Star Wars: The Phantom Confession

At last I will reveal myself to the internet. At last I shall have catharsis.” – Darth Me

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The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters on May 19, 1999. I had just turned 12 two months before and I was ecstatic to see this new Star Wars film. You have to remember, in those days, Star Wars was a trilogy, a finished masterpiece in three volumes. It had been since 1983, four years before my birth. For my entire life, Star Wars was the best set of films there were for a nerd, young or old. It was “this colossus, this great legendary thing”.

A new film, a new trilogy, was announced. I scoured the young internet for news, images, clips, rumors and at dial-up speed, fuzzy jpegs revealed themselves for my viewing pleasure. Articles kept me fascinated. There wasn’t much being disseminated, remember, again, this was before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and every other network. We had no smart phones, no texting, no social media. I remember reading articles in actual magazines and the newspaper about this new Star Wars film. I cut out pictures from pages and savored images of Qui-Gon Jinn, whom I mistook for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Jake Lloyd and Ewan McGregor whom I thought were playing Anakin Skywalker. I also remember savoring images of the Naboo starfighter: graceful, sleek, and deadly. Much of my information also came from LEGO, who had just signed a deal with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars branded and based Lego sets. Most of my early spoilers came from LEGO fan club magazines that depicted ships, characters, and locations in brick form. Pepsi had also made a marketing deal in which every can of every variety of soda featured a different character image with a printed backstory that you could collect. Even Taco Bell got in on the marketing with their stupid chihuahua.  It was all glorious and amazing and wonderful. I annoyed my family and friends silly because I would not stop talking about the new Star Wars film. It was to be the best thing EVER.

A few days, or weeks, I don’t remember exactly, into the premier my dad took myself and my brother to a Saturday afternoon showing of The Phantom Menace and I floated into the theater. I absorbed every sound, image, and musical cue with delight … except … except, something wasn’t quite right. Jar Jar Binks wasn’t funny, like he was supposed to be. There were fart jokes, in the middle of John William’s grand score even! Some bits blew my pre-teen mind – Darth Maul versus the Jedi – podracers roaring around Tatooine, but mostly it was boring with a shine and long with excitement. I didn’t realize it then, but every time thereafter that I saw it, my smile was less broad and the twinkle in my eye shrank. I remember visiting my grandfather, perhaps the next summer, and convincing him to Pay-Per-View rent The Phantom Menace. It was a day long thing, where you could watch it over and over again for 24 hours. I must have watched it 8 or 9 times that day. Over and over again. It was amazing! It was Star Wars! but it wasn’t quite the Star Wars I loved and had grown up with.

Truth is: I loved The Phantom Menace. Even with Jar Jar and the fart joke. In those early days, I couldn’t get enough of it. It wasn’t until 2002’s Attack of the Clones that I began to become disillusioned. 2005’s premier of Revenge of the Sith arrived and I was in college. It failed to end the new trilogy properly, but I had lost my love. Star Wars was nothing more than the Old Trilogy, as it was now known, and the new films were dead to me. I even spent time methodically watching Menace, Clones, and Sith and tearing them systematically apart on my blog (which you can still read under the Star Wars tab). I made a reputation among friends and a presence online by hating the prequels.

But. But. I did love Menace. I thought Clones had good parts. I figured Sith was mostly there. I don’t know when or why I let other people’s opinions and acidity eat through my heart of enjoyment. I like plenty of badly written movies that are chock full of bad performances and cheesy effects. So I suppose now we are here, at the end of my vitriol to admit a love I once held dear.

I haven’t watched the Prequel Trilogy in years, now, and I feel a strange urge and longing to do so. Maybe it is the 11 year old in me that collected Mountain Dew cans for their images of Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn. Maybe it is the 12 year old that convinced my grandfather to let me spend a day watching a movie ad nauseam. Maybe it is the 13 year old that treasured old LEGO magazines and their pages of colorful LEGO Star Wars sets.

At least I am willing to admit it to myself, and now, the world that reads my blog: unabashed, unashamed, unfettered: I loved Star Wars The Phantom Menace a long time ago, and may yet love it. And that’s ok.

Embrace your famdoms, nerd out, rock on, love what you love. It makes you you and no one else. And that is the best thing ever.

