Tuesday, August 28, 2012

32 BBY: Battle for Theed

The Battle for Theed is the first of its kind: a comic based on a Star Wars RPG.  Though it’s only three pages in length I found the concept neat enough.  You can find the comic at the bottom of the page here (thanks Plaristes).
I can see the Darkhorse publication now: Star Wars RPG Adventures. Each adventure is played by guest RPG’ers like Stackpole, Anderson,  Zahn, and Karpyshyn.  At each session there is a secretary recording the events and an artist sketching out the adventure as it unfolds.  Bill Slavicsek is, naturally, the GM.  What an RPG lover’s dream!

The Battle for Theed is a source with minimal story, but the creation of an in-depth narrative wasn’t its purpose.  Its purpose was to excite new role-players to the re-booted Wizards of the Coast RPG product.  This little comic was totally awesome and a total gem.  Daniel Veesenneyer’s art was fantastic.  I truly love the art found in RPG materials of any kind. 

Interestingly, this story is written my Michael Stackpole who is mostly known for his work on the X-Wing series (to me anyway).  Who knew he also worked on Dungeons and Dragons back in the late 70’s?  I certainly didn’t.  It defiantly increases my opinion of him.  I love that he’s a Star Wars author who’s also a gamer. 
As it is, I’m excitd to find out what happens to Deel, Arani, Sia-Lan, and Rorworr as they passed the security door and into the room of the unknown.  I suppose the end of this story will come in the Invasion of Theed RPG package.  Unfortunately it’ll be a while before I get there.  There is still lots to look at in the year 32 BBY.

For my next post I’m going to look at the Journals of Anakin Skywalker, Queen Amidala, and Darth Maul.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, August 27, 2012

32 BBY: Secrets of Naboo Sourcebook

Reading Star Wars RPG sourcebooks is a guilty pleasure of mine.  What I love most about the Star Wars Chronology Project is that it affords me the excuse to sit down and read an RPG sourcebook cover-to-cover.  If I wasn’t on this quest there is no way I’d simply sit down to read a sourcebook.  I’m not sure I could justify to myself such an expenditure of time.
As I’ve mentioned before in my other posts on RPG sourcebooks, what I love about them is that they offer the nitty-gritty details of the Star Wars universe.  They contain information that would otherwise be difficult to inject into a regular narrative like a novel or comic.  From this particular source as an example, there is this great explanation from the Trade Federation Technology section on the cost benefits of having a droid-controlled ship over having droid brains that operate independently.  Essentially the Trade Federation was saving millions of credits using the droid controlled ship because they never believed the ship’s defences could be breached.  But the most important thing I walk away with from this source is that this narrative even exists.  In what manner can an author effectively introduce dialogue between Nemodians as they decide how to set up their droid army?  I think a sourcebook is the best way to do this. 

I walked away from this source respecting the Trade Federation a little more, and basically having an overall higher opinion of battle droids.  The obvious benefit of a droid army is strength in numbers.   If they don’t come into contact with Jedi and are facing a regular standing army of beings they should be able to overwhelm their opponents into defeat.  What I never knew before is that battle droids are designed to be salvageable in order to re-deploy into the theatre of operations. 

“After a battle, cleanup droids gather the spent parts from the field.  Workers in properly equipped shops can then reassemble the undamaged modules into working droids.  In this way the Trade Federation can recover a majority of the droids who fell in combat, thus maximizing its investment in the manufacturing process” (11).
Here the Nemodians have taken a page from American military history.  Utility is the key to victory. Tank parts should be able to work in Jeep parts, and vice versa.  Any good military should be able to recover equipment from the battle field and reprocess into the theatre once more.  It’s simply a combination of good economics and military strategy if you ask me.  Like I said, my opinion of battle droids, and the Nemodians, increased a little. A wounded soldier takes precious resources to rehabilitate.  A droid requires only some welding and re-wiring.

Weapon stats are another feature of sourcebooks I enjoy.  Though I’m still unfamiliar with the inter-workings of the D20 system, figuring out which weapon is the most powerful is pretty simple.  In this sourcebook that honor goes to the Naboo S-5 Heavy Blaster Pistol with a damage output of 3d8 plus a 1d2 paralytic poison – Captain Panaka’s weapon of choice, naturally.  The artwork for the guns was pretty neat as well.
As far as story goes, the most important aspect of this text is the RPG scenario Peril on Naboo, but before I get to that I want to mention a tiny piece of narrative which, had I been lack in my reading, I might have missed.  In the section on Green Glie there is this strange little tidbit of narrative about the poisonous nature of the algae.  It starts with an advisory note at the end of the explanation of Green Glie:

“Advisory Note: All Jedi who visit Naboo should be extremely careful when accepting hospitality from even the most trustworthy individuals.  The Council is still investigating the death of young Jedi Knight Keiran Valn on Alderaan last month.  Preliminary reports indicate that he died by ingesting a glie-derived compound at a banquet held by his own family” (52-53).
When I first read this I thought it was a reference to another story somewhere else in the EU, but this is not the case. After looking through wookieepedia it’s apparent that this story is only found in the Secrets of Naboo sourcebook.  This narrative is curious because it raises some fascinating questions.  Firstly, why is this Jedi visiting his family?  Is there a Xanatos element going on here, where he has been called to his home planet on a mission and faced with his family to test his dedication to the Jedi Order?  What has this Jedi done to warrant an assassination?  Why would his family kill him, if indeed they are responsible?  For you short story writers out there, here is a great hook to explore the demise of Keiran Valn.  This story has yet to be explored and is opened to anyone creative enough to fill in the blanks of Valn’s murder.  Maybe the protagonist could be a Jedi investigator and the story could have a CSI type ‘whodunit’ element.

My last point of discussion centres upon the RPG adventure Peril on Naboo.  Taking up almost half of the sourcebook this RPG scenario is one of the largest I’ve read.  The adventure is separated into three parts with three scenarios per part.  It starts with a group of level 1 to 2 heroes stranded on Naboo as the Trade Federation invades.  The heroes come together to save the daughter of a tramp freighter by trying to smuggle out of Theed some medical supplies.  Needless to say events transpire against them, and the heroes are forced to fight battle droids and join the Naboo resistance movement.  The adventure ends with the heroes assisting Queen Amidala’s in her plans at the end of the film, with all the major players of the Phantom Menace making an appearance.  It was truly an epic adventure.
Star Wars RPG sourcebooks makes the Star Wars universe better.

