Monday, 13 October 2014

Star Wars Rebels - Spark of Rebellion [Review]

Well, this was interesting. I was already anticipating the release of this, and the fourty minutes of greatness has finally arrived. What we have here is two episodes put together to form a season opener, or a conjoined arc, if you will.
The first half gives all the main characters time in the spotlight. The second half expands on them. I'll try not to go into that much detail on plots this time, but it should still be a decent review.
The very first shot is of Ezra looking out from his home to see a Star Destroyer in the sky. This Destroyer is significant of one thing. The Empire has set foot on this planet. Ezra is a thief, and we see that clearly in the first half of the first episode. From when he diverts Imperials away from arresting a jogan fruit salesman, only to steal some of the jogans himself, we can tell that if he sees something of interest, he'll try to get it. He spies the Imperials, but more importantly, the crew of the Ghost. They're out to steal from the Imperials, but don't count on Ezra stealing from them.
The chase that ensues is a good one, calling back to the speeder bike chase on Endor with a number of cues. Though the heroes don't crash their speeders and end up as hostages to tiny bears. Instead, the Ghost crew save Ezra and the real journey begins. Callbacks to the original trilogy of films are numerous, though some could be less obvious to some people. The designs of the characters are all good though. There aren't really that many bad spots [though the Wookiees are a different matter], and the character building, especially of Ezra - or should that be how Ezra begins to think - are real good. Ezra and Zeb get off to a bad start, but we can tell, when Zeb does something rash about Ezra, that he feels it was not right. We can see his conflict fo what he's done. And as Ezra finds out about this group he now finds himself with, we can see why this band is so united in a cause. The Empire has done something to everyone within the group, even Ezra, and only now is he finding out that there are better ways to get back at them than just stealing bits and pieces from them.
The second episode involves the Wookiees, and in their actions, we know that the rebels would do anything to help anyone. And it is here where Kanan reveals himself as a Jedi. The weight of the scene, the realisation of both Ezra and Agent Kallus of what they are seeing, and what that means for both of them. Ezra wants to help though, and gets a bit of action of his own, where he essentially acts on what he's discovered. The Empire breaks families - would he watch one break up before his eyes? He succeeds, thanks to perfect timing from Kanan and the Ghost crew, and the two groups split in neutral space, before Ezra finds himself being taken back home.
There is plenty of weight, that sense of neverending odds, within the show. We see Kanan blast up Stormtroopers, yes. But Stormtroopers are nothing really. Not in a fight. Its what they do elsewhere, and how that affects the actions of others, that really matters. Setting traps, for example, and hoping to catch the rebels off guard. There's also the weight created by the show knowing when to take itself seriously. Scenes that effect the characters deeply, building of the characters, and a certain key moment at the beginning and end of the second half, really give off that feeling of you caring for these characters.
Touching up on a last few things, the music knows where it is meant to be. Just like the original trilogy, it knows when having no music can cause more tension than having even the slightest sound. It also knows where to place itself for maximum impact, and we also get some masterful themes with nods to the original films. The pacing is also very much original trilogy style. It seemed a bit fast at first, but watching it again - the pace is exactly right. It knows where to take things fast and where to slow them down, and that's the thing that catches you off guard. All three original trilogy films start slow for maximum effect. Spark of Rebellion starts at a faster pace, still manages to cover all it needs without glossing over anything, and then slows down where the original trilogy films start getting into the bigger action.

And so, I really would recommend watching this series. I can guarantee it's going to be a good one. And without spoiling the next episode too much, we really are getting some other familiar faces and hints to other material. I loved episode three as much as one and two, and all of these said in this review carry over to episode three, and I'd guess the entire series as well. Yes, The Clone Wars has finished - but its stories are still being continued and added to the new canon. Yes, everything Legends has no place in canon, but its ideas are still being brought into the canon. From that third episode, I can already see some Force Unleashed vibes. In fact, the Inquisitor sort of reminds me of Starkiller, and apart from trailers we haven't even really seen him in action yet.
So yes, this is a series to watch, and I have faith that down the line we'll be getting even deeper stories. And a reminder that being deep doesn't neccessarily mean being dark.

