Tag Archives: TV

Spotlight: Thundercats – Cheetara

Earlier this year, I posted this Spotlight! article about a character from one of my favorite TV shows. The series in question was Thundercats, and the protagonist we were discussing was Panthro, who was never this blogger’s favorite character. He was much more impressive than I realized at the time, but he’s never been my preferred hero in that universe.

Today’s topic, however, was and remains my favorite character in the original series. This would be Cheetara, the only adult female Thundercat present for the first season of the show. Another adult female Cat, Pumyra, was added later on, but we will talk about her another time.

At first, I admired Cheetara mostly for her ability to run fast. She once hit 120 mph on a morning jog and, I believe, could run much faster in combat. Based on the cheetah, some time ago yours truly learned that this heroine’s personality was also centered on speed. Unlike Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and other characters who can run at fantastic velocities, though, Cheetara was a composed, calm humanoid cat woman. She lacked the fiery temper and/or juvenile attitude modern audiences often associate with people who run fast.

She had a sense of humor, though. It showed either in dry, witty comments or a smiling, “Right in front of you, [boys]!”, but this did not change the fact that she was the most ‘adult’ member of the Thundercats. The villains had to work really hard to rile her up, as did her teammates. Cheetara didn’t like being insulted any more than anyone else, but when she knew that someone was trying to bait her with derogatory comments, she shrugged the bad behavior or nasty remarks off. The male Thundercats tended to take such things more seriously, something that occasionally puzzled their female friend. She would become righteously angry if taunted by an enemy or when she saw an injustice committed, but otherwise she was very hard to ruffle.

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This naturally meant that Cheetara rarely slipped into hysterics or dramatics. So if she grunted or stumbled with pain or surprise, the rest of the adult Cats converged on her faster than ants on a picnic. Cheetara didn’t have time or patience for theatrics, so any sign of distress from her automatically signaled an imminent problem of some kind. Thus she was the team’s barometer for trouble; if she reacted badly to something – even if it was something they couldn’t see – then the male Thundercats instinctively began looking for whatever problem was headed their way.

In addition to her amazing speed, Cheetara’s main weapon in battle was her retractable golden bo staff. Stored in a wrist guard on her left arm, the staff could be pulled free at any time and extend it to its full length easily. Combined with her incredible momentum, the staff enabled her to cause serious havoc in enemy ranks. Like the other Thundercats’ weapons, Cheetara’s staff was both magical and technological, meaning she could pull off some very neat tricks with it. She could lengthen the staff into a pole useful for vaulting over obstacles or springing up to high places. Or she could thrust the weapon to the earth, causing it to fire off several dozen “copies” of the staff that would fly out to strike and batter her opponents. It really was a nifty weapon, readers. 😉

Another power she had that was equally interesting, though sometimes it could be deadly. This power was Cheetara’s “sixth sense,” a limited form of telepathy that occasionally allowed her to feel and “see” when another Thundercat was in trouble. It was never shown enough to satisfy this viewer, but the writers made good use of in nonetheless.

Cheetara’s limited telepathy wasn’t something she could truly control or use in spectacular fashion for most of the show’s run. Generally, her latent psychic power flared up without her conscious will or effort. The one time Cheetara was able to use it as a genuine superpower came when the Lunataks – bizarre, evil creatures native to Third Earth – were using a device to scramble her psychic power in order to cover up one of their evil schemes. Overcoming their manipulation, Cheetara was able to free the captured Thundercats with a burst of telepathic power straight from her heart, mind, and body. It was the most stunning display of psychic strength she ever demonstrated.

With all this going for her, readers, it’s not hard to see why this blogger considered Cheetara her favorite character. Over time, her speed became less impressive than her personality, and to this day she has remained my preferred Thundercat. Given my unvarnished opinion of the 2011 remake for this series, though, it seems natural to assume that I didn’t like her appearance in the reboot. In actuality, with regard to Cheetara, the 2011 series gave me very little to complain about. In terms of personality, the new version was pretty close to the original conception of the character. What changes were made to her behavior were so minor that they’re not even worth consideration.

Nevertheless, I did have a few gripes with the 2011 presentation of the character, primarily with her outfit. In the original series, Cheetara’s suit covered everything but her right shoulder and arm. Now, that’s not exactly a smart fashion choice for a woman who intends to enter combat on a semi-regular basis, but the fact is that her original suit protected most of her body. Thundercats apparently needed little to no protective outerwear on their homeworld, Thundera, so it makes sense that Cheetara and the others would retain some measure of enhanced durability on Third Earth. This is the only reason (aside from the animators’/writers’ taste in fashion) that I can supply for Cheetara’s original, one-sleeved costume.

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Her new suit in the 2011 reboot, however, has no such excuse. This costume was a ratty brown two piece with an exposed midriff and no boots. It was obviously meant to make the 2011 Cheetara look “cool” and “edgy,” a truly stupid move on the part of the new show’s writers. Even at her highest speed, wearing a get-up like that put her vital areas in serious jeopardy during a fight. More to the point, the original Cheetara would not have been caught dead in such a tattered uniform. She was never an “edgy” character in the original series and she didn’t need to be in the new one!

My other gripe was that the new writers for the show disposed of Cheetara’s latent “sixth sense.” That power had led to several interesting, thought-provoking episodes in the first Thundercats series, and it could have spiraled off in dozens of amazing directions during the new show. Some might argue that the affinity the new Cheetara showed for using Jaga’s magic was an homage to her dormant telepathy, but her “magic” powers were only demonstrated once in the reboot. To my mind, that’s hardly compensation for the loss of such an interesting trait, readers.

