Despite what you may think, I know how far down the Sarlacc pit this is going. I’m in the middle of The Avengers, which I interrupted for the Star Wars Holiday Special, and now we’re looking at the interfaces inside a ten-minute cartoon that Lumpy watches complacently while stormtroopers trash his home and rough up his family in the background. We’re at Inception level Hoth.
I even know I have proclaimed that I must shy away from reviewing interfaces in hand-drawn animation on principle. I know all this. But if you have yet to brave gazing into the dark heart of The Special, know that this is its highlight. The animation is gorgeous and trippy (like something out of Heavy Metal magazine circa 1980) almost making the frame story of The Special worth it. Even if the plot is a little wan.
Luke, the droids, and Leia are aboard the cruiser R.S. Revenge, anxiously awaiting word from Han and Chewie, who are racing to find a mystical talisman before the Empire does. The Millennium Falcon comes out of lightspeed barreling toward the cruiser and out of radio contact. After it zooms past, Luke takes the droids and chases the Falcon to an intensely pink moon. Luke crashes into the soupy surface, and while looking for them with binoculars, he is saved from a pink sauropod attack by Boba Fett. (Yes, that Boba Fett. This is where he is introduced in the Star Wars universe.) Fett then leads them to the Falcon.
There Luke sees Chewie eject the talisman from the ship, before falling into the same coma-like sleep as Han. Turns out the talisman is infected with a virus that only affects humans. To survive, Luke is hung upside down next to Han until they can be cured. Something something blood to the brain something. Fett offers to get a remedy in the nearby city.
After he gets the serum, Fett contacts Darth Vader (insert gasp) on a public video phone (insert gasp). Back at the ship, the Droids intercept the message, hearing that the talisman is a red herring—Fett and Vader are really trying to earn their trust to learn the location of the new Rebel base. When Fett returns to the Falcon, they inject the serum to wake Han and Luke, but the droids out Fett as the bad guy he is. Fett escapes with his jet pack, promising that they’ll meet again.
On board the R.S. Revenge, the purple-skinned communications officer announces he’s picked up something. (Genders are a goofy thing to ascribe to alien physiology, but the voice actor speaks in a masculine register, so I’m going with it.)
He attends a monitor, below which are several dials and controls in a panel. On the right of the monitor screen there are five physical controls.
A stay-state toggle switch
A stay-state rocker switch
The lower two dials have rings under them on the panel that accentuate their color.
The screen is a dark purple overhead map of the impossibly dense asteroid field in which the Revenge sits. A light purple grid divides the space into 48 squares. This screen has text all over it, but written in a constructed orthography unmentioned in the Wookieepedia. In the upper center and upper right are unchanging labels. Some triangular label sits in the lower-left. In the lower right corner, text appears and disappears too fast for (human) reading. The middle right side of the screen is labeled in large characters, but they also change too rapidly to make much sense of it.
The only flight controls we see are an array of stay-state toggle switches (see the lower right hand of the image above) and banks of lights. It’s a terrifying thought that anyone would have to fly a spaceship with binary controls, but we have some evidence that there’s analog controls, when Luke moves his arms after the Falcon fires shots across his bow.
Unfortunately we never get a clear view of the full breadth of the cockpit, so it’s really hard to do a proper analysis. Ships in the Holiday Special appear to be based on scenes from A New Hope, but we don’t see the inside of a Y-Wing in that movie. It seems to be inspired by the Falcon. Take a look at the upper right hand corner of the image below.
Luke, Chewie, the comms officer aboard the Revenge, and this orange lizard/cat thing wear similar headsets in the short. Each consists of headphones with a coronal headband and a microphone on a boom that holds it in front of their mouths.
The only time we see something resembling a control, Luke attempts to report back to the Rebel base. To do so, he uses his right hand to pinch (or hold?) the microphone as he says, “This is Y4 to base.” Then he releases the mic and continues, “He’s heading straight for a moon in…the Panna system.”Continue reading →
After ditching Chewie, Boba Fett heads to a public video phone to make a quick report to his boss who turns out to be…Darth Vader (this was a time long before the Expanded Universe/Legends, so there was really only one villain to choose from).
To make the call, he approaches an alcove off an alley. The alcove has a screen with an orange bezel, and a small panel below it with a 12-key number panel to the left, a speaker, and a vertical slot. Below that is a set of three phone books. For our young readers, phone books are an ancient technology in which telephone numbers were printed in massive books, and copies kept at every public phone for reference by a caller.
There is one last interface in The Faithful Wookiee we see in use. It’s one of those small interfaces, barely seen, but that invites lots of consideration. In the story, Boba and Chewie have returned to the Falcon and administered to Luke and Han the cure to the talisman virus. Relieved, Luke (who assigns loyalty like a puppy at a preschool) says,
“Boba, you’re a hero and a faithful friend.[He isn’t. —Editor]You must come back with us. [He won’t.] What’s the matter with R2?”
C3PO says,“I’m afraid sir, it’s because you said Boba is a faithful friend and faithful ally.[He didn’t.]That simply does not feed properly into R2’s information banks.”
Luke asks, “What are you talking about?”
“We intercepted a message between Boba and Darth Vader, sir. Boba Fett is Darth Vader’s right-hand man. I’m afraid this whole adventure has been an Imperial plot.”
