Monthly Archives: May 2012

Star Wars Dream Team (Allston, Stackpole, Zahn) talks Star Wars novels

Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn provided an hour of side-splitting hilarity at Origins this afternoon. Not only did we learn that Bantam didn’t know if the X-Wing series would sell—especially given that the main characters of the film weren’t leading the stories, but also that the release of The Phantom Menace had a major impact on the beginning of the New Jedi Order. Below are some of the highlights and discussions.

Fun facts and funny quotes:

Krytos Trap knocked a Stephen King book off the best seller list for one week.

Zahn wanted to call Scoundrels “Solo’s 11” instead, but Lucasfilm said there might be issues.

Stackpole: “Boba Fett is in my car!”

Stackpole on giving Booster the Errant Venture: “It’s like giving an air craft carrier to a Somali pirate.” “I’m doing this because Tim is going to use it in his next book. And so they said ‘okay’.”

Stackpole’s second Errant Venture footnote: “By the way, I realize the best name would have been Enterprise.” (as it’s a business)

Specter of the Past, I, Jedi and Visions of the Future were sort of a trilogy. Zahn had introduced Elegos and pitched Stackpole the pages. Zahn saw what Stackpole did with him in I, Jedi and continued on with character. Zahn needed a “hotshot Imperial pilot” for Visions. He talked to Stackpole, who said Baron Soontir Fel. The two created Fel’s entire back story in one phone conversation.

Zahn explained that he tried to establish in VotF: “That you can either get maximum guidance from the Force or use maximum power of the Force, but you can’t do both. The more power you do, the less wisdom you have.”

Allston on the ignored Wraiths: “I was kind of looking forward to someone screwing up my characters.”

Highlights

Stackpole and Allston compared on their experiences working large projects:

Stackpole and James Luceno studied what made the Original Trilogy so popular while creating the perimeters for the New Jedi Order. Some of the events were moved around later on, which negatively affected the series.

Stackpole sent in an outline that used the Horns, which was rejected and he was instructed to lose Corran and the secondary characters. He knew that those were the characters we readers liked. After the release of The Phantom Menace, he was told to bring Corran back into the story. Stackpole went through two edits of Onslaught. He was told to add R2 into the scene with Luke and Jacen on a Vong-formed planet. The idea was R2 could scan the plant. Stackpole argued that if they found evidence that R2 could and had scanned plant life before, then he would add it in. In addition, Onslaught was thought to be the intro for many to NJO because some fans wouldn’t want to pay for Vector Prime in hardback.

The beginning of NJO was affected by the buzz about The Phantom Menace. Not only was the movie receiving criticism, but Vector Prime and R.A. Salvatore faced serious backlash for killing off Chewbacca. Stackpole was a huge defender of Salvatore.

Stackpole explained why Chewie had to die: “We looked at all the major characters and said if we ranked them top to bottom, whose death hurt the most. We realized with all the major characters, any death would hurt a lot. We knew equal impact there. So we had to ask ourselves a second question: From which character’s viewpoint can we best tell the story of that hurt and Chewie is the only character that you can’t tell a story from his viewpoint. Therefore, Chewie had to die. That is what we had to do to set the New Jedi Order apart.”

By the time Allston joined in, he said everything had calmed down quite a bit. He cited that it’s hectic and overwhelming at times, with all the emails constantly being passed around and details to keep up. In addition, if the authors don’t click, some subplots seem difficult to write in his books.

“When I was working on my two books there were rumors all over the ‘net saying they brought Allston in to kill Wedge. So I wrote a scene that made it look like I was going to kill Wedge,” Allston said.

In the midst of the discussions, various ideas started flowing. Allston, Stackpole and Zahn joked about each writing a book that took place in a different era, but where one trilogy. In addition, Zahn wants the Vong war stories never told, including the Baron Fel clones “ripping up the rear” in Chiss space during the Vong war. Allston also joked about pitching one book with three stories in the Vong war, one from each of them, among other fun ideas.