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Despite these complaints, the 2011 series did improve on Cheetara’s portrayal in one regard. In the original series it was hinted that she and Tygra, a male Thundercat based on the tiger whom we will discuss later, were a couple. Other episodes, however, blurred the line and implied there was a mutual romantic interest between her and Lion-O, the ruler of the Thundercats. This could get confusing from time to time, especially since the series’ creators and subsequent merchandise made it plain Tygra and Cheetara were an item. Although I genuinely despise the books, the one good thing that the comics based on the series did was to show the two had married and had a couple of Kittens. It’s about the only thing I give the comics’ creators credit for doing.

Though the reboot writers led Lion-O to believe that Cheetara was romantically interested in him, they later demonstrated that she had an unequivocal romantic devotion to Tygra. Aside from the attempted love triangle, this was a really good move on their part. While the 2011 series didn’t treat the two as well as it should have, it at least made their mutual attraction clear, allowing them to show their love for one another and to act on it. For that, the new show deserves some points.

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Well, readers, this has been fun. It’s nice to get back into the rhythm of these Spotlight! posts. I’ve been doing so many Zoids ones that, added to my month-long hiatus, I almost forgot how to set the stage for these articles! Stay tuned for a new, non-Zoids focused post soon. It should be a rolling-ly good one.

Yes, that was a veiled hint about the following Spotlight! topic. 😉 And it is the only one you are going to get for now, since I have to start planning that post. ‘Til then –

“Thundercats – HO!”

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MORE Favorite Animated Intro Themes

Here are a few more animated introductory themes for you to enjoy, readers! It has been a while since I saw most of them, but they are still entertaining cartoons. I certainly recommend them for the young ones in your life. 😉

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Transformers Prime

 

Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015)

 

Rescue Heroes

 

Speed Buggy

 

Hong Kong Phooey

 

Tom and Jerry

 

The Superfriends

 

The Justice League

 

Young Justice

 

Batman (1990s)

 

Batman (2005)

My Favorite Lightsaber Duels in Star Wars Rebels – and the Scenes in Them Which Stood Out Most

Yes, I know this is a terrible title for a post. It was the best that I could come up with, however, so we are all stuck with it.

At the end of my post “Tribute to the Jedi,” I listed three of my favorite lightsaber duels in Star Wars Rebels. Discussing these battles with a friend some time ago, I recalled one I had forgotten, which will be mentioned below. During our chat I admitted something which still stands out to me in each of these encounters between the Jedi and the Dark Siders. As we go through them, I will make certain to mention what this recurring theme is.

Before we do that, though, I have something to admit: I do not like the new Star Wars timeline, especially the books. It does not jive with the original films, preaching rather than telling a story. Having read several novels in the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, along with a number of books in the new timeline, I find that the older ones (usually) fit better with the original trilogy than the new ones do.

The reason I bring this up here is because this series, to me, has always felt like it is part of the original Expanded Universe rather than the new timeline. Rebels and its tie-in media is, for me, the best thing to come out of the new Star Wars universe – which is why you are reading this post today. And so, without further ado, we turn to the battle which is still my top favorite:

Kanan Jarrus versus the Grand Inquisitor in “Fire Across the Galaxy”

I have said that the era of the original trilogy – the time of the Rebellion, for want of a better layman’s term – is my favorite in the Star Wars universe. My enjoyment of this period of the story explains why I gave Rebels a chance. I love learning about Jedi who lived through the Purge, especially if they played a part later on in Luke Skywalker’s New Jedi Order. Perhaps it was their surviving adversity for twenty years, or maybe it was just watching the transition to the Rebellion era. I don’t know how to explain it, or if I can, but anything that involves Jedi from the Old Order surviving to see the rise of the New just thrills and intrigues me.

So I wanted to know more about Kanan Jarrus before the series even began. I got excruciatingly little there for the first few episodes, which drove me half crazy and made every Jedi-centered episode a treasure. More than once I would leave the television feeling disappointed with an episode because it had not delivered the desired Jedi-fix.

“Fire Across the Galaxy” satisfied my wish for more Jedi stories with the amazing lightsaber duel at its climax. It is a spectacular fight that begins with Ezra helping Kanan – who has been undergoing Imperial “interrogation” – escape Grand Moff Tarkin’s Star Destroyer. For some reason I still do not understand, they decided to cut through the engine room to get to a fighter bay and freedom.

Naturally, the Grand Inquisitor is waiting for them there. Despite not being in top shape, Kanan takes his apprentice’s nifty lightsaber and goes after the Inquisitor. The battle becomes two-on-one when Ezra retrieves his Master’s blade from the Pau’aun’s belt and activates it.

But at this point, Ezra’s still not good enough at blade work to defend against the attacks of the more experienced Dark Sider. He tries Kanan’s baseball bat trick to deflect the Inquisitor’s thrown blade – and it works, in so far as the boy does not get cut in half. However, the spinning hilt does scratch his face, and it has enough momentum behind it that Ezra loses his balance and falls to another catwalk.

This is what Kanan has been afraid of from episode one of the season; that he will fail and Ezra will be killed. He already holds himself responsible, to some degree, for his own Master’s death; losing Ezra would be like going through that pain all over again. Only this time it would be worse because Kanan is not a kid. He is an adult who should be able to protect his apprentice as well as train him.

Sent sprawling by a Force push from the Inquisitor, not to mention still dealing with the aftereffects of the Empire’s torture, Kanan is not able to get up in time to prevent Ezra from tumbling to his apparent death. He ends up on his knees, looking down at the boy, whom he doesn’t realize is just unconscious.

What got me about the scene wasn’t simply the grief we see on Kanan’s face when he thinks Ezra is dead. That was to be expected. No, it is how his expression changes after this. Before he stands up, the grief and anger leaves Kanan’s face, to be replaced by calm acceptance.

This is important because, in this moment, Kanan stops fighting the Force and lets it come to him. He is still sad, he still believes Ezra is dead, and he is none too happy with the Grand Inquisitor. You can hear all those emotions in his voice when he addresses the Dark Sider in the next frame.

