Open Channel: Let’s Celebrate This Guy’s 77th Birthday

Today is George Lucas’ birthday, seen here with Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner and some guy in a black suit.

Today is George Lucas’ birthday, seen here with Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner and some guy in a black suit.
Photo: Lucasfilm/StarWars.com

Seventy-seven years ago a man was born who would release a movie in 1977 that would change the face of the world. He’d do a few other things too. That man’s name is George Lucas. Today, May 14, is his birthday, and we’ve love you all to celebrate.

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It’s almost too difficult to list all of the ways Lucas has changed the world. Star Wars, of course, is the easiest one. Nothing you think of that has happened as a result of that franchise would have happened if he didn’t create it. So Boba Fett, Baby Yoda, Han Solo, lightsabers, Mandalorians, Hera Syndulla—while he didn’t create all of those things himself, all of them are still a result of his work.

Beyond the things in the Star Wars universe, think of everything that branches off from it in the real world. Because of Star Wars, Lucas changed filmmaking with the creation of Industrial Light and Magic, a company that has gone on to create some of the most memorable effects in film and television: Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, hundreds more, all thanks to Lucas.

Take it a step from there. ILM was where a team of graphic designers branched out, were acquired by Steve Jobs, and created a company called Pixar. Pixar exists because of Lucas. Beyond even Pixar, think about all the kids who saw Star Wars and it inspired them to become filmmakers, actors, writers, whatever. I myself have frequently used my experience and passions about Star Wars to help further my career and life. So you’d probably not be reading this right now if it wasn’t for Lucas.

It goes on and on and on. So many of the toys that have been sold in the past 50 years are because of the success Lucas had merchandising Star Wars. Not just Star Wars toys—basically all licensed toys. Oh, and on top of all that, he helped create Indiana Jones and THX, and he gives millions and millions of dollars to charity.

That’s just the tip of the Star Destroyer. It’s been a good 77 years for Lucas and, below, we’d love for you to share your favorite memory of the filmmaker. Or maybe what you think first when you think of him.


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Marvel’s Star Wars Variant Cover Art Commemorates LGBTQ Pride Month

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/Lucas film

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/Lucas film
Illustration: Jacopo Camagni

Lucasfilm will honor June’s Pride Month with variant covers to remind fans that LGBTQ characters do exist in the Star Wars universe. All covers in the Marvel/Star Wars line will feature a queer character drawn by queer artists.

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Participating artist Jacopo Camagni tells Starwars.com, “As part of the community of LGBTQ+ creators — a galaxy not so far away — I am honored to be part of this project, and sketching Yrica Quell was a journey to expand that endless galaxy, on board with her as rebels against the Empire.”

The High Republic #6 cover artist Javier Garrón expressed his excitement in drawing Jedi Terec snd Ceret for Pride Month, and I wanted to draw Terec and Ceret as the powerful characters they are, filled with determination and hope. That’s what a great Jedi means to me. And representation matters.”

Now, what you’ve all been waiting for, here is some cover art!

Doctor Aphra on the cover of Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters #1, by artist Babs Tarr.

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/Lucas films

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/Lucas films
Illustration: Babs Tarr

Pilot Yrica Quell on the cover of Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #13, by artist Jacopo Camagni.

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Variant Cover Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films
Illustration: Jacopo Camagni

Imperial Commander Rae Slone on the cover of Star Wars: Darth Vader #13, by artist JJ Kirby.

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Variant Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films

Variant Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films
Illustration: JJ Kirby

Jedi Twins Terec and Ceret on the cover of Star Wars: The High Republic #6, by artist Javier Garrón.

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Variant Cover Art for Marvel/Lucas film

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/Lucas film
Illustration: Javier Garrón

Bounty Hunter Sana Starros on the cover of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #11, drawn by Jan Bazaldua.

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Variant Cover Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films
Illustration: Javier Garrón

Millennium Falcon pilot Lando Calrissian on the cover of Star Wars #14, by artist Stephen Byrne.

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Variant Cover Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films

Variant Cover Art for Marvel/ Lucas Films
Illustration: Stephen Byrne

What do you think of these covers? For more information, head over to Starwars.com!

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This Week’s Toys Definitely Didn’t See This Coming

New toys of Star Trek's Captain Picard, Marvel's Quicksilver, and Star Wars: The Bad Batch

Image: EXO, Hasbro, and Lego

Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.

Welcome back to Toy Aisle, io9’s regular round up of the latest and snazziest merchandise on the internet. This week, Star Wars: The Bad Batch descends on the world of Lego, while Star Trek beams itself back up to action figures, and… no one can withstand beach balls of this magnitude!? Check it out!

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Illustration for article titled This Week's Toys Definitely Didn't See This Coming

Image: EXO-6

EXO-6 Star Trek: First Contact Captain Jean-Luc Picard Sixth-Scale Figure

Star Trek has flirted with 1:6 scale figures before, but CBS’s latest partnership with EXO has high hopes to go beyond and deliver figures from every iteration of the franchise. Things are kicking off with Jean-Luc Picard, and surprisingly, it’s not Patrick Stewart’s captain as he appeared in The Next Generationit’s his later movie uniform, specifically from First Contact. Complete with an alternate vest jacket, a phaser rifle and pistol, and open and closed tricorders, Picard also comes with various sets of hands to hold all those wonderful toys. Added bonus? The gripping hands could just as equally be used to pose him doing the real Picard maneuver: tugging his jacket down in place whenever he stood up from the Enterprise captain’s chair. Picard is set to cost $190 when he releases later this year. [Toyark]


Illustration for article titled This Week's Toys Definitely Didn't See This Coming

Image: Lego

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Lego Star Wars: The Bad Batch Attack Shuttle

Dropping just in time for the Clone Wars spin-off to hit Disney+, Lego’s new 969-piece The Bad Batch Attack Shuttle set includes the shuttle itself, two speeder bikes, a gonk droid, and minifigure versions of Tech, Hunter, Wrecker, Crosshair, and Echo—otherwise known as the bad batch of clones that didn’t turn out quite right. You can pre-order it now, but the set’s not expected to ship until August 1, well after the series will conclude its 16-episode run.

