Three approaches in designing a mecha

The three approaches to mecha design this blog uses is based on their role and function within fiction rather than in-fiction. The first archetype is the Protagonist, a mecha that functions or acts like any human character and is treated as such within the narrative.

The Protagonist mecha as a character serves an integral role within the narrative. Initially they may seem like simple machines, like the eponymous Mazinger Z, yet they exhibit clear-cut human characteristics in actions and behaviour. Mazinger Z sunbathing in the original series Mazinger Z-series is this exact human-like behaviour the mechas are written with.

Here, the symbolic action of shaking hands is not represent the pilots themselves per se, but the relationship and role of the mechas

These type of mecha can also be explicit characters unto themselves, as it is with the The Transformers and Brave-series. These mecha are only separated from their human co-characters is their nature as giant mechanical beings. In cases like Beast Wars, there is no distinction between characters as such, all of them simply are the characters, but share the main characteristics of being human equivalent in different form.

The Protagonist has a unique role within the story. Not necessarily the main protagonist in itself, often sharing that role with another human character or another mecha. The same categories of heroes and villains apply to these as much as they apply to human characters.

In visual design, Protagonists more often than not share a humanoid body with strikingly human face. Heroman, by all intentions, shared all the previously mentioned points; a human-shaped mecha with human face and sits in a prominent role within the fiction as one of the main characters next to the main human protagonist.

American made in Japan

However, there is extremely wide variety of Protagonist mechas which toy with the concepts and ways to realise the main role. GaoGaigar, for example, in itself has no characters outside as it is an extension of Guy Shishioh; it less piloted as it is a giant piece of armour for Guy.

It must be mentioned that most Protagonist mechas are found in media aimed at younger audiences with healthy amounts of toys, and tend to have connections to the Super Robot side of mecha. This is not to degrade from the fiction itself, only an observation.

Naturally, the opposite of human-like characters would be the lack of humanity, as it tends to be the with the second archetype, the Machines.

The utilitarian approach to mecha design has always been there, though it gained most of its popularity in the 1980’s. While Mobile Suit Gundam certainly paved the way for Real Robot as a sub-genre, shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and FLAG have taken the concept to its more natural direction due to lack of needing to sell toys as much.

FLAG‘s HAVWC, High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, is equipment.

Unlike with the Protagonists, a Machine has no nature to speak of. To make a blunt comparison, they are toasters. Their use is largely utilitarian. The form is made and designed for a purpose first and foremost, following the necessities over flavour.

The mechanical design is far more industrial as opposed to organic contours, than anything else among the Machines. Take Heroman above for an example. Most of its shapes are round to further accommodate its humanoid visual. While at a first glace HAVWC would fit this as well, its shapes are equivalent that of a car, lines made to increase aerodynamics. Heroman is not exactly an aerodynamic character, and its not supposed to. That is a tertiary concern at best. In order for it to be more aerodynamic in its forward position, it would require some sort of wind-breaking apparatus around its chest to lessen drag.

However, FLAG is an example of the more more adhered end, similar to Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01, which has been described as equivalent of mechanical pornography due to its attention detailed opening.

The Machine comes in many varieties, all of which share multiple characteristics. Mass production is one, where the mecha can be or is mass produced. Scopedogs are a dime in a dozen in Votoms and are easily replaceable. Round Vernian Vifam is another example of a show, where mechas are tools, and the cast goes through numerous units during the course of the show.

Valkyries from Macross, despite often gaining a prominent role as a single unit or a customised main character vehicle, are all from a production line of similar units. While later entries in the series have made an effort to give most characters their own unique snowflake Valkyrie, in the end all of them are more or less faceless machines that showcase no human characteristics, outside the genre-defining four limbed humanoid shape.

Specialist roles are not exactly uncommon among Machines. Full Metal Panic!’s Arm Slaves, while mostly consisting of non-unique units, the units used by the protagonist Sousuke Sagara deviate from this mould in form of Lambda Driver, which allows the pilot to turn their willpower into physical force. This specialist position, be it due to extra equipment, prototype role or simply because the mecha is a protagonist’s unit, is a common trope. This position does not change them into Protagonists per se, unless human characteristics are applied. It is not uncommon for people, fictional or not, humanise their devices to a large degree and treat them accordingly.

