Seven Things We Need in Star Wars Episode VII

Written September 18, 2014 by Chad DuBeau

It’s been an amazing, winding road, hasn’t it? In 1977, a sci-fi space opera came out in movie theaters and not only changed a genre in filmmaking, but the entire entertainment industry and arguably the whole world at large. Star Wars had arrived and there was no going back. Almost forty years later gave us five more feature films, four animated television series, countless novels, comic books, video games, theme park attractions, and one lousy Christmas Special. It all added to the story and mythos of the franchise.

After Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005 we all thought the live action Star Wars movie franchise was over for good. After all; creator George Lucas even said so. Therefore, it came as an immense shock to everyone, fans and the general public alike, when it was announced in 2012 that The Walt Disney Company had purchased LucasFilm for over four billion dollars and planned to make the next three movies in the epic series, with the first to be directed by J.J. Abrams.

Still, the release of Episode VII is still about a year away and it has got me thinking. What does this new saga need to live up to the legacy of the first set of films and nearly forty years of mythos, fan appreciation, and expectations? I have come up with a list of seven things that in my option need to be included in Episode VII to set the proper tone for the next several installments in the Star Wars saga.

Just remember: What you want isn’t always what you need.

VII) A Female Main Character

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was a farm boy who traveled the galaxy, faced an evil Empire, and became the first in a new generation of Jedi Knights. His father, Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd / Hayden Christensen), was a slave as a boy who became a Jedi Knight, but was corrupted and helped form that same Empire. Through both of the previous trilogies, the lead protagonists have been young men. Why mess with proven success? If you stick with what’s safe – based on prior successes – you can only hope to reach that same plateau of success, but if you are the first to successfully break from the mold you become that new standard of success yourself.

Until recently; a male protagonist has always been the standard for science fiction and action/adventure franchises. However, we have seen evidence that a female character can lead in a Star Wars franchise. Recently Ahoska Tano severed as a primary focal character alongside her Jedi master, Anakin Skywalker, in both Star Wars: The Clone Wars the 2008 film and the following television series. Even more so, in the now defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe, Jaina Solo, daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia, grew up to become the “Sword of the Jedi”. Although most stories still focused on her parents and uncle Luke, the Expanded Universe followed Jaina and her twin brother Jacen since their birth in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, their adolescence as Young Jedi Knights, all the way through adulthood. It chronicles the way that they fight many new wars, avenge the death of their younger brother, and finally face each other when Jacen falls to the Dark Side of the Force, leaving her the only surviving child of Han and Leia. If you want an outside example, look at Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games Trilogy and tell me a female lead can’t carry a sci-fi/action franchise.

While I don’t believe this new trilogy will fail without a female as the main focal character and will still be at least a huge financial success regardless, I do believe the galaxy is ready for it.

VI) An Elaborate Lightsaber Battle

This one seems to be a given. If you had to simplify the entirety of the Star Wars franchise in a single word, it would be Lightsaber. The fictional luminescent blade wielded by both Jedi and Sith and used to protect and destroy. However, it’s easy for some people to want the whole movie to be just a two and a half hour lightsaber fight, with Wookies throwing exploding Ewoks, and a fleet of remote-controlled solid gold Death Stars. The draw of these flashy weapons was their uniqueness and rarity in the original trilogy. There may have been plenty of Jedi in the prequel trilogy, but the climatic lightsaber duel between a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), and Darth Maul (Ray Park) in Episode I: The Phantom Menace is still my personal favorite (and arguably one of the few things the movie did right).

However, in this new set of films, if we hope to retain the mystique and grandeur of the weapons, they should be used in epic duels sparingly. Sure, any Jedi can use their lightsaber as a tool throughout the film, but the duel itself should traditionally be saved for the climax.

V) A New Galactic Threat

The Jedi vs. the Sith. The Republic vs. the Separatists. The Rebels vs. the Empire. It would seem silly not to have an actual war of some kind in Star Wars. While I think the remnants of the Empire should still be out there, I believe having them as the main threat of this next trilogy would be like beating a dead tauntaun. The Rebels have won. There’s nothing to rebel against. What new threat to the safety and peace of the galaxy should our heroes fight against? I have no idea, but half the run of revisiting an old favorite is seeing what new things you can find.

IV) New Faceless Minions

The Storm Troopers; the skull-helmeted foot soldiers that serve as a daunting army to stand in the way of our heroes. Admit it, as iconic as Storm Troopers are, they’ve lost some of their intimidation factor over the years. True, they are the quintessential “faceless minion” that countless other movies and media franchises have tried to emulate, but their general effectiveness tended to degrade in the original trilogy alone. They went from killing Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle to being beaten by Ewoks.

Even though it is something of an action movie cliché to have the enemy forces always miss when shooting at the good guys it has become a running gag synonymous with Storm Troopers. In the real world, Storm Troopers are often used at charity events and as a comedic opening act. Storm Troopers will always be awesome, but as mentioned previously, if we have a new galactic threat they’re going to need a new breed of cannon fodder top throw at our heroes.

