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.
Star Wars has been covered three times already here at Lost in Translation. The first time was for the prequel/reboot, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; covering how the film brought back the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The second time was for the CG animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, showed how the TV show strengthened Star Wars: Episode II – The Attack of the Clones by filling in details between that film and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The third time was for the pilot for Star Wars: Rebels, “Spark of Rebellion”, showed the potential of the recent TV series. What’s left with Star Wars?
Richard Toscan, in an attempt to revive radio drama in the US, worked at getting several works produced at KUSC, the University of Southern California’s campus radio station. One of Toscan’s students suggested adapting Star Wars as an episodic series, a natural fit given that similar serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers inspired the film and were themselves adapted as radio serials. Getting the clearances to produce such a series, though, looked expensive. However, George Lucas had gone to USC, so the rights to produce the radio series was sold to KUSC and National Public Radio (NPR) for one dollar. Lucas also made the music by John Williams and the sound design by Ben Burtt available to the production. That just left paying for the script, the actors, and the studio.
NPR turned to the one radio network with extensive experience in radio dramas, the BBC, for assistance. In return for the British rights to the series, the BBC provided the budget needed to get the production done. The adaptation was written by Brian Daley, a science fiction author who had written the earliest of the expanded universe novels, The Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Star’s End, Han Solo’s Revenge, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy). Daley worked from early drafts of Lucas’ scripts for Star Wars, adding material as needed to fill in the thirteen episode run, for almost six hours of radio drama.
Casting became a problem. While Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels returned as Luke Skywalker and C-3P0, respectively, the rest of the cast wasn’t. Harrison Ford was busy with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The new cast included Ann Sachs as Princess Leia, Bernard Behrens as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Perry King as Han Solo, Keene Curtis as Governor Tarkin, and Brock Peters as Darth Vader.
The debut of the series in March of 1981 saw NPR’s audience increase to three-quarters of a million new listeners, with the number of young adults and teenagers increasing four-fold. With Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back having been in theatres the previous summer, fans were looking for more Star Wars. How well did the radio drama adapt the first film?
A series, whether on TV, on radio, or even as a B-reel serial, still runs longer than most films. The Star Wars radio drama is no exception; it ran for just under six hours over thirteen episodes, about three times longer than the movie. Radio also can’t rely on visual effects to show what’s happening. Given that Star Wars pushed the limits on what can be done with special effects, the radio drama would have a steep task in front of it.
As mentioned above, Brian Daley used early drafts of the film’s script while writing his own. He expanded details from the movie. Episode 1 starts with Luke hanging with his friends, racing with them, including through Begger’s Canyon. The audience meets Biggs Darklighter, voiced by Kale Browne, and hears his plan to jump ship to join the Rebellion. Episode 2 begins with Princess Leia on Ralentiir, using her consular ship, the Tantive IV, to smuggle goods needed by the Rebellion. It’s where she learns about the Death Star and runs into Darth Vader for the first time. Leia convinced her father to let her take the Tantive IV to intercept the plans for the Death Star at Toprawa. The space battle between the Tantive IV and the Star Destroyer that begins the movie begins in Episode 3 as Leia arrives at Tatooine to find Obi-Wan Kenobi.
After Episode 3, the drama follows the action in the movie. Dialogue gets changed or added to help describe the setting and the action. Scenes get added to provide depth and motivation. Han has a rougher edge than he does in the movie, but there’s still a heart of gold. At the same time, some relationships are shown just as quick on radio as in film; C-3P0 and R2-D2’s friendship comes out in their first two minutes of air time in Episode 3. Vader benefits from the medium; it is difficult to loom and menace through sheer height on radio. Instead, Vader comes across more as a fallen paladin, philosophical and a believer in his version of the Force, thanks to added dialogue.
Sound effects carry most of the battle scenes. There’s no way to show a flight of X-Wings diving down to the Death Star’s trench, nor is there a way to show a lightsaber other than dialogue and sound effects. The production had full access to the sounds from the movie, but it still fell on to the actors to convey a sense of determination and wonder as needed. Luke’s training on the trip to the former Alderaan had Ben coaching him at each step. For added fun, the scene with Greedo threatening Han could not have subtitles, so there was no attempt to translate “Oota goota, Solo?” into English. Han understood Greedo, so the audience had to work out what the Rodian said from the reactions, like, “Tell Jabba I’ve got his money.” And Han shot first.
The climatic battle to destroy the Death Star took up most of the last episode. While the snubfighter battle was a visual feast, the chatter between pilots gave the drama a way to show what was happening without video. The first half of the battle was presented as Leia and the Rebellion command staff on the jungle moon of Yavin listened to the pilots’ chatter, unable to do anything when Vader came out in his prototype ship. The last half of the battle was from Luke’s perspective starting just before his run through the trench.
Is it possible to have Star Wars without the visuals? Yes, as the radio drama demonstrated. The drama was Star Wars and provided depth that the movie couldn’t. The drama was successful, leading to Empire being adapted two years later. The adaptation of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi was delayed until 1996 and released on CD due to disagreements, mainly financial. The radio plays carried the feel of the movies while expanding on what was shown.
