What Carl Sagan Has Taught Me

This post is part of the world-wide Carl Sagan memorial blog-a-thon. Ten years ago today, Carl Sagan died.

I was very late to the Carl Sagan party. He died almost before I began to learn of his work. I don't think anyone was totally oblivious to the man. He was an icon of his time, just as he is today. In 1996 I was 20. I had just met my future wife. I was just starting to remember what it was that I loved about science, and I was just begining to read Sagan's books and watch his amusing and totally enthralling PBS series Cosmos. Now I'm no science nerd. I'm bad with numbers and abstract mathematical ideas. I find it difficult to study anything that I'm not 100% interested in at the time. Carl Sagan was just the man for the job. Carl Sagan made me interested.

Sagan could make anything relevant to anything else. He could make the most simple concepts balloon into an all encompassing, mind-blowing cosmic symphony in just a few steps, and I wasn't (ironically enough) even on drugs!

Two of Sagan's concepts that stand out most clearly in my mind today come from the same general idea. We humans are both small and fleeting. We are unique, yet cosmically insignificant.

The first is his giant calendar of the cosmic year. On it, Sagan mapped out the life of the universe based on one year, with the big bang occurring on midnight of January 1st, humanity first appearing at 10:30 p.m on December 31st and the Renaissance beginning at the very last second of the cosmic year. That would make the last 500 or-so years of our history on Earth total less than one second in the eyes of the universe.

The other thing that sticks in my mind is his story about how Voyager 1, just before exiting our solar-system, spun around to take a look back toward home. This is what it saw:

The white dot on the right in the lighter strip is us. Sagan, of course, says it best in Pale Blue Dot:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Everything we know, everything we have been, everything we have done, is both small and short. We are not important to anything but ourselves. We are a single intake of breath. Yet that single unified breath has brought life to everything we know. We have come so far in such a small amount of time that we have yet to fully understand what we are. We have such potential, such a wide rage of possible futures. Yet we constantly teeter on the brink of total annihilation every day because each of us thinks that the universe was made just for us, with us at it's center.

If the Earth were to vanish, either by our own means or that of the Vogons, no one out there would know, and even if they did, they wouldn't care. What can we do to change that? How can we save ourselves? If we are but one breath, what might be out there that's been breathing for hours or days? Don't you want to know? I mean seriously, don't you want to know?

This is what Carl Sagan has taught me. That I want to know.

Blocken - 1994 - Kid/Visco

In these times of super-computer fueled video-gaming extravaganzas it's easy to forget that a game is supposed to be fun from time to time. Of course, everyone's definition for "fun" differs. Some people think it's fun to enter a living world where they can lose their real-world persona. Some want to gather with friends and share in the experience first-hand. Others might want to challenge their mind with riddles or unique interactive puzzles. Sometimes you just want to watch pretty colors float around and listen to chirpy sounds while you veg-out.

This vegging-out style of play is most often referred to as "casual-gaming." Most cell-phone type games fall into this category, as well as your factory installed solitaires and Minesweepers. These are games you can pick up, play for a few minutes, then put back down without worrying about saving your place or forming an attachment to it's characters (if any.) Modern casual-games have a more robust structure than early games like "Tetris" or "Breakout". Sure, they are still quick to play, but they are often surprisingly deep at the same time. Better graphics can give simple game-play a simple story and a few simple characters. Sure, you won't give a damn about those tiny depthless people, but a little gloss and shine can make a rather bland "Space Invaders" clone into a fresh new experience.

Sometimes simply mashing two good ideas together is enough to bring the fun back to otherwise tired modes of play. Take the block breaking action of "Breakout," add the vertical down-scroll of "Tetris," some head-to-head action and sprinkle it with lots of pink and blue glitter and a mind-blowingly stereotypical anime-school-girl and you have "Blocken."

Why will you play this until your rods and cones are blunt and useless? Continue on to find out!

As expected, there is very little story to be found in "Blocken." It would seem that an evil sorceress has made off with some sort of magic jewel that our heroine wants back. And...that's it. This can be neatly summed up in a few quick screens:

Bad-girl makes off with the jewel in her vanity-powered super tank. Along for the ride is Mr. Purple Pirate-Bird. More on both of them later.

Good-girl thinks she can catch up to the tank on foot. Maybe they need to do a better job on the physics classes in Japan?

