Saga of a Saga: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Midichlorians

The 1977 premiere of Star Wars broke box office records.

I was born in 1977, the year the original Star Wars came out. I cannot recall a time when Star Wars was not a part of my life, though I do have dim memories of the first time I saw it. The original Star Wars trilogy was such an important part of my formative years, it’s only natural I would carry that fandom into adulthood. In the mid-90s, after a brief lull during my pre-teen years when I was still technically a fan but wasn’t really thinking about Star Wars all that much, I saw The Empire Strikes Back on cable TV and my passion for the saga returned with a vengeance. Throughout my late teens and early twenties, my Star Wars fandom reached a fever pitch rivaled only by those magical years when the original trilogy was still being released. It should be no surprise that I went into The Phantom Menace with not only great excitement, but very high expectations, particularly since I’d spent the last twenty years speculating on what the prequel and sequel trilogies would entail and dreaming of one day seeing the complete saga sitting on my shelf in nice, pretty packaging. With so much anticipation and buildup, it was perhaps unavoidable that I would be disappointed.

Like many fans, I came out of The Phantom Menace with a bad taste in my mouth. It just hadn’t lived up to my expectations and in some ways didn’t even really feel like Star Wars. It lacked that lived-in aspect of the original trilogy, and the grungy, utilitarian aesthetic had been replaced by a slicker, glossier look. There were no fun, memorable characters for me to bond with – Anakin was just an annoying little kid, Padmé had no real depth whatsoever, and Obi-Wan was barely in the damn thing. And yes, I hated Jar-Jar with a passion. As the subsequent films in the prequel trilogy played out, I was equally disappointed. Attack of the Clones briefly appeared to be getting things back on track and had more of a proper Star Wars vibe than the previous entry in the series, but the lackluster romance and bad dialogue ultimately sank my opinion of that film. Revenge of the Sith was arguably the best of the three, but it had feet of clay, having been built on the shaky foundation of the previous two films. I wondered how this could possibly be what George Lucas really had in mind when he launched the saga in 1977.

Back then a lot of people, myself among them, believed there were completed screenplays for all nine movies that had been in existence since the 70s, but now I was starting to doubt that. I began to think Lucas had been lying all along, that there had never been a long-term plan for the saga. This belief grew stronger when Lucas announced there was not going to be a sequel trilogy and that there had never been a story in place for any events following Return of the Jedi – this despite his having stated in the early 80s that he had planned a saga of nine films. I was burning with curiosity to know the truth. Indeed, it became almost an obsession, and I’ve been sifting through the evidence ever since. Like the Watergate scandal, there was one simple question: What did George Lucas know and when did he know it? I’ve spent many hours scouring the internet for any tidbits I could find that might shed light on this question. My search led me to two key sources that I consider to be reliable: The Making of Star Wars by J.W Rinzler and The Secret History of Star Wars by Michael Kaminski. Both books are excellent, highly readable volumes that offer a wealth of information on the history of the Star Wars saga and I highly recommend them. In brief, here is what I learned.

The films of Akira Kurosawa were a huge influence on George Lucas.

George Lucas began his journey toward what would ultimately become Star Wars by trying to purchase the rights to Flash Gordon sometime in the early 70s. When he was unsuccessful, he decided to craft his own space odyssey from scratch. He first put pen to paper sometime in 1973 with a two-page treatment entitled Journal of the Whills. This version would have chronicled the adventures of a Jedi-Templar named Mace Windy and his padawan, C.J. Thorpe. After being expelled from the Jedi order, the two embark on a mission at the behest of the Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Systems. Much of the text is lifted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, A Fighting Man of Mars. Lucas quickly abandoned this version. His next attempt was a sci-fi remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai film, The Hidden Fortress. In that film, Toshiro Mifune plays a general tasked with escorting a princess through hostile territory. The character eventually became the template for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lucas was unable to secure the rights to The Hidden Fortress, so he reworked the story into something more original. Multiple drafts later, he finally arrived at the version of Star Wars with which we are all familiar. But the question remains – how much of the overall saga had he worked out when the first film was released? The answer is somewhat convoluted.

The first evidence that Lucas had any sort of overall plan for the saga comes in 1976 when he met with prolific sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster to discuss a novelization of the first film. At that time, Lucas was still negotiating his contract with 20th Century Fox and did not know if he would get to make any sequel films. For this reason, he broached the idea of Foster writing sequel novels. It was at this point that Lucas first revealed his plans for a trilogy of stories followed by a possible prequel. He told Foster that the sequel would essentially be Gone With the Wind in space, exploring the love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. In fact, the finished version of The Empire Strikes Back lifts some of its dialogue from Margaret Mitchell’s novel. Even the poster for Empire is patterned after the poster for Gone With the Wind. So this part of the plan at least came to fruition. Lucas went on to say that the third story would be a soap opera about the Skywalker family and that at some point he might like to do one about Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young man and chronicling the rise of the Empire. No details are provided, with Lucas’s only specific instruction being that in the second story Luke and Leia should kiss. This would seem to refute any notion that Leia was always going to be Luke’s sister. It does, however, demonstrate that Lucas did indeed at least have a general idea of how he wanted the series to play out. So now we have four stories: the Luke Skywalker trilogy and a prequel about Obi-Wan Kenobi. Was that the entire plan or was there more to it? Difficult to say. All that’s known for certain is that he had a script in development for the first film and wanted to make sequels.

Like the film itself, the poster for The Empire Strikes Back drew inspiration from Gone With the Wind.

Things changed after the release of the first film. Lucas had expected Star Wars to be a failure, but it went on the become the highest-grossing movie ever made and an international sensation. Now Lucas could do anything he wanted and there were claims at the time that the series might go on indefinitely, like the James Bond franchise. Many story concepts were proposed. There was to be one about the founding of the Jedi Order, another about the Clone Wars, one about Wookies, one about driods, all of them only loosely connected by a shared universe and not necessarily told in chronological order. Lucas soon put a cap on the series. There would be twelve films in all, a number chosen because the old cliffhanger serials of the 30s and 40s which had been the original inspiration for Star Wars usually consisted of twelve chapters. Each film would have a different director, but then Lucas himself would return to direct the final film in the series, sometime around 2001. Mark Hamill recalls Lucas asking him on the set of the first film if he would like to be in episode IX. Asked for details, Lucas told him it would be a mere cameo, passing the torch to the next generation. Still, it indicates that during production of the first film Lucas was already envisioning a long-running series.

By the time Star Wars II went into production, Lucas scaled things back. Instead of twelve films, it would now be nine. His claim was that in the mid-70s he had written a single giant script of epic proportions that told the entire story of Star Wars. Realizing it was too big for a single film, he split it into two scripts, then further divided it into two trilogies, and then after the success of the first film he added another trilogy. The current trilogy would be the story of Luke Skywalker and the rebellion against the Empire, the second trilogy would be a prequel story about how the Republic fell and was replaced by the Empire, and the third trilogy would be set years later and focus on the rebuilding of the Republic. But was any of this true? Well… sort of.

Title page for George Lucas’s hand-written first draft of The Star Wars.

The giant script he’s referring to is his first draft, entitled simply The Star Wars. This version of the story was truly epic in scope, with many characters and locations and of course plenty of action. An opening title card tells us that the valiant Jedi Knights have been all but wiped out by a rival sect called the Sith. The galaxy is now in the grip of a corrupt empire. The story opens on the planet Utapau where Kane Starkiller is marooned with his two sons, Annikin and Deak. A spaceship lands nearby and a Sith Knight emerges. When the Sith kills Deak, Kane immediately takes his revenge. Kane and Annikin then take the Sith’s ship, traveling to the planet Aquilae to find Kane’s old friend, General Luke Skywalker. Kane is dying, and much of his body is now mechanical, so he asks Luke to train Annikin. The planet is invaded by the Empire, so the General must escort Princess Leia across hostile territory. They flee to the spaceport of Gordon where they meet an old friend of Luke’s, a green alien named Han Solo. They are also joined by two bickering Imperial bureaucrats who provide some comic relief. Together they obtain a spaceship and flee the planet with the Imperial forces in hot pursuit. There is a tense chase through an asterioid field and the ship is damaged, forcing them to bail out in space pods. They land on the jungle planet Yavin, where they encounter a tribe of yeti-like primitives called Wookies. The Imperials catch up with them and capture Princess Leia, taking her to their space fortress, the Death Star. Annikin rushes off to rescue the princess while Luke trains the Wookies to do battle with the Empire. On the Death Star, Annikin encounters Prince Valorum, a noble Sith Lord who is at odds with the Death Star’s commander, General Darth Vader. In the end, Valorum decides to turn his back on the Empire, helping Annikin and the Princess escape just as Luke and the Wookies arrive in a fleet of stolen spaceships. The Death Star is destroyed, the Empire overthrown, and peace returns to the galaxy.

The characters of Star Wars went through many conceptual permutations.

Gradually, over the course of many revisions, the script morphed into the original Star Wars which was released in 1977. In subsequent drafts, Annikin Starkiller would become Luke Skywalker and General Luke Skywalker would become Obi-Wan Kenobi. Han Solo would become human. The bickering Imperials morphed into C3P0 and R2D2. The names and details changed, but the characters and overall story structure were already more or less in place. That first draft script is by no means identical to the finished version of the entire Star Wars saga as Lucas claims. It’s just an early version of the original Star Wars. However, it does contain many concepts that were not in the original film, such as the chase through the asteroid belt and the tribe of primitives. There’s also a sequence that takes place on a city that floats in the clouds. Lucas would eventually dust off these elements and use them in the second two Star Wars films. Prince Valorum’s change of heart also foreshadows Vader’s arc in Return of the Jedi. It could be argued that in a sense the first draft script actually is a condensed version the entire original trilogy. It doesn’t have all the details, of course, but the broad strokes are there. So what Lucas told us is true – from a certain point of view.