However, he doesn’t give in to these feelings or let them rule him. He just lets them go, allowing the Force to enter in their place. And so the Pau’aun does not realize he has just made, as his opponent says, a huge mistake. He thinks our resident Jedi is broken, an easy kill. But Kanan comes back with the response I really love, saying that now he has “nothing left to fear!

The rest of their duel is a beautiful thing to watch, but this particular part is my favorite scene. As we see later on, Ezra is right to say that Kanan is “better than okay.” Here he is, actually, better than okay.

Allow me to explain. Kanan’s entire struggle up to this point has been with his fear of discovery. He has also been afraid to accept his Jedi heritage and to return to the Jedi path. The only times he is really able to pull off feats of strength using the Force is when something frightens him more than this.

We see it in “Rise of the Old Masters,” when he throws the Inquisitor into the ceiling to save Ezra, and earlier in the same episode when he reaches out with the Force to keep the boy from falling to his death during a lesson. Each time, Kanan has to strain to use the Force. This is both because he is out of practice and because he has two fears vying for his attention at the same time: fear of failing Ezra and fear of being discovered.

But in this duel, he finally lets the fear go. And that allows the Force to enter him at last, making him a willing vessel for its designs. This is why he does an apparently inexplicable one-eighty degree turn in his skill level during the duel. While he still needs to practice his sword work the fact is that, here, Kanan is no longer alone. He is finally – finally – letting the Force guide him and act through him.

This makes up for his lack of training and experience, giving him the edge over the Grand Inquisitor. It is why he bests him. Kanan’s no longer fighting with his own skill and power here. He is in the same position as Chirrut Îmwe; he is one with the Force, as it is with him. And the thing which still gets me is that he is kneeling down when he lets the Force in. This is not a big deal, right? He got knocked over, so of course he would be on his knees when he lets go of his fear to allow the Force to enter him –

Whoa, not so fast there, Speed Reader! Let’s take a look at my second favorite battle on this list….

Ahsoka Tano versus Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister on Garel in “Future of the Force”

I have never seen more than a few clips of The Clone Wars. The poor direction of the prequel movies left such a bad taste in my brain that I could not stand the cartoons. And yeah, I was naïve enough at the time to think the series did not tie into the larger Star Wars universe.

Well, I eventually found out that Clone Wars WAS part of the Star Wars timeline even before the new trilogy arrived. This meant, naturally, that I needed to learn more about it. As I was digging through the archives about the series I stumbled on Ahsoka Tano’s file.

Everything I read about her made her sound interesting, to the point that when I pictured her being killed by Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, I wished she didn’t have to die. I had not even seen her yet, readers, but I already thought she was a great character! So I was relieved to learn she left the Jedi Order before the Purge. That at least put off a confrontation between her and Vader, hopefully permanently. I really wanted her to survive to meet Luke after Return of the Jedi so we could watch her connect with her master’s son.

Learning that this amazing character would be reappearing in Rebels was very exciting. I would finally get to meet the famous Ahsoka Tano and see if she was everything I expected her to be. Her fans will not be surprised when I say she did not disappoint; I still do not like The Clone Wars, but I am definitely a fan of Ahsoka Tano….

…So I was rather irritated when she did not get to use her lightsabers immediately upon her appearance in season two of the show. We had to wait until “The Future of the Force” to see her draw her new white blades, let alone use them.

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But it was worth the wait. Watching Ahsoka hand Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister their fannies on a platter was amazing. She eventually managed to throw Fifth Brother into a column, briefly sending him to dreamland, before focusing entirely on Seventh Sister.

I will never forget what she did next because it was so unexpected. Instead of pressing her advantage with the remaining Inquisitor, Ahsoka shut down her blades. Then she put them away, knelt down on the ground, and held her open hands up to the air. Of course, Seventh Sister thought Ahsoka was an easy target. But without even opening her eyes, Ahsoka caught the other woman’s lightsaber hilt between her hands and, using the Force, shut the blade down before tossing it aside.

Notice we once again have a Light Side Force wielder kneel down before defeating her opponent. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Let’s press on to battle number three, the confrontation I forgot to mention until I was discussing these duels with my friend…

Kanan Jarrus versus the Sentinel Spirit in “Shroud of Darkness”

“Shroud of Darkness” was such a powerful episode that I did a post about it almost two days after it aired. Most of that article revolves around the shocker of who the Sentinel Jedi was, along with theories about how he got to the Lothal temple and the Light Side. As lightsaber duels go, this one didn’t really stick in my mind the way the previous two did.

Except for one scene, that is.

This scene comes when Kanan has been knocked down by the Sentinel Jedi. Two others have come to back the lead Sentinel up, and the Lothal temple has begun to collapse as Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister force their way inside. Kanan is once again on his knees. But here he is also surrounded and running out of time.

Having declared Ezra too dangerous to be allowed to live, the vision Jedi states that Kanan cannot protect his apprentice from the lure of the Dark Side or the Sentinels. “You’re right,” he replies. “I can’t protect Ezra, least of all from himself. All I can do is what I have done – train him as best I could.”

Since I knew this was a vision, I knew that Kanan could not truly be hurt here. So when the Sentinel raised his lightsaber, I was pretty sure Kanan was not going to die. I didn’t know he would be knighted, but I knew he would not be killed.

Again, though, in this scene Kanan is on his knees. He has been forced there by the fight, and because of time constraints, he does not try to stand up. He stays kneeling, fully expecting to be struck down. What is the significance of this? Why, other than the fact that he is officially knighted in the next moment, is Kanan again on his knees here?

Let’s look at the last battle on my list to find the answer to that question.

Kanan Jarrus versus Maul in “Twilight of the Apprentice, Part 2”

If there is one character in the Star Wars universe I despise completely, I would have to say it was Maul. Ever since I saw him in The Phantom Menace, I have hated him. Why Lucas made him and his species is beyond me.

