Thursday, February 4, 2016

Still Animated About Star Wars

Click here for the start of the Star Wars Cartoon Ramblings
Here for the Spoiler free review of The Force Awakens that was responsible for it
(Or Here, here or here for spoilers)

Back to the Clone Wars animated series, already in progress.

Most of the Jedi and other characters only hinted at in the films got moments in the spotlight to prove they were as interesting as their glimpses made them appear. 

But Anakin Skywalker got the most impressive upgrade.

His status as the chosen one became clear with regular displays of skill and power that met, and went beyond, the opening space battle in Revenge of the Sith.   He got away with his cocky attitude and over reliance on dramatic flair because his insane and rule breaking tactics usually worked.

Or as my wife and daughter constantly put it, “He’s WAAAAY cooler than he was in the movies.”

Because of the longer form of a television series, his secret marriage to Padme was handled with more subtlety, and the idea that they traded droids ended up much cuter.  Another subtlety that was allowed to organically grow was Palpatine’s manipulations of both the war itself and young Skywalker.  This also set up complex themes in several stories where he had organized no win situations for the Republic where it wasn’t entirely clear who the good guys were supposed to be.

Anakin’s eventual fall was telegraphed, not by whining, but by his “ends justify the means” decisions when the safety of Padme, Obi-Wan or his Padawan, Ahsoka, was in question. He became more being willing to sacrifice his principals due to caring for others than giving up and embracing the dark side out of desperation.  The organic progression of characters and narrative made it seem like if everything had worked out, and Ahsoka became a knight under his tutelage, it would have saved him as well. (Which is why Yoda assigned her to Anakin in the first place, because the little green dude is awesome.

Obi Wan maintained much of the serene flair and biting wit Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness both brought to the role.  It was clearly shown (not told) that while he lacked Anakin’s raw abilities and power, he was a better Jedi: a man who was more in tune with the force.  Anakin’s claims of constantly rescuing him in the films became more clearly defined when it was shown it was often either Skywalker’s reckless actions that got Obi Wan in those situations to begin with, or Kenobi investigating Separatist activity alone that only he figured out was going on.

Man, I’d love to see these writers and voice actors tackle an animated version of both Episode II and Episode III!

They came close in the third season three parter on Mortis that showed more emotional depth in Anakin's struggles with his destiny than the live action films.  It also it had enough quality to entice Liam Neeson to voice the ghost of Qui Gon, which is something the live action films lacked.

And that one was followed by "The Citadel" arc.  Three episodes of non stop amazing action and adventure that was able to show Anakin's reasoning for being tempted to betray the Jedi without stopping the action, or having him act way out of character for no reason.

Sorry, geeking out again, it's very hard not to with newly discovered "real" Star Wars.

It cracks me up how clueless TV censors are.  Being a war show, the body count was astonishingly high.  They got away with it because those bodies tended to be aliens, clones or robots.

This is in contradiction to how those groups behaved and were treated by the writers, however. 

The definition of “people” is excessively broad in the Star Wars universe, capturing all varieties of non-human life.  In other words: the bug like geonosians, splattered in droves by lightsabers and clone weapons were people too.

The Battle Droids highlighted a general problem seen in every society presented to us in that Galaxy Far Far Away. Both the Republic good guys and the Separatist villains treated the Battle Droids as utterly expendable machines.  Their being shot, blasted, crushed and hacked to bits was mostly played for laughs.  However, for those laughs they were shown displaying absolute terror at facing Jedi, concern over poor treatment by superiors, and a general distaste for the entire military existence they were built for.  In other words, they were clearly sentient and possessing emotions, like most droids in these tales, yet almost no one on either the Dark or Light side noticed this.  (The Skywalker clan being one of very few exceptions, and people constantly gave both Ani and Luke a hard time for treating R2 - the hero of the franchise - like more than an appliance.) No wonder Obi Wan doesn’t recall R2-D2, all non-person slave labor types look the same to the aristocracy.