But Darth Vader is clearly not Luke’s father in this version, nor is this the case in any of the subsequent drafts, and there is no suggestion of any sort of prequel. When did all this come about? Lucas has long insisted that the plan all along was for Darth Vader to be the father of Luke Skywalker, that he held onto this secret for a long time, even putting fake dialogue in the movies to throw people off. Is any of this true? Did Lucas really have the entire prequel story worked out before filming the first Star Wars? Again, yes and no. Despite having claimed early on that he had originally written the screenplays for the prequels as part of his original massive screenplay chronicling the entire saga, Lucas has since clarified that he had only ever written an outline for the prequels, and this is true. The evidence for this can be found in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the first Star Wars, published before the release of the film, which features a prologue chronicling the fall of the Republic and the rise to power of Emperor Palpatine. Though some of the details are different, this prologue closely follows what we see in the prequel films, so it’s clearly true that he did indeed have the prequel story written out at least as an outline. But despite what Lucas claims, Darth Vader was not originally Luke’s father.

Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for Darth Vader.

This story beat came about during the development of The Empire Strikes Back. Originally marked as episode II, the first draft of Empire opens with the ghost of Luke’s father appearing to Luke to tell him he has a sister hidden away on the other side of the galaxy who is also training to be a Jedi. It’s possible this story element first entered into Lucas’s mind during the development of the first film, when he briefly considered making the protagonist a girl. The sister character would have shown up in a future episode. When screenwriter Leigh Brackett died, Lucas was forced to complete the script on his own. It was in 1978 that Lucas made the momentous decision to merge Luke’s father and Darth Vader into one character. The reason for this is unknown, but in The Secret History of Star Wars, Michael Kaminski speculates that the reveal that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father was slated for the climax of Empire. Lucas did tease in 1976 that the second story would feature a big reveal about Vader, and this may have been it. But Lucas eventually included that bit of information in the first movie, leaving the second film without the shocking reveal Lucas was looking for. After much brainstorming, Lucas must have come up with the idea for Vader to be Luke’s father. I find this theory to be plausible. So prior to 1978, Darth Vader and Luke’s Father were always separate characters.

Does this make Lucas a liar? Well… not entirely. Remember that the first draft script featured three separate characters: the Sith Lord Prince Valorum who is initially a villain but ultimately redeems himself, the partially mechanical Kane Starkiller, and the evil General Darth Vader. Aspects of all three characters would eventually be rolled together into the final version of Darth Vader, and one of those characters was indeed the father of Annikin Starkiller, who would be called Luke Skywalker in the final version. So once again, there’s a grain of truth in Lucas’s assertion that this was the original story. The elements were all there, just in a different form. Still, the fact remains that the version of Darth Vader introduced in the first Star Wars film was not intended to be Luke’s father. That aspect was introduced in the second draft of Empire. We could quibble over whether Lucas is being entirely truthful about the origins of the character, but what really matters is that not only was this a great twist, it made the backstory more interesting. It was once this new revelation about Vader was added into the mix that Empire changed from episode II to episode V. Now, instead of a single prequel about Obi-Wan Kenobi, there would be an entire prequel trilogy about the fall of Anakin Skywalker.

It is now established as fact that the scripts for the prequels were written in the late 90s and early 2000s. Before that, they only ever existed as an outline. Part of that outline definitely existed before the original Star Wars went into production, but the history of Darth Vader was added during the development of Return of the Jedi. Lucas would eventually admit that Episode III constitutes the bulk of that outline, with only about twenty percent of the rest of the material spread across the other two episodes. Characters like Count Dooku, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Jar-Jar Binks did not exist until the 90s, and Anakin was not originally intended to be a chosen one of prophecy. However, it’s also pretty clear to me that Episode I as filmed is cobbled together from abandoned story beats from his first draft of the original Star Wars as well as worldbuilding elements from his earliest notes.

An early concept for young Obi-Wan Kenobi.

When you go back to the beginning, the core elements are all there. Lucas’s early notes describe a planet called Aquilae which became Utapau in a later version and then finally Naboo – Lucas tends to play musical chairs with names. The planet is inhabited by both human colonists called Bebers (the prototype for the Naboo) and a race of amphibious creatures called the Hubble people (the prototype for the Gungans). The original script for The Star Wars features a planet being invaded by a hostile force, just as Naboo would be invaded in The Phantom Menace. That script also features a Jedi general who rescues a princess and helps her escape from her planet, which is clearly the template for the rescue of Padmé in The Phantom Menace. In interviews from the late 70s, Lucas talked about how Senator Palpatine used a crisis to maneuver himself into becoming Chancellor of the Republic, so that was already in the mix. Also, both A New Hope and The Phantom Menace conclude with the destruction of a space fortress, a story beat derived from the first draft script. So while the finished script didn’t exist back in the 70s, the story elements were already in play. There were some changes along the way, of course. In the earliest version of The Phantom Menace, Anakin was older, and Qui-Gon Jinn’s entire role was originally written for Obi-Wan. Personally, I would have preferred it that way, and I know I’m not alone. Nevertheless, the basic story is definitely derived from material that dates back to the 70s.

Attack of the Clones is the entry in the series which had the most blanks to fill in. Lucas admits that this film contains only two story beats that were outlined in the 70s. The first is Anakin falling in love with Luke’s mother, a story beat that had only been developed in the most basic terms. The second is Palpatine’s reveal of an army which he was developing in secret. At some point during the prequels, the Clone Wars would have been addressed, though it’s not clear at what point they would have entered into the story. The details would have been different too. Instead of the Republic being menaced by a droid army, the main threat would have been an army of invading clones. This was revealed by Lucasfilm in the early 80s. Interestingly, they also revealed that the Imperial stormtroopers were clones too. This would eventually be changed and in the current version of the story, by the time of the original Star Wars, the clones of the prequel era had been replaced by natural-born human recruits. Still, we have proof that the concept of the Republic having a clone army had already been introduced in the early 80s.

The backstory for Darth Vader was originally a bit different from what was depicted in the prequel trilogy.

As for Episode III, a transcript of a story meeting between Lucas and Lawrance Kasdan reveals some details about how the original version would have gone down. Having been corrupted by Palpatine, Anakin secretly begins assassinating Jedi. Anakin’s wife is pregnant with twins but doesn’t tell Anakin because she can see he’s falling to the dark side. She confides in Obi-Wan, who tries to sway Anakin back to the light. Anakin won’t listen, leading to a duel on a lava planet in which Anakin is horribly burned, becoming the Darth Vader we all know and love. Palpatine and Vader succeed in wiping out the Jedi and establish the Empire. Anakin’s wife sends Luke to Tattoine with Obi-Wan to watch over him, and she takes the baby girl and goes into hiding with Bail Organa on Alderaan, dying a few years later. From a narrative perspective, the final version seen in Revenge of the Sith is probably a little bit better, because it would have been hard to sympathize with an Anakin who is systematically murdering his fellow Jedi. His actions in the last act of the film are horrible, but having to watch Anakin committing cold-blooded murder for most of the film’s running time would probably have been too much. Lucas must have realized this, so the change was a smart move. From a continuity perspective, it still bothers me that Padmé dies while Luke and Leia are both infants – which directly contradicts Jedi, in which Leia says she has childhood memories of her mother.

I can see why Lucas did it though. He was clearly going for some poetic parallel storytelling, with Anakin metaphorically dying at the same time as Padmé, both of these events juxtaposed against the creation of new life in the form of Luke and Leia and the unnatural “birth” of Darth Vader. Admittedly, it’s a really elegantly staged scene. It’s just… not what was established by the original trilogy. But that is often the case in a long-running series. Star Wars was not the first saga to contradict itself in this way, nor would it be the last. Lucas was groping his way through the dark, trying to tell the best story he could, and given that this all played out over multiple decades, he must have been getting new ideas all the time. Those new ideas would have been exciting and enticing, and the temptation to fudge things in order to tell a better story was probably irresistable.

Concept art for General Grievous.

Much of Episodes II and III were developed in the storyboarding phase, with Lucas weaving relevant story beats from his outline into newly conceived set-pieces and introducing new characters such as Count Dooko and General Grievous as the unfolding story demanded. Revenge of the Sith also underwent heavy revisions during post production. New scenes were filmed and added into the finished film to establish that Anakin’s obsession with Padme is the reason he falls to the dark side. This created a bit of a problem, as they ran out of time in advance of the release date, so the final act does not quite align with the first two thirds of the film. It is unfortunate that the finished product fell short in this capacity, since most fans agree it is the best of the prequels. If only they’d had a little more time, it could have been better still. It would be easy to criticize Lucas and his team, but the reality is that there are often such pressures in Hollywood. Empire and Jedi suffered from similar issues. Empire somehow managed to overcome these difficulties and is now generally considered the best of the series, but Jedi would not fare so well and is widely regarded as the weakest of the original trilogy.

But what about the sequel trilogy? Lucas was already talking about that when Empire was still in production, though he was tight-lipped for decades about what it would entail. All he would say was that it would focus on the rebuilding of the Republic and themes of morality and passing on knowledge to the next generation. In the early 90s, Timothy Zahn released his popular trilogy of novels which continued the story after the events of Jedi, leading many to suspect these were novelizations of Lucas’s planned sequel trilogy. However, while Lucas did offer his input and had veto power over any story decisions, Zahn largely crafted these novels on his own. It is unlikely they reflect what Lucas would have done with a trilogy of films.

