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Science-Fiction Weekly – Star Trek Beyond Review, Han Solo Trilogy

In one of Star Trek Beyond's rare, quieter moments, captain James T. Kirk turns to first officer Spock and says, "We make a good team." Spock pauses for a second, before calmly replying, "I believe we do." This brief exchange, which is meant to show genuine bonding between two crew members who have developed a friendship in near cataclysmic times, is awkward to the point that it doesn't feel right, a prevailing sentiment echoed throughout most of the film. Actors Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) didn't butcher this scene; the unease is intentional, as we learn both characters are holding secrets from the other. Director Justin Lin and writer Simon Pegg, who also plays chief engineer Scotty, handle the character ensemble well, juggling classic personality traits Trek fans have come to expect with new wrinkles that make each character more interesting and worth following. However, the time allotted with each character is rarely satisfactory, truncated into short snippets that are often lost amid loud and overly long action sequences – some are exciting and suspenseful, while others are goofy to the point of almost smacking of parody.

Again, something just feels off in this new Star Trek adventure. Even Kirk bounces unpredictably between dashing and charismatic to somber and directionless. When we first meet him in this third Trek film in the rebooted series, he's struggling to come to terms with his thirtieth birthday, knowing he's now a year older than his father ever was. The edge is taken off of this heavy moment by Karl Urban's "Bones" McCoy, the ship's doctor, who is often the highlight of any scene. Bones is written exceptionally well, adding levity and heart at the right times. Kirk's conflicted story arc is interesting, but again, is not given time to develop in a satisfying way amid the action, and the apparent need for the plot to keep moving from one set piece moment to the next.

As we worry about Kirk and Spock on a personal level and want to invest more time with both characters, the story is steered in a different direction. When the Enterprise, which has been exploring unknown space for three years, is sent on a rescue mission through a nebula and asteroid field, all hell breaks loose. Levels of hell that we haven't seen in a Trek movie before. Just when it seems that Kirk and his crew will figure out a miraculous way of saving the day, all is lost. The death and destruction are immense, unfolding through a bombardment of action – it just keeps coming, bigger and more chaotic as it races toward a surprising end. Lin handles this chaos deftly, and as visually stunning as it all is, should be credited more for creating such a monumental threat to a vessel and crew that always find a way to win. At the head of this new threat is a character named Krall (played by Idris Elba), a mysterious alien being who can siphon the life out of living things and wields technology leagues more powerful than anything the Federation has seen before. He introduces this film's MacGuffin: a device called the abronath, which can apparently destroy everything, but he really doesn't need it since he seems capable of that already. Chalk it up to the idea of the powerful apparently wanting more power. It works. He's super evil. I get it.

With this villain in play, the story appears to be heading into even darker territory, but it again hits the pause button to shift in a different direction. With the crew down and out, the story adopts a playful spirit with Spock and Bones discussing life, and Scotty and a new character named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) trying to come to terms with their current predicament. The great threat Krall posed just moments ago now appears more pedestrian and hospitable, almost acknowledging the threat was OP and the good guys need a sporting chance if this film is going to end any time soon. This is when Kirk hatches a plan he won't reveal yet, and, well, all forms of silliness follow. I won't reveal what happens next for the sake of spoilers, but if you thought the inclusion of the Beastie Boys' song Sabotage in J. J. Abrams Star Trek was absurd, you haven't seen anything yet. That line of thinking can be used for far worse things. J. J. Binks levels of bad. In this instant, the film slides into disaster territory and fully embraces it.

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I wanted to cover my ears and eyes during this moment, debated walking out, but I'm glad I didn't. After the terrible stuff subsides, the film slows again to give us more fun character development and the promise of something great on the horizon. Lin's debut in the Star Trek universe is shaky at times, but he understands what people love about these movies and characters and clearly wants to appease everyone. A couple of bad ideas (one horrible one) are not enough to sink the fun in this film. It just feels a little off. Here's hoping Lin gets a second shot at nailing that formula.

Outside of this review, this entry of Science-Fiction Weekly will be a little lighter than normal (apologies), but there is one newsworthy item that you should know about. According to a report from NY Daily News, Disney has apparently signed actor Alden Ehrenreich, who is playing a young Han Solo in another "Star Wars Story," to a three-film deal, which may mean we are getting a trilogy. The insider the info comes from says "Given that Han’s early adventures do not need to be tied to the Empire,
it leaves story lines open with the opportunity to really give fans
something different. They can explore new galaxies and crazy creatures
and bring in a wide array of new characters." I like the idea of Star Wars moving beyond the Empire to expand the size of the universe. All too often Star Wars stories are too familiar, using the same characters over and over again. Yes, we are getting more of Han (and probably Chewbacca at some point), but the other players involved will likely be new to the lore.

Again, sorry for the shorter column. I'm spinning far too many plates at the moment with other work, but should be back to my normal schedule next week. See you then!

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – The Solus Project, Stranger Things, Star Wars: Episode VIII

Praise I continually give: I'm watching a new show on Netflix and it's great! From House of Cards to Daredevil to the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to smaller successes like Love, Netflix's original programming is on fire. The latest show to lure me into a binge-watching coma is Stranger Things, a science-fiction thriller that plays out like a mix between Goonies and The X-Files. Set in small town in Indiana in the 1980s, Stranger Things is one of those shows that you don't want to know anything about before you view it for yourself. Even Netflix's basic program summary gives away too much. Just watch it.

I'm five episodes in, and am thoroughly impressed with the writing, acting (even all of the child actors are great), and moments where it becomes unbearably intense. Stranger Things nabs this week's Golden Grok award (given to the best sci-fi entertainment each week), and is a welcome throwback to the star-gazing entertainment I loved as a child. No, it's not as light and bubbly as films like D.A.R.Y.L. or Flight of the Navigator, but it has a similar flow and pacing to these "classics," which are more about the characters and their place in the world than the science-fiction trappings that surrounds them. What's interesting is that the '80s sci-fi shows were designed with kids in mind, but Stranger Things, while delivering that same style of coming-of-age story, is darker and for the adults who watched those shows as kids.

The Solus Project, a science-fiction survival game from Grip Digital, could have benefited from that '80s love. Although the premise is strong – Earth no longer exists, and mankind has taken to the stars to locate a new planet to call home – there's no pulse to the alien world of the character you play. Lifeless planet meet lifeless human, good luck having fun together.

The Solus Projects' survival mechanics are nicely designed, but the hunt for water and food quickly becomes a rote process that has more to do with messy item management than fulling the need of your character. I love the idea of fighting for survival on a mysterious alien world, but the progression reveals are rarely shocking, the character hardly ever emotes, and well, if the game ended with a M. Night Shyamalan twist that showed I was actually exploring a park in North Dakato, I wouldn't be that surprised.

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If you are in the market for a good "mankind is screwed" story, check out Daniel Arenson's Earth Alone, a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. All you need to know: 50 years have passed since aliens destroyed Earth. It's now time for an army to fight back. The book goes places that I didn't expect, and Arenson does a great job of establishing characters that you want to see succeed. The great news: Arenson already has two sequels in the works. Here's hoping he writes faster than George R. R. Martin.

