The Retro Replayers team for Extra Life brought their energy and dedication to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Team captain Stephanie Watson shares her Extra Life story and the highlights from Game Day 2020.
Research suggests that video games have cognitive benefits for gamers and can serve as a form of therapy for certain mental health conditions. Replayer MSG offers his own personal testimony supporting this.
You were very excited when Disney brought back Star Wars and choked on your food when the Millennium Falcon took flight at the end of the first ‘Force Awakens’ teaser. Correct me if I am wrong.
Then you went in, watched it, cried, realized it was a nostalgia piece, but it was still your favorite thing in the Universe. Last Jedi rolled in and you either went to the group that hates everything about it, because it is NOT ‘Star Wars’ enough and god forbid forced new things down your throat… or… you were in the other group where you loved it so much, because of the new perspective and new introduction, that you celebrate it to this day. There’s no middle ground (or high ground) in this conversation, but let me remind you all, that when it first came out ‘Empire Strikes Back’ was just as dividing among fans.
And then… Rise of Skywalker arrived. You heard the Emperor’s laugh at the end of the first teaser and you facepalmed yourself so hard that your head actually fell off. Disney got scared. Brought back, Abrams. They basically rewrote every change that Last Jedi invented and chose the safest route with Palpatine. What were the results? The most painful Star Wars movie to watch with unnecessary fan service. So, all together we can say that Disney’s renewal of the Skywalker-saga wasn’t as successful as they hoped it would be. I mean… It was successful when you were looking at the box office, but you know what I mean. Sure, they released Rogue One separately from the Skywalkers and it was like a breath of fresh air (and for yours truly was the best thing since the original trilogy) and they brought in Solo as well, but that was nothing but a fun entrance really.
We can say that Star Wars fans were not really hopeful. But then! Something truly magical happened. In between ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Rise of Skywalker’ a new series snuck into view about the cutest being in the Star Wars Universe… wait! Hold on. What? It’s not about the cutest being? It’s not even called ‘The Child’? Have I been living a lie? Fine… A new series came into view about The Mandalorian. You know, Boba and Jango Fett, Sabine, etc. You could tell from the very first episode that the Mandalorian will finally be something that makes all hearts beat together.
Why? You may ask.
Well, first and foremost, yes it does have a nostalgia feel to it, just like the new trilogy (Force Awakens especially). What makes it different from those though is the balance that they were able to hold throughout the episodes. It always had enough to make fans smile and gasp, but at the same time was able to introduce new stories and characters that you can grow to love later on. Meaning: Nostalgia did NOT overshadow the new world.
They were also able to expand the Universe, something that many fans were looking forward to while keeping the familiar feel to everything in it. Just like they did in ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels’ so smartly they included enough familiar places and also races for us to be able to adjust to the new things, exactly how they did with the nostalgia feel. On top of that they started to bring in things from the animated shows that many people fell in love with. If you watch an episode more mindfully, even the structure they have is very similar to Clone Wars, but it obviously does have a more continuous-nature since it only follows Mando and the Child’s journey. Disney, if you ask me, learned from the mistakes of the new trilogy and trusted Jon Favreau enough to give him much needed free reign over the series. Favreau is a Star Wars fan, just like Abrams is a fan too, but for me personally, it is very visible which one of them had much more freedom with what they were given.
It brings in the cutest being as well, who immediately builds up a cult following, and no, I will not shut up about it. The Child, or shall I say, Baby Yoda came in like a thunderstorm and lifted Star Wars up into new heights and brought in new fans. The relationship between him and Mando became the stuff of legends. What is a better recipe for success than a kid stuck together with a grumpy old man as they go on new adventures every week? And on top of that, the kid is actually a mini Jedi… Say WHAAAT? I remember that there were a lot of speculations before the series came out if it will include any Jedi or not. I can safely say that none of us were expecting what we’ve got, but we are very satisfied. For a very very long time, George Lucas didn’t really let anyone touch on the questions around Master Yoda, we were never introduced to another one of his kind and there were a lot of questions about it. This points right back to what I said before: The Kid himself is familiar, fans quickly put the name ‘Baby Yoda’ on him, therefore, it builds on the familiarity and nostalgia, but we are finding out different things about him therefore it brings in the new. Perfect balance.