Vehicles technically fulfill this spot,

However, it’s not uncommon to see the the aforementioned archetypes mixed either.

The Hybrid approach takes characteristics from both sides of the fence in a happy mid-ground. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this would be the Evangelion units of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While treated as equipment and something that can be mass-produced, each EVA-unit exhibits overt human-like characteristics from in-universe and in their role. EVA-01 is effectively one of the main characters while still serving the role of a toaster. Its design goes for utilitarian, but only in terms how the EVA-unit itself allows this in-fiction. The base design idea was, after all, a monster barely controlled by humanity.

A some sort of purple mom bot

Another method to give mecha character is by keeping the core mechanics itself intact in terms of its role though the use of Artificial Intelligence. Jehuty from Konami’s Zone of the Enders series of games is exactly this.

Jehuty in itself has no conscience or awareness within fiction, no character to speak of. Its actions and behaviour are determined by its pilot and support AI, A.D.A. In principle, A.D.A. could be embed into whatever Orbital Frame would support the addition.

These three approaches are more or less starting points, more or less. While at first it may seem arbitrary to make a category of three, one of which is effectively just combining the first two, they serve their role in setting the proper mindset for design work. That is, the nature of the mecha rather than the end-visual the designer ends up making. That is up to the designer’s own style and research into the subject materials.

For further reading on expanded subjects, such as combiners, basic design tips, controls and similar, please visit the Robot Related Materials section.

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The Current Format War

The last physical format war was HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray. HD-DVD met a rather quick defeat compared to the previous format wars, where you had more than one format existing side-by-side for different reasons. VHS vs. Betamax VS. Laserdisc was and interesting and long era, where only VHS and LD really had any place due to their nature of media. Way back in 2012 I had a post about what sort of role OVA had on the format war overall, and looking back at this post I should revise it a lot. Interestingly, history tends to rhyme and we’re seeing some of the same stuff taking place with the current format war, which isn’t between physical media, but between streaming services.

Unlike with physical media, digital streaming services are relatively easy to make. The standard for it is already there, embedded video that’s streamed to a device. Looking at the amount of streaming service there are, pretty much any larger company has one, from A&E to YouTube Red. Of course, Netflix is the most successful and well known of the bunch, and is expected to corner to market on the long run due to its overwhelming global popularity.

However, we are talking about a delivery method that does not require the purchase of a separate player and dedication to a form of media. The paradigm shift from television and prerecorded material to decentralised television and all-access services has transformed television as a concept altogether to something most traditional channels probably can’t handle without large shift in their business plans and structure. While physical media will not be phased out as fast as commentators and industry insiders have thought (we’ve been told the last fifteen years that in few years nobody will purchase physical media anymore), it has gone down progressively alongside abandoning the living room centric television. This has affected video games as well, as we’ve discussed, and is one of the major factors why the Switch is a successful console on its own right.  Everybody has a screen in their pocket, everyone has a television in their pocket.

Format wars have been won by having the most stuff on your format as well as capabilities that are not offered by your competition. Laserdisc was a great format for film enthusiast who wanted quality, but the sheer size of the discs and the costs over Beta and VHS later down the line were higher. BETA may have been better than VHS in quality, but it was more expensive and had Sony’s proprietary tech that cost more to license than VHS. VHS ultimately became cheapest option as mass manufacturing took root and home recording became accessible for the general audience like never before. The old tale of porn winning the format war for VHS is not exactly wrong, as it allowed so many small-sized studios and independents to release their products. YouTube and other similar sites that allow and partner with user-driven content creation would be the modern equivalent. However, this is a paradigm shift in itself, and user-created content, be it home mobvies, indies or recording stuff off the TV, ultimately has less to do with winning the format war this time around. It’s all about what professional content you have.

Shows like Star Trek Discovery, Devilman Crybaby, and Cobra Kai are all shows that were made to drive views and sales of a streaming service. CBS did not go and aim to make a great Star Trek show for CBS All-Access, they aimed to make a show that would drive subscriptions, and considering they’ve greenlight the second season and have boldly announced best results ever, it seems to have worked. World wide, Netflix was the one with STD under their belt, but unlike most other streaming services, they’ve been bringing original animation to the forefront more.