I’m hoping there are films past Episode IX with a giant droid civil rights uprising.  One is long overdue.

On the other side of the battle lines were the Clones.  While shown to be bred specifically for the Grand Army of the Republic, the notion that each clone was an individual, with their own strengths, weaknesses, hopes and dreams was driven home regularly starting with the very first episode. (It also featured an epic Yoda versus an entire army battle that should not be missed, because the little green dude is awesome.)

Yet, due to their “Human Xerox” like nature, the clones were allowed to be blasted, blown up, tossed into space, eaten, and otherwise terminated by the bushel. 

The whole freedom fighter/ terrorist dichotomy can really hit home if the Clone Wars is compared to The Force Awakens.  The reactions of the bad First Order Stormtroopers to Finn joining the heroic Resistance was the same as that of the heroic clones to one of their own selling out to the bad Separatists.  However, the reason for the turncoat (or turnarmor) was the same in both cases- to avoid a lifetime of mentally programmed combat, and be a free person instead of a controlled number.

Speaking of clones, a moment must be taken to highlight the commander of Anakin’s 501st Legion Clone Army: Captain Rex.  Think Sergeant Rock in space…how cool is that?

Probably as cool as my daughter feels having one of the main protagonists be Ahsoka. Putting a young lady in the center of Star Wars action worked just as well for this cartoon as it did in The Force Awakens.  Yes, that’s a second reference to the new film in a brief period.  The half-life of geeking out about this movie is excessively long.

Perhaps these similarities to the new direction of Star Wars is why The Clone Wars was allowed to survive the great Expanded Universe purge and have tie ins to the current Star Wars cartoon series.

Star Wars: Rebels is how I discovered the animated portion of the franchise. If I had known Greg (Gargoyles, Young Justice) Weisman was involved I would have been watching from the premier.

Luckily it was all “on demand” when the movie came out allowing a quick catch up on the season and a half I missed.  Unfortunately, most of them vanished off of “on demand” right before I finished and I was forced to see a couple of season two episodes distorted on YouTube with everyone sounding like chipmunks…but at least I know what’s going on.

The basted in awesome returns of Captain Rex and Ahsoka was what got me watching the Clone Wars series in the first place.  It truly is a direct continuation.  There was even a holocron message from Obi Wan in the first episode, meaning that character was in all the films and TV series of the franchise that still “count.”  This further proves the Rey Kenobi theory.  (And that’s three references.)

Rebels maintain the quality of the previous show. The setting is now closer to the Original Trilogy, bringing us back to a gang of misfits helping the Rebellion instead of massive military campaigns.  The classic Star Wars themes are still in play, the use of varied story types has not diminished, and a bunch of Ralph McQuarrie "prototype" designs finally get to be used.

The heroes’ ships are new, but look like they belong landing in familiar looking spaceports and running from TIE fighters and Star Destroyers.  There’s also a maintaining of the diversity.  The races (real and imagined) of the group are varied, but more importantly (since I have a daughter) so are the genders.

The cast fits into the Star Wars universe and are a combination of what we’ve seen before:
Zeb- A big scary alien with mechanical skills and a heart of gold under a gruff exterior
Ezra- An orphan with new mentors and friends learning about the force, about altruism and about his past.

Variations of what we’ve seen before:
Hera- A Twi'lek who isn’t a dancing girl but the hotshot pilot and moral compass of the group.
Kanan- A Padawan that survived Order 66 who is believed to be a full Jedi by everyone but himself.

And stuff we’ve never seen before:
Sabine- A teenaged Mandalorian graffiti artist with a penchant for explosions and decorating her friends’ property.
Chopper- A psychotic Astromech droid.

Bonus points for the adult male and female lead (the variations above) acting as the “mom and dad” of the group being shown as affectionate and supportive of each other in intelligent and meaningful ways.

