“EDGE OF TOMORROW” (2014) Review

 

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” (2014) Review

I have seen my share of alien invasion and/or post-apocalypse movie and television productions. And yet . . . there seemed to be deluge of these productions in the past two years or so. One of these productions happened to be the recent science-fiction movie,“EDGE OF TOMORROW”.

Based upon Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 novel called “All You Need Is Kill”, “EDGE OF TOMORROW” tells the story of an American-born military officer who finds himself caught in a time loop during a war with invading aliens who have taken over regions of the world, including continental Europe. The movie begins in the near future in which Major William Cage, an American military Public Relations officer is summoned in London to meet General Brigham, commander of the NATO-led United Defense Forces (UDF). Brigham reveals UDF’s intention to launch Operation Downfall against the aliens, who are called the Mimics. When Brigham orders Cage, who lacks combat experience, to cover the UDF’s landing on the beaches of Normandy in France, the latter objects to the dangerous assignment and threatens to portray the General in an unfavorable light. Brigham retaliates by having Cage arrested and knocked out. The latter regains consciousness at a forward operating base at Heathrow Airport for the UDF forces, with a note from Brigham stating that he is actually a private and a deserter falsely claiming to be an officer. Master Sergeant Farell assigns Cage to a squad of rejects known as J Squad. A frightened Cage is forced to land on one of the Normandy beaches with J Squad. Despite being disoriented and frightened, he manages to kill a Mimic – a large “Alpha” Mimic – before being killed.

Much to Cage’s surprise, he awakens at the Heathrow Airport base on the previous morning. Over and over again, he participates in the Normandy landing and is killed. And over again, he finds himself back at the airport base on the previous day. During one loop, Cage saves war heroineaka “Full Metal Bitch” and “Angel of Verdun”. When she realizes that he has been experiencing time loops, she orders him to seek her out. Cage eventually learns from Vrataski that she had also been caught in a time loop after killing an “Alpha” Mimic. She not only points out that he needs to build his fighting skills, go after the Mimics’ leader and finally kill it in order to end the latter’s invasion.

I am usually a major fan of time travel stories in movies and television – including those that deal with time loops. But my last encounter with time travel fiction – “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” – nearly left me feeling slightly leery of the genre. Despite this brief disappointment, I went ahead and watched “EDGE OF TOMORROW”. I cannot say that I felt the same disappointment that I did for the X-MEN film. But I do believe that “EDGE OF TOMORROW” had its shares of flaws. After all, just about every movie I have seen do. In the case of “EDGE OF TOMORROW”, I had . . . perhaps two problems with this film. One, I had a problem with how Cage, a major in the military, ended up being railroaded as a private with an infantry squad. The entire situation smacked of realism that no science-fiction or fantasy genre could explain. The main protagonist in Sakurazaka’s novel was a young recruit. Which meant there was no need for the Keiji Kiriya character to be railroaded into an infantry squad as a private in such an unrealistic manner. My other problem with “EDGE OF TOMORROW” happened to be the movie’s finale. I was not truly disappointed with the finale. But I found it rather confusing. I wish I could spell it out in details, but for me to do so would spoil the story.

Despite these disappointments, I must admit that I enjoyed “EDGE OF TOMORROW” very much. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that it has become not only one of my top favorite movies of the summer, but also of this year. I certainly had no problems with the technical aspects of “EDGE OF TOMORROW”. Doug Liman had worked in the science-fiction genre before and I could easily see that he had no problems with the crew to create a dazzling science-fiction background for the film. But he is not the only one who deserves credit. Oliver Scholl’s production designs did an excellent job in creating the movie’s setting of Western Europe in a half-state of destruction in the wake of an alien invasion. Scholl’s work was ably supported by the art direction team, Elli Griff’s set decorations and Kate Hawley’s costume designs. Speaking of the latter, I noticed that the officer’s uniform that Tom Cruise wore in the movie’s early scenes resembled that worn by those in the U.S. Marine Corps. And yet . . . I saw no signs of any Marine symbols on his jacket. This reminded me of a prediction that my father had once made about how all of the U.S. military branches would eventually morph into one service. Also, looking at the field . . . uh, uniforms that Cruise, Emily Blunt and other cast members wore struck me as very uncomfortable. I found myself wondering if future military units will end up wearing it. But I was really impressed by the special effects team that created the visual style of the Mimics. Although the aliens reminded me octopi, I found them rather scary. Words could not describe how my reaction to Dion Beebe’s cinematography. Perhaps the following images can:

EoT3

mimic2

The use of time loops as a fictional device may not be that original. However, for “EDGE OF TOMORROW”, I have to give credit to Sakurazaka and the movie’s screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth for avoiding the usual literary premise of allowing a protagonist to be caught in a time loop without any real explanation – like 1993’s“GROUNDHOG DAY”. Both Sakurazaka’s novel and the movie’s screenplay made it clear to audiences how the protagonists got caught in a time loop, thank goodness. It is also rare to come across an alien invasion film that begins with the invasion already happening. Not only do I commend Sakurazaka for beginning his story in this fashion, but also the screenwriters and filmmakers for adhering to it and not taking the trouble to patch on a scene depicting the beginning of the Mimics’ invasion.

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” did an excellent job in developing its major characters – especially three of them. The character of William Cage begins as a smarmy public relations man who tries to resort to desperate measures – namely threating to portray the UDF’s commander in an unfavorable light in the press – in order to avoid combat. As circumstances forces Gage to take his combat skills seriously, the screenwriters effectively developed his character into a hardened combat fighter who becomes resigned to his situation. By the end of the movie, his smarminess has disappeared. I was also impressed by the development of the Rita Vrataski character, who begins her story as a combat hardened veteran, who has emotionally distanced herself from her fellow soldiers. As the story progresses and Gage becomes more familiar with her, audiences are allowed more peeks into her real emotions and the reason behind her hard and stoic façade. I was especially surprised by the writers’ handling of the Master Sergeant Farell character. I had expected his character to remain consistent throughout the film – the tough and battle hardened sergeant who maintains a firm grip on his squad. In a way, the Farell character remained in this state throughout the film. But . . . I was pleasantly surprised at how he seemed to react with increasing confusion and surprise in his encounters with the developing Cage.

I certainly had no complaints regarding the performances in “EDGE OF TOMORROW”. I did find the portrayals of the J Squad soldiers somewhat one-dimensional, with the exception of two characters – Ford and Griff. Franz Drameh injected a bit of an edge to Ford’s character in a scene that revealed his financial assistance to the family of a dead colleague. And Kick Gurry, whom I last saw in the 2008 movie “SPEED RACER”, did an excellent job of developing the Griff character from a mindless grunt to a determined defender in the movie’s last action sequence. Although the General Brigham character remained consistent throughout, I have to compliment Brendan Gleeson for giving a masterful and more importantly, subtle portrayal of a rather ruthless and vindictive character. Bill Paxton, who seemed to been very busy these past two years, did an excellent job of conveying the screenplay’s different aspects of the Master Sergeant Farell character. I have now seen Emily Blunt in three science-fiction movies in the past three years. Sooner or later, someone in the media might end up dubbing her “Queen of Sci-Fi”. However, I feel that of the three roles I have seen her portray, my favorite just might be her excellent take on the Rita Vrataski role. Honestly, she was superb. I have to say the same about Tom Cruise, who portrayed the leading character, William Cage. He had the difficult task of developing Cage from a smarmy and somewhat cowardly Public Relations man to an experienced warrior, wearied by the combat violence and constant time loops. And being the exceptional actor that he is, Cruise managed to do his job with flying aces.

