Tag: robots

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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This scene might sum up the essence of Star Wars: The Clone Wars for me, the soon-to-be seven seasons of galactic goodness depicting the events between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It’s not from one of the greatest episodes, not even one in any form essential to the overarching plot. (None of them are. That’s part of the magic!) But it captures the colourful abundance and diversity of Star Wars, the light-hearted, sense-of-wonder-tickling approach The Clone Wars takes to its somber themes.

Ahsoka TanoAnd trust me, The Clone Wars is heavy stuff, especially for a show aimed at a younger audience. We all know what happens to hotshot hero Anakin Skywalker, and to those many, many Jedi and their faithful clone regiments. One of the great accomplishments of The Clone Wars is its exploration of the tragedy in the making, a tragedy that never worked in RotS on screen (the novelization by Matthew Stover does a much better job): a war lost from the beginning, an order of old not able to adapt as an institution (although filled with well-meaning, clever individuals), a fine hero slowly descending into darkness with no one to stop him, an army of misused men disconnected from the society they are defending, only to be utterly betrayed in the end.

I heard the words “Clone Wars” for the first time in 1977 Star Wars, and a whole range of exciting possibilities popped up in my mind then. When it turned out to be endless rows of Jango Fetts taking it out on endless rows of droids in AotC, it was a whole platter of meh with a dash of disillusion. Enter The Clone Wars: boy, did it deliver on the promise of a sweeping, epic conflict!

The first season isn’t quite there yet, though. And even later, the villains are often at their most cackling villainy, the droids are mostly walking, clanking jokes, and I can tell you I had a bad feeling about some overused one-liners. But the show finds its stride, evolving into multi-episode story-arcs and displaying a broad range of themes and genres – some episodes are pure fun and wonderful weirdness, some are super serious war narratives, or force mysticism fables, or games of political intrigue, or they pay homage to cinematic moments from Jaws to The Seven Samurai. Not all the things director Dave Filoni and his writing team experimented with were right up my alley, but I found something to like in most of the 121 episodes – even the ones featuring *gasp* Gungans!

Great, it’s gonna be another one of those planets.
– Clone pilot Warthog

The plots are not overly complex. You’ll often know how a story will go, because it’s just a Star Wars spin on something you’ll recognize. But there are twists and turns and a lot of fun along the way. Character development is always on spot and features awesome original characters like Jedi Padawan Ahsoka, Clones in many different flavors, Sith assassin Ventress, and a bunch of colorful bounty hunters. There’s a whole parade of well-written female characters, and there’s even a nice diverse subtext in this galaxy teeming with aliens of all shapes and sizes. Take the Aleena from “another one of those planets”: they are seen at various times as background characters, and while they look like a bad ringtone ad from the 90s, apart from tribal warriors on flying mantis mounts, they can also be drunken ladies on Coruscant, traveling artists, or even Jedi.

Fauna of Wasskah, Star Wars

Then again, I’m not among those who get annoyed by “those planets”. I grew up on the Ewoks animated series, after all.

The Jedi, by the way, are not exactly the good guys, not as a whole. The Clone Wars introduces a lot of greys to the Star Wars moral landscape; you could even say it drops the good-vs-evil premise completely as the war muddies all moral absolutes very effectively. Some story-arcs feature a surprisingly strong anti-war message, and the clones are the perfect stand-ins for the dehumanizing and deindividualizing nature of war.

Apart from that, The Clone Wars greedily gobbles up everything that was in the SW universe up till then, while adding a lot more, without neglecting to keep the audience grounded with a sense of place and coherence in the galaxy far, far away (looking accusingly at you, Disney era Star Wars!)

The background details (advertisments, graffiti etc.) are beyond awesome!

As this was the last major contribution to the Star Wars canon with George Lucas at the helm of Lucasfilm, these were the stories he wanted to tell, and they show he still knew how to spin a yarn, with Dave Filoni & Co. doing the heavy-lifting to make this serialized approach to the epic formula shine. You can clearly see how much thought and love went into the details, into the animation, and into the development of an awe-inspiring number of narrative strands weaving in and out of the main storyline about the fall of the Republic and the Jedi.

The Clone Wars is notoriously told non-chronologically (but it might be a good idea to watch it in the correct order). Somehow, it works anyway as an episodic war narrative at dozens of locations, coming together to form an extensive mosaic of worlds, characters, factions, and action. It manages to walk the thin line between rollicking pulp adventure and drama with admirable grace. This is Star Wars at its best, in a galaxy brimming with strange life, with its animation ever more beautiful, and its punches aimed at your guts ever more violent. Most violent, perhaps, when you realize the show was canceled in favor of Rebels without tying up even one of its numerous loose ends. I’m hyped for the revival, of course, but twelve new episodes seem awfully short to finish the stories I’d be interested in.

Even unfinished, The Clone Wars is worth watching. Are you a jaded Star Wars fan who wants to fall in love anew? Or do you adore all the movies and want more? The Clone Wars has got you covered. Give some love to the clones! Give some love to Ahsoka Tano (naturally)! Maybe even give a little bit of love to Anakin Skywalker!
Reconcile with the prequel era, you want. Search your feelings.
Embo on Scipio, Star Wars

Sunday Story Time: The Secret Life of Bots

With the Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer, I came for the title and had my eyes glued to the screen from the moment Bot 9 is activated and given a (rather domestic) job on a starship with a (rather crucial) mission. It is a beautiful, fun, and fast-paced story you don’t want to miss if you have ever suspected appliances might have feelings, too.

