Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Han shot first."

While reading "Betrayal," the first book in the "Star Wars: Legacy of the Force" series, I came across a wonderful line of dialogue on Page 232 today. To appreciate it, you must be familiar with some background.

Many fans of the original, pre-prequel "Star Wars" were upset with some of George Lucas' changes for the 1990s Special Edition re-releases and the 2004 DVD release. Hayden Christensen replaced Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker in "Return of the Jedi." Jabba the Hutt was added to "Star Wars" and then upgraded. Boba Fett and the emperor changed voices.

The change that grates the most on the nerves of a "Star Wars" fan is undoubtedly the re-cut of Han Solo's famous cantina scene with the bounty hunter Greedo. Luke and Ben have left, on their way to sell Luke's speeder so they can get Han the 2,000 they owe up-front for their trip to Alderaan. Chewbacca has left to get the Millenium Falcon ready for space. And as Han gets up to leave, Greedo points a blaster at him and forces him back into his booth. The bounty hunter points out that Han owes Jabba a substantial amount of money and that he ought to hand it over to Greedo. Han protests: He doesn't have the money with him.

Greedo: You can tell that to Jabba. He may only take your ship.
Han Solo: Over my dead body.
Greedo: That's the idea… I've been looking forward to this for a long time.
Han Solo: Yes, I'll bet you have.

Han -- who has quietly drawn his blaster -- shoots Greedo, who falls forward, a smoking wreck.

That's Han Solo: A hard-nosed smuggler who won't hesitate to shoot dead a bounty hunter after his hide. And yet ...

George Lucas re-cut the scene for the 1997 re-release to show Greedo shooting and Han firing back. The hard-nosed smuggler is rendered soft, in much the same way as the politically correct move of Lucas' friend Steve Spielberg to replace federal agents' guns with walkie-talkies in a re-release of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." That's not Han Solo.

And so fans say "Han shot first! Han shot first!" At "Star Wars" Celebration III in Indianapolis in 2005 and again at Celebration IV in Los Angeles in 2007, fans booed the scene at movie screenings.

Which brings me to "Betrayal," published in 2006. On Page 232, author Aaron Allston continues describing the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Jedi, Corellian and Galactic Alliance envoys. Frantic survivors, still clad in night-clothes, assess the damage. Han is nowhere in sight. Gen. Tycho Celchu of the GA turns to Leia Organa Solo.

Tycho asked, "Is Han --"
"He's fine," Leia said. "Han shot first."

Mr. Allston, that deserves a free drink. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith"

Heresy: The book was better.

Matthew Stover makes George Lucas' premise of Anakin's fall to the dark side believable. The film's depiction of the Jedi's motivations and actions are unconvincing and have the feeling that Lucas put them into the movie because, darn it, he had to show viewers some reason for Anakin's fall.

Stover, on the other hand, has a writer's advantage over a filmmaker, even one as great as George Lucas: Stover can take us inside a character's head and show us the details crashing around inside the brain. It's a powerful weapon, and while some filmmakers come close, they have to accomplish the same effect with monologues, which can get tedious, or expository dialogue, which can be obvious. (Lord Helmet's Spaceballs line after an explanation: "Everybody got that?") If they don't have other storytelling tricks up their sleeves, then they're stuck with choosing subjects that themselves are so plausible as to require little explanation for the audience's benefit. Lucas' premise about Anakin's fall isn't plausible, even with explanation through awkward, unconvincing dialogue. (Padme: "Anakin ... you're breaking my heart.")

Stover uses his writer's advantage with the first words of many chapters: "This is what it feels like to be xxxxx." And then he shows us, in page after page, what it feels like to be xxxxx.

Stover carries the idea that despite the spectacular space battles and grandeur of settings, "Sith" is at heart a tragedy and a love story, and he has tools far more powerful than Lucas the filmmaker to handle the subjects. Side note: For much the same reasons, Stover does a fantastic job describing lightsaber combat. For a clue why he can do this so effectively, take a look at his biography on wikipedia. See the portion about the Degerberg Blend.