Yes, “EDGE OF TOMORROW” has its flaws. As I have stated many times in previous review, I have yet to see a movie that does not have any. But the writing, production values, the excellent performances by a cast led by Tom Cruise and outstanding direction by Doug Liman made “EDGE OF TOMORROW” one of the best movies I have seen this summer. Even if the summer of 2014 had not been so dismal, I still would have viewed this film as one of the best I have seen.

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“CHARMED” RETROSPECT: “Phoebe Halliwell and the Nexus Theory

 

“CHARMED” RETROSPECT:  “PHOEBE HALLIWELL AND THE NEXUS THEORY”

Recently, I watched the ”CHARMED” Season One episode called (1.15) “Is There a Woogy in the House?”. In this episode, Phoebe Halliwell’s childhood fear of a boogeyman in the basement called the ”Woogeyman” proves to be true and it ends up taking possession of her and a few others – including her sister Prue’s ex-boyfriend, Andy Trudeau. Following this experience with the Woogeyman, Phoebe came to a conclusion regarding her moral compass.

The episode began with an aftershock from a previous earthquake. The aftershock not only revealed Phoebe’s childhood fear of something called the “Woogyman”, it has an ongoing source of amusement for her two sisters. That is, until a violent earthquake unleashes a long-dormant shadow demon on the day Prue has plans to hold a dinner party for her boss and a Bucklands’ customer. The latter first takes possession of a repairman, summoned to investigate a strange odor from the manor’s basement. After Prue and Piper leave the manor, the Woogeyman uses the repairman to summon Phoebe to the basement and she also becomes possessed. Phoebe’s strange behavior not only manages to ruin the dinner party, she also summons the Buckland’s client – a Professor Whittlesbey, who knows a good deal about the manor’s history – to the basement and the Woogeyman. Professor Whittlesbey becomes possessed. After Prue and Piper find themselves locked out of the manor by Phoebe, the two set out to discover what Professor Whittlesbey was hinting about the manor, when the dinner party first began. Unfortunately, the possessed professor ends up being arrested after she had physically attacked her assistant, Josh. Prue and Piper learn more details about the Halliwell manor from Josh:

Josh: You know, I’ve met people like that. (He looks at Piper.) A spiritual nexus is a point of incredible energy.

Prue: Equidistant from the five spiritual elements.

Josh: That’s right. The place or thing that could be swayed either way.

Piper: Either way?

Josh: Yeah. Either to be a source of undeniable good or undeniable evil. Uh, look ladies, I’m gonna follow her and make sure she’s okay. Feel free to browse around our office if you think it will help.

In other words, Prue and Piper came to some conclusion that because the manor was situated in the center of this Nexus – shaped as pentagram – it was the source of great power that can be a source of good or evil. Once Phoebe managed to banish the Woogeyman, she came to a conclusion about the Nexus and her moral compass:

Phoebe: I’m beginning to wonder if I have a good one [dark side]. (Prue and Piper stare at her.) Well, I am. I mean, up until now, I didn’t even think I had a dark side. I mean, not any more so than anyone else.

Prue: Yeah, well the important thing is the good side won out.

Phoebe: Yeah, but I must have been more susceptible than either one of you, otherwise he wouldn’t of chosen me, right? Right?

Piper: You were the only one that was born in the house, that makes you more connected to it. That spiritual nexus thing.

Phoebe: That’s exactly my point. I could go either way. Good or evil. Kinda freaky.

What in the hell was Constance Burge thinking? What on earth made her think that someone would be stupid enough to buy such a theory straight out of Sunday school for eight year-olds? Phoebe could easily turn good or evil, because she was born above the Nexus? That was Burge’s idea of characterization?

It was bad enough that Prue got the elements mentioned in the episode wrong:

Prue: Okay, to find a way back in, we have to know what we’re up against. The professor said that a true spiritual nexus sits equidistant from the five basal elements. So, that’s earth, fire, water, wood and metal.

Then she added:

Prue: Looks like it’s not just on a spiritual nexus, but a wiccan one as well. Which means it’s a battleground for good and evil.

The spiritual nexus beneath the manor was definitely not a Wiccan one. Wiccans are associated with the following five elements –earth, fire, water, air and spirit. The five elements mentioned by Prue in the episode are the following – earth, fire, water, wood and metal. These elements are associated with Chinese philosophy, not Wiccans.

But it got worse. At least for me. By the end of the episode, Phoebe claimed that because she was born in the manor (in other words, above the nexus), she was more susceptible to being possessed by the Woogeyman than her sisters. What . . . a . . . load . . . of . . . crap! If for this reason Phoebe was more susceptible toward evil, then one might as well say the same about the others that ended up possessed by the Woogeyman – the repairman, Professor Whittlesey, one of the Halliwell neighbors . . . and Andy Trudeau. And I am certain that not one of them was born inside the manor. If Piper or Prue had been inside that manor alone instead of Phoebe, the Woogeyman could have easily possessed either of them.

Why do I find this Nexus Theory about Phoebe hard to swallow? It does not make any sense to me. That is not good characterization. I do not even know what to call it. Phoebe was more prone to evil . . . and therefore more prone to be possessed by the Woogeyman? Had it ever occurred to Constance Burge or the episode’s writers, Chris Levinson and Zack Estrin, that Phoebe ended up possessed, because she had the bad luck to be in the manor alone with the repairman?

First of all, the series has managed to prove that all four sisters had personality quirks that made them easily prone to evil. Prue’s anger, pride and arrogance made her very susceptible to evil. Probably more so than the other three sisters, due to her anger issues. Piper’s inability to deal with loss and her selfishness made her easily susceptible to evil. Phoebe’s selfishness and willingness to use shortcuts in life made her easily susceptible to evil. And Paige’s self-righteousness and sadistic nature made her susceptible. Everyone – whether in real life or in fiction have personality traits that makes them susceptible to evil. Why Constance Burge could not accept this and instead, used this Nexus Theory to describe Phoebe’s flaws eludes me. Perhaps Burge wanted an easier plot device to describe Phoebe’s personality . . . instead of good old-fashioned, well-written characterization.

I cannot deny that I have always enjoyed “Is There a Woogeyman in the House?”. It has always been one of my favorite episodes from Season One. But this theory about the Nexus and Phoebe’s moral compass nearly ruined it for me. It is a crap theory, supported by bad writing. Instead of recognizing that just about anyone – namely any sentient being can choose a path of good or evil, given the right circumstances or emotional button pushed. But Constance Burge and this episode’s writers decided to resort to easy and sloppy characterization by feeding the viewers this black-and-morality crap that the Nexus would explain Phoebe’s occasional delinquent behavior. It seemed like a bad ending to a pretty good episode.

