Disney Buys Lucasfilm Ltd.

If you are a fan of this blog, you might have already heard the news from places like this.  If not, you should be aware that Disney bought Lucasfilm Ltd, giving them control of the Star Wars franchise.  I thought this might just be rights to the movies, current and future, with Lucas retaining ownership of merchandise and his support companies like ILM and Skywalker Sound, but according to this press release from Disney, they are getting everything.  Lucas will be retained as a creative consultant with his second in command elevated to president of Lucasfilm and reporting to Disney upper management.

People are wondering what the motivations are.  To me, it is simple.  Lucas was offered a lot of money (~$4 billion of which ~$2 billion will be cash) and it relieved him of the headaches of his franchises.  He basically has been able to do no right since Empire in the eyes of the world and now he is completely free of that burden.  He got to do what he wanted and now it is someone else’s problem.  This is obvious to me because he didn’t just sell SW.  He sold Lucasfilm outright.  This includes Indiana Jones which, the article I linked to above points out, Disney doesn’t care about at all.  Besides the nice simplicity, why give it all away unless you don’t want the responsibility anymore?

None of this is completely surprising news but it is interesting to think about what might happen now.  The future of SW could go two ways in my book:

Option #1
Disney says, “There is so much backstory and, whew, are we lucky to have people whose job it is to keep all this stuff straight.  People who are experts in the minutia of the products, the universe, and all things Star Wars.  We’ll do new stories in this existing universe.  Maybe occasionally we’ll have to tweak the movie cannon and almost certainly there will be movement in the expanded universe, but the core stuff will remain the same and mostly we will just have glancing references in our new stuff.  We have a huge interesting universe that still inspires people to this day.  Let’s go see other parts of it and meet new characters!”

How cool would it be to have a TV miniseries show us what it is like to be selected as a padawan and then take us through to Jedi knighthood?  What about live-action movies based on the Republic Commando novels?  Maybe we focus on the empire vs. rebel struggle from the perspective of a group of pro-empire people and why they think the empire is so great and how it will improve humanity.

Option #2
Disney says, “What a nightmare of backstory!  There is so much infrastructure just to keep track of it all – entire departments, wikis, forums, etc.  Not all of the fans mutinied when they streamlined and altered some key elements in the Star Trek reboot.  It made a lot of money and received favorable reviews.  Let’s wipe the slate clean and try that here.  Now we can get rid of Luke’s incestuous thoughts and anything else we deem problematic.”

While I’m all in favor of a nice cohesive story, major changes to the SW universe will really screw it up.  While you can get away with this in Star Trek, I don’t think it will work well in SW.  Trek is a very character driven show, but in SW the setting is probably its strongest attribute.  As an example, the Han didn’t shoot first change really bothered me but it didn’t fundamentally alter things the way midi-chlorians did.  Disney option #2 has the opportunity to change things much more drastically than how the Force works and that is probably a very bad thing.

My hope is that they leave the existing SW stories alone and that they also realize they have two avenues to approach new SW stories.  The kid-oriented cartoons can be simple straightforward stories of heroism and pure evil.  The movies and live-action TV shows can appeal to teens and adults.  New characters can be more ambiguous.  Storylines can be more complex.  They can run the gamut of Smallville-esque young hero soap operas to Avengers-style popcorn chompers all the way to Saving Private Ryan-ish war movies.  The SW universe is huge and stories can be tailored to all age groups and tastes without being paradoxical or wiping the slate clean first.  If SW is big enough for custom cookie cutters, then it is big enough for multiple sagas.

Also, don’t let that announcement of a new SW movie in 2015 slip by.  Just when it seems things are at an end, there is another.

Cookie Quest Part II

A long time ago in a post this far away, I discussed the joy of finding and using Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters.  I also reviewed three sugar cookie recipes.  Well, you wrote to me letting me know that there were better recipe options available.  I think you can see where we are headed – another cookie test and me feeling a little guilty about eating dozens of cookies.

Once again the cutters performed flawlessly.  They are not up for debate so let’s move on to the dough.

