The Star Wars franchise and Dave Filoni in particular have had a number of successful animated series. Beginning with Star Wars: The Clone Wars and continuing through Star Wars: Rebels, the animated series fill in gaps between films. There is a large gap in the Star Wars timeline between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, one that has some unanswered questions.
In 2021, Filoni added another animated series to the Galaxy Far, Far Away, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, featuring a squad of clone troopers after the end of the Clone Wars. Dee Bradley Baker returns as the voices of all the clones, including the titular Bad Batch, Hunter, Tech, Crosshair, Wrecker, and Echo. Michelle Ang joins the Batch as Omega. Supporting the Batch are Gewndoline Yeo as Nala Se, Rhea Perlman as Cid, with Noshir Dalal as Vice-Admiral Rampart, Corey Burton as Cad Bane, and Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand[https://psychodrivein.com/lost-in-translation-408-the-book-of-boba-fett/].
The series begins with Order 66, the extermination of the Jedi, being given. Clone Force 99, the Bad Batch themselves, have been called in to reinforce a Jedi Knight, her padawan, and clone infantry against a phalanx of battle droids backed by tanks. The newcomers take a different approach in dealing with the clankers, first dropping a boulder on them, then using non-standard tactics within the midst of the droids. When Order 66 is broadcast, the regular clones turn on the Jedi Knight and her padawan, but Clone Force 99 is unaffected. The Jedi Knight falls, but the padawan escapes, with Hunter following. The chase goes deeper into the forest and ends at a cliff overlooking a river. Hunter tries to reassure the padawan, but Crosshair is following the Order. The padawan escapes.
Clone Force 99 is composed of clones who were mutated in embryo This mutation interferes with the inhibitor chip all clones have to ensure loyalty and programming. The exception is Echo, who suffered injuries in an explosion resulting in replacement of body parts with cybernetic equivalents with additional slicing gear built in. When they return to Kamino, they meet Omega, a young girl who is being mentored by the Kaminoan scientist and creator of the clones, Nala Se.
Omega takes a shine to the Batch, especially Hunter. She also has her own secret; she, too, is a clone of Jango Fett, one with pure DNA, the only other clone to have that other than Boba Fett. Omega also gets along well Wrecker, who has a child-like approach to life. Echo and Tech take time to warm up to the girl, but Hunter takes her in like a daughter.
The change over from Republic to Empire brings into question the worth of having a clone army versus recruited and drafted troops. The latter are cheaper, but require training, while the clones start with experience and keep their edge through additional training and actual wartime experience. Admiral Tarkin is leaning towards draftees; financially cheaper and just as easy to control.
Clone Force 99 escapes Kamino with Omega but without Crosshair. Crosshair reported Hunter’s failure to execute Order 66. As Crosshair remarks, “A good soldier follows orders.” In his eyes, Hunter has stopped being a good soldier. Hunter’s view is that he and Clone Force 99 are loyal to the Republic, not the Empire. As the Batch tries to make a post-war living, they discover just how bad things are getting already under the Empire’s rule. Mandatory citizen codes, travel restrictions, the loss of freedoms, nothing that Hunter believed he was fighting for as part of the Republic’s army.
After running into Captain Rex, the Batch realizes that their inhibitor chips need to be removed. Wrecker’s activates after a head injury, and he barely fights the programming before getting it out. To help make ends meet afterwards, the Batch takes on jobs from Cid, a cantina owner who has shady contacts. She provides a cut of the profits, and takes a liking to the team. This give the Batch a chance to figure out what they want to do and what is important.
The Bad Batch shows that the animation team has improved their skills greatly since the original animated Clone Wars movie. The movement is more fluid, with a few scenes photo-realistic, thanks to the focus on a clone or a stormtrooper inside a building. The writing keeps the action going, with the audience sympathy on the side of Clone Force 99. Dee Bradley Baker spends a lot of screen time talking to himself, and he manages to make each clone recognizable.
The series does answer some questions about what happened to the clones after the war. It also answers the question about the Kaminoans and their ability to create clones. The design of equipment shows the beginning of the change to what was seen in A New Hope. There are a few plot points being set up for Rebels and even The Book of Boba Fett. There’s room for more after the end of the first season, with the Empire growing in might.
The Bad Batch also shows what the Empire’s senior military officers think about the clones. Crosshair’s repetition of “Good soldiers follow orders,” isn’t much different from the battle droids’ “What can you do? Orders are orders.” The clones are disposable. The programming allows for wartime atrocities. Good soldiers follow lawful orders. They don’t shell hospitals or shoot unarmed civilians. However, Imperial stormtroopers aren’t much better. They’re not necessarily programmed; some are True Believers.
