The theme song toX-Men: The Animated Series is undeniably amazing, but now there are accusations that it was stolen. A Hungarian man has filed a lawsuit against Marvel, Disney, Fox, Apple, Amazon, and others—along with folks from Saban Entertainment—claiming that the theme song was plagiarized.
io9 has looked over the lawsuit, which was filed Monday and first reported by TMZ. Zoltan Krisko, who claims to be managing the estate for Hungarian composer Gyorgy Vukan, says Vukan’s theme song for the 1980s crime drama Linda the Policewoman bears striking similarity to the one created for X-Men: The Animated Series, which debuted almost a decade later in 1992.
Linda the Policewoman, which was created by György Gát and distributed by Hungarian National Television, is described in the lawsuit as a “household name.” That’s not inaccurate. Running from 1983 to 1989, Linda was a popular show that not only brought kung fu fighting styles to Eastern Europe television but also apparently contributed to reshaping gender norms during the Iron Curtain.
Even though Hungary was isolated from much of the Western world during this time, the lawsuit claims the folks behind X-Men’s theme song still associated with Hungarian animators, which could have exposed them to Linda. The suit includes:
During the 1980s, cooperation between film industry professionals from different countries, including from the “Eastern” and “Western” world, existed despite the still standing Iron Curtain. Based on information and belief, as professionals in the animation film industry, Defendants Ronald Wasserman, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy all came in contact with Hungarian professionals in the film industry, and were aware of the famous animation workshop at Pannonia Filmstudio in Hungary, where Hungarian film industry professionals, such as Gyorgy Vukan, were frequent visitors.
Along with the companies, Krisko is suing Ron Wasserman and Shuki Levy, two composers for X-Men: The Animated Series who have each at one point taken credit for the theme song. The suit accuses several companies and folks that produced, distributed, syndicated, or otherwise profited from the show of enabling the copyright infringement of Vukan’s work (a problem that could still continue, since Disney is reportedly considering putting the series on Disney+).
That said, Vukan’s composition wasn’t registered for copyright in the United States until 2017, which is when Krisko said he first learned about X-Men: The Animated Series. Krisko is asking for damages and to award any profits attributable to him, and asking the court to restrain them and others from infringing on the copyright further.
This isn’t the first time the X-Men theme song has been accused of borrowing from other works. Several folks have cited its similarity to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” which came out in 1990. But unlike this situation, it doesn’t look like that ever resulted in a lawsuit.
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It’s only a couple months now until The Mandalorian launches on Disney Plus, and to whet our appetites for morally ambiguous space fantasy action we’ve got even more details to go through.
In a lengthy report by IGN, Dave Filoni talks the challenge of directing and executive producing The Mandalorian, his first live-action work, and we also get our first look into the cockpit of the Mando’s ship, the Razor Crest.
“I was taught by George and there are a lot of things that I want to do with Star Wars, that I feel make something feel like Star Wars and very classic,” Filoni said of his experience working on The Mandalorian,his first live-action series after over a decade working on the animated end of the Star Wars universe. “But of course everything I was doing was the first time I was doing it, in a way, because it’s live-action. So while it’s a world that’s familiar to me, it was a medium that was not as familiar to me— though George had prepared me well over the years with his training. I was fortunate to have Jon, people like Greig Fraser [director of photography on The Mandalorian and Rogue One] on board to help guide me through the process and help realize what I was trying to do shooting-wise and performance-wise. So that was all a challenge, but an exciting one.”
He was brought into the process early, Filoni explained, to work with series lead Jon Favreau to discuss ideas and then, ultimately, to direct two episodes, including the pilot, which marked the first time Filoni worked on material he himself hadn’t written in a very long time.
“I really appreciate that he brought me into this process and that he values my point of view because I’ve been with Star Wars so long,” Filoni told IGN, “but I really wanted to accomplish the story that he set out to make. It was wonderful. I was very flattered that he was willing even to have me direct the pilot. So that was a great honor and responsibility.”
Interestingly, parts of the process were actually familiar to Filoni, as the filming—as Favreau has discussed in other interviews—was done using virtual reality and videogame engine technology, allowing for blocking out scenes in digital environments before putting them together on a practical set, not dissimilar to animation techniques used for similar purposes.
