May 8, 2008

What About Before The Empire Struck Back?

George Lucas is a hack who ripped off a lot of stories to make him a multibillionaire and has done a lot to piss off the fans he created over the last decade. You know, the folks that made him a multibillionaire?

I'm a fan, yes, but I'm not one of those fans that get orgasmic about everything Star Wars, including the upcoming animated retelling of the Clone Wars.

Yes, it's a retelling of the Clone Wars. The Clone Wars was already told in a microseries that aired on Cartoon Network a few years ago that chronicled the closing moments of Episode II and the opening moments of Episode III. The movie and upcoming series is going to delve into some of the story that the microseries couldn't get into.

Still, The Clone Wars should make for interesting television, but there's a sense of "been there, done that," and after three "prequel" films, the fans have grown weary of the characters.

We know what happened to Anakin Skywalker. We know the Clone Troopers turned on the Jedi Knights and nearly wiped them out. We know Senator Palpatine was Darth Sidious, who became Emperor of the Empire. We know what happened to Padme and who took in her "younglings" afterwards.

But the story is incomplete.

"I get asked all the time, 'What happens after "Return of the Jedi"?,' and there really is no answer for that. The movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and when Luke saves the galaxy and redeems his father, that's where that story ends." - George Lucas, LA Times, May 7, 2008

That's fine and all, and I'm okay with that. Unlike a lot of people, I can get that Lucas wouldn't want to do another three movies nor any non-published versions of the stories beyond the Ewok Onslaught. The books exist and have the characters moving on facing inner conflict and creating a future generation of heroes.

However, there are a pair of plotholes that need to be filled.

I don't think the story of how the Empire grew to become so oppressive and how Darth Vader grew to power has been told. I know there's a live-action Star Wars series in the works, but the main characters who survived Revenge of the Sith aren't going to be in it, nor will the upbringing of the Skywalker twins be discussed or shown. They're largely going to be populated mostly by characters you never heard of. The prelude to A New Hope will probably never be told.

Nobody cares about the new characters. They want Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, R2D2, C-3PO, and, of course, Darth Vader. There's hardly any stories about what happened after the award ceremony and before the Battle of Hoth. Did Luke ever understand what happened and occurred in the Death Star battle? When did Han and Leia find themselves drawn to each other? How did the enigmic Boba Fett, son of Jango, find notoriety in the Empire? How did Darth Vader rise to power to command a new generation of soldiers after the destruction of the Death Star (remember, he was second-in-command and largely a glorified soldier prior to the beginning of Empire)? These are questions that could have easily been answered by a new animated series.

But like Joe Quesada, George Lucas's ego makes him believe that he knows what the audience wants. And apparently, he feels that we want more Clone Wars, despite already seeing it animated prior to Episode III's release and in most of Episode III, and none of what happened between Episode IV and V nor what happens beyond Return of the Jedi.

May 5, 2008

Destined To Die

You know, people get all over me when I say that Time Warner is THE MOST POORLY RAN ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY IN THE WORLD because, at times, I seem to beat the notion into their heads.

While that may be true and the fact that there are a lot of companies with inept executives, no company publicly shows its ineptness more than Time Warner. And no one represents the ineptitude of Time Warner more than its CEO, Jeff Bewkes, a man who is on record of stating that synergy (cooperation between separate units within the same company) is bullscat. Every major decision in the past four years at Time Warner has been largely brainstormed by him and his collective yesmen, from the ouster of Richard Parsons as CEO to the now ill-fated merger of The WB with UPN to the change of direction at Cartoon Network to the downsizing of animation at the company to the combination of "similar" units like Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema which are very similar companies not really.

Recent announcements of the "resignation" of the head of Warner Bros. Animation and the impending sales of Time Warner Cable, a bulk of AOL, and maybe Time, Inc. itself prove that the current management of Time Warner is not only inept, but they're headed for self-destruction.

