Hints of Han’s EU past in Solo: A Star Wars Story?

Though the path of production for the Han Solo origin movie has not been smooth (what with changing directors, etc.), trailers and initial reports seem to say it is at least entertaining.

I have never been truly excited about Solo: A Star Wars Story simply because the stories I want to hear about young Han have already been told…in the EU.  The Star Wars Expanded Universe (now Legends) has several great novels featuring Han before the OT.

The Han Solo Trilogy

The Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin contains many of the expected plot points: Han meeting Chewbacca, winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of cards, losing a shipment of spice he was smuggling for Jabba, and eventually betraying Lando in such a way that Han anticipates a chilly reception later on Cloud City.  I’m sure Solo will contain all these elements as well, but the details may be slightly different.

A recent clip from the movie shows that one detail seems to align with Han’s EU backstory: his time in the Empire.  In The Paradise Snare, Han eventually achieves his youthful goal of entering the Imperial Academy to become a Navy pilot.  It seems that in Solo, Han also begins his career with the Imperial military, though it appears to be the army instead of the navy.  Check out io9’s article for further information.

Another hint comes from the soundtrack titles.  Check out track 16: “Into the Maw.”  This could potentially be a reference to Han’s famous record-setting Kessel Run.  The Han Solo Trilogy was used to retcon Han’s claim that he had made the Kessel Run in “less than twelve parsecs,” a parsec being a unit of distance, not time.  Oops.

But in the EU stories, Han was actually able to shave some distance off the Run by flying close to a cluster of black holes called the Maw, thereby warping time-space. (The Maw was also the site for the initial construction of the Death Star–what better place to hide your giant planet-killing weapon prototype than a cluster of black holes?)  So, the famous gaffe actually is correct, based on that explanation (sort of…don’t think about it too hard).  It seems possible that this is the explanation they are sticking with in Solo, and we’ll see a Kessel Run up against some black holes.

Also, how cool is it that John Williams got to compose a track for the movie?!

One last minor bit of convergence.  Before the Han Solo Trilogy was written, Han and Lando each had a trio of novellas about their adventures prior to the OT (which were incorporated in the later trilogy); I’ve never gotten all the way through them because, honestly, the books are a bit weird.  But in The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Lando’s co-pilot of the Falcon is a droid named Vuffi Raa.  It seems like this role will be filled in Solo by a droid named L3-37.  Although Vuffi Raa was not humanoid, so the two look nothing alike, there could still be some similarity of function or personality.

L3 and Lando

What parts of Han’s EU backstory are you hoping they keep?  What are you hoping they get rid of?  How many different ways can Han betray Lando? (I think the EU has at least three…)

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In which I re-write the Justice League movie

Last November, I was busy creating a tiny human and so did not have time to go to the theater for Justice League.  I finally got around to seeing it a few weeks ago, and in general I felt the same about it as I did about the other DC movies: there was a good movie in there somewhere.  It just wasn’t the final cut.

There wasn’t anything really horrible about the movie; it was just kind of blah.  Characters, plot, effects, everything.  The more I thought about it, the more ideas came to me of how to improve it (none of which involve more Whedon-esque quips).

Start with Intergang

It’s pretty clear that BvS set the stage for a villain from the fiery dystopian planet Apokolips to appear in Justice League by teasing parademons and possibly Darkseid himself (“He’s coming!”)  Justice League picks that thread up by starting the movie with an invasion of parademons, then goes on to a history lesson about the Mother boxes and Steppenwolf, the movie’s big bad (and one of Darkseid’s lieutenants).  Although I got a laugh with the scene comparing the sketch of a parademon to Batman, in general this was not a terribly compelling plot and definitely involved some info dumps.

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Parademons

But I have seen a better way to introduce the Apokoliptians in Superman: The Animated Series, which uses a criminal organization called Intergang to bring in concepts like Mother boxes and boom tubes (which are shown but never explained in JL).

Intergang is a group of humans based in Metropolis, generally led by a guy named Bruno Mannheim, that use advanced technology from Apokolips to commit thefts and other crimes.  The DCU movies do like to pretend from time to time that they care about how all this superhero stuff affects the average citizen, so perhaps seeing an “arms race” of super-tech in response to the beginnings of the Justice League would be an interesting direction to take (a bit like Vulture in Spiderman: Homecoming).

