Categories
Film

GateBuster: Re-Animator

You get a fair amount of weird looks when you tell people one of your favorite movies is Re-Animator.

You get a lot of stuff like “Isn’t Weyoun from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in that?”. Or maybe, “That thing is…REALLY gross, right?”. Or, my personal favorite, “Doesn’t a severed head perform a sex act on Barbara Crampton in that?”

To which I usually reply “Yes.”, “Yes, isn’t it great?!”, and “Yeah, BUT IT’S ALL PRACTICAL EFFECTS!”. Which then, ultimately, garners even weirder looks. Or just altogether abandonment. There is also the matter of its source material’s author being a huge piece of shit. Springing from a popular pulp serial from author H.P. Lovecraft, his prose version bears little resemblance to Stuart Gordon and Jeffery Combs’ filmic version but we still have to wrestle with the obvious legacy of hatred, fear of the other, and bigotry Lovecraft injected into even his most seminal of stories. Even, sadly, Herbert West, Re-Animator amongst them. 

But even despite ALL OF THIS. Even factoring in the bracing, ever evolving legacy of the author who started all this and the “video nasty” reputation the movie was greeted with upon its release. Re-Animator still will always mean a great deal to me. It will always be a movie I cherish and want to share with as many people as possible. 

Because it was the movie that finally showed me that horror could be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

I should back up. For those unaware of the blood-soaked blast that is 1985’s Re-Animator, let me first say, why do you hate fun and welcome. First conceptualized as a stage production (and then later adapted in 2011 as a stirring and screamingly entertaining musical starring George “Norm” Wendt), Re-Animator is the bloody brainchild of writer/director Stuart Gordon, a name you’ve surely seen emblazoned and respected down the isles of any self-respecting Horror section of a video store.

A veteran of the “experimental” (read: bloody-as-fuck) theatre scene of Chicago and founder of a troupe called the Organic Theatre Company, Gordon is and was a born and bred “Horror Guy”. Until his death this last year, Gordon was always either behind the camera or behind the keyboard, cooking up some new manner of practical efx-driven horror. More often than not, these works were based on the writings of Lovecraft. Though Gordon had a healthy career away from the pulps, directing a whole gamut of non-horror stuff as well (Honey, I Blew Up The Kid! Robot Jox!), you can tell from the works (and quantity of adaptations) that making Lovecraft and his labyrinthine mythos both accessible and fun for the general horror watching audience was something of a passion of his. 

Edgar Allen Poe would also take up some of his focus and attention later in his career too, bringing along frequent collaborator Jeffery Combs (more on that lovely maniac in a second), but Lovecraft always seemed to be Mr. Gordon’s true muse; both in his filmed and staged works. But it all starts here with ‘85’s Re-Animator, and holy hell is it a great fuckin’ start.

Though the original serial novellas have a somewhat stuffy and haughty tone, Gordon’s Re-Animator, from the jump, seems gleefully irreverent. We open on the idyllic University of Zurich medical center, detailed in a lush matte painting. The eminent Dr. Hans Gruber (no, not that one) has died, but suddenly screams wrack the hospital! The body has been disturbed somehow and is now…ALIVE AGAIN?! Thanks to the clandestine efforts of a little dweeb carrying a vial of Day-Glo green liquid. Gruber thrashes and moans and for a second seems to notice the dweeb when he talks to him; said dweeb being his former student. But then his eyes explode like overripe peaches and his face melts. ALL on camera and largely shot in well-lit close-ups.

“You killed him!”, the attendings scream at the dweeb.

“NO!” he retorts proudly. “I GAVE HIM LIFE!”

Smash cut to a set of immensely arresting credits and a cheeky, string-heavy score from composer Richard Brand. 

And the best part is, the rest of the movie lives up to that opening! Though a…let’s say LIBERAL adaptation of the original serial, Gordon’s Re-Animator displays a confidence you can only find in a debut movie. Honed by years of stagecraft and working directly with actors, a lot of this cast brought in from his days as a Chicago theatre director, all of Gordon’s set-pieces throughout this thing just sing. Supported by some ghoulish and medically accurate makeup effects (inspired by one of the artist’s research into the Cook County morgue and medical cadavers). 

More than that, it’s actually FUNNY too. And not just “horror movie” funny in that accidental way or grim way slasher movies kind of slap at occasionally. Gordon’s script, co-written with writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris, was originally intended to be a bleakly funny ½ hour comedy show, following the framework of the original serial, set in the 1920s. 

Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the droll comedy of the format for sure made the transition to being a feature. Following a young couple who provide their fellow peer West a room for rent, the movie starts out as basically a comedy of errors. Our leads, played groundedly by Bruce Abbott and literal queen and genre icon Barbara Crampton, are forced to have to deal with the obvious weirdness and weaponized arrogance of West, played to the absolute hilt by Jeffery Combs. But once his resurrection experiments crash their hot-and-heavy college romance, the couple becomes a zombie-fighting throuple, fighting to both survive West’s resurrection experiments and the legions of monsters they threaten to unleash on the unsuspecting Miskatonic University.