Good-girl is chased away by a psychedelic rainbow-ball that eventually turns into the games logo. Wait, what?

There are four difficulty settings to choose, from "I'm just waiting for the coffee maker to warm up" to "That one guy that died from playing video-games for days without moving" to "Utada Hikaru." (Just Google her name along with "Tetris") Even after several attempts I couldn't get very far in the third tier, but that doesn't mean I won't give it another shot. Damn you obaba!

The game attempts to form a plot by sending you around to different places on a world-map. Really this is just a device to gradually raise the difficulty and throw increasingly weird characters at you. The configuration of the blocks on each board also change up with each character. While the boards never reach the creative heights of some of the more traditional block-breakers, they are still fun to play though and present enough difficulty to keep you going for just one more round.

Here's the basic play-field. It's your standard block-breaking set-up. Most blocks take only one hit to break while others may take two or more. There is a row of bumpers at the bottom that will return your ball once before breaking, while at the same time sending the bricks down one space. There are also special star blocks that release orbs that you can collect. You can then use these collected orbs to send a blast of blocks over to your opponent with the hopes of ruining their day. The best way to totally piss on their parade is to store up eight orbs, which releases a massive volley of bricks as well as both turning your paddle into a flaming horror and your ball into an invincible killing machine that can cut through bricks like warm butter.

There are two ways to win:

The most obvious way is to clobber your opponent with a barrage of maxed out power-ups. This results in a crushing-press win for max humiliation!

Then there is the clear-win where you manage to clear your side of the board before your opponent can send a new volley of bricks your way. You'll also have to keep the ball in play without it touching the bumpers on the bottom thereby sending more bricks scrolling down. If you can manage this you've earned your bragging rights and can feel free to make as many references to your ass and your opponents face as you wish.

Once you make it past the gauntlet of cotton-candy hairdos and testosterone-poisoned muscle-men you'll reach the second set of levels. These seem to be set just a hop skip and a jump away from your hometown. Over the river and through the skull shaped mountain caves to some crazy chick's Barbie Dream Castle of Doom we go. And lo! Who is on yonder welcome mat but none other than Mr. Purple Pirate Bird from our motivational opening film. It's not clear in that pic but he's sporting a dashing black eye-patch, just in case you were wondering why the hell I keep calling him a pirate. He could also be spewing a hail of "Yar!" and "Shiver me spindly little birdy legs!" and "Raise the suet feeder and cast off for the Johnson's bath on the way back!" but since I can't read Japanese I guess we'll never really know for sure.

Would a bird-pirate have a little chirpy man on his shoulder?

Here's a look at one of the tougher guys from level two. I assume all four of those large objects hold an extra boss to fight for each level of difficulty. I'm not entirely sure what's going on here. Some sort of Navy-themed robot with a boat-style life-preserver and a large red phallus hanging between his legs? I mean, that's what it looks like to me, 'sall I'm sayin'.

Seeing as how I'm a wuss when it comes to the higher levels of "Blocken" I can't say much else about the other bosses. I'm sure they are all totally awesome and a million times more crazy than the last. Like some sort of baby with a spider body and a huge penis, or maybe a block of tofu with a huge penis. I mean, the sky's the limit, with a huge penis!

The ending for the first-level game is pretty disappointing. The crazy-girl with the surprisingly large boobs gets away with the jewel, while the Pirate Bird totally gives you the "I'm gonna get me some tonight!" look. This is probably the "bad" ending.

The second-level ending is much happier. Sailor-chan totally pwns the crazy tank-girl and gets all up onz, pushin' that phat rock all up in her grill. The next shot shows another stone on a chess board in some distant land. Well, I'm guessing that's what's happening. At this point no one really cares anyway. It's probably the equivalent of "Sorry Sailor-chan, but the real jewel is in another castle." Bastards!

Despite the super-thin attempts at a plot, "Blocken" is very fun to play. The controls are very smooth and the pace is set just right to lull one into a false sense of security just before a rain of terror begins to fall. Each round moves by quickly. You only get one life per-game, but being able to continue at the same place makes playing through to the end quick and enjoyable. There isn't much in terms of strategy other than "don't miss the ball" and "catch all the power-ups." You're not going to play "Blocken" because you're looking for a soul wrenching odyssey of the heart and mind, you're going to play "Blocken," again and again, because it is fun.