For my next post I’m going to take a look at the 3-page RPG comic, Battle for Theed, from Wizards of the Coast.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

32 BBY: Episode 1 Comics: Anakin Skywalker / Qui-Gon Jinn / Queen Amidala / Obi-Wan Kenobi / The Phantom Menace #½

The four comic series titled Episode 1: Anakin Skywalker, Queen Amidala, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (and The Phantom Menace #½), was a mild breath of fresh air.  Granted, I’m still treading in the middle of The Phantom Menace material, but not having to engage with a direct adaptation of the film was a relief.
Firstly, the art in all four comics was fantastic.  All four artists: Steve Crespo, Galen Showman, Robert Teranishi, and Martin Egeland did outstanding jobs with their respective stories.

What I loved about these four comics were the tangential paths they traveled from the familiar Phantom Menace storyline.
In Anakin’s story I appreciated how Truman brought to life some of the episodes from Brooks’ novelization that weren’t in the film.  I especially liked the inclusion of the spacer that Anakin and his friends encountered in the streets of Mos Espa.  Crespo did well with his visualization.  The dream sequence, the bar fight between Gasgano and Mawhonic, and the assassination narrative on Sebulba were all great sub-plots.

Queen Amidala’s story was the least remarkable of the four, but was still interesting enough. 
Qui-Gon’s story included the cut scene of Anakin and Greedo’s fight, but like I said in my write-up on The Phantom Menace novel, it didn’t capture the real motivation for Anakin’s anger.  I also never realized that Qui-Gon sold Anakin’s racer to Sebulba.

Obi-Wan’s storyline confirmed something I always thought: in his fight with Maul he did give in to his anger.  He later confesses this to Yoda.  I also thought it tremendously neat we were offered an outside perspective of Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre.  There were hundreds of Jedi there all mourning alongside Yoda, Mace, Obi-Wan and Anakin.
However, what most stood out to me in all four of these comics was the discussion of slavery Qui-Gon and Anakin had at the end of Qui-Gon’s storyline.  In my post on Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter I spoke of my disappointment with the Jedi, and how I find their focus on martial prowess over a real desire for the common good unacceptable.  The Jedi seem to talk the talk, but not walk the walk.  In Shadow Hunter Darsha felt out of place with the poor, homeless, and disenfranchised of Coruscant because she was not properly trained to do so.  Her training, of course, focused on combat. 

In Brook’s novelization of The Phantom Menace he understands the essence of what it means to be a Jedi:

“The Jedi Knights were peacemakers; that was the nature of their order and the dictate of their creed.  For thousands of years they had served the Republic, a constant source of stability and order in a changing universe.  Founded as a theological and philosophical study group so far back that its origins were the stuff of myth, the Jedi had only gradually become aware of the presence of the Force.  Years had been spent in its study, in contemplation of its meaning, in mastery of its power.  Slowly the order had evolved, abandoning its practice of belief in a life of isolated mediation in favor of a more outward-looking commitment to social responsibility.  Understanding the Force sufficiently to master its power required more than private study.  It required service to the greater community and implementation of a system of laws that would guarantee equal justice for all. (27)
The Jedi are supposed to root out evil in all its forms and utterly destroy it.  In Qui-Gon’s story he uses a Jedi mind trick to help some slaves, but does not go so far as to free them.  Anakin, rightly, calls him out on this:

“Anakin: Well…if you could make a slaver be more kind, couldn’t you make him free his slaves? Qui-Gon: And what would become of the slaves then?  How far would they get on Tatooine?”
I find this line of thinking absolutely shocking.  What a low opinion Qui-Gon has of the slaves, or rather, maybe Qui-Gon feels that keeping them enslaved is the most “humane” thing to do.  This reminds me of how slavery was defended and justified in America in the 1850s.  This is how Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America, defended the idea of not freeing his slaves.  In the book, The Constitutional Principles of Thomas Jefferson, Caleb Patterson writes that:

"It was Jefferson's “humane feeling” for his slaves that kept him from freeing them. To free the ordinary slave was not very different from starting him on the road to starvation. Or as Jefferson put it... like abandoning children."
Jefferson couldn’t believe his slaves were intelligent enough to survive on their own in the same manner Qui-Gon doesn’t believe the salves he helped would survive.  In both cases the vice of slavery is perverted into some kind of virtue – that maybe the slaves are better off where they are. 

Anakin was right that Qui-Gon didn’t go far enough.  Instead of simply convincing the slave owner to be kind to his slaves, he should have said “Your salves belong to me now”, and took the salves along with the boy aboard his star ship.  It wouldn’t be stealing, because one person (or being) cannot own another, regardless of what the law does or does not say.  If a law is unjust then the Jedi are under a moral obligation to disobey that unjust law.
The Jedi speak of concern for the common good, so why not start with the abolition of slavery? I’m sure 5,000 Jedi, half of the Jedi order, could dedicate themselves to such a noble cause.  Head into the slavers dens and use their ability to alter minds to free the salves.  Take on the Exchange.  Take on the Hutts.  If you want to combine your martial prowess with a worthy cause, this one is it.

Real courage is doing the right thing in the face of overwhelming opposition.  It’s time for the Jedi Order to find its courage.
For my next post I’m going to take a look at the Wizards of the Coast RPG source Secrets of Naboo.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace Photo Comic

The Phantom Menace Photo Comic was terrible.