The Bad Batch acts as the closing chapter of the Republic, showing what happens after Revenge of the Sith. There is a lot going on, and the series delivers. For an animated series on Disney+, The Bad Batch explores weighty topics and while the series can tiptoe gingerly around some of the ideas, it doesn’t paint a rosy picture of clones living out the rest of their lives in a retirement home. Ultimately, it shows that, while the decision makers wouldn’t agree, the clones aren’t disposable. The series continues the feel from the end of The Clone Wars, with the Empire rising and setting up for Rebels and A New Hope.
The acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise by Disney has led to solid TV series on Disney+. The Mandalorian set a standard that would be difficult for future series, such as Ahsoka and Kenobi to reach. The Book of Boba Fett was the first to face that challenge.
Boba Fett, the character, was first meant to appear in A New Hope as Jabba’s bodyguard, but the scene was cut for the initial 1977 release. The scene did get restored for the enhanced release, with a CGI Jabba superiposed over the human version. Fett’s first appearance was in the Star Wars Holiday Special in an animated segment. The bounty hunter’s first non-disavowed appearance was in The Empire Strikes Back, with Jeremy Bulloch playing the role. Fett didn’t have many speaking lines, but was a presence on screen. Fett returned in Return of the Jedi and met his match in the first Jedi trained since the end of the Clone Wars and his allies. Fett wound up rocketing into the belly of the Sarlacc, where he would be digested for a thousand years.
The prequel movies introduced Fett’s father, Jango. Jango Fett made his initial appearance in Attack of the Clones, being the base that the Kamoans used to create the Republic’s Clone Army. Jango and the clones were all portrayed by Temeura Morrison, with young Boba being played by Daniel Logan. Jango is able to fight a lone Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to a draw, but gets his head cut off by Mace Windu. Young Boba inherits Jango’s armour and gains a hatred against the Jedi.
The Book of Boba Fett begins with a flashback as Fett escapes the belly of the Sarlacc, an unknown amount of time after the end of Return of the Jedi. Exhausted after digging his way out of the Sarlacc and the sands of Tatooine, he is easy prey for Jawas who scavenge his armour. Left to die, Fett is discovered by Tuskan Raiders and taken prisoner, where he is held. In his present, Fett has his armour, as per the second season of The Mandalorian, and has taken over Jabba’s palace. His move to become the daimyo of the criminal syndicates in Mos Espa is opposed but three gangs that Jabba had under control. Worse, the mayor of the city, Mok Shaiz, is under the control of one of the gangs, the Pykes.
The series unfolds splitting screen time between Fett’s recovery and acceptance by the Tuskan Raiders and his moves to become the sole crime boss. He makes a deal with two Hutts, the Twins, to keep them away from Jabba’s former territory, and starts building up his own team. He already has Fennec Shand, former assassin, and through some deal making, recruits the Mos Espa street gang, the Mods, so called because they are into replacing body parts with cybernetics. Fett’s goal is to go straight, stop putting his life on the line for a fistful of credits. That puts him up against the other syndicates.
Fett’s main problem is that he is a bounty hunter, not a crime lord. He has contacts, but not the experience. He is more direct than his rivals and willing to give up a source of income, like spice, if it gets what he wants. While Shand questions the approach, Fett’s experiences, including his time with the Sand People, have shown him the benefits of working with others. It’s how the clones were trained during the Clone Wars, but Fett learned it naturally instead of through learning programs.
The series is part space western, part crime drama. Temeura Morrison returns to play Boba Fett. He has spent years portraying different versions of Jango Fett since Attack of the Clones. During the run of The Clone Wars, he played all the clones, giving them each a different feel. The audience could tell the difference between Rex, Commander Cody, and Fives. The only clone of Jango he hasn’t played is Boba. In each role, clone and Boba Fett alike, he brings out the humanity of the character. The Fett of the series turns out to be good with animals, which comes to play in the final episode of the season.
Casting, as always, is key. While Morrison carries the series as the title character, the supporting cast build the setting, giving it a sense of realism. David Pasquesi as Shaiz’s majordomo is fun to watch and Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand represents what Fett was. Bringing back characters from The Mandalorian who live on Tatooine made sense; they add to the idea that the Galaxy Far Far Away is larger with multiple stories happening all at once.
One drawback from the series is the potential for continuity lockout, a term normally applied to comics from Marvel and DC. Continuity lockout occurs when there is a reference to an event in another title from some time before, with the audience potentially not able to catch up. There were a couple of episodes focused more on the Mandalorian than on Fett which allowed for audiences to catch up on popular characters but may cause issues in a future season of the Mando’s series. There are some surprising casting decisions, too, though not unwelcome. Jennifer Beals plays Gars Fwip, owner of Sanctuary, a casino. Danny Trejo plays the Rancor keeper, who cares for his charge.
