Favorite Moments: Greedo’s Incompetence

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

***

The Video

Why it’s great

Outside of, ‘Did balrogs have wings?’, no nerd debate has gotten as much infamy as if Han shot first, or Greedo. In light of the news that the scene was changed yet again, I thought I’d go looking for the most ridiculous version of this infamous scene, and found one where Greedo’s incompetence at shooting someone three feet away is hilarious.

This little short also serves as an example of incompetence becoming funny:

Someone who thinks they’re the best + charging into a dangerous situation =  Comedy

It’s important to note that this formula works best if the situation is played for laughs, and the character is a villain deserving some good, old fashioned karma: watching a good-natured but incompetent soldier in a wartime drama charge into a battle only to be blown apart seconds later isn’t funny. Having racist, smug Nazi commandos wearing full body armor charge into battle against kids throwing snowballs, only to be beaten to a pulp (or be blown up when a snowball hits them) is much more amusing and satisfying because it feels deserved.

What we can learn from the many deaths of Jar Jar Binks

NOTE: This post contains videos that feature Jar Jar getting parts of his body ripped off, and depictions of blood.

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ comes out in 17 days, and ends a storyline that’s been going for over 40 years. While much of that story has been embraced by fans of the saga, there are a few elements that most would like to forget, like Ewoks, the holiday special (if you value your sanity, don’t click that link) and Jar Jar Binks, infamous comic relief (and possible Sith lord). With the advent of computer editing, some fans take it upon themselves to rid the galaxy of the infamous gungan; one such video is ‘Han Solo VS Jar Jar Binks’ by Darren Wallace on Youtube:

For many fans out there, this is the catharsis they’ve dreamed of since 1999 (doesn’t hurt that the CGI is impressive, and the rotoscoping on Harrison Ford is top-notch), but at the risk of incurring the wrath of the Star Wars Fandom, I think this video is a good example of how not to kill off an annoying character. Yes, Jar Jar is smashed into paste, thus fulfilling the dreams of millions, but in the process, Han Solo is turned into a cold-blooded murderer.

Consider what happens: Jar Jar lands on the Millenium Falcon while searching for Anakin, briefly struggles with Han (who attacks him first) before having an ear ripped off, and is then thrown into the void of space before being smashed into bloody paste on the Falcon’s windshield. He’s not attacking Han, he’s not trying to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t dance, goof around, or do any of his usual antics; heck, he even surrenders before being killed! Your mileage may vary on how annoying Jar Jar was in ‘The Phantom Menace,’ (personally, I don’t find him annoying), but in this situation, Jar Jar doesn’t do anything to merit such a painful death. It feels heartless and senselessly cruel, like Zara’s death in ‘Jurassic World’

For the crime of being annoyed at having to babysit a teenager and her younger brother, Zara is eaten alive and drowns in the lightless void of a mosassaur’s stomach. It’s cruel, ghastly, and grotesque, feeling completely unearned for someone who isn’t the main antagonist. Jar Jar’s death here feels the same way: He may be despised by many in the Star Wars fandom, but does he deserve to have such a cruel death? In my opinion, no.

Now, let’s look at another example of a fan-made Jar Jar demise:

This version, while not as cruel as the first, still features Jar Jar being killed despite not doing anything offensive. However, in this version, his tone of voice at the beginning can be interpreted as being sarcastic, so in this video, he at least antagonizes the main character, making his death feel a little more earned, for who doesn’t like to see bullies and sarcastic thugs get their comeuppance?

Here’s a third death, edited together from a deleted scene from ‘The Phantom Menace’

This one features Jar Jar being smashed to pieces against rocks while doing his best impersonation of the Hamburglar. Here, Jar Jar doesn’t die from the actions of others (who, in their defense, try to save him), but from his own mistakes. Thus, this is a neutral death: He dies by own faults, not from being murdered.

And now, a fourth and final death:

This version of Jar Jar’s death goes for comedy and succeds admirably. Here, Jar Jar irritates Vader to no end, refusing to listen to his orders to leave him alone. It’s easy to imagine ourselves being annoyed by someone who’s as bothersome and pestering as Jar Jar, so it’s easy to side with Vader when Jar Jar is ejected into space… only to come back as an even more-annoying force ghost. Yet, despite Jar Jar being murdered, having it played for laughs and with no long-term consequences makes it easy to accept and fun to watch.

When comparing all four of these deaths, a common thread appears: The ones where the Jar Jar is annoying or antagonizing someone else makes his deaths feel more justified. The ones where he’s not trying to harm or do anything evil make his deaths feel less justified. Therein lies the an important lesson:

If an annoying character is going to be killed off, make their death be earned by being annoying, antagonistic, or playing it for comedy.

While it may be cathartic to see a reviled character bite the dust in a bloody manner, and tempting to write such a demise, doing so risks making those deaths feel sadistic. The most satisfying deaths are the ones that are deserved, not the ones that are cruel.

BONUS DEATH SCENE: Minutes after posting this article, I found out that Jar Jar has actually been blown up in an official Disney cartoon! (he gets better, but good grief, the poor guy just can’t catch a break).