More on this later.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Yes, it's over

But here are more pictures of droids from Celebration IV. All of these, except for the ILM model, are fan-built. Several Yahoo groups promote droid construction and provide plans, photographs and community for these creations. The best-known is the R2-D2 Builders Club. Another good site is www.astromech.net. These builders do some good work.

This is R5-DD, a droid with an attitude featured in "Return of Pink Five, Vol. 2."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Is it really over?

The last day of Celebration III felt about the way this one does: sad, very sad.

It was a good last day, though. The creators of "The Force Among Us" gave the last panel discussion. This is a brother-sister team, born in 1975 and 1977, who work day jobs but took the time to create their first movie, a documentary looking at fans and their motivation. Unlike "Trekkies," which the creators referenced, "Force Among Us" is by fans and is all about breaking stereotypes. A sociologist who will be featured in the film, due by the end of June, interviewed 3,500 "Star Wars" fans and found the image of social losers who can't get dates is nonsense. From the looks of the trailer, it should be a good film. It's being marketed through the movie Web site, www.theforceamongus.com, and has been priced at $14.95 per copy. I just finished a company DVD, and I saw similiarities with the price -- the same as our DVD -- and hearing the creators talk about "17 working days" to produce the copies. In other words, these really are just two highly motivated people who had a few connections -- they were able to work with pros for much of the production -- and decided to do something.
These two must know about the 1976 "Star Wars" guerilla marketing campaign. They were out on Thursday passing out T-shirts. They put up their own posters, too. And even though they would have been at CIV on their own, they said they attend just about any event they're invited to, large or small. So far that includes Celebration Europe and an event in Mexico. It's all about persistence, connections and hard work. Plus a bit of money to get started. They financed it themselves and with an investment from a company. One of the creators works "70 hours a week" at her job, which invovles presentations in corporate boardrooms, though she didn't elaborate. The other is in the music industry. And from the looks of their clips, they've got talent in film, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

CIV Continues

Lots happening at CIV. The giant birthday card is nearly full. And tonight, "Chad Vader" won the "George Lucas Selects" award at the film fest. Personally, the highlight of the day was seeing Anthony Daniels in the droid builders' room. I was talking to a builder, who had invited me behind the rope for a closer look at some parts and droids, when I noticed Daniels' familiar voice near the ILM R2-D2 a few feet away. The builder and I immediately went for our cameras. These shots are what I managed to take as Daniels posed next to R2 and talked with people in the room.

Here are some shots of troopers tall and short:

The trials of fandom:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cake and a card

The opening ceremony was the highlight of Friday's Celebration IV events. Highlight in that it was the headliner, had the longest line and all in all was a darned good show. Today -- May 25 -- is the 30th anniversary of the release of "Star Wars," right down to the day. To celebrate, all of us in the opening ceremony tonight -- and there were hundreds of us -- were given a square of white cake. But only after we sang "Happy Birthday." And yes, I sang. An image of the famous, to "Star Wars" fans, one-year birthday poster from 1978 filled the projection screen. The cake was good.

The Postal Service gave us first-day issue envelopes with canceled "Star Wars" 41-cent stamps. May 25, 2007.

I also signed the giant 30th anniversary card. Never mind what I wrote.

Panel discussions began today. My favorite was the first: "The Archaeology of Star Wars," with Dr. David West Reynolds. Reynolds is a real, honest-to-goodness archaeologist who set out in 1995 to find the lost filming sites in Tunisia for the original movie. And damned if he didn't find them. He even found the plastic krayt dragon bones, with some help from a local boy and his father. Reynolds used slides to show the clues he followed in production photographs and "Star Wars" trading cards, clues nonarchaeolgist not might think to see. He recognized a site near the Tusken Raider attach, for example, from a grouping of three rocks amid a vast background of rock and sand. Three rocks, and he had it!

