kottke.org posts about Star Wars
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)
A few years ago, Dan Harmon broke the structure of stories down into eight basic parts:
- A character is in a zone of comfort,
- But they want something.
- They enter an unfamiliar situation,
- Adapt to it,
- Get what they wanted,
- Pay a heavy price for it,
- Then return to their familiar situation,
- 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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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. :(
They go hard on the rhymes with A New Hope angle. I LOL’d when they called JJ Abrams “diet Spielberg”.
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:
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)
One of the things that a number of people commented on after seeing The Force Awakens (including me) was that the movie seemed to be a remix or an homage to the original Star Wars.
With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams did the same thing, but instead of pulling from Flash Gordon and Kurosawa like Lucas did, he pulled from what he grew up with as a kid and in film school…Star Wars and Spielberg. In a way, The Force Awakens is a reboot of the original 1977 Star Wars, similar plot and all. And even if it isn’t a true reboot, it sure does rhyme.
Although some of the comparisons are a stretch, this video does a nice job highlighting the visual similarities of the two movies.
Related: Kenji Lopez-Alt took off his food nerd hat for a second and donned his Star Wars nerd hat with this piece at Medium: Rey is a Palpatine.
This is a fan edit of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace with all of the crappy bits removed and several other scenes reworked. Among the changes:
- Jar Jar is now a useful character instead of an annoying tag-along
- Queen Amidala’s voice is pitch-shifted back to her normal pitch
- Midichlorian references removed
- Anakin is edited to be a more deliberate hero instead of an accidental one
Pro tip: the best Star Wars prequel is still Triumph The Insult Comic Dog interviewing people standing in line for Attack of the Clones.
Howard Shore, composer of the orchestral score for The Lord of the Rings, uses leitmotif to help tell the story, in the form of recurring thematic musical phrases that accompany certain actions, places, or characters. For instance, there’s a Shire theme that plays when the hobbits are central to the action but which becomes less important as their physical distance from the Shire increases. Wagner famously used leitmotif in his Ring cycle and so did John Williams in Star Wars…Vader’s theme is a good example.1
Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca in Star Wars, is tweeting out photos of his original Star Wars script from March 1976. As you can see, it was originally called “The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the ‘Journal of the Whills’”. So catchy…why’d they change it, d’ya think?
Huh. Hollywood has invented a new type of movie trailer: the “we just started filming and here’s 5 seconds of the film that’s basically the last 5 seconds of the previous film” trailer. And whaddya know, idiot bloggers will post it because Star Wars Rey Luke squeeeeeee!!
Lego and Disney are teaming up for a Star Wars: The Force Awakens video game, out this summer. The trailer for it is possibly more fun than the movie was and is well worth watching if you enjoyed The Lego Movie.
This is maddening if true: according to an industry insider, vendors making tie-in products for the new Star Wars movie were directed by Disney1 to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise.
In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.
The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.
“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”
What good does it do our culture if JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy work to make popular movies with progressive characters if the cowards in marketing are not going to follow suit?
Update: Lots of people are sharing this story, and I wanted to highlight and explain the “if true” in the first paragraph. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the article I linked to. It relies completely on a single anonymous source. I have no idea what Sweatpants and Coffee’s fact-checking procedures are. There are also many Star Wars related products featuring Rey (like Lego), so clearly the directive to “exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise” was either not issued in such a restrictive manner or was disregarded in some cases.
A look at how some of the most arresting visual effects were done in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The filmmakers used many real sets and models (i.e. practical effects), but there were also 2100 shots in the movie with digital effects.
Update: The original video was removed, but I replaced it with one that’s a bit better.
Update: Here’s how the visual effects on the Millennium Falcon’s escape from Jakku scene were done.
Update: ILM released their official look at the visual effects.
