Audiobook Short: Darth Plagueis

Hey all! It’s taken me a while to get back here, what can I say, life is busy and often beautiful ūüôā But, here I am and with¬†a new habit of geeky content consumption: audiobooks. Audiobooks are the ideal way to combine reading a novel while doing other stuff (like living life, busy and beautiful) and ever since I discovered the sheer endless well of narrated titles I dove in and started swimming.

And to help you swim along, if so inclined, I’ll share my audiobook reviews with you. My intent is to keep them concise and mostly just about my experiences with the books, without doing a fullblown review. This will keep it easy to get a feel for what a book might bring you without having to spend too much time reading each post – hence the name of this category: Audiobook Shorts. I will start each review with the publisher’s summary so you get a feel for the story, then add my own thoughts. I’ll also rate them according to the¬†Audible.com¬†rating categories¬†of Story, Performance and Overall, with 5 stars as the highest score.

As a bonus, and in the audio spirit of things ūüėČ , I’ll post a link to a spoken (by me) version of my¬†Audiobook Shorts¬†series¬†whenever one is available on the Spiritblade¬†podcast.¬†Like this one, my first ūüôā :

Spiritblade podcast episode 455, go to timestamp 2:54.

My first Audiobook Short is about a Star Wars novel from the so-called Expanded Universe: Darth Plagueis, written by James Luceno and narrated by Daniel Davis. Length: 14 hrs and 49 mins.

Publisher’s summary

He was the most powerful Sith lord who ever lived… but could he be the only one who never died?

‚ÄúDid you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It‚Äôs a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” -Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith

Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master – but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power… over life and death.

Darth Sidious: Plagueis’s chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.

Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination – and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?

From the Hardcover edition.

©2012 James Luceno (P)2012 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Fantastic Star Wars lore!”

Captivating story, brilliant reading performance by Daniel Davis, awesome audio effects & SW music. This is precisely why I love audio books so much!

The story clarifies a lot of Darth Sidious’s background and of course tells the story of Darth Plagueis, the main character. We also learn intriguing things about the Dark Side of the Force, and the order of the Sith.

To me this audiobook captured a real Star Wars atmosphere, it made me want to listen to it 24/7 and I wish the novel had lasted at least twice as long.
Because of it, I wanted to watch SW Episode I immediately following it, which to some would be a great feat in and of itself ūüėČ
It also made me want to look into the Expanded Universe, which up until now I had always studiously avoided because – knowing myself – I would probably want to read everything,¬†books, comics, audiobooks. Which would be 1. an enormous¬†time hog and 2. frustrating since Marvel & Disney have declared the entire EU non-canonical, so, why bother. However, this first toe-dip left me wanting more and while still avoiding a full dive, I decided to go for a careful swim. So I bought the¬†Darth Bane¬†trilogy, about which you can read more in my next ūüėČ

In short, I highly recommend Darth Plagueis and give it 5 stars for story, 5 stars for performance and 5 stars overall!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

Advertisements

From OSX Lion to El Capitan (Clean Install)

goodbyeosxlion

Ever since I bought my¬†iMac back in 2011 (16 Gb RAM, core i7 processor), I had been working with Mac OSX 10.7 – otherwise known as Lion. I never upgraded, for I firmly believed in the adagium “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

However, this also meant that more and more applications had reached their maximum update level, among which Safari – which meant that slowly but surely more and more websites no longer fully functioned. Sites like Youtube and Twitter, to name but a few. So the level of my user annoyance gradually increased, until I reached the point of feeling ready to move on from Lion after all.

When Apple announced their latest MacOS “Sierra” to be expected this Fall, I suspected I would not be able to make the jump from Lion. So if ever I planned to upgrade after all, I had to do it now.

Since I had to jump  four iterations of MacOS (from OSX 10.7 to OSX 10.11) in one fell swoop, I chose to take as little risk as possible and go with a clean install. After much reading and research I also chose to do this from a bootable flash drive/usb drive.

Since I had never undertaken such an adventure, and had to do lots of Googling and Trying of Things, I decided to¬†write every step down for you all – but only the successful ones, so your path might be shorter and smoother. So here we go…

‚Ķbut before you move on, please consider carefully that a clean install will erase everything, and I mean Every Thing, from your Mac’s hard drive. This not only includes your files and applications, but also your user accounts and network settings. Know that in most cases a so-called “over-the-top ¬†install” (in which you simply install the new OS over the previous one, without erasing everything) works perfectly fine. I chose a clean install because as I said I had a pretty large “jump” between OSes to make, which also stood for a time leap of about 5 years. Years in which a lot of “baggage” had accumulated, like¬†unused extensions, app support files, preferences etc. These could potentially pose security risks or app instability in the new system, or simply take up too much space. A clean install would be like setting up my l’ill ol’ Mac as if it came brand new out of the box – at least on the inside ūüėČ .

Please also make sure that all of your mission critical apps are¬†all compatible with El Capitan, before you do the install… The safest way to ensure this is probably to¬†visit the developer’s website. You can also checkout RoaringApps.com, although I’m not certain how reliable they are in all instances.

Okay, if you still want a clean install after all this, please read on for my own step-by-step process.

1. Clean up
Throw away files and applications that you no longer use or haven’t used in a long time. Use an app like AppCleaner to make sure every little file associated with an application is thrown out as well.

If you want to rearrange things and/or throw out garbage, do so now, before you make a cloned copy (steps 1-4).

2. Close all applications, update them, log them
Make a note which apps came from the Mac App store¬†and can be readily recovered, and which apps require you to download a new installer from the developer’s website.

Also, you may want to have a log of all of your application licenses in a copyable format so that you can paste it in when reinstalling your apps (after the install of El Capitan).

