Slowly, Yoda nodded. “A very great Jedi Master you have become, Qui-Gon Jinn. A very great Jedi Master you always were, but too blind I was to see it.”
He rose, and folded his hands before him, and inclined his head in the Jedi bow of respect.
The bow of the student, in the presence of the Master.
Revenge of the Sith novelization, by Matthew Stover
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn appeared in only one Star Wars film, but few characters have had such a profound influence on the direction of the story. For a generation of fans, including myself, he was the mentor, our old Ben Kenobi. Liam Neeson’s return to the role in The Clone Wars was, for me, the highlight of the series: I had been desperately disappointed in 2005 when Neeson’s lines were cut from Revenge of the Sith, but the two TCW story arcs involving Qui-Gon made up for that and then some.
Qui-Gon’s role has also been mildly controversial. Some lay the blame for everything bad that happens – from Anakin’s fall to the rise of the Empire – at his door. Others argue that the character should never have been included at all, and that Obi-Wan should have discovered Anakin Skywalker himself.
For me, though, not only is Qui-Gon the definitive Jedi, he is also crucial to our understanding of what they are, and what they should be. His philosophy and quietly rebellious nature is inspirational, and by exploring his relationship with the Jedi Council, we can learn everything we need to know about the Order and its mistakes. Read More
Let me get the obligatory “statement” out of the way. I love Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. The Big Three, along with loyal Chewbacca, dashing Lando Calrissian, and the lovable duo of C-3PO and R2-D2 are the core of the Original Trilogy. The annoucement that many of these characters (minus Lando, at least for now) were returning for Episode VII was positively received by both fans and the media. Like I said, we all love the main characters of the Star Wars Original Trilogy.
But some of us love other characters more.
Sacrilegious as it sounds, many fans are equally passionate about the movie’s minor or background characters. Admiral Ackbar (full disclosure, this author’s favorite character), Boba Fett, General Veers, Mon Mothma, and Admiral Piett are all examples of very popular characters. Some had true supporting roles (Ackbar, Piett), while others either just mostly stood there (Boba Fett) or had one scene (Mon Mothma). Many of these characters owe their increased popularity to the old Expanded Universe, recently rebranded as “Legends”. But, when it comes to supporting characters who are wildly popular, and spawned comics, books, and games, one man stands head and shoulders above the rest (sorry Boba Fett, you don’t get any love in my article).
My fellow ETE writer and friend across the pond, Ben Crofts, recently wrote a fantastic article praising the Empire’s iconic and menacing Star Destroyers. The Star Destroyer certainly is famous and its place in the opening scene of A New Hope has forever secured its place in cinematic history, but there is a lovelier belle at the ball. She has curves where it counts and it is the best damned looking warship in the Original Trilogy. Who is this lovely lady, you ask?
The Mon Calamari Star Cruiser.
Move over, Star Destroyer, ’cause this gal can catch more second glances than a Twi’lek dancer in Jabba’s palace. No longer are Rebel forces stuck going into battle in rusty old blockade runners or secondhand frigates. They need not be self-conscious of their 20 year old Y-wings or repurposed Separatist ships. Now, for the first time, they have a capital ship capable of going toe to toe with the Empire’s Star Destroyers.
Surely, you say to yourself, Nick must be speaking in jest. No friends, I am being honest. The Mon Cal cruiser is the bee’s knees. Just look at the two primary exemplars of their class, the cylindrical Home One and the winged Liberty. With her graceful lines, bluish hull, and powerful curves, Home One and her sister ships served the Alliance well and helped deliver the knockout blow that put down Vader’s Super Star Destroyer at Endor. The Liberty and her sexy, carefree winged hull form was
designed, so I am told by retired Mon Cal engineers, to lull Imperials into a false sense of security, only to fall prey to her deadly wiles. So scared was the Emperor of these winged wonders that he took a break from taunting Luke to tell the Death Star’s commanders to take her out, lest his forces surrender immediately!
Alright, I have had my fun at the expense of those boring Kuati wedge ships. Backbone of the Alliance Navy and pride of the Mon Calamari, the Mon Cal cruiser is the culmination, from a visual standpoint, of all the progress and growth that the Rebellion made from its early victory at Yavin to the climactic space battle over the forest moon of Endor. When fans were introduced to the Rebels in ANH, they had a handful of snubfighters to throw against the Empire’s mighty Death Star. By the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel Fleet is depicted as collection of transports, smaller craft, and a Rebel cruiser converted into a Medical Frigate. After the loss of Hoth, the last shot we see of the Rebellion is a ragtag bunch of freedom fighters hiding at the edge of the galaxy. All seemed lost.
Enter Return of the Jedi and the best damned fleet shot in the entire movie. Fans, just getting over learning that Leia is Luke’s sister and listening to Obi-wan warn Like about the powers of the Empire, are treated to an awe-inspiring and majestic shot.