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter Eight

 

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

CHAPTER EIGHT

SARAPIN SYSTEM

The Corellian freighter sped below the Imperial war cruiser, the Agamemnon. On the warship’s bridge, the Executive Officer turned to face his commanding officer. “Shall I order the tractor beam to be used, sir?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Captain Hardy replied. “Let’s give this . . .” He glanced at the data pad given to him by CorSec Officer Bastra. “. . . Captain Horus a chance to cooperate, first.” He nodded at the other officer.

Commander Jaffe switched on the ship’s communication system. “Corellian vessel, this is the Imperial starcruiser, the Agamemnon. Be prepared to be tractored.”

The freighter captain’s voice crackled over the com system. “This is the captain of the Javian Hawk.” Hardy noted that the man did not identify himself by name. “What is the meaning of this?”

This time, Hardy replied. “We’re searching for two fugitives of the Empire, last seen on Corellia. According to the Coronet port master, your ship had departed from there, five hours ago. Be prepared to be tractored.”

“There are no fugitives on board my ship,” the freighter captain protested. “Just me.”

Hardy turned to Commander Jaffe, who checked his console. “I’m reading four life signs, Captain. Not one.”

“Four?” A frown creased Hardy’s forehead. “Not three?”

Jaffe confirmed his findings. “Four life signs, sir. One of them might be a child.”

“Three, four . . . it doesn’t matter,” Hardy decided. “This ship has three too many passengers and its captain is not cooperating. Activate the tractor beam.”

The First Officer nodded. “Aye, aye sir.” He turned to a subordinate. “Activate the tractor beam.”

———-

The Javian Hawk jolted, catching Anakin by surprise. “We’ve been caught in a tractor beam.”

“That’s it,” Senator Yeb declared mournfully. “We’re done for.”

Thalia Yeb appeared by her brother’s side, wearing an anxious expression. “What’s going on?”

“An Imperial ship has caught up with us,” the senator answered. “It’s over for us.”

Anakin tapped into the console’s computer and found what he was looking for. “Not yet, Senator.” He grabbed the ship’s blaster and fired. The Hawk’s laser blasts struck the Imperial war cruiser’s starboard side. Seconds later, the Hawk found itself free from the other ship’s tractor beam. “There’s a gun turret near the ship’s bow,” he added. “Is there anyone qualified to use it?”

Thalia spoke up before anyone else could. “I am. I’ve used a gun turret a few times during the war.” She quickly left the cockpit.

“Is there anything I can do?” Senator Yeb asked.

Anakin replied, “You and Han can take a seat and strap in, Senator. Hopefully, this will be all over before long.” As the senator left the cockpit, Anakin noticed that Han had remained in his seat. “Why haven’t you left?”

“You need someone to handle the ship’s blaster in here,” Han said. “And I’m the one to do it.”

“You’re familiar with starship firearms?”

A cocky smile appeared on Han’s lips. “I’m probably better with a blaster than you are, Mr. Jedi,” he boasted. “I’ve had experienced aboard Shrike’s starship.”

Anakin allowed himself an amused smile. “If you say so. I suggest that you make sure that your seat strap is secure. Because this is where the fun begins.”

———

Captain Hardy glared at one of his junior officers. “What happened to the tractor beam?”

“Uh . . . the um . . . the pilot disabled it . . . sir,” the young officer replied nervously.

“Dis . . . Then repair it!” Hardy growled. “And tractor that ship! Now!” The young officer quickly focused his attention to his task. Hardy turned to his executive officer. “Jaffe, send out a squad to . . .” He glanced out at the bridge’s viewport window . . . and inhaled sharply, as the Javian Hawk zoomed toward the Agamemnon with blasters firing. Hardy felt inclined to sneer at the smaller ship’s efforts, when the war cruiser shook ominiously. “What the . . . What was that?” the captain demanded.

Jaffe replied, “Our starboard engine, sir. It’s . . . just been disabled.” His voice trembled anxiously.

“First our tractor beam and now our starboard engine.” Hardy rubbed his throbbing forehead and roared, “Will someone please destroy that ship before it takes us apart, piece by piece?” He glared at Jaffe. “Order Zeta Squad to intercept it.”

The first officer stood at attention. “Aye sir.” He turned to the junior officer. “Summon Zeta Squad to intercept that freighter.”

Seconds later, the junior officer made the announcement over the ship’s communication system. Hardy allowed himself a satisfied smile. He felt certain that a half-decade old Corellian freighter would be no match against the Agamemnon and a squad of ARC-170 fighters. No match at all!

——-

KACHIRHO, KASHYYYK

“Romulus Wort!” Former Jedi Master Roan Shyrne regarded Darth Rasche with disbelief and disgust. “So, you’ve finally caught up with us, again.” He turned to the young padawan who was engaged in a duel with the Sith Lord. “Step aside, Olee, I’ll deal with Wo . . .”

Rasche brusquely corrected the former Jedi Master. “The name is Darth Rasche, Shryne!” He shot a quick glance at Commander Appo’s decapitated head. “And you’re under arrest for murder and treason.

Disgust now dominated Shryne’s eyes. “We’ll see . . . Lord Rasche.” He turned to Starstone. “Leave now, Olee. I’ll deal with this Sith scum.” Slowly, the young padawan backed away from Rasche. As she and the other rebels dealt with Appo’s squad, the Sith Lord’s red lightsaber blade clashed with Shryne’s and the fight commenced.

Just as Rasche had expected, fighting the Jedi Master proved to be more difficult than his duels with Starstone and the other Jedi here on Kashyyyk. Rasche utilized all of his speed and skills to keep Shryne off-balance and from killing him. The two combatants finally paused near one of the great wroshyr trees near the city’s outskirts.

“What happened to you, Wort?” Shryne demanded. “How did you turn to the Dark Side? What made . . .?” He broke off, as Rasche swung at his head. Shryne ducked just in time.

The Sith Lord snarled, “Once again, the name is Darth Rasche! Nor do I have to answer to or any other Jedi scum regarding my actions!”

“Jedi scum?” Shryne’s voice rang with disbelief. “When did the Jedi become scum to . . .?” This time, Rasche attacked in earnest before he could finish his question.

The two combatants continued their brutal duel. Rasche sensed a hint of surprise radiating from the older man. Apparently, the latter had not anticipated someone of his age being able to successfully duel against an experienced Jedi Master. Explosions rocked the ground around the pair. The Imperial Destroyers had commenced upon the aerial bombardment of Kachirho and other cities being defended by the Wookies. The Sith Lord and the former Jedi Master found themselves inside one of the wroshyr trees. There, Rasche decided to embark upon a new tactic. Using the Force, he battered Shryne with wood planks and other debris. One of the planks managed to strike Shryne directly in the face. Then Rasche elevated Shryne into the air and flung him off the bridge.