The other book you should put on your radar is Timothy Zahn's upcoming Star Wars: Thrawn. If you haven't read Zahn's Star Wars: Thrawn Trilogy yet, do so now. It's no longer considered canon, but it remains one of the greatest Star Wars stories to date, and a big reason why centers on the character Grand Admiral Thrawn. We thought we'd never see him again after Disney blew up the expanded universe, but he's making his return in Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 this fall, and later in the novel I noted. How much of the original trilogy will be referenced? We'll have to wait to see, but in an interview with Star Wars' official site, Zahn says "Thrawn will span several years of the Star Wars timeline, beginning with his first encounter with the Empire and ending just before the opening of Rebels: Season 3." When asked if he would incorporate story content from the original Thrawn Trilogy, Zahn said he's thrown in bits and pieces, but nothing too blatant, which suggests the trilogy still isn't canon in any capacity. 

Although Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the primary focus at last weekend's Star Wars Celebration in London, Rian Johnson did take the stage to discuss Star Wars: Episode VIII. Johnson didn't go into too much detail about anything in the upcoming sequel, but did say that it starts right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey handing the lightsaber to Luke Skywalker. Johnson said that his film dives deeper into the lives of the new characters and challenges them more, drawing inspiration from such films as Bridge on the River Kwai, and Gunga Din. John Boyega also revealed that his character Finn is not in a coma for the entirety of Episode VIII, although Johnson teased that he thought about keeping him in one.

Hasbro's annual "Vote for the Next Black Series Figure" poll is live on Star Wars' official site. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed's Starkiller is on the list! Given the weak competition he's against, you should probably cast a vote for him right now. The other options are Mara Jade (the only other second choice I will accept), Captain Rex (who is already getting a Black Series figure), Dengar, Darth Talon, and Jaina Solo. Do the right thing and give Starkiller the vote.

That's it for this week's Science-Fiction Weekly. I'll be back in seven days with a review of Star Trek Beyond, which opens this weekend, and perhaps even a write-up for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's extended cut. Calm down, Superman is an alien, so it's science fiction to a degree. Also, I'm morbidly curious about the 30 minutes of new footage. I hated (emphasize that word as much as you can) the original cut of the film, and just need to know if this new version makes it better or even worse.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Dex: Enhanced Version, Star Trek Beyond, And Star Wars Land

After spending roughly 12 hours with The Technomancer, any promise shown in its opening hours has vanished under a tidal wave of glitches and hilarious exploits. If combat encounters weren't going my way, I learned that I could simply back up 10 to 20 feet to make the enemies forget about me. They would reset to their prior positions, giving me enough time to heal up and approach them in a different way. Outside of bosses or scripted fights in small enclosed spaces, this technique worked without fail. I would often focus my efforts on one enemy, eliminate him or her, then back up and direct my attacks on a second foe.

The Technomancer's story, which begins as a heavy data dump of lore but settles into a fairly intriguing mystery about the mystical abilities on Mars, comes to a near screeching halt when the second hub location is accessed. The focus shifts away from the conflict at hand to repetitively-designed missions and side quests. Some of my progress was also lost in numerous ways, starting with an NPC character that I needed to follow freezing up and ending with a button prompt not appearing on a door. I had to reload early saves to play through previously cleared sections to attempt these missions again. I like The Technomancer's world setup and combat design, but mission variety is lacking, the story flow is wildly uneven, and the glitches and exploit techniques are unacceptable. Give it a hard pass.

I would instead recommend you direct your attention to the revamped version of Dreadlocks' Dex, which just launched on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Designed as an homage to 16-bit RPGs like Shadowrun, Dex is a cyberpunk thriller that unravels across a sprawling 2D open world. The game begins with Dex, a blue-haired, trench coat-laden woman, reflecting on life as she gazes upon the neon-lit nightlife of Harbor Prime, a city that 13 million people call home. She retreats to bed, a moment used to show us her neck is made of metal cybernetics. As she fades away into slumber, she is bombarded with visions – a rundown house, the city turned upside, some kind of bio dome. She's startled awake by the voice of an A.I. character named Raycast. "Wake up! Wake up! They are coming for you. You need to get out of there," he says.

This intro succeeds on a number of levels; setting the tone of the world, establishing an interesting character, and planting the seed for the mystery at hand. Why do I need to leave? Why am I being attacked? By who? The music and visuals that accompany these introductory events are beautifully retro while still showcasing a high level of detail in the environments and character designs. It's a nice looking game that, while showing clear inspiration to Blade Runner or Shadowrun, has its own unique style and touches. I'm particularly impressed by the amount of ambient life in the world. A nice variety of pedestrians walk the streets or are interacting with the world, and you'll also see dogs and birds and other animated things in each environment. NPCs are not just static characters standing around, either. They are often inserted into the environments in interesting ways, such as a sick woman huddled under her covers at home while her son leans worriedly against the wall. In the seedier part of town, you'll even see men and women dancing seductively and making out in well-lit tubes – an unintentionally funny visual given the characters never stop doing the same dance moves and kissing motions.

After the initial world setup, Dex is forced to flee her home. The fastest route is across the rooftops, a sequence that the player has complete control over. The running and jumping feel good, but the only excitement comes from the setup, as there is no challenge to leaping away to safety. Dex isn't a platformer, and instead finds gameplay complexity in hand-to-hand and weapon-based combat. These actions all unfold in real time, but are a bit too clunky to give the player a true feeling of ownership over most encounters. Some enemy animations have tells that can be read easily, others unleash attacks without notice. When you know what's happening, a block or evasive roll can be used to gain an edge, and Dex's combat shines. When you don't see the attack coming, you just hope you make it out of the encounter without sustaining too much damage. Combat has a bit of a side-scrolling, beat-em-up feel to it, but stealth tactics, like sneaking up behind foes or hiding in the shadows, can also be used to complete encounters without throwing any punches at all.

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Since Dex is an RPG at its core, customization is offered in cybernetic augmentations, and a basic selection of character skills. The most fun I've had in this cyberpunk setting is exploring the rich world, and taking on missions for its denizens. The quest lines are quite interesting, even if the writing is a little campy at times, but the big problem comes from the world itself, which is huge and confusing and hard to navigate unless you take the time to memorize it. The game does a poor job of leading you along, also suffers from a horrible amount of screen tearing whenever the environment scrolls. Although I'm just learning about Dex's hacking abilities, the twin-stick shooter minigame attached to this activity takes far too long and, like the platforming, hasn't given me a run for my money yet.

Despite these early problems, I am enjoying the old-school charm and story of Dex. I want to see where it goes, and will definitely stick with it for now. If you played the original PC version last year, the enhanced edition sounds like it alleviates many of the complaints people had with it. You can now save anywhere, use weapons while crouching and walking, and the controller interface has supposedly been improved.