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Illustration for article titled This Week's Toys Definitely Didn't See This Coming

Image: Hiya Toys

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Hiya Toys RoboCop 2 SDCC 2021 Exclusive Robert Cop 2 Variant

Knockoff toys are a genuine problem for toymakers, but at the same time they’re also a source of much hilarity for collectors. One of the most memorable bootlegs of all time, shared across the internet millions of times, is a knockoff RocoCop 2 figure simply named “Robert Cop 2,” which, thanks to its ill-gotten fame, is almost more collectible than the real thing. So for San Diego Comic-Con 2021, Hiya Toys, who currently produces RoboCop figures, is releasing its own 3.75-inch Robert Cop 2 figure as a $20 exclusive for the convention. You’re mostly just paying for the novelty packaging, but you don’t hear us complaining.

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Illustration for article titled This Week's Toys Definitely Didn't See This Coming

Image: Amazon

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Giant Six-Foot Inflatable Star Wars Death Star Beach Ball

The real Death Star was capable of destroying entire planets, but you’ll have to set your destructive sights a little lower with this six-foot wide Death Star beach ball that can only wipe out small groups of children, sand castles, elaborate cakes, and champagne glass towers with a single toss. It’s recommended for users aged 12 and older, because anyone younger and smaller than that will simply be bowled over like Indiana Jones escaping a booby trap. Amazon lists it, but it appears to be currently sold out, so here’s hoping it will restock before the summer officially arrives.

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Illustration for article titled This Week's Toys Definitely Didn't See This Coming

Image: Hasbro

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Hasbro Marvel Avengers Age of Ultron Quicksilver Legends Series Figure

Hasbro isn’t exactly running out of characters from the Marvel universe to turn into action figures, but that hasn’t stopped it from immortalizing one of the MCU’s shortest-lived heroes in articulated plastic: Quicksilver… no, not the Quicksilver that surprised everyone during WandaVision, the other Pietro that died in Sokovia. Pre-orders for the $26.50 figure started earlier this week and despite the character being mostly forgotten in the MCU, it’s already sold out. But a lot can happen between now and its September release, and there could be more chances to pre-order one.

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Illustration for article titled This Week's Toys Definitely Didn't See This Coming

Image: Numskull

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Numskull Back To The Future 3D Desk Lamp and Wall Light

The Back to the Future trilogy might be second only to Star Wars when it comes to the number of coveted props featured in the films. Not only is the time-traveling DeLorean worth drooling over, it comes packed with other collectible gadgets, including the famed flux capacitor and the time circuits—which Numskull has recreated as a $30 desk lamp or wall lamp if you’re willing to go to the trouble of mounting it. It can be powered by a micro USB cable or three AAA batteries if you want to go cordless, and while the numbers indicating when you’re going, when you are, and when you’ve been light up, they unfortunately can’t be changed. Which is too bad because this would have made for a great alarm clock.

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Why Star Wars Fans Are Concerned About The Bad Batch and Whitewashing

The titular Bad Batch speaking with their new friend Omega.

The titular Bad Batch speaking with their new friend Omega.
Screenshot: Disney

This week a new Star Wars animated series on Disney+, The Bad Batch, re-introduced us to the last days of the Clone War and the rise of the sinister Empire. But amid the blaster fights and familiar faces, some fans have shown concern that the show’s major characters have had their skin tones adjusted, pushing them away from their roots.

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The Bad Batch stars Dee Bradley Baker, who has been the voice of Star Wars’ Clone Troopers since The Clone Wars began in 2008, as the titular Clone Force 99. First introduced in Clone Wars’ final season last year, Clone Force 99—made up of soldiers named Hunter, Wrecker, Crosshair, Tech, and former ARC Trooper Echo—is a unique special operatives task group for the Republic Army, rare “defective” members of the original base template for the clones. However, those “abnormalities” manifest in not just altered appearances compared to standard clones—derogatorily referred to in The Bad Batch as “regs”—but in enhanced abilities, like increased strength, marksmanship skills, or hyperintelligence. But with after this week’s bumper-length premiere, some fans have expressed concerns that these differences also are made clear by an altogether different factor: the color of their skin.

For those unfamiliar, every Clone Trooper—in live-action Star Wars movies and animated projects like The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and now The Bad Batch—is based on the genetic material of Mandalorian Bounty Hunter Jango Fett. He’s played by Attack of the Clones and The Mandalorian star Temuera Morrison in live-action Star Wars projects, who was born in New Zealand and is of Māori, Scottish, and Irish descent. With his recent return to Star Wars portraying Jango’s son, Boba Fett (in both The Mandalorian and the upcoming limited series The Book of Boba Fett), the actor has discussed how he wants to bring elements of his Māori cultural heritage to his portrayal of the character.

 Temuera Morrison, as he appeared as Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones and the acid-scarred Boba Fett in The Mandalorian.

Temuera Morrison, as he appeared as Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones and the acid-scarred Boba Fett in The Mandalorian.
Image: Disney

Although Morrison did not voice the animated Clone Troopers (Baker, who is white, adopts a loose, Americanized approximation of Morrison’s portrayal), their appearance in Lucasfilm’s animated projects has been based on his appearance from the get-go. Even as aesthetics have changed—The Clone Wars, in particular, underwent multiple stylistic and graphical improvements over the course of its seven-season run, stretched across 12 years—one thing that has remained relatively unchanged is that Clone Troopers all have a similar darker complexion, reflecting Morrison’s Polynesian background.