Rasche levitated to the ground, next to Shryne’s body. Blood flowed from the former Jedi Master’s mouth, while bruises covered his body. “I . . .” He gurgled slightly. “I . . . don’t under . . . stand. Why?”

Instead of answering the other man’s question, Rasche switched on his lightsaber and struck the Jedi Master directly in the heart. The latter died instantly. “Too bad you’re not Skywalker,” Rasche muttered. “Your death would have had more meaning.”

Returning to the shuttle’s landing area, Darth Rasche discovered that Starstone and some of Shryne’s companions had managed to kill a good number of clonetroopers before fleeing the scene. He gathered the remaining survivors and guided them back to the Theta-class shuttle. Once inside the vessel, the Sith Lord contacted his executive officer back on the Exactor. “Commander Heth,” he announced, “I will be shortly returning to the Exactor. Commander Appos is dead. What is the status of the attack?”

“All star destroyers have descended to the planet’s surface, my Lord,” Heth replied over the shuttle’s communication system. “Kashyyyk should soon be completely secured.” The officer hesitated before he continued. “However, I’ve just learned that a detainer interdictor cruiser has just been destroyed and many of the refugee transports have managed to escape the system.”

A small sense of dread gnawed at the center of Rasche’s chest. “How did this happen?” he angrily demanded.

The first officer hesitated. “Apparently, some of the enemy managed to reactivate an old damaged droid-controlled destroyer from the war and programmed it to ram the cruiser.”

The report infuriated Rasche. Olee Starstone, along with some of her companions and Wookie allies must have been responsible. “Commander, I want you to contact Lord Tarkin aboard the Executrix.”

“My Lord?”

Rasche continued, “I have a message for him. Tell him to order all fleet commanders to initate a full orbital bombardment of the entire planet. The entire planet, Commander!”

A long silence followed before Heth nervously replied, “Aye sir. Heth out.”

Breathing heavily, Rasche turned off the shuttle’s communication system and leaned back into his chair. He became aware of the silence that filled the shuttle. Ignoring the other troopers, he activated the engines and commenced upon the shuttle’s ascent from the planet’s surface.

——–

SARAPIN SYSTEM

Inside the Javian Hawk’s cockpit, Anakin allowed himself a quick glance at the viewscreen beyond. “Oh no,” he muttered to himself. Then he switched on the freighter’s communication system. “Miss Yeb! Keep a sharp eye ready! We have visitors. A squad of ATC fighters!”

“Understood,” the Andalian female coolly replied.

Anakin turned to Han. “Good job in dealing with that warship’s engines. Are you ready to try your luck with starfighters?”

A wide grin stretched Han’s lips. “Like you said . . . this is where the fun begins.”

Anakin chuckled. “Is that right?”

“Yep.”

At that moment, a squad of ATC-170 fighters raced toward the Hawk. Blaster fire filled the dark space between the two ships. Although a few blasts managed to rock the freighter, Anakin made sure that it had not sustained any serious damage. On the other hand, Han managed to inflict devastating damage upon the ATC fighters by destroying four of them. Anakin checked his sensors. He noticed that Thalia Yeb had destroyed at least two fighters. However, Anakin realized that shooting down starfighters would not save them from the Agamemnon. An idea came to him. “Miss Yeb, cease fire and return to your brother!” Han stared at him, as if he had lost his mind. Meanwhile, the Andalian woman managed to destroy another fighter. “Miss Yeb, please do as I say and return to your brother!”

“You want us to cease fire?” Thalia’s voice crackled with disbelief over the com system.

Anakin retorted, “Yes, Miss Yeb! I want you to cease fire. Now!”

Han shot down one more ATC fighter, while Anakin waited for the senator’s sister to rejoin Yeb. Then he heard her say, “I’m at my seat!” She did not sound very pleased.

“Okay,” Anakin began. “Everyone, hold on!” With the ship’s throttle firmly in one hand, he flew the Javian Hawk circles around the Agamemnon. The remaining three ATC fighters followed in an attempt to destroy the freighter. Anakin then guided the Hawk directly toward the war cruiser’s port side. A quick glance at the sensors told him that two of the fighters were on his tail.

Han shot a nervous glance at Anakin. “Uh, you do realize that we’re heading for the . . . oh!”

At that moment, Anakin veered the ship sharply to the left, causing the Javian Hawk to miss the Imperial cruiser by millimeters. The two ATC fighters on the Hawk’s tail were not so lucky. They spiraled out of control . . . and slammed right into the Agamemnon’s port side.

———

Two major explosions rocked the Agamemnon. Anxiety gripped Captain Hardy, as he grabbed hold of his chair’s armrests. “What was that?” he yelled at one of the junior officers. Red lights flooded the bridge, while the ship’s klaxon filled his ears.

It was Commander Jaffe who replied. “Our port engine has been disabled, Captain! Along with all decks on the port side. The landing bay has been completely destroyed!”

Which meant that the remaining two ATC-170 squads assigned to the Agamemnon no longer existed. Captain Hardy struggled to suppress his growing anxiety. “Commander, shoot down that piece of junk, or we’ll all end up . . .”

“Captain! The Corellian ship is returning!” a frightened junior officer cried out. “And it’s heading straight toward us!”

Hardy glanced straight ahead. Sure enough, the Javian Hawk seemed to be spinning toward them, with the last remaining fighter close behind. He could not believe his eyes. Surely, this Captain Horus did not mean to . . . The Corellian ship veered a sharp right, avoiding the Agamemnon’s by millimeters. The last thing Captain Hardy saw was an out-of-control ATC fighter hurtling toward the bridge.

——–

Anakin heaved a sigh of relief, as he flew the Hawk away from the Imperial war cruiser. Then the freighter rocked slightly, as a series of explosions completely destroyed the Agamemnon.

“Wow!” Han cried gleefully. “That was . . . that was incredible!”

“No kidding,” Anakin murmured. He felt uneasy that the Imperial ship’s destruction also spelled the end of so many lives. But he could see no other way out of their situation. He could have surrendered to the Agamemnon or attempt an escape . . . ensuring that the Empire would hunt down the Javian Hawk from one end of the galaxy to the other.

Both of the Yebs appeared inside the cockpit. “In Zaahl’s name!” Senator Yeb exclaimed. “You’ve destroyed it! You’ve completely destroyed an Imperial warship!”

“I believe that all of us had contributed to its destruction,” Anakin added wryly.

Thalia Yeb regarded Anakin with shining admiration. “Now, I see how you had earned the name, ‘Hero With No Fear’,” she exclaimed. “My goodness!”

Anakin inwardly winced at his former wartime moniker. He had never liked it and said so to the Yebs. “Right now, I’m more concerned with delivering both of you to Averam. And getting rid of those laser burns on my hull. Chances are the Imperials will catch up to me, sooner or later. I don’t want to leave any evidence of our encounter with the Agamemnon.” He checked the Hawks’ coordinates to ensure that it had returned on course. “Is everyone strapped in?” The Yebs returned to their seats and the Javian Hawk resumed its journey toward Averam.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHT

“AFTER THE THIN MAN” (1936) Review

after-the-thin-man-2

 

“AFTER THE THIN MAN” (1936) Review

Following the phenomenon success of 1934’s “THE THIN MAN”, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided to cash in on that success with a sequel, two years later. “AFTER THE THIN MAN”, released in 1936, proved to be the first of five sequels that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles..