Outside of the video game realm, Ultraman, the giant kung-fu robot from Japan, turned 50 this weekend. Tsuburaya Productions celebrated the big guy's birthday with the release of a new television show, Ultraman Orb. You can watch the first episode (with English subtitles) over at Crunchyroll.

The villain of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond film has been revealed in a YouTube video (see below). He's named Krall, and according to the movie's director Justin Lin, he's going to "deconstruct the Federation's ideas in a way where he has a very valid philosophy." We also learn he's a "soloist" and "nihilist," which sounds oddly similar to the bad guy in Star Trek Into Darkness. The more I learn about Star Trek Beyond the less excited I get for it.

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And lastly, in Star Wars news, Disney unveiled another picture of its forthcoming Star Wars Disneyland expansion, which consumes 14 acres of land, making it the largest single-themed exhibit in Disney history. We obviously won't see real X-Wings flying over head, but if the expansion ends up looking anything like the picture below, I should probably find a way to live in this world. It's the only place that will feel like home. My first stop, which will likely be yours as well, is going to the replica Millennium Falcon.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – The Technomancer Impressions, Independence Day Review

If you haven't read Entertainment Weekly's excellent cover story for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story yet, put aside a good hour of your time to dive into their extensive coverage. EW confronts director Gareth Edwards on the reshoot rumors (which we now know were blown way out of proportion), and dives deep into the film's lore to bring us new character details, including the surprising addition of Saw Gerrera.

Who is Saw, you may ask? He is a rebel extremist who first appeared in the fifth season of the Clone Wars animated series. George Lucas originally created Saw for a live-action television series, but it never got off of the ground, and he didn't want this character to be forgotten, and found a way to slot him into the Clone Wars. Saw is making the jump to the silver screen in Rogue One, and will be brought to life by Forest Whitaker. Introducing crossover characters in the film universe is a smart move by Lucasfilm, as it elevates the canonical ties to the books and animated series. Fans now know that everything is truly interconnected. Marvel should follow suit with its Cinematic Universe and bring Daredevil, Luke Cage, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the big screen in some capacity, even if it is for the briefest of cameos.

Some of you harp on me for talking about Star Wars too much, and well, that isn't going to change any time soon, as it's the hot topic in science fiction (or space opera or space fantasy or whatever silly name we want to give it). The world of games welcomed a fun new Star Wars experience today in the form of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Don't write this game off as just another Lego title. The game expands Star Wars' canon for the new universe, and even sees Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Daisy Ridley reprising their respective roles for new dialogue and story material. Yes, it's still a goofy Lego game at heart, but I think Star Wars fans will love its deep dive into The Force Awakens era.

Gamers also have the chance to play The Technomancer starting today. Full disclosure: We don't have a review of The Technomancer ready yet, but I did log a few hours into it last night and this morning, and can at least give you the bad news about its introductory moments and the tiny ray of hope that emerges as the adventure unfolds.

But first, for those of you who don't know what The Technomancer is, it's an action/RPG developed by Paris-based studio Spiders, best known for its work on Bound by Flame, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, and Mars: War Logs, which this game is a pseudo sequel to. Players assume the identity of Zach, a newly recruited Technomancer stationed on Mars who is about to take the initiation to become a full-fledged agent of his order. Technomancers, like Jedi, are a mysterious group that lords over Mars, and are either feared or respected. Each Technomancer is gifted with the ability to channel electricity through his or her body to create lightning blasts and electrified weapons to keep the peace or exert their will, depending on if the game is played from a good or evil perspective.

Mars has fallen on hard times since its colonization decades ago. The surface offers harsh conditions for living, and water is scarce, leading to desperate measures for survival. The environments I've seen thus far contain just as much of a post-apocalyptic vibe as they do sci fi.

The Technomancer's story gets off to a rough start, and insists too much on inundating the player with a data dump of Mars' lore than easing them into the adventure at hand. After a brief character creation sequence (which allows players to pick from a small list of facial and hair options), Zach is thrown into an extensive combat tutorial that introduces four different fighting styles. At any given moment, he can shift between them to battle like a rogue, warrior, guardian, or Technomancer. This unique approach to combat works well, giving the player a true sense of power and ownership over the encounters. Zach's movements are a little clunky, and the adversaries he takes on are often fooled by evasive strafing to get behind them, but the combat has a nice flow to it. Whenever I use Zach's electrical arc blast (which is basically Force lightning), I can't help but draw comparisons to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. This combat hits on many of the same notes as KOTOR. That's a promising sign.

My first mission sends me to Mars' surface to infiltrate a raider colony. As each group of these lightly-armed foes is defeated, the Technomancer's deep RPG systems come into frame. I earn new gear (all shown cosmetically on the character) that can be upgraded immediately. I equip a cleaver with two upgrades, giving me an 11-percent chance of a critical hit, and a 30-percent chance of ignoring armor. I also earn traps that I can set, and equipment used for crafting various items and tools. The experience I earn in combat bring points that I can sink into extensive talent, skill, and attribute trees. Again, Spiders wastes no time throwing all of this on the player. It's a lot to digest, but the menus are easy to read, and it doesn't take long to get into the flow of looting and upgrading.

As the mission unfolds, combat shifts to a hive of alien bugs that basically look like giant mosquitoes. These encounters are satisfying in that they show just how quickly Zach can transition from one foe to the next. My journey concludes with a battle against a towering mantis. The creature is revealed in a fun cinematic that captures the scale of the beast, but also shows off how nicely animated it is. Although I'm able to exploit the beast to get behind it, the best strategy is to dodge its attacks to get in close to take shots at her exposed heart. What I find in this moment is damage stacks for each uninterrupted blow. The bigger the combo, the greater the progressive damage. The battle is scripted to end before a final strike can be dealt, and instead leads us to believe Zach may have a few problems he needs to deal before he can be a true Technomancer.

I now find myself exploring the city and taking on missions for NPC characters. One mission introduces two companion characters that I can equip with weapons and upgrade just like Zach. To draw another comparison to a BioWare title, this city is reminiscent in design to The Citadel from Mass Effect. It's sprawling, but not too large in size. The soundtrack for this location is also a dead ringer for Commander Shepard's journeys. The city's waypoint system works well, and the map is beautifully sewn into exploration, but the missions don't hold much variety at this point, and mostly consist of short encounters with raiders. Interestingly, any foe that is defeated is not killed. The player has the choice to kill them post battle by draining serum from their bodies. Each time a body is drained Zach gains -1 Karma.

And that's where I'm at in the game right now. I'm enjoying the leveling, can't quite make out what is happening in the story, and am intrigued by the teases of moral choice and being able to walk the line between good and evil. Is it worth your time? I can't answer that yet, but again, I am having some fun, and want to see more. After the shakiest of starts, it's righted itself to a degree and has my full attention.

