I think that I broke my wife’s heart yesterday. She was so horrified by a statement of mine that she felt the need to revoke my membership of the Star Wars fandom. I had made a horrible error, caused a great disturbance in the Force, and left her speechless.

I didn’t know who Diego Luna was. For the record, Diego Luna is this:

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Handsome no? Star Wars fans will recognise him instantly as Captain Cassian Andor, of Rebel Intelligence. I, to my great shame, did not recognise the name.

Will I ever be forgiven?!

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Remember how ground-breaking Star Trek was back in 1966, when it introduced a black woman, an Asian man, a Russian and an a mixed-race (represented through Spock) alien into positions of importance and authority, on a mission to better humanity? Well, that particular spirit has never been more sorely needed than it is right now.

It should not surprise me to learn that there has been a backlash against Discovery from the worst scum of the internet – misogynistic, racist morons. I first discovered this via Wild Dead Roses – and I am horrified that people can call themselves Trekkies and yet so thoroughly abandon the ideals of the franchise, in favour of such bigotry. Well, not on my watch!

Guess what A-holes, there’s more to the human race than the white man. Showing this does not equate to an attack, nor to political correctness. It simply shows the truth. Go crawl into your holes where you dream of your Aryan world. No one else wants it, and you won’t ruin Star Trek with your pathetic attitudes.

After several delays, we finally got our first proper look at the next installment of the Star Trek saga today, with glimpses of new characters, the ship herself, new-look Klingons and some of the settings. So, being a huge Trekkie, what are my thoughts?

It’s Star Trek, which is in my DNA. The overriding message from the franchise has always been a message of inclusion and diversity. There’s always the theme of striving for a better future for humanity, and of leaving behind our racism, sexism and bigotry, in favour of working together to build a better world. It’s my hope that Discovery will continue to promote the ideas that ultimately turned the original show into the iconic series it is remembered as being. My one gripe? The new show is going to be Netflix, or in other words, behind a paywall. This is sort of understandable from the perspective of the studio – they are, first and foremost, looking to make a profit on their investment – but Star Trek has always been available to everyone (that’s important), and for some of us, waiting for it to become available on regular TV means waiting a long time. There’s also the danger that Discovery won’t encourage people to subscribe to Netflix, and therefore won’t be considered profitable enough for a second season. 

We shall see. I think the trailer does a good job of teasing the show, and eases a few concerns I had. As more news filters out, I can form a more solid opinion.

I’m bored, so I’m adding to my substantial takedown of Idazmi7’s claims about the Empire and Federation by dismantling a video of his that talks about droids. This is a brief video, and the chances are he will avoid this rebuttal too, given his track record, but I wanted to put this out there anyway.

By now, the pattern of Idazmi7’s videos is one of highly biased selection. His 1.10 minute video made references to Data’s computational capacity and a brief demonstration of his strength, followed by a couple of examples from the Clone Wars cartoon of the most basic form of battle droid. As usual, he ignores a whole host of other, err, data.

Let’s start with the various types of droid in the Star Wars universe. They are designed to perform different functions – R2D2 and other similar droids are astromechs, designed to help control and repair space craft. They are equipped with the tools needed to do their job, and R2D2 himself possesses the computational capacity to interpret and understand the Death Star’s systems – as demonstrated in A New Hope. C3PO is fluent (as we are often reminded) in six million forms of communication – This is obviously very impressive and would require immense processing power as well as memory storage. C3PO was designed as protocol and interpreter droid – and this is a function he performs very well.

K2SO (from Rogue One) demonstrated the toughness of Imperial droids when he withstood repeated blasts from Stormtrooper weapons – he was a droid specialising in strategic analysis, and combat.

There have been many other droids in Star Wars, all designed with specific functions. From various war droids (including the shielded droidekas and vulture fighters), to droids made to deliver messages and carry out medical procedures, it’s pretty clear the Star Wars universe has made considerably more progress in this field.

Athena b had been surveyed some thirty years prior to the first settlements being opened to the public. First, deep space probes had reported on a suitable atmosphere on the second planet out from the system’s star, a K1 type body that weighed in 0.876 solar masses, and bathed the system in an orange hue. A small moon stabilised what would otherwise have been an uncomfortable degree of axial tilt (Athena d was a Saturn-sized body with sixty times the mass of the earth, and it exerted a powerful presence on the system). The moon had been dubbed Mykene, another name for Athena herself. The small rocky body had floated on even as the surface of Athena b had been ravaged, unperturbed by the machinations of sentient life forms.