While the makeup and cult-classic status of this movie is a major selling point, none of it would work without Jeffery Combs. An actor who always seemed one million percent dialed into whatever madness Gordon had cooked up. Whatever tone he wanted to have on the day. Re-Animator too serves as Combs’ lead debut. Though he had played a few bit parts beforehand, Herbert West is really his first time “at-bat” as it were as a major role and he absolutely nails it. From selling the terror of an undead cat to cooly facing down a villainous severed head, Combs just deftly handles every shift, every gag, like it’s the most vaunted and serious of material, which would become a hallmark of his later horror performances. And in doing so, launches a horror icon. One that sustained several sequels, a comic series, and even a whole other separate career as one of Star Trek’s hardest-working character guest stars.

But I tell y’all all this to tell you mainly that this gross, horny, and consistently hilarious movie really unlocked something in me. Something I wasn’t expecting it to be at all. You see, when I was younger, I used to be TERRIFIED of horror movies. Like, so much so, that I would have a full-on PANIC ATTACK seeing posters or seeing that my mom wanted to rent the new Halloween movie on ancient, wired Pay-Per-View. 

A shift started to happen when I discovered Joe Bob Briggs and TNT’s MonsterVision. Suddenly, I wasn’t screaming with the movies, I was laughing with them. Joe Bob’s constant stream of information and his smirking attitude toward the actual “acts” of terror happening, contained well within his “Drive-In Totals”, finally gave me an edge against the movie I was about to watch. I finally knew what to expect! Better still, a fellow Texan was walking me through it! He never showed Re-Animator on MonsterVision, but he talked about it and Gordon, often and fondly. Finally, after an episode on the equally entertaining (and gross and horny) From Beyond, I sought out Re-Animator. Renting in with a double feature alongside Evil Dead II, another I had only heard of, not seen. I was TWELVE. My parents dropped some balls, for sure.

But for the first time, seeing both those blood-soaked, but irresistible films back-to-back, I felt like I GOT IT. After all those years of being scared, of hiding from the blood, I was cheering it on (in a constructive, non-DudeBro way, I promise). Instead of hiding my eyes, I was anxiously awaiting the next scare, the next effect. I was finally and gratefully “in on the joke”. And Stuart Gordon and a bunch of other weirdos who made a weirdo movie brought me into it.

From there, a whole new world opened itself up to me. A world filled with Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the Lament Configuration and dark delights from even beyond the borders of America. That summer into the fall I discovered Fulci and Argento and the sumptuousness of Bava. I walked into The Mouth of Madness and finally turned the pages on my first read of Creepshow. I kept staring fear in the face and came out smiling. 

All because a bunch of theatre dorks spun a yarn, and spun it well.

Re-Animator isn’t for everyone. Loving it as I do, it’s one of the things I can instantly admit about it. It’s not a “casual” experience by any standards. It’s squishy and it’s mean and it has a few moments in it sure to shock a Wine Mom into a coma. But it’s a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart because it finally gave ME a special place in Horror. With irreverence, gallons of fake blood, and a truly game cast and crew, Re-Animator finally provided me my own perfect Horror experience. It showed me how and why people found this fun because it finally let ME have fun with it. I know it’s not for everybody, but it’s certainly for me.

I thank Jeffery Combs for that. I thank Barbara Crampton for that. But most of all, I thank Stuart Gordon for that. For showing that horror didn’t have to be needlessly cruel to be scary and didn’t have to sacrifice realism or humor for any of the blood. That horror could be theatrical and still be effective. That broadness didn’t always mean badness. 

That’s why I can take weird looks when I say “Re-Animator is one of my favorite movies”. Because I know that underneath all the gore and the Day-Glo serum and casual nudity there is a movie worth more than just the sum of its parts. 

It gives me, like Dr. Hans Gruber…LIFE!

Categories
Television

The Robotman’s Fatherhood

“We’re only making plans for Nigel/

He has his future in a British steel/

We’re only making plans for Nigel/

Nigel’s whole future is as good as sealed”

-XTC

They tell you a lot of stuff changes when you have a kid.

It’s hacky. Obviously bullshit most of the time, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Your world both shrinks and explodes outward. As Matt Fraction plaintively wrote, it’s as if your heart is now able to run around outside of your body. It’s an irrevocable change. But one that you get to face together. It’s just part of the cycle.

What they DON’T really tell you, though, is how the way you WATCH stuff changes. How you bristle now at the mere hint of violence against a child. How all too real a loss in the narrative can hit you now. How tactile that all is now, even on a screen and in the most overwrought of circumstances. After my son was born, I tried to watch that movie, Patriot’s Day, about the Boston Bombings? And ended up unable to finish it on the day simply because it had about a half a second shot of a toddler with a touch of EFX makeup on, screaming.

Diane Guerrero and Riley Shanahan as Crazy Jane and Cliff Steele in Doom Patrol (S01E01 ”Pilot”) / Source: HBO Max

Now, is that a GOOD movie? Absolutely not (though Kevin Bacon is quite good in it), but you get what I am scratching at here. How it just isn’t “a movie” sometimes when someone of about that same age is building some LEGO in front of you. It just HAPPENS one day, and you are somewhat forced to reorient yourself in terms of what you can and can’t see on-screen now.

