Rebels Season 3, Thrawn, and… Ezra is Snoke?

via File770, Star Wars: Celebration just dropped the trailer for Season 3 of Rebels. Big reveals: the Darksaber is back and more Mandalorian lore, Grand Admiral Thrawn returns to canon, and Ezra slips ever closer to the Dark Side. The trailer is amazing:

Everyone is going to flip out over Thrawn, which is cool (though extremely muddles the Empire’s command structure). But the bigger clue is Ezra. In many ways, Ezra is Luke (and the same age, notably) – being trained ad-hoc, growing in strength, and convinced he is immune to the Dark Side’s corruption. We saw Luke flirt with the Dark Side’s power throughout the original trilogy and in ROTJ Luke dresses more like a Sith than a Jedi. There’s an entire theory that Luke actually went full Dark Side.

dark luke

TFA basically refuted that, but there’s no denying Luke was walking the line between Light and Dark the entire time. He is a Skywalker, his grandfather is the Force, so I guess he had some plot protection in that respect. However, Ezra does not have that lineage. And the path that Ezra is walking is very similar to Luke’s – seeking more power, embracing the Sith holocron, not for its own sake but to protect his friends and family, and justifying the dalliance with the Dark Side on that basis.

My prediction: Ezra fails to walk the line as Luke does, and ultimately becomes Snoke.

Ezra’s dark side master is clearly Maul, which is appropriate because Vader is Maul’s replacement as Palpatine’s apprentice. As a result, Kylo Ren is the heir to Palpatine’s teaching via both Maul and Vader.

ezra saber

Since Maul went off the reservation, that would explain how Snoke has taught Kylo Force abilities we haven’t seen yet, like mindrape and forcefreeze. We can even speculate that Ezra’s final act to turn fully towards the Dark may be killing Ahsoka.

Obviously I’m not the only one to have speculated along these lines before, but the trailer for Rebels S3 makes it much more plausible, especially the Luke/Ezra parallels. But Ezra is no Skywalker.

Stargazing at Sandstone Peak

I went stargazing last night at Sandstone Peak in Malibu with my friend Huzaifa – here are some of the post-processed long-exposure shots he took:

Huzaifa has two scopes, and a local named Bob showed up with his own rig. All together, we viewed Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons and bands, and Mars, not to mention a few Messier globular clusters, an open cluster in Hercules, and Berenice’s Comb.

Here’s the location – the ocean was due south, and offered the darkest skies, though we left around midnight, well before the bulk of the Milky Way rose. The western sky was a slightly contaminated by glow from Oxnard. Due east was pretty poor due to light from Thousand Oaks and the Valley beyond. The bulk of Los Angeles proper was southeast and too far away to really interfere, however. For a site only 30 min from home, this was an absolutely superb location, especially for the southeastern sky. See:

Hexagonal Phase in 2017? freeeeow!

Marvin the Paranoid Android (Stephen Moore), Ford Prefect (Geoffrey McGivern), Trillian (Susan Sheridan), Arthur Dent (Simon Jones), Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey)
Marvin the Paranoid Android (Stephen Moore), Ford Prefect (Geoffrey McGivern), Trillian (Susan Sheridan), Arthur Dent (Simon Jones), Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey)

My initial reaction to this news was PLEASE NO – until I realized, it was about radio, not TV or movie:

More than a decade since the show last aired in 2005, a new season of the sci-fi comedy series has been commissioned.

The sixth season is expected to be titled ‘The Hexagonal Phase’, the British Comedy Guide reports.

The new episodes will apparently be based on And Another Thing…., author Eoin Colfer’s 2009 book featuring the characters created by Doctor Who writer Douglas Adams, who died in 2001.

The original radio cast is expected to return for the six episodes, which will again be overseen by director Dirk Maggs.

511vU3LKJUL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_

You know what? I’m game for this. I haven’t even read Colfer’s sequel but this might be the excuse I need. And the fact that they are reuniting the original radio cast means they actually give a pair of Zarquon’s singing fish about Douglas Adams’ legacy.