Right before saying goodnight to my wife and child last night, I panicked and thought my column wouldn't be complete without a review of Independence Day: Resurgence. Minutes later, I bolted out the door, drove to my local theater, and sat through this turd of a sequel. It's bad. Real bad. The original Independence Day movie had a number of problems (who can forget the dog and Mac PowerBook), but it was consistent in tone and fun from start to finish. Flash forward 20 years, and the sequel clearly wants to adhere to the same formula, even recalling most of the characters (sans Will Smith) to save the day again, but ends up being a mess of intersecting plot lines, some feeling so far removed from anything relevant that they bring the film to a screeching halt.

We also see characters transforming magically before our eyes. President Thomas J. Whitmore (played by Bill Pullman) begins the film in bad shape. He's suffering from nightmares, visions of alien symbols, needs a cane to walk, and isn't taking care of himself from the looks of his bushy beard and wild hair. About halfway through the movie, he drops the cane, walks without a hitch in his step, gives another rousing speech, shaves off his beard, somehow gets a stylish haircut, and decides he should be the one who ultimately saves the day. No one in the film bats an eye at his surprising transformation and demands.

The writing across the board walks a fine line between being cheesy and downright awful. It even stoops to two different urination jokes, a middle finger being flashed to the invading aliens, and Brent Spiner's old-man butt.

There's a great movie tucked inside of this trash heap of a narrative. It starts when the enormous alien vessel arrives and settles on Earth's surface. The spectacle of this event is awesome. After that, the only noteworthy moments are when Jeff Goldblum is on screen. He's genuinely funny and endearing in this film, and somehow manages to deliver great dialogue and acting despite the terrible plot twists, one that even includes a surprise reunion with his father, which makes no sense.

Off of the top of my head, I can't recall a sequel that is much worse than Independence Day: Resurgence. Director Roland Emmerich once again dazzles us with world-ending special effects, but the biggest disaster he ushers in this time is the story. Avoid it like the plague, people.

As always, I'd love to hear your take on all of the topics discussed in the comments section below. Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you again in seven days!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – God Of War’s Star Wars Roots, A New Theory About Rey’s Parents

If someone asked you where the inspiration for the newly announced God of War game comes from, most of you would probably say The Last of Us. The connection between Kratos and his son echoes that of Joel teaching Ellie how to survive in a harsh world. Odds are developer Sony Santa Monica is drawing heavily from The Last of Us, but Cory Barlog, the game's creative director, says that the inspiration for a more humanized version of Kratos comes from a canceled Star Wars television show.

In an interview with Venture Beat, Barlog, who worked at LucasArts for a brief time before God of War projects, says he was invited to Skywalker Ranch to read the scripts of the show. "It was the most mind-blowing thing I’d ever
experienced. I cared about the Emperor," he said. "They made the Emperor a
sympathetic figure who was wronged by this f–king heartless woman.
She’s this hardcore gangster, and she just totally destroyed him as a
person. I almost cried while reading this.”

A television show that focused on the Emperor? My initial reaction was "that would be awesome," but after much thought, I'm glad George Lucas and his team at Lucasfilm didn't move forward with the project. Some characters are better left in the shadows. We don't need to know everything about every major character. Sheev Palpatine (yes, that's his real name) is one of them. The funny thing, through Barlog's inspiration, I suppose we'll learn a little bit more about the Emperor as we see Kratos' new life unfold.

In other Star Wars television news, if you didn't watch Star Wars Rebels as it aired, the second season hits Blu-Ray and DVD on August 30. Along with all 22 episodes, these discs include a number of bonus features, including a video feature called "From Apprentice to Adversary," in which executive producer Dave Filoni dissects season two's big finale.

In a less serious part of the Star Wars universe, Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures kicked off its first season on Disney XD and video-on-demand services yesterday, and I absolutely adored it. Disney is airing a new episode every day up until June 23.

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Before I dive into a new theory about Rey's parents, let's leap to another universe to talk about Star Trek. One of the most unexpected surprises at this year's E3 was Red Storm and Ubisoft's Star Trek: Bridge Crew, a virtual reality game that places you on the bridge of the U.S.S. Aegis (NX-1787) with three other players. This is a cooperative experience that demands teamwork, as each player has a specified role on the ship. I was an engineer in my playthrough, tasked with routing power, activating the warp coils, and teleporting people onto the vessel. The only things I had to do were listen to the Captain, who is controlled by another player, and interact with just a handful of buttons on the terminal in front of me. It sounds simple, and it is, but once the action starts, and the Captain barks out commands to other players in helm and tactical, the experience turns surprisingly intense. Every second matters on the Aegis. Andy McNamara (who was piloting our ship as a helm officer) and I managed to keep the Aegis intact and transport every civilian aboard successfully. Ubisoft said it was one of the cleanest playthroughs they've seen, even after I asked the Captain if I could transport Andy to a nearby asteroid. He said I couldn't, but thought it was a great idea and would bring it back to the development team.

And now it's time to flash the SPOILER alert. If you haven't seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet (who are you?), turn back now. Additionally, if you don't want to know anything about Star Wars: Episode VIII, stop reading.

The next rumor to surface is supposedly from a script leak. I wouldn't put too much stock into it, as we see fake leads like this all of the time, but this one opens up a different line of thinking than I think most people have had when trying to figure out who Rey's parents are. The safe bet I hear the most (one that I believe to be true) is Luke Skywalker is Rey's father. Given just how powerful with the Force Rey appears to be, I suspect her mother is an equally powerful Jedi. I'd love it to be Mara Jade, but I doubt Disney opens up the Expanded Universe that much with the new canon in place.

I've also heard that people think Rey may be a descendant of Obi-Wan Kenobi, perhaps his granddaughter. I like this idea too, but I don't think Obi-Wan (or his family) will be a part of this trilogy. A few people out there also think Rey is the daughter of Han and Leia. If you're not laughing at this idea, you should be. It's absurd. No chance this happens. I'd put money on Jar Jar Binks being the dad over Han Solo.

The newest rumor suggests that Rey may be related to the first of the Jedi. That's why she commands the Force so easily. The supposed leaked script says that the Force was contained in a single tree and was eventually freed and spread throughout the universe by a brother and sister. The boy was consumed by the tree's dark energy. The girl came from the light. Rey could be the reincarnated version of that girl. "The One" that the Jedi have been looking for.

The idea is a little silly, and the writing in the script isn't great, but I do like the idea of Rey potentially having old Jedi blood coursing through her veins. It makes me think Snoke could be from a similar era. Theorize away, people. Let me know who you think Rey's parents are in the comments below. I still stand with Luke being daddy, but I do like the old blood angle too.

See you again in seven days!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Rogue One Rumors Debunked, And A Mass Effect Wishlist

The Death Star's superlaser was aimed at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story last week, as a flurry of rumors suggested the Gareth Edwards-directed film wasn't living up to Disney's standards. The severity of rumors increased as new sources came forward, peaking with Disney apparently calling for 40 percent of the film to be reshot and supervised by Star Wars: The Force Awakens' director J. J. Abrams and Edge of Nowhere's writer Christopher McQuarrie. All across the 'net, people and news outlets were reporting on Rogue One being a potential disaster in the making.