3. Log off from cloudapps like Dropbox, Evernote, etc. Do this last and don’t edit anymore cloud files until after the clean install.

4. Disconnect any unnecessary peripherals such as printers, tablets, microphones, etc. Try to work with just attached drives and a wired mouse and keyboard.

5. Empty the trash. You can use the TrashIt app if necessary.

6. Repair boot drive permissions
Use Disk Utility to make sure your boot drive permissions are all repaired and that the disk directory is verified as good.

7. Back up
This may be the single most important action you should take. Back up, back up, backup! Use Time Machine, but if you really want to be safe, also make a complete cloned copy of your Mac. I used Carbon Copy Cloner for that, for it is able to make bootable backups. You can try it out for free, which is perfect for opportunities like this.

Note: you will need a second external harddrive for the cloned copy, do not try to cram it in next to your Time Machine backup, for Troubles might await you and you do not¬†want to take risks with your backups…

8. Download El Capitan from the Mac AppStore
It will launch automatically but you need to quit (CMD-Q) out of the upgrade process.

9. Create a bootable installer flash drive
Click here for an explanation how to. Move the installer file from your Applications folder to your bootable flash¬†drive. It’s about 6 gigabytes, so make sure your flash drive is at least 8 Gb, and doesn’t have any files on it.

10. Connect the bootable USB El Capitan install drive to the Mac and install El Capitan
Since this process has been described by many others, I’ll simply refer you to the one that I found most helpful and easiest to understand.¬†Click here for those step by step instructions.

In my case this process took 40 minutes. Which I thought was pretty fast, but as stated above my Mac does have a Core i7 processor with 16 Gb RAM, so if you have a different setup it might take more – or even less – time than mine.

11. Restore your data
Right after you boot El Capitan the setup process will start. You can elect to restore user accounts and settings from Time Machine. I chose the following set of restore options: Users folder + Settings + Other files and folders: Yes; Applications: No.

By the way, when you sign into iCloud it will sync up anything you had previously selected in iCloud sync settings. This may include your mail (after you rebuild or log in to your account), calendar, contacts, reminders, Safari bookmarks, iCloud Keychain etc.

The same goes for your other cloud apps like Dropbox and Evernote (etc): as soon as you login to their desktop apps, your files will automatically reappear on your Mac.

12. Reinstall your apps
In¬†step 2¬†you made a list¬†of Mac App Store apps, and apps directly from a¬†developer’s site.¬†You can now use that list to restore your apps.

If you were using any cloud-based apps like Dropbox, Box, Evernote etc. you can simply download¬†their desktop application installers, install the desktop apps, log in and you’re back in business.

In case anything goes wrong, or if it goes well but you’re not satisfied with the new system
Take the¬†current Time Machine backup you made in step 7, you can boot from the¬†recovery partition (CMD-R),¬†do a complete erase (Disk Utility) and then restore from your Time Machine archive. You’ll be back where you were before you started.

Issues I encountered after the install

There were three major applications that no longer worked after I had installed El Capitan. Two of those I knew beforehand, but the biggest one took me by surprise and forced me to purchase a software update. They were:

  1. Parallels Desktop 7 – this version is not¬†compatible with El Capitan, an issue of which I was aware before I started. If I want to continue to use Parallels, I cannot upgrade (the more affordable option) for the jump from 7 to 11 is simply to big. I’ll have to buy a new, full version.
  2. iMovie ’11 – it is still available in El Capitan but I could not get it to work the way I wanted it to, so I had to switch to the latest iMovie. Of this I was not particularly aware beforehand, I mean I did know there was a new iMovie but I had hopes the older version would still work satisfactorily. Which it didn’t and since a lot had changed between these versions, I actually had to sign up for an iMovie workshop in an Apple store to be able to work with it again. I still don’t really like the new version, but what can one do – I guess I’m going to have get over it.
  3. Microsoft Office 2011. Now this one not working surprised me, and I don’t mean in a positive way. I could not get Word, Excel or Powerpoint to work at all, they wouldn’t even start. (I don’t use Outlook). Searching on the internet taught me that many struggled with this problem. There had been some fixes from Microsoft, mainly aimed at Outlook, but for the other three there were no fixes at hand as of yet. Since Office to me is¬†mission critical,¬†I experienced a light panic. I tried Pages for a couple of days, and even the open sourced LibreOffice, but both did not function the way I needed them to, for my specific wants & needs (I create written tutorials with lots of pictures, and inserting these pictures the way I wanted them to was a complete train wreck in both of those programms). After a week of trying (and cursing) I gave in, for I¬†had¬†to move on with my work. So I purchased¬†Microsoft Office 2016 – which works like a dream with El Capitan I have¬†to say, but confronted me with¬†an unexpected expense.

In conclusion

These were the steps I took to go from Mac OSX 10.7 Lion to 10.11 El Capitan with a clean install. It took me many hours to research the many options and possibilities and finally I settled on the above set of steps. They are of course based on my personal choices and preferences,  and given my particular hardware system setup. Nevertheless I feel quite confident that in most cases these steps will work, which is why I took the trouble of logging them here for you all, so as to spare you the same amount of hours of research (and doubts, and annoyances) I went through.

I hope this will be of help to at least some of you. I hope you feel encouraged by the fact that I, a simple user and not a software engineer nor any kind of other tech expert, have managed to sail through these steps successfully and have already enjoyed my new El Capitan OS for some weeks before I published this.

And when Sierra comes, I can now move confidently forward with a simple over-the-top install.

welcomeelcapitan

 

SW Clone Wars Animated Series: Anakin Skywalker pt. 2 – The Chosen One

Two blog posts ago I started a blog mini series reviewing the six seasons of Star Wars The Clone Wars РThe Animated Series (TAS). In the first post I reviewed Seasons 1 and 2, recommending the series to you all with great enthusiasm (which to this day is still as great!). In the blog post that followed I decided to zoom in on Anakin Skywalker for the remaining four seasons of TAS, starting with Season 3.