For my next post I’m going to take a look at the four comic series titled Episode 1: Anakin Skywalker, Qui-Gon Jinn, Queen Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and The Phantom Menace #½.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace Manga

I don’t get anime.  I’ve got nothing against it, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
Prior to 2006 my only interaction with anime came in the form of Astroboy (I can still sing the theme song).  I say prior to 2006 because that year I became the staff advisor for the anime club at the high school where I was teaching.  I remember well that fateful lunch when some students sheepishly came knocking on my office door.  They were given my name from another teacher saying that if anyone were to run the anime club it’d be me – seeing has how I walked around with a Darth Vader coffee mug.  We had a small discussion about Astroboy (which seemed to impress them – why I’m not sure), then I asked them what anime they intended to watch.  I reminded them that we were a Catholic school and had to keep things PG.  This seemed to deflate them a little.  I made the announcements and the following week I had well over 30 students show up and express their ideas on what we could watch.  The meeting was a little wild.  I took their ideas then did a little research.  Another week later the club began.  We started with Naruto, and over the following months watch Pokemon.  Eventually the club expanded to two rooms, with some students watching anime in one room and playing Yu-Gi-Oh in another. 

The next semester we had fewer students show up, and over the next few weeks we watch Death Note (which I was a little weary about but ultimately enjoyed).  Over time the anime we watched became progressively stranger. We watched one where this kid had a little china doll that came to life and they went to this other reality where the china dolls fought each other (I have no idea what it was called).  The next one we watched was about this girl at a high school who was some sort of deity. Basically the premise was that she created the reality around her but didn’t know it.  Then her reality began to break down and all hell broke loose.  Again, the name of it escapes me.  At the end of that semester I moved to a different school closer to home, and unfortunately the anime club folded as no staff members were interested in running it.

What I learned from that experience was that anime wasn’t for me.  I ended up saying no to more anime than I did saying yes.  There’s just so much weird anime out there.  At my new school I ran the science fiction and fantasy club, and we stuck to Lord of the Rings (we watched the old Rankin Bass animated versions along with the movies), Firefly, Star Trek and Star Wars.
Needless to say, the anime version of The Phantom Menace was ok, only because, like Plaristes said, it wasn’t stills from the film.

I wasn’t too impressed with the art.  What I found about this anime was that all the male characters had the same face, and similarly all the female characters had the same face.  Their distinguishing characteristics would be their hair or clothes, or maybe some wrinkles on their face.
What I do like about anime is the expressiveness of the character’s emotions. I laughed a little bit when Jar Jar kissed Qui-Gon, thanking him for saving his life, little hearts hovering about the Gungan and the Jedi Master.

I also noticed something I never detected before:  When we first met Watto in the film (and in this comic) he uses the pronoun “thee”.  But later in the comic, when he begins betting with Qui-Gon he goes back to using “you”.  This switch is also in the film.  Interesting. What’s up with that?
Lastly, who the hell is the dude on the front cover of this comic?  It’s easy to identify Anakin, Darth Sidious, Watto and Padme, along with some battle droids, so who the heck is the dude on the left hand side?  Someone fill me in please.

For my next post I’m going to take a look at The Phantom Menace Photo Comic.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace Trade Paperback

I remember getting all four issues of The Phantom Menace comic as a birthday gift from old girlfriend.  I also remember being completely underwhelmed with the gesture.  I think on the outside I was like “Oh, thanks, that’s awesome!”  But inside I was like “WTF?!?  Phantom Menace comics?!?”  I guess she was doing her best, but I threw them in my closet, and they stayed there for five years.  When my wife and I were married and moved in together I put them in the basement with all my other nerdy paraphernalia.  I dug them out today and read through them.
Story wise there is nothing to report.  Darth Maul has a little more dialogue like in Brook’s adaptation but that’s it.  The art by Rodolfo Damaggio was the best part. He did ok in capturing the likeness of the actors, but not as good as Robert Teranishi from Life, Death and the Living Force.

All I can say is that at least it wasn’t stills from the film.
As of right now I've not only watched The Phantom Menace more times than I’d like to admit, but I've now read it more times than I’d like to admit.

My next post will be more of the same with my reactions to the anime comic version of The Phantom Menace. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

32 BBY: Episode 1 Adventures #15: The Final Battle: Novel & Gamebook

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32 BBY: Episode 1 Adventures #14: Podrace to Freedom: Novel & Gamebook

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32 BBY: Episode 1 Adventures # 13: Danger on Naboo: Novel & Gamebook

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace Movie Storybook

The Phantom Menace Movie Storybook put me to sleep twice.  Reading The Phantom Menace this many times is killing me.  Why am I torturing myself like this?  The desire to be a completionist is mildly insane.
I really haven’t much to say about this source.  It was a highly condensed version of the story placed alongside stills from the movie.  The only mildly interesting thing I observed was a grammatical error, in that Gardulla the Hutt was referred to as “he” instead of “she”.  Also, after Amidala called for a vote of no-confidence, and Vallorum was ousted as chancellor, he exclaimed to Palpatine “You have betrayed me” (this line also appeared in Brooks’ version too).

Other than that, I can only complain about the story in general.  Why the hell wasn’t the council members more active in tracking down the Sith once they had accepted Qui-Gon’s assertion that it was, indeed, a Sith that attacked him?  Seriously, a vote for a new chancellor is more important to the Jedi Order than the re-emergence of the Sith after a thousand years?  Really??? Yoda and Windu, get off your council seats and head to Naboo.  As a matter of fact, everyone head to Naboo now!  We need to over-react, not under-react.
Also, what the hell did Jar Jar mean when he said that Boss Nass was “setting up” Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan by sending them through the planet core?  Was he trying to kill them?  If so, why?  I don’t get it!!!

I’m looking forward to reading some new material.
For my next post I’m going to make place-holders posts for Episode 1 Adventures 13-15.  I’m still waiting on them through the interlibrary loan system.  After these sources I’ll engage with The Phantom Menace Trade Paperback.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace Scholastic Novel

I’m glad I read Patrica C. Wrede’s version of The Phantom Menace.  I was dreading it at first, having already gone over the same story twice (and knowing this was far from the last).  However, going over the material a third time has allowed me to reflect on some aspects of the story I missed.
There are three elements of Wrede’s adaptation of TPM I want to comment on: Qui-Gon’s mention of a cloaking device, Shmi Skywalker, and how Kenobi may have handled Qui-Gon’s body.