Although the story for “AFTER THE THIN MAN” was created for the screen by Dashiell Hammet; Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who adapted Hammet’s novel for the 1934 movie, wrote the screenplay for this sequel. And W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who directed the first film, returned to direct “AFTER THE THIN MAN”. Set nearly a week after “THE THIN MAN”, this movie finds Nick and Nora Charles returning to San Francisco, following their vacation in New York. It is not long before they find themselves embroiled in the lurid problems of Nora’s socialite cousin, Selma Landis. Apparently her ne’er do well husband Robert has disappeared to join his mistress, a nightclub singer named Polly Byrnes. Robert also tries to extort $25,000 from Selma’s ex-love David Graham, on the promise that he will leave for good. Selma and her haughty mother, Aunt Katherine Forrest, asks Nick to find Robert and bring him back. Although Nick and Nora track Robert down to a Chinatown nightclub, where Polly sings, it is not long before he leaves and someone murders him before he can get that $25,000 and permanently be out of Selma’s life.

Although “AFTER THE THIN MAN” failed to follow in its 1934 predecessor and earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay did. It is a pity that director “Woody” Van Dyke and the movie itself did not receive any nominations. Because the movie is regarded by many as the best of the six THIN MAN movies. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I do not know. But I can say that it is my favorite in the series. I love “THE THIN MAN”. But I really love this 1936 sequel. I feel that one of the reasons I regard it in such high regard is the story. The mystery surrounding Robert Landis’ death and the other deaths that followed permeated with human drama. This will especially become obvious in the scene featuring Nick Charles’ revelation of the murderer. Surprisingly, this seemed to be the case for both Nick and Nora, some of the other supporting characters and even Asta.

As many people know, the Production Code finally came into effect in July 1934, two years and five months before the release of“AFTER THE THIN MAN”. Yet, there is something about Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay that reeked with a Pre-Code sensibility. Who am I kidding? There is so much about this movie that practically screamed PRE-CODE. For one, the story is filled with extramarital sex, adultery, hatred, love, extortion, class bigotry, and some of the raciest humor to come out of a MGM film from the 1930s. As an added bonus, “AFTER THE THIN MAN” featured at least three musical numbers – two of them performed by Dorothy McNulty (the future Penny Singleton from the “BLONDIE” movies). My favorite proved to be the lively New Year’s Eve tune, . Only one aspect of “AFTER THE THIN MAN” makes it clear it was released during the post-Code period – twin beds for Mr. and Mrs. Charles. I do have one major complaint about Van Dyke’s direction of “AFTER THE THIN MAN” – following Robert Landis’ murder, the movie’s pace starts to drag a bit, while Nick and Lieutenant Abrams conduct the investigation of the murder at the Chinatown nightclub and at Aunt Katherine’s home.

Both William Powell and Myrna Loy returned in top form as Nick and Nora Charles. What can I say about them? What is there to say? They were perfect. They were magic. They were yin and yang . . . peanut butter and jelly. They were . . . oh, never mind. Whoever is reading this review probably has a very good idea about what I am trying to say. They were Nick and Nora . . . and that is all I have to say. The two second best performances came from James Stewart as Selma Landis’ former boyfriend, David Graham and Joseph Calleia as the nightclub owner/con man “Dancer”. Watching Stewart in “AFTER THE THIN MAN”, it was easy to see how he became a star within two to three years. He gave a very natural and relaxed performance. And Calleia was deliciously menacing, yet suave as “Dancer”. Frankly, I think he was one of the best character actors between the 1930s and 1950s.

Sam Levene gave a fine comic performance in his first appearance in a THIN MAN movie as Lieutenant Abrams. And Penny Singleton (I might as well call her that) was hilarious as the whining songstress/mistress Polly Byrnes. Elissa Landi gave an emotional portrayal as the much put upon Selma Landis, although there were times I found her a bit hammy. Alan Marshal has never struck me as an exceptional actor . . . just competent. But I must admit that I was very impressed by his portrayal of the slimy Robert Landis. William Law was deliciously subtle as “Dancer’s” nightclub partner. George Zucco took his suave villainy schtick to portray Selma’s sly and menacing psychiatrist. And yet, he gave one of the most emotional and funniest lines in the entire film. And what can I say about Jessie Ralph? I should have included her performance as the haughty and manipulative Aunt Katherine Forrest as one of the best in the film. Because she was magnificent in conveying Aunt Katherine’s manipulative efforts in keeping her family together and her class bigotry against her nephew-in-law, Nick Charles.

I supposed there is nothing else to say about “AFTER THE THIN MAN”. I cannot say that it is perfect. I feel that the sequence following the first murder could have been trimmed a bit. And one of the supporting performances occasionally drifted into hamminess. But aside from these complaints, I feel it was . . . perfect. In fact, thanks to Dashiell Hammett’s story, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich’s screenplay, W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke’s direction and a superb cast led by William Powell and Myrna Loy; I feel that “AFTER THE THIN MAN” is one of my favorite films from the 1930s . . . and my favorite in the six-film series.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1980 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

“MALEFICENT” (2014) Review

 

“MALEFICENT” (2014) Review

I am probably the last person on this earth who would associate Angelina Jolie with a Disney film, let alone one made for children. Then again, I have never seen Jolie in another movie like her recent film, “MALEFICENT”.

Despite some adult themes found in this new film, I honestly believe that “MALEFICENT” is basically a movie for children. It is not just based upon Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale, “La Belle au Bois Dormant”, but also the Disney Studios’ 1959 animated adaptation, “SLEEPING BEAUTY”. Only this film is told with a twist. Some would say with a feminist twist. Linda Woolverton’s screenplay features the story’s main villainess, the evil and vindictive fairy, Maleficent, as the movie’s main protagonist. The film begins with Maleficent as a young and powerful fairy who serves as the main protector of a fairy realm called Moors that borders a human kingdom ruled by ruthless monarch named King Henry, who covets it. Maleficent befriends a young boy named Stefan, who works as a kitchen servant for the king.

The years pass as Maleficent and Stefan’s friendship grows to something close to a romance. But King Henry’s latest attempt to invade Moors leads him to offer his daughter’s hand in marriage and his kingdom to the man able to kill Maleficent. Ambitious and longing to rise above his station, Stefan sets out to collect the bounty on his old friend. Unable to kill her because of their friendship, Stefan drugs Maleficent and burns her wings off with iron (a substance lethal to fairies) and presents the latter to King Henry as proof of her death. Stefan eventually marries King Henry’s daughter, Princess Leila, and eventually assumes the throne following his father-in-law’s death. When Maleficent learns about the birth of Stefan and Leila’s infant daughter, Aurora, she appears uninvited at the christening and places a curse on the infant princess. On her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep. After Stefan is forced by Maleficent to beg for his daughter, she alters the curse with the addition that it can be broken by true love’s kiss. Stefan arranges for Aurora to be raised by three pixie fairies – Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit. And despite her initial dislike of Aurora, Maleficent begins to secretly care about the girl, when the neglectful pixie fairies fail to take properly care of her.