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Darkseid and Bruno Mannheim in the DCAU: One of them is nicknamed “Ugly,” and it’s not Darkseid.

Just as with the parademons, we could see Batman investigating Intergang early in the movie.  This would be a good excuse to show Batman acting like a detective instead of a thug who just likes to dangle people off buildings when it’s helpful to him.  As his investigations lead him further, he and Wonder Woman could come across the information about the Mother boxes and Darkseid’s underling who brought them to Earth.  This seems a little more organic than an oddly specific flare signal from the Amazons and an info dump from Diana (though, again, I enjoyed seeing more of the Amazons).

Intergang also provides a vehicle for character development for Lois Lane.  Instead of grieving by writing fluff pieces, Lois could grieve by throwing herself recklessly into a dangerous investigation of the group.  As much as I liked the “mother-in-law” scene with her and Ma Kent, this reaction seems more like the Lois Lane I am familiar with. It also gives her a reason to cross paths with Batman early in the movie so they can be like, “Man, doesn’t it suck that Superman’s dead?  Yeah, we could really use him around.” And thereby lay the groundwork for his eventual resurrection and Lois’s role in it.

Ditch Steppenwolf

So if we have Intergang, do we need Steppenwolf in his role?  Well, we need some Apokoliptian to be calling the shots for Intergang, but it should definitely not be Steppenwolf, who is one of the absolute worst villains in all modern superhero movies.  His defining characteristics are that he has a cool axe and some vague mommy issues. It is an absolute waste of a great actor like Ciaran Hinds.

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Steppenwolf: The Worst

If I have one problem with the DCU movies in general, it’s that the third act tends to devolve into an everything-is-dark-and-on-fire CGI mess.  So maybe we could have a villain that’s not a giant CGI monster for once?

There are several flunkies of Darkseid’s that would work for this role.  Kalibak and DeSaad specifically were well done in S:TAS, giving some insight to the political machinations going on back on Apokolips.  But my first crazy choice would have to be Granny Goodness.

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Come to Granny, darling. She’ll make it all better.

We haven’t seen anything like Granny yet, not even in a Marvel movie.  Done well, she can be intimidating while at the same time providing comic relief.  Remember, for example, that she is voiced wonderfully by Ed Asner in the DCAU–what if we had someone similar to play her here?  It doesn’t have to be too campy.

Plus, if we get Granny, we can also get her Furies, which would make for a pretty cool climax battle for the Justice League, with several different types of action.  And it would be nice to see some female supervillains for once (they are a rarity even in Marvel movies).

Complete Cyborg’s Story Arc

Image result for cyborg justice leagueGoing in to Justice League, I was afraid that Cyborg’s character was going to be very bland, but I was pleasantly surprised with him and his backstory.  (Though his character design could have been better…)  But after finishing the movie, I really feel like he got the shaft in terms of character development.  Batman and Wonder Woman both see grow over the movie, Aquaman gets some set up for his upcoming movie, Flash gets some nice resolution and a cute end credit scene with Superman.  What does Cyborg get?  A story arc that’s left hanging.

At the beginning of the movie, we see that Cyborg is conflicted, to say the least, about his father’s decision to save his life and make him into a cyborg with the technology from the Mother box.  He feels more like an experiment than a son and is frustrated that he can’t understand his changing powers.  Later, he must save his father from the parademons, and this would have been a great time for his feelings to come to a head.

But instead, the team saves his father and just kinda leaves, and I don’t think we see Dr. Stone again at the end of the movie (someone correct me if I’m wrong).  Cyborg never works out his feelings about what was done to him, and how he’ll live going forward.  For a character that is essential to the plot, being the only one who understands how to shut down the Mother boxes, this seems like a significant oversight.  Especially when Barry gets such a nice scene with his father at the end showing his character growth.

I’m sure the powers that be had planned to flesh this out more in a solo Cyborg movie, but I wouldn’t bet on that being a certainty now.