The Hope

I just left my local cinema, having seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the second time and I loved it just as much the second viewing. This was the first Star Wars film not to be an official episode, that is, an installment in the saga of the Skywalker family, and thus is a stand-alone film, however, it flows into Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope so well it may as well be an extended prologue to that legacy film. If you wish to avoid spoilers, you can stop reading now. Otherwise…venture once again into that galaxy far, far away…

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Rogue One begins without an opening crawl, which is a bit jarring, since that is the Star Wars to which we have grown accustomed. However, the beautiful shots of space and Director Krennic’s shuttle quickly take hold and the film is begun and it hardly seems to matter. Small title screens give the location at which each bit of action takes place, so the viewer is never lost in space, however, just a little context would have been welcome to begin the film. I admit that this is a small criticism.

The film follows the journey of young Jyn Erso, left abandoned by her family at a young age and raised by a Rebel zealot. She eventually becomes useful to the larger Rebel Alliance, and is asked to make contact with her surrogate father in order to authenticate a message from her real father. That message is true, and it seems the Empire has built a super weapon, code name: Death Star, that can destroy entire planets, however the elder Erso, a secret Rebel, built within it a fatal flaw that only a thorough examination of the technical plans will reveal. Those plans must be stolen from an Imperial archive at all costs to prevent the reign of terror the Emperor is eager to unleash.

The characters in this Star Wars story are compelling, real, and interesting, from Captain Andor, his sassy K-2S0 droid, and a rag-tag group of Rebel agents that include a semi-Force aware Guardian of the Whills. So diverse and different is this group that it is amazing that they even work together, much less pull off the greatest heist in the history of the Star Wars galaxy, but succeed they do. Sort of. I mean, they win the day, but they all die. Every last one of them.

That is part of what makes this film special. Not a single one of these characters is to be heard from again, so their fate is ambiguous from the very beginning. Darth Vader makes an off-hand remark as to their deaths in the Star Wars novelization, but in the films proper there is no mention as to the brave Rebels who stole the Death Star plans, just that they were “provided by Princess Leia” which is at once true and inaccurate. Therefore, the tension mounts for each and every one as their deaths are perhaps certain, but not predictable. How they die is as important as how they live, and is a culmination of their own personal journeys.

Darth Vader appears, as do several characters from A New Hope, and none unnecessarily. Half recast (James Earl Jones again provides the voice of Vader) the Sith Lord intimidates Krennic at a crucial point, also motivating him to fulfill his villainous role in the film. Vader also reappears at the end to mop up the Rebel fleet and almost reclaim the Death Star plans before a brave Rebel soldier is there to stop him from doing so. Much less than the absurd Yoda fight in Attack of the Clones, Vader here does fight, but in a controlled and subdued manner that doesn’t conflict with anything he is shown doing in the original trilogy in tone or manner. He is devastating and unstoppable both with lightsaber and the Force.

The other characters from A New Home are Red and Gold Leaders, resurrected via found film footage cleverly spliced into the Rogue One footage, and Governor Tarkin and Princess Leia herself.* Tarkin is brought to life via body-double CGI and while the uncanny valley is alive and well, the effect is successful as a cold and calculating villain to Director Krennic and the Rebel beyond. Leia appears in less than 30 seconds or so at the end in the same way, and as such is much less jarring. Only because we see Tarkin walk and talk and intimidate are we able to see through the digital facade and realize that what we are seeing isn’t real.

I appreciated the level of detail that was brought to this film, through hair and makeup, wardrobe and costuming, and set design to emulate the look of the original trilogy and the time period in which it was created. 70’s styling and color pallets are evident, as is practical effects work and location scouting to match or even duplicate locations from the first film. So many little details are there to be found and enjoyed, but my favorite is two ill-fated stormtroopers on Scarif talking about a new model of speeder that was released, nearly identical dialogue to two troopers on the Death Star when Kenobi is tinkering with the tractor beam that holds the Millennium Falcon hostage. At once a call-back, foreshadowing, and a simply fantastic bit of universe appropriate dialogue. (Those must have been some exciting speeders to get multiple troops excited.)

Lastly, the music is majestic, being the first score not composed by John Williams (done instead by Michael Giacchino) but quoting and referencing Williams’ scores when thematically necessary and sonically appropriate.

I completely enjoyed the spectacle that is a Star Wars space opera, a heist film, a war picture, and a hero’s journey all rolled into one. Existing as it does apart from and kin to the first ever Star Wars film makes Rogue One no less compelling or able to stand on its own.