A few weeks back, Lost in Translation looked at adaptations of tabletop RPGs. While there haven’t been many RPGs adapted to other media, the reverse is far more likely. Many popular franchises have been adapted for gaming, from Star Trek to Supernatural. The result is a licensed property created by game designers who are also fans. With The Force Awakens turning into a powerhouse beyond expectations, now is as good a time as any to look at the Star Wars roleplaying games past and present.
Role-playing in an established universe is more than just letting the players take the roles of existing characters. With a setting as vast as the Galaxy Far, Far Away, there’s room for any number of characters, from scruffy rogues to naive farmboys to dashing conmen to dangerous bounty hunters. Adding to the complexity, Jedi and Sith lurk, depending on the era. The goal of the games is to provide an experience that would fit in the Star Wars setting but still giving players the flexibility to play what they want. There have been three published RPGs for /Star Wars/, detailed below.
Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game, West End Games
The first Star Wars RPG, released in 1987, used WEG’s Ghostbusters: The Role-Playing Game‘s core mechanic, modified for the new setting. Determining success or failure was based on rolling a number of six-sided* dice based on the rating of a character’s skill, with a differently coloured die designated the wild die. The wild die could allow for amazing successes or crushing failures, depending on its value. Players could use character points to add dice to the roll. To account for the Force in Star Wars, players also had Force points. Spending a Force point allowed players to double the number of dice they could roll for a skill, allowing feats such as firing a proton torpedo into a two metre exhaust port without the aid of a targeting computer.
Because it was released three years after Return of the Jedi, there was little information about Jedi, beyond that they were rare after the Emperor destroyed the Order. At the time, Star Wars wasn’t the big franchise that it is now. The Expanded Universe consisted of the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian trilogies; Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire would be published in 1991, a year before the RPG’s second edition. Jedi were limited to what was shown on screen and what the WEG writers could extrapolate and get approved by Lucasfilm. However, the more earthier characters, like Han, were supported, with all starships, from starfighters to Star Destroyers, being written up. The Revised and Expanded edition, released in 1996, became the definitive version of the RPG.
The game played fast; the mechanics loose enough to let players swoop through space in a transport modified for smuggling while out running a flight of TIE fighters and maintain the feel of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. WEG’s RPG still has an impact even today; Dave Filoni, showrunner for both CGI-animated series, The Clone Wars and Rebels has stated in commentary that he and his crew have refered to WEG’s Imperial Sourcebook and Star Wars Sourcebook for details on vehicles and droids used in the series.
WEG lost the license in 1999 after having to declare bankruptcy when its parent company, West End Shoes, drained the game publisher to stay afloat. Speculation on the Internet on who would get the license next grew as the prequel movies were announced.
Star Wars Roleplaying Game, Wizards of the Coast
Wizards of the Coast, who also owned Dungeons & Dragons, picked up the license in 2000, a year after The Phantom Menace was released. Wizards used a modified version of the d20 System, as used in D&D 3rd edition. The result was a class-based system that covered not just the original trilogy, like WEG’s game had, but also the prequels and the Expanded Universe. A second edition was released in 2002, a year before D&D 3.5, cleaning up some problematic rules. The Saga edition came out in 2007, streamlining the d20 system more to keep the gameplay flowing.
As mentioned, the d20 System is class-based, meaning that every character falls into one of a number of character classes that define their abilities. Instead of using the D&D classes like Fighter and Wizard, the d20 Star Wars games used classes like Scoundrel, Fringer, and Jedi. The result was playable, but the sweet spot was between levels 7 and 12, where characters had the skills needed to pull off difficult but in-setting plausible stunts without becoming impossible to challenge without throwing a Star Destroyer at them. Thanks to the prequels and the Expanded Universe, Jedi had more options than in WEG’s RPG. Sourcebooks detailed the different eras of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, giving gamemasters (GMs) and players flexibility in play styles.
Wizards let the license lapse in 2010, after not just a large number of detailed sourcebooks but also a miniatures game that could tie into the RPG or be played as a stand-alone.
Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny, Fantasy Flight Games
Fantasy Flight Games picked up the Star Wars license with an eye to create both a miniatures and a role-playing game. The first of the RPGs, Edge of the Empire, came out in 2013, followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014 and Force and Destiny in 2015. Each of the games, while using the same mechanics, have a different focus. Edge deals with characters on the edge of polite society; smugglers, bounty hunters, colonists. Rebellion allows for characters in the Rebel Alliance, fighting against the Galactic Empire’s evil. Force focuses on Jedi and other Force-sensitives. The three games are set during the original trilogy, but can be adapted, with work, to other eras.
The FFG games need to use specialty dice marked for use in play. It is possible to use regular dice** and convert the numbers to the special markings, but it is easier with the specialty dice. The dice provide for more than just success and failure; they also add advantages and threats. A failure could come with an advantage and success could come with complications. Scenes from the movies, like Han stepping on a twig when right behind a stormtrooper in Return of the Jedi, can come from the mechanic, ensuring that the feel of the movies is kept.
