Sunday, 21 April 2019

Why Star Wars: Fallen Order is a Step Back for the Franchise

The Star Wars franchise has a long relationship with video games. The sheer number of video games based on the Star Wars universe over the years is too long to list. They have filled any number of genres from shooters to strategy games to RPGs. Heck, quite a few major game developers have at some point or another worked on a Star Wars title at least once. So strong was the interest in Star Wars games that there was even an entire company, fittingly titled LucasArts, that mainly released Star Wars games (though not exclusively, they did have releases also based on Indiana Jones and occasionally licensed original content).

Star Wars video games have also had a polarizing range of reception. Critical reactions have varied from games turning out to be the worst of the worst to beloved classics that end up being a huge influence on later games and even create their own fandoms. Probably the most famous example of the latter is the Knights of the Old Republic series of role-playing games, elements of which can be seen in many subsequent RPGs, including the later Mass Effect series by the same developers.

While Disney's purchasing of Star Wars did lead to some positive developments, this is one area in which it unfortunately had a negative impact. LucasArts was more or less completely shut down, and the video game rights to Star Wars went to Electronic Arts (EA). So far the only major releases by EA have been Battlefront I and II (which was a reboot of an older series by LucasArts), and a few mobile games. Hardly the output that LucasArts was once known for.

Adding to the frustration was EA becoming embroiled in a series of scandals, mostly involving their use of microtransactions. To make a long story short, EA had been using strategies designed to extort money out of players. This had happened in several of their major franchises, but it understandably shook confidence in their role in making Star Wars video games. Not helping were statements from EA saying that they were planning to stick to multiplayer games and ditch single-player storylines, even going as far as to shut down production on another game that was being made.

So admittedly many of us were surprised by the reveal of a new game- Star Wars: Fallen Order, which promised a single-player campaign which EA proudly boasted would be free of micro-transactions. Unfortunately, even if they are sincere about this part, their efforts to improve somehow only took them backwards in a different direction. According to the information that has been released, the game takes place between the prequel and original trilogies, following a former padawan trying to survive in the aftermath of the Jedi Purge in Revenge of the Sith. Could be some interesting opportunities here, not that the trailer said much beyond introducing our new hero.

Unfortunately, it is upon seeing the new hero (who is about the only thing the trailer bothered to tell us anything about), it quickly becomes clear that we have a new problem in effect. One of the more positive aspects of Disney buying Star Wars is a much greater effort at diversity than the original films. We saw this on multiple occasions. In The Force Awakens the two main characters are a woman and a black man (who also show no romantic interest in each other).

We also got the female protagonist Jyn Erso for Rogue One: A Star Wars story. Jyn was a complex anti-hero who eventually became a committed rebel who indirectly set Luke's entire journey into motion. We also can't forget that in the same film she was accompanied by a diverse group of partners from various backgrounds. This is obviously a huge step up from the six films overseen by George Lucas, in which the majority of focus was on white men (Leia and Padme being exceptions).

We can also see this going further in some of the material outside the films. Star Wars Rebels made a firm point of introducing a diverse group of characters for its main cast. Its supporting cast also included a variety of both male and female characters of different ethnicity on both sides of the force. Ezra may have been the entry point to the series, but as it went on it turned more into an ensemble cast that often shifted the focus between different characters. As as a result, it's female characters of Hera and Sabine had their share of moments in the spotlight. If anything, those two were probably the best part of the show.

So imagine our disappointment when the trailer for Star Wars: Fallen Order was revealed and we learn that our protagonist is... yet another white man. Seriously, of all the choices they could have made, they went with this. They could have taken the opportunity to introduce a strong female lead, or a non-white protagonist, maybe a non-caucasian female, or at the very least make use of the numerous aliens that populate the Star Wars galaxy. Alternatively, they could have added in a character customization system, allowing the player to create their own character (i.e. a character they feel comfortable playing as)

But no, we get stuck with generic white man Cal Kestis, whose face is put onto every shot the game has to offer. The game barely shows us anything other than this generic mug that we've no doubt seen on a thousand other protagonists. The trailers don't even give us a sense of any other characters besides him, so it's hard to even be completely sure if they at least have a diverse supporting cast. This is absurd.

About ten years ago, it might have been possible to get away with this type of practice, as some games from that era show. But this is not that time. The days of masculine heroes made by developers who assumed they were marketing to guys are over. In this day and age we need a more diverse array of heroes. We've seen it work with other franchises that have traditionally been male-dominated, why not here?

The Call of Duty franchise, for instance, has had a long history of stories centered on male bonding. The first few games took place during World War II, and generally revolved on male soldiers (with the exception of Tanya Pavelovna in Finest Hour), and there were next to no female characters across the Modern Warfare games. Black Ops didn't have much either, and Black Ops II only had a female civilian who has to be protected by men. Advanced Warfare actually had a female soldier as one of the players' allies. Black Ops III on the other hand allowed the player to choose their character's sex (though there was a somewhat confusing plot about how they actually died at the beginning of the game but had their consciousness uploaded into another guy's brain), as well as multiple female supporting characters. This pattern has generally continued through subsequent games.

Far Cry is another great example. One of the many ways Far Cry 2 has aged poorly (aside from its weak attempt at a twist ending) is the fact that the player is given nine different playable characters to choose from, all of whom can be encountered in the game as so-called "buddies," and all of whom are male. The thing is, in addition to those characters, there are three female "buddies" that function more or less the same as the males, and yet they are excluded from the players' selection.

This is especially frustrating when one realizes that it could easily have been done. The entire game is experienced in the first person, and whichever character the player chooses remains silent throughout. This literally means that the only animation that would have to change would be the two arms in front of the camera. They might have to have to record some alternate lines of dialogue where gender-specific pronouns are used, but it would have been entirely feasible.

Why did they not choose to make the female characters playable? I don't know if there's a specific reason, but my guess is such a possibility didn't cross the minds of the developers. They were working in a different time when they were probably more accustomed to seeing male heroes and assumed that the majority of players of their game would be men who would want to play as a man.

The good news for the Far Cry series is that the developers actually learned from their mistakes and began working to improve. Contrast the absurdly masculine tone of Far Cry 2 with the more open-minded structure of Far Cry 5, released ten years later. This time around, the developers had started to realize that they needed to better represent a diverse fanbase. Not only did they include a diverse group of supporting characters, they also added full customization so the player could create the character they felt comfortable with, including options to be female and/or non-caucasian.

Dishonored managed it in record time. The first game took place in a patriarchal society inspired by the Industrial Revolution, but once the developers heard requests for more diversity they quickly got on top of it. In the two downloadable campaigns featuring Daud, the developers made a firm investment in trying to add a mix of both male and female characters of different ethnicities (including Billie Lurke, who was later revealed to be bisexual). Dishonored 2 did one better, letting the player choose between two different characters, either once again playing as Corvo (the male protagonist of the first game) and his daughter Emily Kaldwin.

While Assassin's Creed has had an extremely diverse cast of NPCs one can't help but notice that the player characters are largely male. It took five games before we got our first female protagonist (and even then, only in the spin-off game Liberation). This is obviously something that had fans annoyed for a while, but the developers listened. After some backlash towards a few remarks about the lack of female assassins in the multiplayer missions for Assassin's Creed: Unity, Ubisoft began working on finding more diversity for players.

