Power of Grayskull

Een anderhalf uur durende documentaire over He-Man? Tuurlijk. Zelfs voor een kind van de jaren 80’ zoals ik is het makkelijk te vergeten hoe groot deze hype was.

Het verhaal van He-Man begint in 1977 Fanboys snappen het al, dit was het jaar dat Star Wars uitkwam. Er was op dat punt nog nooit een film succesvol vertaald naar speelgoed. Star Wars veranderde dat voor altijd. Speelgoedmaker Mattel, wiens grootste successen tot dat moment Barbie en Hot Wheels waren, keerde het om. Ze begonnen met de speelgoedlijn en de rest kwam later.

He-Man was een massief gespierde held. Dat was nieuw toen. De volgende stap was hem een formidabele tegenstander geven. Dat werd natuurlijk Skeletor. Toen volgden nog allemaal coole ondersteunende personages: Evil-Lyn, Teela, Man-At-Arms, Mer-Man, Beast-Man, et cetera. Het volgende design was Castle Grayskull. Great! Maar met het doodshoofd erop lijkt het meer op Skeletor’s basis, hoe zat dat? Toen begonnen de makers het verhaal vorm te geven. Het kasteel is van geen van beide, maar wie twee helften van een magisch zwaard bezit krijgt de ‘seat of power’.

In 1982 kwam de eerste reclame van Mattel en de geweldige ontwerpen trokken kinderen gelijk deze fantasiewereld binnen. Wat ontbrak was echter een medium om het verhaal te vertellen. Dat werden in eerste instantie mini-comics. De uitvinder van de Saturday Morning Cartoon, Lou Scheimer, besloot er vervolgens een serie van te maken.

He-Man kreeg ervan langs van de cenzuurders omdat het zo gewelddadig zou zijn. Daarom werd er een stom moreel lesje aan het einde geplakt. Maar los daarvan was het een geweldige, vermakelijke serie. Kinderen waren er gek op. En Mattel verdiende miljarden. Tussen 1982 en 1987 zorgde de gespierde held voor 95 procent van de groei bij Mattel. Die laatste jaren was het zelfs groter dan Barbie. Om de groei vast te houden werd er ook nog een vrouwelijke held geïntroduceerd; She-Ra. In 1987 kwam de behoorlijke ‘live action’ film met Dolph Lundgren en Frank Langella.

En daarna doofde het kaarsje langzaam uit. Tien jaar later probeerde ze het nog met een nieuwe versie van de serie, maar dit is nooit van de grond gekomen. De makers in de docu verklaarden het succes doordat het gaat over je eigen innerlijke ik transformeren met je eigen kracht. Mijn eigen verklaring is dat het, net als Star Wars, een briljante schurk heeft. We houden ervan te fantaseren over onze donkere kant en dat is de aantrekkingskracht van een serie als He-Man.

Lees ook: 10 favoriete slechteriken uit jaren 80’ tekenfilms

Why Bringing Back Palpatine in Ep IX was the Right Decision

Like always when a Star Wars movie is released, the fans and general public are bitching and complaining. One of the major complaints about the recently released Episode XI: The Rise of Skywalker, was that it brought back the presumed dead emperor Palpatine. They think this is a chickenshit move to please fans who were unhappy about the direction the previous installment – The Last Jedi – was taking the franchise. I’m about to tell them why they are wrong.

First of all, if you accept the decision to make episode VII, VIII and IX in the first place, you’ll have to accept the rise of a powerful new enemy. It is called Star Wars after all; there has to be conflict between the forces of good and evil. This enemy must also be very powerful. At least as powerful as the defeated empire. Or there won’t be much tension. This new force of evil became The First Order.

Secondly, who is gonna command this mighty new enemy? It seemed that Supreme Leader Snoke was the brains behind it, but that would have been strange and unsatisfying. Don’t forget, it took Palpatine a whole trilogy (episode I, II, and III) to build up the Galactic Empire through an elaborate Master Plan. Are we supposed to believe that out of nowhere, a dark lord would arrive and overpower the newly established republic? No way. Only the master of the dark arts of the Sith could manage such a feat.

And thus, Palpatine somehow survived his fall in Return of the Jedi, and in the shadows of Exegol worked on his revenge. I like the idea that he created Snoke to do his bidding. And now, finally after 42 years of Star Wars films, he is finally defeated and the force is balanced once again. Yes I know, Anakin Skywalker had already brought balance. But again, if you accept the decision to make new movies in the Skywalker timeline, you’ll have to accept that there are still major tremors in the force that have to be evened out.

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker, is a safe movie. Rather than taking chances it sticks to the familiar elements Lucas created long ago. But it is visually stunning, features great acting, and brings an emotional punch or two. J. J. Abrams did an excellent job and now, Star Wars is really really finished. We might have to wait a very long time before the next really epic fantasy series comes along…

What Do Gollum, Darth Vader & Agent Smith Have in Common?

You were just wondering about that, weren’t you? Well, I’ll explain.

Every big epic in fantasy or science fiction, needs a legendary villain-character like Darth Vader, Gollum or Agent Smith. But these three are not normal evil doers. They are very special, because their destiny is directly tied to the resolution of the whole story. They are more like causal agents than just ordinary bad guys.

Their evil is also much more nuanced than the other main villains in their holy trilogies. And their motivations are often harder to fully grasp. Take emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. He is just evil to the core. There is not a single shade of grey: he is BAD. Darth Vader, on the other hand, was actually a good man before he was seduced by the dark side of the force. Luckily, for the oppressed galaxy, Vader’s son Luke Skywalker felt there was still good in him. Luke exploited this inner conflict, which lead to the death of Palpatine by Vader’s hand at the end of Return of the Jedi. The galaxy was free once again due to Vader’s destiny.

Gollum and Agent Smith (especially after his supposed destruction by Neo in the first Matrix movie) don’t even belong to the villain class and are free agents, so to speak, Smith quite literally. They are just roaming around in their fantasy worlds, driven by their own insatiable desires. Gollum by his addiction to the Ring of Power, and Smith by his need to destroy his arch enemy Neo and the entire simulated computerworld the Matrix with it. But, like in Vader’s case, through their actions they enable the heroes of their stories to fulfill their appointed tasks while they would have otherwise failed.

Like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. He managed to get the ring all the way to Mount Doom, but could unavoidably no longer resist the power of the mighty precious and thus refused to destroy it. Gollum took his chance and jumped at Frodo, bit off his finger, and took the ring. But he could only enjoy it for a brief moment. As a crazed Frodo attacked him, Gollum fell to his doom taking the ring with him. The panic in Sauron’s one eye is very satisfying. His reign is over forever. Gandalf had foreseen this turn of events: ‘My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over.’

Agent Smith’s faith is similar. When Neo realises that it is inevitable that Smith – who he has destroyed before – must now destroy him in order for things to end. He allows Smith to clone him, like he has done to the entire population of the Matrix (‘me, me, me’). But since Neo is the One, the anomaly of the system, this creates a fatal chain reaction eliminating the virus Smith. By pursuing his own purposes, against the will of his masters (the machines in case of The Matrix), he ensures that the humans are set free.

Do all epics have this type of causal agent? What about Harry Potter for example? Well in a way: yes, a very interesting one. When Voldemort tried to kill Harry when he was a baby, he unwillingly put a horcrux (a piece of his soul) in Harry. While Harry was growing up, he slowly discovered his connection to the Dark Lord. In the end, the only way to defeat him, was by letting Voldemort kill him. This villain created a causal agent himself that lead to his doom! Because Voldemort didn’t kill Harry, but just the horcrux. The now released Harry could return and finish off Voldemort in a final confrontation, ridding the wizard and muggle world of this ultimate baddie.

The world is more complex than just good-evil. While most of the characters in these epics are either of the hero or villain archetype, these causal agents are not so easily defined. So to answer the question, what do they have in common? They are tools used by the clashing higher forces to decide the faith of the world. Apparently, free will is absent in these worlds, and we are merely instruments of the ruling powers. This makes sense, for at least two of these trilogies (Star Wars and The Matrix) are inspired by Eastern Philosophy of which some movements (Advaita Vedanta) teaches us that free will is an illusion. The Lord of the Rings seems more in tune with paganism that also suggests that greater spiritual forces can impact the course of events or the ultimate outcome.

The individual destinies of these characters are thus intertwined with the destiny of the world at large. Thereby, they completely transcend a clearcut character definition. Beneath their wicked appearances, they actually become saviors, even though that was never their intention. Gandalf nailed it when he said: ‘Even the very wise cannot see all ends.’ Good, bad, everyone has their own perspective. But in the end, love and goodness will always be victorious.