For some reason, I thought we were done with this Zabrak even before the new timeline was announced. No such luck; Maul returned to plague us again in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” managing to hook Ezra with the lure of the Dark Side in the process. For a while he played he was on our guys’ side, but we all knew that he was tagging along for the ride. He wanted something, and he needed Ezra to get it. So while it was not a surprise when he attacked Kanan, I was not expecting him to blind my favorite Rebel Jedi.

Ahsoka went up about twenty more bars in my estimation for jumping in automatically to protect him, but it was still nerve-wracking to watch Kanan, on his knees once more, searching for his lightsaber. Seeing him best Maul in three short moves – perhaps a nod to the former Sith Lord’s later defeat by Kenobi – did not exactly ease my fears, but it certainly proved Kanan could still fight (and how!).

The main point, however, is – you guessed it – the fact that Kanan landed up on his knees again. By now you are furious at me for taking so long to get to this point. “Just what is it about Kanan and Ahsoka kneeling down or ending up on their knees in all these battles that has you so interested, Mithril?” you are snarling at the screen.

Well, we all know that Lucas borrowed elements of Christianity for his fantastic galaxy far, far away. When watching the Star Wars films or reading the books, the Christian aspects of the stories have always stood out to me – especially in Zahn’s novels about Star Wars (this is another reason why he is my preferred writer in the original EU).

So when I saw Ahsoka, in the middle of her duel with Seventh Sister, inexplicably put aside her blades to kneel down and raise her hands, I was immediately put in mind of the act of praying. The same impression hit me when I saw Kanan on his knees in “Shroud of Darkness.” I thought of it again, to a lesser degree, in his search for his lightsaber after Maul blinded him in “Twilight of the Apprentice, Part 2.”

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And I cannot watch him duel the Grand Inquisitor in “Fire Across the Galaxy” without thinking of it. For “perfect love casts out fear,” we are told, and Kanan’s fear has blocked him from the Force up to this point. Just so, our irrational fears block us off from God’s grace. (The same can be said about anger, of course, along with selfishness, pride, and the rest of the seven deadly sins, but that’s another story.)

Thus the small, seemingly inconsequential moments when the Jedi kneel down during these duels has far more meaning than most of us suspect at first viewing. Interpreted through the lens of faith, we can see a heartening message in these “pivot points” where the Light Siders put their faith in the Force to help them win the fight.

Does that mean the writers and Dave Filoni put these moments here on purpose? Perhaps they did. I do not know any of them, so I cannot say. And if they want to keep their jobs, then I do not think they can come out and admit that they even have faith of any kind. It is something of a taboo subject in the circles where they work these days (just look at how Marvel Comics’ roster of writers treats the subject).

In the end, though, it does not matter whether these moments are messages from Christian writers to Christian viewers. What matters is these scenes are present for an astute Christian to see, which is why I bring them up here and now. One of the reasons I started Thoughts on the Edge of Forever is because I believe God talks to us through the fiction we enjoy. Over the years I have come to see His Hand in more than one of my favorite stories.

Sometimes it is easy to know when He is there, as it is in the Chronicles of Narnia. But in other stories – like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, Star Wars, Star Trek, and a multitude of different fictional universes – He takes us by surprise. This was the case with me when I went to see Marvel’s The Avengers. I had caught glimpses of Him in my research into the comics, but I really saw and heard Him in that movie.

Obviously, this is why I have taken such issue with Marvel Comics’ current course, not to mention attacked other franchises when they “play politics.” As Dean Koontz pointed out in his novel Ashley Bell, good fiction can heal souls. It can do this because, through the veil of the fantastic, God touches our lives and raises our minds to Him. So when authors and/or their employers begin to drag the focus of the story toward “representation for all,” “women’s rights,” “equality for everyone,” or they try to make their fiction “realistic,” they chase God out of their fantastic universes.

And a story without God in it, no matter how artistically done or how much time, effort, and money are lavished on it, fails to become a story at all. Why? Because God made stories, too, readers. He made our very lives, and what are they but stories?

He doesn’t make our choices for us, or push us to do things His way. Rather, as Star Wars Rebels: The Rebellion Begins puts it, He weaves a pattern through the universe. We are free to act in accord with that invisible web, to run away from it, or even to attack it. God doesn’t force us to take any one of these three courses, but it is His right as the Creator of the cosmos to fit them into the pattern He is weaving. Whatever we choose, we are free to choose it, as He is free to undo it or make it better.

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That, at its core, is the basis of Star Wars. Filoni and his crew – along with Zahn and other authors for the “old EU” – understand this very well, at least on an instinctive level. But many of the new authors for the franchise, either because they are blind to the Truth or because they fear the Emperors of this galaxy, are letting this understanding go. This is poisoning their new stories in the process and, while it does not mean the whole new timeline is worthless, it does make it inferior to the original in most cases.

While some will think this is reason for despair, I ask you to remain hopeful, readers. After all, God can turn even great sorrow to joy. He may have some great good planned which will upend the schemes of the Saurons, Sarumans, Gollums, Emperors, Inquisitors, and Mauls tearing apart story land – and Star Wars – today.

In which case, it is best we imitate Kanan and Ahsoka, metaphorically speaking, and open ourselves to listen to what He has to tell us. “For even the very wise cannot see all ends” – and when they try, they stop being wise. It is better, oftentimes, to wait and listen. He’ll tell us when the time is right to act. He always does.

May the Force be with you, readers, always.

Star Wars Rebels’ Trailer 2 for Season Four Is OUT!!

I missed this trailer when it came out, so this post is probably coming out a day late and a dollar short. But better late than never, right?

Okay, first things first. Turns out, that wolf we saw in the first trailer is a Loth-wolf. And it is part of a pack – a big one!

Ruhk, the Noghri bodyguard for Grand Admiral Thrawn, is now a canon character, readers. Thrawn wants him to take out Hera, and despite the Noghri race’s fantastic fighting skills, it looks like Ruhk gets his fanny handed to him in this fight. Don’t mess with Hera!!!