There's not much to say about the sound, but what there is you can check out in
this 545k MP3 of "Blocken" sounds.

Who's Honoring Me Now?

It looks like my Wii photos have landed on yet another blog that I've admired for some time. Think In Pictures: Adventures in Visual Education is a blog about, well, various interesting visual things and what they mean to us and our day-to-day lives. It's chock-a-bloc with amazing photography, design, games and anything else that tickles Jeremiah McNichols' fancy. To have my work featured on his site is quite an honor. Once again I'm amazed at where these photos are winding up. Now someone go post them on Digg or something! Just make sure to link to THIS post. Thanks!

On a side note, make sure to check back soon (or just add me to your RSS feed) as I'll be posting both a new MAME review and my Carl Sagan Blogathon entry in the next day or so.

Chiller - 1986 - Exidy Inc.

Ever since the dawn of video games, hell, ever since the dawn of pinball games (OK, maybe pool was first? No, poker? Dammit...) critics have been charging that they cause violence in those who would play them, as if we humans are born without the capacity for anger and only learn it through pantomime. It is rarely mentioned that, despite the wide range of simulated violence on the screen, the player is almost without exception the good guy, the hero, the savior of the game-world. The player must learn and follow the rules, overcome their various handicaps (no skills, weakness, no tools, puzzles, riddles, clever bosses, mazes, etc...) and work toward a goal that often involves saving those who are weaker or less fortunate. Even the games in the "Grand Theft Auto" series often have the protagonist forming friendships, albeit with gang-members and crime-lords, but they are friendships none-the-less. Co-operation and a clear understanding are required to succeed. Yet those with a political agenda can always dip into the ol' video-game violence pool whenever their numbers with soccer-moms start to slip. Of course that rarely stops the stunningly ignorant parents from purchasing "mature" rated games for their 10 year-olds, and the cycle continues.

It is rare to see a player set in a world where their opponents are human, and almost unique to see those other humans in a position of total helplessness. Again, it is usually the case that the human opponents are very strong, much more heavily armed and totally balls-out evil. You know, your Saddam, bin-Laden, Jong-Il types. They may have crawled out of the waters and climbed down from the trees with the rest of us, but that was the last time they could be officially called human. As the player, we are doing the world a solid by getting rid of these bat-shit insane bosses and their legion of unquestioning followers. It is quite rare, then, to see a game where the goal is the outright torture of innocent human beings, where total annihilation of bodies equals bonus points, and the rewards are the death screams of the victims and points on something called the "ectoplasmic tabulator."

Ladies and gentlemen, "Chiller" is pretty fucked up, and horridly awesome.

Continue after the jump, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Brought to us by the team that did similar light-gun shooters like "Crossbow" and "Crackshot", "Chiller" takes a major right-turn down the path to hell. Set in the bowels of some sort of castle/mansion/yermom'sbasement environment, "Chiller" runs through four stages featuring various degrees of torture and man's inhumanity to man...and woman. Before we get to that, let's take a look at the opening screen.

Here we see a grid of the four rooms, "Torture Chamber," "Rack Room" (really just another torture chamber), "Hallway" and "Graveyard." No touchy-feely "cemetery" for "Chiller", although they do stop short of "boneyard." Next to the room list are the eight special targets contained in each room, or rather the results of hitting the targets. You'll have to figure out what the actual targets are for yourself, but don't worry, it's really easy. There's even a helpful disembodied hand that floats around pointing to the special areas. When you hit the correct target you are rewarded with a special sound (and by "special" I mean some "sort-of distorted static," just like most of the other sounds.) When all eight are collected you'll once again be rewarded with a blast of noise, and then you'll just have to make sure to empty the "monster meter" before the time runs out. You do this by shooting absolutely everything, "everything" mostly being the flesh of various helpless people who have somehow found themselves strapped down and tied up. This makes hitting them much easier. Like, eyes-closed or while-doing-you-taxes easy. Here's the first group of party-people:

Oh yeah! Who brought the chips?!

As you can see, there are several instruments of doom here in the "Torture Chamber." The most fun is the head popping deal over there on the right. That guy can't even sit or stand properly! You'll be doing him a favor by flattening his skull. A few shots to the handle will do. There's also the guillotine there in the center. Good times. The more you shoot the people, the more they become bloody and parts-falling-off-ish, (but no, you can't expose any boobies here) until finally:

Total carnage! I love it! ("Smash TV" anyone?)