In Assassin's Creed: Syndicate the player rotates between the twins Jacob and Evie Frye, and can pretty much choose whichever they want while exploring its world (though specific missions require the player to be one or the other). The bulk of Assassin's Creed: Origins sees the player controlling a black man, the medjay Bayek, with sections in which his wife Aya becomes playable. Odyssey actually lets the player choose between a male and female version of the player character to allow players to choose whichever sex they feel more comfortable playing.

So if these games are any indication, we are living in a changing world in which we need to work on increasing representation of different people. The fact that these franchises began as predominantly masculine is not okay, which is exactly why the developers behind them have been hard at work trying to make them better. It's the same with genres, too. Notice for instance the diversity of a multiplayer shooter like Rainbow Six: Siege and Overwatch, unlike older models such as the Counter Strike series and Team Fortress 2 (both of which lack female playable characters).

And from there we once again find ourselves with this disgusting brown-haired pretty boy Cal Kestis. After all the effort we've seen from the rest of the Star Wars franchise, and from other gaming franchises, we're once again stuck with a generic white male (and probably straight) hero. All this seems to indicate is that EA has learned nothing from other franchises, including its own. One would think they would be willing to consider adding diversity after the popularity of the Fifa series (which actually added women's teams) and Battlefield V (which was promised to make a point of showing the contributions of women in World War II, even placing a woman on the cover). Evidently, that is not the case.

And all we really know about him is that he's just a generic white male who's going to go on some epic journey and do something. We literally know nothing about the character beyond his face. He is bland, dull, and completely unappealing as a hero. Why couldn't we have a strong female lead or, better yet, the option to create our own protagonist for this journey? As it stands, if Star Wars: Fallen Order hopes to prove us all wrong, EA had better get their act together.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

The Not-So-Missing Link

Sir Robert Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an aspiring adventurer with a fascination for paranormal creatures. Unfortunately, he finds he is not taken seriously by his Victorian peers and his efforts to change their mind prove futile. He is particularly despised by the head of the Explorers' Club, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), a man who insists he is leading the "civilized" society of "great men" while his arrogance and closed-mindedness constantly betray his true savage nature. Dunceby is rooted in the past, refusing to except new ideas like the concept of evolution and women's suffrage. Frost is constantly seeking out adventures in the hopes of joining their ranks to no avail.

After an unsuccessful attempt to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster (he finds it, but fails to obtain solid evidence of its existence) and the resignation of his valet, Frost finds a new opportunity when he receives a lead on the legendary creature known as Sasquatch- a possible missing link in the evolution of humanity-Vowing to prove himself to the Explorers' Club, Frost places a bet with Dunceby that he can prove its existence.

Amazingly, not only does Frost find the sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), but discovers it is an intelligent creature who can speak, read, and write in English. Said sasquatch actually turns out to be quite friendly, and actively seeking out Frost. He's lonely, and looking for his place in the world. The only lead to where there might be other sasquatches is in legends of yetis in the Himilayas.

The two of them strike a deal- Frost brings the sasquatch to the Himilayas in exchange for all the evidence he needs of his discovery. Also thrown into the mix is Frost's former girlfriend Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who gets brought along for the ride. But Dunceby is determined to preserve his "civilized" society and hires a big-game hunter to kill them and make sure Frost has no chance of winning the bet.

The result is a fast-paced action adventure rendered in impressive stop-motion. The animation in this film is amazingly smooth. Without proper context one could easily be forgiven for not even realizing this is stop motion, that's how impressive it is. The amount of detail that goes into the animation is incredible- from the intricate movements of its characters to the beautiful scenery that makes up the various environments encountered by its characters (and which many of the action scenes love taking advantage of). The quality of the stop-motion alone is enough to make this a worthwhile experience.

And yet it would hardly to justice to simply call Missing Link a mere spectacle of animation. There are far more complex layers to this story than one might expect. Between its various brands of humor (which includes slapstick, absurdist, intellectual jokes, and dark comedy) and over-the-top action scenes there are some really well-written and very emotional character interactions, and they even managed to fit in a bit of social commentary. This is part of what makes Dunceby such an effective antagonist, that for his goofy design and silly name his attitude feels remarkably genuine for his setting. (this is fitting with the irony of his role- a "civilized" man who constantly displays behavior that would be considered "savage")

The three heroes prove an effective team. The relationship between Frost and the sasquatch (who adopts the name "Susan") is surprisingly complex and turns out to have a lot of detail, even while in the middle of slapstick gags involving Susan's size and strength or his efforts to blend in with humans by wearing a suit. But we also can't ignore the role of Zoe Saldana. Adalina proves to be a very strong character from the moment she is introduced, and she spends much of the film proving her worth as an adventurer every bit as capable as Frost, sometimes even more so. She never feels like she's just there to be used by the men or to be looked at by the audience.

Finally, the story is extremely compelling. The narrative itself is pretty straight forward but includes a variety of twists and turns (special mention to when they actually reach the Himilayas- though I can't say why without giving away spoilers). It ultimately asks a lot of questions about where our heroes belong. What does it mean to be a "great man" (or woman, or Bigfoot) and what does it really mean to be "civilized?" And what does it mean to find one's place in the world, which is often not where you expect?

Missing Link is a must-see for fans of stop-motion. It is an incredibly well-crafted film that will appeal to all ages. Kids will enjoy the animation, the humor, and the fast-paced action while adults get all that plus a few deeper layers.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

To Be a Free Man: Understanding the Futility of Freedom in Half-Life

The full Half-Life series currently comprises two main games, a series of expansions to the first installment, and two episodes continuing the story of the second game. The gameplay is fairly simple, focusing on a mix of first-person shooter action and problem-solving that usually require the player character to get from once place to another while avoiding obstacles and enemies.

In the first game, the player assumes the role of Gordon Freeman, a scientist newly hired at the Black Mesa laboratory. Shortly after his arrival, an experiment goes wrong causing a resonance cascade that results in the laboratory being infested by aliens from another dimension. Gordon then finds himself battling through both aliens and marines sent to cover up the disaster eventually travelling to the dimension of Xen where he defeats the nihilanth (the apparent "boss alien"). Half-Life 2 picks up twenty years later, where the world has been taken over by a ruthless alien race known as the Combine, and Gordon Freeman becomes the leader of a revolution.

But this is where the situation gets more complicated. The themes of freedom and liberation are hardly subtle. It's even reflected in the protagonist's name: Gordon FREEman. Yet the irony is that Gordon Freeman, the so-called "One Free Man" is never truly free. He is constantly subordinated to someone or something in what seems to be a never-ending chain of command. Throughout the series, Gordon Freeman is constantly under the thumb of a mysterious figure of authority. The true identity of this unnamed man remains a mystery still debated among fans of the games. Numerous fan theories exist to explain his apparently metaphysical presence, and the uncertainty of whether he's even human.

However, the identity of this character, known in the community as "G-Man" (derived from his filename) is ultimately not as important as what he represents to the world of Half-Life. Whoever this guy is is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that he is the puppet master behind Gordon Freeman. Whatever his endgoals are, and for better or worse, he displays a firm investment in Freeman's activities and appears to be working toward specific outcomes (even if to what end remains unclear). Throughout both Half-Life and Half-Life 2 G-Man makes routine cameos where he appears to be observing Gordon, or otherwise taking an interest in the setting. Both games also see G-Man congratulating Gordon for his efforts, implying that the player did indeed produce G-Man's desired outcome.