Notes released by George Lucas have shed little light on his original plan for the Star Wars saga.

Further adding to the confusion, in the early 2000s, Gary Kurtz, who produced the first two Star Wars films, shared details of what he claimed was the original plan for the whole saga. In interviews and convention appearances, he said that Jedi would have seen Han die and Leia crowned queen of the surviving people of Alderaan. Luke’s sister would have returned from the other side of the galaxy, and the twins would have carried on the fight alone. Eventually, in the final episode, they would face the Emperor together. Lucas has not corroborated these claims, however, and they do not align with what is known of the plans for the original trilogy. It’s true that if Harrison Ford had elected not to sign on for the third film, Han would have been written out, but that was only ever a contingency plan. Lucas intended for Han to survive the film. Also, it was always intended that the Emperor appear in Jedi and the Empire be overthrown. Every draft of the script reflects this. On a side note, in early drafts of the script, the final confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor took place not on the unfinished second Death Star, but on the city planet of Had Abbadon, which would later appear in the prequels, having been rechristened Coruscant by Timothy Zahn in the expanded universe novels. As for the sister character, that story was abandoned when Lucas decided to merge the characters of Darth Vader and Luke’s father in the second draft of Empire. It was felt that Vader having one child was already stretching credibility. Two would have been too much. Obviously Lucas changed his mind when he made Leia both Luke’s sister and the “other” that Yoda refers to, but this was only a convenient solution to a problem. By 1983, Lucas’s marriage was falling apart – largely due to his involvement with Star Wars consuming his life and leaving him no time for his family. Lucas decided to scrap his plans for all future Star Wars movies and wrap everything up with Jedi. Had he gone ahead and made more Star Wars movies, it’s possible he would have dusted off the sister character for use in the sequels, but there is no concrete evidence that was his plan. The simple fact is that only George Lucas knows what his plan for the sequels was back in the 80s, if indeed there was any plan at all.

Years later, after he’d had some time to heal, the special effects revolution brought about by Jurassic Park prompted Lucas to revisit Star Wars and finally do the prequel trilogy. Having scrapped the sequel trilogy in favor of wrapping the whole thing up with Jedi, that gives us a fully-realized narrative in six parts: the rise and fall of Darth Vader set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of the Empire. At that point in time, Lucas claimed he had no story in place for a sequel trilogy and that he was done with Star Wars. And yet when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney a few years later, it turned out that treatments for a Star Wars sequel trilogy were part of the package and that new films were going into production. So what’s the story? Was there a treatment for a sequel trilogy or not? It’s impossible to say for sure, but given that Lucas had been talking for decades about making sequels, he probably did have at least some notes stashed away and maybe even a basic outline. But after all the criticism hurled at him over the prequels, he was just tired of it all and lacked any motivation to go ahead and do the films. And that attitude is understandable. So how closely does Disney’s sequel trilogy align with Lucas’s plans? That’s difficult to say. It depends a lot on just how much material Lucas had worked out. If his notes were vague, then the films probably had to be invented largely from whole cloth. We simply don’t know just how detailed they were or exactly what changed between his version and Disney’s.

Concept art for Kira and Sam, the children of Han and Leia.

We do know a few things about George’s version though. For starters, Leia would have been the focus of the story and would ultimately have been revealed to be the chosen one (this at least was clearly a recent development, as the chosen one story element had been invented in the late 90s). Lucas’s sequels would have focused on rebuilding the Republic. There would have been remnants of the Imperial army that refused to surrender, much like what was depicted in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. These Imperials would have formed a terrorist organization, carrying out attacks on the New Republic. This aspect isn’t all that different from the First Order seen in the Disney version. Also, Luke would have become a recluse and he would have trained a female apprentice, just as happens in the Disney films. Luke was even going to die in George’s version. So at least some of what happens in the Disney films can be traced directly back to Lucas. Whether these were things Lucas came up with in the early 80s or were recent inventions only Lucas knows.

Other aspects were very different though. It was going to turn out that Darth Maul was still alive. He seizes control of the criminal enterprise left vacant by the death of Jabba the Hutt and works to sow chaos throughout the galaxy. He also begins training a new apprentice – Darth Talon, who had been introduced in the comics. Han and Leia’s children would have been part of the story, and their names would probably have been Sam and Kira. Sam would have been a cocksure pilot like his father, and Kira would have sought Luke out to be trained as a Jedi.

Lucas has also said he would have delved into a “microbiotic world.” We would have met the Whills, the beings who control the Force and are essentially the gods of the Star Wars universe. That would have been interesting to see, assuming Lucas didn’t botch the execution. It’s possible the microbiotic world of the Whills would have just been weird, and if he’d handled it as awkwardly as he did the introduction of the midichlorians in The Phantom Menace, it might have been painful to watch. Nevertheless, both concepts date back to the 70s and were part of the genesis of the saga all along, so it’s not surprising that Lucas would eventually want to bring them in.

The Whills have been an important part of Star Wars mythology from the very beginning.

Would Lucas’s version of the sequel trilogy have been better? Maybe, maybe not. It may have just been different. I do think that he would have introduced new concepts and new worlds rather than retreading old material just as pure fan service the way Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams did. But it probably would have had its own problems too. Certainly I take issue with some of what he was going to do, my biggest problem being the return of Darth Maul. That character clearly died at the end of The Phantom Menace and to resurrect him just seems tacky to me (I feel the same way about Boba Fett, by the way). I think it would have been much better to introduce a brand new Sith character to be the villain of the new trilogy. Snoke had the potential to fill this role well if they’d handled his backstory better. Alas, they screwed that up completely. But while I would have preferred a new character, if you’re going to resurrect a villain, Palpatine actually makes much more sense than Maul as it’s established in Revenge of the Sith that Palpatine is seeking immortality. Also, his return unites the whole saga under one main umbrella villain and ties it all together.

And in fact, the return of Palpatine was something of a turning point for me. When The Force Awakens was first released, I had mixed feelings about it. I was already conflicted about Lucas selling the property to Disney. All of the Star Wars movies up to that point had been released through 20th Century Fox. Hearing the Fox fanfare at the opening was part of the experience of watching a Star Wars movie. To this day, if I hear the Fox fanfare with the Cinemascope extension, I have a Pavlovian response where I expect it to be followed by the Star Wars theme. So when the lights came down and the movie opened with silence, it just felt off out of the gate. On top of that was the knowledge going in that Lucas had been pushed out of the process. Say what you will about the quality of the man’s work, he’s still the original author. He created this wonderful universe that we all get to enjoy. To dismiss him like that was just disrespectful. For a long time, I had trouble thinking of the sequel trilogy as anything but really expensive fanfiction. Things didn’t get any better when The Last Jedi came out. I’d waited all these years for the triumphant return of Luke Skywalker only to find he was some bitter old recluse who’d turned his back on his family and friends. It was just utterly disappointing. But then came The Rise of Skywalker. As the date approached for me to finally see it, I realized this was the last time I was going to see a new Star Wars movie. Oh, sure, there might be new movies like Solo or Rogue One, but as far as the nine-part Skywalker saga was concerned, this was it. I decided I was going to try to be less critical, try not to nitpick over little things and just have a good time. In effect, I tried to see the film through the eyes of the child I had once been when I saw the original Star Wars so many years ago. And I had a blast.

Yes, there were aspects of the plot that were redundant or didn’t make any sense. Yes, there was a bit of fanservice on display. Yes, some of the dialogue was cheesy. But I didn’t care. There were spaceships and laser battles and lightsaber duels and droids and aliens and it was all just a heck of a good time. And then there was Palpatine, as delightfully evil as ever and it was awesome. Some people complained that his return didn’t make any sense, but as far as I can see, none of the rules of the universe were violated. We know that in the Star Wars universe cloning is a thing and we know also that Force Ghosts are a thing. So Palpatine continued after his death as a Force Ghost, then inhabited the body of a clone that had been grown for him. Simple, really. The movie doesn’t belabor the explanation, but it’s there if you care to look. But simply having Palpatine repeat his line from Revenge of the Sith tells you everything you need to know: “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” Boom, there you go. Dark side spooky spooky, Palpatine back, moving on. I accept that it didn’t work for some people, but it worked for me.

The depiction of Luke Skywalker as a recluse divided fans, but the concept came directly from George Lucas.

And then information started to leak about what George had been planning for the sequels. With each new tidbit, it began to feel more and more like the sequels had followed George’s original plan much more closely than it initially appeared. They began to feel less and less like fanfiction and more like a legitimate continuation of the story. And while they deviated from the original treatment in certain respects, it’s important to remember that all of the movies evolved during their development. There never really was a master plan in the first place. Only a vague idea that yes, there would be more movies, but what form those movies would take was always in flux. It all grew out of the same pot of ideas, the same creative soup that George Lucas cooked up way back in the early 70s. There were many creative voices who contributed to the original Star Wars trilogy. Marcia Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, Ralph McQuarrie, Willard Huyk, and Gloria Katz to name a few. And even in 1983, a burned-out George Lucas said that any future Star Wars movies would be someone else’s vision, not his. Going back even further to immediately after the release of the original film, we find George’s statement that each film in the series would be helmed by a new director, with the story going in any number of possible directions. All this prompted me to reassess some of the movies I’d criticized so harshly.

