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Science-Fiction Weekly – Star Wars: Episode VIII, Rebels, Thor: Ragnarok

This week's editorial is starting on a strange note, but I feel it's something we all need to discuss. I'm beginning to think movie director Zack Snyder has homed in on my childhood and wants to destroy everything that I loved. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst movies I have ever watched. I'm not exaggerating here. I struggled to get through it, and wondered how a film could miss the mark by such a wide degree, especially given we're in the golden age of awesome superhero films. Warner Bros. recently released an image from Snyder's forthcoming Justice League film, and it looks great from this pulled-out angle.

Seeing all of these characters together in a big-budget film is
something I never thought would happen (anything with Aquaman is a long shot, after all). Now let's see what happens when we zoom in on The Flash…

WHAT. THE. F—… Seriously, what in the blazes is going on with this costume design? Are those wires all over his body? It looks like a pile of random parts I'd expect to see at Watto's junkyard. We often joke about video game characters being overly designed with trinkets and scars all over their bodies, but this is just madness. Stop, Zack. Please for the love of all that is nerdy, stop!

Why not update this costume? I still think it looks great.

Or better yet, bring this character (actor, costume, lore, and all) over to the cinematic universe. The CW is doing great things with the DC properties. Tying the two universes together would have been a great way to get the films back on track. Arrow and The Flash are both excellent shows (disclaimer: I haven't watched Supergirl or Legends of Tomorrow yet).

Now let's talk about something that is actually doing well. Star Wars Rebels continues to improve with each passing season, and the latest trailer makes the second part of season three look ridiculously awesome. I won't ruin the surprises for you, but I'm guessing an episode that shows what the Rebels characters were doing during the events of Rogue One and A New Hope isn't too far off. I hope the show goes there, and doesn't end right before either movie. Seeing the Ghost and Chopper in Rogue One makes me think the timelines will intersect. If not, revealing some of the characters are alive and well is a huge spoiler for the end of the series. Check out the trailer below, but avoid viewing it if you aren't caught up on the most recent episodes. Spoilers abound.

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And if you enjoyed that, Lucasfilm released a small clip from from the next episode titled Warhead. I always love seeing new droid types, and this episode looks like it focuses intently on introducing a new robotic being into the Star Wars universe.

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If you were one of the people who wasn't bothered by Rogue One not having an opening text crawl, how do you explain Episode VIII getting one? Lucasfilm hasn't said the movie will have it yet, but has said before that the opening crawl is for the numbered entries in the series. Episode VIII's director, Rian Johnson, confirmed with USA Today that Rey and Luke's confrontation at the end of The Force Awakens would be the beginning point of his film. "I don’t want to skip ahead two years. I want to see the very next moment of what happens," Johnson said. He also pointed out the obvious; the film will focus intently on Rey learning the ways of the Force. So that begs the question: Will the opening text be a recap of The Force Awakens? Will it shed light on different developments occurring at the same time? Or will it simply say "Luke stared intently at Rey…."

The final bit of news I have for you is for Thor: Rangarok, which opens in theaters on November 3. I know we're all eagerly anticipating the release of a trailer (likely attached to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), but Marvel did give us something just as good: a plot synopsis to ponder. It confirms Hulk is in the film, but in a way you likely wouldn't expect. Here's the plot outline from Marvel:

"Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his
mighty hammer and finds himself in a race against time to get back to
Asgard to stop Ragnarok – the destruction of his homeworld and the end
of Asgardian civilization – at the hands of an all-powerful new threat,
the ruthless Hela. But first he must survive a deadly gladiatorial
contest that pits him against his former ally and fellow Avenger – the
Incredible Hulk!”

It sounds like Marvel is combining the comic series for Ragnarok and Planet Hulk into one film. That sounds like a bit of a mess, but a fun one that puts war and combat front and center.

Let me know what you think of the news from this week's column. I have an exclusive look at new content from Dreadnought in line for next week's editorial. I'm also hoping to see a few new science-fiction titles during Nintendo's Switch event on Thursday. See you in seven days.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Rogue One Changes, Darth Vader, Power Rangers: Mega Battle

My holiday break consisted mostly of game playing and friends asking me if I wanted to go see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story again. I ended up seeing it a second time and was able to study it more, resulting in a greater appreciation of the little details that director Gareth Edwards put into the film. It's a hell of a ride, especially the final act where it all hits the fan. A few things still bugged me, like Lucasfilm shying away from including an opening crawl of text. I know it's a silly, little thing to get hung up on, but every Star Wars game has it, and it just seems like a Star Wars necessity. In an interview with Empire, Edwards also voiced frustration in not getting to tack one on the beginning of his film.

"The first screenplay that Gary Whitta wrote had a crawl in it – and you
learn doing that that ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’
has four dots in it, not three," he said. "You get extra marks for that. And then
at some point, probably like six months before we were filming, we were
in a meeting, and they talked about not having an opening crawl, because
these are standalone films, not part of the sagas. And if I’m honest,
there was an initial kind of like, “Whaaaa? I want the crawl!” The
opening sequence is kind of the crawl of our movie. It’s like the setup.
And our film is also born out of a crawl – the reason we exist is
because of a previous crawl, so it feels like this infinite loop that
will never end. It’s a small thing to give up to get to do Star Wars."

Edwards also said different cuts of the film have the classic transitional wipes that George Lucas used, but they decided not to use them because "the film is supposed to be different." The Darth Vader bacta tank sequence was inspired by a a Björk music video for the song "All is Full of Love." They wanted to show him in a milky substance to humanize him. " He’s really a burns victim, and it’s not going to be fun for him when
he’s not in the suit – he’s going to be uncomfortable," Edwards said. "I love the idea
of showing that he’s vulnerable as well. Vader’s very, very bad, and so
you try and just glimpse something of him that gives him some humanity,
or it makes you empathize with him."