This brings me, in a very roundabout way, to Cliff Steele. The Doom Patrol’s Robotman. One of my personal favorite Patrollers and someone who got to “live” through this very arc throughout the still-ongoing run of HBO Max’s Doom Patrol.

Someone who had grand plans for himself and his family. And fucked them up every possible way he could. And it only took him and said family “dying” (in the way that anybody in comics can really “die”) to make him make good. The jury is still out on how successful he’s been, but the change came all the same. That’s what really counts.

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think the show, nor should we think of Cliff as necessarily a “good” father. Though soulfully performed by Brendan Frasier and Riley Shanahan, who physically inhabits the Robotman prosthetic onset, the show, and its writers have no intention of allowing Cliff off the hook. In the opening season, we are provided scant flashes of Cliff’s life pre-The Chief, only to really come to a head during the episode in which Cliff’s brain comes under attack from an errant rat that had made a home in his rusting chassis (don’t ask).

Diane Guerrero and Riley Shanahan as Crazy Jane and Cliff Steele in Doom Patrol (S01E04 ”Cult Patrol”) / Source: HBO Max

From then on, we are shown the real Cliff Steele. A man who constantly put himself before his wife and daughter. All for the sake of some ill attainable glory he “needed” to grasp. Not for the betterment of his family, like he claims, but for a long-abandoned approval he needs from his HIS OWN father.

It all culminates in the gristly accident that seemingly takes his wife and daughter and lands his brain-meat into the Robotman in the first place. An accident the show also goes a step further to be intimately clear is Cliff’s fault, placing him directly center again for his family’s trials and heartaches. The direct opposite of his stated goals.

Fortunately, his daughter survives, and Cliff is allowed a second chance to make something good with her with the help of his surrogate Doom Patrol daughter, Crazy Jane, by way of teleporting personality Flit, and arguably the team’s “mom” Rita Farr.

She’s grown into a saddened but sturdy bar owner, plagued by a giant alligator that occasionally eats her customers (again, it would be better not to ask). Cliff is able now to finally step up in a tactile way for her, albeit with her little knowing that it’s actually her dad that will slay the beast and retrieve the errant family heirloom it had eaten along with a local yokel. It’s a…truly weird sequence, but one true to the show’s zany emotionality and Cliff’s growth during this adaptation.

In the wake of his “loss”, Cliff finally realized what we all had before then. That your responsibility doesn’t just start and stop at being a “provider” and that your personal investment in your children is more than just a nebulous “responsibility”. That you actually have to LIVE like you have something to live for. More often than not, it doesn’t take dying and getting put into a robot suit to get there, but Cliff gets there all the same. And continues to try and live up to that with each passing episode. Taking threads that were started even in the first Titans’ guest appearance of the Doomies and running with them now even into its current season.

Riley Shanahan and Sydney Kowalske as Cliff Steele and Clara Steele in Doom Patrol (S01E01 ”Pilot”) / Source: HBO Max

There have been obstacles along the way, for sure. A stint in the gulag of the Bureau of Normalcy, a heavy falling out with Jane, miniaturization at the hands of Mr. Nobody in the bowels of an interdimensional donkey (again, just…don’t ask. Just watch). But all the while, Cliff had continued to “do the work”, as it were, taking text from the writers and spreading it across a truly striking and heartfelt adaptation of one of DC’s most irascible leading bots. He lost one family once, but he isn’t about to do it again. If he has to fight a million rats gnawing on his brain to do so, he will. Because that’s what “fathers” are supposed to do.

Now, I fully realize that this is a…pretty specific read on Cliff and the TV Doom Patrol. But it’s one that, for me, has added a whole new emotional dimension to one of my favorite shows and comics. By framing Cliff as the former deadbeat dad looking to make good, not only does it humanize one of the most inhuman members of the Doomies, it also allows so much more breadth of performance. On the page AND screen.

In summation, Cliff had all the plans, but his actions kept his and his family’s futures from being sealed. They made their own futures beyond the cage of British steel. We can do it too. We just have to be present for them. It’s part of the cycle for you and your children. As long as you do the work.

Categories
Anime Manga

The Run Down on Lupin the Third

Throughout my life, anime has been a somewhat monolithic experience. Frustratingly implacable in some cases and downright uncrackable in others. 

Certain shows still captured my still-developing frontal cortex, thanks to the weaponized delivery system of Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Adult Swim. Shows like Dragon Ball Z and the varying Gundam sagas thrilled and delighted me with their sometimes languishing serialized formats. Bursting up the monotony of summers indoors thanks to piles of VHS tapes and later DVD collections. Forming a sort of pre-binge era where the arcs were allowed to play with a different, but still pleasing and effective new patter.

But my friends and sleepover mates evolved beyond serialization; into longer-form anime and manga. I found myself outside of it all suddenly. Not really knowing where to go next or what to try and devote my precious teenage time to. Sure, I still had the TOMs and whatever Cartoon Network was willing to license, but beyond Bebop (and maybe like, Big O? Or Yu-Yu?) I didn’t really have a show that stood out for me. Not one to really call my “fave” beyond seminal stuff and features.

But then I met a weirdo named Lupin The Third and his band of equally strange (but noble) cohorts in crime. And it was like I saw colors for the first time! Well, at least, the color of jackets, that is.

