Dungeon Crawls In Space Are More Fun To Play Than Read

Blackstone Fortress is a tie-in novel. OK, all Warhammer 40,000 novels are tie-in novels by definition, but some are more tie-in novels than others. Whereas many pieces of Warhammer 40,000 fiction take inspiration from the game universe and its various sources of lore, Blackstone Fortress by Darius Hinks is intentionally crafted to coincide with the release of a specific Games Workshop product.

The product in question is Warhammer Quest: Blackstone FortressWarhammer Quest, back in the day, was a sort of followup to the classic HeroQuest boardgames which had such memorable TV advertsHeroQuest itself was Games Workshop’s take on the “dungeon crawl” subcategory of boardgame, which for a long time HeroQuest was the most famed and widely-played example of until it fell out of print, Warhammer Quest superseded it and then also fell out of print, and then new games in the same vein like Descent or Gloomhaven and the like arose to fill the vacuum.

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Rogue One, You’re an Odd One

As much as I liked Solo, that doesn’t seem to have been reflected by the market’s reception of it. I’m inclined to blame three things:

  1. The bizarre decision to not really market it to anywhere near the extent any other Star Wars movie had been promoted.
  2. The especially bizarre decision to yank its release forward to the spring after The Last Jedi came out, rather than putting it in the Star Wars-shaped gap in the release schedule this past December.
  3. The incredibly weird decision to make the protagonist an unshaven straight white dude, because everyone knows that movies about such niche minorities just don’t cut it at the box office.

Either way, Solo‘s stumble has meant that Disney’s given second thoughts to just how much appetite there is for spin-off Star Wars movies, and decided to put a whole swathe of other movies on ice – primarily projects which, liked the proposed Boba Fett and Obi-Wan movies, existed to follow the Rogue One/Solo path of telling some story that the existing canon had hinted at but not already covered.

That’s probably for the best when it comes to the long-term health of the franchise. Ultimately, fiddling about in the shadow of the original trilogy is going to yield diminishing returns; for the purposes of shepherding Star Wars into the future, it’s probably more sensible to look at ways of expanding the boundaries of what Star Wars is about whilst still making it feel distinctly Star Wars. It’s notable that Rian Johnson’s proposed new trilogy – which is explicitly meant to tell a whole new story separate from the arc of Episodes I-IX – was one of the projects which escaped the axe after Solo‘s release, and I suspect that’s for precisely this reason.

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The Decanonised Clones

Once upon a time, in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas got Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls fame to produce a fun little cartoon series chronicling the events of the Clone Wars that unfolds between those two movies. The series was well-loved, which meant that Lucas had to jump on the bandwagon with a followup/retelling in horrible CGI (including a tie-in movie that everyone’s been glad to forget exists), and naturally whilst the awesome Tartakovsky Clone Wars animated series has been declared not-canon by Disney, the Lucas-helmed CGI’d The Clone Wars TV series has been endorsed as canon. I guess Disney either are contracturally forbidden from declaring certain things not-canon, or simply lack the spine to say “No, Lucas made a mistake, this thing he made is not canon and this thing he didn’t make is canon”.

Still, Disney can’t make our DVDs of the Clone Wars series disappear; so, how do they hold up over a decade later?

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Star Wars Prequels: Not As Bad As I Remember

I actually don’t mind that George Lucas spruced up and modified the Star Wars prequel for the Blu-Ray releases. CGI dates poorly, after all, and the prequels are extremely reliant on it. On top of that, whereas the original trilogy was made at a time when the prospect of redoing the special effects at a later date was simply unthinkable, the prequel movies came out in the wake of the Special Editions.

Plus, of course, there’s the fact that the impact of the prequels was rather different to that of the original movies. The original Star Wars changed the direction of cinema and revolutionised the use of special effects; the prequel trilogy instead changed the direction of fandom, and not in an especially positive way. Cast members – and Lucas himself – have had to suffer enduring abuse for what the movies have wrought.

This is largely undeserved. Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd in no way deserve the abuse that’s been rained down on them for their roles as Jar Jar Binks or baby Anakin, for instance; it’s pretty evident from most behind-the-scenes featurettes and stories that George Lucas was wholly in control of the production process and was the final decision maker, so if the blame lies anywhere it’s with George.