Saw Gerrera is one of Rogue One's most interesting characters, and you'll be able to learn more about him through an upcoming episode of Star Wars Rebels. He originated in The Clone Wars cartoon, and we saw him late in life in Rogue One, but now we'll see how he formed a tie with the Rebellion. The trailer below gives you a little taste of what we can expect from this slightly younger version of him.

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The always reliable Stupendous Wave has more details about Vader's Sith castle that debuted in Rogue One. We knew Ralph McQuarrie dreamed up a home base for Vader for use in The Empire Strikes Back, but it never made it into the film. Lucas then drew inspiration from that image for Revenge of the Sith's finale. Edwards again referenced this image for Rogue One, but as the video shows, it was constructed on Mustafar, not only as a disturbing reminder for Anakin, but also for its connections to an ancient Sith secret. His castle is built over a Sith cave, and this location could be a place Jedi are brought to be tortured and killed.

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In other Star Wars rumblings, Episode VIII's director, Rian Johnson, took to Twitter to support Lucas' prequel movies, which you can see below. I haven't looked at them as kids movies, per se, and don't really buy that idea given how dark Anakin Skywalker's story gets (hell, Revenge of the Sith was even the first Star Wars film to earn a PG-13 rating). It's an interesting topic to explore, though. The films were different in tone than the original trilogy, and Jar Jar Binks was clearly created to win over kids, not adults. I'll turn the question over to you: What do you think of the prequels as films for kids?

 

In a strange bit of Star Wars news, a young version of George Lucas will appear in a forthcoming episode of the DC's Legends of Tomorrow. The story explores a different version of reality where Lucas quits film school and doesn't make Star Wars. That decision greatly affects the future. Legends of Tomorrow's executive producer Marc Guggenheim jokingly voiced his concern about this story to Entertainment Weekly. "It's going to be the episode where we’ll say that the show found a new
gear in terms of how zany it can be, or it’s the episode that’s going
to get us all fired,” he said. Lucas won't appear in the episode, and is instead portrayed by actor Matt Angel.

On the video game front, we're just two weeks away from one video game I can't wait to play: Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Mega-Battle, a new side-scrolling brawler from Bandai Namco. We're due for a great brawler, and I hope this is it. I'm worried how little Bandai has promoted the game, but the trailer makes it look like a good, ol' throwback to the TMNT arcade games. Let's cross our fingers and hope this turns out to be a fun four-player cooperative game.

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That's it for this week, folks. In seven days I'll have a meatier post, including a review of the side-scrolling shooter Steel Rain X, which you'll want to hear about. See you then!

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Looking Ahead To 2017

Many of you are likely playing the living hell out of new games obtained over the holidays, or are trying to chip away at the towering backlog that grows taller each year. After looking at what's on the horizon for 2017, my advice is to stay up a little longer each night to play more. The year ahead is looking great for science-fiction enthusiasts.

The fun (hopefully) begins in February with the releases of Halo Wars 2 (February 21) and Horizon Zero Dawn (February 28). The video game industry is in desperate need of new intellectual properties, and Horizon Zero Dawn is easily the most exciting one slated for next year. The concept of hunting robotic dinosaurs with primitive weapons is enough to make Horizon a day-one purchase for me, but intrigue also stems from how little we know about this game's story and world. The latest Horizon trailer teases a mystery deep beneath the planet's surface. I don't know much about what is happening in the forests and cities, and now Guerilla is teasing an underground? Kick ass. I'm glad that we're getting another Red Dead Redemption, but I'm more excited for Horizon, just because it's a new series and experience.

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Halo Wars 2 is a sequel that I never expected to see, but I'm glad it's coming, because, again, it delivers a different type of experience. In other words, it isn't another first-person shooter. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Gears of War 4, and Titanfall 2, but holy hell, the back-half of 2016 was dominated by shooters. Throw in Battlefield 1, and my need to play more Overwatch (which is technically a science-fiction game, and the topic of a future column) and I felt like I always had a gun in my hand this year. All of these games succeed in different ways, but they still hit that same note of shoot, shoot, shoot. Again, we need more variety in our triple-A games. Rant over. Before you write off Halo Wars 2 as "just another RTS," take a look at the trailer below. It looks like story will play a big role in it. Looks promising.

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March 7 brings a bit of a sci-fi curveball in Nier Automata. I haven't covered this action/RPG in this column before, and, well, I should have put it on your radar months ago. For whatever reason, my brain views this franchise as fantasy (perhaps from its ties to the Drakengard games), but make no mistake, it's as sci fi as sci fi gets. The focus is on a war between man and machine, with far-fetched technologies, robots, and aliens making up most of the world. I enjoyed Nier's combat quite a bit, but grew disenchanted with the journey, which was often sidelined by meaningless quests. If new developer Platinum Games (which replaces Cavia) can strengthen this element of the game, and deliver combat that is just as frantic and fun, this could be a nice surprise for PlayStation 4 and PC players this spring.

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I know many of you aren't investing in virtual reality yet, but one of the of most promising examples of this technology arrives on March 14 with Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Let me temper that enthusiasm a bit: I only played through one of the game's missions, but I thought it did a remarkable job of replicating the Star Trek experience, making each player feel like a vital part of the Star Trek crew. It also showed that VR can be a great cooperative experience. If the full campaign is as fun as the demo I played, expect to hear me talk about this one in the future, not just from a review or impressions standpoint, but out of the need to recruit some of you for my starship. If that sound fun to you, come back here on March 14 for my thoughts on the final version of the game (and to join me in playing it).

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Since the video game industry does a terrible job of setting release dates and informing people when games are coming, no other science-fiction video games are locked in to specific months or days yet, but we do know that Ultra Ultra's Echo is coming "spring 2017." Slated for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Echo is a stealth game that looks absolutely wild. Players suit up as En, a character who just woke up from a century of cryo sleep in a palace that is as alive as she is. The palace, also known as Echo, studies En, learns from her, and tries to destroy her with her own tactics and observations. In fact, many of the enemies are exact copies of En. The way you control En shapes the enemy A.I. Echo looks to be this year's The Turing Test. The gameplay looks familiar, but the setup is unique.