Rewatching the prequels now, having seen them so many times, I can much more readily accept their flaws. Jar-Jar, while annoying, is not quite so unbearable to me as when I first encountered him. And finding out that midichlorians were part of the world-building all along has helped me to warm to that particular element, so I no longer cringe so much at their mention. Anakin and Padme… yeah, that’s still a disaster. But it’s set against the backdrop of so much cool action and sci-fi spectacle that I can deal with it even if there are problems I can’t fully overlook. The prequels are not the greatest movies ever made but they’re still entertaining – to me, at least. I still complain about all the problems, but at the end of the day I have a good time watching them. The same goes for the sequels. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with the sequels that isn’t also wrong with some of the other films. Yes, The Force Awakens recycles plot elements from A New Hope but so does The Phantom Menace. Yes, Starkiller base is just a retread of the Death Star, but Return of the Jedi also features an unnecessary extra Death Star. Yes, we play ping-pong with Rey’s identity, but it’s not any more painful than the nonsensical reveal that Leia is Luke’s sister, which really adds little to the overall narrative and retroactively makes the previous two films somewhat icky. Despite some pacing issues in The Last Jedi and some other problems here and there, I find the sequels to be fun. And as I said before, they do use at least some story elements from George’s version.

The Skywalker Saga is finally complete.

Ultimately, we got what we got. It isn’t perfect, but in hindsight, the original trilogy wasn’t perfect either (I’m looking at you, Jedi). In any long-running saga, it stands to reason that there are going to be some entries that don’t live up to the rest. Really, it’s amazing the overall Star Wars saga is as good as it is. The point is, we do finally have the nine-part Skywalker saga that Lucas promised us in the early 80s. It may not be exactly what we were expecting or even what we wanted, but that doesn’t automatically make them terrible. For my part, now that I’ve had some time to process and get used to what both the prequels and the sequels gave me, I’ve actually found much to love about them. Ian McDiarmid’s dual performance as the devious Senator Palpatine and cackling Darth Sidious is a delight. Natalie Portman eventually grew into her own as the cerebral Padmé. And Ewan McGregor’s turn as a swashbuckling Obi-Wan Kenobi was plenty of fun. There’s lots of action and spectacle, and thanks to modern special effects, the Star Wars universe is finally revealed in a way that the original trilogy could only hint at. I thoroughly like the character of Rey, and Daisy Ridley’s performance is right on the money. Kylo Ren, who failed to impress me at first, finally won me over thanks to Adam Driver’s tortured performance. And while at first I didn’t care for the idea of a rogue Luke Skywalker, upon reflection I realized that this was a really interesting and unexpected direction to take the character. In the end, I came to the conclusion that there’s more for me to love about all nine movies than there is for me to complain about. And at last I have the complete nine-part Star Wars saga sitting on my shelf in nice, pretty packaging just like I always wanted and it’s wonderful. I’m at a point now where I can make my peace with the saga’s flaws and just have a good time. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy some Star Wars.

Space Raiders: A Rip-off With Charm

How much time has to pass before a rip-off becomes an homage? Consider the following pitch: An embittered war veteran leads a rag-tag band of space pirates on a never-ending quest for the cash they need to keep their ship flying. Sound familiar? No, I’m not talking about Firefly. I’m talking about the 1983 low-budget Roger Corman cash grab, Space Raiders. One is a beloved though short-lived sci-fi series which borrows elements from Star Wars while injecting enough original elements to find its own identity. The other… is fondly remembered by some while being largely forgotten by most. But is Space Raiders a rip-off or does it have enough of a unique identity to stand on its own? Does the question even matter? When you boil it down, is it actually any good? Let’s have a look.

The late 70s and early 80s saw a glut of outer-space films designed to cash in on the success of Star Wars. Most of them focused on the superficial – space fighters in dogfights, strange aliens in droves, larger-than-life heroes and villains, and an emphasis on fun and adventure. Few if any of them touched on the mythic aspects at the core of Star Wars which was the key to its enduring success. Most of them, such as Star Crash and Message From Space survive today largely as curiosities. But others, including Space Raiders, have managed to garner their own cult followings. What makes the difference? In developing Firefly, Joss Whedon readily admits to drawing his inspiration from Star Wars, but he had the luxury of introducing his space opera over twenty years after the fact. And even though the Star Wars prequels were in the process of being released at the time, the cultural impact of the former saga had already soaked in. Star Wars is just part of the DNA of storytelling now. You can draw from it as readily as you might draw from Robin Hood or King Arthur. But when Star Wars was fresh, people were still trying to figure out what it was. A lot of producers didn’t even care. They just saw a space movie making lots of money and assumed that spaceships would be a draw. But others were still interested in trying to tell a good story. They saw the success in the space opera format, but they also knew that you still had to follow the rules of good storytelling. So into which category does Space Raiders fall? Well, a little of both.

The first thing a viewer will notice is the overall cheapness. The opening sequence, which takes place in a warehouse, is hardly futuristic. The exteriors are pretty obviously southern California, and one sequence takes place at a very present-day looking factory. What’s more, the special effects, sets, and music are all lifted from Corman’s earlier and far superior space film, Battle Beyond the Stars (which was also a Star Wars clone). When you know this, it becomes painfully obvious that Space Raiders was written around the existing effects rather than the effects being tailored to the script. To be fair, though, it was a smart business move. By comparison, Battle was lavishly-produced, featuring A-list talent like Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, and George Peppard. The sets looked great and the music was fantastic. All that doesn’t come cheap, so it’s understandable that Corman would want to get his money’s worth. The effects were originally created by James Cameron, and while not quite up to the standards set by Star Wars, they’re nevertheless impressive, especially considering the budgetary limitations. The stirring score was composed by James Horner, and it’s not surprising that both he and Cameron would go on to bigger and better things. Taken on their own, both elements integrate pretty well into Space Raiders, and it’s only when you know about the previous film that they contribute to the sense of cheapness. But such technical aspects aren’t necessarily everything. If the story and performances are strong enough, a film can rise above such shortcomings. So how does this film fare in that respect?

Space Raiders centers on Colonel C.F. Hawkins, or “Hawk,” played convincingly by veteran actor Vince Edwards. Once proud of his military career, he now laments his status, talking about the old days when “being in the space service really meant something.” Now he is affiliated with a criminal organization run by a reptilian creature called Zariatin. When a young boy named Peter (David Mendenhall) accidentally stows away on a ship Hawk’s crew is trying to steal, Hawk feels responsible and vows to get Peter home. The corporation that employs Peter’s father sends a robot ship (why does a robot ship have windows?) ostensibly on a rescue mission, but really in hopes of destroying Zariatin’s operation. Hoping to ransom Peter, Zariatin turns on Hawk, picking off the crew one-by-one. Finally Hawk bests Zariatin in a shootout but is wounded in the process. Fortunately, Peter paid really close attention when he watched the crew give first aid to a wounded comrade, and he manages to resuscitate Hawk, who then finally gets Peter home. It’s a pretty simple narrative, and it’s executed simply: setup, complication, payoff. As a cash-grab, that’s smart, and at 84 minutes, it’s definitely well-paced. That said, there’s such a thing as being too simple, and there are areas where Space Raiders probably should have been allowed to breathe. For one thing, aspects of the worldbuilding are implied rather than explicitly established. It certainly seems as if the galaxy is run by a single corporation but the movie doesn’t tell us that. We’re left to infer it. And that’s a bit sloppy.

But the most critical of these areas is in the relationship between Hawk and Peter. The entire film hinges on the bond between these two, and by extension, between Peter and Hawk’s crew. When the crew first discovers that Peter is aboard, he’s in the way and everyone is bemused and annoyed by his presence. Hawk even jokes about chucking him out the airlock. But when they come under fire by hostile space fighters, a critical ship component is damaged and they can’t get to it. Peter is just small enough that he can worm his way down into the engine to fix the problem, and presto! Peter has now earned his stripes and is treated as a full-fledged member of the crew. Just like that. It works… sort of. In reality that might earn him some token respect, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that makes people ready to sacrifice their lives for you. From this time on, they all act like Peter is a member of their family who has been traveling with them for years, or at least months. Contrast this with Simon and River, who occupy a similar role in Firefly. It’s the end of the two-hour pilot before Mal even invites them to stay aboard, and even that only if Simon earns his keep by acting as ship’s medic. And their position aboard ship is only ever tenuous. Indeed, in the big-screen film, which takes place eight months after Simon and River first come aboard, Mal actually loses his temper and kicks them off the ship. It’s only after Mal’s moral compass is triggered by the nefarious actions of the Alliance that he reverses and is ready to die for them if need be. Firefly earns that level of devotion only after fourteen TV episodes and half a feature film. Of course, Space Raiders doesn’t have that kind of time. But there are ways to accomplish that efficiently. The big-screen Firefly film, Serenity, is designed to still function even if you haven’t seen the show, and it manages to tell what in many ways is the same story much more effectively.

Part of the reason the dynamic doesn’t work is Peter himself. He’s frankly kind of annoying. Outside of that one instance when he saves the ship, and later when he briefly helps out by acting as gunner, he mostly just gets into trouble. After he comes aboard Hawk’s ship, the first stop is Zariatin Station, a hotbed of criminal activity not unlike the Mos Eisley Spaceport in Star Wars (complete with a cantina filled with aliens). Hawk puts Peter in a room and tells him to stay put. Naturally, Peter sneaks out and gets into trouble with a couple of thugs who look like the burglars from Home Alone. After chasing Peter through the bowels of the station, they finally catch him, forcing Hawk and company to go rescue him. But the company robot ship finds the thugs first and blasts them to smithereens. Peter gets away in an escape pod, sees Hawk’s ship in the distance, and actually yells, as if Hawk can hear him. When I was 10, I already knew that sound doesn’t travel in space, and I don’t live in a society where space travel is commonplace. What’s this kid’s excuse? Peter is not exactly a genius, and he’s certainly no Luke Skywalker. Even little kid Anakin had more charm. At least Anakin wanted to help out and save the day. Peter’s great ambition seems to be to get a job in an office and have an average, boring existence. Not quite the stuff that legends are made of.

