Sunday, April 22, 2012

Star Trek vs Star Wars: Round Four

Back in my February 18th post I explained how I wanted to compare the first six Star Wars and Star Trek movies to see how I felt about them after all these years of not seeing them. You can see the first three rounds here: Round One, Round Two, and Round Three

Before I get into the review, I can’t express enough how much Star Wars: A New Hope, meant to me as a kid. I had the toys and enjoyed playing with my friends. Back when the movie came out there was no such things as blu ray or Netflix. I don’t think I saw the movie again until after Return of the Jedi came out – it was on TV one night and my parents let me stay up late to watch it.

When it came out on VHS I picked up the trilogy and watched them again and again. Then the movies were turned into ‘Special Editions’ and I rewatched them in all their digitally remastered glory on the big screen.

But since then I haven’t watched the movies. I upgraded from VHS to DVD and the I never watched them. Then the blu ray came out and I promised myself that I would watch them again.

Then I decided on the Star Trek vs Star Wars challenge.

ROUND THREE: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home vs Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Kirk and company have stolen Federation property, destroyed that property, and have ignored their orders. Having saved Captain Spock, the crew is prepared to return to Earth and face the consequences. But an energy probe is threatening the Earth and the crew has to take the HMS Bounty (their captured Klingon Bird of Prey) back through time to capture a pair of humpback whales and bring them back to the future.

This final chapter of a trilogy that started at The Wrath of Khan isn’t just the funniest film in the Star Trek franchise, it’s also the most fun. The crew breaks up into teams where they all get to have their own adventure while trading fun dialogue, breaking all the rules of time travel (as in not doing anything to alter time…like decloaking in front of a whaling ship, letting the military get a hold of a Klingon phaser, communicator, and Checkov’s Starfleet identification, or giving someone the molecular formula to transparent aluminum). And it’s always fun when someone normal like Gillian gets in on the action and gets to interact with the crew and sit on the bridge.

After all these years I still laugh at the appropriate places and I’m still glued to the film. Although the cars, boombox, and fashion in this film make it look dated, it would have been a great film no matter when it was filmed. Kirk and his crew have never been as fun or as likeable as they are here.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Luke Skywalker is a young man on Tatooine who dreams of adventure. He gets more than he bargained for when the only family he knows is murdered and he takes on Stormtroopers, a trash compactor, and destroys a planet-sized space station.

This movie would have been fantastic as a stand-alone movie but is the first part of an amazing trilogy. It does a great job setting up the Star Wars mythology while providing great introductions to the main characters.

As I’m re-watching the film I’m taken by how much it still means to me and to all the fans. Star Wars gave us a lot of new heroes to root for and took us on the adventure of a lifetime. And it hits me that while I could point out all of the digitally changed scenes, I find that everything blends in and compliments the movie (except for Greedo shooting first and the ‘stuttering’ motion as Han walks over Jabba’s tail (in the original deleted scene, Jabba was played by a human being so walking behind that person makes more sense)) so I don’t mind any of the ‘improvements’ to the movie.

And I did pick up one thing I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed. There’s a scene where C-3P0 tells Luke that he’s not very good at telling stories – and then I think about him telling the Ewoks an engaging story complete with sound effects.


While Star Wars might be an important beginning and a movie I love dearly, there are a few scenes where Tarkin and Vader talk about the senate and when discussing how the senate will react to Princess Leia being taken, Vader tells someone to send out a distress signal and say all aboard Leia’s ship was killed (like a cover up). The prequels say being a Jedi takes years and considering how Anakin turned evil, Obi-Wan is quick to rush Luke, clearly too old for training with no control over his emotions, into a little light training before deciding he’d be better off guiding Luke as a spirit (I don’t know how that makes someone more powerful if all Jedi can hang out and give advice as spirits).

And Luke takes to everything with success (I know – the force is strong with him) from shooting Stormtroopers (which he does without regret for the people he’s killing even though he’s never killed anyone before), working the Falcon’s laser turret, and flying an X-Wing.

The Voyage Home was easily the best Star Trek film and it gave me more laughs and adventure. I don’t have definitive proof that one is better than the other – it’s an indefensible position. A New Hope is clearly more popular but as a fan of both, I’d rather watch The Voyage Home again.

Star Trek: 2
Star Wars: 2

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Star Trek vs Star Wars: Round Three

Back in my February 18th post I explained how I wanted to compare the first six Star Wars and Star Trek movies to see how I felt about them after all these years of not seeing them. You can see the first two rounds here: Round One and Round Two

ROUND THREE: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock vs Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Still aching with the wounds and losses of their battle with Khan, the Enterprise and her crew return home. A visit from Sarek, Spock’s father, reveals that Dr. McCoy has Spock’s katra (his essence/living spirit) and the only way to restore both men is to retrieve Spock’s body and bring them both to Vulcan. The problem is that Starfleet is retiring the Enterprise and the crew is forbidden to return to Genesis.

