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The Star Wars TV Series Keeps Getting Weirder

Star Wars Underworld

And I mean the proposed live action Star Wars TV series, which is supposedly in development.Not Clone Anime Wars.

The working title for it is Star Wars Underworld. That’s already a bit weird. It fits with the new 1313 project. It’s an easy enough concept to sell, but is anyone really waiting around for a Star Wars series set in the criminal underworld? Is that really the best use of the property?

It might be fun to watch, it’s just weird that the concept is 40 minutes a week of the Cantina, with funny looking aliens trying to cheat and steal from each other, is the series. As a game premise, it’s reasonable. As a major expansion of the property and the first live action series, it’s not the place you expect it to go. It seems more like a cash in, the way the games are. But that’s the whole Star Wars franchise anyway.

The would-be series already has 50 scripts written, just sitting on the shelf waiting for an economically sound way to actually be produced.

That’s a major piece of weirdness because who orders 50 scripts, over two seasons worth, before having a viable TV series? TV scripts are not the most expensive part of the production, but they’re expensive enough and it makes no sense to have 50 of them sitting on the shelf, when you don’t even have an actual series.

Shows go through transformations once they begin shooting. Having 50 scripts before a show even gets to production is something a control freak or someone with no experience in TV production would do. Okay, so that’s George Lucas. But it’s still weird.

 The scripts are said to be “timeless” and will deal with the darker side of the period between Episodes III & IV.

This makes a bit more sense. Republic collapsed. Empire is taking over. There’s a lot of corruption, a growing underworld, where people are escaping the laws of Imperial rule. It’s still weird though. What is the show going to do, follow Obi Wan around the underworld, another rogue Jedi looking to set up a resistance?

It might have been cleaner to do this in the Knights of the Old Republic timeline, but this way there will be a structure.

Our biggest problem is that these stories are adult. I mean…these are like Deadwood in space. It so unlike anything you’ve ever associated with George before in relation to Star Wars. These aren’t for kids. I mean, we hope they’ll watch, but it’s not being targeted at 8-to-9 year old boys. The situation we have is that each episode – or if you put two hour long episodes together – is bigger than any film we’ve ever done. It’s on the Avatar level and we’ll only have about $5-6 million we can spend on each episode.

Based on McCallum’s “We hope they’ll watch”, this isn’t going to be too dark. There aren’t going to be violent deaths and space hookers, not if you’re hoping that 8-9 year olds will watch. And that’s fine. It doesn’t have to actually be the Wild West, as long as it’s not pitched at 8 year olds.

But the subtext is that McCallum is uneasy. With the prequels, Star Wars firmly reoriented itself to the kid market. That was a smart business mos eisley cantinadecision in the short term, but a lousy creative decision. It’s why no one really cares anymore about Star Wars, except parents picking out Halloween costumes for their kids.

George Lucas failed the balancing act between kid-oriented and not-for-the-mentally retarded. (Pixar has that balance.) Star Wars, for the generation that grew up with the prequels and Clone Wars, is something you leave behind when you hit puberty. Making a more adult show that’s deeper to lock in that older audience is also a smart business decision. Especially when your teenage audience is more likely to associate Star Wars with Jar Jar Binks, not with Darth Vader. (About the only reason it might not is the amount of fan activity and outside media projects like Blue Harvest and Chad Vader)

Making an adult Star Wars TV show, even one that’s a long way from Deadwood, endangers the Lucas business model of selling action figures to kids.

Why is Star Wars Underworld delayed for so long? Why does it have so many scripts sitting on the shelf? It’s not the money. If DS9 and BSG could pull off some pretty impressive settings and shows within a budget, Star Wars could do it too. 5-6 million an episode isn’t bad, if you balance it out with some bottle shows, which every TV show has to do, and reuse enough sets.

What’s the real delay? George Lucas. Lucas liked the idea of a Western Star Wars, but he hasn’t allowed a quality Star Wars product that’s not licensed to someone else out the door. The scripts were written and probably rewritten, but the project still wouldn’t move forward. But George Lucas has been slowly stepping down. Until he leaves all the way, the Star Wars Underworld will remain on hold.

Star Trek and the Intergalactic Asshole

The Intergalactic Asshole is a staple of Science Fiction. Back from the pulp days to more modern versions like Poul Anderson’s Nicholas Van Rijn or George R.R. Martin’s Haviland Tuft or Star Trek. The Intergalactic Asshole travels around the galaxy, visiting new planets all the time and manipulating their society for his own purposes. Usually he takes an existing conflict or imbalance and forces the people and their leaders to rearrange their society to do things his way.