The main city on Athena b, Thebes (once again named after Athena) had held the communications array that beamed messages back to the Commonwealth, and though Athena b was a new colony, and one reasonably far from the border with other species, it had been required by Commonwealth law to beam a message to the nearest system every three days – a means of verifying that everything was fine. The slow but steady flow of traffic in and out of the system had provided plenty of evidence that the planet was still spinning and its inhabitants were all A-Okay, but the law was the law. It took three days for the signal (a simple ‘hi, we’re all fine’) to reach the Delta Rama system, an older colony that spanned two habitable planets and with a population of nearly half a billion human beings. The failure to receive the signal was greeted with concern but not outright alarm – system failures were hardly unheard of, and there were ships emerging from warp space that had come from Athena whose crews reported nothing out of the ordinary. Worries grew when, after four days, the traffic out of Athena dried up completely.

Tight-beam signals were bandwidth intensive, and power-hungry, and only to be used in emergencies as they couldn’t be encrypted to any reasonable degree. It took twelve hours for the signal to reach Athena, with the expectation that it would be replied to almost immediately, with a return signal received more or less twelve hours later. Even so, Admiral Sonja Broadbent, commander of the Commonwealth Navy station that orbited Delta Rama d, ordered a pair of frigates that assisted the system to head to Athena to investigate, prior to the expected reply. At best speed, the ships covered the fourteen light-year distance in just under two days, averaging 0.3 light-years per hour. Their stocky structures slipped free of warp tendrils to discover they weren’t the first arrivals. The crew of the privately owned cargo vessel Spirit of the Sea had earned that particular misfortune.

****

“Shit. Shit shit shit shit!” First Mate Bobbie Kendrick fought to keep her emotions in check at the horrific sight. Athena had been a world bubbling with promise – the settlements had quickly grown into small cities and expanded from there, as ambitious, hard-working souls had irrigated fields, started to grow crops, develop mining operations, manufacture and sell products, and forge homes for themselves. Now that was all gone, reduced to ashes.

“Two million people…” Captain (a term she applied loosely in the informal environment of her ship) Lena Schäfer took in the same sight that the small viewscreen on the command deck displayed. They were alone in the small room, an informal affair compared to military ships with their set positions for each officer. Four round chairs, fixed to the floor but capable of swiveling, were once white but the leather had faded over the years and were now more cream in colour. The helm console to the right of the captain’s chair was where Kendrick sat, looking over her captain’s shoulder at the devastation below. The large navigational display in front of her was a virtual representation of what she could see on the viewscreen, except it painted everything in a blue hue, and offered up proximity alerts where needed. Her hand had instinctively gone to the chrome gear to the right of the screen, which, when slid forward, would activate the warp engine.

Now it retracted, that immediate urgency gone, replaced by shock. Tears began to well up in her eyes; Kendrick had known some of the colonists – not particularly well, but Spirit of the Sea was gaining a customer base and with it, a sense of familiarity with the people on Athena. That was now all gone.

“Bobbie, keep us a hundred thousand clicks from the planet and shut down the main engine. We’re switching to silent running.” Somehow Schäfer had kept her voice level; Bobbie could only carry out the orders numbly, trying not to let the magnitude of what had happened get to her. She envied Lena’s calm nature, but then, she always had.

“I’m going to tell the others, wait here.” Schäfer got out of her seat, and put a comforting hand on Bobbie’s shoulder, before stepping out of the command deck. When the door slid shut, Bobbie burst into tears.

****

Anthony Yau and Sanjay Menari sat on either side of the small glass table, clutching their coffee cups for comfort. Lena was sitting at the front of the table, having quickly explained what they’d found. Anthony stared down at the black liquid in his cup, unable to speak. Sanjay turned his thoughtful brown eyes upon his captain, his young, lean face contorted by shock.

“How did this happen? We’ve been coming here for six months, there are no asteroids that come anywhere near the planet, none.”