While a site like Crunchyroll streams and simulcasts cartoons from the far orient, Netflix has put more money into original creations, most of which have been largely popular. The aforementioned Devilman Crybaby raised quite a bit of buzz and gained some subs for Netflix, and the same thing can be said of their Castlevania adaptation. Netflix and Crunchyroll have a niche cornered. The only thing that can really affect the amount of money made is how much ads get blocked on free streaming sites and how well the consumer is treated. It’s not exactly rare to hear Crunchyroll shitting on their costumers or dropping the streaming quality for all users, including the paying subscribers, without earning. A site like them should know to keep the front and back of the counter completely separate, but with the advent of social media era, it’s seems to have become really hard not to try and piss people off of Twitter or Facebook.

While new and original content is the main tool in this war, nostalgia is also a grand factor. Something and something old usually work hand in hand. All examples here are really just nostalgia driven somehow. Star Trek is an entertainment institution on its won right, Devilman is one of the most important comic books created on the world wide scale, Castlevania pulls the NES kid out from you and Cobra Kai is YouTube Red’s weapon in this. Cobra Kai‘s a show that people would enjoy and Sony has been criticised for putting it to a platform with smaller consumer base rather than on something like Netflix, where the show could get its proper amount of views.

That is, of course, entirely the point.

Having just one provider for any service will easily lead into situation where the consumer has no other options to choose from and has to be satisfied to whatever products and services in whatever quality the provider gives in. The current format war won’t have one winning side, because there is no need for the consumer to dedicate himself to just one medium. What these providers now have to fight with is content, and the more content you have people want to watch and can’t be seen on other services, the more leverage you have. Disney of course will be an absolute juggernaut whenever they start their own services due to sheer size of their library, but we shouldn’t ignore the likes of Amazon Prime and their constant licensing of niche shows that aren’t available elsewhere in the West. While at face value it would seem beneficial for the consumer to have everything in one place, competition is always a driving force.

Of course, then there are digital luddites like me who just sit and wait for shows to come out on physical media.

Where are the video game movies?

Some years back, just before the Warcraft movie was announced, there was some slight buzz about how video game based movies would find a new place in the market now that comics have finally been successfully adapted for silver screen. That era never really came about. Both Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft movies were ultimately lumped with the Marvel and DC ones. While they’re not comic book movies, the terms has changed to encompass movies with extreme amount of CG, emphasize on action and essentially being a full genre movie.

This isn’t exactly the best science out there, but there is a certain kind approach thematically with comic book movies. To some extent, “comic book movie” is a degrading term and has been used as such. It’s the usual you used to hear from film snobs for them not being real films, just movies or flicks. Entertainment for the masses and such.

Despite video games having more money moving inside its industry nowadays that Hollywood, Hollywood has always had the position that they know the best when it comes to stories. After all, they’re the ones that realise dreams on the big screen, teller of stories and such nonsense. The stance Hollywood seems to take is that passive following of a story and being immersed in it is the higher route to take, it’s more classy or whatever you want to call. Story through play, i.e. player’s own actions, are seen lesser because of the connected connotations of “play” and “game”. Somehow it’s more childish to be an active part of a story rather than sitting still and have a story told to you.

Every time Hollywood has taken charge of a game and wish to bring their wealth of knowledge to this lesser field of entertainment, the results have been less than impressive. For example, Jurassic Park: Trespassers was supposedly co-developed with Spielberg and parts of Hollywood crew, but all they ended up bringing in was story elements. Trespasser, while a big budget title, ended up pretty damn terrible game with some interesting elements to it. I recommend checking out Research Indicates’ Let’s Play on the game, its full of information on development and history of this sad title.

Considering Hollywood doesn’t care about how a game could tell a story in its own media, something most game developers don’t seem to care either, it’s not surprising that they’d concentrate on the FMV sequences and pre-scripted scenes first and foremost. To them, this is where the artistry is. Hollywood’s takes on video game movies have been rather lacklustre overall, with Super Mario Bros. probably being the most blatant example of not giving a fuck about the source material. That said, the SMB movie is also one of the last great children’s adventure movies made, similar to The Goonies. Alternatively, House of the Dead movie or Alone in the Dark. Overall speaking, video game based movies haven’t been all that well-received or well produced, similar to comic book movies initially. Certainly there has been numerous good titles here and there, like Mortal Kombat (which is a great MK movie but lacklustre otherwise) and we can make an argument for Prince of Persia.

