The 2020 holiday season is drawing to a close, capping off a year that was, for lack of a better word, chaotic. With everything that’s been happening in these past months, it’s always important to have some fun to keep your mind at ease, whether it’s hanging with friends online or just watching something on TV. A couple of weeks ago, the season finale of The Mandalorian (working title: Growing Up Grogu) aired on Disney Plus and received mostly positive reviews. In honor of the occasion and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, let’s take a look at Christmas Tauntauns, a strange yet sweet music video from 2001 directed by animator Matt Bagshaw that holds the distinction of receiving the first ever George Lucas Selects Award at the 2002 Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards. If the creator of Star Wars digs it, maybe you can enjoy it too.
How ’bout them Mandos, eh? The latest season of Disney Plus’s hit series The Life and Times of Baby Yoda (also known as The Mandalorian) is halfway done and there’s a great deal of worthwhile social media discussion and discourse that follows each new weekly installment. Today’s post won’t deal with any of that. Once again, this will be another dive into the world of Star Wars fan projects. The subject of this post is the Ryan vs. Dorkman duology, a pair of videos that distill the average Star Wars fan film into its most basic elements.
Created by visual effects artists Ryan Wieber (Heroes) and Michael “Dorkman” Scott (Supergirl), the films give you all the intense action, visual creativity and humor that you expect out of most fan films but condensed into a form that fulfills the biggest power fantasy the Star Wars franchise has ever given to legions of fans: “what if I had the Force and a lightsaber?” The most appealing thing about the RvD shorts is the no-frills, DIY setup. Even in RvD2, which is much more technically complex than its predecessor and features a bombastic score composed by Kyle Newmaster and Gordy Haab (Star Wars: Battlefront), the lack of fancy costumes and green-screen composited backgrounds allows you to concentrate on the impressive duel.
This month is a very important one for Batman fans. 80 years ago, three of the most important characters in the Batman mythos made their first appearances in the comics:
Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s eager and reckless young ward and the first Robin. Introduced in Detective Comics #38 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson as the Watson to Batman’s Holmes, Robin proved to be popular enough to become a major part of many essential DC stories, including the formation of the Teen Titans and his own maturation as a solo hero and a leader in the guise of Nightwing.
Selina Kyle, best known as the beguiling burglar Catwoman. Ever since her debut in Batman #1, she has evolved from an enigmatic thief and audacious supervillainess to a complex and cunning anti-heroine with a unique personal connection to the Caped Crusader.
Last but certainly not least, everyone’s favorite cutthroat comedian, the Joker. Premiering in Batman #1, the Clown Prince of Crime has become one of the most persistent and formidable knaves that the Dark Knight has ever dueled as well as one of the most iconic villains in pop culture.
To celebrate this anniversary, I’ve decided to share John Fiorella’s excellent 2004 short film Grayson. The short, framed like a movie trailer, illustrates a possible future for the Boy Wonder, acceptably portrayed by Fiorella, where Batman has been murdered and an older Robin comes out of retirement to find his killer. Although it may seem strange that Dick would go back to the Robin persona in this short instead of becoming Nightwing, the concept has some precedent in earlier comics with an older Grayson from an alternate Earth joining the Justice Society as Robin in Justice League #55 published in 1967. While the story is straightforward and the cast is adequate, with Kimberly Page’s Catwoman and the late Brian C. Bethel’s Joker as the only standouts, the real stars of the short are the terrific production design, which is impressive when you consider the $18,000 budget, and the creative cinematography of co-producer Gabriel Sabloff (Samson). Grayson fascinated me when I first saw it on TheForce.net and it’s still pretty remarkable today.
It’s been over a month since The Rise of Skywalker, so I guess it’s safe to talk about something related to Star Wars without facing a deluge of opinions both for and against Episode 9 in particular and the franchise in general, right?
Opinions subject to change.
Of course not. We’ll never be that fortunate, especially when you consider other events associated with the franchise like the final season of The Clone Wars, the series finale of Star Wars Resistance, the production of a series focused on Obi-Wan and the upcoming second season of the Disney Plus flagship series, Baby Yoda and Friends — I mean, The Mandalorian. However, expecting people to stop talking about Star Wars on the Internet is like believing that if you place every single issue of Action Comics into a bonfire, Superman will simply fade from our collective memories.
Once again, I want to take a look at the creative side of Star Wars fandom by showcasing what is said to be the very first Star Wars fan film. Directed by Scott Gill and produced by Mike Bajema, The Imperials Strike Back was created by a group of young fans using a 8mm camera and a slew of homemade props and costumes and was completed before the release of The Empire Strikes Back. I love this short both because of the crew’s creative use of their limited resources, which is something true to the spirit of the original film’s production, and its function as a window into a time period when Star Wars was just a fun space fantasy movie and not some hallowed multimedia franchise where the random Rebel soldier who accompanies the heroes in this short would have been based on an expanded universe character who made his first appearance in a Star Wars Roleplaying Game adventure scenario.