On Mara’s death:

“Mara should have never died that way, for many reasons,” Zahn said.

Allston admitted to bringing up the idea of a sacrifice in Legacy of the Force. “During the meeting, I floated the notion that there would be a category of Sith who believed that they were maintaining integrity…by devoting themselves to a pattern of self-sacrifice. If they are always sacrificing.”

The discussion eventually went to Mara. Zahn then asked if the decision was made then to tell Zahn, which led to a hilarious confession by Allston.

“No one was happy with the notion. It became the decision,” he said. Zahn learned two months before publication. Zahn cites the Mara situation as the reason for the four year gap between his Star Wars books.

Allston said that they decided Jacen would fall, but his death wasn’t known at the beginning.

A huge thank you to Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn for a great panel.

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Filed under Allston, chewbacca, Fate of the Jedi, Michael Stackpole, NJO, Origins2012, Star Wars, SWEU, Timothy Zahn, Uncategorized

Zahn reads first three chapters of Scoundrels

Zahn reading Scoundrels.

Timothy Zahn read the first three chapters of his upcoming novel Scoundrels at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH.

It did not disappoint.

The first three chapters will suck readers in within moments. If the rest of the book is the same way, then Scoundrels is bound to be a fun, exciting trip into the Star Wars universe.

Zahn showed off the full cover (looks fantastic). Zahn writes Han Solo perfectly. Each smart remark and quip feels like it should be in the movies. In addition, he gave character to Chewbacca (visible in the excerpt previously released) that resonates strongly.

No doubt here, I’m picking up Scoundrels the day of release.

The novel takes place directly after A New Hope. Winter doesn’t know that Leia is alive.

Look for a recap of Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn talking about Star Wars novels. It will be up soon.

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Finding Character in Clothing: The costumes of Padme Amidala

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Senate gown

The Prequel Trilogy displays a wider variety of dress than the Original Trilogy. The Jedi Knight’s gear is simple as practical, as expected. The politicians dress formally with some unfortunate incidents (Bail, a ruffled collar is not okay). When it comes to the costumes of the PT, however, the focus rests on the shoulders of Padme Amidala. What she wears makes a major impact on her characterization and the feel of each of her scenes.

 

The Phantom Menace

The most ornate outfits in all six movies belong to Queen Amidala. Rich in color and details, each outfit shows a bit of the planet’s culture and the situation. Her first outfit, the Red Invasion Gown, makes Padme appear regal, yet as if she’s too young to be sitting at the throne. The headdress appears heavy, like the burden on her shoulders. The dark red contrasts brilliantly with the white face makeup. The split lip makeup, red dots and Naboo symbol on the front piece of the dress show the importance of maintaining Naboo’s culture, something Padme carries on throughout the movie (the symbol can be found on most of her outfits from each movie). The lighted globes at the bottom of the dress resemble something found in nature, like in an underground cavern, furthering the beauty of Naboo.

The Black Invasion Gown worn by decoy Sabe gives off defiance. The feathers remind of a bird, which is free to fly. She looks like a bird of prey, daring someone to make an attack. The dark color creates a stark contrast between Sabe and flame gowns worn by the handmaidens.

Padme retains her status as queen even dressed as a handmaiden. In both the flame gown and the outfit she wears on Tatooine, she rarely lets her guard down. The only times she does is with Anakin Skywalker. With everyone else, she behaves as she would as queen.

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Parade Gown

The kimono-like dress she wears on Coruscant while meeting with Palpatine and the darker colored gown she wears while talking to Jar Jar convey the emotions of that point in Padme’s fight for Naboo. The kimono dress is lighter in color and subdued a reflection of the combination of hope and dismay. The dress worn after the session in the Senate is shapeless and dark, almost depressing.

The gown worn by Padme in the Senate contains the most weight to the role of queen. It screams royalty and attention. Between the large headdress, voluminous outer robe and large sleeves, Padme create the image of someone imposing. The thickness of the sleeves and layers of the costumers make me think of the protective shield Padme must surround herself with at all times. She must maintain her queen image no matter what.