 

*Two other characters from A New Hope appear, via creature makeup, and that is the twisted human and unintelligible alien that accost Luke Skywalker in a cantina on Tatooine only to be mutilated by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Fan service much? While Tarkin, Rebel pilots, and even Leia are important to the plot, these two are pure cameo. Nice, but why those two? It cracked me up, but also took me out of the story for a minute. Ultimate reaction: a shrug and a smile.

One Ill Turn 4

Star Trek: Mayweather

Stardate: 2381.73
USS Mayweather in Deep Space

“But, sir…” Lt. Commander Tucker was saying. “Quartermaster said that you gave the order and apparently only you can rescind the order.”

O’Sullivan rubbed his temples. Given the week long trip to Deep Space 15, he decided to get to know his bridge crew a little better, but at the moment that involved settling a rooming dispute between Commander Tucker and Ensign Ford that he could not care any less about.

“Look, Commander, as I said, I gave no such order, and furthermore, the Quartermaster takes care of room assignments for a reason: so I don’t have to. Work it out with him.”

Tucker sighed. “Aye, Cap’n.”

“Now, if there isn’t anything else, send Commander Sulkhan in.”

“Aye, sir.”

Commander Tucker got up and left the captain’s ready room. For a few minutes, the captain had a bit of peace. He had already met with Ensign Ford, the happy go-get-’em ops officer. That man’s positivity could really irritate someone, that someone being Captain O’Sullivan. Not that O’Sullivan had anything against happy people, he just didn’t tend to be all that positive himself, and preferred someone who was a bit more reserved.

The door whooshed open admitting his tactical officer, Sulkhan. Someone like Sulkhan. Thus far the captain had yet to hear him say an extraneous word. Captain O’Sullivan gestured towards the chair sitting opposite his desk.

“Please, have a seat, Commander.”

The Gargoy officer sat down, carefully folding his wings behind his back. His wings had a slighty tendency to extend slightly when he was walking. Sulkhan came from a planet called Gargoria, one of the smaller planets in the United Federation of Planets. To O’Sullivan’s knowledge, he was one of only a few Gargoys serving in Starfleet.

“From what I understand, there are not many of your species in Starfleet, Commander.”

“No, sir.”

“Get lonely much?”

“No, sir.”

There followed a few seconds of silence.

“Good. Well, Commander, as we haven’t formally met, I am Sean O’Sullivan. I am pleased to have you aboard. From what Admiral Janeway tells me, you are a fine officer.”

“Thank you, sir.”

A few more seconds of silence followed. O’Sullivan was enjoying a pleasant conversation, for once today.

“As far as our mission goes,” the Captain continued, “I don’t know that there will be much for you to do. We will be one of four ships on station, though only one other, the USS Hood, has any armaments. The other two are strictly resupply craft. I do not anticipate any trouble, but we will be on the borders of the Gorn Alliance and the Tholian Assembly. Neither is too happy with Deep Space 15 being so near their territory, so they may try to take advantage of the situation somehow. I consider this to be unlikely, but possible.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you participated in any combat, Commander?”

Sulkhan smiled, the first overt facial expression that Captain O’Sullivan had seen him make.

“Yes, sir.” And, for the first time, he elaborated: “I was a Gargoy commando during the unification of my home world, some 50 years ago. I commanded an orbital attack wing.”

“Well, feel free to think of the Mayweather as your personal attack craft if it comes to combat. We certainly aren’t much bigger than one.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“That’ll be all, Commander. You may return to your post.”

Sulkhan merely nodded before standing and exiting the room.

O’Sullivan breathed deeply. Three down, two to go. For his next meeting, the ship’s ranking medical officer, he decided to take a stroll down to Sickbay. He felt like stretching his legs a little after sitting on the bridge and sitting in his ready room. Exiting his ready room, he walked the corridor around the front curve of the bridge and down past the conference room and his quarters. Once in the turbolift he murmured “Deck 3” and waited during the short ride down. Though his ship wasn’t a monstrosity like a Galaxy or Sovereign class ship, and not afforded of all the comforts of such, at least it didn’t take forever to ride 12 decks down to reach somebody.

It was another short walk from the turbolift to Sickbay, and once there he was greeted with a small bustle of activity. His chief medical officer, Doctor Paloma, was advising a junior medical officer in the treatment of a crewman.

O’Sullivan intended to stand by and watch, but Paloma greeted him immediately.

“Captain. What can I do for you?”

“Oh, nothing much, Doctor. I am here for our meet and greet appointment.”

The doctor swept several locks her dark hair back behind one ear.

“I would have come to you.”

“Quite alright. I felt like a little walk anyway. What happened here?”