This brings us to The Bad Batch. Although some concerns about the characters’ skin color and facial structures were raised during their debut Clone Wars episodes, fan concern swelled in the run-up to the new animated series as trailers and footage were released. While The Bad Batch is a successor series to Clone Wars, its creatives—including executive producers Jennifer Corbett and Brad Rau (who are also both head writer and supervising director on the series, respectively)—have noted in press that the series has undergone refinements to its predecessor’s technological and aesthetic processes.

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Unhelmeted Clones as they appeared in the first season of Bad Batch’s predecessor series, Clone Wars.
Screenshot: Lucasfilm

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However, with those tweaks has come concern that there are visual choices that make the Bad Batch appear significantly different from the clones of Clone Wars. Each member of the squad has, to varying degrees, radically different facial structures compared to standard clones as part of their designs, but also varying tones of complexion. Some characters, like Wrecker and Hunter, trend to a darker skin tone, while characters like Crosshair and Tech—who also have significantly lightened hair colors compared to the black hair of usual clones—are presented as much lighter-skinned. Only Echo, who, as a standard clone still looks primarily like his predecessors in the Clone Wars, has undergone minor structural changes in his face. However, the character has also been largely drained of skin color, presented not as Caucasian but almost literally white. This was explained in the prior series as a result of capture and torture as a prisoner of war at the hands of Separatist forces, which involved cybernetic implants and imprisonment for several years.

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Screenshot: Lucasfilm

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Regardless of variance within the squad itself, the characters stand out particularly in contrast when put alongside the standard clones in the series premiere, “Aftermath.” Although the episode primarily takes place in locations that are brightly lit—like the planet Kaller, and the clone’s “homeworld” in the sanitized laboratories of Kamino—which plays a part in lightening character’s complexions in general, there are still notable differences between how the Bad Batch appear compared to their “reg” counterparts, and the Polynesian man who inspired all of them in the first place.

The issue is not restricted to the titular characters, either. Omega, a new female child introduced in the show (and voiced by New Zealand actress Michelle Ang), is revealed in the episode to also be a “defect” clone from the same batch as the primary characters, but in turn, her skin tone appears significantly lighter in color than standard clones, and she was given pale blonde hair. Outside of clones, a surprise appearance by young Jedi padawan Caleb Dume (who eventually goes on to be known as Kanan Jarrus, a primary character in the animated series Star Wars Rebels) in the episode’s opening has bothered many as well. Even taking into consideration the bright lighting of the scenes Caleb appears in—a newly released official promotional picture of the character for merchandise gives the child a warmer complexion—the skin tone is still considerably lighter compared to the darker complexion his adult self has in Rebels.

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Omega, an entirely new character created for Bad Batch and Caleb Dume, the younger version of Rebels’ Kanan Jarrus on the far right.

Omega, an entirely new character created for Bad Batch and Caleb Dume, the younger version of Rebels’ Kanan Jarrus on the far right.
Screenshot: Disney

All this has lead to fans concerned about the show’s visual changes—which to them can be read as at best somewhat ignorant, and, at worse, as a racist creative decision—to rally on social media. Utilizing the one-page site hoster Carrd.co to share a collection of comparison pictures and anti-racist resources created by Tumblr user CloneHub, fans troubled by the depiction of these characters have united under the hashtag #UnWhiteWashTBB, asking Lucasfilm to at least acknowledge concerns and make efforts to alter The Bad Batch’s design and aesthetic choices as the show progresses.

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Although Lucasfilm has yet to make a public statement about the reaction to the show’s, there are signs that feedback has been taken internally. A source familiar with production of The Bad Batch told io9 that in in the run-up to its premiere this week, changes to the lighting tools utilized by the animation team were made to moderate their effects in the premiere episode’s starkly-lit primary settings. Such tweaks will also be made in future episodes of the series.

Whether or not those internal changes will satisfy some fans’ concerns remains to be seen. The Bad Batch discussion comes at a time when Lucasfilm has attempted to grapple with reckonings of racism and wider issues of diversity both within Star Wars fandom and in the Star Wars media being created by the studio. In the summer of 2020, Lucasfilm made a rare public statement supporting sequel trilogy star John Boyega for participating in London-based Black Lives Matter protests. This followed the actor’s own public expression in several interviews that as a Black lead in Star Wars projects, he felt under-supported in both the arc of his character, Finn, and when it came to racist harassment and backlash he received from fans. The studio had likewise failed to take a stand against racist and sexist abuse Raya and the Last Dragon star Kelly Marie Tran received, leading to her closing her social media accounts after the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The issue was further compounded when Lucasfilm faced criticism and allegations that Tran’s character, Rose Tico, had her role drastically reduced in the final film of the trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker.

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Screenshot: Lucasfilm

However, there are finally signs of attitudes within the company slowly changing when it comes to actively addressing concerns of racism and a lack of diverse voices in leading roles. A swath of recently announced projects are either helmed by or star a more inclusive set of creatives when compared to Star Wars’ past. For example, Taika Waititi’s Star Wars film, Deborah Chow’s Obi-Wan Kenobi limited series, or the aforementioned The Book of Boba Fett, helmed by The Mandalorian’s Robert Rodriguez and starring Morrison alongside Ming-Na Wen (who’s also set to reprise her role as bounty hunter Fennec Shand in The Bad Batch). In addition, earlier this year, Lucasfilm posted an official statement on Twitter to stand by presenter Krystina Arielle, host of the company’s ongoing monthly YouTube series The High Republic Show, after she was targeted with racial and sexist abuse by prominent right-wing conservative commentators.