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What comes next in 2017 is anyone's guess. I'm hoping Detroit: Become Human hits this year. I know Beyond: Two Souls was a big swing and miss, but I like what David Cage and Quantic Dream are trying to achieve in their games. Heavy Rain was fantastic, and Detroit's choice-driven gameplay reminds me of that title. Sony hasn't said much about Detroit lately (and it was a no-show at PlayStation Experience), so that may mean it's further out than I hope. Time will tell.

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Farpoint, Tacoma, Prey, System Shock, and a handful of other exciting titles are on the way next year, but the spotlight is mostly on Mass Effect Andromeda. I've said Mass Effect is one of gaming's most important series, and I hope Andromeda kicks it into hyperdrive again. I'm glad BioWare took a break with the series. Enough time has gone by that I'm itching to suit up again. Hell, even the return of the Mako has me excited.

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Which 2017 release are you most looking forward to? What unannounced games are you hoping for?

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Ranking The Star Wars Films

My original plan for this week’s column was to review Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but I decided to shift gears after a number of people on social media asked me where I thought this new prequel ranked among the other Star Wars movies. There are technically 12 Star Wars films to consider for this list, but if we throw out the garbage (the Holiday Special and Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure), stick to the live-action format (which knocks The Clone Wars off), and remove The Battle for Endor since it was only on television (but was decent), that leaves us with eight solid entries. Don’t roll your eyes – I said “solid” not “good.”

Before I dive into the ranking that you are about to tear to shreds, I want to point out that I appreciate elements of each of these films. They all strengthen the core Star Wars story in their own unique ways. The Phantom Menace is a movie most people mock for Jar Jar Binks, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten Darth Maul or that awesome scene where Qui-Gon Jinn melts a metal door with his lightsaber. Return of the Jedi delivers one of the coolest space battles in all of cinema, but also a fight in which the Empire is trounced (handily even) by tiny bears.

Additionally, film technology evolves at a rapid rate, and each Star Wars film embraces it for good and bad. Rogue One’s visual effects are top tier, with the exception of a couple of CGi characters who may look worse than anything in Attack of the Clones (let’s debate this in a future column).

All of these things come into play in my ranking, but I’m mostly weighing my picks on the impact they had on me, both when I originally viewed them and today. As always, I appreciate your feedback in the comments section below, but above all else, would love to see your ranking of the films. Without further delay, on to the list…

8. Episode II: Attack of the Clones

While establishing the foundation and tone of the excellent Clone Wars animated series, Attack of the Clones is a mess of a story, struggling mightily to tie a large-scale, green-screen war to a chemistry-free love story. George Lucas has a knack for strong beginnings, and Attack of the Clones is no different with its excellent (and clever) assassination attempt on Queen Amidala via space centipedes. The film quickly unravels from here, but does give us a great look at Coruscant in the process. The sequences that follow are shockingly bad: a bug army, Jedi looking foolish while battling the bug army, Amidala starring in a platforming game, C-3PO losing his head, "I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets
everywhere," and floating fruit. Oh god. Make it stop! The bombardment of awful is constant, but there is some good stuff amid the blasts. Jango Fett, Count Dooku (terrible name, great character), Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi's playful chemistry, senator Palpatine, every second on Kamino, and less Jar Jar Binks. Attack of the Clones is easily the worst Star Wars film, but there's still a wealth of great content for fans to appreciate.

7. Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I don't think there's much debating Star Wars' lowest point: Jar Jar Binks. This wacky abomination of CGi completely derails the story when he is introduced. Would the film have been better without him? Absolutely, but the narrative would still suffer from odd logic. Journeying through the center of the planet to reach Queen Amidala's palace makes little sense, and Lucas ended up putting too much emphasis on a kid being able to do amazing things. The podracing bit was cool character building for Anakin (which would be infinitely better without the announcers), but watching him win the space battle was cringe worthy. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn were fantastic, as were Darth Maul and Palpatine. The Phantom Menace is a rocky ride through a fascinating (and beautiful) new era of the Star Wars universe. Lucas had the right idea; the story just got away from him.

6. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I went into this film expecting Darth Vader to be the best part, but he ended up being the worst. It was the "Nooooooo" heard around the world, and it was terrible. Outside of this one moment, and that often horrible prequel CGi, Revenge of the Sith is a respectable Star Wars film. I'll even get the hyperbole train rolling by saying Order 66 is one of Lucas' biggest successes as a director. That particular sequence is beautifully shot, and the story it tells is as dark as Star Wars gets. Palpatine's seduction of Anakin to the Dark Side is also disturbingly good. The big payoff of Anakin versus Obi-Wan is exciting and captured nicely in a few moments, but sadly suffers from a need to focus on the environment for goofy action. The film ended the way it needed to, with great, little moments showing the Skywalker twins and Anakin transforming into Vader. On a different day, I may say Revenge of the Sith should be in the five spot instead of Return of the Jedi, but not today. Gasp all you want, but these films are neck and neck, in my opinion. Here's why…

5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The picture above brings back a flood of awesome memories from Return of the Jedi. Luke, Vader, and the Emperor are electrifying. I didn't want those scenes to end, but they did, and Lucas and company knocked them out of the park. I couldn't think of a better way to conclude this saga. The redemption of Vader is beautifully told, unlike the rest of the film. Yes, I love the visualization of Jabba's Palace and Endor as a battleground, but even as a little lad, I had issues with the events at hand. The Rebels send their top brass into Jabba's Palace one by one to save Han Solo…really? Why not send a trained assassin instead of Leia? As much as I love the idea of Ewoks eating humans for lunch, they took the punch out of the final battle. The Empire looked silly going against them. It was almost like two movies were playing at once; a dark story on the Death Star, and a goofy one on the moon. People say Lucas lost his touch of Star Wars with the prequels, but I think it started in Return.