Up first, we have an emailed recipe.  Once you have started studying these things, you see that most sugar cookie recipes are nearly identical.  This one is radically different in that it uses sour cream and nutmeg.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup soft butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg; set aside

2.  In a large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter, sugar, and egg until light and fluffy

3.  At low speed beat in sour cream and vanilla until smooth

4.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well combined

5.  Form dough into balls and wrap in waxed paper or foil.  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

6.  On a lightly floured surface roll out dough about 1/4″ inch thick and cut into shapes.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

Next up is an oldie that was stuffed in our recipe drawer.  Why didn’t I look here before?  It too was unusual in that it used vegetable oil.  That doesn’t sound appetizing, but the total fat count for this one is roughly double the other recipes.  Maybe that will save the flavor.

Very Best Sugar Cookies

1 cup vegetable oil
2 sticks butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 beaten eggs
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, cream together oil, butter and both sugars.

Mix in vanilla and eggs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda.

Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture blending well.

Divide dough into two balls.

Flatten dough balls into ½” thickness, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

On floured surface roll dough to ¼” thickness (dough may need to warm for 5 minutes first).

Cut dough into shapes, place on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Once I’d made a ½ recipe of each of these and the official Williams-Sonoma recipe, I tried each of the doughs.  Of course all of the usual warnings apply about eating raw eggs.  I cannot suggest that you try that step at home.  The W-S dough was tough but tasty.  The old-fashioned dough was extremely smooth because of the sour creme and quite tasty but the nutmeg made them seem like something other than sugar cookies.  It reminded me of the America’s Test Kitchen recipe from our first go at this – a very tasty dough that really wasn’t a sugar cookie flavor.  The very best dough was extremely light, greasy and delicious.

Forming and baking the cookies revealed variations too.  W-S performed flawlessly again.  It was the easiest to work with and maintained crisp shapes when cooked.  The old-fashioned was a little more sticky and puffed up into more of a biscuit than the W-S but details were still easily readable.  Very best was a challenge.  Clearly this recipe is designed for round cookies only.  The dough was extremely sticky and lightweight which allowed it to tear if a liberal amount of flour and a spatula wasn’t used.  Cooked cookies turned into puffy blobs.  Not good.

Boba = Williams-Sonoma Recipe. Vader = Old-Fashioned Recipe.
Stormtroopers = Very Best Recipe.

Finally, it was on to taste.  Our panel of three judges was in agreement.  W-S came to the plate with a dense and sweet cookie.  It had a very good standard sugar cookie flavor.  Old-fashioned had the best texture of any straddling the line between standard cookie and thin biscuit.  Strangely the nutmeg flavor was gone and, with a lower sugar content, these were the blandest of the bunch.  Finally, very best was still slightly greasy (like a chocolate chip cookie) but had the best flavor.  Sweet and delicious.  Even better than our taste-winner from round one.

As stated in the other article, there must be a balance between shape-holding ability and taste.  Unlike other cookies, no one makes sugar cookies for the taste alone.  They make them to cut into interesting shapes.  So based on this, here is my officially-endorsed ranked list:

1  Williams-Sonoma Sugar Cookies – included with SW cutters
2  Very Best Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty
3  America’s Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty but not a sugar cookie flavor
4  Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – best texture but bland
5  Best Rolled Sugar Cookies – almost no flavor

I also tried the frosting recipe included with the cutters.  It is just a standard royal icing that obscures all of the details below it.  It would probably be much easier and better to use some sort of pour on glaze that was thin enough to let the details show through.

W-S Frosting Recipe Obscures All Details

A Review of The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J. W. Rinzler

I recently finished the second book in new The Making of series.  If you read my review of The Making of Star Wars, then you have most of my opinions of this book.  It has many pictures you almost certainly haven’t seen elsewhere (which doesn’t seem possible), it has the feel of a Lucasfilm employee scrapbook and it details the process of making the movie – not the art or the special effects but the actual day to day issues.  If you have any interest in how big budget movies are made or just want to know everything about the best of the SW movies, you should read this book.  It is big and expensive, so you might consider checking it out from your local library to test drive it first.

Surprisingly, there were two moments in the book where I truly laughed out loud and I must share them with you.

The first involves one of the first wireless microphone recordings on a movie set in history.  Irvin Kershner (the director) is mic’ed up for a day and the transcription gives us insight into the day-to-day grueling shoot of this movie.  As with any creative endeavor that has to make money, situations are constantly changing and there is pressure to get things done.