By now you’re all aware of my minor obsession with cloaking devices in Star Wars.  I intend to write a Star Wars pirate story one day, and cloaking devices will factor in (shouldn’t cloaking devices be standard on all pirate vessels?).  As I’m going along in the material I’m making a note of all mentions of cloaking devices because I want my protagonist to come about one in a plausible manner.  Anyway, in both novelizations Qui-Gon asks Panaka if the ship has a cloaking device:

“The ship rocked as yet another bolt from the Trade Federation battleship exploded against the shields. ‘Do you have a cloaking device?’ Qui-Gon asked.  Panaka shook his head.  ‘This is not a warship.  We have no weapons.  We’re a non-violent people.’” (45).
The same basic description can be found in Brook’s adaptation on page 93. Interestingly, this line is not in the movie. As the party is escaping from Naboo there is only discussion about the shield generators going down, but nothing about a cloaking device.  I wonder why this mention made it into both adaptations, yet wasn’t mentioned in the movie.

The most remarkable aspect of Wrede’s version of The Phantom Menace centres upon Shmi Skywalker.  Neither in Brook’s edition nor in the film is anything mentioned of Shmi Skywalker’s possible Force sensitivity, which I always thought probable.  But there is mention of it here:

“’The Force is unusually strong with him, that much is clear,’ Qui-Gon murmured.  He could feel that the Force was with this woman, too, though not nearly so strongly as with her son” (82).
Like I said, Brooks’ adaptation makes no mention of this.  But this likelihood brings up all sorts of interesting possibilities for Anakin’s origins.  I know the novel Darth Plaguies sheds light on Anakin’s origins (how much though I don’t know.  I’ve avoided all Darth Plagueis discussions), but I’ve always had my own idea on how to make sense of the “fatherless conception” narrative.

After Revenge of the Sith theories abounded concerning Anakin’s origins, but the most popular one was the idea that Anakin was created by Darth Plageius.  This idea, obviously, stems from Palpatine’s story of Darth Plagueis the Wise.  If this is the case it only makes sense that Plagueis would chose a vessel that is also Force sensitive, thereby increasing the possibility of the offspring being born with the highest concentration of midichlorians possible.  It makes sense to me that Shmi Skywalker was also Force sensitive.  But as it is, all of this will hopefully be made clear for me when I read Darth Plagueis.
My last point is a rather morbid one, and a thought that never crossed my mind until after I read the Scholastic version of The Phantom Menace.  As I was reading the ending of the book, I was simultaneously thinking of my family back-home (by back-home I mean Ireland, even though I’m not a native son.  It’s simply a phrase I’ve grown up with my whole life).  As I was reading about Qui-Gon imploring Obi-Wan to train Anakin, I remembered a terrible story my cousin told me about his father’s death.  My cousin told me his father died upstairs in bed.  When they placed him in a body bag he needed to be carried downstairs.  The elder men of the neighbourhood stepped in to perform this task, but my cousin, being a young man in his twenties, insisted he be among the men to carry his father’s body.  His mother, sisters, and other men of the neighbourhood all protested, telling him the experience would be more than he could handle.  But he would not be swayed.  He felt he needed to carry him.  The men acquiesced, and my cousin was one of three men who carried his father’s body down the stairs.  Prior to his father’s death my cousin told me he was sad, but never cried.  After he carried his father’s body, and placed him in the waiting ambulance the reality of it all came crashing down on him.  He wept inconsolably.  He told me what upset him the most was the weight of his father’s body – how heavy he felt.

This story quickly passed through my mind when I read Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s final moments.  What did Obi-Wan do with Qui-Gon’s body after he died?  I imagine he had to carry his Master’s body out of that power core himself.  Was this experience as traumatizing on Obi-Wan as it was on my cousin? 
Admittedly, it was a sad and morbid thought.

For my next post I’m going to engage with The Phantom Menace again, this time in the form of the Movie Storybook.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

32 BBY: The Queen's Amulet

The Queen’s Amulet by Julianne Balman is a beautiful little story about Amidala losing and then finding her amulet.  The amulet is important because of its sentimental value; it was made for her by her father.
The art by Matilda Harrison was my favorite aspect of the book; it was innocently nostalgic and colourful.  The most enjoyable part of the story was page 2, and Harrison’s picturesque scene with the Queen and Sabe leaving Theed while the two make their way through a grassy field.  They are heading to the place where the Queen last had her amulet.  Flying above the maidens are two giant Peko Peko birds, and tucked into the corner of the page are some strange looking lizard-birds spying on the two girls.  The city of Theed is in the distance with the sun rising above them.  It’s a beautiful bit of art.
The Queen finds her amulet just before the Trade Federation lands their invasion force.  The story ends with Padme and Sabe switching roles, and the rest we’re very familiar with.
For my next post I’m going to look at another adaptation of The Phantom Menace, Patricia C. Wrede’s scholastic version.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace Novel

The book is always better than the movie, and the novelization of The Phantom Menace was no exception.
This is especially the case with Terry Brooks, writer of the epic Shannara series, and one of the imitator's of Tolkien’s fantasy tradition.  In his lecture series titled Rings Swords and Monsters, Michael D.C. Drout of Wheaton College places Brooks as one of the minor inheritors of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy tradition, and also the second writer of the 20th century to prove that the fantasy genre is commercially viable. 

Drout’s contention is not universally accepted however.  Some would contend that Brooks does not deserve the title “Inheritor of Tolkien”, claiming his work is simply too derivative of Tolkien, (and it is) but Drout leans towards granting Brooks this title.  Drout claims that Brooks opened the gates for authors to react to Tolkien and count themselves within the fantasy tradition.  Drout goes on to argue that once Brooks was able to write all of the Tolkien out of his system and pass through his “anxiety of influence”, as argued by Harold Bloom, he was able to take ownership over the title “Inheritor of Tolkien” through his work The Elfstones of Shannara.

Having Terry Brooks pen the novelization of The Phantom Menace is, in my opinion, a minor coup for Star Wars mythology, and is a great living bridge between Lucas’ Star Wars, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Plus, Brooks is a helluva writer.  His opening paragraph describing the landscape of Tatooine was beautiful.  But credit where credit is due: although Brooks is a great writer, Lucas is a better storyteller when it comes to visual effects.  Brooks’ presentation of the podrace scene and the final confrontation between Kenobi, Qui-Gon, and Maul did not hold a candle to Lucas’ presentation of the material. 