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While I don't do TV reviews that often, I make the odd exception where I feel it counts. And I hope another TV series can win me over just like this one has come the beginning of next month. Yes, the UK is getting screwed by not having Sonic Boom for an entire year, but I'm hoping for a livestream just so I can watch the opening episode.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Crystal Crisis on Utapau - The Clone Wars Legacy [Review]

It was a real surprise when The Clone Wars ended, though not totally unexpected. Whisperings began as far back as before Season Five even aired, with the change in time slot on American Cartoon Network, some believed the show was to end soon. After all, Disney had just recently acquired Lucas Film at the time. Season Five airs as normal, and then we get the video of Dave Filoni announcing the end of The Clone Wars, but that the stories weren't finished. Indeed they weren't.
Despite Rebels being the main focus of Filoni and his team, thirteen episodes of The Clone Wars were put out onto Netflix, delving deeper into both Order 66 and the clones' origin. Oh, and Yoda learning the true meaning of victory. But the team gave out yet another part of The Clone Wars in the form of the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comic mini series. And then, not even two weeks ago, the full outline of this program - The Clone Wars Legacy - was revealed to us. The aforementioned comic mini series is a part of that. Also included is a novel set for release the coming summer. Dark Disciple. It's a story of Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. Both of these are a part of The Clone Wars Legacy, both based on scripts created for the series, and both considered canon.
But the real interesting part of The Clone Wars Legacy was a four part arc released to the website. These might be full episodes, but they aren't full animation. Instead, they are animatics, using all the voice and sound effects that would have been in the proper episodes. The basis of this review then, is on story and pacing.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Do not read on if you intend to watch for yourself and do not want story details revealed.