But the biggest way in which the dynamic fails is in the fact that the movie wants us to think Peter sees Hawk as some kind of Big Damn Hero, but there’s never any point in the film that really shows us that. Peter never displays any kind of respect or admiration for Hawk. He just wants to go home. Yet Hawk even says out loud to a shipmate that Peter sees him as a hero. Where does that come from? Search me. Midway through the film, there’s a mislead where they think Peter has gone home and they’re all moping that he’s gone. But not enough has happened to really make us feel it. If anything, they should be relieved to be free of the responsibility so they can get on with their lives.

If any character in the film has a relationship with Peter that actually makes sense, it’s Amanda, who is played quite effectively by Patsy Pease. She spends almost all of her screen time annoyed by his presence. Really, she’s had enough of the space pirate life and is ready to bail. Hawk understands, and charges her with one last task: see Peter home. She agrees and it is when Peter is under her charge that they fall under attack and Peter has to act as gunner. He’s initially reluctant to take a life, but it finally sinks in that it’s kill or be killed and he manages to do what he needs to do. Amanda is suitably impressed, and it’s at this point that they finally bond. They crash on a planet, the bad guys close in, and she goes down fighting. One of the reasons this works is that it’s not just Peter who’s in danger. The bad guys are after both of them, so Amanda has no choice but to fight. We don’t need to bother with her having any ambiguity over whether she thinks Peter is worth her life. They’re just in it together and that’s it. The element of choice is taken away. Yes, it might have been more interesting to have an arc where she actually is ready to sacrifice herself, but given the tight running time it unavoidably would have felt forced, as it does with the other characters. At least Amanda is believable.

Rounding out the cast are Ace (Luca Bercovici), who is basically a non-character; Aldebaran (Drew Snyder) who has kind of a B.J. Hunnicutt vibe but otherwise doesn’t have much going on; and the alien Flightplan (Thom Christopher). Flightplan is probably the most interesting of the supporting cast, even if he’s something of a cliché. Thom Christopher seems to have been typecast as the aloof, mysterious alien, having played a similar character on Buck Rogers. This time he has psychic powers, which makes it a little different, but such characters are a dime a dozen in sci-fi, so it’s really nothing special. I’m also pretty convinced that Alan Rickman’s make-up in Galaxy Quest was based on this character.

Another aspect of Space Raiders that doesn’t quite work is Zariatin. He has the potential to be a great villain, and he almost succeeds. Played with gusto by Ray Stewart, Zariatin oozes pure evil in every scene. As an interstellar kingpin, it would be easy to dismiss Zariatin as an imitation Jabba the Hutt. He certainly functions in much the same capacity. The degree to which his character was influenced by Star Wars is up for debate. Space Raiders was already in production when Return of the Jedi premiered, so it’s unlikely that film had any real impact. But Jabba had already been mentioned in previous films. We didn’t necessarily know that Jabba was an alien, but we knew that Han Solo owed money to an interstellar kingpin named Jabba. So it would seem that the basic concept was definitely lifted straight from Star Wars. But is it executed well? For the most part, yes. Zariatin mostly works as a villain, even if he doesn’t have a lot of depth. And that’s sort of the problem. Hawk says that he and Zariatin have been friends for a long time, but there’s no indication of that friendship in their on-screen dynamic. Zariatan does nothing but yell and threaten and menace Hawk and everyone with him. When Peter gets kidnapped, Zariatin has what might be the best line of dialogue in the film: “This is why I never liked you, Hawk. You bring out the good in me. Go and get your kid.” At this point, it seems like Zariatin may actually have some depth, but the movie undoes that when Zariatin immediately double-crosses Hawk, not only deciding to take Peter himself to hold for ransom, but also to kill Hawk and his crew. If there had been some explanation for this, it might have made sense. Maybe if Zariatin had made Hawk promise to bring Peter back so they could ransom him and then word gets back to Zariatin that Hawk has reneged on the deal, that might have worked. But there’s nothing. Zariatin just flips and decides to murder everybody. Just cause evil or whatever.

With so many elements not working, it would seem like Space Raiders is an utter disaster. And, well, it kind of is. And yet there’s just something kind of charming about it. For everything it does wrong, it does something else right. Many of the film’s jokes fall flat, but many of them work. In particular, Roger Corman fans will enjoy a cameo by Dick Miller as a fast-talking salesman in a holographic commercial. The aliens in the cantina are a bundle of clichés and played for laughs. At one point, Ace flirts with what he thinks is a hot human blonde, but when she turns around she’s a hideous alien – which Flightplan finds attractive even though they’re not the same species. I guess all aliens are attracted to each other? I dunno. And the sci-fi cantina concept itself is shamelessly lifted from Star Wars. However, the Space Raiders cantina sequence has a food fight. Star Wars can’t boast that. The punchline is a bit much, with the proprietor trying to restore order only to get covered in food, but the scene itself is so over the top that it’s fun in spite of itself. For the most part, the alien masks are pretty bad, ranging from barely acceptable to the sort of thing you’d find in any given discount Halloween store. On the other hand, the make-up for Flightplan is pretty decent and Zariatin looks fantastic – truly alien and frightening. But above all, Space Raiders is fun. Maybe not as fun or immersive as Star Wars, but as fun as a knock-off drive-in version could have possibly been. It may not be Shakespeare, and there may be some gaps in the narrative, but screenwriter Howard R. Cohen certainly understands story structure. He keeps things moving, and even though key character moments are sometimes forced, at least they’re there. Other movies of this sort don’t even bother.

In the end, Space Raiders is unquestionably a knock-off of Star Wars. But given when it was released, that’s pretty obvious. When you go to the dollar store and buy a Transmorphers action figure, you know it’s a Transformers knock-off and you know what that means. You don’t expect Wal-Mart freezer pizza to taste like gourmet pizza from a pizzaria. When you know what you’re signing up for, you adjust your expectations. And sometimes the off-brand product surpasses those expectations. Such is the case with Space Raiders. It’s not Star Wars and it doesn’t have to be. And in a way, Space Raiders finds its niche. While films like Star Crash just recycled what the producers thought audiences liked about Star Wars – space battles and robots – Space Raiders takes a specific element from Star Wars and expands on it. Jabba the Hutt was just a sub-plot, a bit of character development for Han Solo. But it hints at a whole backstory with its own range of possibilities. Space Raiders seeks to deliver on that promise and despite its shortcomings, it mostly delivers.

And that brings us back to our initial comparison between Firefly and Space Raiders. Without a doubt, Firefly is superior. The characters in Firefly are more fully realized, the wit is sharper, the drama is deeper. But Firefly is very much its own thing. It’s not Star Wars, nor was it meant to be. In 1983, we all thought Return of the Jedi was the end of the road for Star Wars. Ten years would pass before the first expanded universe novel. The adventures of Han Solo before he met Luke were left to our imaginations. At the time, Space Raiders was as close as we were going to get, and it certainly scratched that itch. But if it has endured in the era of Star Wars as an institution, it’s because the people who made it cared. Its genesis was to quickly write a story around existing special effects culled from a previous Star Wars rip-off. That should have been a death sentence. But it wasn’t. Space Raiders rises above the pack thanks to the dedication of the people involved. Against all odds, they did the impossible: the took a project that should have been a disaster and turned it into something memorable. So does it matter whether something is a rip-off or an homage? I would say that depends on the quality of the work. Firefly is both an homage and an original work and it’s amazing. Space Raiders is absolutely a rip-off, a technically sub-par low-budget cash-in. But it’s got heart. And that’s enough.

Attack of the Creeps

My goodness, Attack of the Clones is terrible. Sure, we all know the prequels suck. But conventional wisdom tells us The Phantom Menace is the worst, right? Wrong. There’s something far, far worse than the maniacal screeching of Jar-Jar Binks. And it’s called The Hot Mess of Anakin and Padme.

I sat down to watch Clones this time around with the same attitude I’ve had watching all the Star Wars films recently. At all times, I would ask myself, “What would little kid Jon think of this?” And usually I figured little kid Jon would be pretty entertained by all of it. But in this instance, I just couldn’t look past the sheer suck of what was unfolding.

Right from the start, Anakin is off-putting. In the elevator car, as he tries to one-up Obi-Wan, there’s an instant sense that this kid is going to be insufferable. The second-hand embarrassment as he fails to impress Padme in their first scene together is bad enough, but we’re just getting started. Padme lays it all out up front: “Anakin, you’ll always be that little boy I met on Tatooine.” This will inform everything that follows.

In TPM, Padme was only sixteen years old, but she’d already been elected to the highest office on her planet. She was smart, capable, and she led her people through a crisis and saved them from the Trade Federation. Granted, Anakin helped with that, and that’s not to be overlooked, but bottom line, it was Padme’s show. It was her plan. She was in charge. Now, ten years later, she’s grown from an already impressive girl into a woman. She radiates professionalism and maturity. She’s the very epitome of grown-up. And here’s this little punk Anakin trying to get into her pants because he has a crush. EEEWW!!!

Every scene they share is awkward. From his confession that he’s been obsessing over her for ten years to his leering at her every chance he gets – which she tells him flat-out makes her uncomfortable. He trash-talks Obi-Wan behind his back, which clearly does not impress Padme, coming off as a whiny, entitled brat. He talks over her during an important meeting just to flex his muscles, which she clearly finds off-putting. And then he starts touching her inappropriately when she’s made it very clear she’s not interested. On their little outing to the countryside when he talks about how great fascism would be, not only does he make himself look stupid with his utter lack of understanding of politics, but this should have been the last straw in which Padme sends him packing and informs the Jedi she no longer needs their protection.