My reactions to the novel basically boil down to three categories: my reactions to the characterization of Anakin Skywalker, differences from the film, and Star Wars place within the fantasy and mythology tradition.  I’ll begin with my first point.

In redlettermedia’s critique of The Phantom Menace, he rightly pointed out that the film lacked a protagonist.  The protagonist in a story such as this usually starts out as someone down on their luck, in a bad place in their life, or someone who doesn’t have everything work out perfectly for them.  This definition fits Anakin, but as redlettermedia points out, the audience doesn’t meet Anakin until 45 minutes into the movie.  That’s a problem if Anakin is indeed the protagonist of the story.  The protagonist needs to enter the story early so the audience can identify with him or her.  What is more, the things happening around Anakin are pretty much out of his control or understanding, which again is a problem if he is the protagonist.  If the protagonist has no concept of what is going on or what’s at stake, then there is no real tension or drama, without tension or drama there is no real story.  Redlettermedia concludes that the film lacked a protagonist, and I agree with him.

In the novelization of The Phantom Menace Brooks remedies this problem (though not completely) by beginning the story with Anakin Skywalker, the intended protagonist (I think) of this tale.  So far the novel is off to a good start, and really, this is how the film should have started as well (If Anakin was indeed the intended protagonist, and not Obi-wan Kenobi, who I think should have been). We meet Anakin competing in a podrace with his arch-rival Sebulba.  There is tension and drama, but as expected Anakin falls short of his goal, loses the race, and is defeated by his enemy.  Here Anakin fits the bill of protagonist perfectly.  We’re now engaged with his story. We learn he is a slave, has a mother who loves him, is harassed by his slave-owner, and has a goal to one day defeat his greatest rival by creating his own pod racer.  We’re now interested.  We’re beginning to care about him.  Again I ask, if Anakin is the intended protagonist, why didn’t the film begin with him like the novel did?

Chapter six in the novel was by far the most interesting, and an episode in the film that I don’t think was even filmed (unlike the cut Greedo scene which I’ll address momentarily).  In chapter six, after Anakin had been ordered by Watto to head out into the desert and trade with the Jawas for some droids, he came across a wounded Tusken Raider.  Unsure of what to do, his head filled with horrible stories of these savages, Anakin gave the fallen being aid.  This speaks deeply to Anakin’s character – his ability to overcome his fear and do the right thing – not the wise thing but the right thing.  He stays with the Raider through the night to make sure the wounded warrior is fine.  In the morning he is greeted by the Raider’s tribe, but instead of killing the young boy, they ignore him and take their wounded member home.  This was an interesting scene which detailed and developed Anakin’s character.  Less of Jar Jar and more of this is what The Phantom Menace needed.

One of the scenes which met the cutting room floor was the fight between Anakin and Greedo, and a scene which was well presented in the novel.  I don’t know if this event is considered canon, but this scene is mostly good.  I say mostly because the Rodian Anakin fought did not need to be Greedo.  Sure it was neat, connecting The Phantom Menace with A New Hope, but the scene is about Anakin, not about the Rodian.  Yet what is lost in this cut-scene from the film is Anakin’s motivation for the fight.  He didn’t really fight Greedo because he called him a cheater, though that was at the surface.  He fought Greedo, or more accurately pummeled Greedo, because he thought Padme was going away and he would never see her again.  He was heart-broken at already losing her when he had just met her.  Greedo was a convenient punching bag that gave him a great excuse to release his anger.  To help this scene along the scene before this one could have been Padme saying goodbye to Anakin, then Anakin walking home a bundle of emotions having just won the race of his life and losing the girl of his dreams.  Enter Greedo, and along with him tension and drama.

On the topic of the relationship between Anakin and Padme, again, the novel did well presenting their first exchange.  After meeting Padme for the first time, Anakin announced to her “I’m going to marry you”.  I think out of context the line seems strange and silly, but it again speaks to Anakin’s character.  He’s self-confidant, un-unnervingly so (this self-confidence completely discombobulated the Tusken Raider earlier in the story.  So much so that the Tusken Raider was afraid of Anakin, and wanted to know what he was going to do with him).  In the novel Padme is amused by the boy.

The final scene I want to talk about from the novel was Anakin’s goodbye.  To be honest, this episode from the film choked me up a little when I first watched it.  It was sad seeing a little boy leave his mother.  The novel ramped up the drama, for me anyway, with Anakin saying goodbye to Kitster as well.  Kitster, thinking he’s heading over to his friend’s house to celebrate his win, is told he is leaving and he’ll never see him again.  This is sad.  Kitster tells Anakin before he leaves “You’re my best friend.”  It was such a sad exchange between two little boys with such strong feelings for each other.

Moving on in my reactions, there were some other notable differences in the novel from the film.  I appreciated how Brooks downplayed some of the annoyingness of Jar Jar Binks.  I especially appreciated that Brooks edited from his version Jar Jar’s “how rude” line.  In my review of the film I spoke about how I was disappointed Lucas felt the need to make a contemporary reference to Wayne’s World and the phrase “exsqueeze me”, but the other line I took exception to was Jar Jar’s “how rude” bit, which was a reference to the character StephanieTanner and her catch phrase from the show Full House.  I make this assumption only because Lucas had teen and pre-teen daughters back in 1994 when he was writing The Phantom Menace, and I imagine his teenaged girls in 1994 were probably watching this show.  Lucas’ family carries some influence with him when he makes a movie.  After reading a section on The Secret History of Star Wars, I lament the fact that Marcia Lucas wasn’t around to ground George a little more and edit out his bad choices.  I honest believe had she still been in the picture, The Phantom Menace would have been a much better film.  After reading this section, it became apparent to me that one of the reasons A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were so incredible was because of her.  It’s sad she’s slowly being edited out of Star Wars’ history.

Other smaller differences I enjoyed in the book were Padme introducing herself to Anakin with her last name, Naberrie, which I thought was rather Tolkienesque (112).  I thought it more appropriate that Anakin used the term “lightsaber” instead of “lasersword” when seeing Qui-Gon’s weapon for the first time (131).  I thought Obi-Wan was less petty when he said “another stray” instead of “another pathetic life form” when commenting on Qui-Gon’s decision to bring Anakin with them (183).  I enjoyed Darth Maul speaking more than six words (259).  And the fight between Obi-Wan and Maul at the end featured them force-flinging objects at each other which I thought was neat, but glad wasn’t part of the film.  Again, credit where credit is due.  The fight between Kenobi and Maul was excellent and Lucas did well there.