At the end of Half-Life, G-Man appears to offer Gordon a "job opportunity," yet the game implies that this is not a choice on Gordon's part. G-Man appears to consider Gordon a valuable asset for reasons unclear and wants to make use of him again, and subsequently puts him into stasis until the events of Half-Life 2. In that game, G-Man once again awakens Gordon, only to once again suspend him in stasis as the film's conclusion after, once again, Gordon has produced the desired outcome. G-Man has essentially enslaved Gordon and is treating him like one might a tool, literally the same way one might treat a hammer or a screwdriver. Gordon is taken out when he is needed, but when he is no longer useful he is placed back into stasis, a sort of "toolbox" where he is stored until such a time as he is needed again.

This adds a peculiar irony to the events of Half-Life 2, where Gordon is drawn into the resistance against the oppressive Combine. He becomes a beacon of freedom towards everyone. The vortigaunts, once enslaved by the antagonists of the first game, now happily aid Freeman. By the end of the game resistance members eagerly follow him and place their trust in his leadership. But is this really freedom? Or are we only seeing a transition from one handler to another?

As the player already knows, Gordon is trapped under the thumb of G-Man, with no clear means of escape (this is accomplished in Half-Life 2: Episode 1, but G-Man's reaction suggests this is little more than a temporary setback). And yet the vortigaunts are calling him the "One Free Man," a moniker the player knows to be false. In short, Gordon Freeman, the leader of the freedom fighters is himself under the control of someone else, only he is given strings that can be seen by nobody else.

The futility of Gordon's efforts at freedom is further reinforced by the decision of Valve to treat him as a silent protagonist. Throughout the series Gordon never speaks a single word, not even so much as a grunt. The series is also experienced in the first-person- Gordon's face is only ever seen on the game boxes and posters. This deprives Gordon the chance to express himself in any meaningful way. By keeping him from speaking, Gordon is unable to share his thoughts or opinions on any issue. The first-person perspective prevents him from emoting. This is also fitting as there is another dimension to his character.

G-Man is not the only one manipulating Gordon. He is also being controlled more directly by someone else- the player. Every action Gordon performs is up to the player. Gordon's movements are based on the actions of a figure who, within the diegesis, shouldn't even exist. As a silent protagonist whose story is seen in the first person, he never gets a chance to properly share any independent thought, personality, or emotions. They are whatever the player decides them to be. So even when Gordon is released from G-Man's grip by the vortigaunts, he is never released from the player's.

Furthermore, in addition to the players, Gordon's path and actions are dictated by the game's writers and developers. His movements are controlled by an entity he doesn't know exists, and his story is scripted. Freeman is therefore perhaps the least free of all the cast of Half-Life, without so much as a means to share or even indicate any real independent thought. Gordon is a puppet on three different fronts, and he can only recognize the strings of one of his puppet masters. He is about as far from a "free man" as can be imagined.

And yet, the contradiction of the so-called "Free Man" and his constant imprisonment is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the themes of control. While Gordon Freeman is indeed being manipulated by forces he can't control, he also has puppets of his own in the form of his apparent allies. Part way through Half-Life 2 one of the Vortigaunts provides Gordon a means of controlling the antlions (a hive-minded race of insectoid aliens) by harvesting Pheropods. As a result, the antlions become Gordon's personal army.

Now the puppet has become a puppeteer. The antlions under Gordon's control blindly follow his orders, taking on enemies and being ready to get themselves killed on mass just to protect Gordon. Just as Gordon cannot see that he is being controlled by the player, now the antlions become his unwitting servants, fighting and dying for him all while being unable to see or even comprehend the strings that are manipulating them.

Once Gordon reaches the levels Anticitizen One and Follow Freeman, the antlions are replaced by human resistance members. "Hey everybody," the rebels yell as they join him, "Follow Freeman!" These are freedom fighters, driven by a desire to end the oppression of the Combine and liberate humanity, but in fact they are now Gordon's servants. He can instruct them on where to go, when to hold position, when to follow, and they obey his orders.

These people are devoting themselves to following Freeman, meaning they are in fact becoming his puppets. Just as Freeman is being manipulated by G-Man, now he manipulates the resistance. The only difference is that the resistance can't see that they're being controlled, and that they are not truly free.

And yet this is only what is seen through the perspective of Freeman himself. Let us shift our perspective for a moment and consider the character of the so-called "G-Man." We never do find out exactly who he is or what his intentions are, beyond that he seems to have an investment in Gordon's success and the implication that he may not be entirely human. He is even shown to be able to freeze time itself. It is obvious that G-Man is a powerful figure, perhaps moreso than even Gordon could begin to understand. When he is not directly obverving Freeman, he is seen interacting with other characters in ambiguous conversations. The expansion Opposing Force even implies that G-Man was the one who sent the marines into Black Mesa. This would seem to suggest he is a boss figure of some sort, the man in control of everything...

Except that is not in fact what he is. He may appear this way as far as any human is concerned, but one important detail is G-Man's references to his "employers." Who G-Man works for is an even bigger mystery than the man himself, but it is clear that he is working for someone. This is not some all-powerful being manipulating everything for his own personal gain, but an agent or employee acting on behalf of an even bigger party, someone so high up that we have no idea who they even are. This means that G-Man may in fact have no more control over anything that goes on than Gordon himself, and his actions are mainly conducted to suit the needs of his unknown employers.

This does leave an interesting question to think about. If G-Man is himself being controlled by someone else, whoever they are, is that party also being controlled by someone else? Is this simply a never-ending chain of command, servants controlling servants who control servants? This appears to be the case when one examines Gordon's enemies. In the first game, Freeman is battling a mix of aliens and U.S. Marines. In the second, he is mainly fighting his way through the Combine forces, with a particular emphasis on their human propaganda master Wallace Breen.

Breen is an interesting case study given his status as the "face" of the dystopian world established in Half-Life 2. In keeping with its not-so-subtle Orwellian influence, Breen takes on the role of a "big-brother"-like figure who regularly appears on screens to deliver messages encouraging City 17's residents to be compliant and submit to the Combine authority. Among the city's residents he is a figure of resentment and a symbol of the Combine's oppression. The man basically sold out humanity when the combine first arrived (though this proved the only way to ensure humanity's survival). As a result he has practically enslaved the entire human race, enjoying the privileges of his role as administrator while trying to comfort everyone else with exaggerated claims about the supposed long-term benefits of Combine rule (even referring to them on-camera as "Our Benefactors").

But Breen is himself little more than a puppet for the Combine. His job is simply to go along with whatever they desire and find some way to present it to the human population as a positive move. Under Breen's direction, it is implied that humans are stripped of everything that makes them individuals to turn them into the ruthless metro police and and the soldiers who routinely work to stop Gordon Freeman, but they are ultimately serving the Combine, not Breen. Breen is only a tool used by the Combine to subjugate humanity. He is ultimately using his position of authority to work toward their interests. Once again we a puppet, albeit a puppet who also has puppets of his own.