This leads me to my personal effort for GateCrashers Anime August! A sort of primer/celebration of Monkey Punch’s Lupin The Third! A show and series that means a great deal to me, being a sap who grew up with pulp novels, James Bond, and The Italian Job. I was a WEIRD kid, okay?

But better still Lupin The Third, as a franchise, is pretty accessible! Sectioned off into Parts or “eras”, each with their own strengths and charms! And delineated with the simple visual motif of Lupin’s jacket color changing with each new incarnation! Visual and narrative in-roads easy enough to please even the most discerning of anime neophytes! 

I give you, A Jacket For Every Taste!

For Completionists – Lupin The Third Part I

(The “Green Jacket” Series)

For my money, probably the “purest” translation of Lupin from page to screen and roughshod, but a great place to start, should you want to. 

Animated by the legendary Masaaki Osumi and then later the iconic Hayao Miyazaki, the “Green Jacket” series is less of a story and more of an experience. Introducing viewers to Lupin and his team (along with the doggedly determined Inspector Zenigata)  for the first time, this series comes across a touch blocky if only because of its focus on its Bondian elements. Lupin and his crew are still criminals, but they are locked in a sort of ongoing battle with the nefarious SCORPION; a SPECTRE-like organization that wishes to kill Lupin and his crew in order to take the scores they would leave in wake of their deaths. 

The end results and episodes can feel a little scattered. As well as needlessly cruel and antagonistic, as, like its inspiration, Lupin is not a particularly heroic or warm character here (much like the Bond of the books wasn’t the version that translated to the screen). BUT, despite the push and pull from the series’ structuring, the plots and charm of the franchise still shine through. Coupled with some truly impressive animation, even from the early era and starting talents of it’s creatives.

A rough start, maybe, but a worthy one all the same!

 For Traditionalists – Lupin The Third Part II

(The “Red Jacket” Series)

The “Red Jacket” series is what most people think of when it comes to Lupin The Third. And for good reason too!

Serving as the second adaptation of Monkey Punch’s manga alongside its introduction to overseas audiences, thanks to its inclusion in the Toonami/Adult Swim rotation, the “Red Jacket” series finds the show shoring itself up both narratively and tonally. Alongside finding a whole new audience of fans.

Lupin and his gang are now fully leaning toward being “gentleman thieves”. Each episode serves as a mini heist film, complete with its own specific loot for that story. Better still, the sort of Ian Fleming-Esque globe-trotting of the first series is also improved, whisking Lupin and his team to all sorts of real-life locations and folding their visual flavor into each story in turn.

The tone of the “Red Jacket” episodes are, admittedly, pretty broad. Here a lot of the risque comedy and sexual innuendo of the manga are amplified for animation and through the voice cast (both in the subs and dubs of these episodes). It can make the stories seem cartoonish (I am so sorry) and theatrical, which can naturally be a turn-off for most viewers.

But the action plotting, score, and near-constant energy of the “Red Jacket” series cannot be denied. If you were looking for a breezy, consistently watchable way to get into this franchise the “Red Jacket” era is precisely the speed you wanna go. (Just expect a LOTTA jokes about boobs and butts). 

For Decontructionalists – Lupin The Third Part V: Misadventures in France & The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

(The “Blue Jacket” & “No Jacket” Series)

Two of the most “modern” inclusions in this piece, but two of the absolute best things of Lupin The Third I have ever seen.

Framed basically as soft reboots of the franchise, both Part V and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine have very different takes on Lupin but stand wonderfully with one another as “Prestige Cable” versions of the same characters.

Part V is clearly “What if Lupin and his friends operated in the world of Mission: Impossible?”. Presented as a cocksure, but lawfully chaotic bandit, Lupin and his gang now have to deal with a world overrun by technology, sectioned off in two-to-three episode mini-arcs. A sort of Silk Road-like drug outfit has been cornering the black markets, hidden behind the work of a now-infamous, but rarely seen hacker mastermind. Lupin has a simple plan on how to disrupt that. Steal the hacker.

What follows is a sumptuous animated, shockingly heartfelt exploration of Lupin and his gang, who are pushed further and further into positions of being the moral protagonists of increasingly murky stories. Even more, interestingly, the scripts consistently fold commentary on technology, personal autonomy, and war profiteering into the stories, taking Lupin and his friends across several entertaining arcs, taking them all over the globe. Also, there is an episode about Goemon going to a comic con.

The Woman Called Fuijko Mine takes this “Prestige” approach and just runs the fuck away with it. Barely featuring Lupin AT ALL and instead focusing on breakout co-star, Fujiko Mine, this “alternate history” on Lupin just really goes for it.

Just a word of warning, however, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a long way away from the hijinks based action of the “Red Jacket” series or even, really, Part V. It’s scripts are filled with stark depictions of violence and sexual situations that puts it more in line with The Sopranos than it does a regular “action-movie anime”.

But using that honed edge of adult drama, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine launched a whole ass separate “universe” of Lupin stories, sustained by follow-up series and features based on the tone set by The Woman Called. A universe where the co-stars admirably stepped into the roles of stars and carried on their perfect backs tremendously entertaining stories of crime, betrayal, and blood throughout the lives of professional thieves and assassins. 