We arrived at the pivotal point here. Where everything comes together smoothly and it does not feel forced or too much. The Mandalorian introduced Bo-Katan (played beautifully by Katee Sackhoff) and connected it to the season 1 ending with Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and the Darksaber. Then it brought in Ahsoka Tano with the perfect choice for the role: Rosario Dawson. And on top of all this, we got back Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). Familiar names, right? Fan favorites, right? Fan Service. Done. Right. Yes, I said it. All these beloved characters came back for a reason, they had a purpose and it wasn’t JUST done in the name of fan service. Example: The Darksaber, known by fans from Clone Wars and Rebels, showed up at the end of season one. It made sense that someone from Mandalore would come for it and the safest bet was Sabine or Bo Katan. We got the latter. The search for the Jedi. Candidates? Luke Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, a big maybe on Ezra. We got Ahsoka. Was it fan service as well? Yes. Does it still make sense? Also yes. Fennec, we knew she would be alive as it was shown at the end of her season one episode that someone picked her up. That someone happened to be Bobba Fett. Fan service? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Where the new trilogy went completely sideways with this was the fact that they opened a new storyline with Last Jedi, it was different, it was innovative, but it did have backlash. What happened? It scared Disney. How did they want to sort it out? By bringing in the well-known even if it doesn’t make any sense at all (nostalgia) and pump it up with fan service but going completely the wrong way about it.
Jon Favreau shall be forever praised for his true understanding of the Star Wars Universe and what makes it work exactly. He came in and he was able to pull off something that seemed impossible: Create something Star Wars related that can appeal to everyone in One Way or Another. A New Hope is on the horizon.
The Child (sorry, now we know his name) Grogu and Mando’s journey will continue on Friday only on Disney+ and they will return with season 3 next year Christmas day.
How do you feel about the Mandalorian? Do you feel that it has saved Star Wars or just added to the magic?
I had someone ask me recently how I felt about Harry Potter growing to be what it is now. I found it a very important yet thought-provoking question. Before I answer, allow me to introduce myself as the Harry Potter obsessed fan girl that I am, and earn the credit of your reading.
My first Harry Potter book, now well-worn and well-loved since I got it as a gift from my grandparents at age nine.
I grew up in a town that had very few resources. It’s a tiny town in West Virginia where cell phone service and Wi-Fi is legally prohibited due to the extraordinary amount of science happening there. Due to this, our exposure to current pop culture was artificially limited. In order to watch movies, we bought the DVDs. Gathering video games was a once-a-year ordeal where we received what we wanted at Christmas and had all year to play them. Books were hand-me downs. One of the first books I received as a gift was Christmas of 1997, when my grandparents gave me this paperback version of a story they had heard about on the news. They lived in Washington, D.C., and had access to a wider variety of stores. Nine-year-old me assumed it was “just another book from the grandparents” and shrugged it off with a sheepish “thanks.” Little did I know the gift I had just received.
I began reading the book that Christmas. I remember the first chapter being a little difficult to get through, but I pushed through. I got to the second chapter and remember thinking, “Wow, this is interesting,” and just kept going. By the time I finished the book, I had been exposed to the most magical, intricately woven, beautiful story I had ever known. I pushed the book into every one of my family members’ hands. “You HAVE to read this,” I would say. “Just get past the first chapter. Just you wait.” Most of them read a little bit but didn’t devour it the way I did.
That book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Did my grandparents realize the world they were opening up for me?
The obsession had started. I quickly learned there was even a second book coming out. Oh my gosh, there’s MORE? I re-read the first book until the second book came out, and here is where the importance of where I grew up comes in. In the late 90s, audio books were not a viable option for me at that time. Amazon was a bookstore that was able to ship books to people’s doorsteps the day they were to come out. My now 10-year-old mind was blown. I can have the book? New? As soon as it comes out?! What is this… MAGIC?! Then the day came. The book was released, and there it was on my doorstep. I read through it so fast, my parents didn’t think I understood any of it.
I eventually got these nice hard-bound copies of the Harry Potter books, but I still have those well-read first copies, too!
This continued over the years as each book came out. The fifth book came out the day we were returning from a vacation, and, as we were pulling into the driveway, that glorious box was there. As each book launched, I would re-read the previous ones to prepare, refreshing my mind and reinforcing my now-thorough comprehension. I don’t mean once, or even twice. I read them back-to-back-to-back to the point my family was annoyed that that’s all I was doing. My parents pushed me to read something else. They bought me the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. I read them, but as soon as I finished them, Harry Potter was back in my hands. I read them so often that one day, after yet another push from my parents to do something else, my solution was to re-write them myself. I sat in my room after a lecture, hearing about how I need to pick up something other than a Harry Potter book, so I picked up a notebook and thought, “If I can’t read them, I know them well enough that I can just write them.” And I started that. I could have re-written the first and second books word for word. I never finished my defiant task, luckily, but the knowledge that I could was enough to get me through that day, but that’s how often I read them.
Just a few things from my Harry Potter collection.
Along with the reading obsession came material possessions. Birthdays and Christmases passed, and my go-to was always, “You know anything Harry Potter will do.” I began a collection of everything Harry Potter I could find. I have an entire bookshelf at home full of magazines, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans packages never opened (ew, now that I think about it), cookie tins, calendars, an umbrella, and so much more. I even slept in a Harry Potter bed set. (I may or may not still sleep with the pillowcase from said set.)
Ron (Rupert Grint) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) meet and share a pile of candy in the first Harry Potter film.