Each game moves the timeline through the movies. Edge is set shortly after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope. Rebellion is set just after the events in The Empire Strikes Back. Force is set after Return of the Jedi. However, players and GMs aren’t limited to those eras. /Force/ can easily be used for a group of Jedi padawans during the prequel era. All three could be used for a campaign set during The Force Awakens. Work would need to be done, such as re-skinning existing vehicles for the new ones seen in the new movie, but the amount of work needed is minimal.
Each of the above games had a different approach to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. While each one had some areas that needed work, overall, the games remained faithful to the source. Players could feel like they were part of Star Wars, which is the most important part of adapting to a game.
* Role-playing games use more regular polyhedrons than just the standard cube dice.
** Regular meaning six-, eight-, and twelve-sided, as used in other games such as D&D.
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out later this month, it’s a good time to look at another adaptation in preparation. Today, it’s a look at the pilot episode of the CG-animated Star Wars Rebels.
Several months ago, Lost in Translation reviewed Star Wars: The Clone Wars, covering the issues that come up when adapting from film to television. In brief, the difference is time available, pacing due to commercials, and budget. The Clone Wars, though, filled in details between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, strengthening the latter through giving spotlight time to characters that get brief moments during Order 66.
The pilot episode of Star Wars Rebels, “Spark of Rebellion”, introduces new characters to the setting. The Galaxy Far Far Away is huge, capable of containing a large number interesting folk. It starts with Ezra, a young boy living outside the capital city of Lothal, watching as a Star Destroyer comes in over the city as “The Imperial March” plays.in the background. Ezra heads into Capital City to see what is happening and runs across Imperial officers bullying a simple fruit peddler. After a bit of sleight of hand to gain a communicator, Ezra redirects the Imperials with a false call for backup. He keeps watch, and notices several shady figures passing along silent communications. He also senses something about one of them.
The shady miscreants, Kanan, Zeb, and Sabine, are after a number of crates the Imperials have. hooked up to speeder bikes. Sabine, wearing colourful Mandalorian-style armour, creates a distraction through an explosion. While the would-be thieves deal with the stormtroopers guarding the bikes, Ezra slips in and steals one of the speeders himself. Thus begins a chase involving Ezra, Kana in pursuit, and the Imperials chasing both. The Imperials play their trump card and bring in a TIE fighter. Kanan has his own trump, Ghost, piloted by the Twi’lek, Hera, and maintained by the astromech C1-10PR, or Chopper. Ghost takes out the lone TIE, but four more have caught up. Ezra grabs his crate and leaps to the cargo ramp, a leap that should have been impossible.
Ezra gets a quick breather and discovers that the crate he brought on board is filled with blaster rifles. The TIEs don’t give up, and chase Ghost up to orbit. `Kanan takes one turret to discourage pursuit. Ezra, placed into a storage locker by Zeb for safe keeping, gets into Ghost‘s ventilation system and falls into the second turret. The kid’s first time off-world and into space is marred when he sees two of the TIEs attacking. Sabine arrives to take over the turret, and clears a path to let the ship enter hyperspace.
With time finally to rest, the crew comes to a decision about Ezra. They can’t take him back home just yet; their timetable is too short to allow for that. Instead, they take him to a location on Lothal known as Tarkintown, named after Governor Tarkin and populated by people displaced by the Imperial war machine. One crate, the one Ezra tried to keep, is filled with blasters to be sold to raise credits for the Ghost‘s operation. The rest contain food that is given freely to the residents of Tarkintown. Confused, Ezra returns to the ship. Elsewhere, Kanan and Hera make a deal with a middleman, who offers information about the location of Wookiee prisoners being transferred to become slaves.
Back on Ghost, Ezra gets another odd feeling, drawing him into Kanan’s cabin. Ezra searches the room, finding a lightsabre and a holocron. Kanan appears and relieves Ezra of the lightsabre, but appears to miss the holocron. With the prisoner transfer, there’s no time to return Ezra to his home. Ghost lifts off to intercept the transport ship.
Getting close to the transport is simple enough. Hera name drops Governor Tarkin, which is enough for the transport to call off its TIEs and allow Ghost to dock to transfer another Wookiee. Kanan, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper head to the airlock to meet the stormtroopers waiting. The attempt to pass Zeb off as a rare hairless Wookiee goes as well as expected, leading to Zeb decking both stormtroopers. The group splits off in pairs, with Kanan and Zeb going to free the Wookiees and Sabine going with Chopper to handle the technical side.
In Ghost‘s cockpit, Hera loses contact with Kanan. The transport is jamming the signal, letting Hera deduce that the information was faked and the entire situation is a trap. Ezra gets a bad feeling moments before an Imperial Star Destroyer appears from hyperspace. Hera and Ezra argue about staying and telling the others about the trap; Ezra is far too used to being on his own and not sticking his neck out, but he does go. He finds Kanan just before the cell door is opened; on the other side, stormtroopers await. They hear the conversation and burst out.