Kanan’s fate is not looking like it will be a good one. I’m still hoping he’ll make it to the end of Star Wars Rebels, and I would be SO HAPPY if he survived to be at the party on Endor. But I am not going to hold my breath that the writers will let him survive.

Ezra I think will live to the time of The Last Jedi, at least. If Disney/Lucasfilm really is planning a sequel/new series, keeping Ezra alive for it would make a lot of sense. Just because Ezra would live to the time of Rey, Finn, and Poe does not mean he would be a Jedi. As it is, we still do not know whether or not Luke and Rey are the only Force sensitives/Jedi in The Last Jedi. They are just the two we know about.

Finally, Mandalore is in serious trouble. The Empire seems to have developed some kind of lightning-type ray gun that can fry a person to ash without destroying the armor they are wearing. I think Sabine will live through the fight, but the odds for her family, Fenn Rau, and Bo-Katan living through it have shrunk dramatically.

But what am I babbling about? You came to see the video, not to read my ramblings about it! Here’s the second trailer for Star Wars Rebels‘ fourth and final season, readers. And, as always…

“May the Force be with you.”

The Mithril Guardian

Tangled Cuts and Happily Ever After

Tangled is one of the best films that Disney has ever made.  But for some odd reason, they have decided to turn it into a television series.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the idea – I thought the movie ended things perfectly and, as a viewer, I was quite willing to leave it there.  But Disney has decided to make it a television series and at this point, there is no use arguing with them about it.

It’s not all bad news, though.  The series comes with some cute perks, especially its Tangled: Short Cuts.  These short episodes fill in time between the series’ events and they have been a hoot so far.  More are sure to come, but here are the ones that I have seen and enjoyed.  As a bonus, the short Tangled Ever After is included at the bottom of the post.

Enjoy!

Prison Bake 

 

Make Me Smile

 

Check Mate

 

Tangled Ever After

Spotlight: Star Wars Rebels – Agent Kallus

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You may or may not have seen my post “Star Wars Rebels’ Zero Hour and Season 3 Review.” It was a long post. In that article, one of the things about Rebels’ season three which I noted was Agent Kallus’ defection to the Rebellion from the Empire. Some people were surprised by his change of heart this season, and I admit to being taken aback that he became the new Fulcrum.

However, I was not in the least bit astonished that he turned Rebel. If you are in the mood to look up my previous posts on Rebels, you will find in one or two of them that I mentioned a belief that Kallus would change sides. I knew right from the start that Kallus had “the heart of a Rebel.”

Of course, this begs the question: How did I know?

A friend asked me that a little while ago. It is a good question, one I cannot answer in a scientific manner. I knew when I saw the first advertisements for Rebels that Kallus would be an Imperial goon; that he would be an antagonist. I knew that his name comes from the word callous, which means “being hardened and thickened…feeling no emotion; feeling or showing no sympathy for others: hard-hearted.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)   But even as I watched Spark of Rebellion, I looked at Kallus and thought, “You’ll be a Rebel someday, pal. Just you wait and see!”

How did I know? There were lots of little giveaways, I think. Not many people would notice them, especially among the show’s target audience. I have been a child before. I know how they see things. I gave up on lots of characters fighting on behalf of evil as a kid, only to be blindsided with shock when they became good guys later on. It is totally understandable that kids would see Kallus as nothing but a hopeless baddy, irredeemable and undesirable. One even gave him the nickname WAFAR: Walking Advertisement for a Razor, in reference to his huge sideburns.

Despite helping to create the moniker and adopting it myself, I did not see Kallus as a hopeless villain, and below are some of the reasons why.

From the get-go, I noticed that Kallus did not mind going into battle at the head of a legion of Stormtroopers. When Vader steps on the scene, he is usually the central point of the conflict. He is neither with the Stormtoopers nor goading them on from behind. If there are Stormtroopers present when Darth Vader enters the scene, they are in the background, firing at the heroes. Vader takes center stage whenever he shows up.

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Kallus was different. He was not in front of the Stormtroopers, like Vader typically is, he was in the front line with them. This is also a departure from the aloof attitude demonstrated by most Imperial officers. They are all safely behind the Stormtroopers when they appear on screen. We have never really seen an Imperial officer, agent, or other bigwig dive into the thick of a fight against the Rebels. The obvious reason for this is that the Imperials are perfectly willing to dish out the pain, but they are not willing to experience it themselves.

Kallus is different. He is willing to fight. He is willing to brawl. Whether he is using a blaster, his Lasat bo-rifle, or his own fists, he enjoys the thrill of combat. He is not afraid of getting hurt, though he is not reckless and does not wish to get himself killed. Nevertheless, from the start it was obvious that he enjoyed a good scrap.

This, I think, was my first hint that Kallus had the makings of a Rebel. Another hint was that he was not prone to preening, as most Imperials in Star Wars are. I do not recall seeing Kallus boast over anything he did while with the Empire, even his successes as an ISB agent. One Star Wars encyclopedia claims that he turned down numerous offers of promotion in order to stay on the front lines. So he did not have an unhealthy, inflated opinion of himself. Hmm, not your typical Imperial reaction to success, eh, readers?

To the observant viewer, this shows that Kallus is not interested in power or advancement in the Imperial bureaucracy. He is interested in his job as an ISB agent because he enjoys it. He wants to be on the front lines, fighting what he thinks is the good fight. His scrupulous attention to his job, his lack of interest in prestige and power, his love of combat because he is at his physical peak, hinted that he had a sense of honor. Though he kicked a Stormtrooper down a Kessel mineshaft and did some other, similarly nasty things, Kallus definitely possessed an aura of real dignity which is lacking in most of Star Wars’ Imperial characters.