The Tertiary Phase was really the one that required the most getting used to. The actors’ voices were noticeably aged, especially Zaphod (Mark Wing-Davey). But from there, the Quandary and Quintessential Phases were natural to me. And the replacement voice of the Book, William Franklyn, for Peter Jones, was inspired. As it turns out, there’s actually some H2G2 audio I haven’t heard yet:

Simon Jones who plays Arthur Dent, Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect), Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod Beeblebrox), and Stephen Moore (Marvin) last reunited with Maggs in 2014 to record a special one-off live transmission for Radio 4, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Live. The episode also saw Susan Sheridan reprise her role as Trillian. It would prove to be her last time playing the character, as she died in August 2015.

I am saddened to hear that Trillian has passed away too. This means I need to find that audio ASAP and make a new master playlist. That’s the last True Trillian.

As far as adaptations go, the only ones ever worth a damn were the ones with this crew. That includes the TV series they made – the long-awaited movie was such a travesty that I can’t even. The bottom line: I am looking forward to this. Simon Jones IS Arthur Dent. Geoffrey McGivern IS Ford Prefect. Steven Moore IS Marvin. And Mark Wing-Davey IS Zaphod Beeblebrox. Where those three goofballs go, I’ll follow, and gladly.

Who are the Knights of Ren?

(warning – spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

knights ren

A quick thought about Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren, who we do see during Rey’s sabre-vision.

All we know of why Luke went AWOL was that one of his apprentices (Ren) “destroyed everything” that Luke had tried to build. It’s never stated explicitly that Ren went all Anakin on the younglings. In fact it seems given Ren’s angst about killing Han and the Light, that he’s never crossed the line so dramatically. This is underscored by Snoke who explicitly tells him, “you are the Master of the Knights of Ren, but even you have never faced such a challenge.” (paraphrasing)

What if instead of killing Luke’s jedi in training, Ren corrupted them? Using some of that charisma and leadership skill he inherited from mom and dad, it’s plausible that he took over the Knights of Ren and lured them to the dark side. Such a betrayal of Luke’s goals would be arguably worse than just killing them. In a real sense, that truly is “destroying everything Luke worked for”…

… from a certain point of view.

(Spoilers) Review: The Force Awakens

This was the Star Wars movie I was looking for. This is the first Star Wars film I have ever wanted to own. The original trilogy isn’t available, apart from downloading the “Despecialized Editions.” And why waste money on the prequels when the far superior Clone Wars are available on Netflix?

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then read no further. I’m going to be discussing the movie in detail, including the Big Deal. I suggest you listen to the soundtrack instead!

Also, PSA: do *not* type any character name into Google. The automatic suggestions will ruin the movie for you.

From here on out, there be spoilers.

Spoilers

If you’ve read this far, I am assuming you have seen the movie. You’ve been warned.

WHAT. A. MOVIE.

Jaw-dropping moments of pure awe.
Jaw-dropping moments of pure awe.

What do I gush about first?? The opening crawl starting with the words, “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” Everything about BB-8. Rey’s theme. The looming, derelict star destroyer (Inflictor) on Jakku. The escape in the 2-seater TIE. “Obviously.” “Stop taking my hand!” “That ship’s garbage.” Han and Chewie’s entry (spoiled by the teaser trailer, alas). “Grandfather.” Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber reveal. “That’s one hell of a pilot!” “You’ve changed your hair.” C3PO’s entrance. “Don’t mention the Death Star!” “Ben!” And of course, Luke at the end.

AN EXPANDED UNIVERSE

Galactic history didn't end at Endor
Galactic history didn’t end at Endor

I loved the way Kylo Ren’s identity reveal was handled. No games at all – First, Snoke flat out warns Ren about his father, Han. So we are clued in without drama, and given an immediate window into what Ren’s internal struggle is. At that point the question still is, who is his mother? We want to assume it is Leia, but hey, it’s solo, who knows? And then Ren engages in monologue with Vader’s mask, and calls him “grandfather”, and it all just clicks into place. Rather than try and milk a parallel with Empire Strikes Back, Ren’s family ties serve to develop his character for the viewer. And in so doing, we are given a hint of Han and Leia’s pain as well, which is confirmed when they meet.