Once you've racked up (or racked off actually) enough points on the "Monster Meter" your remaining time will be added up in the "Ectoplasmic Tabulator."

Now it would seem that the creators of "Chiller" were oddly hesitant to call these something more apt like "blood points" or "gore gauge" or "number of times you can make that guy scream by shooting him in the thigh-o-meter." The use of "monster" and "ectoplasmic" makes it seem more like you're fighting a traditional zombie shooter than a human torture sim. Sure, there are a few "monsters" scattered here and there, if you consider bats and rats to be monstrous. Perhaps "Chiller" is more like "Silent Hill" where the people are really just figments of the player's imagination and we're just working out the ghosts in our past as we travel up and out of the depths of the castle?



If you manage to get all of the eight special targets, you are given the chance to play a slot-machine bonus game and win either extra points or a free game.

This is mostly impossible to play and it's best to just shoot fast and get back to the real game. It does have a rather nice "blurt!" noise when you lose though.

Here's the "Rack Room." Sure enough, there is not one, but three racks with people laying all over them. One guy wasn't lucky enough to score a rack, so he's just stretched out on the cold stone floor. Poor guy. Couldn't the master of the house at least get him an AeroBed or something? There's also someone strapped to a rope and dangling over a rushing river of blood full of heads and other groady gunk. You can lower the hanging guy into the river while a rather enthusiastic alligator (or is it a crocodile, I always get those two mixed up, but then again, one green blob of pixels is as good as any other green blob of pixels in this game) slowly eats him from the feet up. While feeding the green pixel monster all Bond-style is good for a larf, the racks are the true stars of the show here, and pulling people apart has never been easier. A shot or two to the levers and "shlorp!" Done! Again, no matter how hard you try you just can't shoot off the woman's bra, and don't say you didn't try! What I want to know is who the hell keeps throwing knives at the guy on the far left? Whoever it is, they are an awesome shot.

The third stage, "Hallway," is easily my favorite. The music (this is the only stage, other than the bonuses, with music) sounds like a ghost stomping on a piano, playing a sort of Keystone Cops chase scene. There are no actual people here to blast away at, and the only signs of suffering are the occasional hand or leg floating around. There is a (fully clothed!) woman who (who can't be shot) walks out with a candle, and you can dump her in the trap-door pit with a well timed blast to the right spot. There's a mummy in the coffin to the left, and not only can you rip off the cover of the coffin to get to it, but you can blast all the way into it's Valentine's Day heart. The best part is the giant green head the floats out over and over until you blow it's eyes out. Classy!

After this batch off totally-not-torture targets, you'd think that maybe we were getting out of the more depraved sections of the castle and out into the sweet air of freedom. You probably also believe that there is a God and that He is Good.


Here we emerge from the castle, only to find ourselves in the "Graveyard." But lo! Are thems the boobies we've been taunted with for nigh on four stages now? Yes! Finally we can totally degrade a women to the fullest by shooting her goddamned tits off! Jackpot!

Seriously, there's little else to mention here. The staggeringly mind-blowing audacity of this scene is probably enough. Ah, what the hell. There is also a batch of hands that punch out of the ground, only to toss heads and limbs into the neighboring grave that happens to be a flaming open pit straight into Hell. Oh, and that long, pointy gravestone on the top left spurts blood out of the top when shot. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Now, we've endured all four stages of depravity, shot everything in sight like a tailgunner on meth and found all of the secret stuff, clearing the grid. Time for the holy grail, the bonus game we've spent all of ten or fifteen minutes working toward. This thing is going to be mint. I mean, after fountains of blood and riddling chicks with bullets like stupid-crazy, these guys must have something truly special in store for us.

Oh man, I can hardly contain myself.

Don't miss any? Oh wow, any what? The mind boggles. This could be anything. Puppies? Babies? Maybe an even nakeder woman?

Wait, what? Target practice? This is just that stupid image behind the grid of secret things with a few skulls and heads floating around..and it's really hard! No fair! Oh damn, I missed one...wait...No! I have to start all over? Grr! I'm so mad! I could just shoot someo...oh hay, wait.

That's it. That's "Chiller". Not exactly chilling, but certainly messed up. It's a crappy game, but the originality of the subject matter makes it a must play if just to be able to say you've played it. The sound is horrible but the control is excellent, almost Wii-like. The images are alright but very pixelated,which is probably for the best. No one really wants to play a photo-realistic game like this. If you do, then there's seriously something wrong with you.