The best part about all of this? This is barely even SCRATCHING THE SURFACE of the delights Lupin The Third can offer as a franchise.

There are a number of other shows, feature films, and even video games, offering up all manner of crafty and endlessly watchable crime yarns out there. Yarns like the now seminal Castle of Cagliostro (Miyazaki’s directorial debut!), the visually gorgeous CG animated Lupin III: The First (recently released in theatres overseas), and even stories in which he faces off against a legendary gumshoe (Lupin Vs. Detective Conan!) and even HIMSELF! (Green Vs. Red).

There is no wrong way to get into Lupin The Third so we here at GateCrashers wanted to give you a map to use however you wanted.

Treasures lie at the end of whatever path you take. Just make sure you hang onto them. Because once Lupin and the gang come around, they may lift them (and your heart) and you’ll never see them again.

Until Next Time,

Categories
Books Comics Film Television Video Games

Star Wars: A Spotter’s Guide to the Legends EU

Star Wars!

A thing we all love and can totally agree on amicably!

While we anxiously await the day that there can be Star Peace, this sprawling franchise has encompassed numerous genres beyond the realms and narratives of space opera. The franchise’s genre-hopping has also spanned over multiple “time periods” throughout the storied history of the Jedi, Skywalkers, and Republic. Branching off into multiple timelines that wove themselves throughout and between the movies into books, video games, and short-form narratives.

The most famous of these timelines being the “Legends Expanded Universe”. The name given to the now-defunct chunk of history that started narratively post-Return of the Jedi which used to sustain us ravenous nerds once we had ruined our VHS tapes of the Special Editions, roving out in search of more love and lightsabers.

So in honor of the GateCrashers Star Wars Celebration (no, not that one), the wise and powerful Jedi Council of GC decided we should talk about our favorite Old EU works! The stories that were too big for movies. Too weird for TV shows. And too horny to be placed anywhere else in the main canon. 

So gather up that Calamari Flan and take a seat at the cantina as we bring you A Spotter’s Guide to the Legends EU!

Star Wars: X-Wing (Book Series)

So we are gonna start with one of the more obvious picks, but one that merits discussion all the same. Michael A. Stackpole’s intensely readable X-Wing series! For my money, one of the few aspects of the Legends EU canon that still holds the fuck up.

Set only two and a half years after the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star, the X-Wing series finds Rebellion hero pilot turned New Republic General, Wedge Antillies, building a brand new Rogue Squadron; the legendary fighter wing that took down the first Death Star and provided the fledgling Rebellion with some of its first victories.

But while the logline of the series portends high adventure and blazing set pieces, the X-Wing series delivers much more than just thrills and heroics. While centered around Wedge as the “lead”, the rest of the cast, all ace pilots from across the franchise, all get plenty of time in the spotlight, growing together as a team and experiencing the epic highs and lows of a life on the edge. More than that, Stackpole takes these missions and their stakes deadly seriously, allowing this series to finally function as a raw and real war story, set against the immense backdrop of Star Wars in general.

That means we experience loss almost as much as Rogue Squadron does. We feel their pain and their triumph in a way that the movies never really had the time to focus on. We get smaller stories and scenes of heartbreak even as the larger war against the remains of the Empire marches on. That, I feel, is the real triumph of the X-Wing series. A Series that finally put the “War” into Star Wars.

Genndy Taratakovsky’s Clone Wars (Animated Specials)

This one might be another “no brainer” so bear with me. BUT C’MON! It’s the “original” Clone Wars cartoon! And the superior one, if we are being truly honest with ourselves and The Force. (Editor’s Note: This claim is disputed).

Originally presented as much-hyped short film specials on Cartoon Network/Toonami, these high octane, smartly contained short films gave fans left feeling tepid after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones the action they so craved. Almost oppressively animated and smartly staged by the fevered mind that gave us Dexter’s Laboratory and Korgoth of Barbaria the shorts became appointment viewing during their original run and garnered all manner of critical praise for their rough and tumble action movie approach to Star Wars.

Sure, the final movie they heralded turned out to be kind of a snooze (though I’ll admit Revenge of the Sith is my favorite Prequel DO NOT @ ME). But the anime-inspired shorts still hold the hell up. Beyond just the sheer kinetic fun of the series throughout, you can tell the production staff had a real blast filtering Star Wars through all sorts of action/samurai movie riffs. Not to mention it serves as the stage to introduce many fan-favorite characters to the animated world, such as Asajj Ventress, the dreaded Durge, Kit Fisto, and literally dozens more. They even have been given somewhat of a renaissance here lately thanks to Disney+’s latest addition of the series to their “Star Wars Vintage ” collection.

Though pretty much all of the series’ stories have been wiped away by the new Clone Wars cartoons, I am still happy to live in a universe where I can queue up a whole bloody cartoon of seeing some of my favorite Jedi and Clone Troopers fighting breathlessly through the galaxy, not a single episode of a droid being kidnapped in sight.

The Star Wars: Jedi Knight Series (Video Games)

Probably the entries on this list I feel the most connected to, LucasArts’ Jedi Knight games deliver pretty much exactly what is said on the tin. And therein lies the real fun!

Set roughly between the years directly after Return of the Jedi into the opening years of Luke’s New Jedi Order (more on THEM in a bit), players usually find themselves playing as Kyle Katarn. The Legends canon’s acerbic mixture of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. A character that I lovingly refer to as a “Trash Jedi”, as he starts as a cocksure padawan, washes out, takes up bounty hunting, and then finally comes back around to being a Jedi, all over the course of the first two games, both thrilling examples of the kind of cinematic shooter early 90s PC games were capable of.

Katarn is a character that recurs a few times throughout the Legends canon and once stood as the closest the series ever got to a Grey Jedi. He is also going to recur a few times in THIS list too, if only to keep me from mentioning Dash Rendar, who is just a straight-up carbon copy of Han with great shoulder pads. I have to give General Calrissian 5 wupiupi every time I mention Dash Rendar so I try to steer clear. 

But probably the best entry in the franchise, along with the most accessible, is Jedi Knight III: Jedi Academy, which finds players taking on the role of a full-fledged EU canon Jedi apprentice, under the tutelage of Kyle and Luke. Players get to visit a number of iconic worlds and choose the path of the New Order or the Cult of Ragnos, a new Sith sect rising to meet the light of Skywalker’s new temple. It is genuinely fun Star Wars nonsense and is stapled to a game that’s surprisingly addicting to play. The lightsaber mechanics feel genuinely devastating when employed correctly and the character development, tied obviously to your moral choices, feels rewarding in a way a lot of modern SW games have yet to crack again.

If you have a Steam account and some time to kill, spin them up! I promise you’ll at least be entertained by the dozens of Stormtroopers you’ll Force fling to their ragdolled, Unreal Engine-powered doom. 

The Bounty Hunter Wars (Book Series)

Long before another War of the Bounty Hunters graced the pages of Marvel Comics, author K.W. Jeter stirred up a whole ‘nother hive of scum and villainy in the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy.

Set almost directly after Return of the Jedi, this trilogy’s biggest selling point was its promise to return Boba Fett to the saga. In the trilogy’s opening installment, The Mandalorian Armor, Jeter did just that. Just…probably not in the way we were expecting. From that kick-off, we are treated to a rollicking journey through Star Wars’ backwaters and scuzzier locales. One that feels and reads with a much harder edge than the lofty Jedi-focused stories and “blockbuster” efforts like the Thrawn Trilogy.

Better still, Jeter makes great use of the whole toybox of villains provided by Star Wars. Fett, obviously, takes the “marquee” spot but characters like Dengar, Bossk, Zuckuss, and 4-LOM all get rousing set pieces and featured positions throughout the three books, making great use of the book’s focus away from the “Big Three” of Luke, Han, and Leia. Cult-favorite character Prince Xizor, star of the N64’s launch hit Shadows of the Empire, also gets fun featured bits throughout, adding a bit of interconnected flair to the whole affair and adding the Black Sun’s rep to the already ripping yarn.

While relatively low-stakes in relation to the more well-known Legends canon installments, The Bounty Hunter Wars provided the prose with a scummy, pulp novel-esque fun the new books could stand to find a bit more of.

Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear (YA Book Series)

Did y’all know that Star Wars once did a Goosebumps? Did you also know that they fucking rule? Because both of these things are true, I promise.

Set in the weeks after A New Hope, the Galaxy of Fear series, all penned with a ghoulish glee by author John Whitman, follow Force-sensitive twins Tash and Zak Arranda who take up with their mysterious “Uncle” Hoole and his ditzy droid DV-9 after the destruction of their homeworld Alderaan. The pair then ping from one horrifying adventure to the next, trying to stay one step ahead of the Empire and meeting all manner of iconic Star Wars heroes along the way.

And when I say “horrifying” I absolutely mean it. These books are filled to the brim with nightmare fuel like flesh-eating Dark Force-powered zombies of long-dead Jedi and a whole race of aliens that are just brains in jars that walk on mechanized spider legs. THESE WERE FOR CHILDREN. 

While the clear R.L. Stein inspiration is an obvious draw, this series also stands up as a competently structured YA saga. All the books are accessible enough on their own, but they reward repeat readers with touchstones to the past books and are armed with a truly driving, morally poignant central narrative that carries it across the whole way. 

The cameos don’t hurt either. I won’t lie at the surface level glee at reading about Dr. Evazan being a part of basically the Imperial Thule Society or Dash Rendar (dank FARRIK, another 5 wupiupi for Lando…) ferrying children through a casino ship overtaken by a homicidal AI. But I think Galaxy of Fear offers a lot more than just basic thrills and chills, especially if you like your Star Wars to be a little more genre flavored. And A LOT more koo-koo bananas

Star Wars: Republic Commando (Video Game)

For my galactic credits, one of the best FPS shooters ever made and a personal (not-at-all-pushy) request for the list from Editor Ethan here at the GC Capital Ship. (Editor’s Note: Go read the book series that followed on from the game, they’ll make you cry).