Although Disney hasn't responded to the rumors (and likely never will given the company's stance on them), McQuarrie was quick to chime in and squash his supposed involvement in Rogue One's reshoots. On Twitter he wrote "Attn: bloggers. I'm reading some horses–t rumors tonight. You know where to find me. Do your jobs." He also talked to Slashfilm and said "If there are any reshoots on Rogue One, I’m not supervising them. For
any outlet to say so is not only wrong, it’s irresponsible. Gareth
Edwards is a talented filmmaker who deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Making a film – let alone a Star Wars chapter – is hard enough without
the internet trying to deliberately downgrade one’s years of hard work.
Who does that even serve? Let him make his movie in peace."

The rumors started a day after actor Donnie Yen, who plays Chirrut in Rogue One, revealed in an interview with Hong Kong outlet On, that he was returning to London to shoot additional scenes for the film. This is a common thing for an actor associated with a blockbuster film to say. Reshoots and pick-up shoots are common, and it wouldn't be out of line for Rogue One to have them.

A day later, an anonymous Hollywood source told Page Six "The execs at Disney are not happy with the movie, and Rogue One will
have to go back into four weeks of expensive reshoots in July.” The source also said that the movie wasn't testing well, which implied it was going through public test screenings.

Page Six updated the story with a comment from another anonymous Disney source, who said "The filmmaking team and the studio always anticipated additional
shooting and second unit work to make the film the absolute best it can
be, and the actors were aware there would be additional shooting. Coming
off The Force Awakens, there’s an incredibly high bar for this movie
and we have a responsibility to the franchise and to the fans to deliver
the best possible movie we can.”

A few days later, Making Star Wars purportedly talked to a "few" Rogue One crew members that jokingly said "everything" was being redone. Along with the report that 40 percent of the film would be reshot and guided by Abrams and McQuarrie, Making Star Wars offered additional details, such as 32 sets would be constructed for the filming, and people would be working six days a week for eight weeks during this period.

The rumors were out of control, and they were being picked up everywhere, until McQuarrie put his foot down. Entertainment Weekly also did its part with a "what's true and false about the reshoots" article. EW reached out to "deeply placed sources" at Lucasfilm to report that a Rogue One reshoot is indeed happening, and will begin this month and run for four or five months. The sources revealed that these reshoots were always planned, yet were originally scheduled for spring, and were moved back to summer to give Edwards additional time to figure out what should be added or altered in the film.

“The changes have everything to do with clarity and character
development and all take place [as inserts] within scenes we’ve already
shot," a source told EW.

This report makes the reshoots sound like an ordinary part of the process, and that there's as much fiction in the reporting of them as there is in Rogue One's script. Who is telling the truth in all of this? We'll have to wait to see, but I wouldn't lose sleep over any of this at the moment. If one piece of a report is fabricated, it's likely the rest of it is too. I'll never understand why people make up rumors, and why they are reported on without first being confirmed by additional sources, but that's the world we live in. The Internet embraces everything, and lies can turn into the biggest stories of the day, as we saw with Rogue One.

In the less stressful world of video games, we are just one week away from Electronic Arts and BioWare showing off more of Mass Effect Andromeda at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. I have a feeling this will be the "Full Monty" of reveals. And it better be. I don't think Mass Effect fans can stomach another cryptic tease or CG trailer that says next to nothing. Andromeda was first talked on November 12, 2012, and we really haven't heard much about it since then. That's a long drought of information, which is a bit surprising, given BioWare spoon-fed us details for Dragon Age: Inquisition from announce to launch.

Although we did see key talent leave BioWare recently, including director Casey Hudson, I don't think the game was ever in "development hell." Developers from the team have repeatedly said that the scale of this project is immense, which is likely the reason for the blackout on information. On Andromeda's official website, general manager Aaryn Flynn wrote "With Mass Effect: Andromeda, our team at BioWare is exploring
how far they can take this beloved franchise. Yes, we’re building the
best of what we all love about Mass Effect – amazing stories,
characters and fun third-person shooter combat – and bringing them along
with us on the expedition to Andromeda. But we’re also excited to be
introducing new features and ways you can enjoy a Mass Effect game."

Flynn hammers home the point that this Mass Effect adventure is breaking new ground. Although no precise details are given, the site also says that Andromeda offers an "unprecedented level of freedom" for exploration. This small tidbit makes me think BioWare could be heading in the direction of No Man's Sky, with the Andromeda Galaxy potentially being wide open for exploration. Those moments of landing on different planets and exploring uncharted territory were exciting, but short lived. If BioWare does go in this direction, procedural generation could come into play for the planets and discoveries. This design would obviously open up exploration to deeper wells (potentially limitless), but it does put the lore into the crosshairs. The first three games offered a wealth of details for every species and planet in the charted cosmos, and going procedural would make cataloging information impossible. The alternative is probably more of the same from the first trilogy, but on a bigger scale. The image above (from last E3's trailer) hints at larger environments.

The other ambitious angle BioWare could be taking with this installment is multiplayer integration into the story campaign. Mass Effect 3's standalone cooperative mode showed us that the game can be satisfying when played with friends. Rather than having A.I.-controlled teammates at your side at all times, those spots could be filled by other players, each controlling their created character. I would love to see this happen, especially if the game does go in the procedural route. Tracking story progress would be troublesome, but I could see the cooperative play working for charting and exploring the cosmos.

These are obviously pie-in-the sky ideas, but I truly hope BioWare is trying to break new ground with this entry. That's the beauty of the trilogy format. There are no loose ends left behind from the previous entries. Moving to a new galaxy should deliver an alien sensation, and I hope that extends to the gameplay and experience just as it does the new species we encounter.

I'd love to hear what you think about Mass Effect's future in the comments below. One thing is for sure: E3 can't come soon enough. We need those details.

And I'm going to close out this Science-Ficiton Weekly column with an odd Golden Grok reward. I'm giving it to Dangerous Golf. Yes, I know it's just golf, but it utilizes exploding balls that are controlled with the mind. That's sounds like science fiction to me. If you're a fan of Burnout's "Crash" modes, you should definitely check this game out. Granted, watching a golf ball destroy museum artifacts isn't as exciting or jaw-dropping as a truck blowing up a gas station, but there's plenty of destructive fun in Dangerous Golf. It's a nice palate cleanser of a game, and a fun "pass the sticks" experience if you have friends over.

Next week's Science-Fiction Weekly will dive deeply into the forthcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda news. Cross your fingers and hope for the best, people! See you in seven days!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Star Trek Vs. Star Wars

When I posted the first edition of Science-Fiction Weekly two weeks ago, I didn’t anticipate receiving a flood of negativity towards my top picks for the best movies, games, and television shows. I also didn’t foresee people taking issue with Star Wars being included in this column. The complaint they lobbied? Star Wars falls more into the fantasy genre than science fiction.