Curiously, in Half-Life 2: Episode 1 we see the screens once again being used, this time by Dr. Isaac Kleiner. This comes after the revolution started in the previous game, after Breen has been deposed from his position as administrator for humanity. Kleiner instead takes up a suspiciously similar role, even if he is now speaking on behalf of the resistance. We hear him instructing humanity on what to do, and how they should feel about the Combine recognizing them as "malefactors" (echoing Breen's referring to them as "Our Benefactors" throughout Half-Life 2). He even begins providing instructions for any humans who aren't in immediate danger to begin reproducing to re-establish the human race. It leaves us to wonder: is anything really changed? Has the resistance made things better or are we only replacing one authoritarian regime with another?

Likewise, in Half-Life both groups of antagonists are acting on behalf of other authorities. The marines who arrive to cover up the Black Mesa incident are themselves implied to be manipulated by G-Man. They are only acting under orders, not even fully understanding why they have been deployed or to what end they are working. They are only acting under orders, not out of any malevolence to Black Mesa, on a mission that appears to have been meticulously planned by someone well above their level of command.

The aliens that invade Black Mesa have been enslaved by a creature called the Nihilanth, a peculiar telepathic entity that rules the dimension of Xen. The Nihilinth serves as the primary antagonist and ultimately the final boss. But it ultimately turns out that the whole reason the aliens were in Xen to begin with was because they had themselves been enslaved by the Combine (the primary antagonists of the second game). The enslaved had now become the slaver.

Furthermore, the Vortigaunts find themselves in a peculiar position. They were previously enslaved by the Nihilinth until it was defeated by Gordon. This leads to the Vortigaunts developing a particular respect for Freeman, to the point where he takes on an almost messianic quality in their view. They become extremely loyal and willing to do almost anything for the person they have come to know as "The Free Man" (who, as we have established, is not in fact free in any sense). Throughout Half-Life 2 and its episodes the Vortigaunts provide Freeman with various services. This suggests that Gordon did not in fact liberate the Vortigaunts, but that he merely replaced the Nihilanth as their master while they unknowingly continue to be controlled by their own blind loyalty.

Given these patterns, one is left to wonder about the Combine, who at first seemed to be brutal imperialists interested only in domination. We never do find out just who or what runs the full empire, something only alluded to by the transmission sent in Half-Life 2: Episode 1, but what we have seen of the other characters suggests some interesting questions about what might be found if the series had continue or were to be revived. Is it not possible that, given what we've seen, the oppression and brutality exerted by the Combine forces is in fact because they themselves are being controlled by something else?

At the end of the day, we are left with a simple question: what is freedom? What does it mean to be free? Can one ever be truly free or do they just change controllers? These are the questions which the series constantly wrestles. Their answer? Freedom is an abstract concept constructed in our minds, one for which we constantly feel we must strive towards and yet can never truly attain. True freedom is impossible. The closest one can get is the illusion of freedom brought on by strings they cannot see. Everyone is locked in a series of endless chains of command- servants controlling servants controlling servants, in an inter-tangled web of manipulation and control.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Childhood Favorites

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is childhood favorites. This one is a tricky one to select as it's difficult to remember everything I loved as a child. Also a lot of what I was watching was on VHS tapes so there wasn't much of a distinction at the time between "movie" and "VHS compilations of a TV show" back then so it's hard to sort through what definitively counts.

I also remember have some more embarrassing entertainment moments. Here's a fun story: when I was first read the climax of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the part where Harry confronts Quirrel and he turns out to have Voldemort on the back of his head) I was so scared I was probably the only person who didn't want to watch the movie. When my parents took me to see it anyway, I got so panicked at that moment I had to be taken out of the theater until the scene was over. I remember it also took a few years and some gradual adjustments before I was finally able to watch the full movie without having to leave the room as soon as that scene came up.

Still, I've tried to come up with a good list of a few classics.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1958)

I watched this one so many times when I was younger. I was a big Jules Verne fan and found myself captivated by this version (incidentally, this one is in every possible way superior to that insulting 2008 3D version everyone was talking about for a while). It easily became a personal favorite and one I watched over and over again. The other one I loved was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but it wasn't until much later I got a chance to really examine that one in depth.

The Wrong Trousers (1993)

As a kid, I was a huge fan of Wallace and Gromit and owned all three of the original short films on VHS; but The Wrong Trousers was probably my favorite of the three. This one is plain bizarre and hilarious in so many ways. After all, this is the film that literally revolves around the acquisition of electronic pants (come on, tell me you didn't want your own pair of techno trousers as a kid). It then goes on to involve Wallace renting Gromit's room to a penguin who is really a criminal mastermind planning to steal a valuable diamond, and ultimately culminates in an epic train chase worthy of Buster Keaton...on a model train! (see picture) 

What's not to love about this? Just the bizarre gadgets Wallace has on hand are amusing enough (he has an unusually convoluted morning routine, which ends up getting sabotaged), but also the fun uses it finds for model trains (come on, tell me you wouldn't want a train setup like this one). It's also remarkable how complex Gromit can be without making a round (Wallace is the only speaking role).

Real Wheels/There Goes A... (1993-2003)

I guess this technically counts, though I'm not sure if anyone else here will actually remember these old videos. I used to watch them all the time. Basically, it was a series of short documentaries (usually around 45 minutes) hosted by Dave Hood (several them also featured his co-star Becky) which would talk about different types of vehicles. The films combine documentary film-making with slapstick and screwball comedy to educate kids about how different types of vehicles work and different ways they are used.

Most of them tend to focus on Dave, sometimes accompanied by his co-star Becky, as hosts who are allowed to "pretend for the day" that they are in a specific job so they can learn about the vehicle in question. This often leads to a number of sketches where they consult experts and try to perform aspects of their pretend job only to botch it up in humorous ways. That is also intercut with straightforward documentary portions that allow experts to talk about the vehicles or their history in some cases.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Just One Day

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks is Just One Day, as in films that take place over the course of a single day. I had one or two good choices for this one but unfortunately I've been preoccupied with a lot so a lot of this I've had to throw together at the last minute (almost literally). I had a good first one then never got around to writing much for the others so hopefully I still have some good choices. Keeping up with my blog has been a bit difficult lately but I'm doing what I can.

I do hope to try and keep up with Thursday Movie Picks at least, though I have struggled with some writer's block that's made it hard to come up with good choices for everything.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

This is definitely one of those films you have to watch multiple times to fully appreciate, and admittedly I've only seen it twice. I know at least one blogger who is in many ways far more qualified to discuss Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing than I am, but I'll try my best.

Do the Right Thing is what you might call a very unconventional approach to addressing the issue of racial tensions in a predominantly-black neighborhood. This tension is symbolically shown by the motif of heat- the story takes place on the hottest day of the year. While racial tensions are undoubtedly present, the film encourages its audience to find the right way of overcoming them. The film presents us with people who are right for the wrong reasons (mainly through the excruciatingly annoying character of "Buggin' Out"), and eventually culminates in a big riot that fails to accomplish anything.

Before Sunrise (1995)

The first installment of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy, and also arguably proof that he is the most patient man in the world (how many other directors can stay committed to a series where each installment has a ten-year gap between them, while also filming a boy's aging in real time). This is a fun romance that follows the unlikely bond between two young people who happen to meet by chance on a train in Vienna, trying to make the most of their one night together not being sure if they will ever see each other again. Such as simple but engaging little piece.