Let me set the scene, the actors are trying to work out the carbon freezing of Han.  Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams and Irvin Kershner are having communication problems.  Kershner has told Williams that the scene will be recorded in two shots (meaning he will stop his dialog and freeze midway through the scene).  He also tells some of the actors that they will run through the entire scene.  The hilarity builds as this contradiction plays out take after take.  Here is the meltdown at the end.

Kershner: Right. [to the assembled crew] Okay, here we go. Alright, this is a rehearsal. We do everything, minus the steam. Alright-action! [Steam is released.] Minus the steam! No steam, no CO2 [Scene proceeds briefly.] Cut, cut, please cut!

Tomblin: Hold it. It doesn’t seem to be working properly.

Kershner: Not again. [Tomblin directs the crew to their places.]

Tomblin: Alright, ready, here we go! Action! [Scene is played out as Tomblin directs the troopers and little people.]

Kershner: Cut’ Okay. Kel, how did it work?

Kelvin Pike: Pretty good.

Kershner: Yeah, it looked alright for me. [to Williams] As Boba Fett walks away, he starts the dialogue.

Williams: Do you want me to continue with the dialogue?

Kershner: Yes, I want to do the dialogue.

Williams: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Kershner: We’re going to do the dialogue, yeah. I thought you understood. Williams: I thought you wanted to wait until the cut.

Kershner: No, no, no. I want to do the dialogue right there. Yes, Harrison, he misunderstood that. [whispers to Williams] Okay, we do the dialogue in a long shot and then we’ll overlap it.

Williams: You didn’t tell me.

Kershner: Okay, I’m a fool. [laughs; he then turns to Tomblin] Okay, now, precisely when Vader is about here, that claw should be coming up. (“My feeling is that when you’re shooting, the first thing you do is put up the camera on a wide shot and get the entire scene,” says Lucas. “You block it and shoot it in one big, wide master. You can do it very quickly-and what it does is, it makes the DF light the entire set and the cast go through the entire scene, so everybody knows what’s going on. What Kersh would do is he would shoot a piece of someone coming in and sitting down or he would shoot the fight and then have him go out the door. Those are two different masters, so the cast and crew sometimes wouldn’t see the whole thing played through in one piece-so they often never understood how it all went together.”)

Ford: Are we continuing?

Kershner: Which?

Williams: Dialogue. That’s what I asked you.

Kershner: We’re doing the dialogue, yes, you’re doing the dialogue.

Ford: [irritated tone] We never got past, “What’s going on, pal?” Do you want to go past that, or not?

Kershner: No.

Ford: Okay.

Williams: So one last time, we’re not going to go into …

Kershner: Yeah, you’re going to do your dialogue. Then . Williams: He’s going to ask me …

Kershner: Yeah, “What are we doing here?”

Ford: That’s what I just asked you, Kershner. I say to him, “What’s going on, pal?” We’ve never gone any further in rehearsal than that.

Kershner: I thought you did it. It looked like you did it.

Ford: Billy didn’t know, Billy never answered.

Kershner: Oh, okay, yeah, we do that.

Williams: Oh, we do that, okay.

Tomblin: Do you want to break for lunch?

Kershner: No, I want to do the shot now. I want to just do it because it’s a long shot. It’s only for an overlap, you see what I mean?

Ford: [sounding stressed] Nobody noticed anything. This is the third time I’ve come up to Billy and said the line and Billy hasn’t turned around and said a word to me. Now, that’s because Billy didn’t know that we’re supposed to do the dialogue.

Kershner: Okay, I’ll tell you what, while you’re standing here, let’s see how you do the dialogue.

Ford: Can we have somebody stand in for Carrie?

Kershner: Yeah, absolutely. [to a crew member] Where’s Carrie?

Crew member: On the stair.

Kershner: Carrie! Could you stand here please? [The actors go over their lines.]

Ford: Are we going to have to raise our volume here to be heard above the steam?

Kershner: You’re talking just to yourselves. This is a little scene between just the four of you.

Tomblin: Everyone in position.

Diamond: This is the easy bit, Kershner [laughs].

Kershner: No, this isn’t; this is the hard one. I need to know just where to cut in. Whew! It’s a monster.

