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Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer debuts, look great

November 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Star Wars the Force Awakens trailer episode 7

The first official teaser for the long-awaited Star Wars sequel is out, and if 84 seconds of footage are any indication, director J. J. Abrams is on the right track.

It’s your typical first teaser trailer in many respects, with brief flashes of people looking worried and a few cool sights. But it’s also got some incredible visual gems that promise so, so much.
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Empire Uncut: the other much-anticipated Star Wars movie in production

Star Wars Uncut A New Hope claymation

Combine a rabid worldwide fanbase with the internet, add a twist of individual creativity and a dash of inspiration and you get Star Wars Uncut, a tremendously inventive love letter to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope that reshoots the film 15 seconds at a time using fan-made clips.

Try that recipe again and you get director Casey Pugh’s sophomore crowdsourcing effort Empire Uncut, a spliced-together reimagining of The Empire Strikes Back that’s well on its way to release sooner rather than later.

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Video Game Review: FTL: Faster Than Light

December 15, 2012 Leave a comment

FTL: Faster Than Light Kestrel

FTL: Faster Than Light is a star-hopping adventure that captures the appeal of space exploration and the excitement of running a crew of people in real time. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, this space flight simulator is absolutely for you.

The game mechanics are simple. You command a ship with rooms housing the various systems that you have installed. Man the guns, fly the ship, run the shields and keep the oxygen flowing to keep your crew alive. Instruct your crew to make repairs, put out fires and battle intruders. If those intruders teleport onto your ship beside an airlock, you can vent the oxygen and watch them suffocate.

Later in the game, you get the opportunity to install more advanced systems like drone control, a teleporter, and a cloaking device. The enemies get progressively difficult as you jump from star to star through eight different systems before facing off against the Federation Mothership at the end. You’ve got the Federation fleet hot on your heels the whole way, so it takes some strategic thinking to hit as many stars as possible without being overtaken by the fleet.

It’s easy to nail down the basics and difficult to master the intricacies of FTL. No matter how good you get, this roguelike game also requires some luck, as each star system is a randomly generated series of encounters and multiple choice events with randomized outcomes. Like a losing gambler at the roulette table, the chance element will keep you coming back, determined to do better next time.

And even when you beat the game with the default human cruiser, there are alien ships and alien species to keep you coming back for more space exploration.

There are 9 different ships to pilot, but they’re not all available right away. Each one is unlocked by performing some feat or completing a quest. The quest unlocks can be particularly frustrating, as they, too, are randomized. The Crystalline Cruiser is especially difficult to obtain because it requires three different random events to occur early enough for you to complete each one.

The aliens are a little easier to recruit. There are 6 basic species and one rare crystal alien available to you. Humans are the most basic, while each alien has a different special ability and weakness. Rock men are tough and immune to fire; slugs can telepathically detect enemies; Engi are fantastic at repairing your ship. Alien crew also occasionally provide you with special options in multiple choice events.

FTL debuted in September and is available for PC and Mac on Steam for just $10. It was made by Subset Games and assisted by Kickstarter. As a result, there are many Easter eggs for donors (including the aforementioned crystal alien and ship). And the investment was well worth it: FTL is an inventive little game with a lot of imagination and great game mechanics.

FTL is wonderfully simple at first and entrancingly complex after a playthrough or two. It’ll quickly rope you in with its small, star-by-star encounter format, sweeping you along to the mantra of “just one more jump.”

Star Wars joins Marvel in savvy add to Disney portfolio

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Star Wars Disney George Lucas
The stunning news that Disney has bought Lucasfilm Ltd. and announced a new Star Wars movie has set the internet ablaze with fanboy trepidation, but the sale will ultimately be a boon for long-suffering Star Wars fans.

George Lucas’ sale of his lifelong cash cow came out of the blue. Lucas has long been content to lounge around his massive Skywalker Ranch and count his millions, so it was a surprise to many when he surrendered Star Wars for a cool $4 billion.

At first blush, one might expect this purchase will lead to the Disneyfication of Star Wars, but I’d say that’s already happened.

Star Wars Jabba Princess Leia Gold Bikini

The Princess and the Frog

Star Wars has saturated the market as much as it’s ever going to. George Lucas has plastered his brand on everything you can possibly think of; there really is little threat of it becoming more commercialized. He’s also responsible for constantly updating and revising his beloved trilogy in order to shill another DVD box set every few years, much to the anger of diehard fans.