I would liken it in some ways to what I was doing with George on The Clone Wars, where now through digital technology you can visualize scenes and sequences earlier. In animation, we call it a previs and it was a natural fit for me in this process because it did have these digital elements, but some of it when we were shooting was really brand new technology. And that also was good for me because I didn’t have any preconceived notion about how anything should be done. I was learning the process with all the new technology… And there’s a strong animation component in the way that we visualize some of the things early on in the virtual blocking… It’s one of the reasons why Kathy [Kennedy] thought this would be a great connection for me. Not just because I knew Jon, but I had some insights into the technology.
And while Filoni didn’t dish much on the actual content side, IGN does have a quick first look at the interior of the Mando’s ship, the Razor Crest, in the form of a sharp piece of concept art.
The art shows the Mando at his one-man cockpit, which looks… well, like a Star Wars cockpit. I wonder where the bathroom is. Do these things have bathrooms? Also, IGN confirms that the cockpit will be represented on-screen by a practical set, which is always nice to have. That tactile feeling always makes Star Wars pop.
Before the arrival of Kingdom Hearts in 2002, it seemed impossible to imagine Disney characters appearing alongside original characters in a Japanese role-playing game. But it apparently came close to happening back in 1992, almost 10 years before the world was introduced to Sora and company. As some longtime fans may already know, two unused sprites with a strong similarity to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were left hidden in the assets for a little game called Shin Megami Tensei.
Atlus’ Megami Tensei franchise has become a household name over the last few years thanks in part to the Persona spin-off series. The first-person dungeon-crawling of the initial games may seem archaic by modern standards, but over time, Shin Megami Tensei games grew to rival powerhouses like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest thanks to their mature storylines, modern setting, and usage of figures from folklore and myth as Pokémon-style battle buddies. Megami Tensei first arrived on Western shores with Revelations: Persona in 1996, and its popularity has only grown from there.
The third installment, 1992’s Shin Megami Tensei on the Super Famicom, is set in modern-day Tokyo. But in the alternate universe of this game, the city is under siege after an experiment gone wrong has opened up a portal to the netherworld. The main character is given access to a special computer program that allows him to communicate with demons and win them over to back him up in battle. As is common with the Megami Tensei franchise, the story goes to some dark places, including the potential for a direct confrontation with Lucifer, depending on the player’s choices. The main conceit was much different than what RPG fans were getting from the genre at the time, and that’s a big part of why the series has remained so popular decades later.
Shin Megami Tensei eventually tasks the player with visiting a theme park known as Tokyo Destiny Land, which sounds strikingly similar to Tokyo Disneyland, the overseas version of the popular American attraction that opened in Japan in 1983. On the surface, Tokyo Destiny Land is just another dungeon, full of mind-boggling NPC encounters and battles with various monsters. In late 2018, diligent fans discovered that the area hides a couple of secrets: unused sprites for demonic versions of the iconic Disney characters Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck wielding swords and a chainsaw, respectively. It’s since popped back up on Twitter as a wacky video game fact, which is how it first came to my attention.
Tumblr blog Stealing Knowledge also once wrote about these sprites, pointing out that they appeared in the Digital Devil Saga 10th Anniversary art book originally released in 1997. This seems to have been the only time Atlus officially recognized that these Disney characters ever existed in Shin Megami Tensei. Kotaku has reached out to Atlus for more details.
A great deal of work obviously went into creating these imaginative sprites, but these versions of Mickey and Donald never actually appeared in Shin Megami Tensei. It seems possible that the game’s designers hoped to avoid tangling with the historically litigious Walt Disney Company, but in theory, these designs should have fallen under the realm of parody, along with the rest of Tokyo Destiny Land.
When it came time to port the game to the PC Engine (also known as the TurboGrafx-16 outside of Japan), two new NPCs were created that bear a strong similarity to the unused Disney-esque sprites: Zombie Mouse and Demon Duck. While these could also still be construed as parodies, they do also look much less similar to Mickey and Donald than the previous designs.
The game’s original audio also suggests that some version of these characters had originally been intended to appear in the game. Zombie Mouse and Demon Duck show up in spots where the protagonist would have previously just heard disembodied voices in the Super Famicom version of Tokyo Destiny Land. Now, those disembodied sounds seem to line up with the presence of actual, visible characters.