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Positive changes in presenting a more diverse galaxy far, far away also come with acknowledging when the studio errs in its depiction of characters of color and other diverse backgrounds, however. Time will tell how or if Lucasfilm will plan to act upon these concerns in the future, outside of potential changes to lighting on The Bad Batch and future projects. But discussion like this shows that for all the steps forward Lucasfilm has taken to broaden and expand its perception of Star Wars, both within the fiction and within its fandom, there are still many, many more steps to take.


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Star Wars Secrecy Caused Michael B. Jordan to Bomb His Force Awakens Audition

Michael B. Jordan as Eric Killmonger in Black Panther.

Michael B. Jordan as Eric Killmonger in Black Panther.
Image: Marvel Studios

Lucasfilm values its secrecy. It’s so worried about and vigilant against leaks about their upcoming Star Wars projects, they keep scripts locked away until actors come to them to audition, and lock them back up when the actors leave. It’s a process that gives actors virtually no time to prepare—which is a huge problem if it’s preventing actors like Michael B. Jordan from getting Star Wars roles.

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While promoting his new Amazon Prime movie Without Remorse, Jordan talked about he “bombed” his audition for The Force Awakens with Variety’s “Just for Variety” podcast. “I think that was probably my worst audition to date,” he said, and the reason he thinks he blew it is partially because of Lucasfilm’s obsession with secrecy. He talked about how he only received his sides—Hollywood lingo for small portions of the movie’s script (individual scenes, basically) that actors usually use to audition—after arriving at Pinewood Studios in London, which would be tough for any actor. It would be even tougher if the scene includes weird Star Wars terms like”hydrospanners” and “womp rats” that would be much harder to memorize and say with a sense of realism because they’re so unnatural.

Jordan also talked about how “super-vague” the bits of script were, which didn’t give him much to latch onto as an actor: “I think it was I couldn’t wrap my brain around some of the sides because you know when you’re reading for these high-level projects, there’s never really any specificity in the sides.” Again, if your casting system prevents you from hiring objectively phenomenal actors like Michael B. Jordan, your system is flawed. His talent was already proven back in 2012 and 2013, when The Force Awakens auditions would have taken place, in roles in The Wire and Friday Night Lights. While all the actors in the new trilogy were great, Lucasfilm’s punishing process meant that the auditions favored those who could make a mountain out of a molehill of a script at high speed and not necessarily the actor who would have been best had he been given normal scenes in a normal advance.

Again, this is because of Lucasfilm’s obsession with secrecy; they don’t want the risk of any information about the movie getting out because fans will go wild. But fans go wild over everything anyway, and writing a better scene and giving actors some time to prepare for it wouldn’t change that. Instead of using purposefully vague characters and hoping that actors guess what the role is, just write a better fake scene with characters that are adjacent enough to the intended roles to give actors something to work with. Or, just have the screenwriters do a couple of extra scenes in the script that are intended solely for these auditions. Would have it diluted anyone’s enjoyment of The Force Awakens to learn that a Rebel pilot named Poe Dameron was going to be in the film a year earlier than we did? Not in the slightest.

Just chill out a little, Lucasfilm. Worry less about the scripts leaking and worry more about making the scripts good. And hire Michael B. Jordan.


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My Favorite Cinematic Space Battles

Crop of the cover of The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes.

Crop of the cover of The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes.
Image: Tor Books

From For All Mankind to Space Sweepers, every day more great sci-fi adventures grace our screens both big and small. All signs point to a sci-fi renaissance filled with reluctant heroes, scrappy misfits, and snarky sentient robots. Of course, I can’t forget one of the most quintessential staples of the genre: the epic space battle. Massive energy weapons firing from colossal battleships, sleek starfighters zipping past exploding support ships, and our heroes accomplishing feats of (often erroneous) physics our earth-bound minds can hardly fathom.

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But are cool ships, big explosions, and striking visuals all that’s needed to make a space battle great? As both a filmmaker and author, I love picking apart sequences and peeling back the layers to reveal the gooey thematic insides. Keep reading for some cinematic insight into three very different but equally impactful sci-fi battle sequences! (Light spoilers ahead.)


Rogue One

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) takes aim in Rogue One.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) takes aim in Rogue One.
Image: Lucasfilm

What the Movie Consistently Gets Right

Though by no means a perfect film, for me Rogue One gets a ton of points simply for being one of the most Star Wars feeling of Star Wars films. From the ships and weapons to costumes and makeup, everything feels dirty and genuine and incredibly lived. (Sounds basic, but weathering is a crucial immersion detail too often overlooked in SFF.) In the same vein of gritty realness, Rogue One’s reliance on practical effects bolstered by perfectly blended CGI makes the VFX easily some of the best of any Star Wars film. Practical effects are often used even for distant background action, all executed with great precision and attention to detail that creates a layered sense of realism that roots the audience to the story and characters in a way not easily achieved in just two hours of runtime.


The Battle of Scarif

After learning about the Death Star and the “fatal flaw,” Jyn Erso proposes a mission to the Rebel Alliance to retrieve the design plans from an Imperial base. Unable to gain the support of Alliance leadership, Jyn and Cassian take it upon themselves to carry out the mission, assembling a small unit of rebel allies to join them on the planet Scarif.

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Though there are plenty of great space battles in the Star Wars repertoire to choose from, this near-perfect example of an intercut ground and space battle made Rogue One an easy choice. This sequence carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, more so than similar climax sequences due to the fact that (most of) the audience already knows how the movie will end. And yet Rogue One’s Battle of Scarif stands on its own as a cinematic tour de force even outside the context of A New Hope, managing to build nail-biting tension through the sheer piling-on of conflict points. So very much happens in this almost 30-minute sequence, and nary a second is wasted, only rarely cutting away to Uncanny Valley Tarkin or the Rebel base. The whole thing feels messy and slapdash and desperate—all themes consistent throughout the film, and in line with what we expect to see from a scrappy rebel army. Yet despite that chaos, the filmmakers have made it incredibly easy for the viewer to follow what’s going on.