Some people were bothered over supposed gaps in the plot in The Force Awakens. I wasn’t…save the hand-wringing for more weighty fare. But if you were, the novelization of the movie connects some of the dots left detached. Here are some of the more interesting ones (spoilers, obvs):
The Resistance had no idea Starkiller Base existed. This is extrapolated on quite a bit. Snoke’s decision to destroy the New Republic is about flushing out the Resistance. Utter annihilation of the enemy is a mere side effect. Snoke knew using the weapon would give away the base’s location. The Resistance would then send a reconnaissance team to scout the place and the First Order could follow the scouts back to the Resistance HQ and destroy them once and for all. While this is what happens in the movie, the motivations are a bit murkier.
Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. After failing to call Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber to his hand, Ren turns to Rey — who is now holding the blue lightsaber — and he declares, “It IS you,” and then the fight begins.
Ok, whoa. What does that mean?
Han hadn’t seen Kylo Ren/Ben since he became an adult. When Ben removes the helmet of Kylo Ren, Han Solo is shocked by how grown-up his son looks as he hasn’t seen him since he became an adult. This lends credence to the theory that Snoke seduced a teenaged Ben to the Dark Side. Speaking of which, Leia knew Snoke was trying to get his claws in her son since he was a child and never told Han until right before the Starkiller mission.
[Rey] struggles with the Dark Side almost immediately. Rey might look serene as she finds the Force and battles a badly injured Kylo Ren, but she is fighting with rage. After beating down her opponent, a voice inside her encourages her to kill him. She rejects the notion, but is still struggling with herself when the rift opens up and separates the two of them.
[Ren] also cracked open something in Rey’s mind. One of the advantages of a book is internal narration. When Ren attempts to retrieve the map from Rey’s brain he senses something weird within her mind. Not resistance, but a barrier. Probing at it is what causes Rey to suddenly find herself — with no provocation — inside Ren’s mind. Now this is just speculation, but it certainly sounds like someone had walled off Rey’s Force sensitivity and Kylo Ren accidentally broke down the wall.
The script for the movie clarifies a few things as well.
Luke Skywalker Immediately Knows Who Rey Is and Why She Is Here. The script describes Luke Skywalker as being older now, with white hair and a beard. It says that he looks at Rey with a “kindness in his eyes, but there’s something tortured, too.” Most interestingly, it says that Luke “doesn’t need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here.” Does this mean that he knows Rey is his child? Or does this mean that he knows because of the Force? The script only adds that “his look says it all.”
Kylo Ren Is Horrified By His Actions. The script gives us some internal insight into Kylo Ren after he just killed his father Han Solo. The screenplay notes that “Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act,” noting that he is “horrified” and his “SHOCK is broken only when” Chewbacca cries out in agony.
Fun fact that I just discovered: the novelizations of all three of the original Star Wars movies were released before the movies came out! Star Wars the book came out 6 months before the movie, Empire a month before, and Jedi a couple of weeks before. I’m amazed you could walk into a bookstore an entire month before The Empire Strikes Back was released and discover that Vader was Luke’s father. Truly a different approach to spoilers.
A short entertaining look at Star Wars’ secret sauce. Joseph Campbell? Kurosawa? Flash Gordon? The ancient future? The sounds? (PS: The Wilhelm Scream shows up pretty early on in The Force Awakens, as Poe and Finn exit the First Order hangar bay.)
Of Oz the Wizard is the entire Wizard of Oz movie presented in alphabetical order by dialogue. So it starts with all the scenes where Dorothy and the gang say “a”, “aaiee”, “along”, and proceeds through “you’re” and “zipper”. Even the words on each of the title cards are sorted alphabetically.
(I feel like I’ve posted this before — or something like it — but I can’t find it in the archives. Anyone?)
Update: Ah yes, I was thinking of this alphabetized version of Star Wars (which I’ve seen before but somehow never posted):
Another example is Thomson & Craighead’s The Time Machine. Matt Bucy, the creator of Of Oz the Wizard, seems to have pioneered this technique (the Vimeo page indicates it was completed in April 2004) but didn’t post the video online until a few days ago. (via @Mister_Milligan, @sannahahn)