The Megami Tensei franchise is no stranger to parody and allusions; the games include homages to various figures from religions, folklore, and pop culture in the lineup of gods and demons. Megami Tensei II on the Famicom featured Friday, an enemy whose name, hockey mask, and chainsaw were obviously inspired by Friday the 13th slasher Jason Voorhees. Sometimes, these homages don’t even bother to change the character’s names. Audrey, the plant monster from the musical Little Shop of Horrors, makes an appearance (by name) in Shin Megami Tensei II, as does Christine from the eponymous Stephen King novel about a possessed automobile. Later in the series, Devil May Cry protagonist and half-demon Dante would feature in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne as an official guest character. (This later became a meme due to the prominence given to advertising his cameo on the game’s cover.)
Megami Tensei lends itself well to these kinds of crossovers, because again, its compendium of demonic enemies and allies is comprised of extensive references to folklore and legends from all over the world. Where else can you recruit Baphomet, Loki, and a Leprechaun for a boss fight against YHVH (as in, the Hebrew name for God)? Sure, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck aren’t gods or mythological according to most typical definitions of those words, but when over 157 million people made pilgrimages to Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, and various other global destinations to celebrate Disney’s golden calves last year alone, what else do you call them?
Well, other than Zombie Mouse and Demon Duck, obviously.
I mean, consider the fact that she is using a tuning fork as a blade and that it has a clear weak point (the hinge), which will likely be the first point of failure when the weapon is exposed to extreme Forces. Or that there is no way she doesn’t chop off a limb with one errant swing of the hinge.
And how much give is in the hinge anyways? Is it mean to be more like giant nunchucks or a three-section staff, and if it’s the latter, will her fighting with it hopefully look cooler than every Youtube video I’ve found? (Editor’s note: Cranz insists only three-section staff users look stupid and that nunchucks are always cool).
Overly complex gadgets are neat. No one you know actually wants to own a Galaxy Fold, but if you’re a regular reader of Gizmodo’s gadget coverage you probably, on some level, covet one (or at least want to check it out). There’s a pleasure in a goofy gadget like the foldy phone. A quaintness to its complexity that leaves you with a smile. For me, the Fold and Rey’s dumb sword seem akin to devices tugged out of Skymall catalogs and Sharper Images stores that gave me a love for gadgets in the first place. I’ll honestly be disappointed if that lightsaber doesn’t at least have a calculator built in.
This month, nearly a decade to the month after the release of its predecessor, Nintendo released Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, a return to the beloved ARPG Marvel gaming series that takes comic book crossover mania to a team-based beat ‘em up conclusion. But it also serves as a reminder that…god, things were so different back when Ultimate Alliance 2 was coming out, weren’t they?
In September 2009, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still just a glimmer in Kevin Feige’s eye. We had accepted that upstart newcomers Marvel Studios might be on to something with the release of Iron Man the year prior (who would’ve thought that gamble casting Robert Downey Jr. as some B-tier comics character would pay off?), and at that point, only what is still the green-skinned stepchild of the MCU, Incredible Hulk, had joined it. The First Avenger, Thor, Iron Man 2, they had all yet to come—and above all, no one going to a movie theater outside of comic book diehards knew what an Infinity Stone was. There were murmurs of the Avengers, sure, after Samuel L. Jackson made us sit in a movie theater a little longer than we were used to (the audacity!). But Thanos? A gauntlet? Nada.
We also had the release of Vicarious Visions’ Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, which unlike all those lame-looking superhero movies we were being inundated with in the ‘00s, looked kind great. The follow up to a surprise 2006 hit and an adaptation of the then-recent comics event superseriesCivil War, Ultimate Alliance 2 presented an intriguingly gamified take on a blockbuster storyline: Superhero vs. Superhero! Privacy vs. Protection! That Guy you kind of know from a movie but he’s weirdly even more of a giant asshole vs. that guy with a shield they’re thinking of casting Jim from The Office as!
MUA2 was an unfiltered window into the world of Marvel’s comic book output as it was directly in 2009 which, in the context of everything has happened since, becomes a fascinating time capsule to reminisce over. It was a time when X-Men and Fantastic Four icons could stand alongside the Avengers and no one would bat an eye, because that’s just what happens in comics. A time when no one knew what an Infinity Stone was. And they were Infinity Gems, if you did.