I couldn’t disagree with this assertion more, and I won’t go into my reasons here, as you can find them all over the comments and on Twitter, but this discussion made me realize almost everyone has a different understanding of what science fiction is. This revelation made me appreciate the medium more – it’s so unpredictable and untamed that it defies classification.

The dictionary calls science fiction “a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.”

Isaac Asimov, one of the most accomplished science-fiction writers to date, said “Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.”

Christopher Evans, the British author of the Other Edens trilogy, believes science fiction begins by questioning 'What if?' In his excellent Writing Science Fiction book, he wrote “What if we could travel in time? What if we were living on other planets? What if we made contact with alien races? And so on. The starting point is that the writer supposes things are different from how we know them to be."

In the introduction to Science Fact/Fiction, Ray Bradbury said science fiction is “the one field that reached out and embraced every sector of the human imagination, every endeavor, every idea, every technological development, and every dream.”

One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from Norman Spinrad, the author of the great “The Doomsday Machine” episode of the original Star Trek TV series, who said “science fiction is anything published as science fiction."

And finally in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Arthur C. Clarke famously shrugged his shoulders when he wrote "Attempting to define science fiction is an undertaking almost as difficult, though not so popular, as trying to define pornography. In both pornography and SF, the problem lies in knowing exactly where to draw the line."

The definition of science fiction isn’t something we should argue about. We should instead embrace the wonder of it – both in the stories we read and the beliefs other people have of it. We’re all in this spaceship together.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have a good, ol’ fight between Star Wars and Star Trek enthusiasts. Let's call it Warsies versus Trekkers…or Trekkies…or whatever horrible sounding name you want to give yourselves. A few people who complained about my inaugural sci-fi column were mad as hell that Star Trek wasn’t mentioned in any capacity. Sorry for the exclusion, folks, the words “best” and “Star Trek” don’t align for me. Don't get me wrong, I think Star Trek is a great vehicle for science fiction, but Star Wars is far more interesting of a universe. So is Battlestar Galactica. And Farscape. I could go on and on with science fiction I enjoy more.

I’ve watched every Star Trek movie and television series, and have even read a number of its comic books and novels, including a few penned by William Shatner. I appreciate the universe Gene Roddenberry created, and want more of it – a lot more. The upcoming television show should scratch that itch nicely.

The fascination I have with Star Trek is much different than with any other science-fiction universe. I don't want to say it feels like my father's science fiction, but it does. Even as I age, I feel like I'm absorbing some of the most intelligent and expansive science fiction out there. It's daunting in a good way. The immense scale of the cosmos is embraced in all aspects of Star Trek. Although the stories focus heavily on humanity expanding its reach and knowledge, the universe itself is unpredictable and is sometimes established as the axis for a story. Many of the stories convey a higher power or bigger stage than humanity – I always liked that. The writers do a great job of making our species feel small and insignificant. Although we are just observers, the show is written in a way that makes me feel like a part of the crew, trying to problem solve an anomaly together.

Star Trek's narrative threads are rarely backed by spectacle, however. The Enterprise is a grand showpiece of technology, but the people within it wear colored onesies and wield weapons that look like TV remote controls. I'll just come out and say it: the costumes are often terrible. Sorry, but each Enterprise crew wears a getup that either looks like they should be a part of a musical television show for children, or a mechanic who is going to change the oil in your car.

The commonness of the visuals also extends to the aliens, most of which are humanoid in makeup. The reasons for this are explained in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "The Chase," but it's a tough concept to swallow. The idea, which I won't spoil here, fits with well Star Trek's long-running lore, but also screams of "Costumes were kind of hard to make back in the day. Did you see how terrible our Gorn looked? Let's not do that again."

That's where Star Wars captures the imagination and Star Trek feels a little too close to home. The two universes couldn't be much different in this capacity. Most Star Wars aliens, vehicles, weapons, and armors fuel the imagination, and are intentionally left ambiguous for these reasons. Boba Fett is the perfect example of a character that you immediately want to know more about.

Even with so many different exotic types of life coming together, Star Wars' universe often feels small, almost like a backwater town in Kansas where everyone knows everyone. Luke Skywalker unknowingly teams up with his sister to take on their father… who just happens to be the creator of the protocol droid they've been traveling with. Everyone is apparently related or has history with each other. The unlikely connections extend far beyond the movies and are more egregious in the comic books and novels. In the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Luke apparently battled Boba Fett and Darth Vader. Jar Jar Binks even becomes a part of this Luke's story, which, correct me if I'm wrong, should be the last thing a writer ever attempts with Star Wars.

Star Trek's universe, on the other hand, feels gargantuan, rarely collapsing in on itself for unlikely cameos or cheap storytelling connections. While Star Trek: The Next Generation's writing and characters are hard to top, Star Trek Voyager's seven-year run is my favorite in the series. As Captain Janeway and her crew explore uncharted space, the feeling of isolation and uncertainty hangs over almost every episode. If you just watch Voyager without seeing any other Star Trek show before it, that impact likely won't be the same, but for fans, this run greatly expands the size of the universe, and more impressively, makes all of the Star Trek lore around it seem bigger and more meaningful. I've said this numerous times before, but Voyager still doesn't get the respect it truly deserves. That was one hell of a TV show.

Again, I thoroughly enjoy both universes – and they really couldn't be more different – but Star Wars' mythology is the crowing jewel of science fiction for me. As fantastical as it can be, it feels familiar at times; keeping you grounded as it introduces you to a universe where almost anything is possible – from magical abilities to technology being powerful enough to destroy planets. But at its core, Star Wars' story is about family, and the struggles each of us has to find our place in the world. It has heart, and is an easy narrative to latch onto. Once it takes hold, which it did for me when I was young, I wanted more from it – more than I ever wanted from any other form of entertainment. I wanted to know more about the Force, Jedi, Sith, and the history between the Rebellion and Empire. I wanted to know more about the vehicles and science. That fascination has lasted for decades. Even during the rough prequel years, my love for Star Wars hasn't diminished at all.

I am now turning the floor over to you. To reiterate, comparing Star Wars and Star Trek is a strange thing to do, but I want to know which universe you gravitate toward more, and why one speaks to you more than the other. As I briefly detailed above, both of them have unique strengths and weaknesses. With E3 looming, my time is short these days, but I'll do my best to stay on top of the comments and provide feedback. I'll see you again in seven days!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – The Best Comics, Stellaris, And More Star Wars Leaks

Before diving into the comic book series you should read each month, I'd like to introduce a new component of Science-Fiction Weekly: The Golden Grok, an award given to the best new video game release. The word “grok” comes from Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land; a Martian verb meaning “to drink” or “to understand” or “to experience enjoyment,” among other things.