Sometimes the Intergalactic Asshole is an exploiter looking to cash in, like Van Rijn, often he’s looking to enforce his own idea of human captain kirkrights, like Captain Kirk, or animal rights, like Haviland Tuft. The Intergalactic Asshole has his own idea of how society should work. There’s often a determinism based on a simplistic idea of biology or economics or the environment which he believes makes people the way they are. What the Intergalactic Asshole does is rely on that idea to understand the aliens, their problems and turn their conflict on its head and impose a solution on them.

The Prime Directive of the Federation explicitly ruled out Intergalactic Asshole behavior, because it was a staple of galactic adventure tales. But Captain Kirk still played Intergalactic Asshole with a starship behind often enough for the Prime Directive to be an afterthought. With TNG the Intergalactic Asshole quota went down. Captain Picard would still occasionally play Intergalactic Asshole, but he was more likely to leave with a lecture and a disappointed look. Bad Science Fiction had plenty of stories in which aliens would arrive on earth only to decide that we were too primitive and violent to be worth including in their federation. In TNG we were the advanced aliens, visiting other races and punishing them with our disappointment. The alien visitors whose standards we couldn’t meet represented gods. With TNG we became the gods who were too good for them.

With Janeway the Intergalactic Asshole syndrome came roaring back. But Janeway was much more erratic than Kirk. Captain Kirk usually intervened because there were clear abuses going on. Janeway interfered randomly. Sometimes she walked away from oppression, other times she helped the oppressors. Sometimes she intervened, just because. She allied with the Borg, gave the Hirogen, holodeck technology and allied with them against the holograms. Archer stuck to the Intergalactic Asshole way, even though he didn’t have the firepower to back it up. He yelled at Vulcans and Andorians, either of whom could have swatted him like a fly. Because the habit was there from Voyager.

How viewers or readers react to the Intergalactic Asshole has less to do with the issue at hand and more to do with the character. Van Rijn nicholas van rijjn poul andersongot away with awful things, because he was entertaining and he sold his own libertarian spin on any issue. Haviland Tuft and his environmentalism appealed to an audience at the opposite political spectrum. But both were eccentrics who got a pass from both sides because they were more human, more personable, than their adversaries.

Captain Kirk could drag audiences into his Intergalactic Asshole approach to problems, because he seemed to really care and because he had senior officers who often disagreed with him and whose perspectives he took seriously. No Captain after him had that. Picard, Janeway and Archer did things their way and rarely bothered listening to anyone’s advice.

The Intergalactic Asshole is a power fantasy. He does the things that audiences would like to do. He’s a one man dictator setting societies to right by being smarter and tactically more powerful than them. He’s Batman with a starship, except he actually solves problems for good. He’s the authorial voice made omnipotent, lecturing, hectoring and telling readers how the world should be run.

Why Star Trek Enterprise Failed

(I’ll keep this brief after the earlier marathon post this morning.)

Enterprise was an attempt to get back to classic Star Trek. It wasn’t a very good attempt because the people making it didn’t understand classic Star Trek very well… or like it very much. Enterprise was how they saw TOS. It was their version of it.

Audiences had fled DS9 and Voyager. The ratings were low. The franchise was in trouble. So they tried to make a classic Star Trek series. Or star trek enterprise azati primewhat they saw when they looked at Star Trek.

Make the Captain an old-fashioned wild card type. Put in a Vulcan. Keep the crew small and mostly human. Make the technology cruder. Have the humans dislike the aliens. Show some skin. Break some rules. Get them to explore space. Show how the Federation got started. Then throw in some exit strategies so continuity doesn’t matter too much. A temporal cold war. Pre-Starfleet starship. There’s your classic Star Trek series.

That summary wasn’t completely wrong, but it was completely incomplete. It was something like Star Trek, but it wasn’t really Star Trek. It was Voyager with a new skin, but without the gimmicks or a large cast. It felt empty, because it was.

Enterprise wasn’t the show that the producers wanted to make. It was the show they had to make. There was nowhere else to go. The gimmicks had failed, so they went throwback. They went prequel, which was popular then. Then after them came the reboot, which is popular now.