Moms, blame these guys:

What have we learned here? What life lessons can we take away from the "Torture Chamber?" Did we manage to glean any of the secret cosmic, er, secrets from the lips of that guy before the alligator blob thing took it's final bite? How could we set up a totally sweet trap door to surprise the hell out of mom the next time she beings a sandwich down to us in our game ro...er..."Rack Room?"

I have no idea. I'm too busy trying to get this ice-pick into that sweet-spot in my brain, right behind my right eye. That's where I keep the memories of my time playing "Chiller".

For a taste of the mono-phonic sound extravaganza that is the "Chiller" soundtrack, download this 498k MP3 of "Chiller" sounds. It features the cool monster piano stomp as well as a mighty fine "blorp!" Loser.

Vote for Bad Astronomy

One of the coolest science-for-the-better-than-average-Joe sites out on the blag-o-nets is Bad Astronomy. Not only does Phil Plait write in plain terms about stunningly awesome things like water on Mars , but he also whips up the occasional tirade against the stupids. It's a no-brainer that I've voted BA for Best Science Blog. You should too! BA is running up against some blog about Japanese tentacle porn or something. Do we really need any more of that?

Vote today and every day through Friday, or lube-up your orifices and be prepared to hail our new sucker-limbed overlords.

Playing with My Wii in the Dark

The other day I shuffled out of bed in the early morning darkness and was greeted with the soothing light of my pulsing Wii slot. I saw the digital camera in range and, inspired, changed my route from the usual b-line to the coffee maker instead to the couch in front of the Wii. I sat there for a long time, playing with some settings and taking a ton of photos of the glowing glory that is the Wii version of the hideous "You're got MAIL!!!!" message. The results were rather unexpected.

Since I first posted these photos in my old blog they have been posted to both the GoNintendo and Destructiod front pages. I never imagined they would have reached such heights of gamer uber-coolness, but then again, they are rather lovely. I'm honored at the attention as I vist both sites several times a day and have a huge amount of respect for all of the work that goes into them. Thanks guys!

*UPDATE* - The awesome blog "Thinking in Pictures" has also featured these photos. Holy crap!

You can download larger versions at my Flickr space and you can get larger desktop sizes at the old entry. You really need to see the full-size versions to get all the detail. They make awesome wallpapers!

The Star Wars Holiday Special 1978

I spent a large part of this Sunday watching one of the most unusual pieces of Star Wars lore that one could possibly stumble across. The Star Wars Holiday Special. It’s the holy grail for many Star Wars fans, as it has the honor of being universally regarded as the worst thing ever officially released by the Lucas/Star Wars camp. The “officially” part is key. This had the approval of Lucas and everyone else. It had to have been worked on by at least someone with at least a thumb-full of talent and respect in the biz, yet, well, you shall see. It features some great acting by Harrison Ford, some drunken stumblings from Carrie Fisher, many songs, little green men with little green packages, wookie masturbation, Jefferson Starship, and an electric Kool-Aid acid cartoon. It really is something special.

I’ve spent 5 or 6 hours watching and writing this 3400+ word review. I’ve included over 160 screen shots to illuminate it. It’s a bit long, but believe me, not nearly as long as the actual 1 hour 40 minute show.

Continue if you dare.

The Star Wars Holiday Special - November 17th 1978

note1: Please keep in mind that I was writing and screen-capping this as I watched it. Some of the descriptions may be a bit terse. You decide weather or not this is intentional due to disgust, exhaustion, or just to save time.

note2: Also keep in mind that this was only the second full-length program to feature the Star Wars universe. Only one movie had been released.

note3: Remember, this is official Star Wars cannon, meaning that if it happens here, it really for-real happens. This isn’t some fan-fiction. This is real, or at least as real as anything in the movies. More real than, say, the books. Remember this…

Let’s begin.

The action opens with Han and Chewbacca escaping from a star destroyer. Blasters fire all around, shaking the telephone-booth size set. Chewie takes this opportunity to remind Han that he needs to get home soon. Han assures Chewie that yes, ok, I'll get you to "Life Day" on time. This is apparently worth risking both of their lives for. He plots a risky jump to light speed (aren't they always risky?) and they're off.