4. Episode VII: The Force Awakens

I loved The Force Awakens. Loooooved it. Sure, we can criticize it for having a similar story arc to A New Hope. J. J. Abrams went too far with the love-letter approach. Most of the content that doesn't fall under that umbrella is new, exciting, and damn good. Rey, Finn, Poe…what an ensemble! Each brings something different to Star Wars. I'm also a huge fan of Kylo Ren and Snoke. They specialize in a different kind of evil, and I can't wait to see where it goes. The Force Awakens is a film I periodically reflect on, mostly because it brings mystery back to Star Wars. Who are Rey's parents? What is Snoke up to? Why did Luke leave? Even side characters like Maz Kanata are brimming with intrigue. Remove the Starkiller Base angle, and that feeling of "I've been here before" would largely be gone.

3. Episode ?: Rogue One

I know, I'm just as surprised as you are. When I first heard Lucasfilm was making a prequel movie about the Rebels who stole the Death Star plans, I thought it was a terrible idea. Although the story ends exactly how we all expected it would, director Gareth Edwards turns it into an enthralling and action-packed affair. The battle scenes are intense, dark, and exactly what I wanted to see as a huge Star Wars fan. Lose the camp. Make the battles have impact, just like the Battle of Hoth. Edwards nailed this tone. Rogue One is a fine story on its own, with a wonderful cast of characters, but its biggest success is how it makes me appreciate A New Hope more. I also view that film differently now. Rogue One doesn't shy away from painting the Rebels as terrorists capable of evil acts. The only thing I would change: Pull the camera back from the CG characters. They looked like they belonged in Shrek more than Star Wars.



2. Episode IV: A New Hope

Should A New Hope be number one? I debate this question all of the time. When it comes to stories that embrace good-versus-evil or David-versus-Goliath tones, A New Hope is a towering success. You can't help but root for Luke and the Rebel Alliance. Within the first act, Lucas did a phenomenal job of establishing evil, and making it seem like all was lost. Our only hope was a farm boy, an old man, a princess, and a scoundrel and his wookiee friend. Vader emerged as the ultimate bad guy, using a mystical art with precision to kill his enemies and even his own people. The journey that unfolded was exciting and unique, and filled with suspense and unexpected surprises. It's the perfect film that somehow was bested by a film that wasn't quite as good.

1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

That's right, The Empire Strikes Back is worse than A New Hope, but is still the best Star Wars film to date. How is this possible? The storytelling evolved. What began as a tale of hope turned into a story of no hope. Lucas flipped the script on his heroes, but still managed to grow them as characters. Luke went off on his own to explore a gift from his father. Leia and Han began falling in love. The biggest change of all, Lucas humanized Darth Vader with one line of dialogue: "I am your father." The Empires Strikes Back kicked off with an exciting battle on Hoth, but slowed significantly to develop its characters. It wasn't as high octane or as much of a spectacle as its predecessor, but the decision to change the tone payed off handsomely, making The Empire Strikes Back a masterpiece, the kind of which we rarely see.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Rogue One, Avatar, Star Trek Discovery, Guardians Of The Galaxy

Two days. That's all I have to wait until I return to my favorite universe. Two days until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters. A few of my friends attended the world premiere last weekend, and immediately texted me with praise for the film, going as far to say "you should be really REALLY excited." Film critics are not so bullish on it, delivering mixed reviews equating to an early 79 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. My friends, however, say that it will make me appreciate Star Wars: A New Hope more, and that I should pay close attention to the quieter moments for a couple of clever cameos and ties to other Star Wars stories. They say it's  a love letter to fans of the original trilogy. In previous columns and podcasts, I've voiced my concern over Disney turning Star Wars into an annual franchise. I know George Lucas dragged it through the mud with the prequels, but there's a chance Star Wars can be something special again. Yearly releases may be overkill. Then again, every Marvel film turns to gold, and I could see the same thing happening with Star Wars.

Rogue One is obviously the big talker this week. I would tread on the Internet cautiously, as spoilers will be everywhere. Yes, it sounds like there are some huge unexpected moments in this film, and it's more than just a story about how the rebels obtained the Death Star plans. If you want to know a little more about what to expect, but don't want anything big ruined for you, check out the two "making of" videos below, which give us a look at a location, the tone, as well as a new character I couldn't be more excited about.

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In terms of video game news, there isn't anything notable to report this week, other than Star Wars Battlefront's Rogue One: VR Mission, which you can play for free if you already own Battlefront and PlayStation VR. If you want to watch me live out a dream (and make a damn fool of myself), I play through the entire mission with Kyle Hilliard, who provides insight into the game, and perfectly timed nervous laughs as I geek out far too much. The mission is quite cool, and I hope it ends up being the proof of concept needed to get a full game off of the ground. We desperately need a new X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter game, and I think this experience could be it (both for VR and standard gaming).

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Star Trek, the other big science-fiction universe that isn't nearly as cool as Star Wars, is picking up steam. The forthcoming Star Trek Discovery television series is casting up a storm, including three actors signing on to play Klingons. Chris Obi will play a character named T'Kuvma, the Klingon leader. Mary Chieffo is going to be L'Rell, a battle deck commander for a Klingon vessel. Shazad Latif rounds out the casting as Kol, the commanding officer. These actors join Doug Jones, who plays a science officer named Saru, who is said to be a new alien in the Star Trek universe, and fellow science officer Staments, played by Anthony Rapp. Stamets is the first Star Trek character to be announced as gay. The lead actor in this show has not yet been announced, but we do know it will be the lientenant commander aboard the Discovery. That's right, the main perspective will not be from a captain. The first episode of Star Trek Discovery will air on CBS on May 17. The first season consists of 13 episodes.

James Cameron has said he wants to make a billion more Avatar movies, and although production on the first sequel has been underway for a while, we still haven't seen anything from it. That isn't stopping the world from wanting more, however. Disney's Animal Kingdom park will soon be getting a Pandora: The World of Avatar section, and Taipei, Taiwan just opened a new Avatar: Discover Pandora exhibit. You can watch the exhibit come to life in the video below, which even suggest that it will change the way you look at your own world. Oh boy. I enjoyed Avatar for what it was, but come on. It's not a life-changing thing. Not even close.