However, unlike with comic book movies, no company has really managed to make a game based movie work to the same extent. Whether or not it is because there’s a lack of respect for the source material, the source material being rather terrible, or simply because games’ stories don’t fit the silver screen without considerable changes for the adaptation, the end results speak for themselves. Something like a fighting game as in the aforementioned Mortal Kombat is relatively easy to adapt as a martial arts action movie, but something like Super Mario Bros., an abstract action game about a character jumping on platforms to defeat a big turtle doesn’t exactly turn itself into a movie easily. Well, Sony’s certainly aiming to do so.

How do you turn, for example, a mission of Warcraft into a scene in a movie? By having a massive fight scene, of course. While the scenes in the  movie are of pure fanservice and pretty nice to watch, nothing in the movie is impressive or new. Much like how the original game stood on the shoulders of fantasy giants before it, so does the movie. Lord of the Rings movies affected both aesthetics and directions how similar fantasy movies would be directed down the line, and Warcraft followed its lead in a very expected manner. I doubt there was ever a possibility for anyone in the project to aim change the paradigm fantasy movies are in at the moment, and that possibly lead to the movie’s lack of success outside China.

Perhaps its because games don’t have a need for a Hollywood-like “good” plot. Video and computer games require a reason to play, the end-goal that may change, and the story itself is the player’s actions. The overarching narrative in a game is more about the player than the readily set story. A comparable example of this would be in any tabletop RPG, like Dungeons and Dragons, where players play a readily made scenario. This narrative can be extremely hard to translate into a passive story. However, considering there are numerous franchises based on the author’s DnD games, like Slayers.

It would seem that the first thing that an adaptation from a video game to a movie needs first-hand experience, a play worth telling. All the story sequences, FMVs and such are meaningless as the meat is in the gameplay. All players have a story to tell when it comes to their greatest moments in a game and that moment is always within a game’s play. Hollywood is missing this and concentrating on the wrong parts of the games and consider playing as acts for children. While you can visually replicate some of the moments in a game visually, a film can never replicate the action of it. Why even try when the special effects heavy smashbin market is essentially controlled by Marvel?

Hasbro’s Rangers

Recently Hasbro, the same you company who is in charge of G.I. Joe and Transformers, announced that they have acquired Saban’s Power Rangers and other entertainment related assets. This was almost to be expected, considering Saban cut ties with Bandai a while back, Saban then announced extended broadcast partnership with Nickelodeon with a new season called Beast Morphers, then Hasbro being announced the master toy licensee for Saban’s IPs. The progression of things have been extremely steady, and nobody should be surprised. Hasbro probably will handle the IP better than Disney did, which Saban bought back some time ago.

Why did Hasbro purchase the Power Rangers? I wouldn’t really have a proper answer, I don’t exactly follow what’s going on in the toy industry. However, knowing Hasbro’s history, it’s easy to see them wanting something special from Power Rangers, that they have a niche to fulfill and this IP fits them. They have the more standard boy’s military toys covered with G.I. Joe, Transformers for shape shifting robot toys, Star Wars license for Star Wars… which might actually be the thing they want to cover. Star Wars toys supposedly were shelf warmers with the The Last Jedi, and the SW toys were partially responsible in killing Toys R Us, at least according to Bobby.

If we take this stance, Power Rangers would fit this slot rather nicely. It would allow relatively healthy amount of characters toys to be manufactured alongside different vehicles and role play toys. Hasbro wouldn’t need to pay hefty license payments to anyone, as they’d own the rights. Well, to a certain point. As a reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that Power Rangers is made from the footage of Japanese Super Sentai franchise. The out-of-suit scenes are filmed for the show, while most of the action footage is lifted from the Japanese original. However, with time both Hasbro and Disney increased the amount of original footage they filmed as well as have Toei shoot some footage for the American use only. As such, Hasbro would probably have to pay something for the likeness of the characters to Toei and Bandai at least. That is, unless after Beast Morphers Hasbro decides to go their own way, stop using Super Sentai footage and create completely original content.