Cut to the logo, fan-fare, and voice-over introductions of the main players in this holiday farce, including, most importantly, Chewbacca's family.

That's right, his wife Malla, father Itchy, and son Lumpy are all in attendance. Even the announcer sounds embarrassed about having to say these names.

Then come the special guest stars, most of which are over the age of too-fucking-old to be in a Star Wars special aimed directly at 10year-olds. Beatrice Aurther, Art Carney, Dianne Carroll, The Jefferson Starship and Harvey Corman. Oh god.

We are quickly ushered away from this car-accident waiting to happen, and land on what must be Chewie's home-world of Kashshiikkkikik, or whatever. We find Itchy building a model X-Wing fighter, while Lumpy is running around with his own model like a kid in ape suit with one-too-few eye holes. This is too much for Itchy to handle, so he barks a few times at Lumpy. Mama Malla tries to defuse the tension by making Lumpy do some work in the kitchen. It should be noted that none of this is in English or even subtitled. It's all in the usual barking and whining you'd expect from wookies. It's sort of like watching mimes retching while directing traffic.

Lumpy isn't having any of it though, instead sneaking a Wookiee Cookie (yes, they are called this later on in the show.) He is then sent off to the laundry room, which is apparently just to the right of a 300 foot drop. Lumpy, ever the focused young lad, decides it would be better to take a walk on the railing.

Meanwhile, Itchy and Malla are wandering around the living room grunting and looking at things. This is television history in the making. Really long, boring history. Eventually, Lumpy comes back, somehow avoiding anything interesting like falling off the railing or even doing the damn laundry. Itchy decides to bust out some entertainment for the young cub, because hey, trying to get him to do something didn't work for 30 seconds, so let's just give up. What he shows him, I swear to god, is a tiny green naked man dancing around. And his many colorful and just-as-gay circus friends.

For some reason, Lumpy wants to see this at life-size, flips a switch, and zap, there you go, life-size green nads. The circus shenanigans continue, with greeny bringing out more and more tumblers and jugglers, each with increasingly pronounced crotch regions. This continues for about forever, or roughly 2 minutes.

Mom breaks up the "fun" by insisting the Lumpy do the dishes, or, at least, the dish. She, in turn, takes advantage of this break in the action to check up on Chewie, but he's still not in the area. Then it’s off to the video-phone, which is conveniently placed behind at least three different panels in the bookcase. She makes a call to Luke, causing him to fuck up some super space-hardware. After more grunting and arm-waving, Luke concludes that Chewie must be late for Life Day. Well, good ol' Chewie hasn't missed a Life Day yet, so he won't miss this one, right? Good job Prof. Luke. So it's back to work on some piece of equipment far advanced beyond our understanding that can be ruined by R2 breathing on it.

And it's back to the ol' boob-tube for Malla. After a bit of fine tuning (OK, far too much fine tuning) she locks on to...well...something. Art Carney running a shop full of curios, apparently. Things like a pocket sized aquarium. The Imperial pilot is not interested. Art sees that Malla is on the wall-screen, and proceeds to tell her that her "shaggy carpet" is “on the way.” Made by a women, by "hand, solo." Wow. After he hangs up, there is some more banter with the pilot, that, like so much else, goes on way too long, and awkwardly ends with Carney talking to himself under his breath.

We're then treated to a very short cut of Vader walking and telling his commander to search "every household in the system" to find the Rebels. This is why they need clones. Every household in the system? Nevertheless, this scene lasts about 5 seconds. Then it's back to the stupid damn wookiees...


Malla is watching a cooking show on how to cook bantha surprise. With Corman playing the woman cooking.


What follows is...wow...dreadful doesn't begin to describe it. Well, maybe it begins to describe it. Again, it's painfully long, with Corman eventually chanting "Stir! Whip! Stir! Whip!" over and over. And over. Then he...ug...grows a third arm to add "Beat!" to the mix. And on and on. Really. That’s all he does. The only reason it ever stops is because Malla turns it off mid-rant.

Then, a blessed release from this hell. We are brought back to Han and Chewie, still running from the Empire. They entered the wrong coordinates, sending them into the middle of an Imperial convoy. Harrison Ford’s acting here is just as good as anything from the actual movies (well, the one that had been released thus-far at least) and he deserves nothing but respect for his performance. Cutting in movie footage of the dog fighting doesn't hurt either. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long. Probably because it was making everything else look oh so bad.