I want to end my post with bringing it back around to the idea of Tolkien and the larger idea of myth, and why I think Star Wars fits the label of mythology perfectly.  Again referencing Drouts lecture series Rings Swords and Monsters (the next few paragraphs I’ve basically lifted from his lecture), he argues that what made Tolkien’s world so myth-like was that it felt like a “great chain of reading”, to use the phrase of a Hungarian scholar named Guerguy Nouze (I’m unsure of the correct spelling of his name).  Tolkien was a fanatical, and somewhat disorganized reviser, and  when his son Christopher Tolkien tried to edit together the Silmarillion what he ended up with was an enormous amount of story that didn’t always agree.  When Christopher Tolkien tried to put all of his father’s notes together he tried to have a working and logical continuity (much like what Leland Chee does with the holocron), but it didn’t work because his father had such variants of his stories.

Drout goes on to say that Tolkien may have purposely never finished the Silmarillion because he viewed it as a continuing and evolving creation, a development of many stories, some of which would clash with one another, some of which might be different variants of others.  In other words he was creating a medieval archive, and medieval archives often have information that clashes with each other.  In medieval archives there are different dates for battles, one source saying one side won a battle while another claiming the other side won.  Geurguy Nouze claims that Tolkien’s work seems so much like myth exactly because it has those contradictions and mistakes.  He calls it a “great chain of reading”, and claims that the feelings we get and the aesthetic appeal we feel when we read Greek myth, or Norse myth, or Anglo-Saxon myth comes from the long chain of reading that has different people over a great span of time, reading, revising, adding, and manipulating material.  In all of Tolkien’s Middle Earth books he ended up creating this, and in a very real sense, this is also what has been created with all the Star Wars material we have before us today.  We are faced with a 21st century version of a medieval archive.  Let me connect this idea to the novelization of The Phantom Menace:

“Qui-Gon Jinn was one of the most able swordsmen in the Jedi order.  The Jedi Master he had trained under considered him one of the best the Master had taught in his more than four hundred years in the order” (283).
The meaning is clear here: Qui-Gon’s master, who has been part of the Jedi Order for over 400 years, thinks that he is one of the best swordsmen he has ever trained.  This line contradicts with what we know about Qui-Gon’s canonical history.  He was trained by Count Dooku, one of the lost twenty, not some four-hundred-year-old Jedi Master.  But contradictions like this don’t upset me. It’s a minor blip that is the result of so many artists playing in the same sandbox that is the Star Wars Universe.  Sure, Chee can come around and iron out this inconsistency by claiming that “Jedi Master” from the above quote is taken to mean someone other than Dooku, perhaps a senior member from the council who was responsible for Jinn’s saber training.  But these inconsistencies give Star Wars its mythological feel, and as fans we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff – it’s all part of the Great Chain of Reading that is Star Wars.

Perhaps the most significant passage from The Phantom Menace’s novelization that most aptly captures this “Great Chain of Reading” sentiment was the (then) newly introduced history of the Sith, and along with it a Darth other than Sidious, Maul, or Vader.

“The Sith who reinvented the order called himself Darth Bane.  A thousand years had passed since the Sith were believed destroyed, and the time they had waited for had come at last” (136).
We have finally come full circle to Darth Bane’s origins.  The description of Darth Bane’s rise through the ranks proffered in TPM is mostly consistent with what we’re been presented with thus far, but there are some differences.  We are told that the Sith were a cult who came into being “almost two thousand years ago”.  This contradicts with what we know from the Tales of the Jedi comic series from the mid-nineties, as well as the story of Ajunta Pall and all the other fallen Jedi Knights from the Knights of the Old Republic video game.  But it’s these differences which give Star Wars is mythological feel. 

Darth Bane’s emergence in Star Wars history here is a great example of what Guerguy Nouze is talking about. Darth Bane starts with a minor mention from Lucas in 1999. This mentioned is picked up in Reaves Shadow Hunter in 2001 as an indirect mention (so indirect I missed it myself.  This is according to Wookieepedia).  He’s then brought to life by Kevin J. Anderson in the now non-canon Bane of the Sith short story also written in 2001.  He’s further immortalized in Macan’s Jedi vs. Sith comic later that year, and from this point he becomes pretty well established in Star Wars canon.  There are some minor mentions of him in The Living Force RPG material in 2003 and 2004, and he’s again mentioned in Revenge of the Sith in 2005.  But Bane’s full emergence into Star Wars history finally arrived in the form of Karpyshyn’s novel Path of Destruction in 2006, and from here, the rest is history.  This is, indeed, a Great Chain of Reading; a chain that continues to this day.
Star Wars is mythology.  Star Wars is our mythology.  It will live with the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Beowulf alike – mark my words.
For my next post I’m going to take a look at The Queen’s Amulet.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

32 BBY: The Phantom Menace

I love The Phantom Menace.  I hate The Phantom Menace.

I love The Phantom Menace because it is made in the image and likeness of Star Wars.  I love The Phantom Menace because it gave me, along with everyone else of my generation back on May 19th of 1999, one of the greatest movie going experience ever – right up until the brass fanfare of the Star Wars theme song and the black and yellow script of the opening crawl. 
I hate The Phantom Menace because after that everything fell apart.  We were treated to horrible storytelling, Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, and the painful hubris of George Lucas.

I know I’m late to the party here, and really, I’ve got nothing new to add to this conversation.   I can only point to more eloquent writers and voices who have articulated their complaints regarding this film.
If you were a kid back in ’99, and you love The Phantom Menace, or think “It wasn’t that bad” (yes, it really was), and can’t wrap your head around why these “grouchy old fans” hate The Phantom Menace so much, allow me to direct you to some required reading and viewing if you want to seriously know what we were, and to some extent still are, complaining about. 