Casting players in the role of “Boss”, the CO of an elite unit of Clone Troopers, LucasArts’ Republic Commando depicts the absolute thick of the Clone Wars’ fighting. Employing the diverse destructive talents of the rest of your squad, the game brings the pitched, gritty fighting of some of the better EU novels and translates it thrillingly onto consoles. 

Sure the campaign is thin compared to today’s standards and the multiplayer lobbies stand empty now (AGENTofASGARD on Xbox Live btw, in case you all wanna take some checkpoints later). But there is a reason it drew comparisons to Halo and the Spec-Ops franchise in reviews upon its release. Its combat mechanics are easy to learn, but challenging to master, and its storytelling, while driving and action-heavy, still makes the time for quiet moments amongst the player and the rest of the cast. All culminating in another stand-out first-person shooter effort amid the Legends EU video game timeline. 

Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars Titles (Comics)

Long before the Galaxy Far, Far Away returned to the House of Ideas and once again bore the Marvel masthead, Dark Horse Comics controlled almost every era of Star Wars. And did a pretty bang-up job with it to boot.

Encompassing everything from the Old Republic to the New Jedi Order, the Dark Horse Comics era of Star Wars was an embarrassment of riches. Starting in the 1990s and even supported along the way by host of The George Lucas Talk Show, George Lucas, the Dark Horse line continually offered up a wide range of Star Wars experiences. Right up until the moment it legally couldn’t anymore.

For fans that wanted stories of the heyday of the Jedi, there were titles like Dawn of the Jedi, Republic, and even a Knights of the Old Republic ongoing series. For readers that wanted stories of the Age of Rebellion and iconic Star Wars heroes, there was a Star Wars ongoing, Rebellion, and even a wonderful X-Wing: Rogue Squadron title, serving as both an adaptation and continuation of the fan-favorite prose series. And even for fans that wanted to move BEYOND all that, they offered many adaptations of famous Legends EU novels, the now-iconic Dark Empire miniseries, and its rousing follow-ups Crimson Empire I-III.

We honestly didn’t know how good we had it. Though the current “Marvel Era” of Star Wars comics have popped in a way I didn’t expect (I would die for Doctor Aphra), I will always remember fondly the time when Dark Horse Comics’ efforts graced my pull-box with just top to bottom FUN (and well-produced) Star Wars comics.

The Jedi Academy Trilogy / I, Jedi / The New Jedi Order (Books)

My final entry is a bit of a cheat, but stick with me, I promise my reasoning is sound. 

One of the most enduring concepts from the Legends EU canon is the New Jedi Order. A brand new generation of Jedi Knights, led by Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, who intends on restoring the Jedi into something new and helpful to the fledgling New Republic. This kicks off properly in 1994’s Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson, a frequent and ironclad name on any discount Sci-Fi fiction table. 

This trilogy opener really swings for the fences. It’s weird and fussy and very, very focused on establishing the flavor of Luke’s new class of Jedi. But best of all, it feels like it’s also very intent on pushing forward Star Wars canon thus far. Shaped by the success of the Thrawn trilogy and some of the other standalone books, Anderson and company start to really knuckle down and grow the universe out, dragging a lot of icons along the way. And even introducing a few of his own with the debut of the Solo Twins, Jacen and Jaina

This expansion also starts to bleed well into the standalone books too! One of Anderson’s later efforts, I, Jedi, for example. In this single volumed tale that takes place concurrently with the new trilogy, we are introduced to Corran Horn. He’s a former member of Rogue Squadron and one of the galaxy’s first new Force-sensitives. In the chaos of the ending war, Horn’s wife is kidnapped and visions of her haunt his life. Turns out, those visions are Force powered and Horn resolves himself to speed through Jedi training with Luke in order to save her. Even if he has to turn to the Dark Side to do it.

Mixing the military action of the X-Wing series and the high weirdness of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, I, Jedi finds the Legends EU bearing expansion very well while also making great use of the myriad of genres one can explore through the lens of Star Wars. It’s exciting and raw and immensely re-readable, even after all these years.

This expansion comes to a head 25 years ABY (After the Battle of Yavin) in the proper debut of the New Jedi Order. 1999’s Vector Prime from the legendary R.A. Salvatore, the man who gave us Drizzit Do’Urden. Picking up with Jania, Mara Jade Skywalker, and other Legends EU staples, this series that sustained the Legends EU until the very day it stopped is just pure fun from start to finish.

The new generation of Jedi are thriving and the galaxy is in a healthy flux. But when a new and wholly unconventional threat called the Yuuzhan Vong make themselves known coupled with reports of rogue Jedi taking the law into their own hands on the Outer Rim, our new Jedi Council is forced into a deadly game they may not even know the rules to.

It all culminates in a thrilling, but meticulously staged collection of Star Wars stories. Ones that both honor the spirit of the original movies and push the franchise into different, challenging, and unexpected places.

Conclusion

Hear some of you grousing already, I can.

“What about the Black Fleet Crisis?!” “No love for Thrawn?!” “Y NO SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE!?”

To which I reply, that’s the beauty of the Legends EU! It contained so much and employed all manner of genre riffs that any one of you could make a wholly different list and it wouldn’t necessarily be “wrong”!