Reynolds kept hammering home his excitement: "360 degrees," he would say. That was what gave him a giddy feeling. Trading cards and movie photographs are two-dimensional. But once he had identified the shooting locations, he could walk around or turn. Turning is something you can't do with a photo. The ability to turn, to look around and to walk around what you can feel are real places in the "Star Wars" fantasy word, to imagine yourself there: This is most of the excitement I've ever gotten from "Star Wars Galaxies" and other first-person "Star Wars" games.

On to Saturday!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Celebration IV, Episode II

Fan club day at Celebration IV today.

"Star Wars" links

Today's events haven't begun. In the meantime, here are more pictures from the movie marathon and a few "Star Wars"-related links.
* Today's story about "Star Wars" and CIV on CNN.com.
* The "Star Wars Technical Commentaries" are fun examinations of the "Star Wars" universe from a rational, logical and scientific point of view. The material presented in the movies, books, games and so forth are presumed to be accurate. The job of the technical commentaries is to take the facts and follow them to logical, interesting conclusions. Early articles, placed well before "Revenge of the Sith" appeared in theaters, made educated guesses about the nature of Darth Vader's injuries, given his appearance toward the end of "Return of the Jedi," his artificial breathing throughout the movies and from other clues in the literature. Another set examined the mass of the Death Star destroyed in "Return of the Jedi," the size of chunks seen flying toward the Endor moon, the Death Star's orbit, etc., and concluded an Endor Holocaust must have wiped out the Ewoks: "For those unfortunate beings not painlessly obliterated by the impact concussions, the initial night of celebration would linger on and on with days of darkness." Furthermore, the Rebel Alliance probably covered up the tragedy. Other commentaries question the nature of hyperspace, an Imperial communications ship glimpsed from Palpatine's window, insignia, survivors of the Death Star destroyed at the Battle of Yavin, and more.
* The Wookieepedia, a fun wiki like the Wikipedia and a companion to the Technical Commentaries, focusing more on fact than technical analysis.
* The official "Star Wars" site.
* The official Celebration IV site.
* Hyperspace, the fan club.

Celebration IV movie marathon

Episode I
I Saw It!

After six movies, three hot dogs, two RCs, one Coke, one Pepsi and one bag of popcorn, I am the owner of a button that summarizes in one sentence what Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles was all about for die-hard “Star Wars” fans.

“I saw it!”

And Celebration IV hasn’t even officially opened yet.

It was the first screening of all six “Star Wars” movies in order on the big screen. With digital projection when available. It was an experience. Accomplishment? Well, physically and mentally all we did was get ourselves to the right spot, with the right free ticket, and stay awake during the showings.

Experience? That’s why we came. “Star Wars” at a Celebration is participatory. “Star Wars” fans cheer and clap at appropriate and other times. Fans clapped for many scenes and many moments, even for lines of dialogue. At character intros. When Luke stared the emperor down and said, “I’ll never turn to the dark side.” But also when Padme announced her pregnancy to Anakin. Big cheers, though it was impossible to tell if it was for her, them or him. Her line an episode earlier about Anakin always being that little boy from Tatooine did get a reaction from the crowd. As did the Luke-Leia kiss in “Empire.” But incest and innuendo are part and parcel of the “Star Wars” experience, if you care to go looking for it. For some dubious insight into this topic, watch “George Lucas in Love.”

The movie marathon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience both in probable fact and in survivability. The kids who saw “Star Wars” appear on the big screen in 1977 without “A New Hope” patched onto the titles are getting older. And at the next major anniversary, we might not be as ready to stay up past our bedtimes as we have been.

The shuttle bus driver on the return trip asked a front row passenger, “So, you watch all six movies?”

Yes, indeed.

“That’s a lot of movies in one day,” the driver said, to general laughter. He said something about “diehard” fans, but we were soon at the first hotel stop on his route. The driver got a thank-you from nearly every passenger as they left the bus and headed off.

I got the button, I got bragging rights, and as my mother might say, I got a memory.

I saw it.

Now on to CIV!

But first, on to bed.