Before moving on to¬†Season 4 I’d like to linger with the third season a little longer, focussing exclusively on three episodes which together form the Mortis story arc. The rest of Season 3 consists of many adventures that are very entertaining and very Star Wars, but the¬†Mortis story line¬†is one of the key episodes not only of¬†the series, but of¬†the entire SW franchise¬†as a whole. It establishes Anakin as the Chosen One, and¬†it really swept me off of my feet.

This time I’ll give an extensive synopsis, which will¬†not be objective at all by the way ūüėČ (other opinions are available‚Ķ)

Season 3: Essential Force Mythology

Buried in the middle of the third season,¬†the three-episode Mortis arc is a rare gem of Force mythology, stemming from George Lucas’s original ideas of what the Star Wars concept should be.¬†Interesting? You bet! And exciting, thrilling, awesome! In fact, these are the only episodes I rewatched soon after I watched them the first time. Before you read on I have to warn you though, this blog post contains spoilers for the entire story arc, so please watch the episodes first if you don’t want to be spoiled…

Story

In S03E15¬†(Overlords)¬†the Jedi Council receives a transmission¬†from far beyond¬†the Outer Rim. Why and from where it was sent cannot be established, but hidden in the¬†message is a Jedi distress code that hasn’t been used in over 2000 years, so the Council sends Obi Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate.

As it turns out, three very powerful entities living in what seems to be some kind of extra-dimensional world have sent the signal to lure Anakin to them. They present themselves as humanoid¬†beings, an elderly father and his grown son and daughter, and they’re¬†simply called Father, Son and Daughter.¬†The three call themselves guardians of the power, and they cannot leave their world, which turns out to be¬†a conduit through which the entire Force flows. Daughter is aligned with the Light side, Son with the Dark side, and Father rules them both.

They are all keen to know whether Anakin is The Chosen One. Which would be more than simply Jedi or Sith, but to be a so-called Force Wielder like Father and his children. And on top of that, to be the One who controls and balances the Light and the Dark sides of the Force by controlling the son and daughter.

In the night all three of the Jedi are having visions, which though not crucial to the story, ring very true for at least the movie universe and probably future seasons of the animated series: Obi Wan seems to meet his old master Qui Gon, who asks if Obi Wan has trained Anakin well (a loaded question, considering what happens in the movies…). Anakin sees his long-dead mother, to whom he confides his greatest pain and fear: his guilt over loosing her and his fear of loosing the ones he loves, like Padme. Also very prophetic in light of the events in the movies…
Ahsoka meets her older self, who warns her of the seeds of the Dark Side that are planted within her by Anakin. She also warns her to leave the planet and Anakin, or she may never see her future. So maybe this shows us what might happen to Ahsoka: perhaps she won’t die, perhaps she won’t turn to the Dark Side – maybe she’ll simply leave Anakin and the Jedi (to grow up and live happily ever after‚Ķ?).

Future Ahsoka

Balancing the Force – The Chosen One

Father wants to test Anakin to see if he is indeed the Chosen One and has Ahsoka and Obi Wan taken by his children, who have now taken the forms of huge and violent flying creatures: a gargoyle and a griffin.

They take them back to the temple-palace of the Father, landing in a Yin-Yang(ish) shaped arena. Father¬†threatens to have them kill Anakin’s friends, challenging Anakin¬†to choose and save either his master or his apprentice,¬†while loosing the other. Father claims that making such a¬†choice will help Anakin get free of his guilt over the death of his mother.
A very strange piece of advise in my opinion, for I cannot see how one could conquer his guilt by committing the same type of action that caused the guilt to begin with; in this case: having someone you love die while feeling responsible for their safety.

Of course Anakin refuses to choose (good for him!), uses the Force-amplifying properties of the planet and brings both creatures to heel, rescuing both of his friends in an absolutely awe-inspiring display of Force Wielding. (At this point I was positively thrilled and at the edge of my seat!)

Father is satisfied that Anakin is the One, for only the Chosen One could tame both of his children.
So apparently Father¬†lied when telling Anakin that choosing would help him with conquering his guilt?! And here’s another thing, Daughter is supposed to embody¬†everything the Light Side of the Force is: selflessness, life, forgiveness, etc. And yet she blindly obeys Father’s command to kidnap and (try to) kill Obi Wan?? That seems very inconsistent with her character.

Anyway, Father wants Anakin to stay on the planet and be his successor, as he is dying. He tells Anakin that he has to choose this voluntarily, but warns him that if he makes a different choice and leaves, his selfishness will haunt both him and the galaxy.

The rest is history, it seems, for Anakin chooses to leave the planet with his friends…

Premonitions

The story continues however¬†and in the next episode (Altar of Mortis), they¬†return to the planet, since Son¬†takes Ahsoka before they’ve gotten very far. How is not clear, and personally I think this is a plot hole since during the rest of the story arc Son needs a space ship to leave the planet. So how can he get to Ahsoka in her ship (flying through space), when he’s still on the planet‚Ķ?
Anyway, during the events that follow, the balance of the Force is actually broken, as Son injures Father and kills Daughter, his sister. Father warns that since his son has now descended deeply into the Dark Side, much more power will flow to the Sith and war will increase throughout the universe. Which is why he tells Anakin to quickly leave the planet with his friends, before Son can take the ship to leave the planet himself.

