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kottke.org posts about Star Wars

Who is the last Jedi? What is the phantom menace?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2017

Vanity Fair’s David Kamp recently tried to get Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson to tell him the meaning behind The Last Jedi, the title of the upcoming Star Wars movie. LOL. Hopeless move, right? Why would he even ask such a question? Oh, because George Lucas told him who the The Phantom Menace referred to before that movie came out.

Vanity Fair: So, do we know what the words The Last Jedi allude to?

Kathleen Kennedy: Why in the world do you think I would tell you that?

VF: I’ll tell you why. Back in 1998, I interviewed George Lucas for V.F. ahead of The Phantom Menace, and I asked, “Who or what is the phantom menace?” And he nonchalantly said, “Oh, it’s Darth Sidious.”

KK: Did he really?

VF: Just like that.

KK: I’m not going to do that.

VF: So, does the word “Jedi” work in the singular or the plural?

KK: That’s actually what’s interesting about the title, and very intentionally ambiguous.

VF: As you’re being right now.

KK: Yes.

Here’s the relevant passage from a piece written by Kamp and published in 1999:

Given that The Phantom Menace is a Vader- and Emperor-free movie, the role of evil string-puller falls to someone we’ve never heard of. “The phantom menace is a character named Darth Sidious,” Lucas says, “who is the last of the Sith” (“An ancient people… conquered by powerful dark-side Jedi magic”-page 268, Star Wars Encyclopedia, by Stephen J. Sansweet). Actually, Lucas goes on to explain, the “menace” honorific should be broadened to include Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul, a terrifyingly fierce-looking character played by the martial-arts expert Ray Park. Maul gets to fight a lightsaber battle with Obi-Wan, but Sidious remains a shadowy figure. “Nobody knows Darth Sidious exists,” says Lucas. “Well, he’s seen to the audience, but not to the players.”

Lucas appears to be firmly in the spoilers are fine camp.

Exploring the sound design of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2017

When considering the massive success of Star Wars, special effects and the Jospeh Campbell-inspired story always get their due. But the sound design of the film was just as important and revolutionary as the visual effects. From Darth Farmer’s overdubbing with James Earl Jones’ voice and the now-famous breathing noise (created using a SCUBA apparatus) to the lightsaber battles (the lightsaber noise comes from the hum of film projectors plus the buzz from a CRT TV set), the sounds added to the film hold everything together, creating the illusion of reality where none actually exists.

Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death Star

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2017

Otaku Gang took more than a dozen tracks by Notorious B.I.G. and remixed them with music and sounds from Star Wars. The cantina band version of Party N’ Bullshit is kinda delightful. You can download the entire album (or just the instrumentals) here.

See also the Star Wars / Beatles mashup and Gnarls Biggie. (via @naveen)

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

A duo called Palette-Swap Ninja has produced a mashup of Star Wars and the entirety of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Each song on the album is paired chronologically with a scene from the movie:

Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Luke Is In The Desert (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds)
Being From The Spaceport Of Mos Eisley (Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!)

The effort here is amazing, particularly when this whole thing is going to get yanked at some point soon — it’s a race between Disney and Sony for quickest takedown notice. The whole video playlist is here and you can download the full album on their website or stream it on Soundcloud. (thx, tim)

The hand-painted background scenes of the original Star Wars trilogy

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

Star Wars Matte Art

Star Wars Matte Art

Star Wars Matte Art

Back in the 70s and 80s, before photorealistic computer graphics became commonplace, elaborate background sets in movies were hand-painted. Sploid’s Jesus Diaz took at look at the background art featured in the original Star Wars trilogy and the artists who painted them.

Matte paintings are fake sets that-most of the times-used to be made with plexiglass and oil paint. The artists used oversized panels to create the necessary detail that the camera needed to fool the audiences when the film was projected over the large surface of the theater screen. The paintings were combined with live action filmed to match the perspective of the painting. If done well, the public would totally buy into the shot.

