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Alasdair Stuart

Beyond Han and Chewie: Cassian Andor, Sacrifice, and Redemption

Even two months after the movie’s initial release, I’m still ruminating on the fact that there is more to every lead character in Rogue One than the script (which can be a bit cursory) might make you think: Jyn and Bodhi are the spiritual architects of the Rebel Alliance as we know it. Baze and Chirrut, besides being the best Gay Space Dads Ever, embody the fundamental faith and code of honour that the Empire can never destroy. And Cassian and K2S0 embody the redemption inherent in resistance (as well as being the closest the movie gets to giving us a Han and Chewie dynamic).

Given the events of act three of The Force Awakens and of A New Hope itself, a Han analogue was always going to be part of Rogue One. This is the universe of the Star Wars movies at their most lawless and fluid: the Empire closing its fist around the worlds of the Old Republic while scoundrels, thieves, and gangsters take what they can from the rapidly shrinking territory still left. That’s what makes Han’s journey through the original movie so compelling—he willingly and heroically sacrifices his own freedom and, potentially, his life, for something bigger than he is. Plus he looks awesome doing it.

[But Cassian is much more than just a Han Solo analogue…]

Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour Series: Delectable, Delightfully Deranged Urban Fantasy

Here’s the thing; every monster story is true. Vampires? Goblins? Werewolves? The weird gnarly stuff made entirely out of teeth that no one’s survived meeting long enough to write a TV series about? ALL OF THEM. All here, all right under our noses. Next to us on the subway. Ordering coffee ahead of us in Starbucks. Laughing too loudly at the new Resident Evil movie.

The obvious choice to take in a situation like this is to tell the story of the department that deals with all of these monsters. There’s a reason the Men in Black keep coming back after all, even if they won’t let you remember. There are a million stories in the urban fantasy city, and almost all of them involve how difficult it is being a monster, or a cop who investigates monsters, or a monster cop.

Enter Matt Wallace, stage left, with the world’s most badass collection of culinary professionals behind him.

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Everything About The LEGO Batman Movie Is Awesome

You really should go see The LEGO Batman Movie if you can—not just because a lot of us really need some escapism right now, but because it’s one of the best Batman movies ever made.

Seriously. This, the 1966 Adam West-fronted Batman, the 1989 Tim Burton movie, and 2005’s Batman Begins are the ones to beat…and I’d rate LEGO Batman over two of those in a heartbeat. Not only is it endlessly funny (the jokes start before the picture does), but it’s extremely clever, draws from a bottomless well of Batman lore, and is genuinely sweet.

Oh and also? Best Barbara Gordon EVER.

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From Alice to Zombies: Rewatching the Resident Evil Movies

The Resident Evil series is currently taking its final gore-soaked-slow motion-wirework-Kung fu bow. It’s quietly one of the oddest franchise success stories in horror, not least because it’s a six-movie series with a female lead in a genre where women still tend to appear either as victims or scenery with dialogue. But the franchise is also notable because of its odd relationship with its subject matter, its total inability to back away from a bad stunt, and for just how grim the films are.

To prepare for one last trip to the Hive, I pre-gamed the first five movies. Here’s what’s I found.

(Warning: Spoilers for all five previous Resident Evil films below.)

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The Moral Compass of Battlestar Galactica: Remembering Richard Hatch

One of my earliest science fiction memories is the battered and well-loved VHS of the Battlestar Galactica movie that sat in our local video store. It was unlike anything I’d seen before: massive and epic and grim. The music was great, the ships were incredibly awesome and, occasionally, there were colossal space ants. I watched it over and over and, when the TV show hit the repeat circuit in the UK I did the same thing with that.

Starbuck was the coolest, of course, but other members of the cast held my attention, too—not the least of which was Apollo, played by Richard Hatch. He was dutiful and calm, the straight man to every single one of Starbuck’s jokes but, despite that, he held your gaze. It took me a while to figure out why, but when I did it was clear as day…

He was a good guy. A man of principle and honour and compassion in a universe that had precious little use for any of those things.

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It’s Time for Doctor Who to Change Television History for the Better

Peter Capaldi is leaving Doctor Who. The charmingly disreputable aging punk incarnation of the Doctor he has played to perfection will, odds are, take his final bow in the 2017 Christmas special.

I’m sad to see him go. Capaldi’s intense, supremely laconic, and savagely kind Doctor has been epochal in a way few incarnations manage. He’s been genuinely alien, genuinely odd, and sinister at times in a way that the show has had great fun with. That early scene with Clara—the “…am I a good man?” scene—is still one of the all-time modern classic moments, as is the stacked revelations and monologue at the end of the recent Zygon two-parter. He is, categorically, a good man—but one whose self-knowledge, and whose own instincts, have gotten in his way as much as helped him. This Doctor is an elder statesman of a Time Lord, sure, but one with shades, a guitar, and a burning need to analyse problems to death.

I’m also sad to see him go because the show is currently at what might be the most important junction of its existence: the biggest choice in Doctor Who‘s history is coming down the line, and it would be so very simple for the show to make, if not the wrong choice, then certainly the easy one.

It’s past time for the Doctor to not be white, not be male, or perhaps not be either.

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Can James Cameron Save the Terminator Saga by Ending It?