Kanan’s plan included contingencies in case of stormtrooper pursuit. He orders Sabine to turn off the gravity in the transport. Kanan and Zeb take advantage and flee, dragging Ezra along as the stormtroopers and the Star Destroyer’s commander float helplessly. They don’t have much time; the Imperials recover quick enough, but Kanan knows when the gravity is returning and is ready to run when it does. The two groups reunite and race back to Ghost with the Imperials close behind. Ezra falls behind and is taken prisoner by the commander. Not knowing that the kid isn’t on board, Hera undocks and makes the jump to hyperspace. Kanan takes stock. He feels that Ghost has to go back to rescue Ezra, having been responsible for the kid getting involved in the first place.
On the Star Destroyer, the Imperials take most of Ezra’s belongings, but miss the holocron. The Star Destroyer’s commander introduces himself as Imperial Security Bureau Agent Kallus, who is after Kanan’s group because of their effectiveness. Resigned, Ezra takes a look at the device and is able to open it. The holocron begins to play a message from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Buoyed a bit, Ezra comes up with a plan to escape. The first part involves luring the guards into the cell, done with some acting. The second part involves recovering his belongings and hiding inside the ship. He grabs a helmet to listen to the comms chatter. Ezra hears news of Ghost returning, and does what he can to distract the stormtroopers.
Kanan, Zeb, and Sabine head off Ghost to find Ezra, only for him to be waiting for them. Kallus arrives with his troopers, but Kanan’s people escape, this time with Ezra. On board, Ezra informs the Ghost‘s crew of where the Wookiees are going; he overheard the captain of the transport mention Kessel. Kanan orders Ghost to Kessel. Kallus, though, shows that he’s deserving of a Star Destroyer and realizes that he was overheard by the kid, and heads to Kessel as well.
On the spice moon of Kessel, Kanan leads a daring breakout, distracting the stormtroopers guarding the Wookiees long enough for Ezra to sneak past and free them from their shackles. However, TIE fighters appear behind the landed Ghost. Hera and Chopper need to take off to deal with the TIEs, leaving Kanan and his people and the Wookiees on the ground. Kallus appears and orders his stormtroopers to fire. Kanan realizes the best move is the 22-Pickup. The goal, get the Wookiees into a cargo container while keeping the stormtroopers attention on himself. To do this, he walks out into the barrage of blaster fire and draws his lightsabre.
Meanwhile, Ezra realizes that one Wookiee won’t go unless his young son returns. Ezra runs after the young Wookiee, who is already being chased by a stormtrooper. The Wookiee runs to the end of a docking platform with nowhere to go but into the pit. Ezra leaps over the stormtrooper and hits him with his laser slingshot. The stormtrooper falls over the railing with a Wilhelm scream. Kallus, though, saw Ezra and followed. The ISB agent sees an unusual opportunity, killing a Jedi and his apprentice. Kanan arrives in the nick of time, riding on the hull of Ghost to pick up Ezra and the Wookiee.
The Wookiees are freed and given a ride home. Ghost returns to Lothal and the abandoned tower that serves as Ezra’s home. Ezra lifts Kanan’s lightsabre again and leaves. Up in his home, he looks around at the various souvenirs he has taken. Kanan appears behind him to explain the Force and gives Ezra a choice; either add the lightsabre to the other items to gather dust, or to join the crew of Ghost and learn to use the Force and become a Jedi. When Ezra turns around, Kanan has disappeared.
On Ghost, Kanan meditates while listening to Obi-Wan’s message, the warning sent during Revenge of the Sith to avoid the Jedi Temple. Ezra walks in and returns the lightsabre, joining the crew. On board the Star Destroyer, Kallus reports his findings to an Imperial Inquisitioner, who is most interested that a Jedi has been found.
Expecting one episode, the pilot episode at that, to be able to do what the entire Clone Wars series did is unreasonable. In television, the pilot episode exists to set up the series, including introducing characters, show the possible situations the characters get involved in, and set the tone. The key here is to see how much Star Wars Rebels holds up to expectations. To this end, the pilot pulls in elements already familiar to Star Wars fans. The music used shows inspiration from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Unlike Clone Wars, where the music had a martial tone, Rebels uses the more hopeful themes from A New Hope. The speeder bike chase used music from the similar scene on Endor in Return of the Jedi.
The characters pull their weight, as well. Ezra becomes a hero despite himself, setting up a Hero’s Journey arc. Kanan has a roguish streak in him, but is still a mentor figure. He and Hera get along like a married couple; bickering but without heat and around for each other. The dialogue would fit in A New Hope without difficulty. Sabine, despite the Mandalorian armour, isn’t dour. Instead, she has the heart of an artist, albeit one whose medium is explosions. Even the holographic Obi-Wan is shown as between his appearance during Clone Wars and Alex Guiness, with James Arnold Taylor returning for the role. The eye to detail is there.