Robert Bechtle has nothing on these guys. Bonus painting: the warehouse scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Wars Matte Art

They had to use a painting because the filmmakers were unaware of Ikea at the time.

Teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

YAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS. I will never not be excited for more Star Wars and I don’t care what this says about me as a person.

A touching Star Wars video tribute to Carrie Fisher

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Next month is the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars and at Star Wars Celebration this year, there was a 40 Years of Star Wars panel with George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, and Harrison Ford. At the end of the panel, after some personal thoughts from Lucas and the other panelists about Carrie Fisher, they played this video tribute to Fisher.

The end of Rogue One + the beginning of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The ending of Rogue One — spoilers! — shows an unconvincing CG clone of Princess Leia receiving the plans for the Death Star just before her ship jumps into hyperspace. The beginning of Star Wars takes place just a few minutes (or hours?) after the final scene in Rogue One. Vader’s ship has caught the Rebel ship. He boards it and captures Leia, but not before she hands off the plans to R2-D2, who escapes to Tatooine with C-3PO. Watching them cut together like this, the whole narrative makes a lot more sense. BTW, on March 24, you’ll be able to watch both movies back-to-back in the comfort of your home when Rogue One is available for digital download.

The tools ILM built to make Rogue One are super interesting

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2017

Every time I watch or read something about how Rogue One was made, I come away more intrigued. And it’s not about how they made the film…it’s about the tools they built to help them make the film. A few weeks ago, I posted about the full-length story reel they made from bits of old movies so that director Gareth Edwards could determine the pacing:

There was no screenplay, there was just a story breakdown at that point, scene by scene. He got me to rip hundreds of movies and basically make ‘Rogue One’ using other films so that they could work out how much dialogue they actually needed in the film.

It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet”, now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other ‘Star Wars’ film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way — I used a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ films — but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.

In this video, we see a couple more tools the team used to facilitate the making of the film. The first is a VR video game of sorts that ILM built so that Edwards could move a virtual camera around in a virtual set to find just the right camera angles to capture the action, resulting in a process that was more flexible than traditional storyboarding.

The second tool jumped around a virtual set — a complete digital model of Jedha City — and rendered hundreds of street views from it at random. Then the filmmakers would look through the scenes for interesting shots and found scenes that looked more “natural” than something a digital effects artist might have come up with on purpose — basically massively parallel location scouting.

Both are attempts to introduce more serendipity and possibility into a digital filmmaking process that sometimes feels a little stilted. I think animation studios like Pixar have been using these techniques for years, but it’s interesting to see them applied to live-action films like Rogue One.

Update: The Verge’s Bryan Bishop talked to Edwards and visual effects supervisor John Knoll and came away with more interesting details about how they used technology in filming Rogue One.

Typically, you’d have to storyboard these things, and that means you’re pulling from some default, subconscious idea in your head, probably based on another film you’ve seen, where you feel like it should be this shot. I find you get much better, more unique, shots when you are in a real environment, trying to find something that’s unfolding in front of you. You get inspired because of the light and shapes and things. It was like being in the real world more, and like the way we shot a lot of the rest of the movie.

I think if I ever do a big film again, and there’s a big digital set piece in it, whatever that is, I would definitely want to pre-animate it and then go in with a camera and try and film it like it was real.

Read the whole thing…the bit about the LED screens is fascinating. Prior to the 1980s, aside from some relatively minor editing tricks, effects in movies were mainly done during shooting. More recently, most of the production happens after the cameras stop rolling: extensively green-screened footage of the actors is combined with entire sets and worlds that are completely digital. With Rogue One, they tried to move some of that production back into the shooting phase in order to give the director more control over the scenes and the actors a more immersive environment in which to act. (via @sippey)

Rogue One’s unique storyboard, remixed from 100s of films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2017

In an interview with Yahoo Movies UK, Rogue One editor Colin Goudie shares how he made a full-length story reel for director Gareth Edwards from similar scenes from 100s of other movies so that Edwards could work out the pacing for the action and dialogue.