Considering how television and streaming services are starting to be full of decent looking special effects live action shows, especially from Marvel and DC, it wouldn’t completely unimaginable for Hasbro to partner with Nick or some other company to produce Hasbro-original Power Rangers to cut license costs altogether. This purchase probably killed all chances for the recent Power Rangers movie to get a sequel, but Hasbro could always have a new one and belong in their shared universe with M.A.S.K., Transformers, G.I. Joe and Inhumanoids. Well possible shared movie universe as well, we’ll have to sit back and see what comes of it, if any.

If Hasbro wants to bring Power Rangers back to its glory days, they have lots of work ahead of them. When the series hit the scene in 1993, it was a massive success, a cultural phenomena and a multimedia behemoth. You could see its influence every which way and sort of brought martial arts back to popularity like it was the 70’s again. You saw its influence on the Old Continent as well, where it took root in certain places. South America already had Super Sentai on their television, so the impact was less impressive, if there was even any. I don’t know about Australia, but I’ve heard that it was moderately popular at least.

But times change, and Power Rangers settled into its role after first few seasons and kept going. We never got to see past the third season, but looking at what the Alien Rangers were, I don’t mind missing any of that. In few ways, Power Rangers is a mainstay in American television and few generations have already grown into adulthood with it.

It would be impossible for Hasbro to capture the thunder in a bottle again, mostly because how saturated the current entertainment media are of super powered heroes and their stories. Power Rangers does have a niche fulfilled there, being aimed at a younger audience overall and the emphasize at martial arts, something that’s been slowly being toned down like no other thanks to Japanese soccer moms wanting Super Sentai and Kamen Rider to be less violent. Hell, Kamen Rider Ghost toned its violence down to the point of the main character fighting enemies by eerily floating around them, but this was deemed to scary for the kids by their mothers and it got changed back to good ol’ punchan and kickan. There would need to be a proper paradigm shift in the franchise in order to lift it from the place it has sunken into.

Whatever the end aim is, money and toys are involved. Hasbro is, after all, a toy company and whatever they do aims to sell toys. If we get good stories out of the deal, like Beast Wars, that’s good. Considering Bandai’s toys with the Super Sentai have been less than stellar for number of years now, with Doubutsu Sentai Zyuogher having immobile cubes as the robot. They’ve become completely gimmick driven. Some of the suit designs have seen drop in overall quality as well in terms of used materials compared to other contemporary shows. It doesn’t help that giant robots is old men’s stuff in Japan, not something that would sell all that well.

Power Rangers has always had a need to produce Western toys anyway, as it is relatively uncommon for Japanese toylines to contain bad guys. This is the opposite to American model, where both sides of the story gets toys. The best examples of this would be Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toylines. MOTU at a point had almost 1:1 ratio between the heros and villains. All this is because of Star Wars, in that kids weren’t just buying toys for the sake of toys, but because the toys were representing the characters. Hasbro has a history of being able do multi-media franchises, as long as they don’t forget that kids and fans are in for the characters, and Power Rangers certainly has characters consumers can connect with.

Well, if nothing else comes from this, I bet your ass that we’ll see Power Rangers/ Transformers crossover toys with the Dinobots at some point.

On modern Star Wars

To choose one song from Star Wars movies that would encompass the motion that is Star Wars, would surprisingly the one you can hear above. It would not be the main theme, not Duel of Fates, not Imperial March, but this one. The reason for this selection is that depending on the context, this particular song can sound hopeful and romantic, all the while offering doors to mystic scapes, with a tinge of desperation in there.

That, and I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time reading through Star Wars: Behind the Magic discs to the point of my disc drive of the time breaking. The first section was used extensively early on in the discs. Needless to say, that interim time between 1998 and Phantom Menace‘s release was something special.

Thanks to circumstances, I’ve had to spend these few days doing pretty much nothing else but to indulge myself in nostalgia few times over, and due to a friend I fell into the pit of rewatching some Star Wars. Not just a movie, but going through radio drama bits, playing games and then some. Nothing major, but when you have a moment to relax thanks to Easter, take the chance.