This week’s Golden Grok goes to Paradox Development Studios for Stellaris. Set in the year 2200, Stellaris is as much an engaging "4X" strategy game as it is a fascinating exploration of the universe. Diplomacy and war erupt among the stars, but the big pull that keeps me coming back for more is the element of discovery and the fear and anticipation of exploring the unknown. This gameplay hook unfolds in numerous ways, such as traveling to different stars to see what kind of life or resources are there, or investing in technology to better my species' capabilities in ways I couldn't even begin to fathom from the outset of play. Politics, trade arrangements, and mineral collecting all come into play in Stellaris – an excess of micromanaging that can be daunting at times – but Paradox did a fantastic job of streamlining the experience and making the pressing matters the central focus. Fans of Star Control and Master of Orion shouldn't hesitate in diving into this alien-infested universe. For a more detailed breakdown of Stellaris' gameplay and lasting appeal, check out Ben Reeves’ review.

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Stellaris pays homage to many of the tropes that has shaped science fiction throughout the yeras. It's fun universe to explore, but it's a familiar one, especially if you consume a healthy dose of science fiction each year. To see the universe expand in ways you wouldn't expect, I highly recommend you read Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ brilliant monthly comic book series. Vaughn says the series is inspired by Star Wars, but outside of it being flush with aliens and a kick-ass bounty hunter, I don't see the connection. To me, Saga’s story is more Shakespearean in design, focusing intimately on two core characters, two lovers, Alana and Marko, who are engaged in a forbidden love much like Romeo and Juliet. Marko and Alana are from different worlds, and their people have long been at war with each other. Alana is from Landfall, a huge and prosperous planet, and Marko is from Wreath, Landfall’s only satellite, and a world governed by magic.

That's all you should know of Saga prior to reading it. Go in as blindly as you can. Through the series’ 30-plus issues, I continually find myself thinking “I’ve never read anything like this before,” or “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Just knowing the setup and key plot points can strip the wonder from this beautifully penned tale. Saga isn't just one of the best science-fiction comics out there, it’s one of the best comic books period. From what Vaughan has been saying, this story is still young, and will change through the years, but as it is now, it's one of the all-time greats for the medium. I put it up there with Transmetropolitan, Preacher, The Dark Knight Returns, and Y: The Last Man (another of Vaughan's books). One final word about Saga: It explores adult themes and imagery. Keep the kids away from it.

Writer Rick Remender, who was recently celebrated as one of the best writers of Marvel’s X-Men books, is currently at the top of his game with two different stories he’s penning for Image Comics. The best of the bunch is Low, a look at life in a distant future when the sun expands to a red giant and Earth’s surface is no longer habitable. Man now presides in the sea. The art by Greg Tocchini is abstract, stunning, and the perfect vehicle for this captivating story. Be warned: Like Saga, Low is loaded with adult themes and nudity. I know this is a weird thing to keep calling out, but hey, I'm a dad.

I’m also enjoying the hell out of Remender’s Tokyo Ghost. If you’re wondering what a society addicted to entertainment and social media would be like, this book gives us a fun and surprisingly violent look at that world, set in the year 2089. You’ll also see the Atari 2600 and NES controllers used in a clever way in the first issue. Sean Murphy’s framing of the action (and gore) is another selling point for each issue.

If you enjoy both of these books, Remender’s Black Science is also worth a look, especially if you are intrigued by the odd mashup of Lost in Space meets Sliders meets Lost. Even if you have no interest in this book, do yourself a favor and check out the wild cover art adorning each issue (you can see one in the gallery below).

One of my favorite writers, Jeff Lemire, who I plan on cursing for all of eternity for leaving Animal Man behind at DC, is currently writing Descender. I’m not crazy about the art in this book, but the story of a young android boy fighting for life in a hostile society has been wonderful so far. It reminds me of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, but with intimacy and heart. I know I’m giving Image a ton of love here, but the publisher deserves it. Even Brian K. Vaughan’s strange We Stand on Guard is fantastic. He's somehow made Canadians look heroic. In this story, Canada is invaded by a robot army led by the United States of America. I know, it sounds dumb, but give it two issues before you make up your mind. Vaughan is clearly having fun with this one.

Marvel Comics’ science-fiction books are often overshadowed by the superhero and mutant titles, but the current runs in some of the various Guardians of the Galaxy titles are worth a look, especially if you like the movie (yes, it reminds me more of the movie than the previous comic book series). The flagship title Guardians of the Galaxy (led by the great Brian Michael Bendis) is off to a hell of a start, and you should still be able to find the first issue at your comic shops, if you read the physical versions. Do I think Thing, Venom, and Kitty Pride are odd additions to the team? I did initially, but I like how Bendis handles each character. Pride's relationship with Star-Lord is the beating heart of the book so far. The ancillary Star-Lord, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon & Groot series accompany the main series remarkably well, and are vehicles for backstories and character building. I sadly cannot say the same about Drax, Guardians of Infinity, and Venom: Space Knight. Avoid those three series.

Game Informer’s Matt Miller also reads a few Marvel series that I don’t have the time or dollar for, and says that Silver Surfer and The Ultimates are both worth your time. While Guardians of the Galaxy continues its excellent run of harebrained, edge-of-your-seat action, The Ultimates is the more cerebral sci-fi book in Marvel’s universe, which sees a particularly diverse group of scientists and superheroes pushing against the boundaries of the universe and knowledge.

As much as I love DC Comics – my go-to for superhero books – I recommend avoiding all of the publisher’s titles until June, when Rebirth begins. Rebirth is a soft universe reboot in a sense, offering a new jumping on point for readers with most series starting at number one. Of the sci-fi titles in Rebirth, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is the highest on my anticipation list (mostly for the Ethan Van Sciver art), and Justice League is also piquing my interest with the promise of a cosmos-spanning story about a dead world.

Speaking of avoiding things, do yourself a favor and steer clear of Marvel’s Star Wars titles as well. I know people love them, but they often make me cringe. Most of the writers on these books go well out of their way to make the universe as small as possible, often pitting famed characters against each other in battle. The only Star Wars title that I even remotely enjoy is Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin. It brings back the fun vibe of The Clone Wars, which I'm surprised I missed. The other licensed comic that has been consistently fun is IDW's Transformers. After bouncing around with a wide variety of different takes on Transformers' lore, the publisher has settled into a groove with the latest stories.

And that's going to do it for the comic talk in this week's edition. I'd love to hear your thoughts (and picks) in the comments section below. From here on in I'm diving into big Star Wars SPOILERS and leaks. Read on at your own risk. If you don't want to know anything about Star Wars: Episode VIII's potential plot, you should stop reading now.

As Star Wars: Episode VIII's filming continues at Ireland's Malin Head and England's Pinewood Studios, people have spied a couple of interesting developments, including what appears to be scenes involving the mysterious Knights of Ren. The Knights were shown briefly in Rey's Force-powered vision, and were mentioned briefly by Snoke, but Disney has gone out of its way to avoid discussing or showing these characters again. Are the Knights still running with Kylo Ren? We'll have to wait to see. The report from Making Star Wars sheds some light on the Knights' actions for this one scene, and it sounds like all hell is breaking loose. Some fans even speculate that Rey's vision wasn't a flashback, but a look into the future. I don't know if I believe Disney set this scene up as something we'd see in the next movie, but it is odd that the Knights aren't in any of the merchandise from Force Awakens. Those toys would sell like mad, and almost everyone in the film has been turned into one by now.