But holy crap, we’re not even done! We’ve got their super-awkward fireside chat in which she’s so uncomfortable she has to move to the other side of the room. And as painful as that is to watch, it’s nothing compared to Anakin confessing that he just slaughtered a whole village of Sand People – including the children – and she just brushes it aside, and then a few scenes later tells Anakin, “I truly, deeply love you.” What the ever-loving God Fuck?!!! There is absolutely no basis whatsoever for her to fall in love with this creep! All along, it has been played as a creepy stalker chasing an older woman with whom he has nothing in common. This should have ended with her making a full report to the Jedi council about what he’s been up to and his expulsion from the order. Certainly not them getting fucking married!!

“You like me because I’m a psychopath. There aren’t enough psychopaths in your life.”

I used to enjoy the set pieces – the chase on Coruscant, the fight on Kamino, the Battle of Geonosis, but all of these fell flat this time around because my skin was still crawling from the scenes between Anakin and Padme. Okay, fine, we’re supposed to see how this guy becomes Darth Vader. But in order for us to be invested in that, we need to see an essentially good man who is seduced by the Dark Side. Instead we get a whiny, creepy stalker sociopath who is completely off-putting. And it undermines the character of Darth Vader. In the original trilogy, Vader was a super-badass. He had his shit together. He whined about nothing. And for his backstory you give us this?!

Not only that, but for us to be invested in the doomed romance of Anakin and Padme, we have to want them to be together. We know going in they’re not going to have a happily-ever-after. But for that to mean anything, for us to follow them on that journey, it needs to be tragic. We need to see them happy up front in order to be sad that it’s not going to work out. Instead, we just want to scream to Padme, “Run! Run as fast as you can!”

This movie sucks. My god, this movie sucks. I wish there were something I could praise, but there isn’t. You could argue that it has nice visuals, but the CGI hasn’t aged well, and compared to any given modern movie, they’re nothing special. You could say it’s got decent action scenes, but if you’re not invested in the story, it’s just shit blowing up and I don’t care. This is easily the biggest botch job of the entire saga. And with the resources at their disposal, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Still more romantic than Anakin and Padme.

War of the Worlds – season nada, episode zilch

A Martian invader gives up the ghost in the original 1953 classic.

Okay, I’ll say it. Uncle.

I tried. I really tried to watch the whole thing. Last time I posted, I said I had one more episode on disc one and that I was going to at least watch that before calling it quits. But I couldn’t even bring myself to do that. Season two is just… so, so bad. So bad it makes the crappy first season seem like gold by comparison. I fully intended to at least watch that last episode, but when the time came, I just couldn’t. I thought maybe I’d watch it the following week, but nope. Week after week, this went on, and I felt like I couldn’t write about anything else till I’d finished all the episodes, hence no new posts. Well, okay. I’m throwing in the towel. Maybe someday I’ll polish it off, but it probably won’t be anytime soon.

It’s kind of a shame, too. I have to confess that one of the main reasons I bought the collection was that I had always been curious about season two. I’d never watched any of the episodes, although I’d caught snippets here and there and was somewhat intrigued. I had heard that the premise of season two was that the Earth had been overrun by the aliens and Blackwood was leading a ragtag band of rebels against the aliens. That not only sounded cool, but much more in keeping with the novel.

In Book II, chapter VII, “The Man on Putney Hill,” the narrator encounters an artilleryman he’d met in a previous chapter. The artilleryman outlines a plan to resist the invaders by setting up bases in the sewers. Together, they will recruit more survivors, watching and learning from the aliens, collecting stores of knowledge where they can until they can mount an effective counter-attack, perhaps even taking control of some of the Martian War machines and mounting a real offensive. Right here we have a premise for a War of the Worlds TV series that I would absolutely watch. And season two easily could have played into this.

A promotional still from season one. The show wound up looking nothing like this, but season two could have. This could easily been the survivors of an alien holocaust making their way across a hostile landscape.

In season one, Quinn had already told Blackwood that a new invasion force was on the way. Season two could have opened with the arrival of that invasion. The season finale had also introduced a new race of aliens, enemies of the Mortaxians, who wanted to harvest humans for food. This also harkens back to the novel, in which the Martians fed on the blood of humans. Having two races of invaders fighting over Earth could have been interesting too, with humanity caught in the middle. There was a lot of potential there, and it’s a real shame it was wasted.

If season two had given us more of this sort of thing, it would have been way more interesting.

One might argue that they never would have had the budget for such an ambitious concept, but I disagree. Going completely on the cheap, they could have used stock footage from the movie for many of the effects. Or, if they wanted to splurge on an impressive season opener, they could have created new special effects for the premiere and then recycled the footage for the remainder of the season. Many of the episodes would see Blackwood and Ironhorse or whoever else sneaking around in the woods or in ruined backlots and such, every so often cutting to a stock shot of a war machine on patrol. It could be done very easily, with big fx set pieces only occasionally needing to be freshly created. Sure, the premise deserves better than to be done on the cheap like that, but those were the conditions, and I think I would have been satisfied with it, especially at the time, when expectations from TV shows were lower than they are now.

But alas, they did what they did, it was disappointing, and there it is. And I’ve got other stuff on my mind. Peace out, War of the Worlds. You were fun for a while, but it’s time to move on.

War of the Worlds – episode 2.3: “Doomsday”

Plug up one water pipe, bring a whole city to its knees. Yep. Sounds legit.

The title makes quite a bold promise. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t deliver.

The aliens have blocked off the city’s water supply in the middle of a heat wave. The city sends exactly two people into the tunnels to investigate and they’re handily dispatched by alien soldiers. With no water, the residents are going full Mad Max, ready to knife each other for a jug of water.

In the world of Team Blackwood, Debbie comes down with heat stroke, so they need to get her some water pronto. Kincaid says he knows a place and they take her to a church. The church doesn’t have any water, though, so I’m not sure why that’s a good idea.

Well, the aliens come through, though. They’ve been reading the Bible and they get the idea that if they perform some “miracles” they can get people to worship the Eternal. So they make water flow from the holy water basin and everybody’s just delighted. Then they stage a “healing” where a woman with distorted joints is suddenly fine.

“Believe in aliens and ye shall be healed! Or… something.”

They clone the preacher and his son, make it look like the kid dies, and then “resurrect” him. The people are whipped into a frenzy and Kincaid gets suspicious. He goes to investigate and learn the truth, quickly getting sidetracked and killing aliens.

Blackwood and Suzanne find alien tentacles in the basement and sort out that the aliens are behind the water miracle. Somehow they trace this into the tunnels and find the blockage. They meet up with Kincaid, have a shootout with the aliens, and plant charges to free up the blockage.

“We’re totally not aliens.”

They find the real preacher and rescue him so he can duke it out with his clone in some kind of weird battle of wills that kills them both, along with the kid clone. The aliens vaporize the clones – in front of everybody – and then bail.

Then it finally rains, breaking the drought, which Harrison calls a miracle.

If my synopsis makes any of this sound remotely interesting, be assured it isn’t. The whole thing plods along like a tortoise on valium. There’s no suspense whatsoever, the characters are bland and uninteresting, and what little action there is fails to entertain.

Beyond that is the sheer strangeness pervading not only this episode, but the entire season so far. Why the hell is everyone dressed like it’s 1950? Why is there no color in the production design? Why does the church look like something you’d find in a third world country? Why does the city put so little effort into emergency relief efforts? Where’s the rest of the world? What city are we even in? What is the alien agenda? How many of them are there? Why does it feel like we’re in some kind of post-apocalyptic landscape when nothing has happened to indicate that an apocalypse has happened? So far, every episode has left me asking WHAT’S GOING ON?!!!

This episode was frustratingly bad. It may actually be the worst thing I’ve ever seen on television, and I’ve seen some pretty bad television. Season one of this show was a train wreck, a blend of bad writing and bad production quality that made Ed Wood look like a genius. But at least it had a sort of campy charm that made it somewhat fun. There’s none of that here. It has all the flaws of season one without being remotely fun or interesting. It tries to be dark and edgy but winds up just being bland and boring. I gotta be honest … I’m not sure if I’m gonna make it to the end of the series. There’s one more episode on this disc. I’m going to watch that. And then I may just have to call it quits. We’ll see.

War of the Worlds – 2.2: “No Direction Home”

The new HQ – Kincaid’s bunker.

So it’s not cloudy anymore. Guess we’re dropping that whole thing. No explanation is given for that.

Following the destruction of their cottage headquarters, Harrison, Suzanne, and Debbie (Suzanne’s daughter) are riding with Kincaid in his van when they spot a black car following them. Blackwood immediately goes for a gun. Because that’s something Blackwood would do. Kincaid manages to lose the car when it spins out of control and crashes. Although our heroes get away, the aliens snatch up a priest to use in their experiments.

Kincaid takes the others to his bunker, which will evidently serve as the new base of operations. For some inexplicable reason, control-freak overbearing know-it-all Blackwood asks Kincaid what to do next and what to do about Debbie, who is evidently in shock following the events of the previous episode. Kincaid tries to contact the military, but they totally blow him off. He lies to them about having been in contact with Blackwood and is generally evasive and uncooperative. He terminates the call and concludes that they no longer have the support of the government.

Like… what the shit?!!!!

“MY BALLS!!!”

Meanwhile, the aliens clone the priest. During the cloning process, the priest mentions God, which causes one of the alien scientists to scream like someone is squeezing his testicles. I’m not sure what that’s all about. The cute alien scientist chick reports to her boss that things are going well. “I hope so Commander, for your sake,” he tells her. “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what he says. I’m not sure what’s going on there. The priest clone decides to devote himself to the one true god, the Eternal. Whatever that is.