Except when things came to The Last Jedi. To follow the idea of relaxation, I’ll spent this month’s opening to finally let loose some of the steam. Mostly because it’s modern Hollywood drivel and you can truly feel that it is a Disney movie through and through. It’s a sterile, by-the-books flick that doesn’t carry any of the spirit Star Wars, or the piece above, is supposed to have.

This is perhaps the best seen in the first ten minutes of the movie, where a character that died in the last movie (yet came back alive without any explanations) stalls time for the Resistance’s evacuation by making a prank call. Prank call to Last Order officer, who either has constipation troubles or the actor can’t pull the role. Either one of the two, or the director really asked him to act badly intentionally, which I wouldn’t put past him.

The thing about why The Last Jedi fails where The Empire Strikes Back succeeds is that it doesn’t treat the characters like pieces of shit. Each character that is in the movie gets treated like a meat to be tossed around and unmade. In Ray’s case, she’s just a lump of meat going whatever the plot demands of her, she has no agency. Empire doesn’t force humour into every scene. It has moments of levity, which stem naturally from the characters and scenes, whereas The Last Jedi‘s is incredibly intrusive and forced. Worst of all, attempted humour is tied to how the movie treats its characters. One of the best examples of this is when Luke is given his father’s lightsabre, and after at the dramatic music cue, we’re robbed the response. Luke tosses it over his shoulder. While you’d think this movie is build on letting your expectations down, it’s more about unmaking Star Wars as a phenomena through directly removing everything associated with these stories and character. Luke is no longer the most hopeful person in the galaxy despite the darkest hours he’s been through, traditions are trashed to hell to make room for the new and supposedly improved. Continuity is not held from previous movie for the sake of aesthetics.

All this to essentially destroy the old in the way of the new, just like how Disney unmade the old Expanded Universe in order to sell their new one.

While letting viewers’ expectations is something that can be done well, it is extremely hard to do well. You have to have a core reason, a strong narrative to do so. Not even Neon Genesis Evangelion, a series applauded for doing so, did it cleanly or even competently. A weak script like The Last Jedi‘s can’t possibly gain enough favours from the audience after it fails them in almost each scene. Hell, at this point I’m not sure if wast majority of the characters’ lines are intentionally made and delivered unfitting for a Star Wars movie, or if it was just incompetence. A scene with Snoke and Kylo Ren plays out like from a comedy, where Snoke asks how are Ren’s wound, to which he replies with extremely mundane tone “It’s nothing.” We’re then offered full scene of cartoony villain monologue that would find a better place in Star Wars parody.

I could go through the movie scene by scene and tear it a new one, but it’d be useless.

It’s all intentional, without a doubt. The end-goal doesn’t exactly matter, when that intention is to break. Cute things made to sell toys are turned into food. Even Tatooine, which used to be end of nowhere in the galaxy, has been replaced with Jakku. Hell, all the superweapons the franchise’s Expanded Universe had thus far has been made inept in the face of simple hyper drive. See, even in the movies hyper drive slid the ship into a pocket dimension of sorts, the hyperspace. It couldn’t physically interact with real-space objects, unless stellar objects with enough mass would pull them out, hence why Han mentions colliding with a star. Here, we see one ship tearing through an armada with its hyper drive, which makes the whole war in this setting stupid. By using a computer controlled ships, or even droid ships, you could use a hyper drive equipped ship to tear through anything, including the Death Stars and Starkiller. Incidentally, any company that produces hyper drive engines are now also the manufacturers of the most powerful weapons in the whole setting, aside the Force.

You’d think that after gaining one of the most important pop-culture franchises under your belt, you’d take care not to let it bloat. Disney and Abrams did not have planned anything beforehand, and it shows.

Star Wars is now effectively rebooted. Disney and whoever are charge of the franchise will ride on its thirty years of fame without any problems, all the while largely ignoring it. It might as well be a completely new franchise, which it effectively is. This is how Hollywood and so many other companies have treated their long-standing phenomena for two years now, taking the name recognition and making it something else entirely. It happened with Star Trek a well, twice over now.