Padme’s parade dress is my favorite. Her makeup is lighter; she appears more relaxed and truly happy. The gown isn’t as restricting as the others she worn during the film. The symbol of Naboo appears on the front of the dress. The design combines both parts of Padme into the perfect representation of her spirit—and that of the end of the movie.

 

Attack of the Clones

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Purple Senate Gown

At the beginning of the film, we see Padme in costumes that still hold to the formal, slightly out there style worn by the queens of Naboo. Gone is the face makeup and overly complicated gowns, but she still wears intricate hairstyles and dressy clothes. Padme’s outfits while meeting with Palpatine and the Jedi and packing both demand respect. Her face free of the white and red coloring makes her appear more human. Her dresses fit her body rather than make her appear more imposing as some of her gowns did when she was queen.

Upon arriving in the Lake Country, Padme transforms into the former queen and senator to a woman. She starts with a pastel backless dress. The fabric flows from her neck without any hindrances. The way the sleeves fall resembles ripping water, acting as a nice contrast to Anakin’s personality and background. The softer color adds to the romantic ambience. The backless feature of the dress makes it appear more natural than it would look like a backing. Her seashell style hair also adds to the water illusion.

A fan favorite, the picnic dress embodies love, fun, joy and other positive emotions that make up Padme. Between the detailed flowers on the bodice and headband to the neutral, soft colors, the picnic dress adds to the feel of young, forbidden love. It’s light and airy. Padme behaves as relaxed as possible while wearing this dress. She’s comfortable in it. Even the hairstyle appears natural. It’s Padme in her true state: determined, fierce, loving, spontaneous and observant.

The black dress worn at dinner with Anakin and during the fireplace scene takes a dramatic turn from everything else she’d worn. It’s tight, slinky and not something to wear to a dinner with a friend. While eating, she wears a feathered shrug. Once removed, the corset is revealed. The dark color and fit of the dress works well with the overall feeling of the scene: Padme and Anakin are restricted from what they want, yet cannot stop it. While some could see this dress as a fanboy service, it seems to me more akin to Leia’s metal bikini. It serves a purpose in the story. Padme isn’t intimidating by what she is wearing. She wants to be with Anakin, but can’t. That’s what the dress represents.

Padme wears three costumes (counting the deleted scenes) that use the color blue. Blue appears often in her wardrobe, which works nicely with the contrast of

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Picnic Dress

water and fire between she and Anakin. The two-piece blue outfits worn on Naboo and Tatooine are much more casual than anything she’d worn before. Even though the two show off her midriff, there’s still a regal air to the two outfits. Padme appears comfortable in both. In the first, she acts completely comfortable and happy. In the second, she’s confident yet concerned about Anakin and their situation. After wearing such constricting clothing, outfits that are freer would feel like a relief.

The third blue costume Padme wears is the poncho and skirt combination on Tatooine. It’s quite casual and relaxing. The loose fit is appropriate for the weather on Tatooine. Her hair is down in natural curls. She blends into her surroundings.

The white outfit Padme wore in the arena is practical for the scene. She’s expecting action, though determined to find a peaceful way to rescue Obi-Wan. The basic white shirt, white pants, boots and cape (which she lost) work well. Padme not only makes it through the droid factory, but also saves herself from instant death before the two Jedi can come up with an escape plan. Her monster is the nexu, a fierce feline-like creature. Padme fits the nexu and is injured. While the injury fits the story, it’s incredibly unrealistic that with one swipe, the nexu would rip off the bottom half of her shirt and a sleeve like it did. Tear the back and upper part of the sleeve, sure. Remove the front of the shirt as it did? Absolutely not. The nexu didn’t latch on, it scratched, something that’s clear while watching the scene in slow motion. That decision completely ruins the costume and tarnishes everything that had been established about Padme’s role in the film.