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Guardians of the Galaxy fans have plenty of reasos to rejoice. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 on the way next year, Vin Diesel teased a potential third film. In an interview with Screen Junkies News, he mentioned the idea of a post-Infinity War film that focuses on Groot (his character) and Rocket. "if it’s up to James Gunn, you are going to see a
Groot and Rocket movie after Infinity War," he said. "I think that’s highly possible." He also teased a Groot versus Hulk battle in a future movie.

If you already saw the War of the Planet of the Apes trailer, be sure to check out the first international trailer below for new footage. It's a shorter look, but the focus is much different.

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That's it for this week, folks. Here's hoping we have more science-fiction game news in the days ahead. It's been quiet. Too quiet. I know the video game industry is closing down for the holidays, but we still need to know what's coming next.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Plants Vs. Zombies Heroes Adds Weekly Events And Holiday Content

The collectible card game starring PopCap's massive Plants vs. Zombies franchise has introduced weekly events. Plants vs. Zombies Heroes players can now take on weekly in-game events in both single- and multiplayer matches to unlock a new card each week.

As players win matches, they earn tickets, which can be redeemed for new cards. Winning in single-player earns you 10 tickets, while a multiplayer victory nets you 15. If you don't earn enough tickets to unlock that week's card, you can pay for the rest using the game's gem currency. This seems like a likely solution, as the current card for this week's challenge costs 2,000 tickets (or 500 gems). Players can use the featured Hero class of the week to boost the number of tickets earned.

To add to the content drop today, Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is getting in the mood for the holiday season with new Feastivus packs and an all-new card. The Jolly Holly card is an amphibious member of the smarty class with the effect of freezing zombies next door when played. The Jolly Holly is included in the Feastivus Bundle and the Feastivus Mega Bundle. The former includes a Valkyrie, a Winter Squash, and 15 additional cards, while the latter packs in four Feastivus Bundles plus a bonus Kernel Corn. Each Feastivus Bundle costs $ 4.99, while a Feastivus Mega Bundle is $ 19.99.

To learn more about the events system, including tips from the developers, head over to the Plants vs. Zombies Heroes blog.

 

Our Take
In the crowded space that is the CCG section of the App Store, it takes a lot to stand out. Weekly events and new content is always gives players an excuse to drop in and pour some time into a game, so this is a good start for PvZ Heroes. I liked the game when it first launched, so this is good incentive for me to add it back into my rotation of daily games to check in with on my phone. That said, the price for the weekly event card is super high as it stands now. Here's hoping that gets adjusted.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Dreadnought, Prey, Transformers: The Last Knight

I attended PlayStation Experience this past weekend, and had the opportunity to play a 5v5 match of Dreadnought running on PlayStation 4. Dreadnought was announced way back in 2014 as a PC exclusive, but like a starship firing up its engines for liftoff, it took a considerable amount of time to come together, and didn't hit beta status until April of this year. The official release date for both the PC and PlayStation 4 versions remains a murky "2017," but after just one match, I can confidently say you want to put this one on your radar. Dreadnought is doing something different in the multiplayer space, and could be a nice palate cleanser next year.

When I was waiting for my match to begin, a sense of dread washed over me, as I watched another group of players battle it out. From afar, the game looked incredibly boring. The starships were barely moving, and I couldn't decipher many strategies being deployed other than firing swarms of missiles. It looked like a game picking away at health meters and hoping your salvo hit truer than your enemies'.

When it was my turn to play, that feeling of dread intensified in the opening seconds of play. Of the five ships available for play (many more will be available in the final game), I picked the largest one, the Monarch, I believe. It looked the closest to a Star Destroyer from Star Wars, and, well, I think many of us has had the fantasy of standing at its helm.


The first shot of gameplay is quite cool, and does a nice job of establishing Dreadnought's immense sense of scale. All five of my team's starships are sitting stationary close to a planet's surface. Much like any multiplayer shooter, our first task is to move onto the battlefield to engage the enemy. The hulking ships are slow to move, but the roaring sound of the engines is awesome, as is the colorful blast of energy that propels the ships forward. The terrain is mountainous, shades of vibrant whites and greys, with some kind of base positioned within one of the mountains. A representative on hand from developer Yager tells me to stay low or suffer the consequences. Our brigade flies low over a mountain, almost looking like snakes scurrying up a hill.

Our faster vessels, which include a smaller unit that looks something like a Millennium Falcon, is the first over the peak, a move that is signaled by a series of flashes on the horizon – a few enemies with eager trigger fingers have opened fire upon the vessel. I have no option in joining the fight at this point, given just how slow my starship is. From my viewpoint, I see the opening exchanges of the battle unfold, and it's an impressive sight. Two of our starships, which fall into the destroyer class, are living up to their namesake, and are unloading volleys of rockets at the enemy. The trails of fire and smoke are impressive, as are the ripples of explosions on the enemy hulls on the receiving end. Both ships sustain damage, which appears to be quickly fixed by another smaller vessel that is shooting a green beam to heal them.

My first contribution to the war efforts, which is to be the first team to 100 points, borders on near disaster. I get caught in a bad spot between two enemy vessels, and maneuver the wrong way at first, trying to spin to the left when I should have gone right to get behind the cover of a mountain. I take on significant damage, and the Yager employee watching over my shoulder, laughs, and then yells "shields up!" He tells me that I just need to swipe right on the PlayStation 4's touch pad. I do this and an energy wave passes over my ship, I lose a considerable amount of energy (which replenishes over time) in the effort, but it saves my vessel, and gives me the time I need to finish my evasive maneuvering.


I then catch one of my attackers in a similarly awkward movement phase, and light him up, first with my standard rockets, which are initiated by holding LT to lock on and RT to fire, and then a huge rocket salvo with one of my special attacks mapped to the face buttons. The game's controls are incredibly intuitive, giving the feeling you are manning many stations on a starships bridge at once. Shields, more power to engines, and round after round of ammunition can all be fired off with just one click of a button. Basic movement is handled on the analog sticks, and rising and descending are mapped to R1 and L1, meaning you can quickly descend should you want to duck behind cover, something I did often.