So Kirk and company steal the Enterprise.

The third movie is actually the middle chapter since I consider 2-4 to be a fantastic trilogy. This film introduced a new layer to Vulcan mythology and upped the ante (commit treason or let Dr. McCoy go mad).

Unfortunately, after the Enterprise is stolen and goes to warp outside Starbase, the story drags until Spock walks down the stairs, fully restored (with the exception of watching the Enterprise self-destruct). Even when Kirk’s son, David, is murdered and Kirk falls to the ground in stunned grief I can’t help but think he’s only known his son a few months maybe and he’s only had a total of about a half hour of screen time. David spent most of the previous movie at odds with Kirk and only spoke briefly to him in this movie. I don’t know how fandom in general looks at his death but as a character, he was expendable and his death made me yawn. It was the way that Kirk reacted to the death that made any impact.

Still, that first half hour of the crew decompressing before deciding to steal the ship was so unexpected and well-written. The moment when Kirk’s preparing to go to warp and the captain of the Excelsior says, “Kirk, if you do this you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again” and the look on Kirk’s face of sadness mixed with resolve still gives me goose bumps.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Senator Palpatine consolidates enough political power to form the Empire, orders the clone troops to kill all the Jedi, turns Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, and begins construction on the Death Star. Oh, and Luke and Leia are born.

This is the most intense, exciting chapter of the prequels and the action moves fast and leaves behind the largest body count of any other Star Wars movie (I know Alderaan was destroyed in a New Hope but I didn’t know anyone on the surface, so I wasn’t affected by its destruction.). It also serves as a reminder that a scared people who demand protection usually wind up giving too much of their own power to someone who uses that power to oppress them.

The last 15 minutes patches up all of the holes I saw in the original trilogy. The Emperor tells Darth Vader that he killed Padme and R2-D2 & C-3P0’s memories are wiped. This explains why C-3P0 didn’t blab to Luke that he was built by another Skywalker and why Darth Vader didn’t look for Luke or Leia.


When it comes down to it, both movies were good with solid storytelling (even if it didn’t always resonate with me) and special effects. But when I really pare it down, I think of the first half-hour of Star Trek 3 and the last half-hour of Star Wars 3.

The first half of Star Trek 3 is the best example of what Star Trek is: loyalty over duty. But the last half hour of Star Wars 3 has Yoda hanging out with Chewbacca, the birth of Luke and Leia, and the creation of one of sci-fi’s most feared villains, Darth Vader. And it ended on that iconic image of Owen and Beru on that familiar sand dune looking at the suns. It’s the same position we met Luke Skywalker in almost thirty years before.

For showing us what happened right before the events of A New Hope, Star Wars 3 wins this round. I know all the stuff at the end was meant to trigger goosebumps and nostalgia and does nothing to sooth all of the irritation of the first two movies, but the last half hour is my first glimpse of characters I fell in love with as a kid (except for Darth Vader who starred in a few of my nightmares…Hey, I was 4 when I saw that first film.

Star Trek: 1
Star Wars: 2

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Amber Benson and I – The story of a Buffy Junkie’s First Fix

Last month, March 10, I went to Mysterious Galaxy here in San Diego for the Amber Benson signing of her fourth Calliope Reaper-Jones novel, “How To Be Death.” I was inside Mysterious Galaxy, reflecting on how it was Amber Benson who got me hooked on Buffy a year after it went off the air. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, almost ten years since I gave it a shot, is still the best series I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen and own quite a few complete TV show runs). The characters continue to generate a lot of excitement thanks to ‘Buffy Season Nine’ and the ‘Angel & Faith’ series from Dark Horse.

So how did Amber Benson get me hooked?

I went to the first (and only) Buffyfest in San Diego, October 11, 2003. It was a celebration of all things Buffy and had a lot of great guests. It had only been 5 months since the series finale and Angel Season 5 had just begun.

I wasn’t a fan so what was I doing there?

My friend was a stuntman at Stu Segal Studios here in San Diego. He got a call a few days before the event from the coordinators asking for someone to perform a few short stunt shows for Buffyfest around the convention center and then do a Q&A and workshop. He wouldn’t be paid as the entire event was for charity. I remember there were a few bottles that represented charities and with every ticket purchased you got a number of colored stones and you distributed your stones among the charities – the event was non-profit.

He agreed but worried about assembling a team on short notice that would be okay with working for free. His team included two people who had to drive from LA to San Diego for two practices and the actual convention itself, one person who was struggling with a cold, and one person who could only show up for the last half of the convention because she had an acting gig that morning.

I’m not, and never have been, a stunt performer. I agreed to go as a photographer/gopher.