The Rebel Fleet, led by the impressive bulk of Home One, flagship of Admiral Ackbar. As the massive Star Cruiser glides across the screen from left to right, tiny X-wings dart across the screen, while other assorted Rebel warships flank the admiral’s cruiser. For the first time in three movies, the Rebels are shown to have the firepower needed to tackle the Imperial fleet head on. They will have their work cut out for them, they will suffer some significant losses, but ultimately the Rebels and their Star Cruisers will beat the Empire’s best and go on to lead the charge in liberating the galaxy.
Ultimately, the question of whether the Mon Cal cruiser is better or worse than the Star Destroyer is a discussion that Fleet Junkies around the world have debated (and no doubt will continue to) for decades. Some will agree with me, others disagree, and yet others will say that the curvy cruisers and their wedge shaped opponents are actually like peas & carrots, best when served together.
Well, I like carrots. Wait, or is it peas? Crap, did I leave my dinner on the stove?
One thing is certain. When Episode VII comes out, I can guarantee you that one of the many awesome ships we see introduced will be the successors to the Mon Cal cruiser. And who knows, maybe even one of those wedge ships too…
If you want to really win over an audience to a space opera, strong design on the starships is essential. So what was Star Wars’ answer? It was this:
This single short sequence is, by itself, of what cinematographic classics are made of! It defined the film by showing something no one had ever seen in incredibly grandiose fashion. If you but think of it, for a moment, a mile-long starship isn’t all that special – the biggest aircraft carriers are around this size! What raises it up into the heavens? Iconic design and inspired cinematography. The term icon tends to get through around a lot but, in the case of Star Destroyers, it is deserved. In terms of shot, there are all manner of ways to shoot that sequence but the way Lucas opted to do it ramps up the size and imbalance of the contest – there’s the small fleeing ship dwarfed by this behemoth we’ve just seen in its full majesty.
It also tells you all you need to know, at this point, about the bad guys – remember, Vader has yet to make his entrance as Villain Numero Uno – they have really big but cool ships. Lucas is aware of this so the rebels get the Falcon and X-Wings, but come on, given the choice, which would you go around the galaxy in? If you’re a hotshot driver, you go for the X-Wing; if you like fixing cars, it’s the Falcon, the safe option? Mile-long mobile fortress, with squadrons of TIEs and AT-ATs and able to slag any planet you don’t like.
Yet, at the same time, you know it wouldn’t feel right. For all you can say it’s just a pile of tech, there’s something malign in the aesthetics of a Star Destroyer. A bit too big, a bit too hulking, a bit too brute force, oh it’s seductive, but why does it need to be? Because at heart it’s a really ugly bastard! In this respect, the design is a clear invoking of the technology of Nazi Germany, who made some of the most lethal tanks of World War Two. Just as a TIE fighter can be seen as a future Stuka, complete with scream, so is a Star Destroyer a tank in space.
Arguably one of the reasons for why 2001’s Gamecube sold as well as it did was Star Wars. That system had one of the all-time great Star Wars games – Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. What players found was, in addition to letting you blow up the Death Star in truly spectacular fashion, you also got to take on a Star Destroyer – and it proved to be a most lethal beastie indeed. After taking it on, most players had more respect for Rebel pilots:
Of course, jump forward a few years and The Empire Strikes Back! The key question for any sequel is how to surpass its predecessor? The answer was to show that the Empire was far from dead! One solution to this is to show a fleet of Star Destroyers! And then go one step further….
What the fuck is that? Come on, it’s easy, it’s a Super Star Destroyer! Size matters, you know? But, all jesting apart – and there have been many, many hours spent on the size of the thing – what the sequence establishes is that it is a behemoth in every sense. The audience saw how big Star Destroyers were in A New Hope, now they’re seeing those massive ships be utterly dwarfed! As a way of conveying the message, with crystal clarity, that the Empire means business, this sequence is perfect.
And before anyone asks, yes, 2003’s Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike on the GameCube did have a couple of Super Star Destroyer levels!
One of my key tests for an artist on a Star Wars comic that has Star Destroyers featuring is how well they do. Some do it passably well, others truly excel – those are the likes of Al Williamson, Cam Kennedy, Steve Crespo, but perhaps the crowning glory of recent years from the comics has to be Brandon Badeaux’s work below:
He then went and followed that up with one of the all-time great fleet battle depictions in the next issue of the series. But, then again, perhaps I should not have been surprised as this was what he did in the first one:
Very recently, it looks like Carlos D’Anda will be joining this elite group for his work on new Star Wars comic with Brian Wood.
Why does all this even matter? Because brilliant design stays in the minds of those who see it. After seeing a Star Wars movie, the audience should be hooked on the characters and what happens to them, but also be spellbound by the world they’ve just been immersed in for two hours. Strong ship aesthetics is a key part of that and, in a way, can be demonstrated by the lack of it in the prequel films – does anyone remember the starships of those films? No? Me neither. Star Destroyers do, therefore, deserve all manner of praise.