Part of the drawback comes from Dave Filoni’s love of continuity and characters from previous works in the franchise. Some appearances are just Easter eggs, little things for longer term fans to realize, like having Camie and Fixer, Luke’s friends from an earlier draft of A New Hope who appeared in the radio drama, appear in a seedy bar with speeder bike gangers. Some, like Cad Bane, a recurring bounty hunter character from The Clone Wars series, bring a history that is implied but not explained. For now, this isn’t a problem as The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars are both available on Disney+. The potential for continuity lockout to exist in the future is there.
Overall, the series invites audiences to keep watching. Between the flashbacks with Fett recovering amongst the Tusken Raiders and finding a new sense of purpose to his attempts to go straight and be a productive member of society on a planet where everything is fighting against him doing so, the series presents a story that engages the audience, drawing them in and rooting for a bounty hunter who was previously an antagonist for the heroes of the movies. Temuera Morrison’s Boba Fett is a complicated character, fighting his old desires and reputation to be accepted.
Last week, Lost in Translation asked the question, “Can a franchise be rebooted?” and came up with a rousing, “Maybe.” “It depends,” also came up. This week, a few thought experiments to see what can be done using a few well-known franchises.
Let’s start with the big one, Star Wars. The franchise has grown greatly, despite a period where it lay fallow for about eight years with little done. The release of Timothy Zahn’s began the renewed interest in licensing Star Wars outside toys, followed by the Expanded Universe of novels and comics leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. Even with Disney hitting the reset button on the Expanded Universe, the licensing of other media hasn’t slowed down. There is a hierarchy of canon, though; the films are on top, followed by TV series, then tie-ins like novels and video games.
There might be execs at Disney looking at remaking the original Star Wars movie, but the audience backlash would be at superweapon levels. The risk is not worth the reward. However, creating more stories set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been a winner for Disney so far, with The Mandalorian being the reason for many fans to subscribe to Disney+. The Galaxy Far Far Away is big enough to have a number of stories, epic and personal. Remaking the original is out of the question. Exploring other parts of the setting, especially if the quality can be maintained, works better and has been successful for the franchise.
Star Trek provides a contrast. Between the end of the original series in 1969 to the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, there wasn’t much beyond the animated series, a few novels from Bantam, and some licensed games. Compared to after TMP, where the novel tie-ins had a more regular release date, and films every few years. In 1987, Star Trek essentially rebooted with Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series and movies with the original cast were historical, but the new series forged its own characters and continuity. However, there were and are still fans of the original series who get more adventures via the tie-in novels.
The original series had a second reboot with the JJ Abrams Star Trek film in 2009. The Abrams film, though, split into a new continuity, separate from the establish canon. This could allow for a new exploration of the setting, but Into Darkness, released 2013, went over old ground with Khan Noonian Singh. For the most part, the Abrams continuity films have been popular.
Both of the above examples are based on properties that began in a visual medium, film and television respectively. Time for a more literary example – Bond. James Bond. The 007 franchise began with Casino Royale in 1953 and has been active since then, first with Ian Fleming’s novels, then film adaptations, most notably the Eon Productions series, but expanding out to comics, first in 1962, video games, and a spin-off series of novels for a younger audience. The novels were continued after Fleming’s death, first with Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis under the pen name Robert Markham, then by John Gardner from 1981-1906, Raymond Benson from 1996-2002, and a number of authors since then.
Bond represents a problem Star Wars and Star Trek didn’t have – he is a contemporary character. However, things have changed since 1953 in terms of politics, culture, and technology. Bond is a product of the Cold War, where the US and NATO had a covert battle with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Nations were starting to settled into a post-World War II status quo. As the Eon films progressed, Bond became more and more, “a relic of the Cold War,” to quote Judi Dench’s M from Goldeneye. The progression of time can be seen in The Living Daylights, where 007 worked in Afghanistan with the Mujaheddin against the a rogue Soviet general; some of the Mujaheddin became the Taliban, who wouldn’t be considered an ally for heroes in movies made today.
There was a chance to reboot the movie franchise with 2006’s Casino Royale, starting from the beginning of the novels. However, Eon placed the film into its existing continuity. Eon also used the Daniel Craig Bond to re-introduce some elements lost from the films, such as SMERSH. Some legal issues ended, allowing SPECTRE to return in 2015. The 007 films have pulled back from some of the excess during the late Sean Connery and late Roger Moore era, getting back to basics without the gadgets. One possibility for Eon is to do a separate film continuity, keeping Bond in the Cold War era. It’s been sixty-eight years since Casino Royale was first published; placing Bond into his historical element may bring new insight to the character.