Speaking of which, after seeing the end credit scene, I think it’s pretty cute that they think they’ll be doing not only another possible movie with Darkseid that they’ve been leading up to, but also an Injustice League (or Secret Society/Legion of Doom/etc) movie.  Beyond Aquaman and WW2, I’m not convinced of how many more movies we’ll get in the DCU period.  My younger self would cry to hear me say this, but I’m not sure I really even care.

Disney/Pixar Madness

Do you like getting into fights on the Internet over trivial things?  If so, I recommend you fill out this March Madness-style bracket of Disney and Pixar movies and begin alienating your friends with your terrible choices.

I had so much fun doing the Holiday Madness bracket at Christmas, I thought this would be another fun one to do.  As you see, Disney movies are on the left side of the bracket and Pixar movies are on the right, meeting in the final.  As with all brackets, the seeding is the most important factor in determining the outcome, and I think the seeding here is a bit flawed.  I’m not really sure how it was done, and I feel like the starting matchups could be better, but I’m too lazy to figure out my own, so we’ll go with this one.

disneypixar

I really tried to be objective instead of just picking my favorites.  On the Disney side, I knew it would come down to those top four, and then I struggled to pick among them.  I admit I probably let some nostalgia sway me, because The Lion King is my favorite Disney movie.  I’m confused by the inclusion of The Nightmare Before Christmas instead of, say, The Rescuers Down Under or Atlantis if they wanted to keep it around the Disney Renaissance period, or Wreck-It Ralph if going more contemporary.

On the Pixar side, Up and Wall-E are my favorite Pixar movies, but they didn’t make it very far.  I really struggled with the seeding: Finding Nemo vs. Inside Out and The Incredibles vs. Wall-E do not seem like first round matchups to me.  I also admit I have not seen Coco or Cars 2 (plus I fell asleep during the original Cars).

But overall, I think my “Elite Eight” are a pretty good representation of the best of Disney/Pixar.  Now here’s your chance to tell me how wrong I am!  What would your picks be?

Black History Month: Afrofuturism and Black Panther

I went to see Black Panther last weekend, and it was every bit as good as everyone said.  One of its most striking aspects is the visual aesthetic and culture of Wakanda, a successful cross of organic and technological, traditional and futuristic.  It is one of the most stunning recent representations of a decades-long movement called “Afrofuturism.”  Although it may not have always been at the forefront of the genre, it has had a deep and lasting impact on science fiction.

Janelle Monáe’s album The ArchAndroid

Afrofuturism has its roots in the mid-20th century works of authors such as W.E.B. DuBois and Ralph Ellison.  The term itself was coined in the ’90s to describe the trend of “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture.”  Hugo- and Nebula-winning author Octavia Butler produced some of the most famous works of the movement.

Afrofuturism seems to be having a bit of a renaissance currently, being represented in the works of authors like Nnedi Okorafor, musicians like Janelle Monáe, and even in the video game Overwatch with the appearance of the fictional utopian city Numbani.  But the Black Panther movie is clearly destined to move Afrofuturism solidly into our collective consciousness and give it a lasting place in popular culture.

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Overwatch’s Afrofuturist city Numbani

Wakanda’s Afrofuturistic aspects can be seen in many facets, from the visuals of its architecture and clothing to its transportation and medical care, and especially in its mirage that keeps its true advanced nature hidden from the rest of the world.  In many ways, the African culture blends seamlessly with technology powered by the fictional metal vibranium.  Traditional articles of clothing become advanced armor and shields.  A beaded bracelet is a remote control device for communications, healing, or other infrastructure systems.  Wakanda has metropolitan skyscrapers that are covered in living plants.

But Afrofuturism is more than the sum of its sci-fi tech gadgets. Note for example the difference between Black Panther and Falcon, another black MCU superhero with lots of tech.  While Falcon provides great representation for African-Americans, his MCU incarnation does not have a lot of qualities that speak specifically to that experience.  In general, Anthony Mackie could be replaced with a white actor with little change to the character.

But in the Afrofuturistic world of Black Panther, the dual nature of its African roots and forward-thinking ideas reflects the duality of the black experience.  (Interesting that even the word “African-American” itself showcases a duality.)  For a black perspective on this, I recommend this commentary on the different dichotomies of the movie; I think the Afrofuturistic vibe fits that motif as well.  The movie feels both African and (African-)American, and has a lot to say about black issues using science fiction as a background.

