George Lucas on Star Wars: The Risk of Yoda

***Think what you will about George Lucas. But in terms of Star Wars, it can all be traced back to him. That’s why I always find it so interesting to listen to him talk about it. His creative process, the reason certain decisions were made, and how these movies became the pop cultural staples they are. This space is dedicated to just that. This is “George Lucas on Star Wars.”***

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By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Yoda, Star Wars the Empire Strikes Back

The Scene: In the swamps of Dagobah, Luke encounters a small creature who we later learn to be Yoda, a wise Jedi Master.

George Lucas Says (via the Empire Strikes Back commentary track): “There was a huge challenge with this. I didn’t want Yoda to look like a man in a suit. So I made him two and a half feet tall, which would have been impossible to put anybody in [a suit that size]. … It was one of the scarier things in the movie. Because if he looked like Kermit, we would have been dead.”

I Say: I don’t think this risk gets talked about enough. I think the achievement that is Yoda has subsequently gotten lost in all the advancements in digital technology, many of which have ironically been spearheaded by George Lucas. Had puppeteer Frank Oz, puppet designer Stuart Freeborn, Empire director Irvin Kershner, and everybody involved in the creation of Yoda not been as talented as they were, the movie might have fallen on its face.

Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, deserves a lot of credit for the creation of Yoda too. It’s one thing to create a realistic-looking puppet. It’s another thing to act alongside that puppet, react genuinely, and make it feel like a living being that could exist in the real world. Without Mark Hamill, Yoda as we know him today doesn’t exist.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

The Essential Clone Wars: “Ambush”

***I must confess that, despite being a huge Star Wars geek, I have yet to see the landmark Clone Wars animated show in its entirety. I’m aiming to rectify that to a large extent here, as we look at pivotal episodes of the series in, “The Essential Clone Wars.”

SERIES: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
EPISODE:
S1:E1 – “Ambush”
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF:
Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Brian George, Corey Burton, Nika Futterman
WRITER:
Steven Melching
DIRECTOR:
Dave Bullock
PREMIERE DATE:
October 3, 2008
SYNOPSIS:
Yoda is lured into a trap by Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress.

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By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

My research for this episode was my first exposure to how wonky the Clone Wars episode chronology can be. I invite you to check out Lucasfilm’s chronological episode order to see what I mean. But apparently, if one were to watch all the episodes in chronological order, “Ambush” would be the show’s fifth episode, rather than the first.

If nothing else, I guess it’s consistent with the Star Wars brand. This is, after all, the movie franchise that started with Episode IV.

Chronological issues notwithstanding, this was a good episode to start with. Everybody knows Yoda, so that was a nice hook for viewers who weren’t as familiar with Star Wars. It also establishes some of the main villains, who the good guy and bad guy troops are, the nature of the war itself, etc.

I’ve never like when the battle droids are overly jokey. That started in Revenge of the Sith, and continued here. It was the only thing in the episode that grated on me.

For whatever reason the Toydarians, King Katuunko in particular, don’t look as richly detailed as the other characters. First episode stumbles, maybe?

Obviously, the highlight of this episode is Yoda having the clones take their helmets off and then addressing them as individuals. The best line in his little speech? “Deceive you, eyes can. In the Force, very different each one of you are.” That’s a great Yoda line. 

On the subject of Yoda, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Tom Kane to voice that character. At this point, he’d already played the character for the Star Wars: Clone Wars shorts that aired between 2003 and 2005. But this was obviously of a much larger scale. The character was, and still is, so closely identified with Frank Oz. But to his credit, Kane managed to make the character his own. He’s not as vocally flamboyant with Yoda as Oz was. But I might argue Kane gives the character a little more grit, which isn’t uncalled for in a show like The Clone Wars.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Review of The Muppets – Nostalgia, Sentiment, and Chris Cooper Rapping

The-Muppets-2011-Movie-Final-PosterTITLE: The Muppets
STARRING: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black
PUPPETEERS: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz, David Goelz, Bill Barretta
DIRECTOR: James Bobin
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RUN TIME: 120 min
RELEASED:
November 23, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it very fitting that a new Toy Story short was attached to The Muppets. Toy Story 3 was such a huge hit last year with it’s central theme about growing up that made many a grown man cry. But it also had a $200 million budget, cutting edge computer animation and an A-list cast. Nothing against the Toy Story films, but The Muppets proves you don’t need all those bells and whistles to make a movie as heartfelt, tremendously entertaining, and at times genuinely moving as that. This film did it with less than half that budget and a bunch of felt puppets.

The first Muppet movie in over a decade takes place quite a few years after Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang have gone their separate ways. During a vacation to Hollywood, Walter (a new puppet character) and Gary (Jason Segel), two brothers and lifelong Muppet fanatics, discover that an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is preparing to bulldoze the building that The Muppet Show was performed in. Together with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they set out to reunite the Muppets and raise enough money to buy the theater back.

83361_oriIf there was ever any doubt that the Muppets still deserve their place of reverence in popular culture, this film shatters it. It hits just about every note it needs to hit to make it the perfect comeback movie for the franchise. There’s a significant nostalgia presence in the film, mostly for The Muppet Show and 1979′s The Muppet Movie. We also see the return of three classic Muppet songs, which should really warm the heart of old school Muppet fans like yours truly. Does that make me biased? Maybe, maybe not. I’d like to think it works well in the context of these characters being portrayed as entertainers making a comeback. Hopefully kids being exposed to the material for the first time find it as great as we did back in the day.

One of the great things about this move is that it’s essentially art imitating life. The Muppets have been around here and there, but since the property was purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2004, nothing of great significance has been done with it. We got a couple of TV movies, some appearances in music videos and a some online content. But none of it seemed to generate enough interest in the franchise to really give it momentum again. As a result, the Muppets largely fell out of the limelight for awhile. It’s that touch of reality that gives this movie a bit more kick. When a network executive (Rashida Jones) tells Kermit and a room full of Muppets that they’re not famous anymore, your inner child squirms as you wonder if that’s actually true. As the characters are trying to raise the money, you’re rooting for them to succeed, just as many of us are rooting for this movie to be a success so we can have the Muppets back again. Had this movie not worked it would have been devastating for the franchise.

The Muppets, cast photoThankfully, it works as well as any of us could have hoped for. By touching on issues like family, love, friendship and finding your place in the world, while integrating some classic Muppet-style humor and music, this film becomes a piece of work I’d like to think Jim Henson himself would have been proud of. Frank Oz, who famously helped develop many of the Muppet characters, and puppeteered and voiced Miss Piggy and Fozzy Bear, allegedly opted not to contribute to the film because of how some of the characters were portrayed. As a fan, I’m not sure what his mindset could have been at the time. Kermit and the others are as great as they’ve always been, and now they’re being shown to a new generation of fans.

The world can be a pretty dark, scary place nowadays, and that’s exactly why the Muppets needed to resurface like this. Lord knows, this place could use a few more smiles these days. And who’s more qualified to make us smile as we try and find our own rainbow connection?

RATING: 9.5/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.