The best articulation I’ve come across about the fans reaction to The Phantom Menace back in 1999 is Todd Hanson’s essay A Big Dumb Movie About Space Wizards: Struggling to Cope with The Phantom Menace.  You can find the essay in one of the greatest books I’ve ever read regarding the cultural phenomenon of Star Wars, A Galaxy Not So Far Away.
The second commentary on The Phantom Menace I enjoyed, and the most controversial of the three I’m presenting, is redlettermedia’s The Phantom Menace Review.  Though it is 70 minutes long it is worth watching.  I call it controversial because of its misogynistic break scenes.  I get why they are there: to provoke an emotional reaction, but it is just un-necessary.

The third commentary, and the most enjoyable, was Alexandre O. Philippe’s The People Vs. George Lucas.  The film is not all about The Phantom Menace, but there is a good 25 minutes in the documentary dedicated to it.  In my opinion I think it is required viewing for all self-professed Star Wars fans.
All three of these commentary’s critiques of The Phantom Menace basically echo the thinking of a generation of fans who were disappointed with the film.

When I read Hanson’s essay A Big Dumb Movie About Space Wizards I was instantly transported back to ’99 and my own experience of The Phantom Menace Mania that gripped Western culture.  Back in ’99 I was working in a frozen-food warehouse on nightshift, paying my way through University.  I worked Sunday to Thursday, 11pm-7am five days a week.  I’d get home about 7:30 in the morning, sleep until 11am, get up, eat, and go to class.  I made sure to schedule all my classes for the afternoon, and I only took three courses from September to April so my course load was relatively light.  I scheduled my other two classes for over the summer, and they were both night classes that ended at 10pm, giving me enough time to get to work for 11pm.  I’d get home from classes sometime between 5 and 6pm, eat, and go back to sleep until 10pm when I’d wake up and head to work.  I did all my homework on the weekends and breaks at the warehouse.  I worked and went to school all-year-round for four years, with a two week break in August right before September classes resumed.  It was the one of the busiest times of my life and one of the most enjoyable.
When I was working at the warehouse I booked May 19th off as soon as I knew the release date of the film.  My boss, a really good man, was amused by this, and he had no problems with me not being there for my shift that night.

The tickets for The Phantom Menace went on sale on the afternoon of the 18th for the midnight showing.  I left work at 7am, drove to the Colossus cinema in Vaughan (I chose that theatre as opposed to a central downtown Toronto theatre because it was a new movie house in what was a relatively empty suburban subdivision at the time, and I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of people there) and stood in line for the theatre to open.  Surprisingly, there was already a line of about 20 people who had been there the night before.  It was the most fun line-up I had ever been in. I instantly connected with a crew of Star Wars super-fans like me, and like me, they were all Star Wars D6 rpg’ers, though I don’t remember anyone being in costume. The box office opened at lunch and I bought tickets for myself and all my friends. I headed home and went to sleep.
I remember the excitement I felt when I woke up that afternoon, but to be honest, I really can’t remember the details of getting to the theatre.  I must have picked up my girlfriend at the time, I remember getting Gill, my best mate’s girl (he was in Australia and couldn’t be there) and my two friends Pete & Pete.  Like Hanson’s recollection of opening night in his essay, our experience was very similar.  The air was electric and everyone was going nuts.

When it was all over I remember turning to Gill and saying something like, ‘Well, the lightsaber duel was good’.  And like every single Star Wars fan, I went back again.  Sometimes by myself, sometimes with friends, trying to convince myself that it was the greatest thing I had ever seen.  It wasn’t.  It really really wasn’t.  
This discontent with The Phantom Menace was aptly captured in the 7 part YouTube video The Phantom Menace Review by redlettermedia.  Though many people take exception with the narrative and the strange scenes of allusion to women being tortured, all aspects which I think terribly detract from an otherwise good review; it’s the most accurate review of what went wrong in this film.

The most telling moment for me, where it seems Lucas and his yes-men gravely understood they had made a horrible movie, was the first four minutes of part seven.  After viewing the film in its entirety for the first time, McCallum is in horrified shocked, Lucas looks bewildered beyond belief, and the editor is still trying to convince himself and everyone else in the room that it’s not bad.  Lucas picks up on this, and makes the claim that what he has created is “bold”.  It’s all so very painful to watch.
The most disappointing aspects of The Phantom Menace for me are the obvious:  Jar Jar Binks, and midichlorians, but another smaller aspect of the film disappointed me as well: Qui-Gon Jinn.  Though I like the character of Qui-Gon Jinn in the EU, and Liam Neeson’s performance in the film is not terrible (he can only work with the dialogue given him), he’s not needed in the film.  I always thought that the Obi-Wan presented in this film was too young to jive with the Obi-Wan we meet in A New Hope.  Reflecting on the film I think it would have been better had Obi-Wan been the Jedi master, maybe in his late 20s to mid-30s, and he had along with him his own padawan.  At the end of the film it is Kenobi’s padawan who, in his or her headstrong rush to meet the Sith in combat at the end of the film, gets himself/herself caught alone behind the energy shield with Darth Maul, is killed, then avenged by his/her master.  Obi-Wan, now at a loss for a padawan, offers to take up Anakin as his new apprentice.  This makes more sense to me.  But alas, this suggestion is simply one fan’s attempt to imprint himself on a film not of his own creation.

Moving on to the third commentary I’ve presented, Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary The People vs. George Lucas, is a film that also did well in recounting fans reactions to opening night.  We were all in shock, and couldn’t believe Lucas had made something so horrible.  Hanson knew what was coming, but in my own naiveté I didn’t.  I almost wish I was there with him so he could have warned me of the blow that was coming.  One of the most bewildering aspects of the film, and something fans, at first perhaps, were trying to understand but ultimately couldn’t, was Jar Jar Binks.  When the Gungan said “exsqueeze me”, in reference to Mike Myer’s character in Wayne’s World, I was disappointed.  I even think one of Jar Jar’s lines (the line escapes me know) was in reference to one of the catch phrases of the Olsen twins from the 90s show Full House.  I show I fully hated because I wasn’t a 12-year-old girl.
In his film Philippe addressed the question of the racist undertones of Jar Jar Binks, and Steven S. Voorman, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Texas Lutheran University, asked a question in relation to this:

“If Jar Jar Binks is racist because he looks like blackface entertainment but nobody’s seen blackface entertainment that is 12 years old watching a Star Wars prequels, does a racist character whose racism is so coded in history remain a racist character?”
My response to him is yes, it does. It is racist simply because it is so coded in history, as he says.  Jar Jar grated our sensibilities at the time, not only because he was tremendously un-funny, but because he perhaps touched something in our collective unconscious which we all knew just wasn’t right, the image of the caricatured subservient blackman (as disguised as he was in the cartoon packaging of Jar Jar) that just did not need to be recalled back into American cinema.