Life in a Day (2011)

This was a bizarre experiment by Ridley Scott which took a documentary approach to "Just one Day" in the most broadest possible sense. He literally had people record moments of their life on a single day and submit it. The full movie is a compilation of all those occurrences, events happening around the world which are connected by the fact that they all occur on exactly the same day.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Break into Song Scenes (Non-Musical)

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is non-musical films that have a scene where characters break into song. This is certainly an unusual choice for a category. It's hard to think of films that have a musical number without accidentally going back to musicals.

For this list, I have made sure to include images of the musical numbers from each film so that it is clear what I'm referring to.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Monty Python has occasionally delighted in enhancing its already bizarre comedy with surreal musical numbers. Monty Python and the Holy Grail does this memorably early on. King Arthur has assembled his knights, and introduces them to Camelot. Cue a bizarre musical number about being Knights of the Round Table. It's not even clear exactly how this classic sequence fits into the diegesis of the world (whatever it is, it's apparently enough to convince Arthur that Camelot is "a silly place" and that his knights should avoid it). This is the only real musical number (other songs featured, such as "Brave Sir Robin," don't have the same flare). The number primarily features singing and dancing knights around different parts of the castle's great hall. They dance around and knock over silverware. At one point a peasant plays a percussion solo by striking several knights with a ladle (and hits a peasant by accident). They even have a prisoner in the dungeon who claps along to the merriment!

The film also makes a joke about musical numbers during its "Tale of Sir Lancelot" segment. This section follows Prince Herbert, who is trapped in an arranged marriage with a princess. Throughout the segment, Herbert keeps trying to break into song only for the music to be abruptly stopped by his father (who is very adamant against him doing a song). This also results in an interesting touch when Herbert manages to start a musical number at the end of the section (to his father's irritation), and we still never hear him actually sing anything

History of the World: Part I

Mel Brooks' bizarre mock-historical drama provides a variety of peculiar sequences depicting outlandish interpretations of famous events, but special mention goes to a very bizarre sequence where we are introduced to the Spanish Inquisition. This infamous organization known for its ruthlessness and cruelty is represented by... an upbeat and extremely cheerful musical performance where Brooks himself plays their musical number. Lots of weird choreography ensues as the Inquisition very cheerfully tries to force its prisoners to convert.

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)

The third and final installment of the Austin Powers series of James Bond spoofs features a very weird musical number that marks an especially weird moment in what is already a very surreal and nonsensical plot. Professional bad guy Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) has been thrown into prison by the hero (also played by Mike Myers) and tries to devise an escape plan. His plan amounts to getting every other prisoner to start a riot so the guards don't notice when he and his sidekick Mini Me walk out the front gate. To get them motivated, he performs a bizarre hybrid of lip-syncing  "It's a Hard Knock Life" and rap verses.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Narration in the First Person

The concepts of first, second, and third person are often associated with a variety of different media. They are perhaps most commonly associated with literary criticism, in which case the terms are used in relation to how the story is narrated. When a piece of literature is narrated in the first person, this means it is presented as though the story is directly related to the reader by at least one of its characters. More extreme variations might have multiple narrators taking turns, but the point remains that it is a character in the story directly relating its events to the reader.

Third-person meanwhile, implies a story which is presented by an external narrator. The narrator is not a character within the story, nor are they given any real identity. Now there are variations on how third-person can be used which present a number of different sub-types but the same basic concept remains. An easy way to distinguish is to look at what pronouns are used by the prose. First-person narration will make heavy use of the words "I" or "we" while third-person will not use those words outside of quoting dialogue.

We also see these same terms being used in video games, with modified but similar definitions to those in the literary tradition. Typically, a first-person game is designed so that the player experiences most of the action through the eyes of a character. The player character is thus unseen except for parts (usually the arms) directly in front of them. A third-person game on the other hand makes its protagonist clearly visible. The player character is often placed front and center, within view of the player.

A simple contrast of first and third-person perspectives
Images taken from Far Cry: Primal (first-person) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (third-person)

The reason I bring this up is not to valorize or discredit one such mode as better or worse. Both are legitimate methods of presenting their story and first and third-person have both been used to create some excellent games. These two methods are also far from mutually exclusive. Some games opt to allow the player to choose between first and third person with the push of a button (as in the case of Skyrim). Alternatively, some games will use both as in the case of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, where Edward Kenway's story is played in the third person but the modern-day sections are seen in the first.

My main interest with this article is to discuss the format of first-person narration specifically, and its changing role over time. For the purposes of this article, we will take as our definition of first person that we are seeing the action through the eyes of a character in the story. But I am also interested in where it works and where it has not. One might note for instance that first-person movies are hard to come by, yet its become such a popular format for video games that entire genres have been created around it.

Experiments in first-person, or "subjective" narration as it was known a the time, have been seen on a number of occasions in film. One of the most recent attempts was the action blockbuster Hardcore Henry, but the style goes back farther. One early example of this same idea being attempted is the 1947 film noir Lady of the Lake. This particular film was the culmination of a period of experiments on subjectivity within Hollywood films, and was presented as though the audience is seeing through the eyes of its protagonist, Phillip Marlowe. The film was advertised with the idea that the audience is the detective, and that they are the ones solving the mystery.

Lady of the Lake (1947|) is shown entirely through the eyes of its protagonist, Phillip Marlowe. 
He is only visible whenever he sees a reflection of himself

Orson Welles also attempted to do this an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which would have been seen entirely through the eyes of its protagonist Charles Marlow (said protagonist would have only been seen in silhouette shots that framed the story). This film ended up going significantly over budget before production could begin and was never made. Lady of the Lake wasn't a huge success on release, mainly because it had nothing going for it beyond a single gimmick that wore thin quickly. Likewise, Hardcore Henry also received a very mixed reception for its first-person aspects.

As far as Hollywood is concerned, a point-of-view film is nothing more than a cheap gimmick. It's not worth it. Viewing the world literally through the eyes of a character ends up doing nothing more than keeping you from viewing the character in question. There doesn't seem to be much  to be gained from it. If anything it is more likely to make the audience feel alienated and confused. After all, in Lady of the Lake the viewer is not actually solving the mystery, they are simply stuck watching someone else solve a mystery through his eyes.

Yet this format does not seem to be wholly invalidated as a means of storytelling.While the first-person feature film does not seem to work, it has found its way into other formats. Video games have become very fond of the first-person format to the point where an entire genre has been created around it. It is not that unusual for video games to take on the approach of being seen through the eyes of a character either pre-designed or customized by the player (or whose identity is even kept entirely ambiguous and open to interpretation).

One of the most iconic video game genres is the first-person shooter, which itself has spawned a variety of sub-genres. Games like Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, and Far Cry all take on this format of placing the player into a difficult situation and challenging them to complete tasks without getting killed in the process. Usually this entails perceiving the world through the eyes of a character, only seeing their hands and weapon in front of them during gameplay.

Some even go to the extreme of carrying this format over to cutscenes. Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 forgoes cutscenes entirely to keep the perspective in the first person. The Call of Duty series follows a similar pattern of the game's action being experienced in the first person (though characters do sometimes appear in cutscenes, depending on the game). In Modern Warfare this comes up on several notable occasions.