Meanwhile, back at home, the Empire has declared marshal law because of some Rebel activity on a planet called Kazook. Do they mean Kashikkkk (or however you spell that sillyness)? There's a knock on the door. It's not something interesting like a stormtrooper or paint drying.

It's Art Carney. Bearing gifts. Nothing like any other holiday we know of. Nope, this is Life Day, so shut the hell up.

Lumpy gets a computer. Oh good, 'cause they don't already have about 15 of them. Itchy, however, gets something, "it's kinda like…wow…" as Carney describes it. He plugs it into one of those old-style salon hair-dryer chairs, slaps the helmet on, and, well, wow ensues.

Fade in to a kaleidoscopic background with swooshy, spacey music. Add a bunch of women "swimming" around in white leotards. A voice says "I know you're searching for me. Searching..." What follows is quite familiar to anyone who has ever dialed a phone-sex service. Dianne Carroll saying things like "I'm here just for you." and "Oh, we are excited, aren't we?" And, Jesus Christ, "Just relax. Now, we can have a good time." "I am your pleasure, so enjoy me." They stop short of actually showing Itchy jerking off, but trust me, it's only because they keep the camera above his waist. Really. No. I'm not exaggerating. They do have him grunting and jerking around a lot. Then Carroll sings her song about wanting to hold on to "this minute." It's quite tame, but pretty psychedelic none-the-less. And runs about 6 minutes. Itchy still has a little staying power after all these years.

Cut to C-3PO and Leia trying to contact Malla. They do. After Leia stands and wobbles rather drunkenly to the screen, they find that Chewie and Han are still missing. No one seems to care. End of scene.

Cut to Han and Chewie nearing the planet. Too much Imperial traffic causes them to land on the far side. Chewie will have to walk. After-all, we're only about 1/3 of the way into this "special." Dear god…

The ship passes over the house, everyone thinks it's Chewie, they run to the door, and Zing! Stormtroopers! Yes! Maybe now something interesting will happen.

And it does. That is, if you think of Jefferson Starship as interesting.

Yes, after a lot of shuffling around, stormtroopers tapping on walls, Carney getting interrogated by the Imperials and stuttering his way though way too much of the same dialog over and over, he presents a box to an officer. Again, more fucking around follows, and eventually the box displays a tiny, pink, totally lame sounding band. Some of the worst pantomiming ensues, as well as some of the worst lyrics "Will you light the sky on fire? You can take me higher than the diamonds in the sky." It's obvious that they spent at least 14 seconds writing and recording this song.

The actual "drama" section of this scene is actually OK, or at least acceptably horrible. Carney is asked to leave, and the search continues. Malla tries to rough up a 'Trooper, guns are waved around, and eventually she acquiesces. Lumpy wanders off to yet another computer console, straps on some headphones, and watches a cartoon.

There are few things I know about this show. I've avoided reading all but one review of it. But I do know that most people say the cartoon is the best part of the show, mostly because it's the very fist official appearance of Boba Fett. Naturally, I've been looking forward to this. Two notes, the voices are all done by their respective actors (good) and the art is fucked, up. (very bad)

Han and Chewie are missing. (Can't these guys get ANYWHERE on time?) They have been looking for some sort of talisman that makes things invisible. They appear on a screen with Han bouncing around up-side down in the background. Luke sets off to intercept. The Falcon crash lands on a moon made of pizza sauce.

Luke follows, fights off a sea monster, runs away. Then the monster is zapped by...

Boba Fett! On a similar, but much bigger, sea monster. Fett saves Luke, calls him "friend," and warns Luke of Imperials in the area. He also says that "no lower life-form is worth going hungry for, friend."

They find the Falcon, Chewie tosses out the talisman because what the fuck did they want it for anyway really, and Luke gets shot in the back by Fett. 3PO tells Fett to stop because Luke is a friend, and that there is some sort of sleeping virus that only contaminates humans. The only way to keep them alive is to let the blood rush to their heads. Fett is familiar with the Imperial virus and can get a remedy from the city.

Chewie follows Fett into the city.

Fett ditches Chewie and makes contact with Darth Vader.

Then for some reason they see fit to cut back to the Wookie family for the commercial break. Nothing happens.

Back to the cartoon. 3PO and R2 intercept the transmission.

