Voltron: Legendary Defender: Classic Heroes in a New Age

Copyright © 2016 by DreamWorks Animation
Copyright © 2016 by DreamWorks Animation

When I reviewed shows like The Big O, I admitted that I never caught onto the whole genre of giant mecha fighting each other like most guys my age did. I know I watched Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as a kid, but it had no staying power for me, and I never hit that same stride again.

But lo! the heavens parted, and someone did make a giant robot show that I could get behind. All it took was Netflix and the animation team behind The Legend of Korra to give me a thrill-packed adventure with a strong dramatic core and an excellent cast.

It gave me Voltron: Legendary Defender.

Inspired by the original 1980s show, Voltron is set in the distant future, as human beings explore the cosmos. We meet 4 maverick cadets at the Galactic Garrison, who band together to break out the survivor of a failed first contact mission, Shiro. Their gathering unleashes an ancient and powerful lion-shaped robot from underneath the planet’s surface, and soon our heroes are transported to the distant world of Altea, where they learn about the Galra Empire, led by Zarkon, who has ruled the universe for 10,000 years. Under the eye of Princess Allura, these five “Paladins” scatter across the cosmos to reunite the five Lion machines and reform Voltron, the strongest fighter ever created.

Given that talented directors and artists like Joaquim Dos Santos are attached to this series, it’s no surprise that the animation in the new Voltron show is breathtaking and subtle. We get distinct and colorful patterns for every alien civilization, from the noble Alteans to the ruthless Galra. And as for someone who doesn’t really like giant mecha shows, I must admit that the detail and coloring on the recurring Voltron transformation sequence is spot on and exciting to watch every time.

Beyond how the show looks, Voltron also has subtle details and styles when it comes to fleshing out the alien civilizations encountered in the show. There’s plenty of comedy to be had from arguing over different measurements of time (seconds vs. “ticks” on Altea), but there’s also enough beauty in its more dramatic moments, such as the Balmera rituals that Coran and Allura perform to harvest crystals near the midway point of the season. You get the sense of how vast and interconnected the universe is, and we’ve only seen a fraction of what lies ahead.

The main cast is equally well-rounded. You get equal parts comedy relief and acts of bravery from characters like Lance, Keith, Hunk, and Coran. Meanwhile, Shiro and Allura manage to go beyond their generic leadership roles, bringing in moments of self-doubt and their respective scarred pasts to bear, often when the battle’s reached its peak. I also have to point out that my favorite among the Paladins is Pidge, who redefines being the “smart one” of the team with a major secret and a deep connection to the human team that first encountered the Galra.

With 11 episodes under their belt, the showrunners did a fantastic job of telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. You can see how they used cause-and-effect to map out their episodic plots. In one episode, they take back their castle and need a rare crystal from a distant planet. In the next episode, the Paladins will be fighting to free that planet from the Galra. In the episode after that, they’ll hunker down and defend the planet from a Galra-bred war machine. Apologies for any spoilers you might have just read, but even so, I hope you can see how the first season of the show manages to follow through and tell a compelling, overarching story arc with multiple smaller stories scattered throughout.

Overall, I really, really liked this show. It’s fun like the shows I used to watch as a kid, but it has plenty of heart and intelligence fueling the universe where it takes place, which makes Season 2 of Voltron: Legendary Defender worth the wait.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is available to watch on Netflix.

Bibliography: Voltron: Legendary Defender (Season 1). Based on Beast King GoLion by Toei Animation and Voltron: Defender of the Universe by World Events Productions. Produced by Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, Yoo Jae Myung, Ted Koplar, Bob Koplar, Choi Goun, Kim Young Hyun, Kim Seul Ki, and Lee Soo Kyung. DreamWorks Animation; World Events Productions; Studio Mir. Netflix (distributor). Original release date: June 10, 2016 – present.

Comparing the Themes of Star Wars and Star Trek

Go into any science fiction forum, or turn any corner inside the labyrinth of Online Geekdom, and you are certain to find a million posts and message threads devoted to that age-old question: “Star Wars vs. Star Trek, who would win in a fight?”

I couldn’t care less about sizing up the firepower of the USS Enterprise (from any era) against that of an Imperial Star Destroyer or Death Star. That’s not why I watched The Next Generation or The Empire Strikes Back as a kid. I wasn’t in it for explosions or space battles (well, ok, maybe a little, but not all of it). What drew me to both franchises were 3 key aspects that they shared in common.

a) A stellar cast (no pun intended)

b) Engaging storylines

c) An immersive and colorful universe

It’s that last point I want to discuss today. Star Trek and Star Wars might both be about heroes struggling to overcome insurmountable obstacles in their path, but they approach the same premise in distinct ways.

Star Trek: The Frontier and the Spread of Civilization

Copyright © 2009 by Paramount Pictures

When you think about it, even in a universe where war with Klingons and the Borg is a reality, Star Trek is an oddly optimistic concept. It’s the future and Earth is actually a great place to live, where money isn’t needed and scarcity is a thing of the past. Science won the day and continues to win, pushing humanity off Earth and into the greater galactic community. There’s always strange new worlds to explore, new cultures to contact, and new forms of life to discover.