One early scene has the player taking on the role of Al-Fulani, a politician displaced in a recent coup, as he is kidnapped and executed. Throughout this section, the player is unable to do much with the character beyond turning his head. But through the character's eyes they are able to witness the chaos resulting from the incident. Later in the campaign similar situation occurs when the player witnesses a nuclear explosion through the eyes of Sergeant Paul Jackson, followed by the level "Aftermath" which serves the sole function of allowing the player to experience his last moments.

Early in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the player assumes the role of Al-Fulani, 
as he is kidnapped and executed by the game's main antagonists. 

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
during the level "Aftermath" the player controls Jackson 
while he is dying of radiation poisoning.

In the Call of Duty games, the player is usually thrown into the middle of a war zone and given a gun. They assume the role of a soldier in a squad, and are given instructions required for the purposes of a mission. The player then has to figure out how to carry out their orders without getting themselves killed (which is often easier said than done). Tasks can range form securing or clearing important locations to just trying to survive within a particular time limit. The campaign story lines are often built around themes of camaraderie, with the player working alongside a familiar group of soldiers for much of the story and being treated as part of the team.

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the player is contributing to a team 
and performing tasks that get their teammates closer to completing their mission

It should be noted that while it might be the most obvious example of video games using the first-person format, it is hardly restricted to the first-person shooter (incidentally, it is easy to forget that there actually are such things as third-person shooters). A good example of this is the Dishonored series of video games. In each game (there have been three so far) the player assumes the role of a character in a steampunk fantasy world. In these games, nearly the entire story is experienced in the first-person, through the eyes of its player character. In these games, the structure is based on a combination of stealth, puzzle-solving, and sword fighting (gunplay is optional).

The Dishonored series has players assume the roles of different characters. 
Often they can make choices which affect how the story plays out.

Evidently, there is a key variable that affects how the first-person format can be used across different media. Why is it that this style does not work so well in film, yet it has become an integral part of video game culture? What does Dishonored or Call of Duty have that Lady of the Lake and Hardcore Henry do not? It is a fair question. The answer lies in the audience's relationship to the medium in question. In a literary format, first-person narration works because it is presented as a character in the story relating it to the reader. This does not translate as effectively to filmmaking.

Lady of the Lake was advertised with the gimmick that the viewer is the detective. That they will be the one solving the mystery, as opposed to simply watching a detective piece together the clues. This description sounds a lot like some contemporary video games, such as L.A. Noire or the Adventures of the Sherlock Holmes Series (both of which have the player controlling a detective and investigating crime scenes). Unfortunately, this gimmick was not possible with the technology of 1947. Contrary to its advertising, the audience watching Lady of the Lake was not in fact solving a mystery, only looking through someone else's eyes as they pieced together the clues.

This is the key difference between film and video games. When watching Lady of the Lake, the viewer is not detective Phillip Marlowe. They are not controlling him or figuring out the mystery for themselves, they merely watch him make observations and interact with the world around him. The viewers are passive observers. In a game like Call of Duty, the player themselves is incorporated as a character in the story. It is the ability to control the character and to directly interact with the world around the player that makes the first-person mode so appealing.

Even when the protagonist is pre-designed and given an extensive backstory as in the case of the four playable characters across the Dishonored series, the point still stands. The first-person format allows the player to immerse themselves in the character. They can become Corvo, Daud, Emily, or Bille. They are not a passive observer but an active participant. In Dishonored this means making difficult decisions that ultimately determine how the story plays out and whether it ends on a light or dark note. In Call of Duty this is completing tasks to ensure your squad can complete their mission.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Story Within a Story

I haven't done one of these in a while, but I'm thinking it might be a good idea to start working on this again.

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks is story within a story. Now this isn't always an easy topic to define. The simplest example I can give of a Story Within a Story is a framing narrative through which another story is related through flashback. In that sense, there are two stories. You have one narrative that sets up the film (though usually a secondary story) and another narrative that is relayed through the framing story.

Usually, this ties into the idea of plot and story, which are actually two separate if closely connected ideas. Of course, academics love to over-complicate everything and prefer to use the more confusing terms "fabula" and "syuzhet"(which originate from a Russian folklorist who was trying to study fairy tales), but they still have the same basic meaning. I love to use Citizen Kane as my example here.

The story is simply a linear timeline of events. This includes everything, right down to moments that we can infer happen (i.e. characters using the bathroom). The plot is how that story is presented to the viewer. To continue the Citizen Kane example, the story begins when Kane is taken away from his childhood home and ends when his sled is burned. The plot opens with Kane's death (an event that happens very late in the story) and uses a journalist's investigation to reveal the story of Kane's life through flashback.

To tie this back into the theme of Thursday Movie Picks, the story-within-a-story format is usually based on a plot which relies on one story to tell another. For instance, using the story of a journalist trying to understand Kane's last words to tell the story of Kane himself. The most straight forward way to do this is to have the modern plot relate past events through flashback.

Because of the theme of this week, I have chosen three films that feature stories-within-stories, and for convenience have made sure to include images of the secondary story for each one.

Citizen Kane (1942)

Orson Welles' famous pseudo-biopic inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst follows two parallel narratives at different points in time. The primary storyline is the rise and fall of newspaper-owner Charles Foster Kane, but the film actually opens with his death. Kane's dying words are "Rosebud" which leaves many people confused about what it could have meant. It then follows a journalist named Thompson who interviews people that knew Kane in the hopes of finding a clue as to what "Rosebud" is, and hoping that finding the answer will unlock some intriguing secret about Kane. This quest is ultimately unsuccessful, and in fact the secondary plot ends up leaves the viewer to speculate about its main story.

The Princess Bride 1987

This one is arguably a somewhat more literal variation of story within a story in that its actually presented as a man reading a book. Yes, the main story (the one most people usually watch it for) concerns the love story between Wesley and Buttercup and their various misadventures that introduce a variety of eccentric characters. But it both begins and ends with a very different story. We are introduced to an unnamed kid who is stuck in bed because of a cold. Peter Falk shows up as his grandfather and decides to read him a book that has a history of being read to members of the family when they were sick. That book is of course The Princess Bride. The storyline regularly gets interrupted by one or the other, resulting in commentary on the narrative as it progresses.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

This one takes the concept of "Story within a Story" to multiple levels, as it is arguably a story within a story within a story. The main story concerns the unlikely relationship between Ralph Fiennes' Monsieur Gustave, a Basil Faulty-eque hotel manager; and Zero Moustafa, his lobby boy. The two become unlikely friends and share a series of convoluted misadventures surrounding a conspiracy linking back to a recently deceased patient just before the start of World War II. However, that is also framed within a story surrounding the writer played by Jude Law, who visits the hotel several decades later and describes his relationship with an older Zero. And then that is also framed as a girl reading said author's book in the present day.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Star Wars Female Characters Ranked

So I've been over this before, the Star Wars franchise has had a long and complicated history when it comes to the subject of diversity. It's a difficult subject to discuss and has a few different lenses one can examine it through.

The cast of A New Hope is made up almost exclusively of white men (the exceptions include a single woman whose role is overshadowed by said men, two robots also played by white men, and a walking carpet who was also played by a white man). It wasn't until very late into the next film The Empire Strikes Back that we get even a single non-Caucasian joining the main cast. Then in Return of the Jedi the roles of female Rebel pilots were actively censored by George Lucas himself. Not a great reputation. One could technically say that the old Ewoks and Droids cartoons had more diversity than the original films.