Every story, every fictional universe has its built in rules. The parameters that cover how things work in it. First you learn the rules. Then you can break them. Berman and his favorites boasted of breaking the rules. They were going to make Star Trek their own way. And they did. It failed. Then they tried following the rules, but they didn’t know the rules. They never learned them. So they imitated what they saw.

When they looked at the Original Series, they saw a sparse show focused around the ship’s captain and one or two subordinates. They saw crude technology. They saw a lower comfort level with aliens. They saw space portrayed as a dangerous place. They saw sexism. They saw “seat of the pants” tactics and stories where the captain goes to a strange place, is captured, breaks free, acts like a jackass and moves on.

And they copied all those things. One after another. And they didn’t understand what they were doing wrong. They didn’t like TOS and didn’t really get it. It wasn’t a show they could take seriously. It was like the Adam West Batman to them. So they tried to make it a little more serious. And that made it even worse because their idea of serious was Voyager. On top of their bad clone of TOS, they pasted in Voyager.

The Original Series was more than the sum of its parts. It was more than Shatner and Nimoy breaking out of another cell on an alien planet Star Trek Enterpriseand then yelling at the aliens about doing the right thing. It was about more than a human dominated crew in an intergalactic federation. It was more than Uhura in a miniskirt and repeating back what she heard on her earpiece before being forced to make out with Kirk.

When Berman and Braga looked at TOS, they saw the flaws. And they thought, “If this is what the fans want. We’ll give it to them. We’ll have a captain who constantly gets captured and yells at aliens. We’ll have a Vulcan to be uptight all the time. We’ll have a good-looking guy who sleeps with chicks. We’ll try to fix it up a little so it’s not as stupid as the old one, and then we’ll give the dorks exactly what they want.”

But TOS was more than the sum of its flaws or its silly moments. Its core was its ambition. Its fans saw what it did best. But the people who made Enterprise saw it as a dumb silly show and tried to make a classier version of it. A show that fans would agree was classic, but that would also let the producers do their thing. Win-win.

That’s how we got Enterprise. That’s why it failed.

Why SyFy Abandoned Science Fiction

SyFy is Dead

This isn’t about the woman looking contemplatively at one of the worst programming slates on television , she doesn’t exist except as a heavily photoshopped model who probably thought she was posing for some ad that required her to be mildly amused, maybe at her new phone or the plight of children somewhere.

This is about what SyFy thinks she represents and what it wants ad buyers to think she represents.

This isn’t just another ad pitching SyFy to viewers, this is an ad pitching it to media buyers. This is the audience that SyFy wants to have.

Let’s start out with the obvious. She’s not a man. That’s not coincidental. Women are where the ad dollars are now.

She’s an “Igniter” who “sparks trends”, which means the ad dollars go further because she influences the buying habits of others. That’s a load of crap, especially when it comes to SyFy Channel viewers, but this is the brass ring of advertising.

Now imagine the exact opposite of this coolly amused young woman who influences her friends to buy major brands by making them seem cool? If you answered a viewer of Science Fiction television, as imagined by SyFy executives to be a fat middle-aged man, you are correct. And that is the audience SyFy doesn’t want, because it’s the audience their USA bosses don’t want.

But don’t take it from me, take it from the SyFy pitch.

Syfy has a target audience in mind: people with a shared mindset of curiosity, optimism, creativity and open-mindedness that drives them to take risks, push boundaries and challenge the status quo. They call these people—who are the first to find and try new things and share those finds with others—”Igniters.”

This their target audience. It’s not people who like Science Fiction, it’s people who watch SyFy shows about ghost hunting and makeup because they “push boundaries” and “challenge the status quo”. They’re exactly like Occupy Wall Street, except they buy stuff, instead of protest.

If you want to promote your new Samsung phone or non-alcoholic cranberry drink to an audience that will convince other people to try it, come and pitch to the viewers of our cooking shows and makeup shows and stuff we put together as cheaply as possible in order to build that quality “Igniter” audience.

Founded in 1992 as SCI FI Channel, Syfy is celebrating its 20th anniversary by embracing the innovation of Igniters. What exactly is an Igniter? To develop the psychographic profile, Syfy has used both Simmons data and a custom study conducted with PSFK. Simmons demonstrates that Igniters are the first to find, try and buy new products and then influence the masses to do the same. The PSFK study adds that Igniters are a powerful force in today’s market because portability and social media have given rise to new tools.

This is a ton of nebula gasses, but SyFy needs to sell this to position its viewers as savvy post-television influencers who will go out and have an impact on social media.