Fett then tells Chewie that he's got the serum and they leave the city. Fett fires wide of their pursuing stormtroopers, but Chewie grabs a gun and blows the shit out of them.

They join their friends and give them the serum. Luke calls Fett a loyal friend, but R2 and 3PO inform them otherwise.

Fett takes his leave.

Chewie says he knew all along that Fett wasn’t a friend because he smelled bad. Cue Scooby-Doo laughter.

The end.

This has been far and away the best part of the special so far. The sounds are taken right out of the movie, the voice acting is as good as can be expected from a bunch of actors who are getting paid well for a days work, the animation is fluid, and the character design is, well, troubling to say the least. Still, overall, in the grand scheme of this horrid spawn of some drunken dare, it’s pretty good stuff.

We are now officially over half-way into the special. One out of almost two hours down.

I think I'm going to die.

Back to the Wookiee home and the Imperials are ransacking the place. Lumpy finds his bantha doll missing a head, so he puts the pieces under a blanket. Then, like every other good American boy, he turns on his computer.

Following an instruction video, Lumpy begins to construct his new computer. Once again, Harvey Corman fills the screen. This times he's a malfunctioning robot of some sort, a lot like Max Headroom. No, a lot like Max Headroom. Pretty annoying. Nothing really happens until Corman eventually burns out. End of scene. Wha?

Next *sigh* the troopers all gather 'round the TV to watch an Imperial video about the wonderful life on Tatooine. It's a soap opera, or something very close to one, set entirely in a cantina similar, although much much much smaller, to the one in the movie.

It's got Bea Arthur and Corman, again, as a bartender and loser, respectively. Corman wants Bea to go out with him. She's not interested.

Then a curfew is proclaimed. Bea has to get everyone out of her bar. No one wants to leave and they all start pounding on the tables. And then, Jesus fuck, she starts singing.

It's really not too bad, but by now all I want is for this to end, and another quarter-assed song is not what I was hoping for. Eventually, Bea get everyone to leave (and who wouldn't) by singing at them. As is the way with this…thing, the song goes on and on for way too many choruses. It eventually ends with Corman giving Bea a rose. Aww. At least it ends. And there were a lot of neat-o aliens.

The Imperials are ordered to return to base, but they leave one trooper behind. It turns out that the command was actually sent by Lumpy and his new computer! Wow, something vaguely interesting. The trooper finds him, smashes the computer, and chases Lumpy out to the deck, where Chewbacca is waiting!

Yes! Finally some action. Han sneaks up behind the trooper and knocks the gun out of his hand. The trooper dives for the gun, but goes over the railing instead.

Han says hello to the family, then good-bye. Don't blink.

He even gives Chewie a for-real hug. Once again, even though he has few lines, Ford totally saves the day with his 100% performance. What a trooper.

A lot of Wookiee hugs and grunts follow as the music swells, but their reunion is cut short by a knock at the door. Of course it's good ol’ Art Carney again.

Then there’s a general alert looking for the missing trooper. I can't imagine how the Empire ever gets anything done, what with having to send out a universal call over the entire Imperial network every time someone takes a few-second break to go piss. Regardless, Carney saves the day by contacting the Empire and telling them that the trooper just ran off with some food. Of course the Empire has never heard a more convincing story and sends out a search party far away from the house. Problem solved.

Art leaves, and the Chewbacca clan all gather 'round, holding some glass bubbles aloft. The are then somehow transported to some place where a host of other wookiees are gathering.

Oh, and R2 and 3PO are there. After the droids wish they were alive and could feel joy, Leia comes bouncing in all her beautiful bra-less glory along with Luke and Han. Han? Wasn’t he just…didn’t he leave… what? Anyway, Leia gives a speech about peace and harmony, and how we are all the same in our fight against evil. It doesn't sound rehearsed at all. Nope. And then, goddamnit you guys, Leia starts singing! Ahh!!!

Han and Luke instantly go into puke-prevention mode. Leia just keeps on belting it out. She's not bad, really. Or maybe I just blew a funny-fuse.

After her surprisingly short song, there is a montage of footage from the film, most of which prominently features Chewbacca.

And that is the end.

Holy. Shit.

Happy Life Day, everyone?

(here are some of the people responsible)

(and, as a palate cleanser and reward for sticking it out all the way, here are some toys!)

Happy Life Day!