For 42 years, one unconventional and genre-busting film has defined the global moviemaking landscape and continues to entertain audiences around the world to this day. Of course, I’m referring to Robert Clouse’s horror classic The Pack. That is the movie you’re thinking of, right? Oh, you think I’m referring to some dumb little space movie? Well, that’s too bad because I want to talk about the killer dog movie starring the incomparable Joe Don Baker, dammit!
You don’t want to talk about this, do you?
Fine. We’ll discuss Star Wars for the umpteenth time but I want to discuss an area of Star Wars fandom that I’ve always enjoyed: fan films. One of my first posts was a showcase of my favorite Star Wars fan videos so, in honor of the upcoming “end” of the Skywalker Saga, let’s take a look at a fan video that was released in the same year as the previous “end” of the saga. 2005’s Star Wars Episode III: A Lost Hope is a parody of Revenge of the Sith that was directed and co-written by N.T. Bullock, the founder of the independent production company Sequential Pictures, and features Bullock’s Seth Green-esque portrayal of Anakin, Galactic Senators on loan from Sesame Street, a take on Mace Windu by Anthony Washington that feels more in line with Samuel L. Jackson’s usual intensity and an ingenious forgery placed in Obi-Wan’s Jedi sketchbook. The highlight of the short is Eric Kohn’s sardonic approach to Master Yoda.
Today is the 80th anniversary of the release of Detective Comics #27, the debut of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s “young socialite” Bruce Wayne and his “mysterious and adventurous” alter-ego, Batman. Ever since his inauguration, the legends of the Caped Crusader has been retold and reimagined in many ways by both professionals and fans. Today’s subject is a particularly interesting interpretation of the World’s Greatest Detective: the 2005 animated short Batman: New Times. The directorial debut of Star Trek: Voyager visual effects artist Jeffery Scheetz, the DAVE School short utilizes character designs based on the Minimates toyline created by Art Asylum and features the vocal talents of two major Batman franchise alumni, Robinson Crusoe on Mars star Adam West and Mark Hamill of Corvette Summer fame, as well as Courtney Thorne-Smith (Ally McBeal) as Catwoman and the illustrious Dick Van Dyke as Commissioner Gordon.
This Christmas season seems to be a pretty good time to see an adaptation of a superhero comic. With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Aquaman garnering a great deal of positive buzz and this year’s Deadpool 2 being re-released for the holidays, I’ve decided to take a look at the 2002 short film The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special. Based on the eponymous 1991 one shot comic by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant and Simon Bisley and directed by Scott Leberecht, the short features DC Comics’s hypermasculine, pseudo-parodic alien bounty hunter Lobo (Andrew Bryniarski of Batman Returns and Street Fighter fame) on a mission to assassinate Santa Claus at the behest of a desperate Easter Bunny.
In May of 1977, an innovative motion picture was released that forever altered the way we understand and create films. It depicted a fast-paced, fantastical adventure that has fueled many imaginations and taught many important life lessons. Of course, I refer to the Hal Needham opus, Smokey and the Bandit! Just kidding, you know what I’m talking about.
There’s no denying the immediate impact that Star Wars has made on the pop cultural landscape, especially in the franchise’s early years. A wide variety of products were made to capitalize on the film’s widespread popularity, ranging from exciting new stories based on the universe, like the early Marvel comics and Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures (which I highly recommend), to othermoviesandshowsthat tooktheir cues from George Lucas’s modern-day space serial. Even John Williams’s iconic orchestral score became in vogue, with Meco’s various disco remixesof the leitmotifs from the films being the most famous example.
One of the more obscure tributes to Williams’s work on the films is double bassist Ron Carter‘s 1980 album, Empire Jazz, an easy listening homage to the then-recent music of The Empire Strikes Back, including the themes for Darth Vader, Yoda, and the Leia/Han romance motif. Here is my personal favorite track on the album, the underrated theme of Cloud City kingpin and Rebel general, Lando Calrissian.
Today marks the 99th birthday of comic book virtuoso Jack Kirby (1917-1994), creator of the Fourth World saga and co-creator of many popular and influential superhero titles, including CaptainAmericaand The FantasticFour. Here are a couple of videos showing that his real life experiences were just as extraordinary as the characters and events he depicted on the page.
First, here’s a clip from an interview where Kirby details a chilling account of his involvement as a soldier in World War II:
Finally, here is a clip from the 1987 documentary The Masters of Comic Book Art featuring Kirby discussing his approach to storytelling (with an introduction by HarlanEllison):