The first episode only hints at what will come in the next three episodes. As it stands, 'Death on Utapau' is about Anakin and Obi-Wan investigating a mysterious death of a Jedi. This leads them on to a deal about some super weapon the Separatists intend to buy from some dealers. The episode starts with Anakin and Obi-Wan only intending to bring the body back, but upon discovering scuff marks on both elbows and knees of the body, and finidng it odd, they set out to investigate the last known position of the Jedi in question. It leads them to a room where they find out a high powered dart was used. With a meeting between the two Jedi and the Governor of Utapau getting them nowhere, the two head to the lower depths of the planet's sinkhole, where they discover two Magnaguards hidden in a cave. This then leads them onto a chase through the cave and up the sinkhole.
The opening of the episode is really about setting the scene, and it does that well enough without feeling too rushed or too slow. The first half is the serious part of the episode, with the second half getting some fun in. We hear Obi-Wan telling Anakin that they need one of the droids to download their memory banks 'so no chopping off their heads'. It gives the sense that they both know each other well enough by now that they know what the other is thinking. This is referened further down the line in a heartfelt conversation between the two further into the arc. The chase itself is well shot, and the battle itself shows the battle styles of both Jedi well. When the MagnaGuard Anakin is facing manages to get through his defences, he gets carried away and ultimately calls end game by Force Pushing it into a turbine. Anakin then helps Obi-Wan with his, and both of them overcome it to fit a download device onto it. Before they can get too far with the download, the droid activates its self-destruct. This is the point where the story is really set in motion, with the arms deal now being a major point in the investigation. Obi-Wan contacts the Jedi Council about it, and we can see a slight distrust of the Council from Anakin when he says "Let me guess. They want us to return to Coruscant immediately." "Quite the contrary," Obi-Wan replies.
The second episode, 'In Search of the Crystal', Obi-Wan and Anakin come across a band on Sugi on the plains of Utapau, and Anakin rushes in as usual, getting their dardactilli - the flying creatures they ride - killed. Obi-Wan even comments on Anakin's actions, saying that he was going to tell Anakin about the 'high precision laser darts before you rushed into things'. The Sugi have spread and disappeared, and so Anakin and Obi-Wan follow the trail of the largest group of footprints. Upon coming to a stop to look some more, Anakin says he'll contact Ahsoka so she can- But Ahsoka's gone, and Anakin remembers that. Obi-Wan tries to comfort him, but Anakin won't have it. Obi-Wan realises he'll have to try and get through to Anakin, and suggests making a camp. Anakin is essentially in denial of how Ahsoka could have left, and here, we can really feel Anakin's distrust of the Council. He says 'She's a Jedi! She belongs with us!' But there's a deeper meaning in that. He's saying that she belongs with him. Obi-Wan saying it was her decision to leave the order fires Anakin up even more. He rants about how the Jedi didn't give her any choice. But we can see Obi-Wan knows better, but reasoning with Anakin doesn't help things. The pain of Anakin is visible. We know he has a problem with remaining detached, and this is showing that when something leaves him, he can't cope. A foreshadowing of what will happen with Padme on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith. He might have turned at that point, but he still had his love for Padme. Even the line Anakin says 'How would you feel if I turned into a major dissapointment?' is foreshadowing of what Obi-Wan will think of Anakin. 'How well would you sleep if I failed you?' says that Anakin will probably never let Ahsoka go - no matter what. It makes you wonder that, if the two were ever to meet again, except this time Anakin was Vader - would he spare her? Or would turning to the dark side have made him distrust her? And what of Ahsoka, if she ever found out who Vader really was? Would she try reasoning with him, or avoid him? While Ahsoka's fate is uncertain now she's no longer a Jedi, we can be certain the Story Group wouldn't want her killed during Order 66.
We get some parts that are really hit or miss on this next part. Obi-Wan wants to take night watch first, but Anakin says he will. We know he is still dwelling on Ahsoka leaving, and won't be able to sleep. But he does. And so they are captured. Banter between the two resumes, and it feels a little forced. But the bouncing off each other is good. Anakin doesn't like his 'plan' and so wants to escape. When Anakin tries taking the guard, a primitive Sugi talks to them. Obi-Wan tries his own plan, convincing the Sugi that they are dealers, but Anakin interupts, saying the whole galaxy knows of the deal between them and Grievous. The two are then lead to the leaders. The leaders see through the two, and secretly capture them. Anakin's restlessness at how slow the plan is going really shows the more they walk. Anakin is even driven to sarcasm about the scenery, a real joy to listen to, and the two are lead to a holding cell. Meanwhile, the leader is in contact with Dooku, who orders the Jedi killed. The leader wants more pay, and hopes to get it. Meanwhile, Anakin and Obi-Wan have broken out, and are battling through the corridors, when they come to a weapons depot. Obi-Wan's reluctance to blasters is evident here, as he refuses to use one, while Anakin is all too eager to use them - which Obi-Wan calls showing off. It's here that things start to feel a bit too drawn out, if you haven't felt that way already. One of the Sugi comes with their lightsabers. Anakin destroys him. They spot the dealer and chase him. They are led to another entrance where the Sugi escape, but the Jedi spot the overly large Kyber Crystal, and intend to take the ship and the crystal back to the Jedi. End second episode.
The first half of 'Crystal Crisis' is one big session of plan and action. The ship fails, they find an animal, lower the crystal onto a trailer and trek across the plains to a spaceport. Anakin is in charge of finding the animal 'to improve his relations' as Obi-Wan puts it. The Sugi aim to get the crystal back though, and roughly halfway into the episode, the action starts. Anakin captures a speeder to get them to the spaceport faster. Grievous arrives on Utapau, and we learn that the Governor is a part of the deal. But the crystal isn't at the port, like he was promised. Grievous sends MagnaGuards to see what the hold up is. The second wave comes along, and we see the destructive power of the crystal. It absorbs the power hit at it, and sends it back at double strength. After being told that the Jedi are command of the crystal, and the dealer lies about where it is, Grievous kills him and joins the fight himself. A chase through the city, like Revenge of the Sith, ensues. A back and forth battle, between Grievous and Obi-Wan, with Anakin driving the trailer, which climaxes with Grievous crashing into a herd of the creatures Obi-Wan uses during the Revenge of the Sith chase. But the Jedi find they've been double crossed. Battle Droids surround them and take control of the crystal. The Jedi use the Governor as live bait. The droids are destroyed, a ship is taken control of to get Anakin and Obi-Wan in chase of the crystal.
With 'The Big Bang', Obi-Wan makes contact with the Jedi Council, with Yoda warning Obi-Wan not to be cavalier, to which Obi-Wan exclaims to Anakin that no-one ever calls him out on being cavalier. Banter back and forth comes in again, as Anakin exclaims 'No-one likes a backseat driver'. Grievous is doing all he can to stop the Jedi reaching the cruiser the shuttle is landing at. They do, but in escape pods. Obi-Wan is captured, but Anakin doesn't, which means he explores and finds out where the crystal is being kept. It then becomes a matter of getting the crystal away from the cruiser. In the end, they have to destroy it.
I can honestly say that, aside from the back and forth banter, this is the weakest of the episodes. Grievous and Obi-Wan have another fight, with it being over in a matter of moments. Obi-Wan is captured instead of killed. The droids give hardly any funny moments, but one part where Anakin says to a cowering droid 'That belongs to my friend' and the droid just gives him the lightsaber hoping to survive was good, because it's just so out of the ordinary. Dooku orders Obi-Wan executed, but Anakin rescues him from his guard. The two follow the droids into the chamber where the crystal is being kept, and are then stuck inside the room. When more droids check the room, they use the crystal to escape. Yet another fight occurs for the crystal, where Obi-Wan decides to destroy it. The scene itself is well choreographed, but the droids still can't aim for the floor where two Jedi are obviously hiding. But then again, the crystal is in the way. Aside from the last seven minutes though, I feel the entire of this episode could have been cut in half and it still wouldn't make a difference to the story.