In Star Trek, the main conflict is usually between the Federation’s faith in scientific progress and an alien planet’s way of life, hence the plot device of the Prime Directive. Of course, that “rule” often provides captains like Kirk and Picard with ways of subverting the status quo, using negotiation and applied science to solve whatever problem they’re facing. There’s a central theme of going forward, of finding common ground with multiple races, of the hope of peace triumphing over the inevitability of war.

There’s also a recurring dialogue between the power of logic and the power of emotion, expressed most clearly in The Original Series between Spock and McCoy. Compared to the struggle of the light and dark sides of the Force as discussed in Star Wars franchise, where emotion must be contained, the various Captains of the Starship Enterprise have to find a balance between passion and logic, between bold action and rational discourse.

Star Wars: Power Corrupts and Love Redeems

Luke Han Leia
Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

By contrast, Star Wars is almost always defined by the occurrence of a war between Good vs. Evil, whether it’s the Rebels against the Empire, the Republic against the Separatists, or the Resistance against the First Order. Most people’s first image of the multi-film saga is that iconic scene of a small Rebel blockade runner trading laser blasts with a massive Star Destroyer over a desert planet in the depths of space. Well, that and lightsabers.

In a way, the lightsaber is the perfect image for Star Wars. It’s a classic sword done in the strongest science fiction style possible. Mythology runs deep in the story, making it less of a typical sci-fi tale than Star Trek. Beyond the Rebels’ fight against the Empire, the heart of the story is a young person seeking to learn the ways of the Jedi, whether they’re called Anakin, Luke, or Rey. Their journey into the mystical realm of the Force stands in stark contrast to the corrupt and faceless enemy forces, who want to unite the galaxy under their technology-driven terror, who let their passions drive their power instead of seeking inner peace and harmony.

Even more importantly, the conflict between the Rebels and the Empire is more about individuals against the collective. It’s not just Luke and Rey trying to bring back the light of the Jedi Order to the galaxy. You also have to consider the place of free-spirited folk like Han Solo and Chewbacca, who can barely earn a living under the Empire’s draconian laws. Not even independent Tibanna gas mines like Cloud City are safe from the Emperor’s reach, as Lando Calrissian sadly discovers.

Final Thoughts

I like both franchises for different reasons, as listed above. And I think that it’s a safe bet that people will continue to find new ways to expand and resurrect these stories in years to come, whether it’s the new slate of Star Wars films put out by Disney or the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV show by CBS. I can’t speak for what the quality of these stories will be like, but I’m excited for what direction they’ll take on each franchise’s central theme.

Flash Fiction: “Golden Treats”

I wrote this story around the start of this year’s Olympic Games. Apologies in advance for associating with whatever contrversies or incidents may have occurred since then.


Golden Treats, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 394

Everyone was lining up to watch the track and field events at that year’s Olympic Games in San Diego. At the hundred-meter dash, almost everyone was cheering for the runner second most favored to win: Rusty from Team USA.

Of course, it wasn’t hard to love Rusty. He was, after all, a golden retriever in a jersey. Thanks to a loophole in the rules, the Olympic Committee had no reason to object to having dogs participate in any of the games. They’d been impressed at how well Hermann, Germany’s very own German shepherd, had done at the shot put test.

As he bolted across the track, Rusty panted and galloped ahead of the competition. He almost fell behind the runner from Kenya, but that was only because he’d been thinking about his visit to Sea World the other day. His coach—and owner—had taken him to the otter exhibit. Rusty had been so ready to chase the otters, but Greg had yanked on his leash and reminded him that it wasn’t nice to bark.

Rusty couldn’t help it. He just got so gosh darn excited about everything!

With a bark, Rusty charged ahead, overtaking the runners from both Kenya and China. All he had to do was imagine those otters ahead of him, and off he went. Just the boost he needed! He could almost see them now—

His ears perked up. Something two miles away from the track had grabbed his attention. It was strange. Almost sounded like the horn of a car.

But no, Rusty’s ears went flat. A growl rose from deep within his throat.

It was a mailman. Somewhere, two miles away from the stadium, someone was driving a mail truck. He could hear it. He could smell it. Rusty was mad enough to go chasing after it—

Then he heard Greg blow his whistle. A whistle that only dogs and canine Olympians could hear. Rusty snapped back into focus. He let out another bark and scampered ahead. He even passed Natasha Ivankova, the exceptionally strong runner from Russia and most favored to win.

Later, as he stood on the podium to receive his gold medal for the US, Rusty’s ears perked once again. Somewhere, he was sure, a squirrel was running underneath the bleachers. But then Greg shoved a bacon treat into his mouth, and he forgot all about it.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Thanks to my supporters on Patreon for their contributions that make stories like this one possible. This story is dedicated to Links Drop.

To see more content like this, please visit my Patreon page and become a proud donor today.