This post ended up sounding It’s different so its bad, but that’s not what I’m saying. I tend to applaud things that try new things, however it’s extremely important to treat your property with respect and apply proper new things to it. As a story, and sequel to Lucas’ Star Wars, The Last Jedi is a boring, unintelligent and outright disrespectful story. Any merit it might rack is marred with Hollywood’s own disrespect towards the audience and unwillingness to step outside the usual plot writing formula, the same that Marvel movies suffer from.

Much like with other things, I don’t feel sympathy or willing to spend money on things that actively hate my.

Behind the scenes theatre

After a long time, I had a moment to spare to watch some movies. Whilst my collection is nothing special and does not contain many flicks film buffs would tell you to watch, I noticed an interesting trend with then. Behind the Scene stuff changed across the ages. For example, with Star Trek‘s behind the scenes footage was quite honestly just someone on the set doing home videos, with the occasional Roddenberry-owned goof tape he used to sell at conventions without any approval of the studio or the actors. I think you can still find pirate versions of these tapes floating around the Internet. These are honest showcases of what was happening, all the flips and flops of the actors.

Television didn’t exactly have the same amount of documentaries about making of television or movies, all these were relegated to magazine articles and newspaper interviews. Something that the studios themselves didn’t do at all. The value wasn’t in there for them. Genre magazines shone with their exclusive contents, behind the scenes photos and such.

Things changed, albeit slowly. By the late 1970’s you began seeing more and more material on the television about movies being made, as studios began to recognize the PR value. Outside the usual interviews, footage was more often than not honest to the reality.

A paradigm shift began to take hold in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, where  some studios began to intentionally build a library of making of documentaries for documentary and PR use. While only Laserdiscs could really contain large amount of extras, television saw more of these Behind the Scenes stuff to a larger extent. These documentaries have a more professional feel and look to them, as they’re shot as intended for a purpose.

However, it wasn’t until the 2000’s when Behind the Scene documentaries lost pretty much all plausability. Star Wars Episode I; The Phantom Menace‘s footage is one of the last Making Of documentaries, where you see the director and his staff being completely honest. That footage is interesting, because it has no veil on it, and you can see all the little bits that would build up the movie, for better or worse. There are multiple moments of Lucas himself telling directly in a natural environment what he is doing and how. Him watching old silent comedy for Jar Jar Binks, using a marker to draw on storyboards or reviewing readied models, it’s all there.

Then jump to Star Wars Episode VII. By 2010’s, Hollywood has fully recognised the power Behind the Scenes and Making Of features have. DVD brought us an era, where discs were chock-full of specials features, something we’re starting to lack with BDs. While a lot of the special features were simply transfers from the LD versions, at some point you could find yourself watching a Making Of, where the actors, director and everyone else who is involved being interviewed against a backdrop, over a footage they act in or make models.

In effect, these features have become less about the reality of the situation and fully about the public relations aspect, and how the studio and its staff can promote each other to the fullest. These studios, Disney especially, exerts large control over what material gets out and how it should be presented. A book called Making of the Force Awakens supposedly would’ve revealed lot of the background while making the movie, including some of the details about the deal Disney and Lucas made. The only reason a book like this would get cancelled is because it had something negative, something that could’ve damaged reputation of Disney or Star Wars as a franchise. There would have been no questions about its potential sales, as Star Wars was at its hottest since Episode I at the time.

The design of these things have never truly been about what’s happening behind the scenes. However, with time these features have become effectively fraudulent, showcasing a reality that doesn’t exist. Well, perhaps this was to be expected, a documentary is one’s subjective view of the events after all, not the objective reality.

Stuck in the past

What does Star Trek and Star Wars have in common? Both have slew of prequels to them. The idea really is solid; explore how things came to be and see what sort of stories could be made within a certain set of time. The problem with either franchise is that there are definitive elements within those worlds that dictate how certain things must be in their prequels, otherwise the stories would not make sense or even connect.