There is a good number of elements for “MALEFICENT” that I found very admirable. I believe it is one of the more visually stunning films I have seen in recent years. A great deal of credit has to go to Dylan Cole and Gary Freeman’s production designs. The pair did an excellent job in recapturing medieval life . . . at least in a fantasy world. Dean Semler’s photography of parts of rural England, which served as King Stefan’s realm, added to the movie’s visual style. But the work from the special effects team, especially for creation of the fairy realm and other sequences that featured magic, truly enhanced the movie’s visual style. I also have to add a word about Anna B. Sheppard’s costume designs for the film. I could wax lyrical on how beautiful they looked. But there are times when I believe that images can speak louder than words:

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I will not claim that Sheppard’s costumes are an accurate reflection of medieval fashion. But . . . hey! I cannot deny that I found them beautiful.

As for the plot for “MALEFICENT”, I cannot deny that it proved to be something of a conundrum for me. Woolverton’s screenplay and Robert Stromberg’s direction clearly seemed to hint that it is basically a movie for children. The dialogue, the movie’s style of humor and especially its use of the three fairy sisters as the movie’s comic relief practically screams “Kiddie Film” to me. And yet . . . Woolverton’s screenplay also featured elements that seemed to indicate a movie with strong adult themes. The most obvious element proved to be the theft of Maleficent’s wings. Unless I am mistaken, the entire scene struck me as a metaphor for rape. Think about it. Stefan drugs Maleficent (a stand-in for any rape drug) to knock her unconscious. Using iron – an indication of violence – he physically violates her by burning off her wings. The relationship that develops between Maleficent and Aurora not only proved to be unexpected, but is given a feminist twist. Aside from Maleficent’s relationship with her aide Diaval, a raven whom she had saved by transforming him into a human; the male-female relationships in this movie proved to be either ineffective or disastrous. Even the use of “True Love’s Kiss” had a twist I had failed to foresee . . . until several minutes before it actually occurred.

There have been other productions – both television and film – that mixed elements of children’s stories and adult themes. ABC Television’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” seemed to use a great deal of adult themes in its twist on fairy tales. Yet, the series continues to maintain some semblance of childlike morality in its portrayal of magic. J.K. Rowling’s “HARRY POTTER” literary (and film adaptations) series becomes increasingly ambiguous as the saga progresses. And aside from the first film, George Lucas’ “STAR WARS” film saga strikes me as a case study of moral ambiguity with touches of humor and characterizations for children. But these science-fiction/fantasy sagas seem capable of balancing humor and storytelling for children with adult themes.

I cannot say the same about “MALEFICENT”. The movie’s childish humor – courtesy of the three fairy sisters – struck me as heavy-handed and not at all funny. I also believe the movie’s 97-minute running time made it difficult for Woolverton’s script to maintain that balance between children and adult themes. More importantly, the movie’s running time forced Stromberg and Woolverton to rush the story forward at a unnecessarily fast pace, especially during the movie’s last half hour. Other aspects of the plot – Maleficent’s background, her relationships with both Stefan and Diaval, and especially her developing relationship with Aurora. But there are two aspects that struck me as rushed – namely Aurora’s relationship with the fairy sisters (which barely seemed to exist) and the last half hour in which the sleeping curse is played out. I cannot help but wonder if Disney’s penchant for cinematic penny-pinching forced Stromberg and Woolverton to rush the movie’s climatic act.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Angelina Jolie was outstanding as the movie’s protagonist, the fairy Maleficent. Being the top-notch actress that she is, Jolie effortlessly captured every nuance of Maleficent’s character – both the good and the bad. I have been a great admirer of Sharlto Copley in the past – with the exception of his villainous turn in the 2013 sci-fi movie, “ELYSIUM”. Thankfully, his complex portrayal of this movie’s villain, King Stefan, reminded me of his skill at portraying complex roles. At first, Elle Fanning seemed to be stuck with a role that struck me very sweet, kind . . . and boring. Fortunately for her, the Princess Aurora character became more interesting in the movie’s second half and Fanning got the chance to show off her acting chops – especially in the scene in which Aurora confronts Maleficent about the curse.

The movie also featured solid performances from Sam Riley as Maleficent’s confidant Diaval, Kenneth Cranham as King Henry and Hannah New as Queen Leila. I have been longtime fans of Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple. But I have to be honest – I was not that impressed by their portrayals of the three fairy sisters. It was quite obvious to me that Staunton, Manville and Temple did their best to make the three sisters – Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit – interesting. Nor can I accuse them of bad acting. They were obviously giving it their all. There are times when external forces have a way of affecting an actor or actress’ performance, whether due to bad direction or bad writing. In the case of the three actresses who portrayed Aurora’s fairy guardians, I suspect their performances were sabotaged by Linda Woolverton’s writing. The screenwriter’s sense of humor struck me as subtle as a stampeding buffalo. I also believe that her screenplay may have hampered Brenton Thwaites’ performance as Prince Philip. How can I put it? Thwaites gave a bland and boring performance, because he was forced to portrayed a bland and boring character. The 1959 animated version of the prince had more zing than this latest version. And I blame Woolverton’s screenplay, not the actor.

Do not get me wrong. I rather liked “MALEFICENT”. I found it to be a visually stunning film with some strong moral ambiguity in its plot and in some of the major characters, and a solid cast led by outstanding performances from Angelina Jolie and Sharlto Copley. I also enjoyed the feminist twist on the “Sleeping Beauty” tale. But due to some flawed characterizations and a failure to balance both the children and adult theme in its plot, I can honestly say that I did not love “MALEFICENT”.

“The Corellian Connection” [PG-13] – Chapter Seven

 

“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”

CHAPTER SEVEN

CORELLIAN SECTOR

All eyes now fell upon a very surprised Anakin, who regarded the senator’s sister with surprise. And suspicion. “How . . .” He turned away and inhaled sharply. “How did you know?”

Thalia calmly replied, “I recognized you from the HoloNet News reports during the war. And as a former member of Andalian Intelligence, I had gathered reports of the war from Coruscant.”

Han regarded Anakin with deep admiration. “You’re Anakin Skywalker? You’re one of the best pilots in the galaxy! And the only human who’s ever won the Boonta Eve Classic!”

Confusion filled Senator Yeb’s eyes. “Boonta Eve’s?”

“It’s a podrace on Tatooine,” Anakin explained. “I won that race a long time ago.” He stared at Han. “How did you know about that race?”

Han shrugged his shoulders. “A lot of pilots know about that race. How often does a human win at podracing?”

“Forget about the podracing!” Senator Yeb retorted. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind . . .” He broke off and stared at Anakin. “You’re a Jedi Knight?”

Anakin corrected the other man. “Former . . . Jedi, Senator. Now, if you would all please leave so I can prepare this food.” The others began to file out of the galley, when Anakin clamped a hand on Han’s shoulder. “Except for you, Mr. Solo. You’ll have to earn your keep on this trip.”