One thing this sequence accomplishes masterfully is in how it utilizes shot design and editing to link the three facets of the battle—ground, air, and space. Most of these mini-action sequences play out via shots designed to place us in the rebels’ shoes—from their cockpits, over their shoulders as they scramble to new positions, low angles matching their eye line as they look up to the air battle overhead, etc. In one great example, we see a cockpit POV of a fighter about to go down, then cut to an exterior shot as that ship crashes, only to have that same shot move down to create a new establishing shot for the ground battle with rebels running frantically in the foreground. These dual-purpose shots not only make for smooth visual pacing, but tie the sequence together to create a sense of many small pieces working together to achieve a whole: this engagement isn’t about big ships vs. big ships or big strategies vs. big strategies, but rather one frantic, desperate move after the other—all contributing to an ongoing metaphor for the rebellion.

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Another of my favorite details happens early in the ground firefight when a random rebel gets shot and his equally random buddy nearby screams “NO!” and runs to him. It’s a small thing you might not even notice on first viewing, but similar instances occur a handful of times—unnamed, faceless people get lines and emotions and take critical actions to advance the rebels’ progress in a way not often seen in other films, where they’d traditionally be nothing more than additions to the body count. A similar situation happens again when a soldier is raised on comms and told to find the “master switch,” and we get a conversation between two (technically named but essentially random) characters. The short exchange almost feels like a behind-the-scenes look—the true, nitty-gritty rebel soldier experience, versus the broader view of explosions and destruction we so often see in sci-fi battles.

We see this yet again when the rebel fleet finally arrives, and in a brilliant editing choice, we don’t get the classic “cavalry has arrived” epic sweeping shot of the fleet warping into frame. Instead, we see their arrival to Scarif through the direct POV of a fighter pilot—once again putting us in the shoes of the everyday person and creating a sense of intimacy with the rebel forces. Small details like this all work toward engaging the audience emotionally, furthering the intrinsic sense of community and frenzied nature of the engagement. It’s not only up to our heroes to save the day—every person is critical to the success of the mission. Closer to the end, when the rebel fleet admiral—another essentially random character—makes a major decision that changes the course of the battle by sacrificing a rebel ship in order to send a disabled star destroyer careening into its neighbor. Questionable physics aside, this quintessentially desperate move results in the second most beautiful battle shot in all of Star Wars (the Holdo maneuver inarguably in first place) as the two star destroyers totally annihilate each other. Beautifully reckless tactics are what really set this entire engagement apart from a typical space battle, and to great effect.

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That moment is as much a turning point for the viewer as it is for the rebels, as the audience is allowed to (briefly) breathe for the first time in over twenty minutes. However, soon the Death Star rises like a murder moon over the horizon, the sound design goes muted, and ships just start dying quietly under a bittersweet orchestral score. Then, to cap off half an hour of straight tension, we’re rewarded with easily one of the best pay-off sequences in cinematic history as Vadar absolutely destroys that corridor. Say what you want about the film as a whole, but hot damn.


Battlestar Galactica, “Resurrection Ship, Part 2”

Spot the Cylons!

Spot the Cylons!
Image: Syfy

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What the Series Consistently Gets Right

Invariably the first well-done element that comes to my mind when thinking about space combat in Battlestar Galactica is the almost “handheld” motion of the camera—one that continually adapts (and at times almost hunts) in both scale and focus while zeroing in on the action. It’s a style established early on and returned to almost without exception as a device to instantly evoke tension—when we’re outside the ships, it’s immediately obvious from the motion of the camera whether we’re in trouble or not.

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A major element BSG consistently gets right is that it keeps it simple, both with the components of the battle and the choreography. There are generally only two units of any consequence on either side: battleships and fighters. We’re primed early on in the series about the capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses of each ship, and because we know the rules, aren’t overwhelmed by sheer possibilities, paving the way for us to follow engagements clearly while still allowing for surprises when creative tactics are employed. Similarly, the physical blocking of the battle is typically kept very simple: Battlestars and basestars are almost never maneuvered, ensuring a static lay of the battlefield that greatly diminishes potential disorientation. Both elements contribute to a subtle simplicity that allows the audience’s focus to stay where it should: the story and characters.

Which leads to yet another thing BSG is great at: personification. A massive fight with a thousand ships can make for great eye candy, but we can’t possibly care about a thousand individual ships. Creating a strong link between the characters and their ships is critical to establishing stakes in an otherwise faceless battle. BSG is consistently generous with CIC and cockpit shots, so we always know who is where, and thus who’s in trouble as things get chaotic.

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The Battle of the Resurrection Ship

After discovering a Cylon resurrection ship, the Galactica and Pegasus work together to generate a plan to destroy the vessel. Meanwhile, both Adama and Cain scheme to seize command by executing the other after the engagement concludes.

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Though I originally intended this as an example of a more “classic” space battle, there’s actually a lot going on in this sequence that doesn’t follow typical convention—for the show itself, or cinematic sci-fi as a whole. This is a situation where the battle itself is almost beside the point—the well-planned, perfectly executed attack ultimately serving as one giant counterpoint to the human drama unfolding on the ship. This is reflected from the very first shot of the battle, when instead of the aforementioned frenzied handheld camera style we’ve come to expect, we instead get one long shot—which still hunts and changes focus, but does so in a surprisingly slow, steady manner. This subversion is almost unnerving at first but quickly lures us in with the promise of spectacle as we’re allowed to watch the battle unfold in a much clearer, cleaner way than most other action sequences in the show. We begin to see these contrasting elements even more clearly when Lee’s fighter takes a hit and he’s ejected into open space. A typical space battle establishing shot lacks any kind of true point of view, often seen from an omniscient standpoint somewhere far off to one side of the field of battle. But here we get to see our wide, dramatic establishing shot directly from over a character’s shoulder as he floats helplessly in space, rooting us not only positionally but thematically as Lee’s disillusionment with the state of human affairs escalates.