Hint number three about Kallus’ eventual change of heart was that he was smart. Most Imperials are so busy trying to “get ahead” in the Imperial power structure that they have lost whatever imagination they had before they became part of the Emperor’s machine. You watch them while they are working on the bridge of a Star Destroyer or some such place, and they are all vying for “their fair share” of the glory. This means that they never look beyond their own nose. Because they are so busy looking out for good ol’ Number One, they do not understand the Rebels.

The Rebels would never leave a man behind if they could find a way to save him. Kallus realized this at the start of the series and, like Grand Admiral Thrawn, he began to profile our heroes. He did not do it through studying art, as Thrawn does, but by assessing their actions in combat.

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There are benefits to both kinds of deduction, obviously. Thrawn’s fascination with art and what it shows about a particular artist’s or species’ mindset is a superpower all by itself. It is what allows him to make such great, overarching plans. If there is one thing Thrawn is proud of it is his intellect, the fact that he is the smartest man (or Chiss) in the room, and so he holds all his subordinates and enemies in contempt. Kallus’ understanding of the Rebels is based more on their performance in combat, and so he never held them in complete contempt.

Kallus is not a genius, like Thrawn, but he is intelligent. He analyzed the Ghost crew’s patterns of attack and would be ready to meet them when they came running to the bait he had set up. His hand-to-hand battles with the Ghost crew, particularly Zeb, taught him their personal strengths and weaknesses.

In a way, this knowledge gave him a more realistic and basic picture of the Rebels than the one Thrawn has drawn up. Thrawn understands how they think; Kallus knows why they think the way they do. Thrawn is detached from his knowledge of the Rebels. With very, very few exceptions, he has not engaged them in personal combat. He has studied their tactics, yes, but he has done so through secondhand reports. Though thorough, these reports do not equate to actual experience.

Kallus has not engaged the Rebels simply with his head but by fighting them physically. He knows, therefore, that they will do the totally unexpected, not because of a picture they painted on a wall or a mask they left lying around. They will do the totally unexpected because they are determined to survive long enough to get a Rebellion against the Empire up and running. If someday they have to die so that a Rebellion can be born, then they will do it. But if they can find a way to survive they will take that chance, however slim or insane it seems to be. That is all there is to it.

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Thrawn thinks he can synthesize thousands of years of art and battle tactics into an efficient metric by which to plan out the perfect battle. To an extent, he is right. But what Kallus knows and what Thrawn has not recognized is that heart beats brains every time. The Ghost crew’s determination to win, to look out for each other, trumped his every plan to bring them to face what he believed was justice. And all of his plans were remarkably neat, for an “average” Imperial. So how can someone so smart get beaten so often by people who, logically, should be easy to defeat?

The writers finally answered Kallus’ question in The Honorable Ones. After bushwhacking the crew in an Imperial factory orbiting Geonosis, Kallus follows Zeb as the Lasat tries to return to the Ghost via an Imperial escape pod. The two end up fighting while the escape pod jettisons, damaging the controls in the process and landing on an ice moon as a result. Zeb is knocked cold by the landing while Kallus breaks his leg.

The episode is actually nothing special, from the point of view of the plot. Two enemies who hate the other end up stranded together and have to work with one another if they hope to survive to rejoin their respective forces. We have seen this device used time and time again. It is not a particularly spectacular plot and, if handled badly, it leaves an awful taste in viewers’ minds.

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But The Honorable Ones pulls it off very well – and not just because of all the “freak-out noises” Kallus makes. Having watched Zeb for so long, we know how he is going to react when he realizes that Kallus cannot fight because of his busted leg. Kallus, however, believes that Zeb will take the first opportunity to kill him. He repeatedly tries to get his hands on a weapon, but Zeb disarms him and does not hurt him, in spite of pointing out how easily he could kill the ISB agent.

Zeb then makes a crack about how Geonosis is supposed to be a desert planet. He knows very well that they are on one of the planet’s moons – a frigidly cold one, at that. But in order to ease the tension of their situation, he makes a joke about it. Kallus misses the joke and takes him seriously. He lectures Zeb as though the Lasat was a child, asking how he could be bested time and again by an ignoramus like him.

Zeb’s curt reply – “Get a sense of humor, Agent!” – must have surprised him. Due to a bad experience with a Lasat mercenary some years before, Kallus held all Lasat in contempt. Because of this past encounter with a member of Zeb’s species, he probably knows more about the Lasat as a race than anyone but Zeb and Thrawn. This hatred of his for the Lasat blinded him to their better qualities.

So Zeb pointing out that he was joking and Kallus not grasping it is one of the things that makes the Imperial agent sit up and pay attention. Zeb is not a genius but neither is he stupid. He was having a bit of fun at their expense, like any soldier who still held hope of rescue would. If Zeb had been a human or a fellow Imperial, Kallus might have understood that his comment was a joke. Instead, his bias blinded him to Zeb’s sense of humor.

Throughout the episode Kallus slowly learns to take off his dark glasses and look at Zeb as he is and not how his hatred has painted him. What he finds is an intelligent, honorable Lasat who is tactically bright. He also realizes that Zeb has something he does not. Several somethings, actually…. He has friends. Friends he believes in and trusts to come for him no matter what. Friends he knows will risk their lives for him because they have done it over and over again. Friends he will in turn risk his life to protect and help.

Kallus has no friends, not because he does not want them, but because they do not want him. With the Imperials, friends are extra baggage. They can get you demoted or put you on the chopping block for their mistakes. The Galactic Empire of Star Wars reminds me a great deal of Lewis’ description of Hell in The Screwtape Letters. Almost everyone in the Empire loves nothing greater or better than himself. They all hate each other to some extent and cannot wait to show up the person sitting next to them so they can climb the ladder to the Empire’s upper echelons.

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And in The Honorable Ones, this is what Kallus finds out. He finds out that he has not been fighting for the right side at all. He has been working for an evil Empire, doing evil deeds in its name.