In June 2019, by contrast, we were coming off the back of the release of something as bonkers asAvengers: Endgame. Over a decade and nearly two-dozen movies, the Infinity Stones haven’t just become part of pop culture lexicon at large, they have been gathered, used, re-gathered, and re-used. Thanos lived, rose up, and now died (twice, technically!), long live Thanos. So has Tony Stark, although the large shadow he cast over the MCU that Iron Man helped create all those years ago will continue to linger without him, thanks to the indomitable legacy of Robert Downey Jr.
At last, the cinematic version of the Infinity Saga is at an end—and here stands Nintendo and Team Ninja with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Which is…a quest. To gather the Infinity Stones. And stop Thanos before he does so!
And look, here are your familiar cinematic faces in a roster of Marvel heroes now considerably less esoteric than the one in Ultimate Alliance 2—filled with characters slightly ajar enough to be comics-inspired, but close enough to basically be the characterization of their movie counterparts. Here is the Black Order, aka Those Guys With About 10 Minutes Max of Infinity War and Endgame Screen Time, to find them! Here’s Ultron, please remember that movie that most people thought was just kind of okay! Here is Daredevil making a joke about hallway fights with other Netflix-Approved Heroes!
To be fair to Ultimate Alliance 3,it wears its inspirations on its sleeve—it does not mask its pretty direct connections to that giant movie you (and what feels like the rest of the planet) have just seen to the tune of a gabillion dollars, as if they were something worth masking in the first place. Marvel Cosmic Bullshit is just as good an excuse as any to smash all these heroes together, and smash Ultimate Alliance 3 does with an earnest abandon. It, thanks to the comics, can even go one better than the films, adding beloved comics heroes like Ms. Marvel—well, Kamala Khan, specifically, now that Carol’s had her well-earned promotion to Captain Marvel—and Spider-Gwen, alongside familiar names from the movies.
There are even X-Men characters and a whole level set at the X-Mansion! As if this game didn’t already serve as a reminder of what a long, strange decade it’s been, this marks the mutants’ first major foray back into Marvel tie-in media since that whole awkwardness with Marvel attempting to blacklist mutants and the Fantastic Four in its gaming spinoffs over a spat with Fox, who owned the movie rights for them. Well, up until the point Disney grew tired of the charade and absorbed the film studio into its giant, Mickey-ear-adorned mass earlier this year. At least we can play as Wolverine again?
But as fun as it is from a “I can play as Scarlet Witch and Elsa Bloodstone smashing up faceless bad guys for several hours” perspective, Ultimate Alliance 3 is still about smashing up those faceless bad guys in a saga we are now intimately, tiredly familiar with. Not just thanks to the movies, either, but because it seems like the Infinity Stones have been the catch-all reason for any Marvel crossover outside the comics lately—including other recent games like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite.
A decade in the waiting, I wish it had been bolder—to take more direct inspiration (not even necessarily like its predecessors) from a particular arc of comics, and to embrace the idea behind why we love these superheroic crossovers at all in the first place. To do something silly, and wild, and zany to match the candy-coated Spandex it otherwise revels in thanks to its thankfully-comics-inspired-aesthetic.
We have had a decade of Infinity Stones. There’s so much more Marvel can be, whether it’s on the big screen (where we’re finally getting an intriguing glimpse of such a thing), in its comics, or in games like Spider-Man, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the upcoming Avengers game, and beyond. Perhaps, after one last indulgence in this familiar well, its time to put the Infinity Gauntlet away for a good long while.
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Long before Disney’s remake of The Lion King hit theaters, it was a beacon of curiosity. Obviously, director Jon Favreau and his team weren’t going to film real lions, they were going to use digital technology to create all the animals, as he did with great success in The Jungle Book. But The Jungle Book is The Jungle Book. This was The Lion King, a remake of an even more popular, culturally resonant film. What would making this movie look like in real life? I was lucky enough to find out.