Han’s death was telegraphed the moment he stepped out onto the walkway. But it was perfectly done. Ben/Ren’s honest confession of his internal struggle – but with deliberate ambiguity that gave Han hope. After the killing blow (which perfectly evoked Qui-Gonn), the way Han stroked his son’s face before he fell off into the abyss.

Is Ren irredeemable? He has murdered his own father after all. But then again, his grandfather murdered his wife, and many others, The fact that his true name is Ben is also not insignificant – Ren’s struggle against the light, which he acknowledges in monologue to his grandfather’s mask, is a perfect mirror to the call of the Dark Side to Anakin. Kylo acknowledges his grandfather’s legacy, but Obi-wan Kenobi’s legacy is also omnipresent. It’s probably too early to predict whether it is Ren who takes down Snoke in Episode IX, but I think the probability of Ren’s redemption is better than even odds.

It’s worth noting that Luke was wearing the traditional brown and beige robes of the old Jedi. The only time we have ever seen him as an experienced Force user before was in ROTJ, and he was clearly straddling the line between Light and Dark that whole film (here’s a fan theory that tallies the evidence, though it takes it one step too far IMHO).  Luke has clearly matured in the Light after all these years, and I am sure the betrayal by Ren and the destruction of the New Jedi Order have “radicalized” Luke even further towards Qui-Gonn levels of piety for the Light Side.

What about the galactic geopolitics? The rationale for taking out Hosnian Prime was briefly alluded to in dialogue – I assume it will be clearer on second viewing. We know that the Republic exists and is covertly supporting the Resistance against the First Order. In the movie, Starkiller Base destroys the entire Hosnian System, where the Republic’s fleet is located, and possibly the (temporary?) location of the Senate. So there will be a drastic change in the balance of power going forward, with the Republic likely crippled. Overnight, the New Order has the upper hand. And whatever peace treaty the Republic and the New Order had signed before, it’s clearly time for Wars. among the Stars. Again.

PLOTKILLER BASE

Nothing compares
Nothing compares

Of course, I had my complaints. The Rathtars. Jabba wannabe gangsters harrassing Solo (and the painful repartee). Finn’s dialect. The total waste of Captain Phasma, who didn’t even get a Boba Fett moment of true menace. Maz seemed to be a victim of the cutting room, but hopefully she gets some time back in the Extended Edition. But all of these things are forgiveable, and fixable.

The real Jar Jar for me, however, was Starkiller base. Everything about it, in fact. Starkiller Base (henceforth abbreviated SKB) was clearly designed to be “Death Star v3.0” with Moore’s Law thrown in. Second Death Star was bigger than the first? OK then, this one is even bigger! (here’s a diagram to show you exactly how big…) Death Stars kill planets? OK then, this one kills solar systems! Where did this concept come from? How does the New Order have any resources left to do anything after the defeat at Jakku to build this crazy thing, when the old Empire couldn’t even finish a simple moon-sized superweapon in the time between ANH and ROTJ?

The nature of the weapon itself is also painfully convoluted and irrational. It fires a beam weapon, that can travel through hyperspace, but can also be seen in the skies of planetary systems it passes through? So is it fast or slow? How does a beam weapon split apart into different pieces and curve around? The optics of course were spectacular, both of the massive beam erupting from the ground, decimating the forests, and the intake of the star to recharge. But the concept was very typical of JJ Abrams, as if envisioned by a 9-year old saying “how cool would that be!” with no regard to any kind of physics, or awareness of distance between planets and star systems for that matter. Yes, I know, it’s Star Wars, not Star Trek, but this was way beyond the already generous “willing suspension of disbelief” budget and marched straight into the realm of magical fantasy.

There’s one possible saving grace, if we take the (admittedly very cool) act of Kylo Ren to freeze a blaster shot in midair early in the film, and speculate that in the Star Wars universe, “blasters” don’t actually fire pure energy but instead are firing a plasma beam of particles of some kind. This would explain a lot of things, like why you can see blaster shots move from gun to target rather than virtually instantly traveling to their target at the speed of light, and how lightsaber blades can “deflect” them like billiard balls. If we assume that all “energy” weapons in the Star Wars universe are consistent in this regard, then it makes SKB’s beam weapon slightly less ridiculous.