To wrap things up, let’s see if it’s possible to reboot a video game franchise, using Nintendo’s Mario. Technically, every Mario release can be seen as a reboot. The goal of the Mario franchise isn’t to provide a single storyline, but a separate game each time. The characters are treated as actors taking on roles in every game. Need Mario to become a detective or a racer? Not a problem. Likewise, Pokémon has been releasing new games based on the same idea – hunting Pokémon to use to fight others who would become a Pokémon Master. Sure, there are other games in the franchise, like Detective Pikachu, but the core of Pokémon is the collecting of Pokémon. The popularity of Pokémon GO is built on letting the players become Pokémon Masters without needing a game avatar on screen.
With other video games, though, a franchise reboot won’t be so easy. The medium is still relatively young, especially when it comes to games with a storyline. Rebooting Pac-Man just relies on updating game play for modern technology. Rebooting Mass Effect, for example, may need to wait a generation, much like film remakes do. Commander Shepard is popular enough for a remaster of the original trilogy, but a remaster isn’t a reboot. Will we see a remake of Mass Effect in 2037? Time will tell.
So, that definitely “maybe”? There’s just too many factors to give a definitive answer. Some franchises have tried a reboot. The main problem is that the original work will still be available, and comparisons will happen. For larger franchises, the risk is not worth the potential reward. But when done, fans appear to be accepting of the product, even if they will also stay with the original.
With the holidays over, let’s ease back into the reviews. Two and a half years ago, Lost In Translation covered the audio drama adaptation of Star Wars. NPR and LucasFilm teamed up two more times, bringing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to radio. Today, we’ll examine the radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back.
When Star Wars was released in 1977, it could stand alone. The plot was resolved, though there were a few plot lines still left dangling. The end was satisfying, with the Empire’s planet-killing super-weapon destroyed. Sure, the Empire wasn’t completely defeated, but the Rebellion had struck a major blow against it.
In 1980, The Empire Strikes Back came out. The Rebellion was on the run. The base on the fourth moon of Yavin was known, thanks to Vader escaping after the Death Star’s destruction. The Empire is busy looking for the Rebel Alliance’s headquarters, sending out probe droids to planets in the Outer Regions, a sparsely populated part of the Galaxy Far Far Away that includes Tattooine. The Rebels have started making a new HQ on Hoth, a frozen planet with its own problems like hostile local lifeforms. Then the Imperial probe droid arrives.
The movie can be broken down into X main parts. The first is on Hoth, ending with the Rebel Alliance fleeing the planet with Empire in pursuit. The characters split up. Luke heads to Dagobah to learn from Yoda, a little green Muppet of great wisdom. Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are chased by Vader, through a dense asteroid belt. While Han, Leia, and Chewbacca try to figure out what’s wrong with the Falcon’s hyperdrive, Luke begins his training. Through shenanigans, the Falcon loses the Imperial pursuit and flies sublight to Cloud City on Bespin, where Han knows the Baron-Administrator, Lando Calrissian.
However, thanks to Boba Fett knowing the same shenanigan that Han used, Vader is alerted to where the Falcon is. Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are taken prisoner to be held to draw Luke out. On Dagobah, Luke’s training is intense as he has to unlearn his bad habits and relearn using the Force. A trip through a tree filled with the Dark Side of the Force warns that Luke may become his worst enemy, replacing Vader. However, he feels the pain of his friends and leaves to Bespin.
On Bespin, Han is handed over to Fett, Leia and Chewbacca make their escape, and Lando shows whose side he really is on. Luke arrives to have a lightsabre fight with Vader, who is trying to turn him to the Dark Side. The major revelation – Vader is Luke’s father – comes out, and Luke sees that there is a way out that doesn’t involve becoming Vader’s apprentice. He lets himself fall through Bespin’s ventilation system. Leia picks him up and the Falcon returns to the Rebel Fleet.
Empire ends with Han in carbonite in the hands of a bounty hunter, Luke missing a hand, the Rebellion on the run without a home. The movie is very much the middle of a trilogy, with the heroes on the edge of disaster, despite the previous win. The movie is also very tight in its plot. Luke has his training and Han and Leia are pursued by the Empire. The film keeps things personal for the characters. There is no massive climactic space battle. The final action scene is the heroes trying to escape.
The audio adaptation brings back Brian Daley to write the script, and the same cast for the returning characters. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels again reprise their roles as Luke and 3P0, respectively, and Billy Dee Williams joins the cast to play Lando again. Ann Sachs, Bernard Behrens, Perry King, and Brock Peters are back, and are joined by new cast members John Lithgow as Yoda, Peter Miachel Goetz as Admiral Ozzel, Gordon Gould as General Veers, Nicholas Kepros as Captain Needa, David Rache as Admiral Piett, Don Scardino as Wedge, and Alan Rosenberg as Boba Fett. The cast is interesting, almost an alternate universe dream cast for the film. John Lithgow at times sounds more like Cookie Monster, another of Frank Oz’s characters, than Yoda when being playful, but takes on the wisdom of the ages when Yoda turns serious.