One of the sets at Pinewood prominently features a dead tree, which may seem like ordinary set dressing at first glance, but fans believe it's the same tree from Marvel's Star Wars: Shattered Empire comic book. In this story, Luke is searching for the remains of a tree that once grew in the Jedi temple on Coruscant. The Force flowed through this tree and held great meaning, but we don't yet know the reasons why. Luke eventually located what he was looking for – two saplings born of the original tree. Luke kept one of the saplings. He handed the second to Shara Bey and Kes Dameron. They planted their tree on Yavin 4. Luke took his to an undisclosed location. It'll be interesting to see if the tree pictured in the set leaks is the one Luke took.

I sadly don't have any new Rogue One: A Star Wars Story news to report, but someone did dig up an image of the first Lego sets that will hit later this year.

And that concludes week two of Science-Fiction Weekly. Please leave your feedback in the comments section below, but refrain from Star Wars spoiler talk if possible. See you in seven days!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – The Best Movies, Games, And New Star Wars: Episode VIII Updates

I’ve had a love affair with science fiction since my father took me to see Star Wars: A New Hope. I was three- or four-years-old at the time; far too young to watch Darth Vader choke the life out of his coworkers, and incinerate Luke Skywalker’s family. Vader initially imprinted on my young mind poorly, but the nightmares he gave me eventually led to a lifelong appreciation obsession of George Lucas’ Galaxy Far, Far Away. Star Wars gave way to science fiction becoming my favorite form of entertainment. Yes, I love it more than video games.

Thankfully there’s a lot of crossover between science fiction and video games; an inordinate amount, more than I could ever keep up with. The column you are reading (and will hopefully be returning to each week) is an exploration of all things in this sector. From the latest developments in video games to the most random factoids in Star Wars’ lore, these editorials should be crammed to capacity with a wealth of science fiction news and opinions.

This first post is a bit of a primer for what you can expect, format and all. I know many of you are probably wondering what my favorite science-fiction movie, book, game, and television show are, so let’s get all of that out of the way in this first post.

My favorite movie (science fiction or otherwise) is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Equally as thought provoking as it is exciting, no film has captured my imagination as much as this dark and brilliantly penned second chapter in the Star Wars saga. Even the rubbery Yoda still holds up surprisingly well today.

And speaking of puppets, the TV show I recommend everyone watch is Farscape, a criminally underappreciated gem that was cut way too short. Farscape takes a few episodes to get cooking, but quickly settles in with big laughs, awesome conflicts, puppets farting, spaceships getting pregnant and giving birth to baby spaceships (yes, you read that correctly), and the craziest theme song of any TV show.

My favorite science-fiction-flavored video game shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. While I have fond memories of the Wing Commanders, and Star Controls, System Shocks, Half-Lifes, Halos, Portals, Star Warses, and Dead Spaces, no interactive universe has hit me as hard as Mass Effect. Taking control of Commander Shepard’s conscience to arrange a galactic chess board across three massive games is as good as games get. Seriously. Why don’t all companies make continuations like this? And yes, I even loved Mass Effect 3’s original ending. That send off is as science fiction as science fiction gets.

When it comes to books, well, I’m going to leave my all-time favorite a mystery for now, as we’ll have plenty to discuss in the weeks ahead. You can get a small taste of what I enjoy by reading my 10 Science-Fiction Stories Reimagined As Games editorial. I also wrote a book of my own.

If my lede didn’t show my hand enough, my current obsession in life is Star Wars, and with three different films in active development (Episode VIII, Rogue One, and the untitled Han Solo movie),  rumors and news hit almost daily. The latest scuttlebutt centers on Episode VIII. Before I dive into the news, here's your obligatory SPOILER warning. Much like Daniel Craig's cameo as a helmeted First Order storm trooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Daily Express is reporting Tom Hardy has accepted a similar role to play a storm trooper in Episode VIII. Daily Express says Hardy's storm trooper recognizes Finn (who was once storm trooper FN-2187).

John Boyega, the actor playing Finn, told Variety that Episode VIII is a "different take, darker, bigger. Someone will say: 'How do you get bigger than Force Awakens?' But it’s crazy." He also revealed that Rey and Finn were just friends in The Force Awakens, but it could be a central plot point in the sequel. "The romance thing is something that’s going to be interesting in the
next installment," Boyega says. "It’s not going to go the way you think it’s going to
go."

Episode VIII filming is currently underway in Ireland. Most of the sets we've seen are scenic with green hills surrounded by the ocean. The latest development at Malin Head is no different. The Millennium Falcon is a part of this set, and fans have spied Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) getting ready for a shot. Costume details from the set reveal that Rey and Luke wear familiar garb to The Force Awakens and Return of the Jedi. You can see what they supposedly look like here.

Lucasfilm announced Gareth Edwards (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's director) and Kathleen Kennedy (Lucasfilm's president) are kicking off this year's Star Wars Celebration held in London’s ExCeL Centre from July 15-17 with a talk about Rogue One. If this presentation is anything like last year's for The Force Awakens, we'll likely get a second Rogue One trailer on July 15. If you want to know more about the film – such as character names and who the big bad is – check out this enormous leak that hit earlier today from a book publisher working on the Official Visual Story Guide for the film. Be warned, few leaks reveal a mountain of info like this one does.

And in other book news, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced the winners of the 2015 Nebula Awards over the weekend. The winners include Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker, and Updraft by Fran Wilde.

That's going to do it for my first entry of Science-Fiction Weekly. Expect plenty more Star Wars talk in the weeks and months ahead, but also plenty of science-fiction game, movie, comic book, and action figure news when it hits. Next week's focus is the science-fiction comics you should be reading.

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First Battleborn Patch Coming Soon, Balance Updates On Weekly Schedule

It’s only been two days since Battleborn launched, but Gearbox is already making tweaks and identifying places for improvement. The studio posted a brief note yesterday outlining its plans for the game’s evolution.

One element that has already been implemented is the ability to replay the animated opening. At launch, you only had one shot to see it, but fans asked for the option to see it again. Likewise, the ability to skip it entirely has now been added.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Gearbox says it will be pushing server-side balance changes on a weekly basis. Larger patches that impact client-side code will take a bit longer on console due to certification, but the studio already has items it plans to include in the first one.

Of note, Marquis’ exceedingly long range sniper shot will be getting hit with the nerf bat. No specific timing on the first patch has been announced, though Gearbox says it will be “soon.”

[Source: Gearbox]

 

Our Take
It was impressive to see a rapid server-side change to respond to fans’ interest in watching/skipping the intro. We’re not sure yet if Battleborn’s multiplayer has long-term stickiness, but weekly balance updates mean that there is likely to be a dialog between fans and devs that, if handled correctly, could help grow the player base.

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