“But I don’t know how to cook,” Han protested.

“Neither did I, until a year ago. Let’s go.”

The two Andalians exchanged amused looks and left the galley. Anakin handed his apron over to Han and the pair commenced upon preparing the meal.

———

MOROBE SECTOR

As the Alberforce flew through the dark reaches of the Morobe Sector, Padme made her way toward the star skiff’s cockpit. She found the captain furiously punching buttons on the control console. A deep frown creased the redhead’s brow. “Is there a problem, Captain?” Padme asked.

The other woman sat back into her seat with a deep sigh. “We might have some company. The sensors have picked up signs of another starship. More than one, as a matter of fact.”

Padme felt a surge of anxiety. “The Imperials?” Had their departure from Alderaan been detected?

“It’s possible,” Captain Sen grimly replied. “And it looks as if I may have been right about being more than one ship.”

Several minutes passed before Padme saw an Imperial ship hover into view. She inhaled sharply. Captain Sen froze in her chair, as if anticipating some kind of communication from the ship. Sure enough, a man’s voice crackled from the Alberforce’s communication system. “This is the Imperial ship Exactor. What is your business in this sector?”

The two women exchanged uneasy looks. Captain Sen took a deep breath and replied, “I’m Captain Sen of the Alberforce. I’m in route to the Melinda/Daan homeworld with passengers. How may I help you?”

“Transmit your ship’s identification code,” the voice ordered. Captain Sen removed an identification chip from the console and inserted it into a slot. A high-speed sound emitted from the console’s computer for a few seconds. When it ended, the Imperial officer added, “You are clear to proceed.”

A breathless Captain Sen replied, “Thank you.” And the Alberforce continued its journey, leaving the Imperial warships in the wake of its path.

By the time the skiff was alone in space, Padme exhaled sharply. “That was a close call,” she murmured.

“Too close for my comfort,” the captain said. “It’s a good thing my identification card indicated that we had left Belasco. I wonder where they are headed? There were two other Imperial warships with the Exactor. The Empire must be planning another invasion.”

Padme frowned at the idea. “Invasion? Of which system? The Empire had just annexed Andalia not long ago. Most, if not all of the old Separatist systems are now under Imperial control.”

Captain Sen shrugged her shoulders. “It could be that more Jedi have been found in another system.”

One name popped into Padme’s mind. Anakin. Had Palpatine finally discovered him? Or had the Emperor charged him with completely destroying the endangered Jedi? “I hope not,” Padme murmured. “For their sake. It’s bad enough that they have been accused of killing me during the last days of the war.” She sighed. “If only I could deny that accusation.”

“It’s possible that a group of Jedi are planning a resistance against the Empire,” Captain Sen replied. “Then again, I don’t think there are enough of them around, anymore. The Clone War and the Jedi Purge had pretty much thinned their ranks.” Padme winced, aware that Anakin was partially responsible for the latter. The captain continued, “I can think of a few Jedi who would love to rid the galaxy of the Emperor.”

Another frown appeared on Padme’s face. “You know a few Jedi Knights?”

“I’ve smuggled a few to Alderaan. Queen Breha and Prince Bail have given sanctuary to them right after the war.” The captain added, “Along with a few other war refugees.”

Padme murmured, “I had no idea. About the Jedi, I mean.” Now, she understood why Bail and Breha had no qualms about offering sanctuary to her and the children.

A sigh left Captain Sen’s mouth. “If those Imperial ships are after more Jedi refugees, I wish I was there to help them escape.”

Padme found herself wishing the same. But she could not allow her idealism to overcome her sense of survival. Not while she had two infants of great Force potential to protect.

———-

SARAPIN SYSTEM

The Javian Hawk’s four inhabitants finished the last of their midday meal of Nerfburgers. Anakin and Han collected the dirty plates and cups, allowing the two passengers a time for rest. Once the pair had cleaned the utensils, Han asked the pilot, “Can I join you in the cockpit?”

Anakin suspected this was an attempt by the boy to form a closer acquaintance. His first instinct was to insist that Han remain with the other passengers. But the boy’s pleading eyes reminded Anakin of that nine year-old slave boy who had harbored a desire to see the galaxy beyond Tatooine. That idealistic young boy, who no longer existed . . . much to his regret. A heavy sigh escaped from Anakin’s mouth. “Sure,” he mumbled. “Why not?”

A wide smile stretched Han’s lips. Anakin led him to the cockpit. “Strap yourself in,” the former Jedi ordered.

“Why?” Han demanded.

“Because if something happens unexpectedly, I don’t want to see your body fly beyond the cockpit shield.”

A grimace touched Han’s lips, as he did as Anakin ordered. The latter switched off the starship’s autopilot system and resumed flying the Hawk. A comfortable silence fell between the young man and the boy, until the latter broke it, five minutes later. “What are you going to do with me when we reach wherever you’re going?” Han asked. “And where are we going, by the way?”

Anakin replied, “The answer to your second question is we’re heading for Averam. As for the first question . . .” He hesitated and pressed his lips together. “Well, I don’t know. Perhaps Senator Yeb might be able to find a place or home for you, once we reach Averam.”

“What kind of place?” A suspicious scowl appeared on Han’s face. “I don’t wanna be stuck in some orphanage.”

“Look . . . Han,” Anakin began, “you can’t stay with me. I’m the last person who would be able to give you a stable home. Look at me! I’m a former Jedi Knight-turned Sith apprentice-turned smuggler. I’m wanted by the Empire. Even worse, I have blood on my hands. Staying with me will be detrimental to your health. Believe me.”

Han’s mouth hung open. “So you weren’t kidding about killings others, huh?”

“No, I wasn’t.”

A third voice asked, “You have killed others?” Both Anakin and Han whirled around in their seats to find Senator Yeb standing behind them. The latter stared at Anakin. “Whom exactly did you kill?”

Another sigh left Anakin’s mouth. Since he was about to tell Han about the Jedi Purge, he figured that the senator might as well know. “Members of the Jedi Order,” he coolly replied. “At the Temple. I had killed padawans, knights, masters and younglings. I also killed the Separatist leaders on Mustafar, on the Emperor’s orders.”

Shock and confusion lit up the senator’s dark eyes. Han merely gaped at Anakin. “You . . .” Senator Yeb broke off and inhaled sharply. “You killed all of those people?”

Anakin’s gaze returned to the dark space beyond the cockpit shields. “Yes, Senator,” he replied in a monotone voice.

“You were a Jedi Knight!” Senator Yeb exclaimed. “The Hero With No Fear! I don’t understand.” He paused, as realization gleamed in his eyes. “You took part in the Jedi Purge?”

A long pause followed. Memories of the Jedi Temple’s destruction assailed Anakin’s mind. He took a deep breath and answered, “Yes I did, Senator. In fact, I had led the attack upon the Temple.”

“But why?” the senator demanded. The question also lingered in Han’s eyes.