The Battle Droids from the prequel trilogy aren’t even worth mentioning. They were beaten by Jar Jar Binks.

Just Jar Jar Binks.

Ugh.

III) Comedy Relief Characters

This one is probably the most controversial suggestions on my list as there are a few fans who don’t even like C-3PO and R2-D2 in the original trilogy. Let me be perfectly clear though. I am not talking about another Jar Jar Binks. I like C-3PO and R2-D2 just fine, I think they added just enough levity to the film to be entertaining, but still proved a useful and necessary part of the plot throughout all three films.

Jar Jar, however, was just a bit too much. There was no relief from his “comedy”. That being said, I still think this new trilogy would benefit from just one or two new characters that will add a bit of lightheartedness to the films without disrupting the gravitas of the plot.

II) A Nod (or two) to the Expanded Universe

For those who don’t know, the Star Wars Expanded Universe pretty much encompassed every form of media outside of the six live-action theatrical films and the 2008 computer animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series (including the movie). Novels, comic books, video games, all carefully crafted together to (generally) form a single, cohesive mythos effectively continuing the story far beyond Return of the Jedi and setting hundreds of years of history long before Episode I and everything in between. New worlds, characters, and stories all lovingly crafted by multiple authors and creators to add to the Star Wars adventure. However, with Episode VII announced as an “all new, original story” the entire Expanded Universe has been rendered null and void. A pity as I was a huge fan. Still, it would be nice if Disney and J.J. Abrams worked in some kind of recognition to the decades of now forgotten stories. They don’t have to necessarily add in any characters or include specific plot points from the EU, just some casual mention of it.

Thankfully, there is some precedence for this. Specifically, the Night Sisters were officially adapted into the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. True, they were changed heavily from their depiction in the various other media, but at least they made it in before Disney gave the ax to the rest of the EU. It’d just be nice to have the creators at least acknowledge that almost forty years of fandom and creativity weren’t all for naught.

Speaking of which…

I) Mara Jade

If there is one Expanded Universe character I think should be officially acknowledged in official canon of the new trilogy it’s Mara Jade. Having been introduced in 1991’s Heir to the Force, the first novel in the Thrawn Trilogy, largely exemplified the EU as its primary character outside the cast of the original trilogy. From her dark history as the Emperor’s Hand, to her battles and eventual romance and marriage to Luke Skywalker, to giving birth to his son and helping him raise a new generation of Jedi Knights to keep peace in the galaxy. No character is more deserving of being allowed to continue in an official capacity in some form or another. I’m not saying she even needs to have an actual part in the movie, just an honorable mention of some kind. Luke Skywalker looks out of a viewport at the stars wistfully and sighs just one word before being interrupted and moving on with the plot.

“Mara.”

There you have it. That’s my opinion on what we should see in Star Wars Episode VII. Will my theories come to pass? Impossible to see the future is. Wait, we must. Soon enough we will see what happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Why Aquaman is the Greatest Superhero

Written September 8, 2014 by Satish Jayaraj

DC comics’ league of heroes have a mythic quality to them.

It’s exciting to see what creative writers and filmmakers do with the core values that each hero represents. Bruce Wayne, the billionaire 7 year old who chose to spend his life, infinite wealth, and privilege to become Batman represents the heroic potential of humanity when gifted with ultimate freedom. The story of Kal-El making his home on Earth is akin to a science fiction angel who has come to save us from ourselves. His dedication to us despite our foibles is all about hope, and if you’ve seen the Man of Steel trailer you know it even says so on his chest. Wonder Woman, who hails from a culture comprised solely of women, represents the power of Shakti, the divine woman who badly needs to be respected and better integrated into our unbalanced culture.

Where, in all this, does Aquaman fall? He’s a hero whose main flaw is quite possibly his name.

Aquaman.

Say it.

“Aquaman”.

It doesn’t roll of the tongue as pleasantly as “Wonder Woman”. It lacks the majesty of “Superman” and doesn’t have that one-two syllable-consonant punch-attack you get from Bat! Man! In a world where a hero’s name is his identity, this might be an undiagnosed reason as to why Aquaman has failed to gather his deserved respect, and is known to most people through bad fish jokes. A more pessimistic theory is that, in the escapist world of superhero comics, Aquaman represents a force against very real environmental threats that we would rather not talk about.

One point of ridicule against Aquaman is his seemingly useless ability to talk to creatures of the sea. However; it was this gift that allowed him to best his Marvel counterpart Namor in the Marvel vs DC battle of the 90s, where a killer whale flattened the Sub Mariner on Aquaman’s request. Another reason Namor lost the fight is the reason he almost always does, his unparalleled arrogance. Though Aquaman gets angry at us polluting surface dwellers from time to time, he lacks that arrogance of a despotic ruler.

His gift to communicate with animals of the sea shouldn’t be confused with mind control. The creatures obey him because they know that he is a true king, He is not a simple ruler, but the keeper of the oceans. 71% percent of our planet is water. Up to 60 % of our physical makeup is water, and all sentient and non-sentient life that we know cycle water to stay alive. Seemingly plentiful, it is a resource more valuable than diamonds, kryptonite, feminism, and humanity, and almost all of it – 96 per cent – is in Aquaman’s domain. Since 1941 he has been our much needed hero of Earth, more so than the heavy handed and short lived Captain Planet ever was.