In¬†Ghosts of Mortis,¬†the last episode of this story arc, Ahsoka is busy¬†fixing their ship, since they crash-landed it in the previous episode. (I’m sorry, but when was¬†Ahsoka trained as a¬†high-tech space craft engineer?!). Meanwhile, Anakin decides to visit the Father one more time to get his blessing to leave, otherwise he says it would haunt him for the rest of his life.
A striking difference with the first episode of this arc, where Father warns Anakin not to leave (or else…) and Anakin leaves anyway!

Father however simply repeats Anakin should leave before Son can take the ship and wreak havoc throughout the universe. He wants his son to remain on the planet so he can kill him.
Again, very strange. Aren’t his children supposed to balance the Force? How then, can Father even consider killing one of them?!
Anakin wants to help, but Father guides him to¬†the Well of the Dark¬†Side to find a third way for handling this situation, instead of¬†either leaving or staying behind to kill Son. And again, I find this a rather curious advise of this supposed ‘wise one’, to send someone not to the Well of Good, but to the Well of Evil to find¬†some wisdom, guidance and direction!

The Well of the Dark Side looks suitably ‘hellish’ of course, or at least how Hell is depicted most of the time: lots of lava lakes, fire and brimstone, and a¬†devilish Son waiting for Anakin. The son breaks the laws of time and shows Anakin his future, while threateningly bellowing “Know yourself, know what you will become!”
OMG – another thrilling and exciting moment, for despite Anakin’s resistance against the vision he is overwhelmed by it and we see several glimpses of situations we know from the movies! I won’t spoil them but they are well-known situations where Anakin either is, or is becoming, Darth Vader! So cool! What’s more, in the end we even see a quickly dissipating vision of Darth Vader looming over Anakin, and however fleeting that moment is, it is absolutely awesome and a very satisfying climax to the scene!

Again Son¬†shows his sly powers of seduction, for he¬†now offers¬†Anakin to avoid this horrible future by the side of¬†the Sith Emperor, namely by Anakin joining Son¬†and destroying the rising empire of the Sith together. Very well-played ūüôā , for¬†Anakin, desperate to save the galaxy, his loved ones and himself, sees no other way and actually joins Son!¬†His eyes immediately change, with dark circles underneath and sometimes even yellowish irisses, a clear foreboding of his ultimate downfall in the third movie.

Path of Death and Destruction

Just when all seems (somewhat prematurely) lost, Father intervenes and makes Anakin forget the whole thing, rendering him unconscious, saying: “Nothing is set in stone. If there is to be balance, what you have seen must be forgotten.”

Contrary to Father’s initial advise he now wishes¬†Anakin to be the one to kill Son! Very inconsistent of course, but hey, by now we’re all used to that.
Anakin shows himself to be a cold-blooded killer once again, for he simply strikes the Son down at the command of Father, without any hesitation.

Well, to cut a long, long story at least a little short, in the end all three guardians of the Force die. And Ahsoka too –¬†though thanks to¬†Daughter’s dying breath not permanently.
Father’s last words are for Anakin, urging¬†him to stay on this path “for he has brought balance to this world, and will do it again for the Galaxy.” Yet¬†again, a very curious remark of a¬†so-called wise character, for in this case restoring the balance meant destroying three living, breathing entities! Of course we know that his words are darkly prophetic, since Anakin will do a lot of destroying and killing before he finally brings balance to the Force in the galaxy. But that still makes the advise to stay on this path very strange at best.

What a ride

In spite of all inconsistencies, plot holes and a generally flawed plot, this story arc was such a blast! Lots of action, thrilling moments, many visions and dreams and of course a deeper look into the Force and the legends and myths surrounding it. And what stunning insights into Anakin, his way of thinking, his intentions and his character journey!

As for the mythology of the Star Wars universe, of course we already know that the Force is not a biblical concept. In this story arc it was very¬†abundantly¬†made clear that if there has been any religion or philosophy that influenced George Lucas when creating this universe, it most definitely was not biblical christianity. If anything, in¬†Star Wars can be found¬†some¬†buddhistic, gnostic and new age influences. And those are the obvious ones, who knows what we would find if we really start digging¬†into it. ūüėČ All of which does not have to be a problem for Christians however, as long as they’re consciously aware of those influences and are careful not to be tempted by them.

 A Yin Yangish arena

One of the rare statements that are actually in line with the bible by the way, curiously comes from one of the least biblical characters of the story arc: Father. For when Father¬†states, in his final words to Anakin: “Beware your heart,” this echos – probably wholly and utterly¬†unwittingly¬†– the book of Proverbs in the bible, where it says:
‘Above everything else, guard your heart; for from it flow the springs of life.’ (Proverbs 4:23).
The bible also tells us our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).

To be continued?

Although the rest of Season 3 never refers back to the Mortis story arc again (how strange!), I cannot wait to see what Seasons 4-5-6 will bring, for there are enough loose ends left open in this story arc to revisit at least some of its plot line.

For instance, nothing ever really dies, according to the three guardians of the Force. So does that mean we’ll see one or all of them again‚Ķ? Or (one last spoiler ahead!) will Daughter simply be seen in the traces she left in Ahsoka when Father and Anakin revived Ahsoka with Daughter’s last remnant of Life force? Who knows, let’s just find out shall we‚Ķ ūüôā

SW Clone Wars Animated Series: Anakin Skywalker – The Only Hope?

Star Wars The¬†Clone¬†Wars – The Animated Series¬†tracks Anakin Skywalker’s slow descent towards the Dark Side of the Force, which as we all know eventually culminates in his becoming Darth Vader at the end of¬†Revenge of the Sith.
Of all the¬†Star Wars movies, the third one,¬†Revenge of the Sith,¬†is my favorite. For Anakin’s passionate struggle to be a hero, to be a strong force for Good, and then failing in the most horrendous way possible, struck very close to home. As Christians, we too have a strong sense of good and evil, and we may even look at our world as a world at war – spiritually. But more importantly, as a Christian I know all too well what it’s like to have been given all these gifts and talents, to almost burst with the potential God has bestowed on me, on all of us – and then to fail. Fail miserably and horrendously, time and time again, because of my sinful nature.¬†No one is good – except God alone, according to the Bible.