The way this is shown in the episode is when he apologizes to Zeb for what happened on Lasan. The initial mission statement was not to massacre the Lasat. At least, this was not the mission statement that Kallus and everyone below him saw. The Empire meant it to be a massacre from the beginning, but they knew that not all of their soldiers would gleefully agree to exterminate an entire species. So the Empire had to feed them this idea that they were fighting just one little battle but it spiraled out into an inevitable world-clearing assignment.

Kallus bought the lie hook, line, and sinker because he already hated the Lasat. Though he admired an individual Lasat’s honor and courage by accepting that warrior’s bo-rifle before the latter died, he did in general despise the species. It made him willing to listen to and obey the Empire’s lies even when part of him balked and said, “Maybe this isn’t actually the right thing to do.”

The real clincher comes at the end of the episode, when Kallus watches Zeb’s reunion with the Ghost crew from a distance. The kids rush up to Zeb, shouting with relief, while Hera offers the milder, “You had us worried,” line. Kanan’s brash, “I told you he was all right,” is the more manly way of expressing relief. It is clear that the crew is genuinely happy to see Zeb, that they love him as part of their battle family.

Kallus’ reception aboard the Imperial Star Destroyer is the exact opposite. No one rushes up to see if he is okay or even to take him to sickbay for his broken leg. The one man aboard whom he knows by name, Admiral Konstantine, has his nose in a datapad when Kallus tries to get his attention. Konstantine’s brush-off is totally at odds with the Ghost crew’s joyous discovery of Zeb, alive and well, on that Geonosian moon.

Disappointed and shocked that no one aboard cared whether he lived or died, Kallus limps to his austere quarters and sits down on his bed. The one colorful thing he has is a meteorite Zeb found and gave to him because it generated heat, which Kallus needed more than he did because he could not walk. Somehow, I think Kallus realized then that, if he and Zeb had been friends and he had been lost, the big Lasat would have welcomed him back to the ship heartily.

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Though he always respected the Rebels’ fighting abilities, Kallus finally realizes after this episode that they are in the right and he has been wrong this whole time. It must have hit him hard; finding out that you have been fighting for and doing the work of someone evil is pretty awful. But the interesting thing is that Kallus does not let his feelings overwhelm and destroy him. Instead of staying in bed, wracked with guilt, he follows Zeb’s advice: he starts asking questions, looking into what the Empire is actually doing, not what it says it is doing.

The answers he finds spur him to join the Rebels as a spy, feeding them vital information from the first episode of season three onward. Despite not being a hundred percent successful in helping the Rebellion all the time, Kallus’ information comes in handy more often than not. It is so valuable, in fact, that when the Phoenix cell gets word he might be discovered, they try to get him out of the Empire.

In this way, they recognize Kallus’ true value more than he does. They see Kallus as more than a useful tool that can get them intelligence which could mean the difference between life and death. They see him as he is: a man of inestimable worth in and of himself, a man who does not deserve to be murdered by the Empire. They are willing to sacrifice any future lifesaving intel he could gain to save his life.

But Kallus’ more practical, Imperial-tinted view of his role in the Rebellion means he is not yet ready to break away from the Empire. He stays behind to keep feeding the Rebels information, feeling he can do more good from the inside than from without. A noble idea, certainly, but in the end his decision is almost disastrous. Thrawn uses Kallus’ next transmission to find Phoenix Squadron’s base, methodically destroying the Rebel fleet assembled overhead to put a halt to the TIE Defender factories on Lothal. Kallus’ warning barely alerts the Rebels in time, allowing them to mount a defense against the attack.

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It is, however, a costly defense, with many Rebels lost in the battle, along with most of the supplies they stored in the base which they are just able to abandon. Kallus is forced to watch the people he decided to help get killed before his eyes, held as he is aboard the Chimera’s bridge, powerless to act on their behalf. Though he eventually manages to escape it is clear he is not very happy with the day’s events at the end of Zero Hour, Part 2.

It is not too hard to guess why. Kallus thought he could be of more help to the Rebels from inside the Empire, that he could be useful to them as a spy. Instead he got them discovered, which led to many of their men being killed in action and lost them a well-stocked hidden base. He is lucky that they decided to take him in despite all that, which is why he thanks Kanan for accepting him.

Kanan, through his Force-sensitivity, must sense what Kallus is feeling. He also knows the man will not accept coddling. He cannot. He is a grown, responsible adult, which means he has to deal with his feelings as an adult should.

This does not mean that Kanan cannot tell him how much the risks he took on behalf of the Rebellion, on behalf of the Ghost crew, mean to them. He thanks Kallus for risking so much for them, for doing the right thing.

Kallus’ expression after Kanan leaves is very interesting. In fact, it is comparable to Ezra’s expression after he helps Sabine and Zeb take crates of food to feed hungry Lothal refugees in Spark of Rebellion. After one of the denizens of Tarkintown thanks Ezra for the food, thinking he is part of the Ghost crew, Ezra’s face falls with shame. “But I didn’t do this,” he mutters. “I didn’t do anything.” He was looking out for himself when he got caught up in the Ghost crew’s raid, but the people in Tarkintown did not know that. To them, he is a new member of the crew of benefactors that supplied them with the necessities they could no longer acquire themselves. This leaves Ezra feeling guilty, a guilt which helps spur him to join the Rebellion because it helps bring him out of himself, showing him that there is a larger battle to fight. That he can, in fact, make a difference and help people in a way that matters.

From Kallus’ expression, it is clear he is running up against the same feelings Ezra did. He does not think that he risked much, not the way the rest of the Rebels have been for years. He is a Johnny-come-lately to the Rebellion; it has been building for years, and he never considered it anything less than evil until recently. In fact, he actively worked to destroy it. Kanan, Hera, Ezra, Sabine, Zeb, and even Chopper saw this evil for what it was from the beginning. Kanan has paid for his Rebel service with his eyes, for Pete’s sake, yet he is thanking Kallus for risking his life as a mole in the Empire! They have been fighting it, risking their lives to defeat it, far longer than he has. “But I didn’t do any of this,” he is thinking as Kanan leaves. “I didn’t do anything.”