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Wakanda

So what about Afrofuturism has given it such staying power over the years, and such draw now? Because Afrofuturist works are typically made by black creators, and frequently for a black audience, my personal speculations are largely irrelevant.  The one thing that rings true to me is that Wakanda is an empowering, optimistic view of a possible future, where, among other things, young black women can be the head scientists of a nation.

I recently read a quote from author Shomari Wills about why he wrote his book Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires.  He said, “So much today focuses on black folks and lack.”  He went on to say that while poverty and disparity are important issues to discuss, he wanted a more positive message to honor those successful businessmen and women and empower readers.  I think Afrofuturism serves a similar purpose.  By having their own space in speculative fiction to tell unique stories, Afrofuturists can empower us to envision a future where black culture and science are not at odds but blend seamlessly.

Further Reading:

Holiday Movie Madness

One of our local papers had a fun poll this Christmas season: a bracket of holiday movies, competing for the title of champion.  In their poll, the winner turned out to be (no surprise) It’s a Wonderful Life.  As a huge fan of Christmas movies (even bad, made-for-TV ones), I decided to go ahead and fill in my own picks.

The 4 regions:

Old School

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  3. White Christmas
  4. A Christmas Story
  5. The Santa Clause
  6. Die Hard
  7. Home Alone
  8. The Bishop’s Wife
Semi-finalist: #7 Home Alone

New School

  1. Elf
  2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  3. Love Actually
  4. The Preacher’s Wife
  5. Bad Santa
  6. This Christmas
  7. A Madea Christmas
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Semi-finalist: #3 Love Actually

Must-See TV

  1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  2. Frosty the Snowman
  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas
  4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  5. Hallmark movies (multiple)
  6. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
  7. The Year Without a Santa Claus
  8. The Christmas Shoes
Semi-finalist: #1 How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Dickens Do-Agains

  1. A Christmas Carol (1951, Alastair Sim)
  2. Scrooged (1988, Bill Murray)
  3. A Christmas Carol (1984, George C. Scott)
  4. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
  5. A Christmas Carol (1999, Patrick Stewart)
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
  7. Scrooge (1970, Albert Finney)
  8. A Christmas Carol (2009, Jim Carrey animated)
Semi-finalist: #6 The Muppet Christmas Carol

So here’s my full bracket:

Holiday Movie Madness

There are two films in this list of 32 that some people might question.  Die Hard is typically thought of as a mere action movie, but I definitely think it is a Christmas movie because the holiday is key to the plot and themes.  Plus, I’ve always liked that Hans Gruber sounds like Franz Gruber, who wrote “Silent Night.”  The Nightmare Before Christmas, on the other hand, is not a Christmas movie, and I wouldn’t have included it here.  Despite the fact that it has “Christmas” in the title, it’s more of a Halloween movie.  But I’m sure many people feel the exact opposite about these two.  You can fight me in the comments.

There are also a bunch of these movies that I haven’t ever seen (including half of the Christmas Carol versions), so I just didn’t vote for any of those.

The hardest head-to-head match up in the first round was White Christmas vs. Die Hard in the Old School category.  I love them both, but they are so different it is hard to compare.  I went with White Christmas because I love the music, and also I saw it more recently haha.

In the semi-finals, I also had trouble with How the Grinch Stole Christmas vs. The Muppet Christmas Carol.  The Grinch was a Christmas tradition in my house growing up, and I can probably quote most of the movie (not to mention singing the song).  But how can you beat the Muppets and Michael Caine singing in the Dickens classic?  I gave the edge to the Grinch because the nostalgia factor was stronger there.

No one that knows me will be surprised that I picked Home Alone for my number one Christmas movie.  Growing up, it was a tradition to watch this movie on Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season.  I recently even went to see the Cleveland Orchestra perform the movie score live.  It really is such a good movie: great writing and acting, plenty of comedy of all kinds, 90s nostalgia, and a killer score by John Williams that manages to be festive yet sinister.  It also really captures the spirit of Christmas in childhood.

So that’s why Home Alone is my #1 Christmas movie.  What’s yours?  How would you fill out your bracket?