On December 7, 2017, myself and a group of journalists traveled to Playa Vista, California to visit the “set” of The Lion King. I put “set” in quotes because, really, there were no sets. There was no grass or trees or animals in this building. The building is about three miles from the Pacific Ocean and so non-descript you could drive by it every day for your entire life and have no idea what was going on inside. It could be an Amazon distribution center or have the Ark of the Covenant in it. You’d have no idea unless you were allowed inside.
This particular building had one purpose only: remaking The Lion King. Every step of the process, from the story, to the design, all the way through the edit, visual effects, sound and more took place here. In fact, 90 percent of The Lion King was made in this building by about 150 people. (Outside visual effects houses helped too.)
Most of that is easy to picture. Conference rooms with photos on the walls. Giant computers for editing or effects. Normal movie stuff. But it’s the filming that’s so unique.
Filming took place in a large room that felt more like a Best Buy than a film set. It’s mostly empty and industrial save for all the wild tech everywhere. There are 120-inch touchscreen monitors positioned all around. Custom camera rigs for people to use. Wires, chairs, desktop computers and, most importantly, VR headsets all over the place. And that’s where the sets actually are. In virtual reality.
To visit them, the filmmakers either had to put on VR headsets or watch on the screens. Instantly, they’re transported to Africa, where Simba, Timon, Pumbaa, and everyone else lives. This is possible with custom software that, in the simplest terms, is basically an elaborate video game you could call “make a movie.” That’s how Ben Grossman, the virtual producer supervisor on the film, described it.
Grossman works at Magnopus, a company that pioneered a VR system enabling the filmmakers to create the scene they wanted in VR, then shoot it in the real world. Using the Unity game engine (which is increasingly being used for non-game stuff like The Lion King), filmmakers put on a VR headset (primarily the HTC Vive) and are transported to their virtual set. Then, using all the different options in the software, they can put down lights, change the landscapes, lay dolly track, change camera lenses, basically anything someone would be able to do on a real set, but they can do it virtually. Once everything is just right, real film production people, including director of photography Caleb Deschanel (Passion of the Christ), use real cameras hooked into a computer and film scenes in reality with the results showing up virtually.
I know. It’s hard to picture. But imagine putting on a VR headset and then you’re standing in Africa as a huge virtual environment. You start to compose your shot. You pick the area, set up virtual lights, figure out what camera you want to use and how it’s going to move, and then shoot it. This happens around pre-animated animals which, at this stage, are very rough. Those will be greatly improved in VFX later once the shots are locked.
Plus, because the actual filming is in VR, the filmmakers aren’t beholden to any physical reality. Would the shot look better if the sun was in another place? Just move it. Want some trees in the shot? Add them. Should there be a few hills over there? Sounds good. Anything is possible. When we were watching the filming, the filmmakers were working on the “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” scene, with Simba and Nala frolicking in the plains, as the camera swept along the side of them.
It’s all very elaborate and complex. Which raises the question, “Why?” Why develop a whole new way of making movies to make a movie fans have already seen? For Favreau, the question was less “Why?” and more “Why not?”
“I don’t think anybody wants to see another animated Lion King, because it still holds up really, really well,” Favreau said back on set. “The challenge here, and I think what we laid out for ourselves as a goal, is to create something that feels like a completely different medium than either [the film or the stage show] so it could stand as yet a third way of telling this story…And also, using these techniques and really making the visual effects department a creative partner from the inception allows us to present visual effects, I think, hopefully, in a way that you haven’t seen it before. So, just the spectacle of it—of if we can present something like a BBC documentary, on top of telling the story, and having those two exist together.”
He’s right. Visiting the set of The Lion King wasn’t like any set I’ve visited before. It felt more like what I’d imagine visiting a video game studio would be like, rather than a movie studio. Innovation like that is exciting—but, if this was a project that was less well-known than The Lion King, maybe it wouldn’t have taken place. Maybe the fact it is such a popular title is what made it okay to film in such a unique way.
Which, ultimately, could be the legacy of The Lion King. Sure it’s making a ton of money, but more importantly, it could be a movie that opens the door for other filmmakers to one day make their own unique visions using this technique. If that’s the case, the fact that The Lion King is still just The Lion King won’t matter as much. Peeking behind the curtain could give the film an added layer of appreciation.
The Lion King is now in theaters.
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When some concrete info on the Black Widow solo film finally dropped last night at San Diego Comic-Con, all the hints pointed toward Taskmaster, a dude with the power to instantly replicate any physical action he sees, as the villain. Now, with the release of a new official illustration, that’s pretty much confirmed.
In the comics, the Taskmaster is Tony Masters, a mercenary who injected himself with an experimental serum that gave him the power of “photographic reflexes,” meaning that he can reproduce, from memory, any action he sees. So he can fire arrows as like Hawkeye, fight like Shang-Chi, and throw a shield like Captain America. All he has to do is see them do it first.
What’s still not clear, though, is what the character’s origin is going to be in the MCU, or who’s going to play them. Out of the confirmed cast, we know that David Harbour is playing Alexei Shoskatov, the Red Guardian (the Communist answer to Captain America). Could the Guardian go rogue and become a supervillain? Who knows, at this point. But we did see, in the footage shown at the Hall H panel, Natasha fighting someone who definitely seemed like Taskmaster. Florence Pugh is playing Yelena, O-T Fagbenle is Mason, and Rachel Weisz is Melina (Weisz is Deputy Editor Jill Pantozzi’s guess for Taskmaster as an MCU switcheroo).
After watching the footage at the Marvel panel, io9 caught up with Scarlett Johansson. She talked to us about the joy of working in an increasingly more gender diverse MCU, which includes the director of Black Widow, Cate Shortland, the first solo woman director in the MCU. You can check that out below.
For more on Marvel’s announcements at Comic-Con, check out our master post here. Black Widow is due in theaters May 1, 2020.
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San Diego Comic-Con is back, baby, and the cosplay is looking bigger and better than ever. Thousands of cosplayers and fans have flocked to the San Diego Convention Center to show off their tributes to amazing shows, films, comics, and video games. And we’ve got it all right here.
Take a look at io9’s video and photo collection, highlighting our favorite finds from Wednesday and Thursday. We’ve got a terrifying Tethered duo from Us, a shockingly uncanny Princess Anastasia, and a couple that apparently got devoured by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Leave a comment with your favorites, or share your own look from SDCC! Also, be sure to head to our Instagram Stories, where we’re sharing even more looks and cool finds from the con floor. Have fun!
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Timothy Zahn’s return to his most famous creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has been one of the consistent highlights of the new canon of Star Wars under Disney. So far we’ve got to see Thrawn’s early days in the Empire and a fateful encounter between him and Anakin Skywalker, and io9 can now give you an exclusive look inside the third entry in this new Thrawn series.
Set before the climactic events over Lothal in the finale of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, the third entry in Zahn and Del Rey’s Thrawn saga, Thrawn: Treason, hits shelves this month. The book finds the Grand Admiral at odds—not just with fellow Imperials, as he finds his TIE Defender project stalled in favor of a certain battlestation project courtesy of Rogue One’s Director Krennic, but his loyalty to both the Empire and his own people, the Chiss, when a dire threat to his homeworld brings Thrawn crashing back into an encounter with the Chiss Ascendancy.
That dire threat is brought to Thrawn’s attention by the return of a familiar face, as you’ll see: Thrawn’s former protege, Commander Eli Vanto, returning for the first time since the original book in the series, Thrawn, released in 2017! Back at the end of that book, Eli had found himself on a mission on Thrawn’s behalf, sent into the Unknown Regions to serve as an Imperial attache to the mysterious Chiss Ascendancy itself.
Ahead of Thrawn: Treason’s early release at San Diego Comic-Con this week, check out our exclusive excerpt below—in both text and in Marc Thompson’s narration from the Thrawn: Treason audiobook—to see what Eli’s been up to in his time among the Chiss, including rubbing shoulders with another face fans of Zahn’s Star Wars expanded universe material will remember…
It had all started out well enough, Lieutenant Eli Vanto thought as he paged through yet another data listing filled with delicate Chiss script. Thrawn had told him that the Chiss Ascendancy had vital need of his talents and abilities, and that he’d arranged for Eli to be quietly released from his current duty aboard the Chimaera. Eli had accepted the new assignment and left Imperial space, arriving at the rendezvous point Thrawn had sent him to full of hope and expectation, with the excitement of the unknown tingling through him.
I am Admiral Ar’alani of the Chiss Defense Fleet, the blue-skinned woman had greeted him from the bridge of her ship. Are you he?