One detail I noticed was with Ezra. His character design and his character arc is similar to the title character in Disney’s Aladdin. Given that Rebels is also a Disney production, the similarity may be deliberate. Ezra, though, doesn’t have a wish-granting genie to help him mature. Instead, he has one of the last Jedi. The shorthand, though, for people who make the connection help with understanding Ezra’s character.
Star Wars Rebels has the potential to strengthen A New Hope much like Clone Wars did with Revenge of the Sith. The feel of “Spark of Rebellion” had the right touch; humour, a dangerous threat, and villains with great potential for evil. The pilot has laid down the map for the series, and it should feel very much like A New Hope.
Works adapted for television produce a new set of concerns. With movies, one of the big limitations is time; commercial film releases run anywhere between ninety minutes to two hours, with rare releases reaching the three-hour mark. A television series, however, has far more running time available to it than a feature film. Even accounting for commercials, there’s still twenty-two to forty-five minutes of show each episode. Long-running series may run out of original material before ending and will need to create new content*. With novels, especially those in a series, it’s possible to keep using existing content in a TV show. HBO’s A Game of Thrones is an exemplar of this sort of planning. Adapting a movie as a TV series, though, means that the show’s writers will be adding material. Today’s review looks at that situation.
In 1999, George Lucas released the first of the prequel movies, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. In the gap between that film and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, released in 1983, numerous tie-in novels, comics, games, and toys were produced, creating the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or EU. The EU added more characters and settings to Star Wars. With the prequel movies filling out more of the history of the Rebellion, more EU products were created to fill in details not covered by the movies.
Such is the case with the CG-animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the series covered the Clone Wars at several levels, from the clones on the front to the politics of the Senate to the Jedi Council. The Clone Wars ran for six seasons, from 2008 until 2014, before ending. During its run, familiar characters mingled with new ones, showing the toll of the wars on all levels of Republic and Separatist society.
The Clone Wars started with a feature movie, with Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi and a number of clone troopers defending Christophis against the Separatist droid army. Young Ahsoka Tano is introduced as Anakin’s padawan, an attempt by the Jedi Council to try to teach Skywalker the dangers of his inability to let go of those he holds dear. Once the battle is won, Anakin and Ahsoka are assigned the task to retrieve Jabba the Hutt’s son, who has been kidnapped, to get the gang boss’s favour. The search leads to Teth, where the Separatists are holding the Huttlet. Anakin leads a force of clone troopers against the droids’ base, leading to a showdown against the assassin, Asajj Ventress, a protege of Count Dooku. Senator Padmé Amadala of Naboo finds out about Anakin’s mission and tracks down Ziro the Hutt on Coruscant, but discovers that he is part of the conspiracy against Jabba and the Jedi. With the help of C3PO, Padmé escapes and Ziro is arrested. On Tatooine, Anakin deals with Count Dooku long enough for Ahsoka to return the Huttlet.
The first season continues in a similar vein, at least to begin with. “Ambush”, the first regular episode, features Yoda and several clones on a mission to meet with the king of Toydaria. The episode sets the tone, showing that the clones, even though they look alike, are individuals, and Yoda treats them as such. As the seasons progress, the stories become darker, with the Jedi forced into becoming what they are not and Darth Sidious’ manipulations starting to pay off. That’s not to say that the first season was all light-hearted. Clones and Jedi died on-screen, and one Jedi fell to the Dark Side before being killed by General Grievous. The first season also showed why the Republic was fighting; the episodes “Storm over Ryloth”, “Innocents of Ryloth”, and “Liberty on Ryloth” depict what the droid army did with the Twi’leks and the liberation of their homeworld.
Being placed between the second and third prequel places a few limitations on the series. First, several characters had script immunity due to appearances in Revenge of the Sith. That’s not to say that the couldn’t inflict non-permanent injuries and psychological issues on existing characters. Second, new characters had to be written out in a way that their absence in Sith made sense. In particular here, Ahsoka could not be Anakin’s padawan by the end of the series. Likewise, Venrtess could not remain Dooku’s apprentice.
As mentioned at the beginning, adapting movies for television may mean adding new material. The Clone Wars did just that, but in a way that added to the original. New characters, like the aforementioned Ahsoka and Ventress, clone troopers Waxer, Boil, and Fives, and bounty hunter Cad Bane had their own stories that intersected with the lives of the original cast. In addition, minor characters like General Grievous had their roles expanded. Grievous, first seen in Sith primarily escaping before being defeated by Obi-Wan, is shown to be far more dangerous and far more callous, killing several Jedi and targeting medical frigates.
The series delved into other parts of the Galaxy Far Far Away. Seasons three and four showcased the Nightsisters, a sect of the Witches of Dathomir, and Asajj Ventress. Mandalore, the home of some famed armour, also had several episodes focused on it and its internal politics. The Galaxy felt larger as a result, away from Tatooine and Coruscant. At the same time, classic equipment seen in the original Star Wars began appearing, from the Y-Wings to the evolution of the clone trooper armour to look more and more like that used by stormtroopers.
