Friday, April 17, 2015

Screen Superstar Tells Star Wars: The Full Story

The other day, while perusing a comic book store, I noticed this magazine, published in 1977. 

Measuring a magnificent 9" x 12', this extra-large special edition of Screen Superstar, titled "Star Wars: The Full Story," sported numerous photographs from the movie, some of them two-page spreads.

Despite the promise on the cover, it wasn't packed with full-color photographs. But it offered lots of black-and-white photos, which had been developed using different colors. 

I thought this effect added drama and interest to the movie stills. Don't you?

Having read The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler, a coffee table-sized book offering a wealth of information on Lucas' first installment in the series, I didn't expect to learn anything new about my all-time favorite movie. But I thought it might be fun to revisit reports from Sci-fi entertainment writers back in the day, and compare them with the officially approved version released from Lucasfilm thirty years later. There was the expected, such as a spotlight focused far more intensely on the contribution of John Dykstra to the special effects team than later official versions would credit him with. And then there was the unexpected. One special effects worker, who was not named, actually describes the process of filming model spacecrafts as boring. Try to find a statement like that in an official publication from Lucasfilm!

Additionally, I enjoyed experiencing the passion of the writers and the editorial staff who had put this special magazine together. The writers argued that Star Wars built upon the literary foundations of modern Science Fiction, such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Frank Herbert's novel Dune, and finally delivered on the potential that previous movies--even great ones, like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Forbidden Planet" had failed to capture. 

Well, I won't argue with that.

Oh, and I loved the artwork. Gorgeous two-page spreads, made by passionate fans of the movie in the year of its release, before Star Wars-inspired art became something we all took for granted.

Great stuff, right?

In those early days, news about George Lucas was even harder to come by than the facts behind the production. As everyone loved the new movie, the news media fought over any available scraps of information on the reclusive writer/director. The magazine reports that after the revenue from "Star Wars" started rolling in, Lucas purchased "a $500,000 Lear jet, the interior of which he redecorated to match the interior of Solo's Millennium Falcon." It probably didn't happen, but what a lovely story.

Just like my all-time favorite movie. 

Dragon Dave

P.S. Find your own copy of Screen Superstar's "Star Wars: The Full Story" at, on ebay, and wherever else good Star Wars books, magazines, and other necessities of life are sold. And yes, in case you're wondering, that includes comic book stores.

Related Dragon Cache entries
Jeremiah & George Lucas: Part 1
A Vintage Star Wars Interview
The Power of Star Wars: Part 1

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Thor Vs. a Dragon, a Robot, and Rock Men from Saturn

In Marvel Comics' "Journey Into Mystery" Issue 83, published in August 1962, handicapped American physician Donald Blake picks up a gnarled wood walking stick, and transforms into the Norse god Thor. After learning to wield his new weapon, the mighty hammer Mjolnir, he acknowledges his responsibility to his fellow humans by launching himself into battle against an invasion force of Rock Men from Saturn.

The Rock Men transform their mothership into a dragon. This scares Earth's normally brave fighter pilots, who eject from their jet planes.

On the ground, Thor sees that the dragon is mere illusion, and so he takes on the Rock Men from Saturn in hammer-to-hand fighting. Earth's lesser gravity increases the strength of the Rock Men, but when Thor proves a more fearsome adversary than anticipated, they activate the weapon they've held in reserve.

Several times the height of a human, the fighter-robot advances.

Thor stands in his path, looks up at his giant opponent, and swings his mighty hammer.

Thor is the first human the Rock Men have directly battled. They can't help but wonder if more humans are like him. 

In reacting to their first impressions, the Rock Men emulate the NATO fighter pilots, and make a mad scramble for their ship. Thus
, when the military arrives...

It's easy to see how the mighty Thor could defeat a Dragon, a Giant Robot, and the Rock Men from Saturn. It's equally easy to understand how NATO soldiers might not envision a crippled man like Donald Blake as Earth's greatest warrior. Appearances can be deceiving, and first impressions often flat-out wrong.

The story also begs a question. Could Jane Foster, suffering from cancer, sneak away from her sick bed occasionally to grasp the hammer Mjolnir, transform into Lady Thor, and battle the Dark Elf Malekith, Frost Giants, and Dario Agger, the sometimes-minotaur CEO of Roxxon Energy Corporation? Odinson's quest to discover the identity of Lady Thor continues today, when THOR Issue 7 hits the stands. To prove your worth, make picking up your copy of this top ten reader-rated Marvel comic a priority. But please, first demonstrate your responsibility to your fellow humans by finishing and filing your income taxes. 

Dragon Dave

For more classic Thor action, check out The Mighty Thor: The God of Thunder, volume 1 in Marvel's Epic Collection series on the mighty Norse god.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Building My Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List: Book 9

Selecting the stories most important to us may be easy, but ranking those stories in a meaningful way is far more difficult. Most difficult of all can be explaining why particular favorites don't rank higher, or even make it onto the list. But to label all the stories you love Essential would be untrue, and do no justice to any of them. With this goal in mind, I set out to determine the ten books Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) books most important to me. I didn't realize how difficult this exercise would be when I started it, but then, the important things in life are never easy. 

My Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List

Book 9: Shaman

How many great cave man stories have you read? I've seen a handful of movies set in that era. "10,000 B.C." by director Roland Emmerich, better known for his films "Independence Day" and "2012", features our ancestors and some great computer-generated mammoths. "1,000,000 B.C." stands out for its star Raquel Welch, and the dinosaurs and pterosaurs of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Also worthy of mention is the first-ever Doctor Who story, titled "An Unearthly Child" or "100,000 BC",* written by Anthony Coburn. In this four-episode story, a tribe of cavemen capture the Doctor and his companions and demand that they teach them the secret of fire. It's an interesting story, which Terrance Dicks revisits in his later novel The Eight Doctors (the first BBC novel featuring the eighth Doctor), but is hardly regarded as essential by most fans of the classic series. It certainly pales in importance next to story that followed, the seven-episode story written by Terry Nation, and simply titled "The Daleks."

I've read quite a few time travel stories, in which modern man travels back in time. Uusually those trips take him to the dinosaur era rather than to visit his primitive ancestors, and when he does visit his stone era cousins, they function as minor characters in the story. Although I can think of a few that have been written, I can't remember any novels I've read that featured ice age cavemen as prominent point of view characters.** Perhaps this gap in my reading says more about my interests than proves a dearth of stone age literary fiction. But it seems to me that most of us, as modern humans, view our far-flung ancestors as less capable than ourselves, and therefore much less interesting sources for storytelling.

Of course, there's all the Hollywood grunting and growing, or the stilted limited dialogue that tends to color our perceptions of these early societies.

One thing you realize early on in Shaman is that Kim Stanley Robinson has done his research. He knows the minutia of these people's lives, and all this grounds us in stone age society. The other thing he demonstrates is that stone age man wasn't less capable than us, he was more capable, which was how they survived against animal predators and the harsh conditions of the Ice Age. These people had to be extremely inventive, and utilize everything at their disposal to survive. Many of us couldn't identity ten different plants accurately when taking a short walk. These people would know all the plants they saw, as well as each plant's nutritive and medicinal value. Most of us wouldn't have a clue how to store our food for weeks or months at a time, and so when there's a power cut, or our refrigerators malfunction, our food spoils within hours or days. Nor could we hunt an animal with the most primitive of weapons, let alone construct them. And as for utilizing every single atom of the animal: again, the cave people knew far better than us how to maximize their resources.

Care to set a broken limb by yourself, or sew up a major wound and treat it with nearby plants and any herbs or concoctions your mother has dried and mixed down by the river? I'm guessing not.

When we start to think about stone age man in those terms, he suddenly grows more interesting, don't you think? And that's all due to the extensive research and masterful storytelling of Kim Stanley Robinson.

Thankfully, he also gets around the dialogue issue, assuming that these intelligent, resourceful people could actually communicate meaningfully with each other. Which they must have done, or couldn't have survived under such hard conditions, could they?

Dragon Dave

*Is it just me, or do TV and Cinema like to title cave man stories with dates?

**I haven't read Clan of the Cave Bear, or any of its sequels, by Jean M. Auel, a bestselling series that explores interactions between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans. It's been on my list forever--well, at least for several glacial eras of my life--but so far I haven't gotten around to it. 

P.S. I was going to make this a Part 1, and tell you more of what I liked about Shaman, but I'd just would have been giving away more of Kim Stanley Robinson's great story. So I think I'll spare you from that. Besides, I think you've already got the idea why Shaman is important to me: the book changes my perceptions of Ice Age man, and makes me want to read more about how they lived. If you missed my earlier entries on this novel, or would like to read more about the protagonist Loon and adventures, follow the links below to my earlier posts.

Related Dragon Cache entries
Kim Stanley Robinson: Growing Up in the Ice Age
Brighton's Ice Age Hunter
Poole's Sacred Cavern
Ice Age Seven Sisters

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cozy & Secure with Paddington Bear: Part 2

As it turned out, my copy of Michael Bond's first novel, A Bear Called Paddington, arrived at a very appropriate time. For last weekend I fell ill with a sick tummy, even though I hadn't eaten a single marmalade sandwich that day. (In retrospect, perhaps that was the problem! For, given Paddington's admiration for marmalade, I imagine it must offer potent medicinal benefits).

That night we reversed our usual practice, and my wife read to me in bed before we turned off the lights. I following her delivery of Bond's prose, and studied the sketches by illustrator Peggy Fortnum. After a few minutes, my eyes sought out each page, and threatened to consume the text before my wife could deliver it. I had to look away, so I could relax, and let Bond's writing (and my wife's reading) ease my pain.

Paddington slips and tumbles onto his tea saucer.
Aside from the initial portion of the film, in which Paddington grows up with his aunt and uncle in Darkest Peru, the plot mirrored the basic structure of the novel. The book starts with Mr. and Mrs. Brown finding a lonely bear in Paddington station, Mr. Brown giving him a cup of tea and a bun while they wait for their daughter Judy's train to arrive, and then the family deciding to take them home with them. When the bear explains his name is unpronounceable by humans, the Browns name him after the train station in which they found him. As everything in England is new to him, Paddington has problems with his food and drink, and ends up wet and sticky. The cab driver doesn't like the idea of transporting the bear home, as he's just cleaned his upholstery, but accedes to the Browns' pleas and the bear's innate charm. Then he is welcomed into the bosom of the Browns' home, where he discovers that taking a bath is a more tricky business than he had envisioned.

Paddington leaps into his bath.
The filmmakers fine-tuned the qualities of their human characters, so Mr. Brown becomes a worrywart who initially refuses to house the bear for more than a night, and Judy seems particularly at odds with her parents. They also inflate Paddington's antics in the bathtub in spectacular fashion: instead of the floor getting covered in water, soap, and shaving foam, a tidal wave roars out when Mr. Brown opens the bathroom door. But while they played fast and loose with the particulars, apart from the origin segment in Peru, they seem to have remained true to the basic plot structure of Bond's novel. Or at least, that's what I can tell you so far, based on the first two chapters of A Bear Called Paddington

Even though Bond's novel exhibits none of the overall tension the filmmakers infused their story with, I can't wait for my wife to read chapters to me. Like Paddington, I look forward to bundling up into our cozy bed, and listening to more of his adventures. Far from being scared, Bond's story, Fortnum's illustrations, and my wife's readings make me feel just like Paddington after being welcomed into the Brown household: cozy, loved, and secure. 

Now, if I can just be patient, and enjoy the story in small, medicinal nightly doses, instead of giving into my desire to grab the book and consume it in one sitting. While doing so might not give me a tummy ache, I want to savor Bond's first novel for as long as possible, and as much as Paddington enjoys his marmalade sandwiches.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cozy & Secure with Paddington Bear: Part 1

I discovered Paddington Bear twenty years ago, as a series of short animated stories broadcast on the Disney Channel. I recorded them on VHS, then later onto DVD, and have enjoyed following his comic adventures numerous times in subsequent years. Imagine my surprise when I saw a trailer for his debut on the Big Screen. I faced his entry into the cinema with a mixture of hope and dread, hopeful that the film would do well, and dreading how the filmmakers might attempt to revamp Michael Bond's classic character.

The film was cast with big name British actors, and I was impressed by the authenticity of their performances. Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) plays an insecure but devoted husband and father in Mr. Brown. Peter Capaldi (the current Doctor Who!) portrays the small-minded penny-pinching neighbor Mr. Curry. And Nicole Kidman, who has starred in nearly every important movie of the last two decades plays the villain Millicent Clyde who plots and schemes to capture Paddington's hide. (In case you're wondering, I particularly enjoyed her 2007 performance as the elegant Marisa Coulter in the film version of Philip Pullman's fantasy novel The Golden Compass). But enough of the human actors: let's get onto the star of the show, the magnificent bear from Darkest Peru! The computer-animated Paddington won me over with his boundless courage and determination, his depiction and capabilities a far cry from how I discovered him, as a simple stop-motion character imposed on a traditionally animated background. Even if his antics and adventures adventures seemed a little silly and over-the-top in places, I left the cinema feeling like the filmmakers had honored Paddington, and done so with considerable artistry.

The film also roused my interested in Michael Bond's original stories. I purchased a picture book from, and while the illustrations were well-drawn and colorful, they reminded me of the animated shorts I had fallen in love with, which I knew were based on chapters of Michael Bond's novels. So I headed to the library, where I searched the computer system for his books. Like Paddington, I nearly fell over backwards when I learned that the entire San Diego Library system held but a single copy of his introductory novel, A Bear Called Paddington.

Needless to say, I gave the computer monitor a very hard stare.

Thankfully, offered copies of the book for sale. I ordered A Bear Called Paddington, and waited impatiently for it to arrive. Unfortunately, then I got a sick tummy, perhaps because of all the anticipation coursing through me. But not only is that a story to finish tomorrow, it demonstrates how much like the film version of Mr. Brown I am, with all my anxieties and insecurities, and how much more brave and adventurous like Paddington I need to become. 

Dragon Dave