The radio play starts earlier than the film, with the ambush of a Rebel convoy protected by Renegade Flight by the Empire, ending with the complete destruction of all fighters and freighters in the convoy. There’s more depth given to the Imperial officers, including Needa wishing to see some action before the Galactic Civil War is over and a rivalry between Ozzel and Piett. The format does require dialogue to paint the scene. The use of the Force gets narrated by the user. Luke calls his lightsabre to him, and Vader explains that he his channeling his anger when he chokes. Luke destroying an AT-AT single-handed was done through the point-of-view of the Command Centre.
Not all actions were explicitly narrated. Some were handled through an off-comment. One that worked well came from an interchange between the Deck Officer at Echo Base and Han when the latter was trying to find out if Luke had returned despite having 3P0 nattering about the Falcon‘s hyperdrive.
Deck Officer: “Why are you holding your hand over the protocol droid’s mouth?”
Han: “He’s got a cough.”
3P0: muffled complaints
With Luke’s training, Yoda is giving instructions on what to do, which is what is seen in the movie. The sound effects are straight from LucasFilm, with Ben Burtt supervising. Music is John Williams, and like the movie, the soundtrack is part of the storytelling of the audio drama.
Casting is again important. The non-film cast members may not sound exact, but they do have the proper delivery. What helps here is that the cast is familiar with playing the characters already and that they have the movie to work from. Han isn’t as flamboyant this time around, but he is still ready to go off to do what needs to be done, whether it’s paying off Jabba or escaping TIE fighters. Ann Sachs has Leia’s leadership; nothing is going to get in her way if she can help it. Brock Peters brings a new dimension to Vader. Lithgow does sound like Frank Oz, even if he’s not quite on point with Yoda. The character, though, can go from frivolous and curious to serious within the span of a few lines, and Lithgow can keep up with the change.
What does help with the adaptation is that the movie is personal. The plot hangs on the characters. There isn’t much room to branch off, unlike R2 and 3P0’s escapades while waiting for Luke and Ben at the Mos Eisley cantina. There still is added depth, like the Piett-Ozzel rivalry, but that comes from needing dialogue to carry the scene instead of visuals.
The radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back puts in an effort to recreate the movie into a medium that lacks the visual spectacle expected from Star Wars. This effort pays off as the radio play still keeps things tight and tense to the end, even when the ending is known.
Lost in Translation continues its look at fanworks with “Kenobi: A Star Wars Fan Film”, directed by Jason Satterlund, story by Rob Harmon, and screenplay by James Costa & Jason Satterlund and Rob Harmon. This production had some money behind it, not only for effects but for location shots. Have a watch; it’s only seventeen minutes.
The short takes place a few years after Revenge of the Sith on Tattooine. Obi-Wan is in transition from being Ewan MacGregor to being Alec Guiness. The seventeen minutes packs a lot of information, all through body language of the leads. Knowledge of the movies both before and after the fan film adds to the depth. The costumes and hairstyles match what has been seen in Star Wars. Costa as Ben has the looks to show that Obi-Wan is aging.
I mentioned above that the production had some money behind it. The creators ran an IndieGoGo campaign. As a result, the creators were able to do some filming in Morocco to capture the right sort of desert needed; in the movies, the Lars farmstead was filmed in Tunisia to the further east. The music was performed by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra, who have appeared in a number of movies and video games. And to sweeten the pot, the creators got James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to portray Captain Leegus. The funding also allowed for drone shots and 3D printing of props.
The effort put into the fan film pays off. Keeping a young Luke safe means sacrifice for Obi-Wan, one that he isn’t sure he can make when the film starts. The mood is maintained through the actors, through the camera angles, and through the music, with tension being underlaid until everything explodes into action. Pacing matters in a shorter work, and the pacing in “Kenobi” never lags.
“Kenobi” demonstrates what is possible with today’s technological infrastructure. It’s not just having blockbuster quality video camers at consumer-friendly prices. It’s the social networks that come along with Internet-as-a-utility. IndieGoGo allows creators to have fans directly fund works, with word of mouth spread through the likes of Twitter and Facebook, and the final result on YouTube. Even twenty years ago, this would not be as easy to do. Today, the infrastructure that allows creative types and audiences to meet allows for fan works not considered in the past.
The look at fan adaptations continues with T7 Production’s “Darth Maul: Apprentice”, a Star Wars fan film. T7 is a pair of German filmmakers whose goal is to bring Hollywood-level of production quality to German movie making.