“Just a small accident in engineering. Minor plasma burns.”

“My own fault, Captain.” The crewman spoke up.

O’Sullivan acknowledged him with a curt nod and a tight smile.

“If you have a moment, Doctor…?”

“Certainly.”

They removed to a small office off the end of Sickbay. Captain O’Sullivan remained standing as Dr. Paloma took her seat behind a tiny desk.

“Finding everything you need, Doctor?”

“Certainly. The Mayweather’s medical facilities are as well equipped as any in Starfleet. We  even have an EMH (emergency medical hologram) program.”

After the debacle with the USS Voyager‘s EMH program, and his subsequent battle for full rights and privileges as a member of the Federation and an officer in Starfleet, Starfleet was fazing out the EMH deployment aboard starships. The less holographic people there were, the fewer of them could develop sentience. Not that Starfleet had anything against non-biological people, but they certainly hadn’t intended to create a new race with the creation of an emergency holographic physician.

“Really? Well, we will have to keep his programming under close scrutiny.”

“No worries, Captain. I don’t intend to ever activate him.”

O’Sullivan shrugged.

“Your choice, of course Doctor. I won’t interfere in your sickbay. You are responsible for any creatures you create, Dr. Frankenstein.” He smirked and Paloma laughed respectfully at the joke.

“Well, let me know if you need anything. I’ll be on the bridge.”

“Thank you, Captain. Thanks for stopping by.”

O’Sullivan nodded and left the officer, nodding to the medical staff as he left Sickbay. The crewman was already gone, his burns having been treated quickly and efficiently. Utilizing the turbolift once more, O’Sullivan returned to the bridge.

Ensign Ford yelled out: “Captain on the bridge!” and before O’Sullivan could sit down, Lieutenant M’tel turned at the helm. “Turn for my meet and greet, Captain?” She smiled a feline smile, full of sharp teeth.

“No, Lieutenant. I already know you. Be about your duties.”

“Aye, sir.”

O’Sullivan walked over to ops. There Ensign Ford looked up at, eager as a puppy.

“Yes, Captain? Anything I can do for?”

“Yes, actually. Never do that again.”

Ford looked confused.

“What, sir?”

“Announce my presence. It’s unnecessary.”

“But it is protocol, sir.”

“To hell with that particular protocol. That’s an order, Ensign. I ever hear that again, I’ll have you cleaning warp manifolds with a toothbrush for a week. Understood?”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Good.”

O’Sullivan returned to his seat in the middle of the bridge. Commander Zal looked up from  the console on the side of her chair and arched an eyebrow at the captain.

“What was that all about?”

“Huh? Oh, nothing. I just never liked being announced.”

“Careful, Captain. Some of the crew are beginning to think you are a thundercloud in boots. You are getting a reputation as a grouch.”

“Good.” O’Sullivan smiled a wicked little smile. “Wouldn’t want word to get out that I am a nice guy. Might have a mutiny on my hands.”

“Humph.”

“You disapprove?”

Zal laughed. “Far be it from me to criticize my captain’s command techniques.”

Now it was O’Sullivan’s turn to “Humph”.

He turned to Ensign Ford and gave him a noncommittal smile. “What’s our current situation, Ensign?”

“On course for Deep Space 15, sir. Warp factor 7. Current speed will have us there in just over a week. All systems nominal, sir.”

“Very good. Helm, increase to Warp 9, that should shave off a few days. I’m getting bored.”

M’Tel smiled. “Aye, sir.”

There was a slight rumble as the engines turned it up a notch.

O’Sullivan leaned back in his seat.

“And they said captaining a starship was one adventure after another. See the galaxy, they said. Meet new civilizations and new worlds, they said. Said nothing about the endless journey there, they didn’t say.”

“Careful, Captain. You’re grousing again.”

O’Sullivan retaliated on his first officer by standing up and declaring, “You have the bridge, Commander. I’ll be in my quarters if you need me,” and effectively trapping Zal on the bridge until he specifically relieved her of temporary command. She fumed silently after a curt, “Aye, sir.” Gods, but he loved sparring with that woman.

O’Sullivan left the bridge and entered his quarters. Alone with his thoughts, he almost broke down crying. He had often bantered with his brother like that, years ago. It had been years since he had seen his brother alive, and then his brother died in space. That same space sped quietly by the windows in his quarters, long lines of stars one after the other. Uncaring, unknowing, empty space. Empty like O’Sullivan’s soul.

The USS Mayweather warped on, deep into that empty space.