The final outfit Padme wears is the wedding gown. It’s incredibly detailed and has an antique look to it. Padme and Anakin surrendered to love, the greatest and oldest power in the universe. It beautiful and simply Padme.

 

Revenge of the Sith

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Green Cloak

Padme’s wardrobe takes a much darker turn in Revenge of the Sith. Several try to hide her pregnancy, like the velvet cloak (with buns similar to Leia), the burgundy dress, the purple senate gown and the peacock and brown dress.

The navy dress with the shawl that Padme wears when Anakin realizes Obi-Wan’s been in the apartment looks a bit like something someone would wear in mourning. It’s clear that she’s pregnant and comfortable, but there’s a certain sense of something holding back, like doubts of what her husband is going through and what he will become.

The green cloak with the purple sash that she wears while watching the Jedi Temple reminds me of Leia’s Senatorial Gown. Though they really aren’t much alike at all, there’s something about how Padme appears in it that reminds me of Leia, especially in the images that show the hood up. The long cloak makes her look like she’s hiding something—as we know she is. This is perhaps one of the most powerful scenes in the entire Prequel Trilogy. She’s forced to think about what is going to happen with she and Anakin and what the right path is.

The sleeveless outfit worn during her final moments with Anakin is, like the arena outfit, practical and comfortable. Her pregnancy is cleared in this and the two nightgowns worn earlier in the film. At the top of the gauntlets, the Naboo symbol rests. Padme never forgot where she was from and whom she was serving throughout her personal crisis. Had the scene involving Padme, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and other senators remained in the film, her struggle would have appeared more complicated, aiding in her characterization.

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Funeral Dress

Padme’s funeral dress fits her so perfectly it’s eerie. The blue-green coloration and the impression of waves made by the fabric back her character. She can be serene, like water, but an unwelcome disturbance will make her rise up and fight back. There’s the obvious balance between Anakin’s fiery rebirth and Padme’s quiet death. Her hair sits in natural curls around her, dotted with tiny flowers. Her hands clutch the japor snippet over her apparent pregnant form. She looks like an innocent beauty from the sea, a treasure the people of Naboo are returning home.

The costume decisions for Padme are a good representation of her character. They reflect her mood, situation and (most of the time) her role in the story. The ripped arena costume shows that Padme is stilted for no real reason while the casual outfits worn on Tatooine and Naboo during AotC show off Padme’s true nature. Clothing choices aren’t just a necessity; they’re a statement to the person wearing them. When they match the character, she feels natural and real, not like a manufactured role.

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50 Shades of Grey rips off characters and portrays women poorly

The success of 50 Shades of Grey is rather unsettling. It’s not that it contains strong sexual content that’s the problem; it’s that the characters are basically Bella and Edward from Twilight and that it portrays harmful relationship dynamics.

One of the most important parts of writing is to create characters. It’s just as, if not more, important than plot. Had Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter been horrible characters, their stories wouldn’t have had such success, even with spectacular plots. Poorly constructed characters are hard to read in any setting, no matter how good it is.

E.L. James wrote 50 Shades of Grey (and its two sequels) as a Twilight fan fiction series titled Master of the Universe. She slightly modified some physical characteristics and other details, but the characters are clearly based off the cast of Twilight. James’s characters are not new. Turning Edward to Christian and changing bronze hair to dark copper (is there really a difference?) is not creating an original character.

The main female character, Anastasia Steele, acts like Bella. If someone described her character to me without mentioning anything about Twilight, I’d say that she was Bella Swan. She thinks that Christian is downright gorgeous. He’s too good looking to be mortal. His movements appear irresistible from the start. His accidental brushes send her spinning. Anastasia is even clumsy like Bella!

Christian is possessive. His subordinates act just as silly as Anastasia does when he looks at him. I can’t tell you how many times in Twilight Bella commented on some stranger’s reaction to Edward’s physical appearance. He’s young, but acts older.

Even Anastasia’s mother sounds like Renee, Bella’s mom. Her friend Jose who obviously loves her but she doesn’t love back? Jacob.