“Darth Maul: Apprentice” features Maul as he makes the transistion from apprentice to Sith and Darth Sidious’ right-hand being. The final test, four Jedi Knights and a Padawan. The fan film doesn’t contradict Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It gives an insight on how Sidious trains his minions.
T7’s goal is front and centre in the film. The choreography is top notch. The fight ebbs and flows providing the characters and the audience a chance to breathe and to ramp up the tension. The camera angles build the scene up, giving the audience a good idea of what’s happening and what is around.
The fan film is heavy on action, but uses the action to develop Maul, showing him becoming Sith. The Jedi are fodder, there for him to hate. The one moment where he makes the key decision is done without word, just facial expression, adding to Maul’s mystique. In The Phantom Menace, Maul runs on hate; here, he’s just getting fueled up.
The music by Vincent Lee adds to the action, adding crescendo where needed and fading to keep the tension. Before the final battle, the music takes cues from Westerns as two gunslingers face off before drawing their guns. The music is something that would be expected from The Mandalorian.
“Darth Maul: Apprentice” shows what a small team can do with today’s video equipment with a bit of effort. While T7 is using high end, today’s dedicated video equipment can produce professional quality works. Even today’s smartphones can take videos that only bulky, expensive professional equipment could do just decades ago. For the amateur and the budding professional, video creation is within reasonable budgets. Drones can take shots that once could only be done by helicopters, with more finesse available given the skill of the drone pilot. Today’s filmmakers have an edge previous generations didn’t have – the silicon chip – allowing for skilled amateurs to create works that would have made professionals in the past jealous.
Fanfilms have been around for a while. The Internet has made it easier for audiences to find them. Prior, tapes needed to be circulated and copied, with screenings done at conventions and club gatherings. Today, well, YouTube exists. It’s easier today to stumble across a fanfilm.
Let’s go back to 1997, twenty years after the release of Star Wars. The Galaxy Far Far Away feels inviting. For the longest time, there wasn’t much done with the setting, not after Return of the Jedi. Fans created droids, built model starships and snubfighters, and dressed in costume. Once home video got inexpensive enough for the masses to own, coupled with editing software, fanfilms started to take off. This is where the fanfilm “Troops” comes in. Created by Kevin Rubio, “Troops” crosses Star Wars with the popular reality series Cops. Have a watch.
Lost in Translation has covered Star Wars many times, the latest being The Mandalorian. Cops got touched upon briefly during a discussion of Machinima. To expand, if one hasn’t seen an episode of Cops, the series was built around the idea of having a camera crew ride along with an officer or deputy of the featured police department. The only dialogue comes from the officer, talking about how he or she became an officer and notes about where the filming is taking place. The series is still running, now on the Paramount Network, and has clips on YouTube.
Rubio’s “Troops” follows stormtroopers on Tatooine following up on calls that tie into events of Star Wars. A Grand Theft Droid call leads to the destruction of a Jawa sandcrawler, but the droid is safely recovered, if a little far from home. A domestic dispute call that goes tragic after a farm couple get into argument about why their nephew ran away from home. And even a disturbing the peace call from the Mos Eisley cantina to start the end credits. This is Star Wars, behind the scenes and a few paces behind what Luke does on screen.
The filming, though, follows the style of Cops. The camera is handheld, isn’t steady, and has to keep up with the troopers. The cameraman remains silent, letting the troopers provide the narration and dialogue. The camera is there in the action as an observer, getting close to the stormtroopers. The segments are introduced by the callouts from dispatch. The troopers themselves have accents that come out of the TV series.
Star Wars has opened itself to a wide range of storytelling techniques. The original movie takes its queues from The Hidden Fortress and The Dam Busters. Other entries have taken inspiration from a wide range, including spaghetti westerns with ronin influences. Slipping in Cops, especially on Tattooine, isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Kevin Rubio added a dash of humour while the characters treated the situation seriously. The result is a fanfilm that still stands up over time.
Lost in Translation has looked at fan works in the past. When reviewing a fan work, the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Crossovers add a wrinkle, as two or more sources are being brought together and something has to give to make the story interesting. Crossing four or more sources is a challenge to have everyone involved have a role while keeping each source unique. Along comes “Galactic Battles”. It’s easier to watch it than to read a synopsis, so go ahead an watch the short film. Keep watching past the credits.
“Galactic Battles” brings together four separate sources, two film series – Star Wars and the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot – and two video game series – Halo and Mass Effect. Each of the settings is obvious. The main setting, from Halo, gets the narrator explaining the newfound peace, thanks to the Master Chief. The Normandy from Mass Effect and the Enterprise from Star Trek have appropriate lighting, complete with lens flares for the latter. The Millennial Falcon gets the Star Wars wipes at the beginning and end of the ship’s appearance.