Even though Jar Jar Binks is the brainchild of Lucas and in my opinion is indeed a racist caricature, I don’t think Lucas himself is a racist. I agree with Tom Carson’s assessment that Lucas is simply politically naïve.  In his essay, Jedi Uber Allies, from A Galaxy Not So Far Away, Carson points out some of the fascist elements of Star Wars, but does not condemn Lucas for this, but simply argues that this element has always been present in these kinds of stories. 

“Face it, it’s not too hard to imagine that well-known cinema addict Hitler watching Star Wars with tears dripping down his cheeks until they soaked his mustache.  He’d simply equate the Jedi with the Aryans, and the Empire with the Jewish capitalists and the powers that imposed the Treaty of Versailles on Germany after World War I…This is partly a matter of imagery – most famously, Luke Skywalker’s apotheosis in the final victory march, whose staging and lighting blatantly mimics Leni Rienfenstahl’s lionizing photography of Nazi rallies in Triumph of the Will. (That Lucas himself was the first to draw attention to this, with an air of pride that he hadn’t wasted his time in film class, just proves that his own political naïveté leaves the average kola bear looking like Cardinal Richelieu.)  But the protofascist side of Star Wars is also built right into the film’s premise, and the paradox is that the propaganda is ingenuous, not cunning.  The attitudes are ingrained in the artistic DNA of the simpleminded pulp adventure tales of another age that Lucas’ movie derives from, and whose disquieting gist he inadvertently made explicit simply by reproducing their appeal with such unthinking fidelity” (Carson, A Galaxy Not So Far Away, 162)
By ‘these kinds of stories’ Carson takes to mean the Hero Quest motif from Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with A Thousand Faces. That desire of the hero to go out, dominate, and create a kingdom that is made in his own image and likeness.

Like I said, I don’t think Lucas is a racist; he’s simply bringing to his movies things that have obviously influenced him from his own movie-going past, and re-creating them in an innocent child-like manner.
As it is, we have had 13 years to reconcile ourselves to the reality of Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars history.  And not surprisingly, in the hands of other artists, I’ve begun to like him.  I think I really began to appreciate Jar Jar after his episode Bombad Jedi in The Clone Wars, and also the episode Supply Lines from season three.  In both episodes I genuinely laughed at the Gungan’s antics. 

In Lucas’ defence, maybe Jar Jar was always funny, and I just didn’t get it.  He’s always said the movies are for kids (though that line doesn’t hold water with the taxation of trade routes narrative presented at the beginning of the film), because my four-year-old son thinks he’s pretty funny, so what the hell do I know?  Nothing apparently.  As one interviewee from The People vs. George Lucas observed, Lucas did right by us as kids in the 80s, and it seems he’s still doing right by our own kids today who still enjoy what he has to offer. 
I think that line might be check-mate for the man who captured lightning in a bottle back in ‘77.
For my next post I’m going to engage with Terry Brooks’ novelization of The Phantom Menace.  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

32 BBY: Signal Interruption

Signal Interruption was a fun source to read because the player character “heroes” in this story, either knowingly or unknowingly, behave rather villainously.  This is because this adventure is run in concordance with the Darkside Sourcebook.

There are two ways players could play this story: as either good guys down on their luck looking to turn a quick buck, or mercenaries looking to do harm to the Naboo.
For this RPG scenario’s outcomes to be successfully met it makes most sense if it were run with players purposely playing villains participating in a darkside campaign.  If  a GM were to run this scenario with players that are good guys it would be more difficult for the adventure outcomes to be met  because their actions within the context of this story would seem a little too ruthless.  Shooting down Naboo security guards, palace security, and sensor array technicians (albeit unknowingly with the security guards in the restaurant) is a little to “darkside” for good guys to get away with.

To be honest, if I were a GM running this scenario I’d only offer it as a darkside option.  It simply makes the most sense this way.
As it is, it seems the Trade Federation, prior to its attack on Naboo, hired some mercenaries to take down the planet’s communication array so it could  place their own jamming satellites into position undetected.  This is what the group of “heroes” are responsible for completing. 

Signal Interruption is a quick little scenario with three parts: meet the contact Raymas Daal, fight some security forces, then sneak into the facility to take out the communications satellites. 
One of the more interesting aspects of this RPG scenario was its mention of other RPG scenarios, namely, Operation Clodhopper.  I’ve looked on Joe’s chronology and it’s not contained on his list.  Plaristes, or anyone else reading this for that matter, do you have a copy of this scenario or know about it?  I’ve tried to acquire it online with no luck.  Moreover, what would this scenario’s in-universe date be?  I don’t want it to be a source I miss.

The other interesting facet of this RPG scenario was a line at its end about a dark Jedi behind the current troubles in Naboo:

“If the GM wants to create brand-new adventures, the group could investigate Raymas and his mysterious backer. Heroic groups could work to undo the trouble they’ve unknowingly caused for the Naboo government, and dark side groups could continue working for the Trade Federation — perhaps rising to the attention of the dark Jedi behind the current troubles on Naboo.…
Wouldn’t it be neat if the “dark Jedi” behind some of Naboo’s troubles in 32 BBY could be retconned to be Krell?  How neat would that be? I don’t think it’d work though, because I think we know Krell is working for Dooku at the time of the Clone Wars, and Dooku doesn’t leave the order until after the Naboo crisis.  I know I go on and on about it, but here is another short story opportunity.  A talented writer could weave some known dark Jedi’s narrative into the events of the invasion of Theed. 

For my next post I’m going to move on to The Phantom Menace (unless I’ve missed something J).  Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.