There was no screenplay, there was just a story breakdown at that point, scene by scene. He got me to rip hundreds of movies and basically make ‘Rogue One’ using other films so that they could work out how much dialogue they actually needed in the film.

It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet”, now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other ‘Star Wars’ film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way — I used a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ films — but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.

For example the sequence of them breaking into the vault I was ripping the big door closing in ‘Wargames’ to work out how long does a vault door take to close.

So that’s what I did and that was three months work to do that and that had captions at the bottom which explained the action that was going to be taking place, and two thirds of the screen was filled with the concept art that had already been done and one quarter, the bottom corner, was the little movie clip to give you how long that scene would actually take.

Then I used dialogue from other movies to give you a sense of how long it would take in other films for someone to be interrogated. So for instance, when Jyn gets interrogated at the beginning of the film by the Rebel council, I used the scene where Ripley gets interrogated in ‘Aliens’.

So you get an idea of what movies usually do.

That’s super interesting! Like a moving Pinterest mood board or something. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see that story reel.

The UI design of Rogue One

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

From design firm Blind Ltd, the user interface graphics they did for Rogue One. They had some graphics from the original Star Wars to play off of, but this is still really nice work. Blind also did onscreen interfaces for The Force Awakens, the Batman films, and some recent Bond films. (via @pieratt)

Rogue One, engineering ethics, and types of resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

Scifi Policy reviews Rogue One as an engineering ethics case study (spoilers!).

The film also makes its engineering ethics explicit. Before the opening scene, Galen Erso had escaped the Death Star project because of his moral objections, likely against the Empire as well as the concept of making such a terrifying weapon at all. After Krennic captures him, Galen later tells his daughter Jyn that he had a choice: he could have continued abstaining, and let someone else build the Death Star, or he could dive deep into the project, become indispensable to it, and find a way to stop it. He chooses to dive deep, and succeeds in building a subtle flaw in the Death Star design. Then 15 years later, he sends a messenger to the Rebellion informing them of the weapon’s existence, power and most importantly, its fatal flaw.

Part of the point of the review is that resistance can take many forms. Erso resists by working within the system to help bring about a better outcome. The problem, for the outside observer, is that for such resistance to be effective, it needs to be indistinguishable from collaboration. Something to think about in relation to the incoming Trump administration and how best to work against it, particularly in the area of technology. (via mr)

Every story is the same

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

A few years ago, Dan Harmon broke the structure of stories down into eight basic parts:

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
  2. But they want something.
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
  4. Adapt to it,
  5. Get what they wanted,
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
  8. Having changed.

Calling himself a “corny screenwriting guru”, this is Harmon’s attempt to simplify Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth, or hero’s journey.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

In the video above, Will Schoder explains Harmon’s theory using a number of different stories (movies, books, TV shows, etc.) as examples, most notably the original Star Wars, which George Lucas created using Campbell’s ideas.

This happy dog sounds like a TIE Fighter

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Animals make all sorts of crazy noises when they’re happy or when they laugh, like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. This dog, named Geraldine, sounds pretty much like a TIE Fighter from Star Wars when she gets excited. (via @jhgard)

The original Star Wars in 4K

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

A group of hardcore Star Wars fans are restoring the original 1977 theatrical release of the first Star Wars movie in ultra high-def 4K resolution. The video above is a trailer of sorts, but it also shows the restoration of a short scene…the increase in quality and resolution is impressive.

Simply put, we are restoring the original, theatrical version of Star Wars in 4K. Using multiple 35mm prints, scanned at 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at full 4k UHD 4096x1716 resolution. To be clear, this is not simply an upscale of any other source, this is all to be done natively in 4K from 35mm sources. The only exception to this rule is when we don’t have a particular frame available, in that case either an upscale of the Silver Screen Edition, or the official Bluray will be used.