The creators did their homework. They are well aware of the details of each setting. The music blends the themes of all the sources, melding them as the camera switches view. The controls for each ship are unique and recognizable. The costumes are appropriate. Bonus points for having Garrus, one of the aliens, specifically, a Turian, from the Mass Effect series. The Master Chief’s armour is well done, too. Everyone is recognizable, from red, gold, and blue uniforms on the Enterprise to Joker and his baseball cap from Mass Effect.
The little details matter. The circle wipe when Star Wars first appears, how Shepard enters and leaves a scene, the lens flares on the Enterprise‘s bridge, the view from the Master Chief’s HUD, all add to the feel of the sources. Getting Mark Meer, who played the male Shepard in Mass Effect to reprise his role also helped. Details can make or break a major studio’s adaptation. With fan works, they are necessary, and “Galactic Battles” delivers.
The short is a visual masterpiece. Jupiter hanging in space as the battle rages on provides colour to what would normally be just black space and metal ships. The special effects, sound as well as visual, matches each setting’s contribution. Phasers sound like phasers, not like TIE fighter lasers or Reaper cutting torches. There’s care taken to make sure each element looks and sounds appropriate, even in the post-credits sequence.
The key issue with making a crossover meant to appeal to fans each original source is making sure characters from each one has a hand in solving the problem. With “Galactic Battles”, the solution starts with Spock, but Shepard, Master Chief, and Han all have a role to play in putting the solution in action. The breakneck pace doesn’t let up as they put the daring plan into action.
“Galactic Battles” is a fun fan short to watch. It handles each original source well, keeping the little details that define the originals.
And for those interested, there is a behind the scenes look to “Galactic Battles”, showing what it took to make the short.
Last week, Lost in Translation used The Mandalorian as an example of a streaming service adapting a work instead of doing something original for the headline. This week, The Mandalorian gets a closer look.
Created by Jon Favreau and produced by Favreau and Dave Filoni, The Mandaloran became the headliner for Disney+, Disney’s streaming service. While Disney has a huge back catalogue that could be used as hooks into the service, the company went with a new Star Wars series, building from the audience attention on the most recent films in the franchise. The Mandalorian is a space spaghetti western with a strong samurai/ronin influence about a Bounty Hunter With No Name, played by Pedro Pascal, who winds up breaking the bounty hunter code when he decides to not turn over a young target to the Imperial client (Warner Herzog) who set the bounty.
The eight 45-minute episodes build up to a climax that may be one of the best episodes of television, bringing together several plot lines introduced over the course of the season. While episodic, each episode builds on what happened before, invoking several western tropes and modifying them for the Star Wars setting. Every character has an arc, from the Mandalorian’s with the young charge he protected to Nick Nolte’s Ugnaught to Gina Carano’s ex-Rebel soldier.
Visually, the series looks like it should be on the silver screen instead of on even a wide-screen TV. The effects are what people expect out of Star Wars, with a mix of wonder, adventure, and lived in. But the series didn’t stop on the surface. Filoni and Favreau dig into an element of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, the Mandalorians, and pull together from previous works, including the animated series Filoni worked on, to show who and what they are.
If some of the episodes seem familiar, it’s because of the influences. As mentioned, The Mandalorian is a space western with samurai influence. Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, as seen in A Fistful of Dollars is an obvious source, but so are Have Gun Will Travel and Lone Wolf and Cub. The first season can be seen as an extended homage to The Seven Samurai by way of The Magnificent Seven as the people the Mandalorian helps come back to help him, including a reprogrammed IG-11 (voiced by Taiki Waititi).
Even the space spaghetti western with a dash of samurai films is just another layer to the series. The original /Star Wars/ took some of its cues from Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, so the samurai element was always there in one form or another, particularly when the Jedi are considered. What makes The Mandalorian its own work, albeit an adaptation, is how it builds off the Star Wars mythos. Elements may come from westerns or samurai films, but the heart still lies in Star Wars even as the series expands that setting. The time after the fall of the Empire could be seen as the period following the American Civil War, but the details and dynamics between the two eras are different.
The Mandalorian takes a look at the fall out from the Empire’s fall, as warlords try to maintain what control they have, former Rebels try to figure out what to do now that the goal they’ve been fighting for has been achieved and now have to integrate back into galactic society, and former Imperial slaves come to terms with how they helped, even against their will, an oppressive regime. Even on the fringes of the galaxy, lives matter, actions matter, and motives matter. The Mandalorian has difficult choices to make, even with a code of honour to guide him. Choosing to save a youngling has consequences that may shake the New Republic.