Look at what’s missing from the picture.

The words “Science Fiction” and “Fantasy” never appear in this piece. Superhero and supernatural are okay. Those aren’t, even when HBO is doing great with Game of Thrones. (HBO is also careful to avoid the “F” word when talking about Game of Thrones.) The name change wasn’t an accident. The former SciFi channel doesn’t want to be associated with Science Fiction. It wants to be associated with an audience it can’t have.

SyFy can’t get the flavored vodka and hot nightspots audience it’s pretending to have. It can’t have it because it’s cheap, its programming is risk free and crap. It wants to pretend that it offers million dollar value to advertisers while running a 99 cent store full of crap that no one else wants and its original programming is indistinguishable from the reality TV on every other channel.

The audience it has is not the audience it wants. It wants models who smile ambiguously at unseen things in the air. SyFy has an abusive relationship with its audience. Eventually it will drive away the last of its unique audience and be stuck with the kind of people who want to watch idiots pretending to chase ghosts around a set or who will sit through a show about makeup artists and a third-rate cooking show.

And then finally SyFy will have the audience it deserves. The 99 cent store of cable television will have 99 cent store viewers. Maybe they’ll even ignite a ghost chasing trend and then “share” it on social media.

Exclusive Plans for Dragon Age 3 Revealed

Fans have been waiting for it by the dozens and ever since the smash success of Dragon Age II, EA and Bioware have been eager to reveal the work being done on the sequel.

dragon age“Dragon Age III will take the Dragon Age II experience to the next level,” Mark Laidlaw promised. “Everything you loved about that game will be even better here. Dragon Age II took place in a single city over ten years, but Dragon Age III will take place over twenty years… in one room.”

EA expects players to look forward to a return to the world of Thedas, or one room in it, to explore that room, to battle armies of enemies who suddenly appear in the room.

“We’ve made some challenging choices here,” Laidlaw said, “for example you can’t go left anymore, just right. And we feel that really expands the player’s horizons. Because it’s all about choice and telling people that they can’t go left challenges them, it makes them think about the nature of choice in their own lives.”

As before the player will take on the role of Hawke, a penniless refugee turned champion who is bound on an amazing adventure in a single room. Along with his companions, four of whom are gay, he will play a major role in shaping the future of the room, and romance his companions by clicking on options and then saying unpredictable, but sexually harassing things to them.

“This is about a story,” Laidlaw said, “that takes place over twenty years, that raises real world questions about terrorism, the environment and how tight my headband is. It will showcase a brand new engine that will make every corner of the room shine. And it will allow you to battle without even thinking about it. All you have to do is keep hitting a button and you will automatically win.”

Reviewers who are in no way beholden to EA have already given the game an average score of 94 before even seeing it and Bioware promises a special DLC expansion, The Unpantsed Prince, that ingame characters will constantly mention to you until you break down and buy it.

The Meaning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

ferrris bueller

There have been some ridiculous essays about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. All dealing with its perceived importance.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not a great movie. It’s an enjoyable one. Among many others. You can analyze The Breakfast Club, but there’s no point to analyzing Ferris Bueller. It’s a movie about the ultimate idealized teenager, with the vocabulary of a 30 year old, the skills of a con artist and the luck of the Irish who thanks to Matthew Broderick’s performance remains sympathetic. Not accessible, but entertaining.

Ferris Bueller is the Peter Pan of a generation. Played by an actor who looked like he never really grew up. It’s the wish fulfillment of every movie about staying young forever packed into one marathon session. It’s about having to grow up, but offers the fantasy of being able to do it on your own terms. That’s what Ferris Bueller offers his friends. It’s why he has the popularity he does.

Most movies go up and down. Ferris Bueller never goes down. The antagonists never have a chance. The movie is all joie de vivre on terms that an aging man with a creative imagination who loved Chicago and was obsessed with the teenage years thought up. And it works.

There are only a few actors who could have done it. Broderick or Fox. And the movie endures better than even The Breakfast Club, because it promises freedom from teenage angst, while at the same time recognizing it for what it is. Hughes’ movies treated the transitions of being a teenager as a complex fantasy environment. But if Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink were the deep involved dramas about coping, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about freedom from angst. Bueller is a teenage superman, not bound by the limitations of being a teenager, while enjoying all of its privileges. And if that’s not perfect escapism for teenagers and adults in a country that worships freedom and youth, I don’t know what is.

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