So I’m very happy and pleased – and thrilled and excited – that The Animated Series¬†(TAS) not only caters to my general Star Wars fandom, but zooms in on the events and character journey that lead to my favorite movie of them all.
In my previous blog post I reviewed Seasons 1 and 2. In the third¬†part of this blog mini series¬†I’m¬†zooming in on Anakin Skywalker, starting at Season 3.

So what about this Anakin? (warning: movie spoilers for SW III)

Of course there are some strong messianic overtones to Anakin’s character. The Force runs strongest in him and from the start he was meant to restore balance to the Force when the Dark Side started rising. In the end, in¬†Star Wars VI,¬†he actually does restore that balance, conquering death (but only for himself) as he does it. The animated series hints at this Destiny as well, for he’s regularly referred to (in his absence) as The Only Hope. Which of course is also a very nice prequel reference to Star Wars IV – A New Hope.

But that is where¬†all messianic similarities seem to end – as the title of¬†A New Hope¬†already clearly demonstrates: Anakin failed at being the universe’s Only Hope, wherefore a new¬†hope was needed. He failed at his messianic task, which of course is not so strange at all, for he – like¬†any other Jedi – is no super human, let alone a genuine Messiah. George Lucas himself stresses this point repeatedly during interviews: the Jedi are no super heroes, no meta humans. They know how to wield the Force, but they are not invincible, nor invulnerable.

Anakin near-fatally injured: definitely not invulnerable

Clearly Anakin is no messiah, and when I watch the movies or the animated series, it is not Jesus that he reminds me of. No, in Anakin I see myself. I see the entirety of mankind starting with Adam, of what it means to be a sinful human in a fallen world. I see love, hope, faith, passion and all things good – as well as¬†hatred, fear, egotism, jealousy and all things evil. I actually shed tears¬†at Anakin’s fall in¬†Revenge of the Sith,¬†for it represented my own fallen state – as well as¬†the world’s. To me, he is the embodiment of Paul’s lament in Romans 7:For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.¬†For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (verse 18-19). Do we not get a great demonstration of the meaning of this verse when Anakin (warning, movie spoiler ahead!)

to his horror, discovers it was he himself who had murdered his one true love, his beloved Padme?

On morals, ethics and spiritual convictions

In the SW universe, intense emotions are not for the highly evolved. Hate, rage, fear but also ardent love and committed relationships are not done for true Jedi masters. This is why it¬†leads to some serious eyebrow-raising in Obi Wan en Plo Koon, when Anakin stops the attack on a Separatist ship because¬†it’s where Padme is held captive (S01E04). In this, there are differences with the biblical teaching of valuing each individual above the collective as a whole; whereas it would seem more “cost-effective” to sacrifice one life to potentially save many more by defeating an enemy ship, it’s actually very biblical not to demand such a sacrifice of someone else, nor forcing it upon them. Curiously it is our future bad guy, Anakin, who shows us this very biblical example.

In S01E05 Anakin raises the stakes when he wants to go on a rescue mission for his little droid R2D2, whom he lost during a space battle. Obi-Wan stresses again: ‘Attachment is not acceptable for a Jedi’. But Anakin is of a different opinion.¬†‘R2 is more than a droid, he’s a friend,’ he¬†explains to Ahsoka.

Another example of the Jedi way of putting the collective before the individual can be found In episode 13. Ahsoka is told by Jedi master Aayla Secura to leave a seriously injured Anakin behind and go with her and the troopers to find a way off of the planet they stranded on. Ahsoka doesn’t want to leave Anakin behind, claiming he would never leave her behind if she were ever in the same position. But Secura tells her: ‘As a Jedi it is your duty to do what’s best for the group.’
Secura tells Ahsoka about her own master, who had been like a father to her. ‘I realized that for the greater good I had to let him go,’ she states. ‘Don’t loose a thousand lives just to save one.’

I don’t know about you, but I would not subscribe to this part of Jedi philosophy. It seems I would not be allowed to form any attachments, and would be required to deny (or as the Jedi call it, ‘control’) all of my stronger feelings. In short, I would have to give up on several things that are central to being human. What’s more, I don’t think I would leave someone I consider a father or father figure to die, just to save an abstract thousand. You don’t even know whether the thousand really would be saved, you probably just hope they would be. Ahsoka seems to agree with this latter sentiment, for she replies: ‘Maybe. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to save his life.’

On Anakin’s leadership

Season 1, episode 19: Ahsoka disobeys a direct order from both the admiral and her master Anakin, and looses her squadron. Anakin is disappointed with her, but is remarkably forgiving and fatherly. Stern but gentle, and not harsh at all, he gives her not less but more responsiblity, only applying his force of will to help her overcome her fear of failure and her longing to refuse any more responsibilties. But his greatest leadership move is to make her responsible for his own life, coming up with an attack plan that will leave him helpless if she won’t manage to succeed in¬†her mission, rescuing him at¬†the same time. This clever combination of strategy and genuine trust in her abilities, forces her to step up to the plate and take back her position of command, conquering it back from the spirit of fear and dejection that had threatened to overwhelm her.

I really love how the character of Anakin is written here. It shows him to be a strong, fearless and remarkably gentle leader. He is fatherly and brotherly at the same time. This is the kind of leadership that makes people flourish, the kind that makes me want to be a leader just like that.

On the other hand, Anakin¬†truly believes that when your intentions are good, it’s okay not to follow orders. A mindset that sows the seeds of rebellion, for¬†doesn’t¬†every person on earth believe that his/her own intentions are generally good, even the ones history shows to be bad, or even evil?