After another long pause, Anakin curtly replied, “For reasons I consider personal. The fact is, Senator, the Chancellor . . . or should I say the Emperor had led me to believe that he could help me with this matter. Unfortunately, I ended up pledging myself as his Sith apprentice in exchange for his help. Which led me to leading the attack upon the Jedi Temple that night.”

“You were a Sith . . .” Senator Yeb paused. “But why would you pledge yourself to the Emperor . . .” His eyes grew wide with shock. “Wait. You mean to say that the . . .”

A sardonic smile curved Anakin’s lips. “That’s right, Senator. The Emperor Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Darth Sidious. And I was his apprentice, Darth Vader. After I had killed the Separatist leaders . . .” He paused, as more memories of Mustafar overwhelmed him – his attack upon Padme and the duel against Obi-Wan. He took a deep breath. “Something happened to me . . . on Mustafar. I . . . I guess I had realized that if I continue to be Lord Sidious’ apprentice, my life would have become even worse. So I walked away. And because of me, the galaxy is now under the rule of a Sith Lord.”

“What’s a Sith Lord?” Han asked.

Anakin replied, “A Jedi’s enemy. The Sith use the Force for . . . well, less than pleasant reasons. For power.” An unpleasant laugh escaped his mouth. “Funny. I had wanted that power to save someone I loved. Only I ended up losing that person, anyway. As for the Emperor, he no longer has an apprentice. Which is something to be thankful for.”

“Why?” Han demanded.

“Because the Sith always exist in pairs. A master and an apprentice. Sidious has lost both Dooku and myself.” Anakin paused before he grimly added, “Which means that he’ll either try to lure me back or search for a new apprentice.”

Senator Yeb’s next words took Anakin by surprise. “But he already has a new apprentice. His name is Darth Rasche.”

Anakin stared at Yeb in shock. “Say that again?”

The senator repeated, “The Emperor . . . or Darth Sidious, as you called him, has a new apprentice. I’ve seen him on Andalia. Haven’t you heard about the death of Anjuli Nab? She was a Jedi Knight, such as yourself.”

Anakin murmured regretfully, “I knew her.”

“Well, she was killed by this new apprentice, Darth Rasche,” Senator Yeb continued. “She had recognized him by his real name. Only I’ve forgotten it, at the moment. Apparently, he is also a former Jedi.”

Darth Rasche. The news stunned Anakin beyond belief. Sidious had discovered another apprentice from the ranks of the Jedi Order? He wondered how long it had taken his former Sith master to accomplish this deed. Anakin asked for a description of the Sith apprentice.

With a shrug of his shoulders, the senator began, “He’s tall. Like you. Perhaps a little taller and a little heavier. He has dark hair and . . .” A series of loud beeps from the ship’s console interrupted Yeb. “What’s that?”

Anakin frowned at the console. “It’s the Hawk’s sensor array. There’s another starship nearby. Only I . . .” He broke off, as a large, triangular-shaped starship loomed above the Hawk. An Imperial warship. Anakin sighed. “I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.”

———-

KASHYYYK SYSTEM

By the time the Imperial Star Destroyer Exactor arrived at the Wookie homeworld, the Battle of Kashyyyk had begun in earnest. Grand Moff Tarkin had just arrived an hour or two earlier, on the Executrix. The two commanders met aboard the latter’s ship to discuss on how to deal with the Wookies and their Jedi allies.

“If you must know, Lord Rasche,” Tarkin stated, “I am not interested in the Jedi’s presence on Kashyyk. I am more interested in the Wookies and how they can serve the Empire.” The Eriadu native made it clear that he shared the Emperor’s view on human superiority over other species and simply wanted the Wookies as slave labor for the construction of the new super weapon.

Rasche frowned. “What about the Geonosians? I thought you were using them as slave labor.”

“Constructing the new weapon will take more than the Geonosians,” Tarkin replied airily. “Surely you must have realized this, my lord. You’ve seen the weapon yourself.” His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Or do you have some kind of affinity for these . . . Wookies?”

The Sith Lord seared the older man with a malevolent glare. “I do not take lightly to others making assumptions about me, Lord Tarkin. Such actions tend to bring out the less pleasant side of my nature.”

The Imperial officer responded with a polite bow. “Your pardon, Lord Rasche.”

Soon, commanders from other Imperial ships met with the pair and the conversation resumed to the strategy to be deployed against Kashyyyk. Both Rasche and Tarkin decided that the Sith Lord would lead a contingent of troops to hunt down the Jedi. Tarkin, on the other hand, would lead the main Imperial invasion against the planet. A few fleet commanders wanted to bombard all of Kashyyk’s cities. But Rasche overruled them. Instead, he ordered a direct assault on several cities that included Kachirho, Rwookrrorro, Kepitenochan, Okikuti, and Chenachochan.

Once the conference ended, the young Sith Lord flew a Theta-class T-2c shuttle down to the city of Kachirho, accompanied by a Clone officer named Commander Appo and a squad of troops. Despite the heavy anti-fire the shuttle had encountered, it eventually Rasche and his contingent to the Wookie city. There, they learned that Imperial incursions were being repulsed by fierce Wookie opposition, resulting in the death of many troops.

“My Lord,” Commander Appo commented, “perhaps you should rescind your order and allow the bombardment of the entire planet. These Wookies seemed to be resisting a lot stronger than we thought they would.”

A sigh left Rasche’s mouth. The wanton slaughter of a species did not particularly appeal to him, Sith Lord or not. But if the Wookies posed a threat to his ability to hunt down the Jedi, they had to be dealt with. “Perhaps you’re right, Commander.” Using the shuttle’s communication system, he sent a message to Grand Moff Tarkin and rescinded his previous orders and ordered a new one to launch a full bombardment of all Wookie settlements on Kashyyyk.

Upon leaving the shuttle, Rasche, Appo and the squad accompanying them, reached the outskirts of Kachirho. The Sith Lord’s hopes of encountering Anakin Skywalker were dashed when he found himself facing a group of Jedi, younger than himself. The leader of this group turned out to be Olee Starstone, a young padawan he had first encountered on Murkhana with Jedi Masters Bol Chatak and Roan Shryne, nearly eight months ago. Rasche managed to kill Chatak, but Starstone and Shryne had escaped. Now, he had finally caught up with the former Jedi padawan. The Sith Lord wondered if Shryne was nearby.

“Olee Starstone,” Rasche announced with contempt dripping from his voice. “We meet again. Giving me the chance to finish what I had started on Murkhana?”

The dark-haired, blue-eyed woman spat out furiously, “Traitor! Murderer!”

“If you’re speaking of your former master,” Rasche retorted, “may I remind you that it was she who had attacked first?”

Young Starstone let out a furious cry and attacked the Sith Lord. In all honesty, Rasche did not consider her much of a challenge. But her rage managed to prevent her from being immediately killed. Rasche and Starstone exchanged a series of parries and thrusts. Before the Sith Lord could finish off his opponent, several men appeared on the scene. One of them lit up a lightsaber and decapitated Commander Appo’s head. Jedi Master Roan Shryne had arrived.

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN