Friday, February 25, 2011

Facebook: The Relevance of Chronology

A few weeks ago Facebook changed a setting on like pages. Something that they do very often. Usually these changes are met with criticism at first; but eventually people learn to adapt to them. Once in while something comes along however that people refuse to adapt to, something that causes more problems than solutions. Facebook in its history has been able to maintain its steady growth as a site by swallowing its pride and changing these maligned "improvements" back or coming up with another change. Yet this time is different. For this time the setting in question has not been changed, even though criticism is mounting every day.

Simply put, companies and organizations can have "accounts" just like people. And these accounts are called pages. They have walls, albums, and the ability to interact just like individuals do. Many times these pages become coordination centers for both non-profits and small businesses. However they have an even greater power than that. By "liking" these pages people "subscribe" to them and allow the pages' posts to show up in their newsfeed along with the posts of their individual friends. In the past few years big companies like Coke and musicians like Lady Gaga have figured out that these pages can be a profitable marketing tool, and Facebook has cashed in on this trend immensely by selling advertisement blocks to these companies where they can prompt people to "like" and subscribe to their pages.

Facebook, individuals, and big and small businesses alike have been in harmony with this type of interaction for its brief history. But recently Facebook changed the settings on these pages' walls. Now the order that one sees posts are not in chronological order of when they are posted, but is determined by a "relevancy algorithm". Even though many people have found this new setting annoying and continue to protest it, Facebook continues to stand by its decision, citing that big companies have not been objectionable to it. And this is why.

Here is the deal. This is how Facebook makes money now. Big companies pay to advertise their pages to get tons of likes and weasel their way into people's newsfeeds. I don't think Lady Gaga or Coke care whether or not their "announcements" are in chronological order on their pages, because who goes to the Coke page to read announcements? The real money is made in the appearance of these promotions in the newsfeed.

In addition to this big companies don't care about what people post on their pages. And because there are thousands of posts each day on large pages' walls, relevancy of the posts does carry more weight than their chronology. And furthermore if someone were to find their way to a big company's wall, it would benefit the company if posts that are more likely to make them money were at the top.

Facebook based this move on feedback from the only companies that it cares about. And those companies are the ones that pay Facebook millions to advertise their pages. But Facebook has forgotten that the only reason these ads are successful is because the site is used primarily for communication and the spread of local information.

Small businesses rely on chronological communication far more than big businesses and thus are being hurt much more because of this move. Even though in the short run Facebook will make money from appeasing big business, ultimately the erosion of small organizations will bring its profits down.

We MUST make Facebook understand that the reason why they are so popular is not because of big business, but because of the tools it gives to allow small groups of people to interact with each-other. If these tools are compromised, the whole site will be compromised, and will rot from the ground up.

If you agree that Facebook needs to be cognizant of the majority of its members' needs, and want to join the movement to advocate at least the OPTION for organizations to control in what order posts on their pages are viewed, please like the Bring Back Chronological Posts page on Facebook and spread the word about this issue amongst your circle of influence.

The day that the "Social Network" successfully oppresses social change, is the day that we will lose our freedom on the internet. Thousands have spoken. The only thing standing in the way of a free and prosperous future is YOUR silence as we lose our ability to make free choices and begin to be controlled by the elite.

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UPDATE: After several weeks of hard work, the supporters of this movement have finally prevailed. Soon after our Facebook page reached 11,000 fans, Facebook added the option to view wall posts in chronological order. I would like to thank everyone who liked the page, changed their profile pictures in protest, and sent messages to Facebook. This proves that a few people with passion for improvement can change the world, as a handful of fan page admins successfully stood up to the largest website on the internet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Thoughts On Star Wars Collecting: I

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This is my first post in a series about Star Wars collecting. Here I will give my opinion about what is on the market now, mention things I look forward to being released in the future, and maybe talk some about my personal collection. But before I begin, I want to tell you a little about my self. There are many types of Star Wars collectors, ranging from kids who pick up a few Hasbro action figures to long time fans who have been acquiring merchandise since 1977. I feel like I fall in the middle. I first became a Star Wars fan as a preschooler during the hype up for the special edition re-releases in the mid 90s and was completely on board for the prequel run. The Phantom Menace was the first movie I saw in theaters, as a kid I enjoyed the prequels and was oblivious to their mixed reviews, and now as a teen I am a huge Clone Wars fan.

As far as my collecting history goes, I started with the Kenner Power of the Force 2 action figure line and the early Star Wars Lego sets. The first Star Wars item I ever owned was the mail-in Han Solo in Stormtrooper disguise Kenner figure. When one of my older cousins noticed I had begun collecting the Kenner line, he was kind enough to give me a handful of Vintage Kenner figures that he had gotten when he was a kid. Over the years I have continued to collect more Lego sets, 12-inch figures, and other miscellaneous items like Happy Meal toys and trading cards, but the Kenner/Hasbro line has become my main focus. As a kid I got my hands on a percentage of the special edition and prequel lines, but did not start collecting the majority of the Hasbro figures released until around 2007.

Now that you know a little about me, here are some notes I have on the current state of collecting...

The Current Hasbro Vintage Line

Through 2006, I rarely completed a Hasbro/Kenner line. But when Hasbro announced that each figure in their Thirtieth Anniversary Collection would include a collectible coin that could be added to a coin album, I was determined to complete the line. In 2008, I proudly placed my sixtieth coin in the book. Over that time I was also delighted with the innovative Comic Pack line that brought fantastic EU characters to plastic. But when Hasbro released the final two waves of the TAC line, I was disappointed that they did not include a coin. Therefore I only collected a few of those figures that caught my eye. However my completionist collecting was rejuvenated later that year by the Build-A-Droid pack-ins in the Legacy line. In an effort to "build" all of the droids I collected every basic figure from that line. But then in 2010 came the Vintage line.

I noticed that long time collectors were ecstatic about the return of the Vintage look for nostalgic reasons. But being a fan who grew up in the 90s and 2000s, I had no reason to feel this way. In fact many things about the Vintage line disappointed me. The basic figures included no pack-ins so I was not motivated to collect each and every figure, and to make matters worse the price went up a few dollars. The full holes that allowed the cards to hang on pegs also required me to remove several figures to get to one at the back of the peg. Because of all of these factors, plus the fact that I already owned many of the characters in the first few waves from previous lines, I have chosen to collect the Vintage line sparingly with only a handful of figures exciting me.

The Hasbro Clone Wars Line

This line is where my collecting lives at this time. I have acquired about 95% of the action figures and own several of the vehicles as well. The thing that excites me about the Clone Wars line is that each and every figure is both new to Star Wars and/or new to plastic. The endless variety of clones continues to entice me to expand my army, and the excellent sculpts of Jedi, Sith, and Bounty Hunters alike beg my attention. However I have had a few minor issues with this fantastic line. The first wave of 2010 was very difficult to find in my area, so I failed to acquire both the Hondo Ohnaka and Aayla Secura basic figures. But I was excited to learn that Ohnaka would be repacked in the first wave of 2011. It seems like all I see in stores these days are repacks anyway. There are countless Anakins and Obi-Wans swinging from the pegs. But oddly enough I have yet to see the Ohnaka repack. I understand that there needs to be "hero" characters in stores at all times for kids to buy, but as a collector, it's frustrating to have to track down rarer figures like Ohnaka.

Another thing that I find odd about the Clone Wars line is its lack of political characters. The TV series has been filled to the brim with political intrigue and machinations, so I find it hard to believe that Hasbro has not produced a single senator. The closest thing we have is a couple of Padme "adventure gear" figures and representative Jar Jar Binks! During its run the line has alternatively produced four astronomech droids! Do kids and collectors both really want R4 and R7 more than Satine Kryze and Bail Organa? I understand that the astromechs are technically repainted figures that are cheaper to produce, but I think the lack of political characters is a conspiracy! If the Clone Wars series is going to tie our brains in knots with political episodes, they should put their money where their mouth is and give us Hasbro "non-action" figures of Chuchi, Mothma, Palpatine, Bonteri, etc... and hey, they made a Sio Bibble in the Episode I line!

A Few Thoughts About Legos

When Lego enthusiasts ask me why I don't collect more of the Lego Star Wars line, I provide this simple example: the Lego AT-AT costs 20 dollars more than the Hasbro version! I simply feel that one gets more "bang for the buck" with Hasbro than with Lego. It has nothing to do with the quality of the Lego products. It's just that they are a little too expensive. I still pick up a set from time to time, but my main focus continues to be Hasbro.

One Lego product that I do plan to buy this year is the new video game Lego Star Wars III: the Clone Wars. However something troubles me about that. I noticed that the game will be released on every platform EXCEPT for PS2. As a long time PS2 owner who has bought many games, I feel slightly betrayed by both Lego and Sony for not making this happen. Last year Sony sold more PS2s than PS3s; so I understand that the only way they can force us to upgrade is to stop making PS2 games, but I payed $150 back in the day for a console that still works fine, and I'm unhappy that I can't use it to play one of the most anticipated games of 2011. I finally accepted the fact that I'll probably have to get the game for a handheld device, only to discover that the PSP demo wasn't released with the PS3 version. Needless to say I am a little frustrated with the whole situation. Maybe one day I'll get a PS3 or computer capable of PC gaming, but until then I'm a little miffed at Lego and Sony.

Overall I think the state of Star Wars collecting is very healthy, as the Hasbro brand alone is the number one selling brand in relevant demographics. And even though I feel there is room for improvement, I am excited about the present and the future. Stay tuned for further updates about my collection and commentary on the subject. I know Star Wars collecting is a varied field and many opinions abound; so feel free to comment if you have anything to say about or disagree with in this post.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clone Wars Resources: The Citadel

Season III episodes: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

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Episode Information...
Premiered February 18, 2011

"Adaptation is the key to survival."

With help from R2-D2 and a squad of captured battle droids, an elite team of Jedi and clone troopers led by Obi-Wan and Anakin attempt to free a captive Jedi general, Even Piell, from an impenetrable prison. Despite orders to the contrary, Ahsoka Tano tags along, though she proves indispensable when the infiltration mission begins to evolve. Piell and his fleet officer, Captain Tarkin, as liberated from their cells, but now the fugitives must escape the Citadel itself.

Written by Matt Michnovetz
Directed by Kyle Dunlevy


Behind the Scenes...
Osi Sobeck is a Phindian, an alien species that originated in the Expanded Universe, specifically the Jedi Apprentice series published by Scholastic, Inc. The species was first pictured in The Essential Guide to Aliens Species, published by Del Rey Books in 2001. Osi's design hews closely to the art by R.K. Post.

For James Arnold Taylor's characterization of Osi Sobeck, he performed the dialogue with pauses and inflection inspired by Christopher Walken's distinctive speech patterns.

Ashley Eckstein, who ordinarily voices Ahsoka Tano, joins James Arnold Taylor, Matt Lanter, Tom Kane, Corey Burton, Cara Pifko, Phil LaMarr, and Gary Scheppke as the voice of a tactical droid. The droid, K2-B4, has been colored to match the Lola Sayu environment: purple and yellow.

K2-B4's colors also work well as the droid's name is a nod to crewmembers who are fans of the Los Angeles Lakers. When K2-B4's animation model was created, the Lakers won the championship. Kobe Bryant's number 24 translates to K2-B4.

During Season One, discussions about getting past droid scans led to Superising Director Dave Filoni and writer Henry Gilory developing the carbon-freezing tactic, though it never made it into an episode. Gilroy later used it in an Expanded Universe Clone Wars comic book story, The Shipyards of Doom. Its use in 'The Citadel' brings it to the screen.

The texture of the exterior Citadel walls is meant to be visually reminiscent of the Death Star surface when seen from afar.

Some of the smallest asteroids seen orbiting Lola Sayu are re-textured rocks seen floating over Mortis or Iego.

According to the screens in the Citadel orbital security stations, the Separatist shuttle that R2-D2 commands is an escort shuttle, class type B.

Even Piell is a Jedi Master first seen in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Piell's short height and long ears caused many fans to speculate some sort of relation to Yoda (some called him "the pink Yoda"), but Piell is a distinct species: a Lannik. Though Even Piell is male, in the live action movie, he was portrayed by a woman: Michaela Cotrell.

Behind the scenes information courtesy the official episode guide at

Watch the Episode Online...

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More Video Options...

Official Episode Guide...

Official Commentary...


Dave Filoni discusses the Citadel story arc.

Here you can view and download all of the official screengrabs and concept art images.

This links to a site where you can download a zipped folder that contains over 60 official images from including screencaps, concept art, and clone cards.

This site includes hundreds of screengrabs from the version of the episode that aired on Cartoon Network.

If you have any suggestions on how to make this guide better, feel free to comment. I'm always looking for more resources to add to this.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"The Citadel" Review

The easiest way to summarize this episode is this: a fun Season One story with Season Three graphics and audacity. Perhaps that's just what we all needed following the infinitely deep Mortis Trilogy. The Clone Wars continues to produce a wonderfully varied montage of stories, and "The Citadel" fits in well. The plot was simple: let's free a Jedi master from a dungeon and keep vital information from being turned over to the Separatists. In fact this was one of the simplest plots in a long while. Yet this episode did not ride on the depth of its storyline, but on the coolness of how it was told. And that is what I took away from it.

Let's start with the first cool thing to show up: Master Even Piell! Yet another addition to the Jedi Council in the series, his uniqueness was refreshing. Aside from the obvious trait of his stature, Piell's humor and voice reminded me of the dwarves in many fantasy novels. Characters like Gimli from Lord of the Rings come to mind. I hope we see much more of this jovial master, and I can't wait to see him in action! The second cool thing to show up in the episode was a carbon freezing chamber, and I thought the crew nailed that. Both the sound and look of the chamber and its products matched the material from the films well; it even had Ugnaughts operating it. So does this mean that there is some connection between this chamber and the one on Bespin? It could even be the same company. I'm not sure if the Cloud City on that planet existed during the Clone Wars, but if it did I would love to see it.

The next cool thing in this episode was an appearance by none other than the great Grand Moff Tarkin. This little development left me both excited and a little puzzled. On the positive side it is interesting to see Anakin develop relationships with officers that he would serve with in his years as Vader, like Yularen, and it should be noted that neither Yularen or Tarkin have taken a liking to the Chosen One so far. However I, like most people, assumed that Vader met Tarkin for the first time at the end of Revenge of the Sith. This begs a question to be answered: Did Tarkin and Yularen know that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were the same person, and if they did, how would it effect their perception of Vader in the Original Trilogy? I'm sure the question will be answered promptly by the Clone Wars crew, but I still want to throw it out there.

Now the villain in this episode, the antagonist that controlled the Citadel, was an interesting character. But I am not impressed with him yet. He doesn't seem to have the intelligence of a character like Thrawn from the Zahn books or the brute force of Savage Opress. The two traits of his that stand out to me the most are his oddly high-placed nose and the alien like cadence of his voice. Hopefully in further episodes he will win my respect, but for now I'm not on the bandwagon yet.

Some other notes about things that caught my eye or ear in this episode: Clone Troopers Echo and Fives are back and in full elite ARC regalia! It is awesome to see their storyline continue through Rookies, the Season Three premiere, and now this story arc. Ahsoka's theme was used a few times, and this was the clearest I have heard it since the Clone Wars movie. The look of the planet that housed the Citadel was fantastic! It reminded me of the incomplete Death Star in Return of the Jedi. The scene where the Jedi and Clones scaled the cliff was a great visual! And finally the side storyline involving Anakin's reluctance to share the risks of the mission with his padawan was interesting. I wonder how Ahsoka convinced Plo Koon to let her come along or if she did at all.

Overall "The Citadel" was a really cool "Star Wars" episode. I would have liked the plot to have been a little thicker, the characters to be more compelling, and the pacing to be quicker at the beginning of the episode. It felt like it dragged on for 6 minutes or more before the Jedi finally reached the Citadel. I was shocked when the episode ended, as the writers left us with a huge cliffhanger. In fact it was like the episode was more than 22 minutes long and just got clipped at a point. Hopefully things will continue to heat up in the sequel, because so far this seems a little like a filler between the Force and Chewbacca. The only things that really carried my attention were the awesome references to the Original Trilogy and a certain monocular master. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Clone Wars Resources: Ghosts of Mortis

Season III episodes: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Episode Information...
Premiered February 11, 2011

"He who seeks to control fate shall never find peace."

The Jedi remain stranded on Mortis, and the Son, aligned with the dark side of the Force, renews his efforts to convert Anakin as the Jedi prepare for a decisive confrontation. Anakin is stunned by images of his dark future. The Son promises him the power to avert this destiny. The Father recognizes that the Son has broken the rules of time. He wipes Anakin's memory of these future visions, and steals the Mortis Dagger to end the conflict. The Father impales himself, thus preventing the Son from stealing his power. The Son, stunned by this, is run through by Anakin. With all three Force-wielders destroyed, the imbalance in the Force disappears on Mortis. The three Jedi are transplanted back to the galaxy proper, apparently at the moment that they disappeared.

Written by Christian Taylor
Directed by Steward Lee

Tom Kane as Yoda and the narrator

Behind the Scenes...
It is completely intentional that the Father is the only one of the three Force-wielders that vanishes upon his death as Obi-Wan and Yoda do.

The lava used in the Well of the Dark Side uses some of the same elements from Revenge of the Sith Mustafar scenes, according to effects supervisor Joel Aron.

The very portable Jedi jumpseeders are based off a speeder bike concept drawings from Return of the Jedi.

Some of the concept design for the Well of the Dark Side was taken from early Ralph McQuarrie designs for subterranean levels of the Imperial Palace where Luke was going to face the Emperor deep within Coruscant in Return of the Jedi.

Ahsoka is wearing a re-purposed pare of Hondo Ohnaka's pirate goggles with the strap removed.

Hidden among the constellations etched into in the Father's monastery is a wolf.

Watch the Episode Online...

Download the Episode...
Use to download the Megavideo version.

Here you can view and download all of the official screengrabs and concept art images.
This links to a site where you can download a zipped folder that contains over 60 official images from including screencaps, concept art, and clone cards.
This site includes hundreds of screengrabs from the version of the episode that aired on Cartoon Network.

If you have any suggestions on how to make this guide better, feel free to comment. I'm always looking for more resources to add to this.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Ghosts of Mortis" Review

Once again the Clone Wars has left me speechless. I can honestly tell you that I was prepared to rip this episode apart if it either did not provide closure to all the lose ends in the previous Mortis episodes or it dramatically contradicted what we know about the Force and the Star Wars saga. However, on the contrary, I believe this episode did the opposite. Thus I am surprisingly elated. "Ghosts of Mortis" put me in a place where I didn't care about continuity, where I forgot the complex politics of the series, and where I cast aside my expectations of how my favorite Star Wars characters should be depicted. My long held optimism for the future of the series has been validated once again in the most decisive way yet. I didn't criticize this episode, I didn't doubt it, and I didn't feel confused by it. I just watched it, and I loved it. That's what Star Wars should be, and that's what this episode was.

Many Star Wars fans were shocked when the Force was personified in three ultra-powerful beings at the beginning of the Mortis trilogy. To some it seemed sacrilegious and belittled the stories that they held dear. But alas this episode revealed Mortis to be the only thing that it should be, an allegory. And from that point of view this episode and the ones before it fit the Star Wars saga like the black glove on Luke's cybernetic hand, and furthermore they not only illuminate the story of Anakin Skywalker, but deepen it. Because this time, we saw his fall not amongst a sprawled war and shiny special effects, but on the stage of raw emotion, and defined through the eyes of two close friends. The irony of the plot device used to tip the scale in Anakin's head was evident. We saw him become Darth Vader to prevent Darth Vader. The psyche of the Chosen One was left exposed by the simmering lights of a'a lava; his attachments in the present weigh on him, but it is his unquenchable thirst to control the future that was his downfall. Anakin must conquer what he fears he will become, and in doing that he forsakes the present and the reality of his world.

Aside from the compelling epic of Anakin Skywalker, this episode also further illuminated the nature of the Force. Many theories abound concerning the opposing sides of the greatest power in the Star Wars universe. Some believe the Light side to be inherently good and the Dark side to be completely evil. Others see no "sides" but only a manner of use that is born of either malevolent or benevolent intent. In this episode the Father seems to refer to the Dark side as an entity that has a "will". So the question remains: does both sides have their own separate "wills"? In study of the Son and the Daughter, it can be gleaned that the Dark side is characterized by selfishness, and the Light side by selflessness. Thus it can be determined that the "will" of the Darkside is to do what is selfish, and the opposite can be said of the Light side. Therefore the "will" of the Force, be it a representation of intent or a cause of that intent, is clearly outlined as both a symbol of good and evil. In my opinion the Father of Mortis represents Anakin himself -and perhaps even every sentient being in the galaxy- as a person torn between good and evil (represented further by his two children) who ultimately sacrifices himself to bring balance. Among all these questions I consider answered, there remains one that is still shrouded: what does balance mean? Is it the equality of light and dark (that would imply the equality of both good and evil)? Or is it the triumph of light over dark? And can there be light without the existence of dark? In the Star Wars universe this remains to be seen in my opinion, but to editorialize, I believe that free will must triumph over the temptation of selfishness and evil to be considered selfless and good, and that belief is enforced through my eyes by the events of the Star Wars saga as an allegory of the nature of mankind.

Perhaps I should have gotten to the details of this episode before going on long tangents about morality! If you're still with me, I have to tell you that I thought the animation of this episode was fantastic. The destitute plains of Mortis was the most wonderfully detailed nothingness I have seen yet in this series, and the fiery chasm in the heart of the planet was a sight to behold. Though arguably trivial, I thought the goggles worn by Ahsoka gave her character a really cool vibe, and I find it interesting how handy with a wrench she has become! I guess Darkside tendencies aren't the only traits of her master that are rubbing off on her. And to bring up one of the most epic moments in the episode, how awesome was it to see the hallowed mask of Darth Vader in the Clone Wars! However brief, this nod to the films authenticated Anakin's visions to the highest degree while surely delighting fans of all ages. As it has been in the Mortis trilogy, the music was perfect. I was ecstatic to hear notes from "Battle of the Heroes" and repeated use of the "Imperial March". It is indubitably true that even a hint of John Williams breathes mountains of life into these episodes, and the further echoing of his motifs in Kevin Kiner's score makes for a well rounded and satisfying package.

In conclusion, "Ghosts of Mortis" was a fitting finale to a groundbreaking trilogy. I wish to express my sincerest thanks to George Lucas for conceptualizing and green-lighting such a compelling story and to Dave Filoni and the entire Clone Wars crew for executing it in such an astounding way. The Mortis story arc was filled with amazing scenery, fantastically choreographed action, excellent character development, countless echoes and nods to the Star Wars films and other fantasy franchises, heightened suspense, tantalizing drama, and the most epic awesomeness ever to grace the small screen! Star Wars is more alive than ever and it is super-duper-clone-trooper-plokool-forcetastic!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Clone Wars Resources: Altar of Mortis

Season III episodes: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Episode Information...
Premiered February 4, 2011

"He who surrenders hope, surrenders life."

Before the Jedi can leave Mortis, the Son takes Ahsoka captive in an attempt to entice Anakin into joining him to use their combined strength to overpower his Father and Sister. To this end, the Son casts Ahsoka under the spell of the dark side. Meanwhile, the Father attempts to stave off a disastrous showdown between his children and maintain the Force's increasingly precarious balance on the planet. Fearing that the Son may be unstoppable, the Daughter does the forbidden by taking Obi-Wan Kenobi to the Altar of Mortis, wherein is kept the Dagger of Mortis, a weapon capable of killing a Force-wielder. The Son steals the weapon, and attempts to use it against his Father to steal his power and end his rule, but the Daughter sacrifices herself, placing herself in front of the blade.

Written by Christian Taylor

Tom Kane as the narrator

Behind the Scenes...
The Son's "prison creature form" has no proper name. Sam Witwer provided the voice for it as well.

The look of the Altar was very much derived from the Wagner opera Siegfried. In it, Siegfried crosses through a ring of fire to find the valkyrie warrior Brünnhilde, who shall "work the deed that redeems the world." This description could apply to the Mortis dagger, as well as to Anakin.

The Son's cathedral is an homage to the tower of Orthanc from The Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers, which was also a single dark tower set within a circle. "If you know The Lord of the Rings films you may notice that the tower itself resembles Saruman's staff," says Supervising Director Dave Filoni. Saruman was portrayed by Christopher Lee who also played Count Dooku in Episodes II, III and The Clone Wars movie.

Official Commentary...
Here you can view and download all of the official screengrabs and concept art images.
This links to a site where you can download a zipped folder that contains over 70 official images from including screencaps, concept art, and clone cards. 

This site includes hundreds of screengrabs from the version of the episode that aired on Cartoon Network.

Articles... discusses the episode with Sam Witwer, the voice of the Son.

If you have any suggestions on how to make this guide better, feel free to comment. I'm always looking for more resources to add to this.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Altar of Mortis" Review

The simplest way to describe this episode is this: we had one question going into the Mortis trilogy, "What is the nature of the Force?". The first episode "Overlords" answered this question by leaving us ten more questions; and perhaps the second episode "Altar of Mortis" answered some of those questions, but left us with one-hundred more! I can only hope that we won't be left with a thousand questions after this trilogy concludes! Now to the details...

Story-wise this episode was both brilliant and slightly "out-there". It strayed from the events of the Clone Wars even more than the last episode. There was no Qui-Gon or Shmi to tie the story into the prequel trilogy, only the three main characters of the series cast back into the mysterious and perplexing world of Mortis. However by creating a whole new story arc independent from the politics and military excursions of the Clone Wars, the show has grown an environment perfect for something that many prior episodes have lacked, drama and suspense. In my opinion "Altar of Mortis" was not as insightful into the nature of the Force as its predecessor, yet I believe it held just as much if not more emotional energy. And like the first episode of this arc, it existed solely in this realm. There was nothing synthetic or mechanical about the portrayal of this story. It was an exploration of the characters reactions to extreme circumstances.

If by anything, this episode was painted by contrasts. The contrast of the selfishness of the Son and the selflessness of the Daughter was the most dynamic. While the Son was driven by a lust for power and control, the Daughter committed herself to humility and serenity. This served as both a microcosm and possible allegory of the Jedi and the Sith. The episode terminated in the Son grabbing for control and becoming consumed in rage, whilst the Daughter gave the remainder of her imperiled life to save Ahsoka. Another contrast was illustrated by Anakin and Obi-Wan's different ways of solving the dilemma of Ahsoka's capture. True to his impetuous nature, Anakin raced to the center of the problem in an attempt to solve it directly; meanwhile, conversely, Obi-Wan took a step back and sought out knowledge on how to rectify the situation. It can be argued that in this case both of these plans failed, as Anakin failed to save Ahsoka from the demon that possessed her and Obi-Wan only strengthened the Son by bringing the dagger out of its secured location.

This brings me to the most shocking moment of the episode. Even though we have been seeing production stills and short clips of "Evil Ahsoka" for months, how creepy was it to finally see her turn in full! Both the animators of the show and Ahsoka's voice actor Ashley Eckstein did a marvelous and haunting job of portraying the character in such a malevolent light. More-so than her malicious intents, the twisted way of speaking that Ahsoka acquired was highly unsettling. Yet on a more positive note, it was very exciting to finally see her wield her two lime-green blades! Also I would like to praise Matt Lanters portrayal of Anakin in this episode. The emotion in his voice was just as compelling if not more-so than Hayden's in Revenge if the Sith. Throughout the story Anakin's attachement to Ahsoka was highlighted, giving their relationship a great deal of depth.

As it has been for many weeks running, the animation in "Altar of Mortis" was phenomenal. The chase sequence at the beginning of the episode was breathtaking, as the Jedi's shuttle raced through the canyons of Mortis behind the ominous wings of the Son. The visual contrasts of light and dark are artistically stunning in the this arc, with the environment of Mortis deepening with each episode. The animation of the fight scenes in the story was also very well done, from the illumination of the Son's force-lighting to the choreography of the Jedi's dual. In addition to these amazing things the character expression continues to evoke realism in the series, from the proud aura of the Son to the twisted mannerisms of the possessed Ahsoka.

Finally I would like to address the relevance of this episode to the overall story of the Star Wars saga. The actions of the Son and Daughter certainly supported the nature of their characters, but did not really reveal anything more than what was revealed in the last episode. And it remains to be seen how material this story arc is. From an allegorical standpoint it illustrates the erosion of the power of the Jedi and the swelling of Darth Sidious' control of the galaxy, and literally it explains how these events happened. From what I hear from the creators of the series, this element will probably be left to our own interpretation. In my opinion the strongest accomplishment of this episode was in further illuminating Anakin's feelings for Ahsoka and shedding light on the vast differences between Obi-Wan and Anakin.

In conclusion this episode was very emotionally compelling and excellently animated. What was lacking in revelation was made up for in increased action and heightened suspense. It will be intriguing to see how this arc ends and what matters are resolved in this mysterious affair. For sure, if anything, the Mortis trilogy will serve to greatly deepen the characters of Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka. But just as importantly, it provides the series with a story-line that is Star Wars, something that is exciting, causes anticipation, and makes us question what we think we know about our galaxy and the one far, far away.

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