The Clone Wars also managed to make Revenge of the Sith a stronger movie. Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is shown throughout the series, as Palpatine introduces doubt that worms through his mind. The deaths of the Jedi as a result of Order 66 hit harder. No longer are they nameless characters in a montage but Plo Koon, Kit Fisto, and Aayla Secura, Jedi who have appeared and were developed as full characters in their own right.
As an animated adaptation, The Clone Wars took characters that were larger than life in movies and brought them in a new form on television. The animation evolved over the run of the series, noticeable even in the first season, and evolved to handle more difficult challenges. There were times when certain elements, such as the clone troopers, the battle droids, and General Grievous, were indistinguishable from what appeared on screen in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The eye to detail and the desire to respect the films came through. While it is true that Lucasfilm was still the studio behind The Clone Wars, not all of the studio’s releases matched the quality and care shown in the animated series.** The Clone Wars is well worth studying as a successful adaptation.
* I’m ignoring filler episodes here. Filler is more commonly seen in anime based on manga, where the series has to wait for new content to be created.
** The Star Wars Holiday Special stands out as a prime example here.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
The new year brings new news.
Death Note: The Musical, coming to South Korea in 2015.
The anime /Death Note/ is being turned into a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn (Broadway play Jekyll and Hyde, Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”) and Jack Murphy. This isn’t the first musical about a serial killer. Sweeney Todd was at one point a ballet.
Warner Bros, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in negotiations for Sandman.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt may star and co-produce the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Gordon-Levitt may even direct the feature. David S. Goyer will also be on board as co-producer.
Sweetpea Entertainment moves for partial dismissal of D&D rights case.
Hasbro has been trying to regain the movie rights to Dungeons & Dragons from Sweetpea Entertainment. Sweetpea was responsible for the 2000 movie plus the far better direct-to-DVD sequel and was working on a script based on Chainmail, D&D‘s progenitor game. At issue is who currently holds the movie rights. The original contract required Sweetpea to release a sequel within five years of the original movie, but Hasbro does not count the direct-to-DVD works while Sweetpea does.
Ghost writing and spin-offs; what happens after an author has died.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Now, though, with best sellers and adaptation rights bringing in money to publishers, the desire to continue an author’s series is growing.
Star Wars comic license being given to Marvel
Not that unexpected, considering that Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm. Dark Horse had a great twenty-year run, though, and set a standard that will be difficult to match.
With the changeover, comes the fun of working out continuity.
Lucasfilm’s Leland Chee (@HolocronKeeper on Twitter) heads the group tasked with getting the canon straight. The story group will have to work out how the movies, TV series, comics, books, role-playing games, video games, and toys all work together. Interestingly, West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game is still an influence on Star Wars despite WEG’s bankruptcy in 1998.
Magic: The Gathering being adapted as a movie.
This isn’t as dire as it sounds. As a collectable card game, Magic: The Gathering has a setting that has been developed since 1993, and storylines in each expansion set. As long as Fox, the studio making the movie, can keep the familiar elements and introduce them to people who haven’t played while still keeping fans of the game not-annoyed, the adaptation stands a chance.
The Wonder Woman prequel TV series has been cancelled by the CW. The network left the possibility of a future Wonder Woman series open. It looks more that the CW doesn’t want to botch the series and is being cautious.
Batman finally to be released on DVD.
The Adam West TV series will, at long last, see a DVD release. Warner and Fox have worked out the legal differences over rights. No specific date has been set.
Batman/Superman movie delayed until 2016.
Warner delayed the release of the movie, still untitled, until May 2016. Start of production won’t start until second quarter of this year.
More news links while I’m on hiatus.
Garth Ennis’ Preacher may be developed for television.
While the news is so far unconfirmed, it looks like AMC, the nice folk who brought us Breaking Bad, has ordered a pilot for the comic adaptation. The question becomes how much of the comic makes it through the transition. Preacher is known for pushing boundaries.
It’s a Wonderful Sequel
It took Hollywood sixty-nine years, but the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life is getting a sequel. It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story follows George Bailey’s grandson, who, in a twist everyone could see coming, is unlikable. Karolyn Grimes, who played Bailey’s daughter in the original movie, will return as an angel. Other surviving cast members are being asked to reprise roles. Why? My guess is the studio wants the residuals the sequel will get when stations air it after the original during the holiday season.
Even Lifetime is getting in on the adaptation train.
Lifetime will air Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, starring Christina Ricci, in the new year, based on the murder of Abby and Andrew Borden, Lizzie’s parents, in 1892 and the subsequent nursery rhyme.
The Strain becoming a TV series.
Guillermo del Toro’s vampire trilogy, The Strain, is being developed for FX with a 13 epsiode season. Chuck Hogan, del Toro’s co-writer for the books, is on board for the series. The pilot should air July 2014.
Beetlejuice 2 getting more alumni.