What this show is doing, is showing the period (or just before the period) of Star Wars (A New Hope for those of you who weren’t there at the start), but this time with full knowledge and back story of the prequels.   That should eliminate the need for those “true from a certain point of view” moments or at least cut down on incestuous flirting.

Since it is a cartoon, there have been some pleasant surprise cameos.  Billy Dee Williams’s voice has not aged in the intervening decades, making young Lando the same “old Smoothie” we met before. Anthony Daniels (as he was in Clone Wars and as always) is fantastically fussy as C-3PO.  Frank Oz comes back as a disembodied cameo for Yoda.

James Earl Jones returned as Darth Vader. 

Sorry I was too busy thinking “YAAAAY!” to say anything else for a moment.

His power and image from the movies was recreated.  Then it was added to by providing him with the same skills Anakin demonstrated in the Clone Wars positioning him once again as the iconic villain who is both terrifying and awesome.

Governor Tarkin came in before Vader to show why he was put in charge of the Death Star, immediately increasing the Imperial threat level for the heroes, and his own underlings.  I’ve seen the internet theory that he’s Snoke. (Four!)  It seems odd to bring back a character into the films whose main reason for working fantastically was the late actor playing him.  Recreating that to show his background in animation is one thing. I'm not sure if they could pull it off in live action.

The featuring of the other Captain Rex in the Star Tours reference episodes, voiced again by Paul Rubens, is living proof that Disney knows the right balance of awesome and fun needed for this franchise.

I’m impressed with how they avoided the cannon rules that might have created restrictions. Yoda telling Luke, “The last of the Jedi will you be,” combined with the Sith mandate, “Always two there are,” could limit the story by emptying the pool of possible force users.

Luckily, the creative individuals running things realized that Star Wars without Jedi is Battlestar Galactica.  There are people running around after Order 66 with lightsabers and using the force.  However, none of them officially graduated from Padawan so they’re technically not Jedi.  On the other hand, Inquisitors and force witches aren’t technically Sith. They’re just bad guys using the dark side of the force who like red lightsabers
obviously something completely different.

Another work around, to save beloved characters from the Clone Wars from becoming Imperial Jedi Slaying Stormtroopers, was the obedience forcing chip that Rex and other clones removed from their heads.

I find it enlightening to note how the Rebels series has now canonically stated a difference between Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers.  Due to the clone degeneration, and Rex and company’s degrading comments about their replacements.  I'm pretty sure this means all the Stormtroopers in the Original Trilogy aren’t clones now.

I think this is the first time one of George Lucas’s changes in the Special Editions has been overridden.  Han may canonically shoot first yet again.

There’s one last new animated show that must be mentioned.

Star Wars: Droid Tales.

It’s a Lego based mini-series where C-3PO gets his memory restored and retells the entire Star Wars Saga.  The story line is fueled by self referential humor pointing out there are ridiculous, non-sensical and boring parts of the films.  Just like the other shows and new film (five and counting!) prove Disney understands and respects the franchise, this one is there to show they won’t fall into the trap much of the expanded universe did and take itself too seriously.


I think I’m about done geeking out about Star Wars for a while.

Since I marked my 100th post with my first Star Wars musings, it feels appropriate to celebrate passing my five year bloggiversary with the final of this constantly growing series of Star Wars essays.
See, this is why I did my Star Trek salute a year early, I know this brain.

Hey, speaking of Star Trek, I forgot to congratulate Simon Pegg for the Hat Trick of being in the return of my three favorite franchises, all of which continue the continuity I know and love.

Six!  Woo!

Having Episode VII pushed back is a sound decision, and not only to make the narrative better, which is the soundest decision any story can make.

I also applaud it because if Rey Kenobi Strikes Back did come out on the actual 40th Anniversary of Star Wars, my Geeking Out would likely reach dangerous levels and I’d explode.

See you in December at Rogue One, when I will likely have far too many Star Wars posts once again…

Now where did I put my Star Wars Tales comic collection?

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