I quickly got into a groove, and found it to be an immensely satisfying multiplayer experience. Our match lasted about 15 minutes, we won by a good 40, and I put up a respectable eight kills with just one death. It feels great to watch a huge enemy ship explode under the weight of your awesome arsenal. The question that looms is: Does this type of multiplayer experience have legs? I had a blast manning a starship in one multiplayer match, but is this something that will be as fun as controlling a foot soldier in a Call of Duty or Battlefield game? If Yager and co-developer Six Foot can add variety and systems that bring longevity, Dreadnought could be something special. Time will tell. The project of customizing my own starship with weapons and vanity items (which will be in the game) is a promising start.

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Now that I've buttered you up with something good, let's take a look at the first trailer for Michael Bay's forthcoming film Transfomers: The Last Knight. Don't blink when you watch it! Soak it all in. Doesn't look too bad, does it? I was impressed with the trailer, but it doesn't sync up with the report that a good portion of the film will take place in Camelot with King Arthur and Merlin protecting an artifact. Perhaps that story will just be used as backstory, as will be the quick shot we see of World War II. If that's the case, I have a better feeling about this film. I haven't enjoyed much of this series, outside of the opening moments from the FIRST Transformers film, but maybe they can get it back on track. Maybe.

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And I know we're bombarded you with Prey coverage, but you absolutely need to check out the nine minute demo to see why we think this game is a great candidate for a Game Informer cover. The game looks like it's going to be good fun, allowing players to experiment with a wild range of weapons as they combat an even wilder threat.

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That's going to do it for this week's Science-Fiction Weekly. It's a light week on content, but it's filled with two exciting things (and something else from Michael Bay). I'll be back in seven days with the beginning of my end of the year coverage for science-fiction gaming. I hope to see you then.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Assassin’s Creed, No Man’s Sky, Rogue One, Dawn of Andromeda

My friends in Hollywood are convinced Assassin's Creed will be THE difference maker for video game movies. They say that it's tracking remarkably well, and could be the springboard release that sets up a promising future for video games on the silver screen. I told them that one successful film won't change anything. Game stories are markedly different than movie stories, and with the exceptions of Assassin's Creed, BioShock, or a handful of other games, I don't see that many options resonating well as films, unless the source material is dramatically altered. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but regardless of how Assassin's Creed turns out, I will continue to utter the Star Wars line "I have a bad feeling about this," whenever I hear of games like Portal or Watch Dogs getting optioned for film.

My two cents aside, 20th Century Fox released a new video focused specifically on Assassin's Creed's science-fiction elements. The short clip highlights Michael Fassbender's exceptional acting skills, but mostly shows how different the Animus is when stacked up against its video game counterpart, which was basically a glorified operating table or chair. The new Animus looks to connect directly to the central nervous system, and allows for full freedom of movement, meaning we'll see Fassbender's character, Callum Lynch, actually perform the same moves of his Spanish ancestor, the assassin Aguilar de Nerha. The new Animus is a silly looking device, but it makes sense to a degree. We'll likely see Lynch act out all of the moves of his primogenitor. Let's just hope he doesn't make love to anyone. Actually, I'm not sure if that action would clear out the theater or sell more tickets. Assassin's Creed opens in theaters on December 21, and is directed by Justin Kurzel. 

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In the week leading up to this release, you had best be heading to your local cinema to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is a friendly reminder that tickets went on sale two days ago, so if you want to see it on day one (which is actually December 15, starting at 7 p.m.) you had best order them now. I sadly didn't get into the first showing, but will be seeing it just a half hour later at 7:30. Even if you don't have interest in Rogue One, I think you'll get a kick out of the latest teaser video, which is synced up to Darth Vader's iconic breathing. The scream at the end of it gave me shivers. Enjoy! This is one of the coolest Star Wars trailers yet.

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And here's your obligatory SPOILER warning about Star Wars: Episode VIII. Take this with a grain of salt, but rumor has it a line of Luke Skywalker dialogue from the forthcoming film has leaked. Well-known Star Wars news guru, Mike Zeroh, says that numerous sources have confirmed it to be true, but he's still looking for more concrete backing. At one point in the film, Luke supposedly tells Rey "you contain the spark that will rekindle the fire." Mark Hamill, who reprises his role as Luke Skywalker, has previously said that Episode VIII is loaded with great dialogue that he could see turned into t-shirts. I wouldn't necessarily say this is a fantastic line; it's a bit clichéd, but it does get me excited for Rey's potential, and it does sound like something Luke would say. Time will tell on this one. The line is supposedly going to be spoken during the first trailer, which is rumored to hit early next year.

If you enjoyed the recent Ghostbusters reboot by Paul Feig, the odds of seeing a direct sequel are slim, but it sounds like the property's flame continues to burn bright. In an interview on the Mr. Wavy podcast, Ivan Reitman says that we can expect plenty of news in the coming years. “There’s going to be many other Ghostbusters movies, they’re just in development right now," he said. I would love to see Reitman at the helm again, but that might be as much of a stretch as getting a sequel with Jillian Holtzmann and company again.

The only gaming news this week is actually quite huge. No Man's Sky, the most talked about and complained about game of the year, received a significant upgrade this week. Hello Games quietly ushered in update 1.1, also known as "Foundation." From the outset of play, players can now enter two new modes: Survival, a more challenging experience, and Creative, an avenue of play that provides unlimited resources and no building costs. Even if you are continuing your current game, new building options are available in this update. You can build save points, farm over a dozen new elements, and even claim a home planet where you can build a base. Hello Games has added more variety to the planet types, which now include locations devoid of life, such as moons. The base can be outfitted with bio-dependent crops that replenish over time, and you can recruit aliens to help out with farming, engineering, or other needs. The base can be expanded upon, customized, and tinkered with whenever you return home (and if you have the needed resources). The update offers a wealth of new content, making No Man's Sky a more robust experience. Is that enough to get you to come back? I'm going to give it another shot after the holiday blitz of new releases comes to an end, but I'm still wary of the mission path and what lies at the center of the universe. That breadcrumb trail doesn't interest me at all. The video below does a nice job of detailing the improvements in the patch.