Star Trek Discovery is supposedly set ten years prior the original television series. One would expect them to follow how the series then should look, albeit updates here and there. After all, Star Trek is a pillar of modern western popular culture in many ways. However, pretty much everything was moved to the side in favour of visuals that follow more along the lines of the nuTrek movies, or the Kelvin timeline as its now called. For a common couch potato this all fine and dandy, and requires little suspension of disbelief. However, for even a light fan of the series, the visual just don’t sit right. All this is of course because the series is developed under a license intended for an alternate timeline Star Trek, not under one that’s meant for the mainline.

There is no problem in making a prequel in itself. The problems rise if the creators want to have freedoms that are not tied too much to pre-existing stories. Especially with stories that are set between set events. Essentially, you’re boxing yourself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to creative freedoms. If you’re not willing to utilise given tools and take advantage of the existing stories, then it’d be better just find someone who can.

This isn’t a hardcore fan’s perspective either. A story of any sorts requires at least some level of respect towards it, otherwise the end product will most likely end up being schlock at best.

A good example of a story shoved in-between two other stories would the Shadows of the Empire. While it was a well made marketing decision to create a Star Wars phenomena without a movie, it did stand on rather good story that utilised elements from Empire Strikes Back that would lead into Return of the Jedi. All the while creating something new.

Say you want to write a story for Star Trek without being hampered down by existing restrictions. That’s an impossible task, but the most freedom you would have if you were to create a sequel story. This would allow you to have pretty much all the freedoms to do whatever you want, with the only restriction being the overall history and relationships between factions. Nevertheless, you could still have Klingons as enemies with a good reason despite there existing an alliance between Federation and them.

Star Wars’ prequels movies didn’t exactly suffer from being boxed between stories, like STD does, but what they suffer from is spoiling and devaluing the original trilogy. For example, Empire Strikes Back has less impact when you’ve seen Anakin becoming Darth Vader. Vader himself changes as a character if you don’t make a mental distinction between trilogies.

Under Disney’s rule, we’re getting new prequels all the time, for the better or worse. Rogue One‘s story was something we’ve seen few times over already, and due to this SW‘s Expanded Universe had to reconcile how things went down between events and who really stole the plans. That, and you couldn’t have anyone alive at the end. That didn’t stop them mucking up the storyline though, as the end of the movie contradicts the opening of A New Hope.

The question that is required to be asked if we even need to see these stories unfold. The fact that Death Star’s plans were stolen isn’t an important story in the end, but what happened afterwards is. The same thing happened with Death Star II’s plans. We didn’t need to see many Bothans die on-screen to understand how heavy their losses were. Mon Mothma does that well enough on the screen with her acting.

For Star Trek, we don’t really need to see the Earth-Romulan war, despite plans existed for it during Enterprise and fans wanting it. There really isn’t need to see what happened between the period of the Original Series and the movies. These would be best explored in supplemental materials, where the fans could enjoy these events the most. This is due to the nature of Star Trek itself; it’s not a story about wars. Deep Space Nine being an exception rather than a rule. Even then, DS9‘s war was naturally developed aftermath of finding a stable wormhole.

Hell, if STD wanted to tell a grim story about Federation warring, the staff could’ve introduced a new enemy and make heavy questions if a society like Federation can exist in its high-horse haven like state when reality does not match it. The Original Series does this to an extend, especially with Kirk, who constantly has to fight to uphold his ideals in a human way. This is the exact opposite to early The Next Generation, where the cast was completely idolised without much shred of humanity. That all came down after the Borg invaded. In retrospect, it could be even argued that Federation was taken down a peg by the Borg and made them realise how their own society had moved towards a more terrible direction.

A natural progression of a story is forwards. Episode VII made the right direction to move forwards in Star Wars‘ canon, whereas we can debate if seeing a film about younger Han Solo was ever needed. If you’ve ever read Han Solo at the Stars’ End, the answer is Yes. However, those who know the book also recognize that Solo in this book is very much a different beast from modern Star Wars’ take on him, especially if the rumours of the solo Solo movie’s original take was to make him an Ace Ventura-like. Midnight’s Edge unsurprisingly has a vids up on the whole issue.

Boxing yourself tight into a prequel takes a certain set of mind, one that has to be able to to utilise given resources, not make up whatever shit you want. Whoever owns Star Trek in the end, be it either CBS or Universal, they really need to move forwards and do a new The Next Generation rather than trying to milk with remakes, prequels or reboots.