I am he, Eli had confirmed, making sure to fill his voice with the mix of confidence and respect that had served him well during his years in the Imperial fleet. I am Eli Vanto. I bring greetings to you from Mitth’raw’nuruodo. He believes I can be of some use to the Chiss Ascendancy.
Welcome, Eli Vanto, she’d replied. Let us learn together if he was correct.
That had been over a year ago. In retrospect, Eli thought a little sourly, he should have realized from Ar’alani’s neutral words and tone that she wasn’t impressed.
His first act aboard the Steadfast was to receive demotion from Imperial commander to Chiss Defense Fleet lieutenant. No real surprise there—different militaries would hardly have equivalent rank systems. His second act was to be dropped into an intensive course in Cheunh, the main Chiss language. Again, no surprise—though many aboard spoke the Sy Bisti trade language Eli was fluent in, it was certainly unreasonable to expect everyone to bend to the needs of a single crew member. Especially a newcomer and an alien.
But in and through all of that, Eli had expected to be put onto some kind of leadership or command track. Instead, he’d been dumped down here in the analysis department, sifting data, looking for patterns, and making predictions.
It was something he was very good at. Even Thrawn, with all his tactical and strategic genius, had recognized Eli’s superiority at such things, and had utilized his skills to their fullest. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that surprising that he’d passed that information on to Ar’alani.
The problem was that as far as Eli could tell, none of the data he’d been tasked to analyze meant anything at all.
They weren’t listings of ship movements or cargo or smuggling manifests. They weren’t groups of personnel, or alien troops, or alien operations. They weren’t even anything internal to the Steadfast, patterns of power usage or data flow or something else designed to spot flaws in ship’s functions or to predict imminent system failures.
To be honest, the whole thing felt like busywork. Eli had always hated busywork.
Still, Ar’alani struck him as a subtle sort of person. Maybe this was a test of his patience, or his willingness to enthusiastically obey even orders that seemed to make no sense. He’d certainly gone through a lot of such scenarios with Thrawn.
And really, it wasn’t like the tour had been all routine. There’d been a seriously nasty skirmish with the Grysks and some of their allies near the Imperial edge of the Unknown Regions, which had made for a very interesting couple of days. After the excitement subsided, he’d hoped things might pick up a little.
To his disappointment, they hadn’t. In fact, in many ways they’d actually slowed down.
Which wasn’t to say the Steadfast wasn’t in danger. On the contrary, it was in about as much danger right now as it had ever been.
The intercom at his station gave a little three-tone warble. “Lieutenant Ivant, report to the bridge immediately,” First Officer Khresh’s voice came over the speaker.
“Acknowledged,” Eli called back, mentally rolling his eyes. The vast majority of Chiss names were composed of multiple syllables in three distinct parts, the first of which identified the person’s family, the second of which was the given name, and the third of which reflected some social factor Eli hadn’t yet figured out. Since using multisyllable titles all the time could seriously bog down conversations—and worse, timely military orders—the normal convention was to use core names for everything except in the most formal situations.
But there were a few exceptions to the norm. Admiral Ar’alani herself, for one, apparently had only a two-part name and no core name at all. The ship’s navigators, the young Chiss girls gifted with Third Sight who used their ability to guide the Steadfast through hyperspace, also followed that pattern. Eli also hadn’t figured out why they got the same naming convention as senior flag officers.
Early on, Ar’alani had explained to her officers and crew that Eli was another such exception, and that he should be addressed as Lieutenant Vanto or Lieutenant Eli’van’to. But for most of them the explanation didn’t seem to have taken. Someone had taken Ar’alani’s conversion of Eli Vanto into a standard three-part Chiss name, then created a core name out of the middle of it, and the name had stuck.
At first, Eli had wondered if it was a subtle insult, either to him or to the admiral who’d brought this alien into their midst. But Ar’alani hadn’t taken offense at the flouting of her order, at least not in public, and eventually Eli decided to treat it as their way of accepting him as one of their own.
And it could have been worse. If he’d been unwise enough to tell them his middle initial—N—the name might have become Invant, which was way too close to Infant for comfort.