Lena didn’t answer straight away. Her mind was still racing to catch up to what she’d witnessed. She didn’t want to give voice to the awful idea forming in her mind, not yet.

“I don’t know what happened, but as we’re the only ship here we need to follow procedure and set up the beacon. I need you two to get it up and running, please. We’ll run our sensors around, see if we can learn anything, and transmit a signal back to Delta Rama. We’ll focus on our work, and wait for the Commonwealth, and help in any way we can.”

“How?” Asked Anthony. His voice was cracking, and Lena was reminded of how young he was. At twenty-two, he had only recently lost his teenage puppy fat, and spending the past few years working cargo on Spirit had seen him develop a lean yet muscular frame that did little to dispel his image of youth. With a mop of dark brown hair and hints of his Oriental heritage that seemed to enhance his grey eyes, Anthony looked innocent, and in many respects, was exactly that. Lena looked at him, seeing a man who was young enough to be her son.

“When other ships arrive – and they will – we will be faced with angry, grieving people. We’ll have to, somehow, organise them to avoid chaos.”

“No, I mean, how did the asteroids hit Athena? Like Sanjay said, they don’t come this close.”

“I don’t have an answer for that Tony. I wish I did. We’ll wait for the authorities, and in the meantime, see if we can learn anything that will help them. If we’re working, we’ll be focused, and that will help us. Let’s get to it.”

****

By the time the frigates arrived, they were welcomed by a semi-organised mass of civilian ships, that under Captain Schäfer’s guidance, had not descended into panic, though some had already jumped from the system, and were most likely spreading word of the terrible event to blight Athena. The dark blue hulls of the military vessels were narrow, with weapon ports sliding from recesses and locking into place to prepare for any threat. Thrusters to the rear of the ships fired up, trailing blue plasma as they moved closer to the planet.

Captain Sergio Coquelin watched as his crew buzzed about the command deck in a seemingly chaotic display, knowing that everyone was in fact moving to a finely tuned rythmn. Crew members carried tablets and sat at terminals, punching in data and relaying inforrmation to where it was most needed, whilst Coquelin sat in the rigid frame of his command chair and conducted the proceedings. He’d ordered the main viewer off; it made no sense to subject everyone to the horrifying image of Athena’s still-burning surface.

His four gold stripes – two on either shoulder of his navy-blue jacket – weighed heavily upon him. The straight-forward nature of combat was relatively easy for him to manage. Disaster relief was a different matter entirely, and to make it even more of a challenge, he was the senior commander of the two Lion-class frigates, by four years. Captain Tina Futrelle was a competent commander but Navy procedure mandated Coquelin take the lead, whether he wanted to or not. That meant every message coming in from the fifty-six civilian craft was being routed to Fearless, and everyone wanted to speak directly to him. Fortunately, his crew were handling matters with their usual efficiency, and he was grateful to Schäfer. She had possessed a calm and stablising presence that Coquelin had tended to only find in military officers. It had been no surprise to learn she had been in the service, albeit not for twenty-four years.

“Once we get a reply from Command, we’ll start routing all these civilian ships out of here. Are the beacons ready?” He asked of his first officer, seated beside him in a similar, uncomfortable chair.

“Yes sir.” Replied Commander Zara Jensen. She sat ramrod straight, turning only her head to look at him. “We can deploy them at your command.”

“Very good. Let’s get too it, and secure the system. This is going to take a while.”

To Chapter Four

Light vs dark. Good vs evil. The Resistance vs the First Order. We have our first glimpse at Star Wars Episode VIII: The last Jedi, and as with the trailers for The Force Awakens, nothing is given away. The Last Jedi appears to pick up straight where The Force Awakens left off (something already hinted at), with Luke teaching Rey about the Force. As Luke speaks, we are given brief snippets of symbolic imagery – references to the Light Side invoke images of Leia, whilst Kylo Ren’s broken helmet is met with whispers about the Dark Side. Luke suggests something about moving away from concepts of Light and Dark, and we’re also treated to images of Poe and BB8 on a ship that’s under attack, a number of pod-racer type constructs racing across a barren surface, and lots more.

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It looks like we might get a space battle featuring Republic/Resistance ships, and we appear to get another vision of the destruction Ren and his knights brought to Luke’s Jedi academy. There’s a brief clip of Finn in some of medical or stasis pod, and a brief glance of Ren, pointing his saber menacingly at someone, which follows hot on the heels of Rey running whilst wielding her saber.