A trailer for David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2016

Did you know that George Lucas approached David Lynch about directing Return of the Jedi? After a visit to Lucas’ studio described here by Lynch, Lynch turned Lucas down pretty quickly. But what might have been, huh? Well, this fan-made trailer gives us a taste of a Lynch-helmed Star Wars movie. (via one perfect shot)

Star Wars album covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2016

Star Wars Album Covers

Star Wars Album Covers

Star Wars Album Covers

I totally loved this…famous album covers modified to include Star Wars characters. The Bjork/Leia one is just perfect. More album/movie mashups on this Instagram account (like this Game of Thrones take on Sgt. Pepper’s).

The official trailer for Rogue One, a Star Wars Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2016

Ok, this looks good.

Kylo Ren’s outtakes by the Auralnauts

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2016

The Auralnauts are back with their expertly made revisions of Star Wars movies (see also Star Wars Episode II: The Friend Zone) and this time their subject is Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens.

What? What, dude?! Jim, what is up with your friend?

The Po Dameron interrogation scene: I haven’t laughed that hard in a loooong time.

The Star Wars prequels predicted our current political moment

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2016

Cass Sunstein, author of the recently published The World According to Star Wars, says that while most people might dislike the three Star Wars prequels, they function well as “a quick guide to current political struggles”.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.

As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order — and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.

A prominent voice, Anakin Skywalker, insisted, “We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what’s in the interest of all the people, and then do it.” And if they didn’t, “they should be made to.”

Eventually, something far worse happened. The legislature voted to give “emergency powers” — essentially unlimited authority — to the chief executive. An astute observer, Padme Amidala, noted, “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”

Well, that was kind of terrifying to read. My ill-feeling peaked at “a democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody’s squabbling” as a cause of Hitler’s rise in Germany. As Sunstein notes, the parallels between that situation and our do-nothing Congress & the authoritarian gentleman currently running for President are obvious and possibly significant.

All of Star Wars Ep. IV in one infographic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2016

Star Wars Infographic

Star Wars Infographic

Star Wars Infographic

Swiss illustrator Martin Panchaud created a massive infographic that tells the entire story of the first Star Wars movie. How massive? It’s 465152 pixels long.

This long ribbon reminds the ancient Chinese script rolls that had to be rolled in and rolled out simultaneously in order to be read. I like this stretch between ages, cultures, and technologies.

So cool. The style reminds me a bit of Chris Ware in places.

This sliding door sounds like a screaming R2-D2

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2016

My therapist and I have yet to figure out why, but I have a soft spot for objects that do unexpected impressions of other things and people. Like this sliding door that sounds like R2-D2 screaming. Or the falling shovel that plays Smells Like Teen Spirit. Or the door that can do a wicked Miles Davis impression. Or the nightstand door that sounds like Chewbacca. I even found one of my own a few months ago: the elevator door at the old Buzzfeed office sounded like Chewbacca as well. (via @williamlubelski)

Update: Here’s a video full of things that sound like Chewbacca.

Woman is enraptured with talking Chewbacca mask

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2016

This woman in the talking Chewbacca mask is really feeling her Friday. FRIDAY!!! She’s not making the noise, the mask is! Get your own mask here and have your own fun. (It’s been a long week. This was delightful.)

Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2016

When it came out in December, Star Wars: The Force Awakens made a shed-load of cash, garnered positive reviews from critics and fans alike, but also got dinged for borrowing too much from the previous films, particularly the original. In this edition of Everything is a Remix, Kirby Ferguson considers JJ Abrams’ remix settings on The Force Awakens and wonders if the essential elements of such an undertaking (copying, transforming, combining) were properly balanced.

Darth Vader’s exploded head and BarbieCue

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2016

Exploded Vader

Barbiecue

From Austrian street artist Nychos, previews of a Dissection of Darth Vader’s Head piece and a “Barbie meltdown” piece from an upcoming show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in June. You can see more of his work on his Tumblr and Instagram.