The plot to destroy SKB was also utterly contrived. Here, the deliberate attempt to evoke previous films fell flat, down to the war room shots and the absurdly short timer countdown. Did all that action really happen in 15 minutes? Including landing on what basically is a giant planet, finding Rey, sabotaging the other thing, and watching the Ren/Solo drama? Just running from the hangar to the super exhaust port should have taken an hour. The Death Star, though being the size of a small moon, was suspiciously compact inside, granted. But this is a planet. I can’t crash land in Chicago, find a friend in Cleveland, and then sabotage Niagara Falls in 15 minutes.

Honestly, if everything about SKB was just excised from the movie entirely, including the on-screen destruction of the Hosnian System, the movie would not have suffered an iota. Something like the Darksaber concept or the Eclipse would have sufficed to destroy the Republic without burdening the plot. Han’s death was relegated to subplot in shadow of the SKB, when by all rights it shoudl have been the other way around. Maybe someone will do a Phantom Edit of The Force Awakens someday…

GOING META

Subtle
Subtle

There were a lot of callbacks to the original trilogy that weren’t as clumsy as the SKB, though, and downright fun. Maz’s eyes-only cantina, the obligatory bad feeling about this, the trench run from ANH combined with the blow-it-up-from-the-inside maneuver from ROTJ, Luke’s old lightsaber training remote, the holochess table, the trash compactor line, and many others I am sure I’ll pickup on the second viewing (and 3rd… etc).

The plot structure was clearly deliberately intended to parallel previous films. In fact, someone on reddit even spelled out the parallels explicitly. There were also thematic parallels as well. As alluded before, Kylo Ren feels the lure of the Light the same way that Anakin felt the pull of the dark. Leia says she still feels the Light ion him, echoing Luke’s (vindicated) sentiment about Anakin. And Kylo Ren is much like his uncle in Empire Strikes Back, brash and untrained, needing to finish his training.

Overall, it all served to tie the movie on a deeper level to its predecessors, and reward the fans with more detail and worldbuilding. The movie didn’t shut down fandom the way the prequels did, it enriched it, and made the Star Wars universe feel alive again.

THE WAIT FOR XIII

aftermath vol 1
Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

The next one doesn’t hit theaters until May 26, 2017. Add it to your calendars, and in the meantime we have the Aftermath trilogy to tide us over by filling in essential backstory between episodes VI and VII.

Here are my predictions for Episode VIII: There will be a time jump of at least a couple years, skipping past Rey’s training with Luke. Rey goes for a double-bladed saber: green, or maybe Ahsoka-yellow (please?). Obi-wan Kenobi and/or Yoda force-ghosts. Captain Phasma will face off against Finn. Luke will reunite with Leia. We’ll learn more about the Knights of Ren. General Hux will have a lovely day. Snoke is actually Yoda-sized, and gets schizophrenic when talking to his reflection in a pool of water.

Our faith in the Force paid off. Star Wars is back.

Building your army of alts with Zygor’s help

In anticipation of MoP I’m trying to build up an alt army, mainly for professions support of my main, Aabde (mining/blacksmithing). I’ve got Ppeeta, a lvl 10 gnome mage herbalist/inscription, Mmarko, a lvl 20 worgen hunter jewelcrafter/enchanter, and Zzamba, a lvl 30 nelf druid skinner/leatherworker. Those guys are all in the queue, but I’ve mainly been focusing on Gganda, my dwarf rogue engineer/tailor who just reached 71. And of course I will have a Panda monk to add to the mix, I’ll probably just go mining/herbing for him to act as gatherer support.

This is daunting especially since most of Outland and a hefty chunk of Northrend bored me out of my mind the first time around with Aabde. I’ve got agility leather heirlooms to outfit the alts with (note how all are classes that can use the same set, except for the mage). I’m turning to Zygor’s Guides as an alternative, especially since due to Real Life I barely have any actual time to play. They have a free trial available as well, and the guides have an in-game addon that looks like it lets you level on cruise control. (and they also do Diablo III, if you’re interested…). I’m setup as an affiliate link so if you decide to buy I will also get a few bucks, which will be useful since keeping this place spam free isn’t cheap 😛

There are other guides out there, but it looks like Zygor is the leader of the pack. Give it a shot!