It might seem to some that Aquaman only guards the oceans to protect his home of Atlantis, but it is no accident that protecting Atlantis and the oceans is a package deal. DC heroes are irrevocably products of the fictional places they come from. Batman is a product of Gotham, Wonder Woman of Themyscira, Superman of Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis, and Aquaman of Atlantis. Of all these, Atlantis is the most heroic city. By that, I mean it is a city that our real civilizations are or should be striving to become, especially in these more environmentally concerned times. No city wants to be Gotham, where even the most privileged of privileged little boy can lose his parents to random violence. At least half our population would not be able to live in cities modeled after Themiscyra and, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t survive past a second generation. Metropolis is mostly owned by a tyrannical businessman who is a real world representative of the 1%, and many of us see the hardships of that story all around us. As for Krypton, it is either a doomed planet to begin with or, according to the Man of Steel origin, doomed itself because of its obsession with progress. With a simple Doctor Who twist, Man of Steel could easily have been Man of the Future. This makes Aquaman’s upcoming place in DC’s movie series even more intriguing. Atlantis is a city that works in unison with nature. By protecting Atlantis, Aquaman is protecting the idea that civilizations and the environment can work in harmony together. As its keeper, Aquaman and his city are a greater symbol of hope and heroism than DC’s holy trinity combined.

Maybe it is because he comes from this heaven on – or beneath – Earth that Aquaman has found enough balance in his own life to be a hero, husband and father. I am not saying that one must have a family to feel fulfilled and happy, but in the superhero worlds of Marvel and DC, where almost every hero has sacrificed their personal lives to be protectors, it is an additional triumph that the king of Atlantis manages both. Even though we have so many great male role models in superhero comics, we have so few father figures and this hero of our planet is one of them. He is well rounded, a hero and king who respects his domain and subjects, and he is relatable through his fatherhood. He is the greatest hero, for he inspires us to protect the things that matter most – our planet, our fellow creatures and people, and our families.

The ‘Superhero Family’ is another key element in DC comics, and I would do it an injustice if I didn’t attach the adopted second generation of DC heroes in this argument. Each of the Justice League members have taken up an array of superhero sidekicks in their fight against injustice. With Superman, there is Superboy and Supergirl. With Wonder Woman there is Donna Troy and Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark. Flash’s family includes Kid Flash and Impulse; Green Arrow has been a mentor to Red Arrow, his own son (also known as Green Arrow) and Speedy; and, of course, Batman in his time has trained 3 Robins, Batgirl and is an inspiration for other heroes who have a ‘Bat’ in their name.

My new favorite, and admittedly the only reason I have extended the essay this far, is Kaldur’ahm – also known as “Aqualad” from the animated show Young Justice.

There will be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet.
Watch the show; if you care enough to read an essay about Aquaman you will definitely care about this show!

Kaldur’ahm has Atlantean strength and has a Green Lantern:ish ability to make constructs out of water. With the temperance that one would expect from Superman, Kaldur reluctantly becomes the leader of the team in the first season. In the second, because of a cunning worthy of Batman, he deeply and convincingly infiltrates the enemy ranks, which leads to the climactic triumph of good over evil. Throughout this show, where adolescents are the stars, Aqualad displays a level of maturity that surpasses the other members of his team. Aside from being the oldest, Kaldur has an advantage here because of his healthy childhood. Apart from Kid Flash, a healthy childhood is something that all the other sidekicks lack. It becomes apparent that Kaldur was saved from a trauma similar to his ally and friend Artemis received, when we discover that Kaldur’s true father is the villain Black Manta. In spite of knowing Kaldur’ahms true blood line, Aquaman took him in and trusted him to become Aqualad. It’s a noble action that we have not seen done by any of the other heroes.

Another scale in Aquaman’s fishnet (I couldn’t resist) through this association, is that Kaldur’ahm is black. He is an African-Atlantean. The comic book culture is still largely dominated by white males, many of whom came to be sometime between 1938 and 1975. Although almost all the sidekicks are orphans that don’t share a bloodline to the main heroes, all of them, from Dick Grayson to Tim Drake to Donna Troy to Cassie Sandsmark to Supergirl to Krypto, are white. I love comic book heroes, and I grew up seeing myself in the boots of Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Peter Parker, and Gambit. Still, I remember how I felt when Neal Sharra was introduced to the X-Men. Sharra was a person of color; East Indian like myself. I could envision myself in his boots without having to alter my heritage. Superheroes are largely popular because they embody the wannabe hero in all of us, and it is important to see that spirit represented in a wider spectrum of diversity.

Ultimately, Aquaman’s acceptance and nurture of his enemy’s son, which arguably leads Kaldur into becoming a hero that is better than Aquaman himself is yet another reason why Aquaman is one of the greatest superheroes in comic book culture.