A Dark Fate vs A Force Awakened

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ was intended to be the start of a new ‘Terminator’ trilogy that would eventually close the book on the story that began all the way back in 1984. However, despite making over $249 million dollars at the box office, ‘Dark Fate’ appears to signal the end of the Terminator franchise (for now, at least). Yet, despite the overall lukewarm reception, and disagreeing with some of the story choices, I’m still a fan of the film, thanks to the enjoyable cast (especially with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger back together) and action scenes.

However, when writing about the film two weeks ago, I realized that ‘Dark Fate’ is surprisingly similar to 2016’s, ‘The Force Awakens’: Both are sequels to popular movies that feature new female leads, have the new antagonist that’s almost identical to the old one,  have a character from the original series be killed, and end with the main leads heading out to fight the new antagonists.

Yet, while I was disappointed with ‘The Force Awakens’ for feeling too much like a remake of ‘A New Hope’ with elements from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ sprinkled in, I had no such problems with ‘Dark Fate’, and ever since realizing how similar both movies are, I’ve been brainstorming why that’s so, and I think I’ve figured it out: The main reason I prefer ‘Dark Fate’ over ‘The Force Awakens’ is how they treat characters from the original series. In ‘Awakens’, most of them are given only minor roles, with only Han, Chewbacca, and Leia getting the most screentime. In ‘Dark Fate’, though, Sarah and the T-800 have large roles to play, with Sarah being newcomer Danni’s mentor throughout the runtime, and the T-800 acting as a bodyguard/protector who ultimately destroys the REV 9, ensuring Danni’s survival.

In short, ‘Dark Fate’ brings back legacy characters and gives them plenty to do alongside new characters. ‘Awakens’ may bring back more of its original cast, but only gives two (Han and Chewie) substantial roles.

When writing legacy sequels, or sequels that take place a long time after the previous entries, it’s important to let original characters have the limelight: longtime fans love seeing their favorite characters again, and it’s a good bet that newer fans enjoy seeing them, too. Despite killing off John Connor too quickly and easily, ‘Dark Fate’ honors and respects Sarah and the T-800 by giving them a lot to do and making them vital to the story. Considering how it’s unlikely we’re going to get a new Terminator film for a long time – if ever – it was a wise choice.

Favorite Moments: Darth Vader vs the Energizer Bunny

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

***

The Video

Why it’s great

Aside from the absurdity of the Emperor dispatching a Dark Lord of the Sith to destroy a pink bunny rabbit, this commercial is a great example of fish-out-of-water comedy: in this instance, a big, powerful character who’s normally always in control and feared by everyone suddenly running out of battery power for his lightsaber. Had it took place during one of his lightsaber duels in the films, it would be hilarious to see him scrambling to replace the batteries while avoiding his opponent’s lightsaber, but it’s still funny to see him lose his temper here.

Great Quotes About Writing: A Part Of Their World

There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.

***

‘This music video always makes me nostalgic even though I’m not old enough to have been around to watch the originals and the prequels in theaters (which is a fact that makes me sad). It’s such a good representation of the Star Wars cinematic universe. Being a fan of the movies isn’t just watching them, but loving the universe and the characters, and for me, wanting to be a part of their world…’

Lindsey Kim, commenting on ‘NOT THE FUTURE’ (emphasis mine)

This is such a simple comment, but the last part of it jumped out at me; part of the appeal of so many fictional worlds is the eagerness to explore and experience it: How many of us have dreamed of visiting the Star Wars Universe, Hogwarts, or Middle-Earth? If my safety was guaranteed, I’d love to visit Lothlorien, Minas Tirith, Barad-Dur, Valinor, and so many other places in Tolkien’s universe and look things over, maybe sit down for dinner with some of the characters, drinking ale and munching on Lembas bread.

When crafting our fictional worlds, it’s easy to forget that, for all the drama, danger, and terror that our stories can hold, there should be good things, too, things that readers and audiences would want to experience for themselves. Perhaps it’s magic, incredibly advanced technology, recreational activities that allow people to live out their most beloved fantasies, or a world where governments actually get along and war is a thing of the past, but having these good things can draw in the audience and make them not only want to learn about this new setting they’re in, but even long for it to be real. And if they want to be a part of the world you’re presenting, then you’re doing something right.

The Best Background Characters: The Praetorian Guard With Questionable Judgement

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

***

The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

The Character:

A Praetorian Guard who doesn’t exactly think things through

The Scene:

(The guard in question appears at 1:40)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

All of Snoke’s Praetorian guards – who have no special abilities – deserve recognition for taking on two very powerful Force users. Granted, they all die, but they still put in a comendable effort to avenge their… Well, their master who we didn’t get to know too well, but I’m sure they liked him.

Today’s background character, though, is the guard at 3:07 (let’s call him Bob), who, in the most important battle of his life, attacks Dark Side user Kylo Ren by… ramming his armored forearms against Kylo’s lightsaber blade and immediately dies.