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It turns out Mass Effect isn't the only game exploring the Andromeda galaxy. Dawn of Andromeda, a new 4x game from Iceberg Interactive, launches on Steam on December 1. In a twist, the game's story doesn't focus on mankind exploring a new galaxy, but rather its original home. That's right, Andromeda is where mankind originated in this game. We're returning to reclaim it. The game features a mix of pre-designed and randomly generated races, complete with unpredictable A.I., giving each playthough a unique taste. Players can also play as any faction, each offering different victory conditions and paths through the galaxy. The game weighs heavily on the expand and exterminate elements of 4x gaming. Diplomacy systems, technology upgrades, and a wealth of governing options are available. You can even bring in A.I. to help govern the micromanaging of specific systems. The trailer below sets the stage for the adventure that hits in just a couple of days.

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And that's it for me this week. Thanks again for the support on the column, and please let me know if there are any games you want me to investigate further. I'll be at PlayStation Experience this week, and should have a report card on the upcoming science-fiction gaming for PlayStation 4 next Tuesday.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Kong: Skull Island, Y: The Last Man, The Last Of Us, Terminator

One of my favorite holidays is just a few days away. No, I'm not talking about the wonderfully gluttonous Thanksgiving. I love shopping, and there's no better day to do that than on Black Friday. I don't wake up at the crack of dawn to track down "door buster" bargains; I'm more in the market for dirt cheap Blu-Ray movies and television shows. The crowds and lines have never been that bad in my neck of the woods, and I've never run into shortages on items I want to pick up. For the first time this year, I haven't looked in advance at ads to see what I may want to purchase. I'm going in blind, and my excitement levels are through the roof. I know this is a random aside for my Science-Fiction Weekly column, but it could be a primer for next week's discussion if I happen to pick up a few science-fiction movies or shows. It's also a nice reminder that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are imminent. Get your food, and don't buy a lot of stuff for the chance of getting it cheaper this weekend.

It's a relatively quiet week for science fiction in video games, but we did see the release of three games for PlayStation VR. The big one, Robinson: The Journey, didn't deliver the intense land of the lost experience we were hoping for. Game Informer's Joe Juba gave the game a poor review, stating that it "is just a linear tour of the world with no meaningful
deviations and barely functional controls, all for the dubious benefit
of seeing some cool VR dinosaurs." He scored it a paltry 5 out of 10.

The first episode of Space Rift is also readily available for PlayStation VR and Steam. Due to most of my time going to my Final Fantasy XV review (hitting next Monday), I didn't have time to dedicate to this space adventure, but I will get to it next week if you want hands-on impressions. Just let me know in the comments section below. The game is developed by BitComposer, and mixes space combat with resource mining. You can get a look at over an hour of footage from the first episode in the video below.

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The last game release to mention is Time Machine VR, out now for PlayStation VR, Vive, Oculus Rift, and Steam. Again, I haven't had a chance to get my hands (or face) on this one yet, but I like what I'm seeing in the trailer. We don't get a good idea of how the game plays from the footage, but we do see giant, prehistoric sea creature eating things, and, well, you can't really top that. Check it out for yourself, and the same question applies: If you want to know more, let me know and I'll dive into it (almost literally) next week.

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Now it's time to smack your senses around with an array of crazy movie, television show, and comic book news. If you're a fan of Green Lantern, the super hero who shoots green apparitions out of a ring, you won't like what I'm about to say. He's the centerpiece in a new crossover event that I can't for the life of me wrap my brain around. He's going to meet Cornelius, the primate, in a Green Lantern/Planet of the Apes comic book series event. If the cover art can be believed, Cornelius becomes a Green Lantern. The first issue hits store shelves on February 1 and is published by Boom.

I know Green Lantern/Planet of the Apes sounds like a disaster in the making, but I can't wait to check out the first issue. I have to know how the hell these wildly different dots connect. In less bats— crazy news, Dark Horse Comics is just released Halo: Tales from Slipspace, a 128-page graphic novel that collects all new short stories from over a dozen writers including 343 Industries' Frank O’Connor, who was once a game critic.

German filmmaker Bruce Stirling John Knox (yes, that's his full name) put together a cool pitch video for an animated Terminator film and shared it on YouTube to try to generate enthusiasm. I don't see this project getting off of the ground, but it is an interesting idea for a new Terminator story. Knox's 3:00 tease is titled "Extermination." You can watch all of it below.

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Speaking of the end of days, The Last of Us' theatrical adaptation appears to be deep in development hell. In an interview with IGN, famed director Sam Raimi says he doesn't know what is going on with the film, and makes it sound like Sony is at odds with Neil Druckmann, the director of The Last of Us video game. "Right now it's just sitting there. They
don't want to move forward, and it's not my place to say why, and Neil, I
think, is in a slight disagreement with them about how things should go
so there's a standstill. And I don't have the power to move it. Yes, I'm attached to it. I'm not too sure what that means," Raimi said.

Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant Y: The Last Man comic book series appears to be in good shape for a FX-produced television series. The Hollywood Reporter says Vaughan is actively working on a treatment with Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville) for the network. Before the show hits, I strongly urge you to read the comic book series first. It's one of the all-time greats for the medium, and shares many thematic traits to The Walking Dead.

In movie news, I'm sure you heard that Emilia Clarke has joined the Han Solo standalone film, directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and starring Alden Ehrenreich as the smuggler of note. We don't know what role Clarke will be in, or how big it will be, but I think we all agree that adding the Mother of Dragons to this story is a good thing. This yet-to-be-named film is due out in 2018.