And really, the entire rest of the battle serves to impress this disillusionment on the viewer. It’s clear the entire time that the humans have the upper hand, and yet we don’t get a single exuberant victory shot or the triumphant music one might expect. Instead, we’re presented with a series of long, sweeping, silent shots of the Cylons’ resurrection ship being destroyed, continued via more of the much steadier, smoother camerawork and long takes. In one haunting shot, we get a detailed view of hundreds of Centurions as they’re ejected into space. Though the narrative continues to assure us our heroes are “in the right,” we’re still made to feel the Cylon’s vulnerability as this closely guarded secret ship is laid bare to open space in such primal detail—all serving as subtle foreshadowing for the series’ upcoming questions of morality as the lines between human and Cylon continue to blur.

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A well-planned, well-executed space battle with hardly a single mishap should run the risk of feeling tedious or even boring, and yet this sequence is anything but due to the thematic tie-in of our heroes’ “success.” The cinematography, editing, music, and sound design all reflect that choice—even the CGI is cleaner and better looking than most of the rest of the show. Though atypical of most, this battle is beautiful and well-executed both diegetically and non-diegetically, resulting in a sequence that’s much better than the sum of its parts—something that should be the aim of any great action sequence.


Serenity

The Serenity theatrical poster.

The Serenity theatrical poster.
Image: Universal Pictures

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What the Movie Consistently Gets Right

Getting us to care enough about the characters to make what the filmmakers pull off in this incredibly brief sequence possible. Oh, and witty banter.

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The Universe Battle

After learning of the Alliance’s horrific cover-up, the crew of the Serenity races to Mr. Universe’s planet so they can expose the evidence to the public. With an Alliance fleet awaiting their arrival, they lure an enraged Reaver fleet behind them to act as cover while they make a break for the planet.

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The baiting of the Reaver fleet kicks this sequence off with a very quintessential Firefly reversal of expectation—and from this very first decision, the audience is given perfect footing. Though we’re about to experience a very not quintessential Firefly sequence in the form of a massive fleet battle the likes of which the film nor series has seen before, it feels like we are about to experience a very quintessential Firefly sequence, all because our scrappy crew used a smart, dangerous, desperate tactic to get themselves there. This same framing is maintained throughout the battle, with the combat serving as a backdrop for the Serenity’s gauntlet through a maze of destruction. Unlike the other two examples, once the battle actually begins, we never see a single omniscient point of view or even the point of view of another ship involved—friend or foe. This acts as a consummate example of the aforementioned “personification” of ships: the Serenity itself acts as the POV character through which we experience the entire battle, with literally every single shot in the sequence at least beginning with its focus on the ship, only panning (but never cutting) away a few times to briefly showcase some awesome mini-brawl happening in the chaotic Reaver/Alliance battle.

Despite our “main character” not being involved in the actual fighting, the stakes are arguably even more keenly felt than a typical battle sequence. Not only due to the frantic pace of the choreography and editing, but because the ship itself is filled with literally every single remaining character we care about. Only our ride-or-die crew matters at this point, so—ironically, as far as grandiose space battles go—we don’t even care about the engagement itself except in the cover it serves for their escape. Speaking of, this one gets full marks for geography. Excellent directionality is maintained throughout (Alliance baddies go left to right, heroes and Reavers go right to left), giving a clear understanding of the layout of the battlefield and movement of various vessels—atypical of a lot of space battles which tend toward a “from all directions!” chaos approach.

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This is bolstered by another atypical decision in that we get mostly sweeping, steady, long takes of the action. The shot duration makes these protracted sequences easy to digest, and yet they still feel dense and chaotic since they’re so rife with action. Every shot has a ton of different things going on, and you could rewatch a half dozen time and still miss plenty. Another great feature of this battle that might otherwise be easy to overlook is the sound design—simple in execution but big on impact. It’s muted and selective to start, building steadily as the scene progresses, more and more layering on until a full complement of sound effects are depicted. The viewer finds themselves slowly bombarded with sounds much like our characters are slowly bombarded by stress as they run their gauntlet. This choice is just one of the many details about this sequence that keeps tensions high even as they enter atmosphere, the main battle falls away, they crash-land on the planet, and their gambit is successful—though not without both witty dialogue and serious consequences, in proper Firefly fashion.


Illustration for article titled My Favorite Cinematic Space Battles

Image: Tor Books

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io9 thanks filmmaker and author J.S. Dewes for sharing her favorite space battles with us. It’s something you can experience more of in her debut novel, The Last Watch, available now from Tor Books.


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Disney’s ‘Real’ Star Wars Lightsaber Is Revealed, and It’s Fantastic

Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.

It’s always fun waking up to presents, and on this most Star Wars of holidays, Disney has gifted fans with the first official video of its real-life lightsaber replicas featuring glowing blades that actually extend and retract. But sad news for many of us: it sounds like you won’t be able to buy one for your collection any time soon.

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First revealed last month during a private press event, only a handful of screenshots of the new lightsaber replicas, developed by Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, managed to leak out for fans to salivate over. Shortly after the reveal, a patent dating back to 2018 was discovered that provided more details on how Disney’s new ‘real’ lightsabers might work: two widened strips of plastic that function like tape measures are extended by a motor and wrap around each other to create a cylinder with a strip of LEDs running down the middle to create the glow.