While exploring the diversified bot population of the ship (always operating within well-defined parameters), Suzanne Palmer keeps you grounded: Familiar space opera/military sf tropes are used as a mere backdrop … until they aren’t.

You can follow the adventures of amiable busy-bot 9 on Clarkesworld #132 (also podcasted). And don’t forget to put Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers soundtrack to good use for the finale of this stellar story!

Small Crush: All Systems Red (Martha Wells)

Murderbot does what it says on the tin (although it doesn’t say ‘Murderbot’ on its tin, it says SecUnit, and Murderbot is just the not-so-ironic nom de guerre it chose for itself): It’s a bot intimidatingly apt at deploying the array of weapons at its disposal. Murderbot is also pretending to be a normal android slave, even though it has attained free will. And it’s addicted to binge-watching a cheesy show called Sanctuary Moon.

If this isn’t the stuff good stories are made of, I don’t know what is.

All Systems Red by Martha WellsMartha Wells has been a staple of my reading life and a long-time favorite of mine. Somehow I had filed her mostly as a fantasy author, although her fantasy novels often include SF elements such as lost technology or steampunk contraptions. All Systems Red is fully-fledged SF, with strong characterization and a fascinating style and POV. Murderbot tells us of its own adventures, and it speaks to the part of us that is withdrawn, socially awkward and needs its alone time (a lot of it, actually).

All Systems Red is written with all the thoughtfulness and empathy of a truly modern SF tale and fits in with other feel-good SF adventures of our time – we join a diverse group of scientists on a planet survey, and they simply like each other and are nice people. And while the plot revolves around something less nice harassing Murderbot’s clients (leading to some biting commentary on capitalism, which turns its deadly side on the protagonists, too), the inner struggle of Murderbot is far more important.

It is a story about truly accepting free will in another – maybe odd – life form, with all consequences. Good intentions may not be good enough, and changing attitudes is always a struggle on both sides. I loved how these themes are tackled in All Systems Red. It comes with a solid adventure story, not too complicated, because it is a novella you can read in one sitting, and features some shiny nuggets of worldbuilding (hey, it’s Martha Wells; she’s a master worldbuilder).

All Systems Red is framed as The Murderbot Diaries 1, and I’m already waiting for the next installment like it was an unwatched episode of Sanctuary Moon.

Small Crush: Sleeping Giants (Sylvain Neuvel)

I have a confession to make: I am no giant robots girl. Robots are cool, sure. The Iron Giant is fine, too. But show me Transformers or Gundam style piloted vehicles, and I’m mostly out. So why on earth was I intrigued by a novel evolving around the idea of mankind stumbling upon giant robot parts buried deep in the earth for millennia?

I guess it was the premise to treat these unwieldy and, for me, inefficient huge heaps of metal as a real thing. In the beginning of Sylvain Neuvels debut novel Sleeping Giants, they are exactly what I imagine them to be: weird, giant metal pieces lying around, and nobody knows what to make of them and what to do with them. Nobody knows that they exist, to be exact, because giant body parts emerging from the earth all of a sudden are a top secret thing, of course. And this is the other feature to guarantee a fascinating read: You are let in on a secret. You’re allowed to snoop on the classified files of the giant robot dossier, and that’s what you get to read – interviews, surveillance data, secret reports, and so on. Sleeping Giants is not the first book to do this (World War Z comes to mind, among others), but as much as you have to fill in the blanks and put together the bits and pieces of information, Sleeping Giants has a narrator, kind of: the one who collects the files, a shadowy figure you know nothing about, who conducts interviews, controls and manipulates the events. He (or she?) stays completely opaque, so you’ll gobble up every little bit of (indirect) information about them.

Sleeping GiantsThis “narrator” gathers personnel (recruited from military and science) to study the giant robot parts. Their findings seem to defy everything we know about history and science. It’s the biggest top secret discovery on Earth. Yet people … are people. The protagonists are fascinating, flawed characters, real persons in the face of robot perfection. So real, in fact, that their drama seemed a little bit over the top to me in places, given the surroundings and events of the story. On the other hand, all those boiling emotions are able to close the distance created by the dossier style of Sleeping Giants. Simultaneously, global drama unfolds, and there’s still a whole bunch of questions about those robot pieces.

I don’t know if I like the direction the story is going in the end, but Sleeping Giants kept my eyes glued to the pages, that’s for sure, and Sylvain Neuvel knows a thing or two about the art of suspense and cliffhangers. And while I’m still no giant robots girl, I really liked all the giant robot(s) girls portrayed in this book.

Sunday Story Time: The Last Bastion

It’s time again for some story magic! This week, one of the animated short films accompanying Blizzard’s Overwatch came to my mind.
Of course you’ll already know Bastion, Overwatch‘s endearing killing machine, if you’re among the more than 25 million players. But even if you’ve never heard about the game, The Last Bastion will charm you. It is a self-contained, exquisitely beautiful film, evocative of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterworks with its overall themes and its lush green nature.

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Enjoy, or watch it here on YouTube, and keep in mind: Overwatch the game is a completely different kind of fun (if you consider playing it right after having watched The Last Bastion …)