George Lucas’ story is one of two men. The first man turned a handful of art film successes into the cache to make a space opera for 20th Century Fox. His producers, his cast and his crew didn’t believe in him and he had to fight tooth and nail to maintain creative control, but he managed to create a movie that would become an overnight sensation and a massive piece of the pop culture tapestry for decades to come. With the success of Star Wars, he’d brought his vision to life, and he’d done it his own way.

And that’s when the second Lucas started to take over. Following The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Lucas became more content to rest on his laurels and tinker with his old successes than to push for something grander. This Lucas built a merchandising empire before merchandising was popular. He also revolutionized special effects for his movies, developing technologies like THX. Unfortunately, he became so enamoured of his special effects wizardry that he repeatedly returned to his Star Wars trilogy, adding minor tweaks and majors shifts (Han shot first), much to the chagrin of his fans. It took him years to pen an ultimately god-awful script for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and the fact that he owned Lucasfilm and bankrolled everything himself put him beyond the criticism of those around him. He produced a big toy commercial masked in a thin plot and delivered by cardboard cutout characters, and no one among his inner circle was brave enough to tell him. There was nothing to keep him in check. In a way, his career has mirrored the life of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader: a heroic early start filled with promise, followed by a fall to the dark side of greed and technology.

Star Wars George Lucas Vader

Can this be Episode VII?

Aside from the wildly popular original Star Wars trilogy, the so-so prequels and some hit and miss Indiana Jones flicks, he hasn’t been a very prolific filmmaker. He has spent more time creating and perfecting special effects technologies and building his Star Wars brand than he has actually creating films. The fact that Disney simply stepped in and said “We’re making another one,” should show how much Lucas has actually held back his franchise from delivering what people will really dig: progression.

For a man who once gave a stirring speech to Congress about the importance of protecting films from unnecessary CGI revisions, Lucas has become synonymous with this practice. Of his last eight theatrical releases, seven have been Star Wars (Episodes VI-IV Special Edition, Episodes I-III, Episode I 3D) and one was the brutal Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. He hasn’t produced a wholly original idea since 1989’s Willow. His eye is always backward, and his best days are long behind him.

Now, picture the writing process for Star Wars VII. Disney’s got it’s new toy. They’ll want to impress with it. They know they don’t need to build the brand out anymore; there are toys, comics, video games, novels and TV shows galore. The world has an appetite for Star Wars already. Disney just needs to get the recipe right. And for the purists who believe George Lucas should be steering this thing, you need look no further than midichlorians. Lucas screwed up the recipe himself, and he wasn’t able to kill the brand with his gaffes.

It can be a shock when a property you know and love gets bought up by a faceless corporate entity. On the surface, it’s a loss of creativity, individuality, personality and heart. Your love is now a product to be bought and sold by a company that cares for nothing but the bottom line. But let’s face it: knowing your audience is the best way to sell a movie. Disney has pandered to children for almost a century. They know how to target a market, and how to avoid alienating that market. They also know to put people with love for the subject in charge.

And this is where it’s important to remember that Disney bought Marvel in 2009. All those superhero properties belong to Mickey Mouse, and Marvel just produced the most successful movie of all time. The Avengers didn’t pull any punches. It wasn’t kiddy. Disney didn’t try to change Marvel; it left the important people in charge and allowed them to continue with their vision. Marvel Studios put Kevin Feige in charge of its movies, and Feige oversaw the entire build up to The Avengers, slowly forming a film world that would produce that movie. Feige, in turn, hired Joss Whedon, a man with directorial chops and writing experience with film, TV and comic books.

The point?

Disney was smart enough to step back and let the right people do their jobs. They didn’t force a new ideology on Marvel.

The result?

An unprecedented superhero team-up movie years in the making.

Marvel Avengers Disney

This ain’t the Mickey Mouse Club.

If that doesn’t convince you, look at it this way.

Kids have been growing up with Star Wars for 35 years. Sure, George Lucas created it, but sit in on a Star Wars panel at a comic convention and you’ll see just how much people know and love and engage with the material on a level Lucas can never understand. With all the contradictions in the movies, it’s tough to say Lucas knows the material best. Surely Hollywood has a couple closet fan screenwriters who could whip up a more than competent script.

Disney will at least remove the sense of awe around the concept of a Star Wars movie. We’re not going to be waiting on an easily distracted and slow-working creator to produce everything. Disney will give us that 2015 movie, and they’ll have more after that. Nothing will stop Star Wars now.

And what if it’s bad?

So what? At worst, we get another Phantom Menace stinker, and Star Wars has survived that before.

George Lucas started great and finished poorly. Disney is a scary prospect at first, but the more you look at it, the more it might be the right place for this franchise.

Disney is our New Hope.