Today, as part of an announcement on the Disney Parks blog about the opening of Walt Disney World’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser resort being delayed until 2022 (it was previously expected to open sometime this year), the company also released a video of the lightsaber in action and promised that “Guests who experience Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will be the first to see it in action…” to help take the sting out of today’s bad news.

As exciting as it will be to see the new lightsaber technology in person, given it’s being limited to only guests of Disney’s new Star Wars resort at first, it sounds like it’s going to be quite a while before some form of these lightsabers are available for guests to actually purchase in gift shops—if ever. Based on today’s announcement, the “real” lightsabers will be first rolled out as upgrades to the costumes of cast members portraying characters like Rey and Kylo Ren to add another level of authenticity, which makes sense because if the props are coming straight out of Disney’s R&D labs, they’re going to be expensive prototypes. Hopefully, the company finds a way to eventually make them accessible and affordable, because a lightsaber with a glowing retractable blade is the holy grail of Star Wars collectibles.


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Star Wars: The Bad Batch Trades a Murky War for a Touching Tale of Found Family

The Bad Batch exchanges one war for another.

The Bad Batch exchanges one war for another.
Image: Lucasfilm

io9 ReviewsReviews and critical analyses of fan-favorite movies, TV shows, comics, books, and more.

After over a decade and seven seasons, last year brought us the end of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But it also introduced us to its spiritual successor in the form of the unlikely clone heroes of the Bad Batch. Now, they’re in their own Disney+ animated series, and in leaving the Clone War behind, the group are trading moral murkiness for an altogether different kind of conflict.

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Over the entirety of Clone Wars, Star Wars fans got to see an ever-maturing take on the titular conflict. It became more than Jedi and Clone heroes against “tinnies” and “clankers;their traumas endured through the conflict, dug deep into the human beings behind those simplistic titles of Good and Bad. It is this matured lens on the war in which we open The Bad Batch’s extra-large premiere, “Aftermath.” It knows that the final moments of the Clone War are upon it, as do you—and by setting itself in that stage, and in that contextual history, we’re once again invited to contemplate the moral core of this conflict and the people who fight in it. Primarily, of course, those people are the titular “Bad Batch,” aka Clone Force 99—Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, and Crosshair, joined by recent recruit Echo (all voiced by the returning Clone Wars stalwart Dee Bradley Baker).

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Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Briefly introduced in the opening of Clone Wars’ seventh season as an elite squad of rare “enhanced defects,” the season one premiere does little to really establish much beyond the character archetypes we were introduced to there. Hunter is the classic leader in the mold of clones like Captain Rex before him; Wrecker is the big, fun-loving brute; Tech is the nerdy introvert big on facts and not much else; Crosshair is the cool, collected, ever-so-serious assassin. Echo—a recovered prisoner of war, and previously an ARC Trooper in Clone Wars—remains the least broadly painted of the unit, a grounding figure of Clone “normality” to contrast the heightened personas of the squadmates around him.

That means when the infamous, explosive moment of Order 66 comes—and at this point in the Star Wars saga, we’ve seen it enough times, through enough lenses, that it’s not really a spoiler to say that it does—“Aftermath” has its heroes respond in the ways you’d sort of expect them to. There are a few surprises along the way in those moments, ones that will no doubt delight Star Wars fans seeking connections to the wider canon of this climactic moment in the prequel saga. But for the most part, the complexity of Order 66 for our heroes doesn’t quite have the same emotional resonance as it did in, say, The Clone Wars’ final arc. Part of that is we just don’t know the characters as well as we did the stars of that show, and that’s OK. But it’s also because The Bad Batch is not The Clone Wars, and Order 66 is not its endgame but merely the catalyst for a new beginning.

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Image: Lucasfilm

The Bad Batch has an altogether different conflict to hang itself on: the transformation of the Republic into the Galactic Empire. It is this that “Aftermath” is predominantly focused on. But in Star Wars, conflict with the Empire’s existence is much clearer cut—you’re either with the fascistic totalitarian regime (by force or otherwise) or you’re against it. So when that transition from Republic to Empire happens, and our individual heroes have to make that choice, there’s not as much room for the nuance that Clone Wars explored in its own views of the prequel’s grand war as it matured over the years. Choices are made, people become agents of the Empire or dissidents to its tyrannical grip, and we’re off to the races with a few blaster battles and daring escapades along the way. It’s all done in the gorgeous style we’ve come to expect of the Clone Wars’ latter seasons, albeit not as dramatically interesting, perhaps. But that breakdown of sides in the fight for and against the Empire is clear cut in a way that works, as The Bad Batch establishes what it wants to be about in this transitional “Rise of the Empire” period—a time in Star Wars already heavily covered in books, comics, and animation at this point in Disney’s stewardship of the franchise.

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Where “Aftermath” does find a way to stand apart from the other stories in its orbit, even with that moral simplicity, is in its strongest and most interesting not-so-secret weapon: Omega. Glimpsed in trailers in the run-up to the series, Omega and their connection to the Bad Batch quickly becomes the driving heart of what the series is going for as our heroes make their decision on where they stand in regards to the Empire. There’s an argument to be made that there’s a little bit of The Mandalorian’s Grogu in them—an almost by-design-adorable youngster who imprints upon some unlikely and, at times unwilling, parental figures. But appropriately the vibe between Omega and the Batch from the get-go feels more in line with the relationship between Captain Rex and Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, a familial banter that is both earnest and light and a refreshing contrast to the grimness of the world around them. After all, what is Star Wars if not a tale of unlikely heroes and the unlikelier families they find along the way in their struggle?