Back at the ranch, things are dark and gloomy. Leaving Suzanne at home to knit them sweaters or whatever, the manly men rush out to do action. (I can’t help but notice that the only two cast members to get axed were people of color – funny, that.) They go to the warehouse where the aliens were holding Ironhorse and find the cocooned remains of humans. Two aliens show up and obligingly die when shot. Then Blackwood finds an icky thing on the floor and decides to keep it. He figures if they study the alien technology, they can find a way to stop the enemy. Kincaid thinks that’s dumb and would prefer to … I dunno, lose or something.

Gross! Lets keep it!

They take it back to the bunker where Suzanne realizes it allows you to read minds. That night, Blackwood and Suzanne don’t sleep well and wake up not feeling rested. They also discover that overnight the alien thingy has tripled in size. It also projects holograms of the aliens walking around. Because Kincaid is utterly stupid, he doesn’t realize they’re holograms and wants to shoot at them. Fortunately, Blackwood and Suzanne are able to stop him before he riddles the place with bullets.

Debbie is watching the monitor and sees the alley that Kincaid is spying on for whatever reason. A crazy guy is talking about a priest who’s not really a priest. The team figures out that the priest in question must be a clone and they race off to deal with him, taking the alien gizmo with them.

They find the priest clone, who his holding the crazy guy hostage. For some reason, they touch the gizmo, which for some reason causes the priest clone to double over in pain, allowing Kincaid to shoot him, which for some reason causes the gizmo to self-destruct. For some reason, the clone dying doesn’t kill the actual priest. Naked and covered in slime, the priest gets out of the cloning device and is happy. Evidently the aliens don’t care if he leaves, because in the next scene he’s back at the shelter fully clothed and thanking the team for rescuing him.

For no obvious reason, the team arrives back at the bunker laughing about something. Even Debbie, who I guess isn’t in shock anymore. She says she’ll miss Ironhorse and Norton, which for some reason makes the others smile.

Nothing in this episode made any sense. When the first episode didn’t make any sense, I figured they were just leaving certain things to be explained later. But now I’m convinced that those things are never going to be explained. Everything in this season so far is utterly half-assed, even moreso than season one. It takes a supreme lack of talent to make me long wistfully for the good ol’ days of season one, but new showrunner Frank Mancuso Jr. (of Friday the 13th fame) has pulled it off. We’re only two episodes in and things are not looking good.

With the Mortaxians dead and the team cut off from their military resources, the last elements from season one have been swept away. As incompetent as they were, at least the Mortaxians were loosely based on the aliens from the original film. At least we occasionally got to see the original war machines. At least Sylvia Van Buren made occasional guest appearances. At least we had John Colicos. I doubt we’ll see any of these things again.

As awful as season one was, it had a certain campy charm that made it kind of watchable. I’m not sure what we’re left with now. Boring villains, boring heroes, and boring plots. It’s got that early 90s vibe of generalized dullness that infected so many shows of that era. It’s just a bunch of people standing around in dimly-lit rooms looking glum while mood music plays. That’s not interesting. That’s not fun. That’s not art. That’s just boring.

A very different Harrison Blackwood (Jared Martin) heads up the cast of season two, minus Norton and Ironhorse.

And what’s up with Harrison? It’s like we’ve completely ditched his whole character. Season one Harrison was an arrogant overbearing vegetarian who hated guns and solved problems with a tuning fork. New Harrison is edgy, has a beard, goes for his gun at the first sign of trouble, and asks Kincaid, who he barely knows, for advice. Who the hell is this guy? Yes, season one Harrison was stupid and annoying, but that’s not the point. You can’t just arbitrarily change a character like that. Take Buffy Summers for example. In season one, Buffy is bouncy, jovial, and girlish. By season seven, she’s far more serious, more cynical, less innocent. What happened? Seven years of shit went down, that’s what happened. And yet as different as later Buffy is, at her core she’s still the same person. She still has the strength of character, the courage, the dedication to her duty, the loyalty to her friends that the season one version had. The core identity is the same, but how she behaves, how she interacts with the world around her, that has been changed by her life experiences. That’s called a character arc, kids, and it’s what makes stories interesting. I could buy that season one Harrison could evolve into season two Harrison. I could see a battle-weary Harrison who has seen too many friends die start to let his principles slip. But we jump over that narrative and just overwrite the old Harrison with the new. That’s sloppy writing.

Incoming producer Frank Mancuso Jr. seems to have adopted a scorched-earth policy regarding every aspect of the show. In replacing Greg Strangis as showrunner, Mancuso displays arrogant disdain for his predecessor. The on-screen execution of the advocacy for their incompetence even plays as a symbolic execution of the previous producer. It’s as if Mancuso were publicly saying, “You suck, Strangis! Let me show you how it’s done!” But in so doing, he has put his own balls on the chopping block, and if he doesn’t deliver, it’s going to end very badly for him. Well, snip snip, buddy, cause what the shit are you doing?

How do you get rid of body-stealing aliens only to replace them with more body-stealing aliens? How do you manage to serve up an alien menace that’s actually *less* threatening than the Mortaxians? The Mortaxians were global in scope. So far, these aliens seem confined to a single warehouse. The Mortaxians were stealing every body in sight, hopping from body to body at will and leaving a path of destruction in their wake. These guys seem to just be cloning people here and there. How many of them even are there? Are they global or is it just the handful we’ve already seen? What’s their plan? Are they seriously going to invade Earth by cloning one person at a time? What are they doing? WHAT’S GOING ON?!!!!

War of the Worlds – 2.1: “The Second Wave”

Fascist aliens invade Earth in the original V (1983-1985).

Let me get this straight. The vastly superior alien invasion series V gets canceled after only 19 episodes and this crap-fest gets picked up for a second season? Who sold their soul to Satan to make that happen? Whatever.

The terrifying Martian invaders destroy everything in their path in the 1953 classic, The War of the Worlds, which this show does not do justice.

We open with Harrison and Suzanne standing on the terrace looking up at the night sky. They wax philosophical for a bit about the aliens and whatnot. And then Harrison spots a falling star. And another. And another. They’re coming down in a deluge – close. One of them lands just over the next hill. Horrified, Harrison realizes it’s a full-on invasion. The swan-shaped machines rise out of their pits, their heat rays spewing death everywhere they go. First New York falls. Then London. Then Moscow. City after city after city is wiped out by the merciless onslaught. Harrison and his beleaguered team flee their headquarters just as an alien war machine blasts it to smithereens. The military is powerless to stop the invasion, and this time Earth’s bacteria is useless against the aliens. Within days, humanity is brought to its knees. Harrison and company take refuge in a subway tunnel. As the aliens patrol the devastated countryside picking up stragglers for extermination, the ragged and demoralized team begins making plans. The first step will be to find any survivors they can and bring them back to the tunnel. Cowering in sewers and subway systems, Harrison and his people prepare to strike back. Somehow, though they don’t yet know how, humanity will rise from the ashes of their ruined civilization and take back their world.

An illustration from the 1906 edition of The War of the Worlds. I wonder what H.G. Wells would think of this show.

That’s what I wanted to see. What I hoped I would see. What I knew I wouldn’t see. Here’s what we got:

An alien planet blows up. A dot flies to Earth and makes it… cloudy. Or something. New aliens have arrived on Earth. They’re called the Morthren and they decide to execute the Mortaxians for being completely incompetent. Can’t say I blame them, because they’re not wrong. What I can’t figure is why the Mortaxians just obediently step into the disintegration machine. Well, whatever. The Mortaxians never were that bright. The Leader of the Morthren communes with a hologram of their leader, the Big Giant Head (a huge one-eyed tick), and receives instructions.

Harrison goes to an S&M bar to meet up with someone – we’re never told who. He gets into trouble and is about to get his ass kicked when some military guys randomly show up and bail him out. But they turn out to be aliens here to kidnap him. Fortunately some dude named Kincaid shows up and saves him. They go back to HQ where we learn that Ironhorse knows Kincaid and doesn’t like him.

Ironhorse goes to investigate a building where the aliens are supposedly hiding and gets captured. The aliens clone him and send the clone to wipe out Team Blackwood. Blackwood and Kincaid get worried and go to rescue Ironhorse. They find him and and escape together.

Meanwhile the Ironhorse clone kills Norton (!) and plants charges to blow up the building. He takes Suzanne’s daughter as a hostage. Harrison shows up with Kincaid and Ironhorse and they catch the clone in the act of abducting Suzanne’s daughter. Ironhorse concludes based on nothing that he and the clone are linked and kills himself, thereby killing the clone. The team escapes the building just as it blows up.

The boring aliens from War of the Worlds – season 2.
You don’t scare me. Work on it.

This episode was… confusing. Who the hell are these new aliens? What is their relationship to the Mortaxians? Why do the Mortaxians allow themselves to be executed? What’s going on with the clouds? Why are Ironhorse and the clone linked? The aliens say that the cloning process would kill Ironhorse. But if the clone dies when Ironhorse dies, how is that useful? There are a lot of new elements introduced in this episode. I don’t have a problem with that. The show needed a new direction. But they handled it very poorly.

Overall, however, I will admit this is an improvement over season one. For starters, they shot it on higher-quality video, so the picture is a lot sharper. It’s lit better and the production design is more inspired. The cheese factor is greatly reduced and the overall tone is darker, more serious. That could go either way. The stupendously awful train-wreck that was season one offered a lot in the way of unintentional laughs, which actually made it fun in a way. If season two lacks sufficient camp to make it funny and takes itself too seriously, it could wind up just being really dull. But this episode at least held my attention, despite being really confusing.

Bottom line, though… this still has nothing to do with the 1953 movie or the novel it was based on.