He was halfway to the bridge, passing the standard green- and blue-rimmed compartment doors, when the double-red-rimmed door to the navigation ready room a dozen meters in front of him slid open. One of the navigators stepped out into the corridor and turned toward the bridge.
Normally, seeing the back of a navigator’s head wouldn’t have given Eli a clue as to who she was. All of the Steadfast’s navigators were girls, nearly all of them between the ages of seven and fourteen, when Third Sight was at its strongest. On top of that, they tended to keep to themselves, and in all his time aboard he’d only met three of the five.
Vah’nya was the exception to all the rules. She was twenty-two years old, and unlike the children who shared her job she felt perfectly comfortable mixing with the rest of the adults aboard. Eli had seen and talked with her on a number of occasions, and had found her congenial company.
“Navigator Vah’nya,” he called.
She turned to face him, a small smile touching her lips as she saw who it was. “Hello, Lieutenant Eli,” she said. “What brings you to this part of the ship?”
“I’ve been ordered to the bridge,” he said, eyeing her closely. Not just good company, but also highly intriguing. Though her Third Sight was slowly fading, as it did with all navigators, even at twenty-two she still had greater skill than all but one or two of the younger girls.
He’d looked into it a bit, and as far as he could tell no one knew why her ability had lasted this long. But then, with the whole Chiss navigation system a deep, black secret, it wasn’t surprising that it hadn’t been very well studied.
On top of all of Vah’nya’s other interesting qualities, she was the only person aboard he’d been able to persuade to call him by his real name. That alone would have earned her high marks in his book.
“Ah,” she said. “So you were not merely coming to see me?”
“No, not at all,” Eli said, feeling his face warming. He wasn’t entirely sure of the protocol regarding fraternization among the officers and crew, and he had no intention of learning about it the hard way.
“Too sad,” Vah’nya said, in a tone that could have been mild sarcasm or complete sincerity. “Did Junior Commander Velbb say what it was about?” she added as the two of them continued forward.
“Actually, it wasn’t Commander Velbb,” Eli told her. “The order came from Senior Captain Khresh.”
“Really?” she said, frowning. “That is unusual.”
“I know.” Eli gestured to her. “What about you? Are you coming on watch?”
“Yes,” she said. “Though I feel I’m unlikely to be needed.”
Eli wrinkled his nose. She had that right. Barely three hours after the Steadfast arrived in this system, Ar’alani had ordered a hard shutdown of the entire ship, a stage below even dark stealth mode, cutting unnecessary power use and all emissions, including active sensors. She’d given the ship one final burst from the drive, and from that moment on they’d been drifting, dark and silent, through the loose asteroid belt three hundred million kilometers from the system’s sun.
That had been nearly a week ago. Eli had checked the ship’s position, and studied the passive sensor reports, and he still had no idea what they were doing here. His best guess was that they were still following the ship they’d been tracking ever since leaving the Unknown Regions and that Ar’alani was afraid of spooking it.
As well she might. They were a long way from Chiss space and the various vague threats arrayed against them. This was a system deep within the Galactic Empire.
And the threats here were anything but vague.
Thrawn: Treason is out later this month, with fans attending SDCC getting the chance to pick up an exclusive early edition featuring new cover art from Two Dots, starting from Wednesday, July 17. But that’s not all—io9 is excited to reveal a look at the brand new poster by Darren Tan, for fans who pick up a copy of the Barnes & Noble edition of the book when it releases soon, featuring not just Eli, but Chiss Admiral Ar’alani!
Thrawn: Treason hits shelves on July 23.
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Trailer FrenzyA special place to find the newest trailers for movies and TV shows you’re craving.
The first trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan is here, and it’s gorgeous.
In a sweeping ninety seconds, the trailer showcases big, beautiful settings and an attention to detail that makes the remake look more like a period film than a Disney adaptation. Mulan, played by Yifeu Lu, goes from quiet daughter to epic warrior. The trailer teases really sweeping fights, too, real Wuxia-type stuff, and you can absolutely see that stylistic influence on the shooting here.
So far as music goes, there’s no singing, but hints of the animated film’s music are heard in the soundtrack. Which, if that’s the approach the movie takes, is fairly understated for what looks to be a pretty self-serious film.
Check out the first trailer, and get ready: Mulancomes to theaters March 27, 2020.
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