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Screenshot: Lucasfilm

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Throwing Omega into the mix of personalities of the squad immediately offers a jolt of surprise to the otherwise familiar archetypes and stage-setting of the premiere, and provides a brief look at what The Bad Batch as a series will bring to the table. That is, really, what “Aftermath” is all about as the name implies: the clearing of one stage, as we look towards another. The stage The Bad Batch is heading towards may be well-trodden in Star Wars already, but the series quickly shows us it knows this, and in Omega, it brings enough intriguing hooks that we’re ready to once again see the Empire’s rise through new eyes.

How refreshed those eyes remain as the series progresses remains to be seen, but for now, there’s plenty of promise to be found here. Star Wars: The Bad Batch’s premiere episode is now streaming on Disney+.

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There’s So Much New Star Wars Art on May 4, May Your Wallet Be With You

New Star Wars art from Bottleneck, Mondo, and others will be available on May 4.

New Star Wars art from Bottleneck, Mondo, and others will be available on May 4.
Image: Bottleneck/Mondo/Acme

Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.

If you’re in the market for a new piece of Star Wars art, May the Fourth be with you. To celebrate the unofficial Star Wars holiday, many galleries, dealers, and artists are selling brand new Star Wars art, and today we’re highlighting just a few of our favorites.

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First, the team at Mondo has this excellent new poster by Mike Sutfin called We Must Be Cautious. It’s in multiple variants, including this one below, which is a timed edition. But other colors and rarities will also be available tomorrow at noon EST on Mondo’s site. Find more info about all of that at this link.

Illustration for article titled There's So Much New Star Wars Art on May 4, May Your Wallet Be With You

Image: Mondo

Bottleneck Gallery is also getting in on the fun with several different drops, all of which you can see in the below gallery. There’s The Mandalorian’s Ahsoka Tano and Grogu, The Empire Strikes Back, and even a new trilogy by Marko Manev. It all goes on sale at noon EST on May 4; you can see other variants, sizes, costs, and more at this link.

Artist Scott C is a favorite here on io9 and he’s got five brand new Showdowns which will be on sale for 48 hours starting at 10 a.m. EST on May 4. Visit this link for more info.

Illustration for article titled There's So Much New Star Wars Art on May 4, May Your Wallet Be With You

Image: Scott C

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The gang at Spoke Art has teamed up with artist Joshua Budich to release a series he calls “Mind Tricks.” They’re randomly inserted Star Wars screenprint pieces on all types of different materials. The below image shows just a few examples, but you can read more about them at this link. They go on sale tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST.

Illustration for article titled There's So Much New Star Wars Art on May 4, May Your Wallet Be With You

Photo: Spoke Art

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Last, but certainly not least, is a spin on the Star Wars Day idea. Artist Jason Edmiston is releasing prints of his Spaceballs pieces from his ongoing “Eyes Without a Face” series. They’re being released as a set of two in a very limited run of 150, and go on sale for $70 at noon EST May 4 at this link.

Surrounded by Assholes is oversized at 19" x 8.5", and My Own Best Friend is the traditional 9" x 5" size (both shown above together, for scale).

Surrounded by Assholes is oversized at 19″ x 8.5″, and My Own Best Friend is the traditional 9″ x 5″ size (both shown above together, for scale).
Image: Jason Edmiston

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Surely there’s more out there—but those are some of our favorites. Happy hunting and May the Fourth be with you!


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Disney+ Celebrates May the Fourth With The Bad Batch, a Simpsons Spoof, and More

Illustration for article titled Disney+ Celebrates May the Fourth With The Bad Batch, a Simpsons Spoof, and More

Image: Disney

The most important day in the Star Wars franchise—other than Life Day, of course—is May 4, a.k.a. May the Fourth, when Lucasfilm and its various affiliates celebrate a galaxy far, far away (and the billions of dollars it makes them). This year, Disney’s streaming service seems to be where the party’s happening.

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Besides premiering the Clone Wars spinoff The Bad Batch tomorrow, Disney+ will also release a Simpsons short titled “Maggie Simpson in The Force Awakens From Its Nap,” which will send “characters from the Star Wars galaxy to the fictional town of Springfield” which sounds like a laff riot. (Spoilers for anyone who didn’t know the setting of the long-running cartoon series was fictional.) Here’s the official synopsis:

“In a daycare far, far away… but still in Springfield, Maggie is on an epic quest for her stolen pacifier. Her adventure brings her face-to-face with young Padawans, Sith Lords, familiar droids, Rebel scum, and an ultimate battle against the dark side, in this original short celebrating the Star Wars galaxy.”

While I’m certainly intrigued by the idea of Anakin Skywalker slaughtering a daycare full of tots, there will be two other videos exploring various Star Wars locations and starships that may be more interesting: Star Wars Biomes and Star Wars Vehicle Flythroughs. Once again, here’s Disney’s official descriptions for both.

“Take a virtual vacation to some of the Star Wars films’ most iconic and beloved locations,” reads the Biomes release, “like Hoth, Tatooine, and Sorgan as this charming series whisks you off for fly-over tours of a galaxy far, far away.”

Vehicle Flythroughs, meanwhile, lets you “get up-close-and-personal with two of the Star Wars films’ most iconic and beloved ships as this charming content leads viewers on an exploration of the memorable interiors and exteriors of the Millennium Falcon and an Imperial Star Destroyer.”

An aerial tour of the giant snowball that is Hoth doesn’t sound too enticing, but seeing how a Star Destroyer is laid out could be cool. We’ve seen all these small sections of them in the movies—hangars, bridges, medication chambers, etc.—but never how they all fit together.

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I’m sure Disney+ isn’t the only place Star Wars will be (Boba) feted tomorrow, so stay tuned for more celebration news.


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