The second is a sound bite from one of the ILM guys commenting on the original Wampa costume made by the English crew.

“There was a lot of stuff goin’ on,” says Ralston. “We were shooting inserts and weird stuff would happen. We saw the rough cut of the Abominable Snowman scene-and whatever they built in England was so crappy and so bad looking that Jon, Phil, Dennis, and me, we were like, ‘I don’t want this in the movie I’m working on.’ Now we’re getting really arrogant, because we know everything. [laughs] What they had looked like a big owl, kind of nice and cuddly, but not scary-and we weren’t about to let something that dumb get into the film. So Phil built a miniature head and we just went into a vacant lot and shot up at a cloudy sky. Luckily, George used it.”

Overall this book is great and I highly recommend it.  It’s even better than The Making of Star Wars.  If you own a suit of plate mail you should probably wear your breastplate while reading.  In hardcover, this book is heavy and will put a dent in your chest in short order.

Williams-Sonoma Star Wars Cookie Cutters

A few weekends ago I picked up these cool Star Wars cookie cutters since my brother’s kids are getting into Star Wars now.  I thought with the holidays coming up, we could have some fun making and decorating some SW cooks.  I want to do my part as a good uncle and, besides, they need to know about the Dark Side before the cool kids at school start telling them that everyone shoots lightning from their fingertips.

Even the box is Nice

This past weekend I had a test run to see how well they’d work and what recipe would be best.  I always remember sugar cookies as basically being little rice cakes with icing.  There had to be a decent recipe out there.  I opted to try three different recipes and mix any left over dough for a semi-fourth.  Since there are four cookie cutters, this worked out perfectly.  One shape per type of dough.

I first checked out my favorite recipe testing ground – America’s Test Kitchen.  It yielded this recipe.  Like me, they agreed that sugar cookies really are not very good most of the time.  Their recipe really jumpstarts the flavor by browning the butter (giving it a butterscotch flavor), using brown sugar, and a ton of vanilla.  It turns out they are right.  Melanie and I agreed that this was easily the tastiest cookie.  The problem is that they cheated to do it.  Everyone knows that sugar cookies are only made to cut into special shapes (and usually frost).  These cookies only work if made into a standard cookie disk.  What’s the point?  If you wanted regular-shaped cookies, you would have made chocolate chip.  As you can see below, “Blobba” Fett lost his shape almost completely.  No good.

Apparently There will be Disintegrations After All

Next up I searched online and came up with this recipe.  It was the highest rated by the most people.  It must be good right?  Wrong.  These were the worst cooks of the group. Almost zero flavor.

It turns out the best recipe was the one that came in the box with the cutters.  Two points for Williams-Sonoma.  The cooks were relatively sweet (even if it was not a complex flavor), they kept their shape great and the dough was pretty easy to work with.

Don't be a Vader Hater. He Tasted Good and Kept his Shape.

The mixed batch was not good.  The different doughs cooked at different rates so we got marbled cooks that were soft and bland and tooth-shattering and semi-burnt all in one mouthful.  I chose to eat the roughly dozen of these to spare anyone else from the dental distress.

My name is Yoda. I'm a souja. I'll mold you and fold you. I thought I tode you.

The cutters themselves performed flawlessly.  They cut the dough easily and imparted distinct and detailed accents to each cookie.  They cleaned up relatively easily.  I recommend pushing the plunger all the way down and scrubbing the edges of the face with one of those dish toothbrush thingies to prevent dough from hardening up there.

Freshly Pressed Yoda Cook

So there you have it.  Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters and the included sugar cookie recipe is the way to go.  Let me know if you try them out.  Let me know if you make sugar cookies in any other cool shapes (Yes, I will delete R+ rated responses).

Badguyschtom Toopahs without Shootguns

Aren't You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?

Some of my relations are discovering the joy of the original Star Wars trilogy and, naturally, they wanted to be Star Wars for Halloween.  May I present to you two of the toughest Badguyschtom Toopahs without Shootguns that you are ever likely to meet.

Should you be trying to whip together you own Stormtrooper costume right before All Saints’ Day Eve, here are a few links that might help with quick n’ cheap construction.

Milk Jug Trooper Helmet

Foamcore Trooper Body Armor

Great 501st Reference Pictures (and movie-accurate construction info elsewhere on the site)