There’s no real way to open a discussion of this week’s Terminator news other than: well, he DID say he’d be back. Mired in the pre-production for his incredibly ambitious, possibly wanted, filmed two-at-once Avatar sequel quadrilogy, James Cameron is reportedly looking to return to the Terminator franchise. Deadline reports that the rights revert back to Cameron in two years, and when they do, he will oversee both a reboot and conclusion to the series with Tim Miller of Deadpool in early talks to direct.

There’s a lot to digest here so let’s take this one step at a time.

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Jyn Erso, Bodhi Rook, and the True Birth of the Rebel Alliance

Rogue One is possibly the most thematically chewy Star Wars movie so far. Whether you loved it, hated it, liked it but thought it needed fixing, or are simply pining for a prequel starring the best Gay Asian Space Uncles EVER, there’s a lot to digest. What I found most interesting, though, was the way that two characters can be seen as responsible for shaping not only the tactics of the Rebellion, but its entire character—as well as the price they paid for doing so.

[“It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.”]

Remembering George Michael: Pop Icon and Possible DC Deity

I have two George Michael stories. One is personal, while the other possibly confirms his existence as the deity of the DC TV universe. We’ll get to that one in a second.

My first long-term job was as the assistant manager of a comic shop. We had a staff of two. The other was the manager. So I basically spent seven years straight out of University living inside an extended episode of Spaced. It was, for the most part, lovely. If you were going to work in 20th century comics, the end of the century was pretty much the time to do it. Web magazines like Savant and Ninth Art were firing up and the industry had figured out that actual books were an actual thing people actually bought and they should maybe look at that. A huge number of the creatives working at the top of the field now, names like Warren Ellis, Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Amanda Conner, and Marjane Satrapi were all starting to come to the fore at that time, too.

So I worked retail, I wrote for and briefly edited one of the news sites and even had some immensely small press comics published. My creative horizons expanded massively and I credit a lot of my positive, open-minded approach to that time.

[A personal tribute to George Michael: artist, philanthropist, and potential deity…]

Fascinating and Confounding: Netlix’s The OA

In UFO Reality in 1983, British UFOlogist Jenny Randles coined the term ‘The Oz Factor’:

“…a sensation of being isolated, or transported from the real world into a different environmental framework…”

The Oz Factor was the first thing I thought of watching The OA, the first in a flotilla of vastly different and very good science fiction shows that arrived on Netflix just before Christmas. The OA is far and away the most obtuse of all of them but it’s also, I’d argue, the most rewarding.

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Authors, Texts, and Shifts in Meaning: The Storytelling of Westworld

HBO’s Westworld‘s had a strong opening year, with the series simultaneously honoring the original movie and transcending it to launch a flotilla of stories that all tied together in one of the most satisfying season finales in a long time. It felt for all the world like Battlestar Galactica at its best. There’s the same willingness to do the seemingly impossible, the same ever-heightening sense of imminent doom, and the same fascination with musical composition as a means of driving visual drama.

The show won’t be back until 2018, and if Season 2 needs that long to be this good? So be it. I’m already looking forward to seeing how this brutal, sometimes compassionate, often horrifying singularity plays out. There’s improvements to be made too, and Katharine Trendacosta over at io9 has a really good breakdown of what the show needs to do in its second season.

For my part though, I keep thinking about how both Westworld, the series, and Westworld, as it exists within the show, map onto one of the major conversations genre has been having with itself for a while now: namely, the interaction between reader, writer, and text—and how that relates to my other day job, tabletop RPG design.

[Today…we escape…we escape…]

Mad World Revisited: Donnie Darko Turns 15

Donnie Darko, the film, is now almost as old as its titular leading character. While the years hang very heavily on his shoulders, they’re sitting very lightly on the movie. Rereleased this week to mark its 15th anniversary, Donnie Darko is a haunting puzzle box of a film that rewards repeated viewings. Especially now, as we sit in a liminal space that’s very similar to the one which surrounds the Darko family. They are trapped in the run-up to an election, a period where nothing quite happens. We’re trapped in the aftermath of one, in the closing weeks of a year that has been difficult in almost every way imaginable. Donnie’s disbelief at his world and his bone-numbing fatigue in the face of how hard everything is has always been familiar, but it’s rarely felt more relevant than it does now.

[“Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion…”]

Unpacking the Possibilities for the Kingkiller Chronicles with Lin-Manuel Miranda

When the votes are counted and the final tallies made, there’s at least one person who has had a definitively, unequivocally good 2016; Lin-Manuel Miranda. In addition to Hamilton’s massive success, there’s the small matter of the album and mixtape both being massive hits, the show’s expansion into other cities, his role in the upcoming Mary Poppins II, and his excellent work on the soundtrack to Moana.

Oh… and now he’s adding The Kingkiller Chronicles to his impressive CV.

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Ghosts of Science Fiction’s Past, New Heroes for the Future: Rewatching Interstellar

If there’s one thing that sets Contact apart from its fellow big idea tent-pole movies, it’s pragmatism. As discussed in a previous essay, Contact is a grounded, smart look at one of the biggest events in human history. It takes its time to do this from multiple angles and goes to great pains to contextualise, if not excuse, each one of those viewpoints.

By contrast, Interstellar is far more seat-of-the-pants in style, throwing huge concepts at the screen with the chilly abandon its director, Christopher Nolan, is known for. That impulsive approach is the cause of a lot of the movie’s problems but it also defines everything from Coop’s emotional trajectory to the ultimate resolution of the movie itself.

[Let’s rewatch]