December Sun – A Web Comic

June 26, 2010

The 30th Anniversary of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and My Disillusionment with the Star Wars Franchise

Filed under: 3 — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 11:21 pm

In light of the 30th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back I just want to register some comments about the franchise, if for no other reason than to organize my thoughts as to what has happened in this train-wreck of a series.  Empire remains one of my favorite films ever, even though I’ve grown to totally hate verything about the STar Wars franchise over the last decade or so.  I really did no like the prequels, and I have no idea what the Clone Wars cartoon (or film) was even about.  All I know is: the original trilogy, untouched with CGI “enhancements” remains as something so important and iconic to me, and as far as cannonicity goes, that’s it: those three films.  I enjoyed the ‘Dark Forces’ PC games, and I thought that throughout the prequels there were a few enjoyable moments, but otherwise, its those original three films, and primarily Empire, that stand out to me as what Star Wars is all about.  Good acting, tremendous music and convincing special effects (I buy a puppet over CGI any day of the week, but more on that shortly.)

Above and beyond the acting and story, there are two elements that to me looking back stand out as the most critical as to why Empire Strikes Back stands out as such a good movie, and why the prequels were such dismal failures to me.  First, so much of what made the visual quality of the original trilogy so magnificint, particuarly Empire, was the unbelievable artwork of Ralph MacQuarre.  I’ve seen a number of books that show his behind the scenes illustration for the series, and his material just blows me away.  I’ve been rereading a book on the art of Empire, and the sheer volume of quality that McQuarre put into his conceptual artwork and matt paintings is just unbelievable.  This artistic vision was totally LACKING from the prequels, and while landscapes like Hoth and Bespin stand out in my mind so vividly, I really can’t remember much of the scenery of the prequel films (big green plant?  Ocean planet with a lot of rain?  etc.)

McQuarrie’s artwork has that Normal Rockwell element in that you can see some of his artwork and just marvel at the meticulous details (particularly some of the Bespin paintings.)  His ability to capture an impossible scale to futuristic structures, all while maintaining a convincing believability (to something like an enormous city floating in the sky) is a testament to his abilities as an artist.  Legendary, and Empire would not have been nearly the film it was without his contributions.  I think his name should have been listed higher in the credits.  More about Ralph McQuarrie and his artwokr here.

And of course, I’m always ranting about the music of John Williams (I’d link to Williams’ site, but the “official” site for Williams,, always seems to throw a “Could not connect: Unknown MySQL server host ‘’ (1)” error whenever I attempt to connect to it.  Software Quality Assurance, Sony?)

Without question, Williams’ music to Empire has always been to me the highest pinacle of his musical accomplishments.  I’ve listened to and enjoyed a great number of his musical works over the years, and the way it seems to me, there’s a steadily-rising gradation from the late 70′s into the early 80′s, with a number of good works before and after, but that particular range, with the Star Wars music, ‘Superman’, ‘Raiders’, ‘Jaws’, etc, is just so fantastic.  Later scores such as the Harry Potter works, while enjoyable, just never had quite the impact for me (especially not the prequel films, when Lucas started resorting to cut-n-paste musical tastics.  How many times in the prequels, I wonder, do we hear a recap of that “Phantom Menace: the ship leaving the JarJar Planet” music, used over and over again?  I just heard it again in a trailer for the Old Republic computer game.  LucasCo gets a LOT of milage out of reusaing that music. )

John Williams - greatest composer ever

Anyhow, Williams’ Empire music remains one of those scores I could listen to endlessly (in fact, I think I have.  I remember year ago, back in the early 80′s, borrowing the 2-recond vinyl soundtract to ESB from the Montgomery Couty Public Library outside of Philadelphia and listening to those records over and over again, marveling at the music.  Cues like the “Asteroid Theme” just have a timeless quality that, no matter how many times I listen to it, I’m still amazed.  Empire’s music is so jammed packed with themes:  Luke, Vader, Boba, Yoda… they’ve all got themes so wonderfully expressed throughout this soundtrack.  Williams outdid himself, and I don’t think that even the music of ‘Return of the Jedi’ came anywhere near as close in quality to Empire, and of course the prequel film music was nowhere near the same league as Empire (maybe Lucas realized that, and that’s why he shamelessly imported a cue from the Bespin lightsaber music into “Revenge of the Sith”?  I wonder…)

Well, regardless, it’s the visual artistry of McQuarrie and the musical artistry of Williams that, in looking back, make Empire so memorable to me.  Another element I alluded to earlier was CGI – or in the case of Empire Strikes Back, the complete lack thereof.  There is virtually NO CG to Empire, and yet the special effects are just so remarkable to me.  The imperial walkers, the asteroid chase scene, the Falcon traveling through those orange and red clouds on the way to Bespin: there’s no computer cheating at play there, just good, genuine special effect work.  Maybe that’s part of why I enjoy this one so much?

CG has no soul or real presence to me, expecially in regards to computer-generated characters in  film.  I HATED the CG Yoda and thought this completely flattened him into little more than a video game cutscene character.  The puppet Yoda occupied the same tangible reality and physical presence on the set and in the scene that Mark Hammil did.  The Yoda puppet seemed so much more real and convincing to me:  for instance, the X-wing takes off, and there’s Yoda puppet in the fading spotlight – contrasted this with the goofy, blurry and unconvincing CG Yoda lightsaber-fighting in ‘Revenge of the Sith’.  Terrible.  Fake.

I just realized I’m stuck with the “enhanced” version of Empire on DVD, and I regret that I didn’t pick up the uncut/unruined version pre-1997, but there’s no way, if I can help it, that I will give any more money to the Lucas Empire for another film, if I can help it.  Don’t know any other way to really summarize it: I think I’ve really become mortified by the entire Star Wars series based on the offerings of the last decade.  Empire and the original series remain some great films to me, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing beyond those three films in their pre-1997 editions.

June 25, 2010

December Sun #5 – Page 14

Filed under: 1 — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:17 pm

Very late with this one, but I’ll try to be better with the next few.  Some notes:

1) Panel 1 features the “obvious twins” fleeing the tank.

2) Panels 2 on feature one of my favorite, yet completely implausible, features of comic books that I read in the 1980′s, namely Chris Claremont stories, and that is characters who have ridiculously overly-verbose internal dialogs.  I personally love this in a comic though, as it pads out a story so much more and instead of just flipping through panel after panel of action, this is a way that you get an internal narrative that, although completely unrealistic, helps make the story so much more substantial (Well, in Claremont’s “Uncanny X-Men” maybe.  Not really here.  In fact, regarding that excessive dialog…)

3) I added overly-unnecessarily dialog into the last panel to cover up some flaws on the right of the page.  In fact, if you look at the upper right of the building, you’ll see a partially-hidden “PS”, which is my note when drawing/inking that I don’t care anymore and that I’ll just fix up the area with PhotoShop.  I ironically missed this one after doing the gradient half-tone, so I just left the PS there and added some marks to make it look like an explosion or something (this is the all-out-completely implausible page, but who cares?)

I also went a little bit overboard with the halftone in that last panel.  Oh, and did you pick up the not-too-subtle ‘Superman’ reference on the page?  Again, this issue is more tongue-in-cheek and more just having fun with the story and the characters.  Although I consider it “cannon” in the saga, its just a little more lightweight this time around.

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