At the same time, there comes a point where piling on George becomes tiresome in its own way. Sure, there’s aspects of the movies which are unconscionable and which he richly deserves to be called out for; the reliance of The Phantom Menace on a range of crude racial stereotypes as a means of providing cheap, lazy characterisation for alien species was abhorrent at the time, and only feels more and more dated and disturbing as time goes by. There’s really no debate needed on that – if you can’t see that the Trade Federation are based on thinly-veiled stereotypes about Japanese business culture, or that Watto draws on cartoonish antisemitism, I’m not sure what I can say at this stage to persuade you.

However, two of the three prequel movies are perfectly cromulent family entertainment – not excellent, often not even good, but functional at what they do. The remaining one is an utter mess, but still, overhyping how bad the prequels are does everyone a disservice: it lets the really unforgivable errors and mistakes off the hook whilst casting aside the redeemable bits.

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Star Wars As I Remember It

This is the first year in a while when we haven’t had a big Star Wars release around Christmas, Disney deciding to unleash Solo on us early – the combination of botched promotional marketing and market oversaturation killing off a range of the spin-off movies they were planning on doing. I’d already tended to associate Star Wars movies with Christmas anyway, since I recall seeing the original trilogy on television when I was little at around that time (thankfully the Star Wars Christmas Special didn’t make it across the Atlantic), so to fill the gap I thought I’d rewatch the movies and share my thoughts on the rewatch here.

For this first article, I decided to finally get around to acquiring Harmy’s “despecialised editions” of the original trilogy. These fan edits by a team headed by Petr Harmáček are about as close as you can get to Blu-Ray-quality versions of the original theatrical releases of the movies. The desultory 2006 releases of the original cuts – sourced from Laserdiscs and not even presented in anamorphic widescreen – felt like adding insult to injury to many fans offended by the tweaks made to the Special Editions, and Harmy is famously the one who stepped up and, using a range of sources, produced fan edits showing just how good the movies could look with a bit of effort. Subsequent incremental updates to Harmy’s editions have incorporated a range of commentary tracks, bonus features, and most significantly improvements to the main feature here and there as a result of more sources coming to light.

But is all this really necessary, and even if it were, is it equally necessary for each film in the original trilogy? Let’s dive in and consider that.

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He Was Turned To Steel, In a Yaoi Magnetic Field…

The Tetsuo movies by Shinya Tsukamoto get mentioned whenever you look at the Japanese cyberpunk genre. “Japanese cyberpunk” is simultaneously a very apt and a very misleading term; on the one hand, it does touch on a whole heap of the same themes as the rest of cyberpunk, but on the other it does so with such a different and idiosyncratic approach that sometimes those links aren’t so apparent. That’s especially true of the Tetsuo material, where Tsukamoto has this regular habit of slowing the plot down to an absolute crawl so he can communicate a particular idea in excruciating detail, usually by throwing in a surreal sequence comes across more as an Einstürzende Neubauten music video than an attempt at conventional cinematic narrative.

This is especially true of the first one, Tetsuo: The Iron Man. It wears its Eraserhead influence on its sleeve and it’s widely seen as being similarly plotless, but I actually think the plot here is much more straightforward than Eraserhead – it’s just that the plot is sufficiently thin that if it weren’t for the highly unusual manner of its delivery, the movie would be done in 10 minutes (and as it stands it barely breaks an hour in running time).

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 2: The Truth Shall Set Robots Free

The story so far: David Icke, at a point in his career when his undeniable public speaking skills and widespread national fame could have helped him make the Green Party a major force in UK politics, instead casts that all aside, declares that he is a Son of the Godhead, parades himself and his (briefly polyamorous) family around in turquoise tracksuits, makes an ass of himself in a string of media interviews and attempts to fix the energy matrix of Earth.

A media shitstorm predictably ensues; what also ensues is a persistent failure of Icke’s various prophecies to come to pass, save for a few on the “broken clock’s right twice a day” principle. Icke becomes a national laughing stock. His polyamorous arrangement crumbles, with his ex-partner taking her story to the tabloids and Icke writing a mean-spirited hit piece on her in his autobiography. The radical transformation of the world Icke promised stubbornly refuses to manifest.

Lesser minds than Icke’s would, under such circumstances, come to the conclusion that they may have made some poor decisions. Icke, however, is wise enough to know why it’s all gone so badly wrong.

It’s all the fault of the dastardly Illuminati.

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