Sound familiar? What’s sad is that I wasn’t looking for other Twilight characters while looking through passages.

It doesn’t matter what people think about Stephanie Meyer’s writing, characters and work. The fact is that she created Bella, Edward, Rosalie, Jasper, Jacob and the rest. They are hers. It’s wrong to make money off other people’s creative property. End of story.

I have nothing against fan fiction. As long as an author is okay with, I see no reason for fans not to write it—provided the writer doesn’t make any money off it. Fan fiction can be a great tool for honing various writing skills in addition to a fun hobby. Had James left her story as fan fiction, it would join the millions of other stories out there.

The problem with adapting a fan fiction to an original novel is that the writer and the reader are presented with the question of what is original. Let’s say someone writes a fan fiction story about Han Solo and Princess Leia defending a displaced ruler on a backwater planet. The writer decides that the plot is a great idea and to make turn it into an original novel. Instead of a backwater planet, it’s a small fictional country. Han Solo and Princess Leia don’t use blasters anymore. They have regular guns. Leia’s a blonde and Han shaves his head, but they act the same as Han and Leia. How is that original? Just because a plot is original does not mean that the entire novel is.

A fan fiction writer could successful turn the plot she used in a story into an original novel. Instead of scrolling through the document and removing references and changing names, start from scratch. Create new, original characters and use the plot. Odds are that that original plot idea with original characters will turn into something different from the fan fiction story. Personally, I’d rather start something completely new.

Other characters can act as inspiration, but a writer shouldn’t make it the same as another. Someone can use Leia’s take-charge attitude as a trait for her own original character without making a replica of Leia. The idea is inspiration, not copying.

Not all readers care. I’ve had a plethora of conversations about 50 Shades of Grey where the others participating don’t see the problem. Their focus is the sexual content, which is probably why it’s such a popular series. One woman I work with is trying to talk most of the female members of the staff into reading the series. She raves about how fun it is to read and how much she enjoys reading that type of content. If were a completely original, well-written erotic novel that didn’t read like an X-rated version of Twilight, it wouldn’t be an issue.

The setup for 50 Shades of Grey is ridiculous. Anastasia must drive to Seattle to do an interview for her friend Kate. Kate is the editor of the school newspaper and managed to score an interview with Christian Grey, the CEO of Grey Enterprise Holdings, Inc. Anastasia doesn’t even work for the school newspaper. Anyone with even a shred of newsroom experience can tell readers that this is a ludicrous idea. Never pass an interview off to a random person, especially when she isn’t associated at all with the world of reporting. In addition, walking into an interview without knowing anything about the person is one of the biggest mistakes a person can make. She blames Kate for not giving her prior information. That’s not an excuse.

Just like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey piles on horrible relationship dynamics. Christian practices BDSM because of his past, it seems. Instead of showing how the relationship between a dominant and submissive works, James creates an abusive, skewed dynamic. She takes the unsafe set up and romanticizes it. It’s not as if the information about BDSM is hard to find. It took me 20 seconds to find a website with the proper terms. Within minutes, I found all the necessary information about safe words, consent and the potential problems that can crop up that I didn’t know about before. Additional searching reveals that members of the BDSM community and others cite that what Christian and Anastasia participate in is not an accurate portrayal of the majority. Research is a vital part of writing. It doesn’t take long to start with the basic facts.

As Bella does in Twilight, Anastasia turns a reluctant, possessive man into the so-called dream man. The idea of changing a harmful partner into the perfect mate is as old as time. As important as it is to see the good in someone, when you put your safety and health at risk, there’s a serious problem. Portraying yet another female character as the virginal, innocent creature who endures her partner’s controlling behavior in favor of trying to change him is something we have had more than enough of.

If the success of the series tells anything, it’s that there is a demand for erotic fiction for women. What’s sad is that instead of good quality writing and healthy dynamics, the most popular piece of erotic fiction is a mirror of one of the most widely criticized relationships in today’s literature. Anastasia isn’t a woman to look up or care about. She’s just like Bella Swan, a tool. Given that they are one and the same, that’s hardly a surprise.