The World According to Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2016

World According Star Wars

In The World According to Star Wars, Cass Sunstein explores the philosophy and life lessons of Star Wars.

In this fun, erudite and often moving book, Cass R. Sunstein explores the lessons of Star Wars as they relate to childhood, fathers, the Dark Side, rebellion, and redemption. As it turns out, Star Wars also has a lot to teach us about constitutional law, economics, and political uprisings.

Update: Sunstein, who is a professor at Harvard Law School, gave the commencement address last year at Penn Law. He starts off, dryly: “Graduates, faculty, family, friends, our topic today is Star Wars.”

(via @EmilyBrenn)

Charles Dickens, Star Wars, and the genre of serialization

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2016

In a new video, Even Puschak talks about the rise of the serialization genre, from Dickens to Flash Gordon to General Hospital to Star Wars. Now that our entertainment is increasingly serialized, he argues that audiences have a unique opportunity to shape what we watch. (Case in point: the increased importance of non-white and non-male characters in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.)

Further reading: Wired’s You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie, which I’ve thought about almost every week since I read it.

Everywhere, studio suits are recruiting creatives who can weave characters and story lines into decades-spanning tapestries of prequels, side-quels, TV shows, games, toys, and so on. Brand awareness goes through the roof; audiences get a steady, soothing mainline drip of familiar characters.

Forget the business implications for a moment, though. The shared universe represents something rare in Hollywood: a new idea. It evolved from the narrative techniques not of auteur or blockbuster films but of comic books and TV, and porting that model over isn’t easy. It needs different kinds of writers and directors and a different way of looking at the structure of storytelling itself. Marvel prototyped the process; Lucasfilm is trying to industrialize it.

And Puschak recommends Consuming Pleasures by Jennifer Hayward.

Ranging from installment novels, mysteries, and detective fiction of the 1800s to the television and movie series, comics, and advertisements of the twentieth century, serials are loosely linked by what may be called “family resemblances.” These traits include intertwined subplots, diverse casts of characters, dramatic plot reversals, suspense, an such narrative devices as long-lost family members and evil twins. Hayward chooses four texts to represent the evolution of serial fiction as a genre and to analyze the peculiar draw that serials have upon their audiences: Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend, Milton Canif’s comic strip Terry and the Pirates, and the soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live. Hayward argues that serial audiences have developed active strategies of consumption, such as collaborative reading and attempts to shape the production process. In this way fans have forced serial producers to acknowledge the power of the audience.

All this makes me realize that I’ve often thought of kottke.org as a serial. The “family resemblances” amongst all my posts might be difficult to see sometimes, but it’s there most of the time. In my mind, at least.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2016

The trailer for the first “Star Wars Story” has dropped.1 Rogue One is about how the Rebellion stole the plans for the Death Star before the events of A New Hope. Don’t read the comments on YouTube…there’s whining about how the protagonist is a woman and the cast is diverse. :(

  1. “A Star Wars Story”…that’s a bit of a hamfisted name. Regardless, there are two other “Story” films planned so far that focus on Han Solo (pre-Hope) and Boba Fett (pre-Empire).

An honest trailer for The Force Awakens

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2016

They go hard on the rhymes with A New Hope angle. I LOL’d when they called JJ Abrams “diet Spielberg”.

BB-8 will watch Star Wars with you

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now out on Blu-ray and digital download. If you have Sphero’s BB-8 toy, you can have BB-8 watch the movie with you and react to what’s going on on-screen. Here’s BB-8 reacting to seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in the movie:

Hey, quiet in front, #bb8. Some of us are trying to watch #theforceawakens.

A video posted by Chris Taylor (@futurechris) on



That’s pretty cute. But I kinda wish it worked for any Star Wars movie. Or any movie period…like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 just with BB-8 reactions. (via nerdist)