I'll leave you today with two new looks at films I can't wait to see for very different reasons. The first is the second official trailer for Kong: Skull Island, which at last gives us a taste of the creatures that inhabit this strange land. The second is behind-the-scenes footage from Transformers: The Last Knight. Don't expect to see too many giant robots in this Michael Bay movie, just King Arthur and his troops. Ugh. I don't even want to think about how this story is going to unfold.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Arrival, Pacific Rim, Astroneer, Rogue One

Home theaters are relatively cheap, and are increasingly becoming the place where people view movies. I am one of those people. I tend to see most films with my wife, and we've found it's more cost-effective and comfortable to view a movie at home than the theater. Granted, we have to wait four to six months for films to come to Blu-Ray or UHD, but we are in no rush to see the majority of releases. The only exceptions we've made are for Star Wars and Marvel – we see those on day one, mostly out of excitement, but also from the fear of having them spoiled.

If you still love the theater experience, or have hermitized it like I have, you need to see Arrival on the biggest screen possible. This is one of those films that pulls you in visually and aurally, and benefits from high-end setups. I don't think a 50-inch screen with a soundbar will cut it, and whatever you do, don't watch this on an airplane or on a tablet or phone. Go as big and noisy as you can. I don't often give this advice, but like the great Contact before it, I strongly believe the theater is the way to go for the first viewing of Arrival.

I probably don't need to say this now, but yes, Arrival is a remarkable science-fiction story. I know I'm a terrible critic when I say I don't want to tell you anything about it, but like The Sixth Sense or any good mystery, the less you know the better. What I can tell you is this isn't just another "first contact" story. Director Denis Villeneuve wants you to think about issues in the real world as much as the prospect of meeting aliens for the first time. Near the end of the film, I became distracted by thoughts of my wife and daughter, but I was also clinging to my seat, hoping everything turned out well for the people on the silver screen. Amy Adams delivers a powerful and emotional performance as Dr. Louise Banks, a talented linguist called in by the government to try to communicate with the aliens. They arrived, their ships are scattered across the globe, but no one knows why they are here. Adams, with the help of scientist Ian Donnelly (played wonderfully by Jeremy Renner), must answer that question before the military (and China) act against the visitors.

The pacing is slow, and much of our time is spent looking through a murky window at aliens silhouettes, wondering what they want and look like. As uneventful as this sounds, the revelations to these questions are immensely satisfying (I even mouthed "Oh my God" to my wife twice during the film). Arrival makes you question the fear of the unknown, what life means to you, and even bigger questions that I can't go into without spoiling the entire story. See it on the big screen with as many friends as you can. You'll want to discuss it immediately after the credits roll.

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On to games! We are just one month away from the Early Access release of System Era Softworks' PC title, Astroneer. Described by the development team as a "game of aerospace industry and interplanetary exploration," Astroneer is a resource-gathering experience that allows numerous players to work together to terraform and mine a planet, all for the sake of fortune.

The video above is a lengthy developer playthrough of Astroneer. The game's official site details the drive for resources in the far reaches of space: "The sudden development of technology for rapid space travel
enables fast and inexpensive journeys to the stars. Exo Dynamics, the
dominant conglomerate in the new field, has opened flights to daring
citizens of Earth. Like the Yukon gold rush of old, waves of adventurers
sign up to launch themselves into a new frontier, risking everything to
seek their fortune in the far reaches of the galaxy. These are the
Astroneers.



As an Astroneer, you must find a way to dig out a life on one
of a multitude of harsh new worlds. Blast through the terrain to
uncover precious artifacts and materials you can use to fuel your quest
to become a wealthy baron in the stars. Along the way, discover
oddities, raise questions, and uncover mysteries.

Perhaps not all is as it seems."

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Later today I'm jumping into Planet Explorers, a new open-world sandbox game that just launched on Steam. This is another game that gives players the power to alter the terrain, create objects, and customize just about everything in the world – including the characters. The launch trailer above sets the tone and also provides snapshots of the combat mechanics, which look a little worrisome. I'll hopefully have more on this title in the week to come.

For those of you asking about my progress through Exile's End (which I just started playing a few weeks ago), I've vested another couple of hours into this sidescrolling Xbox One title, and sadly won't be revisiting it again. It falls apart quickly, and the satisfying exploration vibe is replaced with mindless running and gunning. Give it a hard pass.

If you're counting down the days until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which I assume all cool people are doing), run to your bookstore to pick up Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. I'm halfway through it, and can happily report that it isn't an ambiguous side story with a loose connection to the forthcoming film; it's a legitimate prequel that follows many of the major players. Orson Krennic, the Emperor's latest puppet, is front and center, as is Grand Moff Tarkin. I wondered if Tarkin would be in the film, and it looks like he may be. Both of these established Imperial officers are heavily tied to the creation of the Death Star, which the book details intricately. We also learn about the Erso family. Jyn, her mother Lyra, and Galen (the father of the Death Star) are interesting and different characters than we've seen in Star Wars before. Again, run to the store to get it. I haven't been this pleased with a Star Wars book in a long, long time.

I'll leave you today with some tantalizing movie and television show news. Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim sequel is stomping its way into development, and is now called Pacific Rim: Maelstrom. The film hits theaters on February 23, 2018 and stars John Boyega, who is fast becoming THE face of science fiction. Another lovable giant is returning. Big Hero 6 won't hit theaters, but will instead be a new ongoing animated series, with most of the film's voice actors reprising their roles. No official date has been given for the Big Hero 6 revival, but it is due out in 2017.

Michael Bay's giants are also coming back in a way I didn't expect. After next year's Transformers: The Last Knight, which supposedly brings the Robots in Disguise to King Arthur's court, Paramount is making a spinoff movie for Bumblebee. The current release plan is simply 2018, perhaps hinting at Transformers becoming an annualized property. This spinoff sounds like a terrible idea…that will likely make a billion dollars in the box office.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like a film that won't make nearly that much. Valerian's first trailer is…well…I can't really make out what type of story it's trying to tell. I know it's based on a comic book series, but…hmmm…it looks like a mix between The Fifth Element, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and any terrible film starring Taylor Kitsch. What's your take on it? Watch at your own risk.

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