Everything is still in rumour stage, but Winona Ryder may return for Beetlejuice 2 as Lydia. Michael Keaton is confirmed as the titular character, and Tim Burton is in talks to direct.
Fan favourite character to return in Star Wars: Episode VII.
R2-D2 will return for Episode VII. Disney and LucasFilm confirmed that the plucky droid will be back. With R2, two new employees for the Creatures Effects team are joining the movie. Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples were part of the R2-D2 Builders Club and met producer Kathleen Kennedy over the summer. She recommended them to the executive producer who hired them for the film. Lesson here: Embrace your inner geek and network.
MuseHack’s Serdar reviews Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
Read why Serdar thinks the movie missed its mark.
Mad Max being re-imagined.
Where re-imagined means remade. Expected release date of Mad Max: Fury Road is May 2015, about 30 years after the release of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Little is known about what the movie at this point.
Hammer Films dips into archives for a remake.
Hammer Films, known for their genre horror movies, is remaking The Abominable Snowman. The intent is to put a modern twist of the 1957 original. Remember, not all remakes are bad.
AMC working on Walking Dead spin-off.
The spin-off of the TV series adapted from the comic is slated for a 2015 debut. Robert Kirkman, who created the original comic series, will use the spin-off to expand the world of /The Walking Dead/.
The Final Girls to star Jamie Lee Curtis.
The series will be a drama featuring a group of girls who survived horror stories as the sole survivor. The name comes from the trope where the last character to reach the end credtis of a horror movie is usually the well-behaved girl. Curtis herself played one in Halloween.
Stephen King nervous about reaction to The Shining sequel.
Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrence after he has grown up. King hopes that people think that the book will be better than The Shining, reflecting the experience he has gained since the original book was published.
A Wrinkle in Time adapted as a graphic novel.
Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s novel has been adapted by Hope Larson as a graphic novel.
Star Wars adapted to, wait, Shakespeare? Really?
Verily. In an effort to help students grasp Shakespearean plays, Ian Doescher wrote William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. After Doescher sent in the first act, Lucas Films encouraged him to continue. “True it is, that these are not the droids for which thou search’st.”
Commissioner Gordon to get prequel series.
The announcement came on the same day that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered. Fox managed to outbid Warner Bros. TV on the series, which will focus on the time Gordon spent as a detective on the Gotham City Police Department. Bruno Heller, creator of The Mentalist, will helm the show.
Dark Horse announces Firefly/Serenity continuation comic.
Firefly is seeing a resurgence lately, with tabletop RPG, boardgame, and now a new comic. A release date and a writer have both not been set.
Constantine may be developed for NBC.
NBC has ordered a script based on the DC Comics character John Constantine. A pilot has still has yet to be greenlit.
Lost Three Stooges film found!
A copy of the seventeen minute short “Hello, Pop!” has been discovered in a shed in Austrailia. The short was thought to be lost in 1967 in a fire.
Voice work begins on Thunderbirds Are Go!
A remake of the Supermarionation TV series will be a mix of puppetry and CGI. David Graham will reprise the role of Parker, Lady Penelope’s driver. Lady Penelope will be played by Rosamund Pike.
Live action Cruella de Vil movie in works.
Glenn Close, who played the puppy-fur-loving villain in the live action 101 Dalmations and 102 Dalmations is the executive producer of the movie. Disney also has a live action Cinderella in the works.
CBS to adapt The Songs of the Seraphim novels.
Angel Time is in development with author Anne Rice signed on as executive producer. Vampires are not involved.
Rainmaker Entertainment, who bought Mainframe Entertainment, has announced a reboot of the CGI animated series ReBoot. Rainmaker renamed its TV division to Mainframe Entertainment in conjunction with the news on the 20th anniversary of the creation of ReBoot.
There was much rejoicing.
Walter White’s obituary runs in Albuquerque newspaper.
Fans of Breaking Bad paid for an obituary for lead character Walter White after the series finale.
It’s been a busy month in the world of adaptations. Steve already mentioned the new Harry Potter-verse movie being scripted by JK Rowling herself. Here’s the rest of the news.
Daniel Curry, who plays one of the nine Spider-Men in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was injured during a performance. The Broadway show cost $75 million to put on and has seen a number of injuries amongst the actors. The show has also put out a casting call to replace Reeve Carney, who has played Peter Parker since 2010.
Rambo to become TV series?
Entertainment One and Nu Image are working with Sylvester Stallone to develop a Rambo TV series. No network has signed on yet, and the project could turn into the fifth Rambo movie. There’s a chance that Stallone would return as the titular character as well as being the creative consultant. Rambo may not be the only movie adapted as a TV series…
Reality Bites being adapted for TV series.
Ben Stiller, who directed the original movie, is on board as executive producer of the TV series, as is Helen Childress, who wrote the script for the original. The TV series will follow Lelaina Pierce, originally portrayed by Winona Ryder, after graduation in the 1990s, following the events of the movie. Keep in mind that, during the closing credits of the movie, it is revealed that Michael Grates, played by Stiller, turned the relationship he had with Lelaina into a TV show.
