – that of the Sequel Trilogy – or that it's even filling in a truly necessary plot hole. This is just a fun action-heist movie with a few iconic characters and several new ones. 

Lucasfilm also released four teaser posters for the film, featuring Han, Chewie, Lando, and Qi'ra, each posing with a blaster against a different exotic backdrop:
What did you think of this trailer? What do you think Han Solo really is? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and may the Force be with you all.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

'Solo: A Star Wars Story' Super Bowl Spot Breakdown

Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second Anthology film in the Star Wars saga, finally dropped a teaser during Super Bowl LII tonight, ahead of its full trailer release tomorrow morning on Good Morning America. The 45-second ad is the very first footage we've seen of the film so far and the first time Star Wars has been promoted at the Super Bowl.
A breakdown of the ad:
  1. "So you wanna make a difference?" an Imperial officer asks Han. "Yeah," he replies. "Trust me, you're gonna love it," the officer assures him. It's interesting to see a young hero in Star Wars seeking to make a difference by joining the Empire, not the Rebellion. It means that we'll get to see the Empire as something more than just an evil, unstoppable force in the galaxy.
  2. A Star Destroyer looms in an outer-space vortex. TIE fighters emerge from its belly. This is probably the teaser's most stunning shot, the kind of extraterrestrial weather that we haven't really seen before in a Star Wars movie before. The leading fighter here looks like it might be an early version of the TIE bomber.
  3. "And which branch are you interested in joining?" the officer asks. "I'm gonna be a pilot. Best in the galaxy," Han says. We see him recklessly flying a speeder. This might be on Corellia, Han's homeworld, where he must have first discovered his love of flying. Like Luke, he's willing to join the Empire in order to get a nice piloting job.
  4.  A shot of the interior of the Millennium Falcon. It's a lot cleaner than we've seen it before, which is telling of how Lando maintains the ship before losing it to Han. 
  5. Han looks at the cockpit of the Falcon in a foggy terrain. This might be Kessel, the spice planet that is heavily rumored to be a plot point in the film. It's a safe bet to say that the Kessel Run will finally be seen on-screen, maybe in the film's climax.
  6. Qi'Ra stands in a shadowy room. LEGO sets confirmed the name of Emilia Clarke's character. This shot tells us very, very little about her, but we know she'll be joining Han and Chewie on their adventures and will probably have some ill-fated romantic subplot with the titular scoundrel.
  7. A droid next to a sparking console. This could very well be Phoebe Waller-Bridge's character, who has long been rumored to be motion-captured. She would be the franchise's first major female droid.
  8. A train rolls through a snowy terrain. Aside from one episode of The Clone Wars, we haven't really seen trains in the Star Wars universe. Maybe one of their missions will be robbing its cargo?
  9. Tobias Beckett salutes. Woody Harrelson's character is most likely Han's mentor. Now we know where he got his classic two-fingered salute.
  10. An exotic club with a gold-suited singer. This is definitely a step up from Mos Eisley Cantina or Maz Kanata's castle. The pattern on the windows looks like this is the same room Qi'Ra was in earlier. 
  11. Beckett faces off with an armored assailant on top of the train. Nothing like a good ol' train-top fight. 
  12. Lando Calrissian is bathed in strobe lights. Donald Glover's performance is probably the most anticipated part of the movie at the moment. The fur coat he's wearing definitely matches his extra fashion sense, first demonstrated in The Empire Strikes Back.
  13. The Falcon soars through the space storm. Those TIEs must have been sent to fend our heroes off. We know that this movie will include various "daring escapades," so maybe one of them involves sneaking onto a Star Destroyer with precious cargo; the Destroyer stays in the vortex to dissuade unwanted intruders.
  14. "Your name?" someone asks Han. Oh, we already know. Of course, this is back when "Han Solo" means nothing; he's a nobody, not a famous smuggler or a legendary war hero.
  15. Chewie growls happily as he pats Han on the back. Yep, one of the greatest Star Wars duos is back. It's Solo's version of "Chewie, we're home," a nostalgic final note for this teaser.
Kicking off the Solo marketing with a 45-second TV spot during the Super Bowl is an objectively risky move. This teaser has enough time to give us the typical shots of exotic locations and fast-paced action, but unlike any other Star Wars movie, Solo's marketing (especially when it starts so late) needs to sell Alden Ehrenreich as its title character...which is why it's curious that this teaser chooses to hide him for most of its duration.

What did you think of our first look at Solo? Tell me in the comments or tweet to @SithObserver, and check back tomorrow for an updated breakdown of the full trailer. May the Force be with you all.