So, to sum up, this is a well choreographed arc, which reveals its story in chunks at a time, but goes on for what felt like one episode too many. And with at least three battles that take place over different areas but with the same objective, even with the different choreography, makes it feel a bit drawn out. We have plenty of back and forth between Obi-Wan and Anakin though, as well as the heartfelt part of the second episode, but there are parts you'll see that have nothing going for them. The music, as always, is great, and really sets the tone of the arc. While the episodes of season five and season six have been mostly good, there are plenty of moments that, like with this arc, feel too drawn out. With this arc, it was the battles and especially the slow pacing of the first half of the third episode. Even so, another part of The Clone Wars that I would really recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

October Nights [Cyber Digital Services]

So, yesterday. The sneak peek was posted, end of the month like I said, and though the title will stay in its anagram form for now, I'm sure observant people might have seen what it could be already. I won't be saying any more on it yet, and I definitely won't be giving a release date. Not after what happened with the other novel I said would 'soon' be published.
Either way, onto this month.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS is released in two days, and I hope to be enjoying that. As I predicted, the WiiU refuses to connect to the wireless at this accommadation, and so there won't be any uploads to iDarkRula's MKTV. Or maybe there will. After all, I only need a USB LAN hookup for a wired connection. There might be more on the way.
Uploads to Custom Digital Stories have been sparse. Call it getting used to being back at university, but I should be continuing with them more regularly now. And on top of that, the second half of the banner should be ready this month too.
Now. Blogs posts this month. Star Wars related - what I thought of the newly released Utapau arc of The Clone Wars, and a possible follow up bringing all of the Clone Wars Legacy works together. Sticking with Star Wars, a blog post on what I think of Spark of Rebellion, the Rebels season opener. Its possible that I might have a few things to say on Smash Bros. as well.
On the animation front, let's just say I'll post something up on Youtube by the end of this month. And it all relates to the work I'm doing in this university course. And speaking of Youtube, I haven't forgotten about the fan game video. I'm just preparing.