To the Dark Side

We already know from the movies that Anakin Skywalker crosses over to the Dark Side of the Force, leaving the Jedi knighthood. We see his actual fall in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, but how does a promising young Jedi knight, considered the Only Hope by the Jedi High Counsil, deteriorate to not only committing himself to the Dark Side, but also becoming one of the most powerful Sith in the galaxy?

In The¬†Clone Wars Animated Series¬†we get to see more of this journey, and in this and future posts I’d like to track some highlights of his journey to and through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’.

To be continued‚Ķ ūüėČ

Star Wars Clone Wars Animated Series: Review Seasons 1+2

The Star Wars Clone Wars animated series is set in between SW II and III, and directly continuing from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie; with the exception of season 1 episode 16, which according to the series writers is actually a prequel to the Clone Wars movie. (Wait. What?!)

The series, six seasons in total, is a celebration of the¬†Star Wars¬†universe. I’ve recently watched seasons 1 and 2, and would like to share my thoughts with you all. Meanwhile, I’ll continue watching the following seasons of course, and will keep you posted.

The Clone Wars Animated Series lets us discover new worlds and peoples, but it also takes us back to well-known movie locations, like planets (Naboo, for one, and many more) and buildings on that planet (the Naboo palace, the hangar).

Clone Wars animated series: Approaching Naboo Palace

The music score is slightly different from the movies’, but still very clearly Star Wars. There are so¬†many great things to see again I hardly know where to start: there’s the drones in all of their different forms, and some new versions added to that. Also, several of the many species we have previously encountered in the movies are making a come-back. Like the Dugs,¬†the¬†flying, snouty creatures from Malastare we know from SW I – where one of them (Sebulba) kept little Anakin as a¬†slave. In TAS we meet Katuunko, their king, on the mysteriously beautiful, colorful dried coral moon of Rugosa. In the animated movie we had already encountered the cutest little Hutt baby, who turns out to be Jabba the Hutt’s son! So¬†cool.
Then there’s also a guest appearance by the long-necked medical specialsts we know from the movies as the Kamino cloning facility’s caretakers and scientists.

Clones

Before we move on to the main character of the series, I must mention the ones that actually carry the title of this series: the clones! While wearing white helmets in the movies, in TAS the clones are oftentimes bare-headed. Since we already know from the movies that it was actually bounty hunter Jango Fett who was cloned, they all have his face. But in the animated series we discover they all have unique characters, who make a point of distinguishing between themselves in spite of their similar looks. One way of accomplishing that is by different (facial) hair styles. We also learn they all have chosen their own names. In S01E05 they even get their own, clones-only episode as if to empasize their unique individuality.

On a side note, an interesting point is raised here: are clones truly human, true individuals and do they therefore, have their own souls? In S01E01 Yoda goes out of his way to stress that they are unique individuals, and in episode 2 Jedi master Plo Koon constantly encourages his troopers to embrace their individual intrinsic value. But that is for another blog post to explore…

Characters Old and New

Against the great Star Wars¬†atmosphere and backdrop, we get to see much more of the¬†development and interaction between the main characters: Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu, to name but a few¬†of¬†the Jedi heroes we know and love. There’s¬†Senator Padme (former Queen of¬†Naboo),¬†Jar Jar Binks,¬†Count Dooku, Count Grievous, senator Palpatine,¬†and fortunately¬†good ol’ R2D2 and C3PO as well! And many, many¬†more!

Ahsoka Tano is a new character, who becomes Anakin’s padawan. We meet her in the animated movie, and she remains at Anakin’s side¬†throughout the series, picking up on Anakin’s individualism and independent mind.

I feel that in season 1¬†at least we see the positive aspects of those characteristics of Ahsoka¬†– in contrast to some of Anakin’s more negative tendancies.
For instance, Ahsoka is often the voice of reason and compassion when Anakin’s bold but egotistical side threatens to take over. When he is prepared to risk and loose the lives of a squadron of his fighter pilots, claiming that they can make it, it’s Ahsoka who points out that while he¬†might be able to make it, “everybody else is dying”. Her fervent pleas for doing what is Right¬†are what seem to keep Anakin¬†on the straight and narrow¬†more than once.

Nevertheless her character seems to be slowly developing in some other directions as well. On the one hand she has the unique opportunity to work with several Jedi masters, besides Anakin. This offers her the perfect chance to study under “true” Jedi’s, counterbalancing Anakin’s¬†wilder¬†ways. On the other hand she admires Anakin to no end and wants to please him most of all other Jedi masters. This leaves her open¬†to his influence, positive but also negative. In contrast to her pleading for the lives of Anakin’s squadron, we see her ignore explicit¬†orders to draw back in episode 19 of that same season. Thereby risking – and loosing! – her own squadron.

I’m very interested in where they are going to take this character in later seasons. Of course from the movies we know there is no Ahsoka – so I suppose she either dies during the animated series, or – and this I’d find far more interesting – she turns to the Dark Side…

Old-but-new characters

Some characters have been in the movies for very brief scenes, so they probably haven’t made the impression the main characters have. Fortunately, several of them are turning up in the animated series,¬†fleshing them out much more. Like Kit Fisto, a nautolan Jedi Master who has become fairly popular with fans, being ranked #41 in IGN’s list of Top 100¬†Star Wars¬†characters¬†back in 2010. But we¬†also get to see Jedi master¬†Aayla Secura. Her appearance in TAS is the second time Lucas used her, for she also briefly appeared in SW III, Revenge of the Sith, and was played by Amy Allen. The character became very popular, mostly through the Expanded Universe.