Why point out this guy? As the elite guard to the leader of the First Order, it’s logical that these guards are at the peak of physical conditioning, masters with their weapons of choice, and have been trained for countless hours in all manner of hand-to-hand combat so they can take on any threat that might attack their leader. So why on earth does Bob perform such a silly act against a lightsaber user? (A question that others have pointed out) He doesn’t have any weapons, and leaves himself open for a fatal counter attack. Perhaps he was trying to distract Kylo so one of his buddies could take him out, but I like to imagine that it was a momentary lapse of judgement, showing that, while highly trained, Bob can still make mistakes or not think clearly when fighting for his life against someone he has no chance of defeating, humanizing someone who would otherwise be just a nameless, faceless dude who’s killed off in a few seconds and has a $250 Sideshow Collectables figure made after him to appease the Star Wars fan who will buy anything based off of any character, no matter how short their appearance.

But best of all, I like to have fun imagining what Bob was thinking in those final seconds of his life:

‘Okay, this is it! I’m gonna charge this emo punk and ram his lightsaber with my forearms! Yeah, that’ll show him! Okay, here I go! Wheee! I did it! I did it! I… Wait; wait, what do I do now?! Oh shit, I didn’t think think this thruooourrararrrrrrgghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!’

Mothers, Daughters, and Loss: A New Way to Watch the Alien Saga

Back in 2015, it was revealed that Neill Blomkamp was working on ‘Alien 5’, a new installment in Fox’s ‘Alien’ franchise that would be a direct sequel to ‘Aliens,’ ignoring both ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection.’ As time passed, news came that both Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn would come back as both Ripley and Hicks, along with a now-grown up Newt and, presumably, Lance Henriksen as Bishop.

As a fan of the series, this was one of the most exciting movie news I had seen in years; the thought of seeing Ellen Ripley on the big screen again for the first time since 1997 was a dream come true, and I eagerly followed every scrap of news, every piece of concept art, and even makeup tests. My dream sequel was finally coming together!

And then the movie was canceled.

While there’s still the faintest hope that the movie could be resurrected (if James Cameron’s words are any indication), it seems that, for now, Ellen Ripley’s story still ends with her sacrifice on Fiorina 161.

But what if it doesn’t?

Back in 2011, writer Rod Hilton proposed watching the Star Wars saga (which, at the time, was still only six movies) in what he called, ‘machete order.’ While his post explains it best, the basic gist is that you watch episodes 4 and 5, then 2 and 3, and then 6, which starts with the best film, includes (two) prequels, while also preserving the twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad. While musing if ‘Alien 5’ will ever be made, it recently dawned on me that the Alien franchise could be viewed in a similar manner; one of the biggest draws of ‘Alien 5’ was the idea that Ellen could get a happier ending than she did in the canon timeline, but thanks to this new viewing order, which takes the stories that work and – in keeping with current Hollywood trends – pretending that the ones that don’t never happened, she does.

So, what is this new viewing experience? It has two of the films and one of the videogames, experienced in this order:

  1. Alien

  2. Alien: Isolation

  3. Aliens.

For those who don’t know, ‘Alien: Isolation’ is a 2014 video game that follows Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, as she goes in search of the Nostromo’s flight recorder to find out what happened to her mother, only to be trapped aboard a space station that’s been decimated by a single Xenomorph, turning her quest into a fight for survival. It’s a tense, frightening experience, and after playing through it over a dozen times, I’ve come to regard it as a sequel to ‘Alien,’ hence its inclusion in this list. Thus, the saga begins with the first film, continues with the video game (which can be further enhanced by reading the novelization, which adds more history to Amanda and Ellen’s history together) and ends with the second film, pretending that ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ never happened.

While this fan-version of the saga is shorter, and ends with Ellen still alive, there’s a more subtle change that I didn’t realize until I had gone through these three tales again one after another: The ‘Alien’ saga has been about Ellen and her adventures with phallic aliens from beyond the furthest stars, but it’s also a parable about the dangers of greed, corrupt corporations, and those corporations doing anything and everything to increase their profits, no matter the cost in human suffering. The original four film saga was about Weyland-Yutani (and the military) trying and failing to get the Alien for their own purposes, and Ellen foiling them time and time again. In this new trilogy, the story arc is about Weyland-Yutani tearing a family apart in a blind pursuit of profit, and then that family successfully denying said corporation what it so desperately wants while healing and moving on with their lives: Amanda learns what happened to her mother and gets closure, while Ellen, having lost Amanda to cancer before waking up from stasis, manages to stop Weyland-Yutani for good, and saves a little girl from having to grow up without a mother, as Amanda did.

Of course, this isn’t official in any way; it’s just one fan’s version of the Alien saga that has a more hopeful, upbeat ending that lets us imagine all the good times ahead for Ellen. If Alien 5 is never made, this is a way for fans to still have a happy ending, free to decide for themselves what happens next. In my headcanon, Ellen officially adopts Newt, marries Hicks, Bishop is repaired and becomes the family’s robot-butler, Jones continues to be a little s*** head, and they all live happily ever after! Of course, there’s still Weyland-Yutani to deal with, but they’re soon bought out by Disney. And, in my opinion, that’s a far happier ending than seeing one of sci-fi’s greatest heroes being burnt to a crisp.