The series is very much a story in the /Star Wars/ setting, even with the trappings. Star Wars does allow for a great range of stories, from warrior monks trying to cope after becoming leaders of soldiers to a young farmboy becoming a galactic hero to the scruffiest of nerfherders showing that he has a heart of gold. The Mandalorian easily stands beside such stories, with an emotional impact that makes the series memorable.
Star Wars is huge. It began as a massive blockbuster that broke box office records and became a massive franchise. Now in the hands of Disney, the Star Wars franchise has a number of tie-ins and spin-offs, including games of all sorts, novels, animated series, and, now, spin-off movies. The spin-offs are a way to keep the Star Wars name in theatres, with each one coming about a year after the major releases like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The spin-offs fill in gaps in the storyline and keeps people talking about the franchise. Let’s take a look at the most recent spin-off, Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Solo delves into the history of the franchise’s favourite scruffy nerfherder, Han. A few points, though. Han wasn’t the first character to appear in a tie-in novel – that honour belongs to Luke and Leia in Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1978 – but Brian Daley featured him and Chewbacca in a trilogy of novels beginning in 1979: Han Solo at Stars’ End, Han Solo’s Revenge, and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy. The three books were later collected as The Han Solo Adventures and were referenced by AC Crispin in The Han Solo Trilogy. The Daley books were the source of the Z-95 Headhunter, first appearing in Stars’ End and then returning in the X-Wing series of video games and in the CGI series The Clone Wars. Of the main characters of the series, Han has had the most done with his background in the Expanded Universe.
The big problem is that there is so much written about Han that a movie risks contradicting what has come before. Canon in Star Wars comes in a hierarchy, with the movies being primary, the animated series coming next, then the tie-in works third. However, West End Games’ RPG tends to be referenced for terms and equipment, so the hierarchy can be fluid. Daley’s works have been around for almost the length of the franchise, a background influence on subsequent work. It’s a tough line for Solo to follow.
As for the movie, Solo is one part coming of age, one part gangster flick, one part Western, one part pulp, one part heist movie, one part origins story, and all space opera. The movie shows Han crawling out of the dregs of Corellia, meeting Chewbacca, meeting Lando, and getting the Millennium Falcon. The seeds of what Han will become in the original trilogy are planted, showing why he got involved with a senile old man, a farm boy, and two droids trying to escape Tatooine. One of the highlights of the film is showing how Han made the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs, and why a unit of length is used instead of a unit of time.
The casting is one of the movie’s strengths. Alden Ehrenreich has the difficult job of being a young Harrison Ford, but pulls off not just the looks but the mannerisms, while still being young and not quite cynical yet. Joonas Suotame plays Chewie, Han’s partner after being rescued from Imperial enslavement. Donald Glover becomes Lando Calrissian, channelling Billy Dee Williams and dominating any scene he’s in. New characters include Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Han’s mentor; Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s love; L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s first mate and droids’ rights activist; and Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), head of the Crimson Dawn crime ring. Everyone named there has a story arc, some successful, others not.
The strong cast leads into one of the movie’s problems. Han gets overshadowed at times in his own story. The story is still his, but it’s not until midway through the film that Han starts to stand out. Lando in particular tends to take over scenes, thanks to both the nature of the character and to Donald Glover’s portrayal. The interplay between Lando and L3 deserves its own feature, movie or TV series, with Glover and Waller-Bridge reprising the characters. This is of no fault on the part of Ehrenreich; Lando is almost the opposite of Han, suave and sophistcated. A film should make audiences want to see more of a character, but not instead of what’s being shown.
Solo also came out at a time when diversity awareness in movies is acute. Star Wars has had issues with reflecting the audience. In 1977, a sausage fest was understandable and excusable for being an artifact of the times. Today, though, audiences are more aware of diversity. The more recent films in the franchise are showing a greater range, including more women and persons of colour both in lead roles and in the background, moving away from the only woman in the film being a princess. Solo, though, is about a white man at a time when films like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel are breaking records. This isn’t to say Leia and Rey are slouches. They aren’t. Leia took over her own rescue and Rey is creating her own path in becoming a Jedi. It’s more timing working against Solo. If the movie had been Calrissian instead with the same cast, it’d avoid the backlash and counter-backlash.
The biggest problem Solo has is that it is a good popcorn movie. There’s some insight to the character, but it’s not deep. The movie doesn’t go from action piece to action piece. It’s well written, well directed, well acted. It is a solid film. Many studios would be happy if their movies held together as well as Solo. But with Star Wars, solid isn’t enough. Star Wars has always been about the amazing, and Solo just falls short. Expectations weren’t managed, but doing so with the Star Wars franchise is impossible. Fans are expecting mind-blowing, and Solo wasn’t quite there. The movie is worth seeing, but expectations need to be adjusted.