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The trailer ends with Luke telling Rey he knows the truth – that the Jedi need to end. Quite what is meant by this is unclear, but then, that was the point – this is a teaser trailer, that plays its cards close to its chest. We will get another trailer closer to the time, but until then, this is an intriguing look into what’s coming.

Since we first discovered that the pinpricks of light in the night sky were in fact, other stars, humankind has been gripped by the desire to travel to those stars and see for ourselves what they are like. The discovery of the first exo-planets only heightened this need, and as we found more and more earth-like rocks orbiting numerous stars in our local region alone, it soon became imperative that we voyage to those stars, to see if humanity could finally leave earth’s cradle and remove the possibility of extinction from our equation. The biggest hurdle were the laws of physics – nothing could travel faster than light, and even at the speed of light, journeys of forty years, in some cases even longer, would be virtually unsustainable, save for multi-generational crews and long spells in cryogenic sleep.

So the aim of many scientists was to somehow defy, or redevelop our understanding of physics and the laws of the universe that forbade faster-than-light travel. Science fiction had presented fanciful ideas of warp space, subspace, hyperspace and all kinds of means of ‘cheating’, but the reality of these methods, once examined with any critical detail, suggested the energy requirements were going to be beyond us for a very long time – perhaps forever. Either a new source of power was needed – or the laws of the universe would have to be broken.

It was in the early 22nd century when Luca Martinez, an experimental physicist living in Idaho, USA, made his unexpected breakthrough. The idea had been to generate energy through atomic friction, and to that end, he had been making hydrogen atoms resonate with one another. The introduction of dense matter (degenerate matter, in very small quantities, intended to match the density of a neutron star) led to a highly controlled resonation that for a very brief period, moved the atoms from one area of the carbon tube to the other in less time than was possible under the speed of light.

Such was Martinez’ excitement that he dropped his coffee over his lap and had to put up with the suggestion from his colleagues that he had actually wet himself. Decades later, he would laugh about it – at the time, he was said to actually be quite angry. Nevertheless, the development would lead to further study, and refinement, and this led to the production of the first small-scale probes, to test if the Res-Drive (or R-Drive if you’re lazy) was actually viable. The probes were sent under highly controlled conditions from the earth to the Moon, then from the earth to Mars, and from Mars to Jupiter, to see if they were exceeding the speed of light without being subject to relativity. When the results confirmed that the light barrier had been broken, champagne corks were popped and raucous celebrations held. We had done it – but one final test remains. Human pilots will soon take to the first ships fitted with the R-Drive to see if it is safe for people.’

Roxanne closed the textbook and ran a hand through her strawberry blonde hair. It felt unnaturally short, but having it cut had been a requirement of the West Alliance Space Agency. ‘We don’t want any entanglements, literally or otherwise’, the committee had said.

It felt like a lifetime ago that she’d been chosen for this. Somehow, she’d beaten hundreds of other candidates to be the first human to go faster than light. The prospect made her dizzy with excitement and sick with fear, all at once.

There was no turning back now though. In the crisp orange jumpsuit (that was turn covering the thinner body-monitoring grey jumpsuit), Roxanne was suited up and sitting in front of the controls that would, at her command, launch her at unprecedented speeds toward Mars. A short hop was all that was needed today.

One of the engineers who’d help build the Magellan had explained to her about the power source and the technical details of the R-Drive, but she’d barely listened. She wasn’t a physicist – chemistry and biology were her fields – so talk of quarks and Fermi principles had been lost on her. All she’d wanted to know – and had been assured of several times – was that the drive itself was perfectly stable and the power source perfectly safe. Nothing about that aspect of the mission could go wrong.

T-minus five minutes. Final systems check.” Came a male voice over the comm link that Roxanne recognised as Director Campbell. It wasn’t too much of a surprise that he was taking a personal interest in this. “Fuel line?”

“Check.” She replied.

“Life support?”