This is also not exclusive to the original trilogy. The prequels added three new films and only one significant female character- Padme. The Clone Wars also had a lot of the same problems. Even though it boasted a large cast and tried to develop characters not given much focus in the films, it was weirdly averse to showing female Jedi. We'd constantly get plotlines concerning Mace Windu, Obi-Wan, or Kit Fisto, yet female Jedi like Aayla Secura and Shaak Tii would get one story to themselves then spend the rest of the show reduced to background non-speaking roles.

On the other hand, as many are quick to refute, Princess Leia was a huge deal when the trilogy came out. She was a woman with authority and both physical and mental strength (even if it's not as visible in A New Hope). The expanded universe in both timelines has also added its share of strong female characters, though this often occurred in projects where George Lucas wasn't directly involved.

One notable detail that seems to have come from George Lucas leaving Star Wars is a greater effort at diversifying the cast. Among the things that started to win me back into Star Wars fandom was the efforts to rectify those problems. The most recent films have depicted mixed race and mixed-gendered groups of heroes (and mixed-species in some cases). The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi also depict their antagonistic faction, the First Order, as mixed-gender (though members given primary focus have been male).

We've even had some writers go back and retroactively depict the Empire (depicted as exclusively male in the original trilogy) as having female officers and Stormtroopers. This one actually turned out to be pretty easy, because how would one tell the difference between a male and female Stormtrooper? The only indicator seems to be slight differences in voice, but they barely speak in the original trilogy as it is, so doing the math it is entirely possible for female Stormtroopers.

Also, special mention goes to one very recent project, Forces of Destiny, an animated web series and toyline which focuses specifically on highlighting strong women of the Star Wars universe. The cartoons so far have generally focused on the adventures of several different women from across different eras of Star Wars canon in between moments from the films. Many of them include big action scenes where said girls get to save the day.

Anyway, enough of my tangent. I got to thinking it would be interesting to try and rank the various strong female characters we have seen across the Star Wars Saga.

I've had to set a few perimeters for this list. First off, I have chosen to stick strictly to the new canon. The legends timeline had some excellent female characters in its own right, but I list all of them I'm going to be here all day. For one thing to break down every great female character in Knights of the Old Republic (and for the record, Revan is and always will be female!) would take up a lot of space, to say nothing of the countless novels, video games, and other material I would need to cover. I am also covering ones who were given a particularly prominent or significant role, as opposed to ones who were just part of the background before someone else gave them a backstory.

I am also sticking to official canon for this. I have written some very good fanfiction stories of my own: The Merchant of JakkuRogue One: Scarif, and Shadows of the Past, all of which try to feature strong female characters. Unfortunately, these are not presently considered official canon so I will not be including any of my original characters on the list. The same is also true for non-canon projects such as The Freemaker Adventures.

That said, I have tried to keep the list as varied as possible. One trap I have fallen into before when discussing female characters in Star Wars is to focus only on the light-side characters, when the series does have some strong female antagonists as well. Admittedly, the various antagonistic groups have a tendency to be predominantly male (though this has started to change) but I've still tried to recognize strong women where I can.

I'm also not touching The Clone Wars right now because that show wasn't great and Rebels is a thousand times better. It also didn't have as much in the way of strong female characters, frustratingly.

15. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

Okay, I need to ask, why the purple hair? It makes sense on some characters but there is never really anything about her personality that clearly warrants such a wardrobe choice. It looks really weird. What were you thinking?

Anyway, questionable wardrobe aside, Amilyn's role was somewhat inconsistent and I'm not sure exactly what we were intended to think of her. She is abruptly introduced in The Last Jedi as the new commander of the Resistance (might have been a good idea to establish her role earlier, perhaps even in the previous film) and is depicted for the most part as an ineffective and bureaucratic commander more likely to get her subordinates killed than anything else.

It is even treated as a positive outcome when our heroes openly perform a mutiny, yet she also ends up staying behind and sacrificing herself to save the Resistance. I'm not really sure what we were intended to think of her. She's set up as a leader but generally seems to be treated in a negative light only to have that view reversed near the end. Who is this character anyway and why is she so abruptly introduced out of nowhere when the Resistance already had authority figures who could have filled the role instead?

14. Rose Tico

Ultimately, I never found much to get invested in with Rose. She didn't have that much going for her beyond a (far more interesting) sister who dies at the very beginning. She accompanies Finn through much of the plot, but what exactly does she really add to it? One could probably cut her out entirely without changing much, if anything. Plus, she also ruined the long-anticipated Finn/Poe romance that was supposed to happen, before abruptly kissing Finn at the film's end. Star Wars was so close to introducing its first LGBT couple (come on, Star Trek's beaten you to this one now as well- get your act together).

13. Padme Amidala

Padme is a somewhat difficult character to judge. How well she was developed seems to vary depending on which source you turn to. One of the better parts of The Clone Wars was the decision to actually focus her episodes on her political career, and to emphasize Padme's wit and self-reliance when placed in a tight situation. In the prequel trilogy, on the other hand, her character deteriorates. She goes from a tough Queen in The Phantom Menace who leads a full-scale assault on her own castle just to free her subjects, to sitting around brushing her hair in Revenge of the Sith

Over the course of the trilogy, her entire role becomes increasingly about her relationship (and secret marriage) with Anakin. By Revenge of the Sith, it's more or less the only real character trait that gets any focus. Then there's that whole "Lost the Will to Live" thing. After being betrayed by her husband, I could understand her having every right to be upset, even traumatized (he did nearly strangle her to death) but losing the will to live seems a tad extreme. How about dying for the early Rebellion, or something more interesting?

12. Bo-Katan Kryze

Bo-Katan first appeared in The Clone Wars initially as a supporting antagonist but later changed sides after a bizarre and convoluted story arc involving Darth Maul performing a coup on Mandalore (yeah, that happened). She later returned for Rebels where she got a chance at redemption that proved valuable. Here, she was given the chance to step up as a new leader of the Mandalorians, and lead them through the fight against the Empire.

11. Captain Phasma

Phasma was an interesting addition to the cast, but unfortunately she's not a character that leaves much room for investment, mainly because we know nothing about her. To an extent, that works in her favor, as it makes her feel more like a typical Stormtrooper, but as far as depth of characterization we don't have a lot to discuss. Phasma is a commander who seems to be devoted to the First Order and firmly upholds their regulations.

That said, this is not entirely a bad thing. In fact in some ways Phasma can easily be argued to be a fairly progressive character. She just doesn't have as much to make her as memorable as some of the other characters on this list.

10. Seventh Sister

Of all the inquisitors that appeared on the show, Seventh Sister was probably the most intimidating and the most effective. Her partner (referred to as "Fifth Brother") was generally based on brute strength, but Seventh Sister had the brains. She proved almost more devastatingly effective than her season 1 predecessor. Every time she showed up, it was clear that our heroes were in serious trouble.

In fact, none of them were ever really able to defeat her (she ended up being killed instead by Maul, an even more powerful ex-Sith who could be described as morally gray at best). One never got the sense that any of the Rebels would have a chance at defeating her and often it was an immense victory just to be able to escape from one of her traps in one piece. She was therefore arguably the most worthy opponent of the Rebels compared to her (less memorable) male colleagues.