50 Shades of Grey rips of characters from an author and sends a horrible message about relationships. Both of these reasons are why E.L. James won’t see a cent from me.

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Let’s talk about the Hapans

Click here to read Fangirl, Kay and I talk about the Hapans and their female dominated culture. It’s the first part of the discussion, so look for more in the future!

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Happy 35th, Star Wars!

Image“It changed everything,” my aunt told me in 2001. She was talking about the release of Star Wars, 35 years ago today. She described how movies just weren’t the same after seeing the explosive blockbuster. To her, it wasn’t just a movie; it was an experience.

I’ve been watching Star Wars longer than I can remember. I was born in early 1987, and my mother’s tapes were pretty much new. Now they’re good and worn. The Star Wars trilogy and Muppet movies were the only ones my siblings and I could always agree to watch. Many holiday celebrations involved someone making a Star Wars reference. The Christmas when my cousin broke out the Darth Vader lightsaber was particularly fun.

It’s impossible to imagine my life without Star Wars. Not only was a major player in my life growing up, but also it’s led to many friendships, some opportunities and meeting my husband. Like thousands of other fans, it’s part of who I am.

Happy 35th, Star Wars. May the Force Be With You now and for decades to come!

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SWTOR didn’t live up to the market demands of today’s MMORPG players

ImageElectronic Arts laid off employees on the Star Wars The Old Republic team. Game subscriptions dropped almost 25 percent, according to a article by Shack News.

Quick frankly, this isn’t a surprise.

I cancelled my own subscription yesterday and here’s why: there’s nothing to do. In order for a MMORPG game to work, players must be online. Waiting an hour and a half to enter a battleground without a complete group is not fun. It’s ridiculous. Two Sundays ago, my guild wanted to run the Eternity Vault. There weren’t enough people logged in the guild—let alone Fleet—to make this happen. I am not paying $15 a month to level up characters that I won’t be able to use when they hit 50.

Five years ago, the lack of content would have been okay, but not anymore. Look at the successful MMOs. Why do people stay or go back to World of Warcraft? It’s because there are more features. If I don’t want to raid or PVP, I can do other things like crafting (while possible in SWTOR, it takes a long time), earn some achievements or earn reputation. At no point did I expect SWTOR to have scads of features like WoW. I never wanted them to be just like WoWs.

People quit the game for various reasons. Excessive bugs, for one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to reset a class quest, hoping that it wouldn’t ruin my quest line. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say the high level raids glitched out. And while glitches happen in all games, there comes a point when it’s more frustrating the game is worth. I’ve had to send in my companions to distract glitched enemies to finish quests. Quests on Hoth and Tatooine that everyone completes.

SWTOR simply didn’t offer enough to keep players subscribed. Is it fun? Absolutely. Does it capture Star Wars? Yes, but it’s not worth $15 a month. I like the story and the characters. If it weren’t an MMO, then sure, I’d keep playing. Pay the base fee and that’s it.

At this point, the free-to-play option may be SWTOR’s only hope. People who didn’t want to subscribe to a game might pick it up. In addition, old players might come back. Realistically, I don’t see this ever happening—even if it saved the game.

There were far too many servers at the beginning. Of course, there would be queues at the beginning but that’s okay. Everyone wants to log on any chance he could. A month or two later it would die down, not only from people who quit for various reasons, but not everyone will be trying to be online all the time. Think about it. If you had to wait 15 minutes to log on, would you log off as quickly? Probably not. Participation increases, there aren’t hour-long queues, flashpoints and operations are feasible.

Server transfers are coming, so they say. Maybe it will help, but I don’t know if it is enough to bring people back. I don’t know if I would return.

While SWTOR is a fun game to play, it doesn’t live up to what the MMO market demands. It’s unfortunate that it turned out this way.

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