The Path: Let’s Go Explore the Dark Woods Like Teenagers

Copyright © 2009 by Tale of Tales
Copyright © 2009 by Tale of Tales

Fairy tales provide a lot of material to work with in modern media, and it’s amazing how many works can get a lot of mileage out of stories like Little Red Riding Hood. The ongoing animated series RWBY is one example. Another is the video game The Path (not to be confused with the Hulu series starring Aaron Paul).

Much like the original fairy tale, the premise of the game is simple. A mother sends her daughter out to Grandmother’s House with a basket of goodies, warning her to stay on the path. However, here we can play 6 different girls, all sisters. And the game itself only works if you leave the path altogether. Exploring the woods on either side reveals hidden items, collectibles, a Girl in White running around, and (for each girl) a mysterious stranger who acts as their “Wolf.”

Copyright © 2009 by Tale of Tales
Copyright © 2009 by Tale of Tales

Every character is fundamentally a Little Red Riding Hood archetype: a cute, somewhat innocent girl having to walk a dangerous road. But what makes these girls so intriguing are the little hints and clues about their personalities (and various traumas) that you can uncover when they find clues in the forest or when they meet their respective Wolves. If all you do is follow the path and go straight to Grandmother’s House, you’ve learned nothing. You’ll never distinguish the sisters from one another, which is what makes this game so damn intriguing.

And what are these girls seeking by straying from the path? Some gamers say it’s all one big metaphor for puberty, for crossing the threshold from innocent childhood to adolescent sexuality and identity-seeking. Others say that the wolves represent rape culture, or that the girls are all tragic deaths played out in different scenarios to highlight our adult fears about young women. I think that each encounter with the Wolf is how the girls stake out their identity in the first place. It’s traumatic and awkward, but so is growing up.

The style can be very confusing at first glance. I played this on PC, and so sometimes I couldn’t immediately figure out how to access certain objects, or how to gain a sense of direction between the path and the woods. The graphics are well done, but they also make it easy to lose your way. Again, maybe that’s the point the developers had in mind, but if you’re expecting anything like a tutorial or hints, you won’t get them right away. As art games go, it’s a little more involved than something like Dear Esther or Gone Home, but not quite as linear as, say, Life is Strange.

I don’t think The Path is something everyone will enjoy. It’s dark and mostly involves walking, with little to no dialogue and very cryptic ideas. If you treat it as more of an art installation, though, it’s fascinating. The haunting music and twisted imagery of girls meeting strange people in a terrible forest will stay with you for a long time.

The Path is available for purchase and download from Steam and itch.io.

Bibliography: The Path (video game). Developed by Tale of Tales. Published by Tale of Tales, TransGaming, TopWare, 1C Company, and Zoo Corporation. Microsoft Windows; Mac OS X. Original release date: March 18, 2009.

2 Words That Can Help You Write a Great Story

Smiling woman writing in notepad.jpeg

When people at the proverbial (and occasionally real) cocktail parties ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”, any writer will have their go-to answer. Some of the best ones I’ve heard include Neil Gaiman’s classic response (“‘I make them up,’ I tell them. ‘Out of my head.'”) and Jim Jarmusch’s line from The Golden Rules of Filming (“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”).

I think, however, for a lot of writers, some of the best stories we can ever come up with start with 2 simple words.

What if…?

That’s all it can take. Anyone can write about their day, or tell an amusing anecdote to a group of friends, but there’s a big gulf between those ordinary experiences and the extraordinary circumstances that make someone want to pick up that book or start watching that movie.

For example, what if a farmboy on a desert planet found two droids carrying a message from a rebel princess in danger?

What if the youngest son of a powerful Mafia Don suddenly had to take over when his father was shot?

What if an American living in Morocco during World War II suddenly met up with his old flame, who was now traveling with a freedom fighter being hunted by the Nazis?

What if, in a world where talking animals coexisted alongside people, one of those animals was a horse who happened to be a washed-up Hollywood actor trying to make it big again?

Sometimes even the biggest stories come from the most unusual premises. Fantasy author Jim Butcher got the idea for his Codex Alera series when he took on a challenge from the Del Rey Online Writer’s Workshop to write a story on a lame idea. That idea? “The Lost Roman Legion meets Pokémon.” Totally bizarre, and yet just crazy enough that it worked.

Anyone can write a story that’s based on their childhood experiences or make an homage to someone else’s story. But even that goes back to the “What If?” formula. Moulin Rouge! by Baz Luhrmann is “What if we retold The Lady of the Camellias or the opera La Traviata with popular music and Nicole Kidman?” Ralph Fiennes adapted the Shakespeare play Coriolanus by asking, “What if this ancient Roman general were a modern-day soldier in a similar war-torn nation?” All these questions produced a cohesive theme to bind the entire production together.

Any writer, new or experienced, should be ready to work with this question. If you have enough ingredients bubbling inside your brain, “What if…?” can be the key you need to produce something that both you and your audience will find engaging.