9. Governor Arihnda Pryce

Rebels managed to introduce a few female Imperials during its run, but Governor Pryce stands out as one of the most devastatingly effective, though one kinda has to be when they're second in command to one of the galaxy's smartest tacticians. Grand Admiral Thrawn is bad enough, but Pryce is often the one carrying out his orders.

8. Iden Versio

At first, seemingly an effort to retroactively suggest the Empire wasn't as misogynistic as the original trilogy claims, Iden Versio has a fairly complex story over the course of Battlefront II's campaign. She begins as a member of Imperial Special Forces and is depicted as a devoted member of the Imperial Military. This is someone who genuinely believes in the Empire's might and it's potential benefits, yet isn't afraid to speak her mind at the same time. 

In fact, while she does end up defecting to the Rebellion, it's not exactly a simple case of moral issues. If anything her partner Del Meeko begins questioning the Empire long before she does, and they only end up with the Rebellion out of necessity. This is a character who grew up thinking she was doing the right thing only to be betrayed by the very people on whom her existence depends. 

7. Ursa Wren

Season 3 of Rebels gave us Ursa Wren, the mother of one of the show's regular characters, and she turns out to be quite the character. When we first meet her, Ursa turns out to be a powerful woman. She runs the Mandalorian Clan Wren more or less single-handedly and shows an impressive skill for combat. She can be ruthless, but at the same time we do get a kind of noble side to her as well. Underneath her harsh exterior are strong maternal instincts and once she realizes the danger posed by the Empire she doesn't give up in fighting them.

6. Ahsoka Tano

Okay, I freely admit that I preferred Ahsoka in her Rebels incarnation than Clone Wars, but Ahsoka has some interesting qualities. Somewhat ironically an extremely flawed and problematic story of The Clone Wars involving her being betrayed by her best friend out of nowhere led to an interesting plot thread concerning her as a gray Jedi that brings out her more interesting quirks in Rebels. She is a former member of the Jedi Order who trained under Anakin, but over the course of the Clone Wars she begins to question the wisdom of the Jedi Knights and eventually chooses to leave them all together.

But this isn't a simple case of her turning to the dark side. Ahsoka instead ends up using her newfound freedom to assist in building up the early Rebel Alliance and develops her skills in finding new ways to protect the galaxy. Her story notably came to an abrupt (and still unresolved) conclusion when she entered a fight with Darth Vader, her former teacher. This resulted in an epic duel (come on, not many people can say they were able to hold their own in a fight against Darth Vader). Although it still has not been confirmed one way or the other if she survived, Ahsoka was able to pummel the living daylights out of one of the most powerful Sith Lords the canon has to offer. Even Luke couldn't do the level of damage Ahsoka did.

5. Rey

Rey seemed like such an amazing character when The Force Awakens came out, though with hindsight I would be tempted to place several more above her. She was also arguably more interesting in The Force Awakens than The Last Jedi. She had an aura of mystique, insofar as we didn't really know who she was or where she came from (questions rather anti-climatically answered in The Last Jedi), but she was also a competent and independent young woman. 

An expert pilot and scavenger who also knew how to protect herself, Rey has a lot of good strong points. It was also definitely a smart move to avoid any unnecessary romantic entanglements (I like that she and Finn are just friends and nothing more). She can work with others but isn't dependent on them. Special mention goes to when she gets captured by the Empire and it set up to be a perfect example of the damsel in distress- then proceeds to outwit her enemies. By the time Finn arrives to "rescue" her, she's already traversed half the base undetected and she has to assist him.

4. Princess Leia Organa

Of course I couldn't omit the most iconic woman of the Star Wars saga. Leia was the lone female character in the original trilogy, and a tricky one to discuss as there are several approaches to take with her. On the one hand, her role in A New Hope basically amounts to being a Maid Marian-esque damsel in distress to be rescued by the (exclusively male) group of heroes. On the other she does spend those moments standing up to the Empire and resisting Imperial Interrogations (it's implied that she was tortured for information and never gave in).

Leia also gets a more prominent role in the later films. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi give her more time to show off her skills. She oversees the Rebel Evacuation of Hoth and participates in the escape from Cloud City. She did have the infamous gold bikini, but I should point out that she also wore that thing while strangling the giant slug who forced it on her. That was then followed by her taking an active role in the Battle of Endor, not to mention securing an alliance with the local Ewoks that ended up being crucial to the Rebels' victory.

Both timelines also established Leia's role in the aftermath of the Empire's defeat, including her involvement in building the New Republic, but Carrie Fisher later reprised the role for The Force Awakens. By this time, Leia has become a general for the Resistance, and takes a more active role in planning and co-ordination (she also managed to rescue herself from the vacuum of space, not an easy feat). 

3. Sabine Wren

I couldn't do a list like this without including the second greatest female character from Rebels (you'll see who the first is soon enough). Sabine Wren is friggin' awesome. She's got both brawn and brains, and she's really good at blowing stuff up. She's also got a skill for machinery and works as an artist in her spare time. What's not to love? Yet they also balance this out with a fairly compassionate side: Sabine constantly struggles to reconcile her Mandalorian upbringing with her Rebel allegiance (and ends up key to bringing both factions together).

2. Jyn Erso

Jyn is the second female protagonist to be featured in one of the main films, and probably one of the best in the series. She's a far more complex character than some of our previous heroes-not as overtly idealistic as Luke yet also not as whiny as Anakin ("whiny" is not a very good description of Jyn Erso). Also a notable departure from the previous films by being a non-Jedi protagonist, instead leading a story essentially about the background characters who would normally be extras in the original trilogy.

Jyn comes from a complex background compared to previous heroes (though she does seem to continue the theme of absent parents that persisted with Luke, Anakin, and Rey). She actually starts off as a criminal who works for the Rebellion more as a temporary means to an end than out of any real interest in their cause. Her entire character arc is based on learning to be part of something greater than herself, unlike Luke (who more or less immediately joins the Rebellion as soon as he has the chance). 

1. Hera Syndulla

When doing a top anything list it is often hard to choose the #1 spot because there are so many great contenders. This time, there was no question. I knew going in who my top choice would be, so counting down was easy. On a list of the best female characters offered in Star Wars canon, how could I add anyone but one of the best female characters Star Wars has to offer? Hera Syndulla is not only one of the best characters in Rebels, but just plain one of the best characters period.

Rebels depicts many of the events leading up to A New Hope, with a particular emphasis on the early years of the Rebel Alliance. Hera Syndulla is one of the key players in organizing that rebellion. She is an expert pilot and mechanic, skills which routinely prove useful (she is already referred to as "Captain" when the show starts, and will become a general by the time Rogue One takes place). In addition to that, she also knows how to hold her own in a fight and improvise when a mission goes wrong.

Yet they also balance this with a more compassionate side. Hera's leadership allows her to become a maternal figure towards her crew (and as one Imperial Intelligence crew learned the hard way, she gets really nasty if you hurt her droid). She is a dedicated Rebel but also emphasizes that how one fights is just as important as why they fight.

I kinda wish they'd bring Hera back for the new trilogy. I could totally buy her being with the Resistance but what happened with her in that 30-year gap?