Luke gapes towards Boba, who has his blaster drawn and is backing up into an alcove with an escape hatch. Boba glances at a box on the wall, slides some control sideways, and a hatch opens in the ceiling. He says, deadpan, “We’ll meet again…friend,” before touching some control on his belt that sends him flying into the clear green sky, leaving behind a trail of smoke.
A failure of door
Let’s all keep in mind that the Falcon isn’t a boat or a car. It is a spaceship. On the other side of the hatch could be breathable air at the same pressure as what’s inside the ship, or it could also be…
The bone-cracking 2.7° Kelvin emptiness of space
The physics-defying vortex of hyperspace
Some poisonous atmosphere like Venus’, complete with sulfuric acid clouds
A hungry flock of neebrays.
There should be no easy way to open any of its external doors.
Think of an airplane hatch. On the other side of that thing is an atmosphere known to support human life, and it sure as hell doesn’t open like a gen-1 iPhone. For safety, it should take some doing.
If we’re being generous, maybe there’s some mode by which each door can be marked as “safe” and thereby made this easy to open. But that raises issues of security and authorizations and workflow that probably aren’t worth going into without a full redesign and inserting some new technological concepts into the diegesis.
Let’s also not forget that to secure that most precious of human biological needs, i.e. air, there should be an airlock, where the outer door and inner door can’t be opened at the same time without extensive override. But that’s not a hindrance. It could have made for an awesome moment.
LUKE gapes at Boba. Cut to HAN.
You won’t get any information out of us, alive or dead. Even the droids are programmed to self-destruct. But there’s a way out for you.
HAN lowers his hand to a panel, and presses a few buttons. An escape hatch opens behind Boba Fett.
We’ll meet again…friend.
That quick change might have helped explain why Boba didn’t just kill everyone and steal the Falcon and the droids (along with their information banks) then and there.
Security is often sacrificed to keep narrative flowing, so I get why makers are tempted to bypass these issues. But it’s also worth mentioning two other failures that this 58-second scene illustrates.
A failure to droid
Why the hell did C3PO and R2D2 wait to tell Luke and Han of this betrayal until Luke happened to say something that didn’t fit into “information banks?” C3PO could have made up some bullshit excuse to pull Luke aside and whisper the news. But no, he waits, maybe letting Luke and Han spill vital information about the Rebellion, and only when something doesn’t compute, blurt out that the only guy in the room with the blaster happens to be in bed with Space Voldemort.
Also note that despite all this effort (and buffoonery) they never, ever used this insanely effective bioweapon against the Rebels, again.
I know, you’re probably thinking this is just some kid’s cartoon in the Star Wars diegesis, but that only raises more problems, which I’ll address in the final post on this crazy movie within a crazy movie.
Of course we understand that The Faithful Wookiee was an animation for children and teens, the script of which was thrown together in a short time. We understand that it is meant to be entertainment and not a prediction, building on the somewhat-unexpected success of a sci-fi movie released the year before. We get that the plot is, well, unlikely. We understand that 1978 was not a time when much thought was given to consistent and deeply thought-through worldbuilding with technology. We understand it is hand-drawn animation and all the limitations that come with this.
But, still, to ensure a critique is valuable to us, we must bypass these archaeological excuses and focus instead on the thing as produced. And for that, the short does not fare well.
Sci: F (0 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?
Comms have interfaces with inexplicably moving buttons. Headsets require pilots to take their hands off the controls. Spaceships with EZ-open external doors, the interfaces just don’t make sense. The one bright spot might be the video phone on which Fett calls Vader, but with no apparent camera and unlabeled buttons, it’s a pretty dim bright spot.
Fi: A (4 of 4) How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?
Comms efficiently lets us know Chewie is incoming, mysteriously not responding to hails. Headsets let us know when Luke is talking to base. We find out about Boba’s deception to suddenly reveal the danger our heroes are in as well as the stakes. The escape hatch ends the story quickly without violence. These interfaces are almost exclusively narrative in purpose, which is why they fail in other ways.
Interfaces: F (0 of 4) How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?
The comms make its user remember and interpret important data. The headsets require pilots to take their hands off the controls. The evillest organization in the galaxy bypassing basic security. A door that seems to ignore the basics of safety and security. There is little to recommend these interfaces as models for designs in the real world.
Final Grade C (8 of 12), Matinée.
Despite the failings of the interfaces, I’ll argue that The Faithful Wookiee may be the best thing about the Star Wars Holiday Special. And, we’re back to that mess, next.
Since I only manage to restart The Star Wars Holiday Special reviews right around the time a new Star Wars franchise movie comes out, many of you may have forgotten it was even being reviewed. Well, it is. If you need to catch up, or have joined this blog after I began it years ago, you can head back to beginning to read about the plot and the analyses so far. It’s not pretty.
When we last left the Special, Lumpy was distracted from the Stormtrooper ransack of their home by watching The Faithful Wookiee. The 6 analyses of that film focused on the movie from a diegetic perspective, as if it were a movie like any other on this blog, dealing mostly with its own internal “logic.”
Picking up, we need to look at The Faithful Wookiee from a “hyperdiegetic” perspective, that is, in the context of the other show in which it occurs, that is, The Star Wars Holiday Special. Please note that, departing from the mission statement for a bit, these questions not about the interfaces, but about the backworlding that informs these interfaces. Continue reading →