The team he assembled was great but they didn’t really know each other well and only had my friend in common. With all the obstacles and short rehearsals and short notice, he feared that a few of them could drop out or no-show at the event.

Everyone showed up. It was all those years ago and I still think of that group fondly – they were committed and positive and happy to be there.

Now, looking back I have to laugh. When the team set up their shows and performed them spontaneously around the hall, they (and I) only knew that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was about a girl who killed vampires. Knowing at least that, you’d think the shows would feature a girl killing vampires. Instead it featured three guys going around and attacking a few girls and guys in overly theatrical white vampire makeup (straight out of a 50’s movie). One of the team was a double leg amputee so when a vampire ‘broke his leg’ it looked real – that made a few onlookers gasp.

Sarah Hagan attended the stunt Q&A with her parents and little sister, Katie. Sarah and Katie were some of the people who volunteered and participated in the workshop portion. My friend had no idea who Sarah was and when he asked for her name, the audience laughed (I only knew who she was because I saw her signing earlier that day).

As someone with access to the areas the celebrities frequented, I had pretty casual encounters with most of the guests (strictly “Hi, how’s it going?” small talk).

Then I met Amber Benson.

While the majority of the celebs were in one room, Amber was a surprise guest and the coordinators set up a table in the dealer’s room for her where she was selling copies of Chance. When she got there, the majority of people attending were in a Q&A or other signing so it was just us on the stunt team and there were professional photographers taking pictures of her. The girls on the stunt team wanted to get pictures with her and Amber was very obliging. The team took turns and I took pictures of them with Amber.

My friend asked me if I wanted a picture with her and I refused. I didn’t know who she was. The stunt team didn’t know who she was either but looked at the convention as a gig and wanted pix with all the people they ‘worked’ with.

Then we talked to Amber for a while about Chance – mostly small talk. At one point, someone admitted that we hadn’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber told us it was a great show and that we should check it out on Netflix.

I don’t remember having any direct interaction with Amber herself but that one suggestion would start me on the path to Buffy-fever (Buffy-itis? Buffy-madness?).

Buffyfest was one of the best days of my life at the time and it wasn’t because it introduced me to Buffy or because I met Amber Benson. I had a lot of fun hanging out with the stunt team and after the convention I called a girl I’d met a few days before and asked her out (that resulted in a relationship that didn’t last long but ended amicably and was amazing while it lasted).

It would take a few months after Buffyfest but I thought about the fans and how excited they were and how cool Amber and the other celebs were. I ordered the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and watched it.

It was a fun show. There wasn’t much to it – girl fights vampires with the help of her friends. Then came the final episode of the first season. There was that amazing moment where Buffy finds out about the prophecy and flips out, crying, telling Angel and Giles that she isn’t ready to die. I was crying. Somewhere in the first season I’d started caring about these characters.

I was hooked.

I watched season after season. At the time I think only the first five seasons were out. Back then TV shows were just being put on DVD – not like it is today where seasons of shows appear a few months after the season finales. I had to wait a few months for season six and a few more months before season seven came out. Once I got to ‘Chosen’ it took about a week before I could watch it, worried that it wouldn’t live up to the series (it did).

In the meantime I kept myself busy watching Angel seasons. Even though I hadn’t seen the beginning of season 5 at the time, I was a fan in time to see Angel’s final three episodes.

I saw Amber at the following Comic Con. She was signing promo cards for Inkworks’ “Women of Sunnydale” cards and signing photos. She was the first Buffy actress I got an autograph from and I got in line to see her every day she was there. I think I got one signed promo card, bought two photos, and a copy of Chance (it was a long time ago so I’m not positive).

Not a year before, I had refused getting a picture with her and now here I was – a huge fan of her work and the show that she’d been such a huge part of. And she was just as sweet at the Con as she was when I saw her at Buffyfest.

As a fan, Amber has created a lot of things I’ve gotten to enjoy besides Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber has written, produced, directed, and starred in her own films, written books with Christopher Golden, written short stories for comic books, and started writing her own line of novels.

I went to the San Diego Independent Music Festival to see Amber introduce “Lovers, Liars, and Lunatics.” She was signing afterward but I didn’t have anything handy to sign so I skipped it. Hey, I got to see Amber introduce a movie she wrote, produced, directed, and starred in and watched the film on a big screen – what more could I want? She always working on a film or story so there’s always something to look forward to.

I’ve only been to a few of Amber’s many signings at the San Diego Mysterious Galaxy to promote her novels. Each time she’s come, Amber was friendly and outgoing and took time to talk to each of her fans as they came up to get their books signed. And she was great during the Q&A portion that preceded it.

Amber Benson has meant a lot to me as a fan. I haven’t had the guts to say anything to her the many times I’ve seen her. Maybe she’ll read this blog? You never know.
Amber Benson and Speedball - 3/10/2012