War of the Worlds – episode 1.23, “The Angel of Death”

“Scene 23, take one.”

There’s a new player in town. A glowing ball of energy deposits a woman dressed in black who never, under any circumstances, stops doing yoga. She can fire energy beams from her hands and she is determined to track down the advocacy and eliminate them. She does this by finding all the aliens she possibly can, ordering them to tell her where the advocacy is, and when they refuse, killing them. She’s… not a very good tracker.

Team Blackwood gets suspicious when the alien bodies start piling up. Blackwood thinks maybe there are new aliens in town. They set a trap by luring some aliens to a warehouse, hoping the tracker will show up. She does and starts blasting everything she sees. Because they’re stupid, the aliens think Suzanne is the tracker and run off to report to the advocacy. The tracker disappears and everything’s back to square one.

“Wake me up when this episode is over.”

The tracker takes Ironhorse captive and amidst unnecessary yoga moves explains that she’s Q’Tara from the planet Q’arto and she’s here to stop the Mortaxians. Ironhorse decides they have a common enemy and can help each other. He rushes home to tell the others.

The advocacy decides to take the offensive, leading their troops into battle, and heads out to ambush their enemies.

The whole team goes to Q’Tara’s hideout to discuss strategy, but the Mortaxians follow them. A shootout ensues in which Q’Tara and all of Team Blackwood are gunned down. Having accomplished this, the Mortaxians leave. It’s not made clear whether the advocacy has been taken out or why they stop the assault after their enemies have been overwhelmed, but not killed.

Some time later, Q’Tara fixes herself – having been revealed to be a robot – and then heals team Blackwood. She has to go now, but promises to return in a year to continue the fight. Blackwood is delighted to have found new aliens who are friendly. But once he’s out of earshot, Q’Tara radios back to her planet that humans are still endangered as a potential food source. Uh-oh!

Q’Tara has to be the cheesiest thing I’ve ever seen in just about anything. Like seriously, Ed Wood himself couldn’t have out-cheesed this lady. Like so much in this show, she has to be seen to be believed. She’s just so over-the-top. She’s got some serious 80’s hair, sleeps leaned against the wall like a plank, and then there’s all the ridiculous yoga moves, a hilarious warble to her voice, and a stilted and laughable delivery for all her lines.

In addition, the whole episode is completely disjointed. Plot threads are introduced and then dropped, the action scenes are poorly staged and nonsensical, and the whole thing is just so utterly cornball that I challenge anyone to make it through without laughing. In short, it’s a fitting end to a season made up almost entirely of trash.

But we made it through! Hooray! We’re finally done!!

Wait, what? There … there’s another season?! …

SON OF A … !!

*sigh*

Okay.

*Does shot of whiskey, slams the glass down on the counter*

Let’s do this.

War of the Worlds – episode 1.22: “The Raising of Lazarus”

“Spread out, everybody! We’re gonna try and figure out the shape o’ this thing!”

We open with a construction worker who is totally losing his shit because he thinks he found a flying saucer. I got a bit excited for a second, thinking we were going to see a war machine, but alas, it’s just a tiny capsule. The military takes possession of the capsule and takes it to a bunker in a remote location. They contact Team Blackwood to have a look. No sooner do they get there, however, than an Air Force colonel shows up and takes charge, having been authorized to do so by authorities higher up than Ironhorse’s boss. Blackwood and his people are salty about it, but cooperate.

The colonel pokes and prods at the capsule with drills and lasers but can’t get it open. He’s ready to give up, but Blackwood suggests using sonic waves to get it open because Dr. Forrester had been working along those lines back in the day. They try it and it works. The capsule unscrews – just like the cylinders in the original film! That bit is nifty. Inside is a perfectly preserved alien and Blackwood just can’t wait to dissect it. But the colonel overrules him and decides to let the alien sit overnight. For… reasons.

That night the colonel sneaks into the lab wearing a Spider-Man costume and carrying some lube… No, just kidding. Actually he’s carrying a petri dish and a syringe. He takes some samples and sneaks away with them. For… reasons.


“No question… It’s using the air tunnels to move around.”

So… guess what happens next. No, seriously, see if you can guess…

It’s alive! The alien’s not dead! Did you guess correctly? Of course you did. It pops out of the capsule and immediately goes into… wait for it… the air ducts! I guess while it was chillin’ in that capsule, it must’ve watched a lot of sci-fi movies.

Team Blackwood and the air force people discover that the alien is missing and begin searching for it. Needless to say, no one thinks to check the air ducts.

“Oh, this is better than injecting LSD into my eyeballs!”

The colonel decides to inject the alien fluid he extracted last night into the soft tissue under his tongue. I guess he figures it’ll get him high. Just kidding. He thinks he’ll absorb the alien’s knowledge. The alien overhears this from the air duct and thinks it’s a fantastic idea. It grabs a power cable and hacks into the colonel’s computer to tell him so. Encouraged by this, the colonel goes ahead and does it. And… nothing happens.

Blackwood is on the phone with Norton. The alien seizes the opportunity and grabs the power cable again, hacking into Noron’s computer and absorbing all their data. Now it knows about the Earth bacteria and how to defeat it with radiation. It makes a beeline for the bunker’s nuclear reactor and steals some plutonium. It runs amok, spreading radiation everywhere so it will be safe from the bacteria. Blackwood realizes what the alien is doing, watching the radiation spread on a monitor (man, that critter moves fast.).

“I sense… danger. And cheese. Lots of cheese.”

Realizing the soldiers are coming, the alien decides to hide by taking over the colonel’s body. But Blackwood uses his magic tuning fork to figure out the alien has done this. Having saturated the bunker with radiation, the alien decides to… leave. In a car. Ironhorse uses the air ducts to get to the lab, because I guess radiation doesn’t like air ducts or something, and uses the laser to fry the escaping alien.

By any objective measure, this episode is a mess. The story is as half-baked as anything else this series has done, a blatant mix of The Thing From Another World and Alien, only this time the production values are so shameless as to be downright embarrassing, even for this show. Every time we see the alien moving through the air ducts, it’s the same goddamn shot! At one point when it attacks someone, the shot of the alien pouncing is lifted from another episode. And the shot used is an exterior shot, inserted into an interior scene. I mean, it’s just pitiful.

All that said… I have to confess I enjoyed it. The monster-on-the-loose plot, though derivative, was entertaining, and the alien stayed in its natural form for the bulk of the episode, which was a refreshing change of pace. I’m not saying it was a particularly good episode, mind you, but it held my attention more than the previous several episodes, which have been pretty dull for the most part. So I guess the lesson here is that you don’t need good writing or production values to deliver solid entertainment. You just need a guy in a monster suit.

War of the Worlds – episode 1.21: “So Shall Ye Reap”

Let’s turn the humans into a bunch of Incredible Hulks. Great plan!

We open in a nightclub where a dude is trying to score. He leaves with a woman and they head for his hotel room. In the elevator, he reveals he’s a cop and puts her under arrest. For prostitution, I guess. Even though she never quoted him any rates or anything, so I’m really not sure what’s going on here. Turns out she’s an alien, though, and she cold cocks him and throws him in the back of a van with some other people. Seems the aliens are kidnapping people to do experiments on them in hopes of producing a virus that will send humans into a blind rage so they start attacking and killing each other.

28 days later, Blackwood wakes up from a coma… wait, no. Blackwood and the others are posing as members of the DEA to work with the Chicago PD, ostensibly to combat a new drug that people are dying from. Obviously in reality, they’re after the aliens.

The experiments aren’t going well, so the envoy from the Advocacy bumps off the lead scientist and takes charge of the situation herself. Because that’s going to end well for her.

“Should we let her know we’re a legitimate government operation? Nah, that would be too efficient.”

A homeless dude finds a body in a dumpster. The cops and Team Blackwood go to investigate and determine it’s another drug victim. While they’re at the crime scene, the lead detective gets a call – the DEA has never heard of Blackwood! She arrests the whole team on the spot for impersonating government officials. Uh-oh!

But it’s okay. She calls their boss and he clears everything and tells her they really are government agents and they’re after terrorists. “You know,” she says, “you could have saved us all a lot of trouble if you’d told me that up front.” Hey, there’s a thought.

The aliens succeed in creating their drug. They test it out on Cop Guy and he goes totally ape shit. They unleash him in a titty bar and he hulks out and trashes everyone and everything in his path. Maybe I’ve missed the point of this show. Is this actually a brilliant comedy and the joke just went over my head? Someone calls the cops. Evidently Cop Guy still has the presence of mind to know when to cut and run, so he hightails it back to the car and they take off with the cops in pursuit. Realizing they can’t get away, the the aliens drive the car into the lake.

The lead detective is really cut up over the death of whats-his-face, and for some reason she’s able to figure out that Team Blackwood isn’t after terrorists. Inexplicably, Blackwood decides to spill the beans to her about everything. They go to a mob boss that she has close ties with, who tells them where to find the aliens. Yeah, that makes sense.

“Ya wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!”

The alien plan has backfired magnificently. A careless orderly leaves both a supply of the highly-addictive rage drugs *and* the keys to the cages within reach of one of the prisoners. It’s rage-a-palooza as the drug-crazed prisoners escape and rip the aliens apart. Team Blackwood and the police arrive just in time to find the aliens have already done their work for them.

Realizing the aliens are utterly incompetent, Blackwood decides there’s no need to keep hunting them and retires to the country where he becomes a beekeeper. This is the final episode.

No. No, it isn’t. There’s more.

This episode is stupid. There’s not much to say beyond that. It’s just bloody stupid. There’s no suspense, the premise isn’t interesting, there’s nothing noteworthy happening with the characters. It’s just some stuff that’s happening. There it is.