The fact that Warner Bros. Animation is no longer its own entity is worrisome to say the least. It's theoretically been halved and seen more as a technique rather than a medium. The television side is now essentially a part of Warner Bros. Television and the theatrical side is now a part of Warner Bros. Pictures. If I had my way, this is what I would have done, especially if costcutting and unit unification is what they wanted in the first place (something they've actually done as of late with New Line Cinema, which used to be a separate unit but now a "prestige" brand of Warner Bros. Pictures), and it actually makes sense.

An animation unit that includes the major animation studios of Time Warner, the animation library, a unit responsible for potential content creation, and outlets to broadcast the shows (especially since Cartoon Network is at least pretending to give a damn about animation these days) would be welcome, but alas, sense left the company the moment AOL flashed them a few bucks for a slight majority stake in the company.

Instead, the head of WB Animation was essentially tossed aside, though the writings on the wall was evident when The CW sold the Kids' WB block timeslot to 4Kids Entertainment and cancelled all WB-made shows from the block in one fell swoop. The current CEO of Time Warner has always been an opponent of synergy, so WB Animation and Cartoon Network has been separate in nearly everything and barely worked together. Now, Looney Tunes are nowhere to be seen in a regular form on television in the US for more than 30 minutes a day.

And yes, the new de-facto head of WB Animation is Peter Roth, a former programming head of Saturday morning of ABC just as Michael Eisner (yeah, that Michael Eisner) left. He got the job only to go ahead, as most people in Saturday morning programming did. And since it's already established that animation is a secondary (or maybe even tertiary) part of Mr. Roth's agenda, the only thing I expect will happen is even less thought about it. And I didn't think that was even possible.

It just seems like they got rid of Ms. Judson because they severely limited her position. Aside from Brave and the Bold, there aren't real projects are coming to television in the first place from Warner Bros. Animation. Everything's mostly direct to video. T-Works (which had since been rebranded as the second coming of Kids' WB) is only using library stuff for the most part. Artists had already been canned. Shows have already been outsourced (remember, Johnny Test used to be made by and at WBA). There is no direction at Warner Bros. Animation, and sadly, there is literally no more Warner Bros. Animation.

Soon, there will be no more Time Warner Cable. Time Warner is planning to sell their majority stake in the nation's largest cable provider, who also provides broadband access. The unit's still profitable, but Bewkes feels that it's an awkward unit to hold on to, particularly as a content creator. Didn't hurt Levin, Parsons, and Turner when they were running the company. Theoretically, the selling of Time Warner Cable is the equivalent of those people that feel the need to get rid of a normally healthy limb.

The fact that they're even considering selling Time, Inc. is also self-destructive. I know that print media isn't on everybody's must-read list anymore, but it's still relevant to the rest of the country that isn't hooked on computers. It frustrates me to no end that media companies believe that everybody is connected to a broadband-capable computer. I'm still running on a 56K modem, and I just got that in 2006 (I don't long for the days I was on a 1GB 120 MHz Packard Bell POS with a 28K modem like I was for almost a decade). Also, without the Time brands (including Sports Illustrated, Money, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, and Life), there's no need to call the company Time Warner. It'd be . . . Warner.

Essentially, Warner Communications would be reborn with HBO, Turner Entertainment, half of the CW, a chunk of AOL (they're still selling a bulk of that company to another group), and numerous broadband channels, including the recently reintroduced broadband versions of The WB and Kids' WB and the Turner nets (Jetstream, CN Video, Super Deluxe, and Gametap). The new Warner Bros. Media Company would be born and be less than half the company it used to be almost two decades ago (remember, the company sold off the music and book publishing units a long time ago). Bewkes will be responsible for the destruction of a once-venerable and vibrant entertainment company, but, like all recent leaders, instead of being punished, he'll be rewarded for his ineptitude.

I'm a fan of regime change, and it's time for Bewkes to go. He was the one who put Jamie Kellner in charge of Time Warner when he led the television unit of Time Warner. Bewkes moved up, creeping into the management ladder until everybody that was above him was gone. Bewkes is more about the short-range instead of seeing what the company will look like years, decades from now. He's looking for a legacy, but he doesn't have a creative bone in his body. He's a destructive force. Look at what he has done to Warner Bros. Animation and New Line Cinema. Look at what he's doing to Warner Bros. Pictures.

Lesser men would have been fired by now.