The Legends Expanded Universe canon may have been pruned, TVA style, once the new movie trilogy was announced. But that doesn’t lessen its power much. Nor does it detract from the new line of novels and tie-ins produced in the wake of these new movies.

It’s all still there, in libraries and bookstores used and new all over the world, should anybody want it. I think that’s pretty crikkin’ neat. It doesn’t make it any “better” than the new books, comics, and video games. It just makes it always THERE for us. Either in their original prints or in the new reprints popping up on shelves, provided by the good folks at Del Ray.

Just like how A Galaxy Far, Far Away always is. No matter the incarnation. That matters. Then, now, and forever.

Godspeed, Rebels.

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On Resurrecting a God with Playwright Mark Griffiths

A classic Doctor Who baddie gains a whole new life in Cutaway Comics’ Omega: Vengeance.

Brought to you by the same “splinter universe” publisher that gave us the Lytton solo series and the critically acclaimed play We Apologize for the Inconvenience and armed with “showrunner” Eric Seward (The Visitation, Remembrance of the Daleks, and a bunch more), Omega: Vengeance looks to tell an “untold tale” about one the Doctor’s most deadly, and most powerful, enemies. 

The planet Minyos is in chaos. The population is in open revolt against their pantheon of alien rulers, a revolt further stoked by Omega even from behind the cosmic bars of his black hole prison. But when a rogue member of the Minyos royal family stands up to the revolt and the caged god, the planet is poised on a knife-edge between violence and reason. With nothing holding it together but the humanoid will to survive.

The GateCrashers recently got a chance to sit down with the writer of Omega: Vengeance, playwright Mark Griffiths, to talk about the genesis of the project and how this “side-story” fits into the overall tapestry of Doctor Who while standing on its own as a complete story. Join us as we wreak cosmic vengeance with one of the Doctor’s most formidable foes.

GateCrashers: How were you brought on to the project?

Mark Griffiths: Gareth Kavanagh the publisher of Cutaway Comics is also the producer of my stage play about Douglas Adams, WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. With the onset of the pandemic, our theatrical plans were put on hold and it seemed a good opportunity to concentrate on print media.

GC: What was your experience with Doctor Who, and more specifically Omega beforehand?

MG: I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was very young. The earliest season I remember watching is Tom Baker’s first. Initially, to me, Omega was a terrifying image in The Doctor Who Monster Book (that mask!), and then a terrifying presence in the Target novelisation of The Three Doctors. With the repeat of that story in The Five Faces of Doctor Who in 1981, Omega became a slightly less terrifying presence, thanks to his spangly poncho, but he always remained to me, a first tier Doctor Who baddie.

CG: Were you only able to use story and character beats from The Three Doctors and Underworld? Or did you use any of the further development Omega has had since?

MG: The comic leads into (or at least points towards) both Underworld and The Three Doctors. They were, in very broad strokes, the background material I was working from. We knew that the Time Lords played at being gods to the ancient Minyans so it was nice to dramatise that moment at the start of the comic. 

GC: Do you have any plans for further work in the Doctor Who universe?

MG: Yes, Gareth and I have plans for further Doctor Who spin-off titles but they’re top secret at the moment. As the saying goes, stay tuned!

GC: What was it like collaborating with John Ridgway?

MG: An absolute delight. John’s stuff is just brilliant and to see his pages arriving each week has been a real highlight of an awful year. I’m extremely fortunate to have him illustrating my first comic book script.

GC: Since Omega primarily weaves in and out of the Jon Pertwee Era of Doctor Who, did you find yourself rewatching or retreading some Third Doctor Adventures for inspiration?

MG: Not especially. The Three Doctors is a favourite story so it was always at the back of my mind as I was writing. I was keener to create a new protagonist and take her on a journey leading to a final confrontation with Omega.

GC: Speaking of, that era has a reputation for being a more “grounded, realistic” take on Doctor Who, was it difficult trying to thread that needle between realistic and operatic? Specifically in and around such an “all-powerful” character like Omega?

MG: Yes, when you’re writing this kind of space opera story, language becomes a tricky business. On the one hand, if you have the characters using lots of modish slang, it feels out of place. But on the other, if everyone talks too formally the dialogue feels bloated and unnatural. Ditto for the action. You have to strike a balance between realism and the wilder, more psychedelic sequences.

GC: What was the design process like for this new incarnation of Omega?

MG: We knew we couldn’t use either of the BBC visual takes of the character and any design we came up for him had to be approved by Bob Baker (creator of Omega). 

As the comic opens, Omega is present only as a voice and occasionally as a dimly perceived humanoid figure. When we eventually see him in the flesh, as it were, I think people are going to be surprised by his appearance. I can’t say any more at this stage!

GC: Any chance of a Bessie cameo? Even just parked on the street somewhere maybe? 

MG: Hmmm…

GC: Oh, man, we love the sound of that. But finally, are there any other “unseen” areas or specific other locations of Doctor Who you feel itching to explore?

MG: Tons! Virtually every story broadcast creates new worlds and histories to explore. 

Doctor Who has one of the richest fictional universes of any sci-fi programme and it’s been a privilege to be allowed to add a few pebbles to its mountain of mythology.

Omega: Vengeance #1 (of 4) is available now through Cutaway Comics.