“Check.” The oxygen filter was keeping her breathing. Air circulated around the cabin in a never-ending loop, filtered repeatedly by the sophisticated equipment. A backup generator would kick it if the primary failed, and her engineers had scoffed at her request for a helmet with an independent oxygen supply, but said helmet sat behind her in the small space available in the cabin. Roxanne wasn’t minded to take any chances.

“Sublight engines?”

“Check.” Roxanne tapped a couple of buttons on the grid in front of her. The ion propulsion drive was all set to give her a decent kick away from earth once the clock stopped ticking.

“Sublight navigational controls?”

“Check.”

“R-Drive navigational controls?”

“Check.” In theory, Roxanne could override the controls and set a new destination, but she didn’t dare. Everything had been pre-programmed and that was fine with her.

“FTL comm system?”

“Check.” Roxanne would have to trigger the beacon to confirm the success of the mission – and it was a convenient test of the R-Drive’s long-range communication principle.

“We look good down here in Control. Four minutes and counting.”

“Roger that.” Roxanne gulped. The butterflies in her stomach had morphed into mini dragons that were belching flame. “Deep breaths girl, deep breaths…” She recalled her Yoga and her training, though more and more she wished the mission was over already.

The Yoga was kicking in. She could feel the edginess in her subside. A gentle hum of instruments distracted her from what was about to happen, and the march of time was briefly forgotten.

“This is Control, hey Rox, just wanted to wish you luck.” Roxanne smiled. Her jovial boyfriend lifted her spirits.

“Thanks Fred. Don’t forget to have dinner ready.” She chuckled.

“Oh, well, I was thinking we should go out for dinner when you get back. Celebrate the mission, our engagement…”

Roxanne had to check her comm link. “En… engagement?!”

“Yeah, oh crap, I meant to do the other bit first – you know, ask you and everything…”

“Oh God… the answer is yes, a million times yes!” In the midst of the impending mission, a different kind of excitement overtook Roxanne. “Yes!”

“So as if you didn’t already have a reason to come back, that’s another one.” She could hear the smile in his voice – and it wouldn’t at all surprise her if Director Campbell was pissed at the sudden interruption to his orderly proceedings.

“One minute. Disengage the umbilicals.” Came the deliberately stern voice of the Director. Roxanne complied, and Magellan floated freely in space, no longer berthed to the station where she had been constructed. The craft’s independent systems kicked in.

Autopilot took the ship slowly away from earth, at a relatively sedate 2 km/s. As the R-Drive fired up, the ship seemed to hum with power. This is really happening…

“From everyone down here, good luck. We’ll see you on the other side.” The Director’s voice was softer.”

“Roger that Control, here we go…”

The Magellan seemed to oscillate for several seconds, and then vanished.

The next installment of Star Wars saga has graced our screens, and I’d heard favourable comparisons to the most acclaimed film of the saga, The Empire Strikes Back. Is this comparison merited? And how does Disney’s second Star Wars effort measure up to 2015’s The Force Awakens? 

Rogue One is a very different film to The Force Awakens so it’s as simple as saying one film is better than the other. Rogue One is a dirty, gritty take on the fight between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, that paints the Rebels – some of them at least – as ruthless and cold as any agent of the Empire. The battles are brutal, depicting warfare in a manner never before seen in a Star Wars movie. The characters are less inclined to quip witty remarks and whilst there is a little comic relief, it’s not as prevalent as in other films. I dare say this is the most realistic of the Star Wars films so far, in terms of both the action and the behaviour of the characters. As is to be expected, the CGI work for the ships and battles is incredible, and there is the appearance of a classic character (not Vader) that definitely triggers nostalgia. There is poignancy too, given the connection to A New Hope and the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher.

Vader’s cameo is exactly that, a cameo, but it reaffirms his status as a badass. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. 9/10.

2016 is the year that just keeps punching us. It doesn’t care where, or when, or why, it just keeps coming back to torment us. Today, it has robbed us of the legendary Carrie Fisher.

For many, Carrie Fisher is defined by the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars. This was her most iconic role, but it doesn’t define her. Carrie’s life is one of battles against drugs, depression and the pitfalls of fame, and despite the turbulent experiences she went through, she did not stop battling, and she did not stop making time for the fans. I cannot do justice to her remarkable life here, so I will pay tribute to her in the most fitting way I know. Voyage to the stars Carrie, may the Force always be with you, and rest in peace.

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