Star Wars: Episode VII to be shot on film.
Unlike Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the next Star Wars installment will be on film instead of digital cameras. Film allows for a different approach, including getting the feel of the original movie and the addition of lens flares. If Episode VII goes 3D, it’ll have to be converted after being filmed.
Matt Damon returning as Bourne?
Damon and Paul Greengrass could be returning for a new Bourne movie. Damon has said that he’d be back if Greengrass was. Meanwhile, Jeremy Renner is still slated to be in a sequel to Bourne Legacy. No word if the two movies will merge or if the two streams will crossover.
Sharktopus sequel wraps up production.
Sharktopus vs. Mermantula brings back the shark-octopus hybrid that terrorized a Carribbean beach resort. This time around, Sharktopus has to deal with Mermantual, a failed experiment in creating the perfect man. Roger Corman, producer of this epic, has also opened “Corman’s Drive-In” on YouTube as an archive of the 400 movies he and his wife have produced.
Terminator 5 in pre-production.
Alan Taylor, director of Thor: The Dark World, is in talks to direct the fifth movie in the Terminator franchise. T5 is the start of a stand-alone trilogy of movies in the Terminator setting. However…
Terminator rights return to James Cameron in 2019.
A change in copyright laws changed the length of time before rights return to the creator to 35 years. The current licensees, Megan and David Ellison of Skydance Productions picked up the rights to make three movies, but the time limit may lead to just two. Cameron could license the rights back if he chooses to do so.
Speaking of Cameron, Avatar to get three sequels.
The three movies will be shot simultaneously. Tapped for screenwriting are Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and Shane Saerno (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem). Release dates are already set for December of 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Bradley Cooper to play Rocket Raccoon.
Cooper joins Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio del Toro, and John C. Reilly in the cast.
World of Warcraft movie to film in Vancouver.
If Azeroth looks familiar, it’s because Vancouver and environs have been seen in many, many movies and TV series, doubling for such exotic locations as Caprica, Starling City, Storybrook, Maine, and every planet seen in the Stargate TV series.
50 Shades of Grey gets cast named.
Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam have been cast as the leads to the movie adaptation of the Twilight fanfic. 50 Shades is due out in 2014. However…
Fans aren’t happy about the casting choices.
They want the actors EL James used as models for her characters, Alexis Bledel and Mat Bomer, and have set up a Change.org petition. What, they don’t want Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson?
Stargate to get reboot trilogy of movies.
Roland Emmerich, the director of the original Stargate movie, is rebooting the movie franchise. He originally wanted a trilogy of movies the first time round, but MGM went with a Stargate SG-1 instead. Fan reaction will be mixed and heated.
DiCaprio producing The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s company will produce the sixth adaptation of the HG Wells novel about a geneticist running amok and playing God.
Blade Runner sequel in the works.
After over 30 years, Blade Runner may be getting a sequel. Hampton Fancher, who contributed to the original screenplay, and Ridley Scott will be on the project. The script is being rewritten by Michael Green, who worked on the Green Lantern script.
Dwayne Johnson is The Fall Guy.
The old Lee Majors TV series about a bounty hunting stunt man is being remade as a film, helmed by McG. Production has not yet started. Any guesses on what the next old TV series to be remade as a movie?
Anne of Green Gables musical adaptation looking for Canadian filmmaker.
Based on the popular children’s novel, the musical is to be filmed on location in PEI. No release date has been set. Line ups in Tokyo should start the moment one is announced.
Ant-Man rescheduled for Summer 2015.
The release date for /Ant-Man/ has been moved up from November to July, 2015. This places the hero who, in the main Marvel universe, created Ultron almost three months behind the killer robot’s debut in The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Cracked.com covers why remakes don’t work.
A Quick-Fix, but hits several major points. Point #2 is particularly relevant – relevance. Many works are a product of their time and don’t adjust well to modern sensibilities. Not covered, lack of respect for the original work.
Dungeons & Dragons film faces court challenge.
Not from fans of the game who saw the original movie, but from Sweetpea Entertainment. Univsersal Pictures received the D&D license from Hasbro, current owners of Wizards of the Coast, publisher of the RPG. Sweetpea alleges that they had received the D&D license in perpetuity in 1994, when the third edition of the game was released. The timeline given in the story is off; WotC signed the original 1994 licensing agreement, whatever the terms were, and Hasbro purchased WotC in 1999. Looks like many lawyers are going to get experience to level up in this case.
Fourth Jurassic Park sequel given release date.
Universal Pictures has until June 12, 2015 to make Jurassic World, already slated to be in 3D.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes to be delayed.
With the first of the trilogy, City of Bones a financial flop, the second movie is having its release delayed. The film is in production and will add Sigourney Weaver to the cast. Not helping the movies is that the books never reached the mindspace of the general audience that Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games had. Most people, even if they haven’t read any of Twilight could name several characters. The Mortal Instruments doesn’t even have that.