Kit Fisto – movie left, animated series right:

Aayla Secura –¬†movie left, animated series right:

There’s also a new character on the dark side: Ventress, Dooku’s apprentice. In a way¬†she might be considered Ahsoka’s dark counterpart, although Ventress is much older and far more experienced in wielding the Force.

Movie references

There are some great movie tributes hidden (or actually not so hidden) in the¬†Clone Wars Animated Series. For instance, there’s a Contagion¬†episode (S01E17, Blue Shadow Virus),¬†a¬†zombie episode (S02E07, Legacy of Terror), an Alien episode (S02E08,¬†Brain Invaders), and even a¬†Godzilla¬†episode (S02E18+19, The Zillo Beast & The Zillo Beast Strikes Back). Plus, all episodes with bounty hunter Cad Bane have very strong¬†western¬†overtones (S01E19, and others).

Great, great fun!

Skywalker

There can of course only be one truly central character to this series: Anakin Skywalker. Although not a true Jedi Master yet, Anakin has reached Knight status and has come into his own as one of the Jedi generals, regularly leading his own fleet and fighting many battles against the Dark Side’s armies. He’s deeply in love with his wife Padme, but they’re still keeping their relationship a secret, as we already know from the movies.

Since the animated series is set in the years following Attack of the Clones and before Revenge of the Sith, it shows how Anakin slowly and unwittlingly lets himself become vulnerable to the temptations of the dark side. The beauty of this series is, that although Anakin is to become the Big Bad Guy from the Star Wars IV-VI movies, almost every individual episode of the animated series shows us that he is in fact just like us: sinful, yes, but he starts out with a strong intent to do good, fight evil, rescue the defenseless, fight for peace and order in the universe. He really is not truly evil to the core, like his Sith lord, although he seems to come dangerously close for a while, in the movies. Thankfully the sixth movie finally resolves the tension: it proves that Anakin is not truly evil, as he is finally redeemed in the end Рwhereas, in stark contrast, there is no redemption for the true Evil, the Sith lord.

All of which makes the scene in S02E08 where Anakin uses his future Darth Vader signature move for the first time Рthe deadly Force grip Р excitingly chilling!

Dislikes

Although none of the original movie actors are doing the voice acting in this animated series, the voice cast acts very well Рwith the exception of Padme, whose voice is too high, too shrill and too young, almost like a child or rather some weird mix of child-woman.

Another minor flaw is Anakin’s age. In the second movie Anakin is about 19-20 years old, by¬†the third movie he’s still a very young man, of¬†about 23.¬†In¬†The Animated Series¬†however he looks¬†much more mature, like late twenties or even early thirties, imho. Same goes for his voice, which in TAS¬†is much deeper, adding to the maturity. Although objectively I like how Anakin is drawn and I also like his voice, I do not like it in context of the movies’ internal timeline.

Conclusion

So, with all of the above in mind, watching these stories about Anakin before Revenge of the Sith takes place, is a real treat. We get background stories on some of the characters (like an origin story for Count Grievous!), and have the unique experience of seeing the giant walker tanks and gigantic triangular battle ships, only this time being piloted by the good guys!

There’s also a lot of humor and comic relief, with several highlights. Let me mention two of them:

  • S01E04: on Grievous’s ship, amidst all the noises, there’s a short but very clear ‘Mind the Gap’!
  • The bio-weapons expert geneticist that experiments on living creatures has a very obvious, very in-your-face German accent, by Michael York no less. Funny, and well done!

In short, if you’re in any way a¬†Star Wars fan, I definitely recommend you buying this series on blueray or DVD, or check it out on Netflix/Hulu etc.

The Saga Continues…

In 2012 an independent comic entered the scene, simply titled Saga. Which I discovered in 2014 Рand it rocked my world….

Well, okay, nothing quite so¬†dramatic, but it did jump to the very top of my Favorite Comics list right then and there, forcing a reluctant Superior Spider-Man to a close but still second position. So, what’s that all about?

Story

Alana and Marco are star-crossed lovers in more than one sense. Not only do they have to fight for and defend their love and their small family against all kinds of enemies, but they themselves come from different planets ‚Äď planets which have been at war for generations.

From the moment their romance starts they have to keep it a secret, for by entering into their relationship they have mixed races, families and traditions ‚Äď all of which during a time of war between their planets. As soon as¬†they elope and have a baby girl, they have to be even more careful for it doesn‚Äôt take long before several people are after them, and most want¬†them dead rather than alive.

¬†The challenges young parents face…

The first 18 issues, collected in three trade paperback volumes, take us on a gripping adventure, an epic ride that reminded me of Star Wars, Romeo & Juliette and even Farscape Рfor its grit and down-to-earth dialogue. The occasional narrator stringing the story together is Hazel, the aforementioned baby girl, always recognizable by a subtle but distinct lack of thought bubbles around her thoughts.

You should be warned though, this comic can be very explicit and has a 17+ only rating. Please take that seriously and do not leave it lying around where your young children can find it. (Also: don’t read it in the subway or your doctor’s waiting room…) For instance, there are some sexual scenes, there‚Äôs some graphic violence and horror elements, an F-bomb here and there, and now and again we witness¬†intimate experiences like giving birth. Or losing a limb. (Which of the two is the scariest¬†I leave entirely up to the reader to decide‚Ķ)
Sometimes issues open with a splash page of such a scene, surprising the crap out of the unsuspecting reader. So there, consider yourselves warned.