Kallus is a big boy, and sooner or later he is going to realize that this assessment is not entirely true. Yes, he was not an enemy of the Empire from the beginning. Yes, he fought and killed Rebels before he joined their fight. Yes, he will be making up for lost time now that he has become a Rebel.

But he did risk his life to give the Rebels important, lifesaving information. He did warn them in time, not just in Zero Hour but in Warhead as well. He did throw off Governor Pryce’s command capabilities by upsetting her, reminding her of the consequences of failure in the Empire. He did, at last, escape the Empire’s clutches and join the Rebellion. He is, finally, becoming more of the person he was meant to be.

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That makes him pretty darn important. It makes him worth thanking. It makes him worthy of the Rebels’ respect. And it is going to make him a heck of a Rebel, readers. I cannot wait to see him kick some Imperial backside in season four!

Journeying with Kallus has been almost as much fun as following along with the Ghost crew. I hope he gets to the party on Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi, where our Phoenix Squadron friends can slap him on the back and offer him some of the local cocktail. Maybe, in whatever series follows Rebels, we will get to see more of Kallus. He is an intriguing character I would hate to lose as a viewer. As a writer, I would have to have a pretty good reason to kill him off.

But we will have to wait and see what Dave Filoni and his crew have in store for our heroes. The final season of Star Wars Rebels is going to big and probably painful on a series of levels. As the song says, “We may lose and we may win/But we will never be here again/So open up, I’m climbin’ in.” I’ve followed the Ghost’s hyperspace vectors this far, readers. I cannot turn back now. If you have come this far with us, I know it is the same for you.

So…may the Force be with you, readers and Rebels alike!

Book Review – Star Trek: The Covenant of the Crown

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Any Star Trek fan worth his salt will be able to tell you about the episode The Trouble with Tribbles. Tribbles, overgrown living puff balls, are soft, furry, harmless creatures that breed faster than rabbits. One of the things which make this episode so interesting is that it was written by a fan of the original series. That fan’s name is David Gerrold. And he wrote and sold The Trouble with Tribbles to Gene Roddenberry and the rest when he was twenty-three years old.

But Howard Weinstein did one better. He wrote a short, fan fiction story for his high school science fiction magazine called “The Pirates of Orion.” Later, in 1973, when Star Trek was made into an animated television series, Weinstein rewrote the story and sold it to the series creators. It became the first episode for the second season of the animated Star Trek series, retaining its title. Why is this important?

Howard Weinstein sold the story to the studio when he was nineteen and in college. That’s why it is important; he was the youngest writer for Star Trek ever, a position he may still hold. I cannot say for sure that he does, but it seems reasonable to assume this. At least, of the original fan base, he is the youngest writer they ever had, fan or otherwise.

Anyway, his love of Star Trek gave him the desire to become a science fiction writer. “The Pirates of Orion” was his first major success. The Covenant of the Crown, a novel set in the Star Trek universe, was his second.

In this story, McCoy is hiding in his room, curled up on his bed. Why?

It’s his birthday. And he is feeling old.

Captain Kirk is trying to talk him out of the room, and he finally convinces McCoy to get up and move by saying he wants the doctor to bait Spock while the Captain plays chess with him. They head down to the rec room on deck seven, Kirk opens the door….

On a dark room.

Thrusting McCoy into the room, Kirk watches the lights turn on and the crewmen pop up from behind the tables and chairs, shouting, “Surprise! Happy Birthday, McCoy!”

With this mission successfully completed, Kirk stands off to the side with Scotty to watch the festivities. Then he and his Chief Engineer feel the Enterprise kick into a higher gear. They make for the comm. as Spock calls Kirk to the bridge.

Star Fleet Command has called the Enterprise to Starbase 22 for a secret mission. Eighteen years ago, the planet Shad was thrust into a civil war due to Klingon meddling. Why? Shad is home to an ore known as Tridenite, a clean, efficient source of energy. The planet supplies twenty other planets with this vital ore. Half those planets are Federation, the other half are neutral. And they are all right next door to the Klingon Empire.

If Shad falls to the Klingons, they can take the entire sector because they will have control of the Tridenite.

Eighteen years ago, Lieutenant Commander James T. Kirk convinced Shad’s King, Stevvin, to escape Shad to protect his wife and daughter. It was supposed to be an exile of a few months, but it turned into an exile of eighteen years, during which time the queen died.

But the king and his daughter are alive. And with the Loyalist forces on the brink of winning the war – and falling apart as they try to divide the spoils before they even win – it seems it is time for the king to go home.

And he wants to; he really wants to go home. And Kirk wants to take him and his daughter home, to make up at least a little for leaving them stranded on an exile planet for eighteen years.

There is just one problem. The king’s daughter has a diabetic-like condition. She needs shots of a special serum, or she will die in a matter of hours. She is not physically as strong as she could be as a result. And the king himself, Stevvin, is dying.

Bonus points, McCoy and the king’s daughter start doing the Romance Two-Step. And if that did not complicate matters, throw in a few Klingon agents and a traitor in the King’s entourage, and you have a story filled with intrigue, romance, and danger. A little humor is added as Chekov tries to lose ten pounds he gained invisibly.

The Covenant of the Crown is a very good Star Trek story. With forewords by Howard Weinstein and David Gerrold, it also offers a window into what Star Trek fandom used to look like.

If you can, readers, find yourselves a copy of The Covenant of the Crown. If you do not like it, I am sorry to hear that. But I think it is a fantastic, fun story. It is at least worth one reading.

Live long and prosper!