No lack of blood & guts either…

Personally, I did not find this explicitness offensive or gratuitous, because I think it really fits the story well, a solid context is always provided and it simply shows us human (or in this case humanoid) life in all of its facets, taking into account the good, the bad and the ugly. The fact that there are also expressly implicit scenes, where the camera angle discretely looks away while the rest of a scene is left to the reader‚Äôs imagination, for me confirms that the occasional explicit scene is not uncalled for and adds to the rich tapestry of this space opera. I don’t know for sure but I also think the fact that the artist is a woman automatically makes me interpret the explicit scenes as non-lascivious or at the very least far less lewd.¬†I know, ridiculous, but there you have it. Plus, most (though not all) of the sexual scenes are between married couples, or couples in serious relationships¬†– which in this day and age could be considered¬†refreshing.¬†Nevertheless, if images of either violence, nudity, birth,¬†blood¬†or sexuality (hetero- and homo-) are something you‚Äôd rather avoid, you really should not read this comic.

All of that being said, the elements that cause the 17+ rating are definitely not the main plot device of the story. I was truly swept off of my feet by this comic, which I find touching, funny, exciting, refreshingly original and genuinely human. The art by Fiona Staples is exceptional, with beautiful colors and brilliantly rendered facial expressions. I truly hope she never ever leaves this book.

Writer Brian K. Vaughan knows how to tell a story in which you can really immerse yourself. It’s completely character-driven, with almost mundane character interactions against an engrossing, epic background of grand and mythic proportions, the combination of which I find riveting. Vaughan has invented a very rich tapestry of alien races and their respective societal structures, but no matter how alien they look, they all seem to have one thing in common Рalso the thing that makes this saga truly relatable to the reader: they all behave totally humanly.

Fascinatingly strange alien royalty

In doing so Vaughan has come up with a very smart way to explore different aspects of humanity. He¬†shows us the entire spectrum of human behavior: from the amazingly good to the gruesomely sinful and evil, and everything in between. This makes for a captivating story with¬†interesting characters and it challenges us to look into the mirror and ask ourselves: how truly alien are these aliens of the Saga story anyway, aren’t they really a lot like, I don’t know, me…?

Two aliens having a very human conversation

Vaughan also runs a hilarious Letters section in the back of the comic by the way, so whatever you do, do not skip that.

Buy/Borrow/Skip

Although I am truly, head-over-heels in love with this comic, I do recommend you borrow it first; in other words, start slowly with just issue 1, mostly to test whether you want to deal with some of its explicitness.

As for me personally, I give it a solid 10/10 for quality, and 9/10 for relevance!

After a short hiatus Vol. 4 of Saga continued with issue #19; issue #23 was released September 24, 2014. Saga is creator-owned and published monthly by Image Comics.

Don’t forget, there’s a comment section, so‚Ķ share a thought! ūüėČ

Superior Spider-Man, issue #… 32?!

Back in May I was still lamenting the fact that Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man had ended after only 31 issues. It had been a truly awesome run, with an ending in which Doc Ock hands the webslinger’s spandex back to Peter Parker – facilitating a smooth transition into the new Amazing Spider-Man series. And although Slott’s continuing on as the new series’ creator guaranteed quality writing, I still missed Doc Ock’s very unique interpretation of superheroism and how to control the evil elements in his city.
Above: Superior Spider-Man #8 – Otto can fix this!

As it turns out, this month is my lucky month and Marvel seems to have read my previous blog post (which they would, of course). For there it was, amidst the new comics issues of Wednesday, August 6th: Superior Spider-Man #32!
I had no idea how this would be possible, since the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man left no room whatsoever for Doc Ock to take over once again. I dreaded a scenario where Octavius would perhaps take another body and be a second Spider-Man. Nevertheless, since Dan Slott was still its creator, I decided to take the risk and dive in.

And boy did this comic exceed my expectations – again!¬† ūüôā
Slott very niftily found a little time slot (no pun intended) in Superior Spider-Man #19 that could be transformed into a multiverse story, creating room for an entire set of new web slinging adventures by Doc Ock. For although it’s only been one issue as of yet, it’s very clear from the plot that as long as Octavius travels these parallel universes and different dimensions, there’s really no limit to the number of stories. Hence, Superior Spider-Man does not have to end after all! Which makes my smile so big it hardly fits my face anymore.

Story (incl. some mild spoilers)

During the explosion in #19 Superior Spidey is warped to another timeline, and he finds himself in the year 2099. The same year the future Spider-Man he had encountered before is from and who is now trapped in our time.

Doc Ock of course starts bossing everyone around again pretty much immediately after arriving in the future, focussing on building a time machine to return to his own time as soon as possible. He succeeds in building the device fairly quickly (antagonizing approximately every major person or company in town while doing it – ah, Superior Spidey, I’m soooo glad you’re back ūüôā ), giving it an interface that looks like his beloved Anna Maria, and he starts a series of time jumps in hopes of finding his own dimension.

Although finding the right time line seems harder than he had anticipated, he does take notice of his surroundings. He discovers that several of his multiverse counterparts¬†have been killed by what seems to be one and the same foe. Octavius concludes that this enemy must therefore be traveling the multiverse as well, and it doesn‚Äôt take long before he decides to gather an army (of course he would ūüôā ) of ‚Äúparallel‚ÄĚ Spider-Men. With their help – and under his leadership¬†– he¬†wants¬†to¬†battle and defeat¬†this multi-dimensional enemy that threatens their entire existence.

Buy/Borrow/Skip

Can there be any other conclusion? BUY of course!

Once again Slott seems to be entirely in his element now that he’s back in the saddle writing this refreshingly original character of his. It’s obvious he’s enjoying himself, and that translates to the pages. The plot is¬†exciting, the dialogues sharp and snarky, and his true love for Anna Maria is once again moving even though she isn’t even really there.¬†Surely this new storyline promises a wealth of juicy Superior Spider-Man adventures! Or, as Marvel has dubbed it:

The road to Spider-Verse starts here.

I don‚Äôt know about you, but I‚Äôm looking forward to traveling that road right along with them ūüôā

BewarenBewaren