Within this time frame, the movies began to come out. When I first heard there would be a movie made, I was absolutely thrilled. Everyone else in the world would be able to see the magic! They could share in the joy that is this universe! I read every article written about the cast selection, the director, the music composer (which I was knowledgeable about to begin with, I love movie soundtracks) and the locations they would be shooting. Our family made special trips an hour and a half across a mountain to go see each movie! We were able to take friends, and, by the time we were in high school, we could make the trip ourselves. It was not a premiere, but I didn’t even know that was a big thing. What I always wanted to attend was the premiere at a bookstore! That wasn’t possible, but seeing the movies in theaters was a big step.
Throughout the time the seven books came out, and the movies were being made and released, there were other books from within the series that came out (The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, etc.). I, of course, got those and gobbled them right up.
Me (left) and a friend in our Hogwarts uniforms
Also within this time, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was revealed and opened in Orlando, Florida. Oh. My. Gosh. This place, the world I spent so much time in, was becoming a reality? In 2011, my sisters’ gift to me was a trip there. Are you kidding? The night before we were heading to the park, I let her know that I would be picking and prodding at her to look at everything, so just be prepared. The next morning, we walked in, and my jaw dropped. It turned out, she was the one poking and prodding me to look at everything. I could not believe it. She wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, but I promise, I was not. I couldn’t even speak. I was in HOGSMEADE! The sights, the sounds, the SMELLS! My 9-year-old self was released in my 23-year-old body!
Since that trip, there have been several Harry Potter Worlds created, as well as an addition to the one in Orlando. (Diagon Alley, anyone?) There have been spin-off movies that are still in the works, an eighth book, and a play (the latter are somewhat the same). My unique upbringing and exposure to the Wizarding World has positioned me to speak with confidence and passion. I have been able to grow with this series, and watch others grow within it. I have walked Diagon Alley and seen ladies and gentlemen with graying hair wearing a house shirt, and I have seen children pestering their parents to buy a robe and wand. I see children’s toys, video games, websites dedicated strictly to the world of Harry Potter. There are forums, blogs, trivia nights, Halloween costumes, games, puzzles, and anything and everything you can think of now published with Harry Potter on the name. It has easily become one of the most recognizable symbols, stories, and fandoms in the entire world.
Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando
To me and my nine-year-old self, this proves what I knew all along: The world is inviting to anyone and everyone, and the story is ever evolving and open to infinite interpretation. It also proves that it stands the test of time. I could enjoy it as a child, and I am now seeing children enjoying the story I fell in love with. Fans today can enjoy the magic of Harry Potter across a multitude of mediums: books, movies, websites, games and clubs. This unrestricted access might not have been something I could take advantage of when I was young, but it allows new generations to carry the torch, continuously reinforcing the success that Harry, Ron, and Hermione have created. Sometimes it’s celebrated with hot debate, fun discussion, or just casual knowledge of one’s Hogwarts house, but it’s a phenomenon that has been able to expand to what it is now and affect generations of hearts and minds today and for years to come. To me, this means it’s a love story worth developing. This is the true magic of the Wizarding World.
Now, I could get into how the movies actually dampen our imagination, and the age old the-book-is-always-better debate, or how in many communities the books have been banned due to their content. However, I will save that for a future article and keep you on the edge of your seat until those come out.
Are you a Harry Potter fan? What’s your story? Share your own fan reflections in the comments and let’s discuss!
Imagine back in time around the late eighties to early two thousands. Before streaming videos on platforms such as Netflix and Hulu were a thing. There were movie rental stores such as Blockbuster, Hollywood Videos, and Family Videos that were the place to go for not only the latest and greatest movie but also for the unknown B movies that were usually word of mouth from family and friends.
B movie: Lower budget movies with up-and-coming or unknown actors, sometimes with outdated special effects. That’s the case for the movie Trancers (1984) and its six sequels, ending with Trancers 6 (2002).
The basic plot goes like this: The consciousness of Jack Deth, a cop in 2247, is sent back in time to possess the body of his 1985 ancestor Phil Dethston (by some sort of drug) in order to defeat an evil cult leader, who has also taken this route, and start killing the ancestors of civic leaders who are therefore wiped out of existence. Who cares if this is a Terminator rip-off or how ludicrous it is with the time travel.
Art LaFleur in Trancers
Let me introduce the three actors that you may know depending on whether you like lower-budget movies. The main star of the movie is Tim Thomerson who is a dependable actor that you may have seen in Near Dark (1987) or even heard as the voice of Cyrus in the crazy video games Saints Row 3 and 4. For the co-star of the movie, Helen Hunt, this was her first major screen appearance. She would later star in the hit TV series Mad About You (1992) and in movies such as Twister (1996) and As Good As It Gets (1997). The last actor that some of you might know is Art LaFleur. He had two roles that many of us have seen: Babe Ruth in The Sandlot (1993) and Chick Gandil in Field of Dreams (1989). If you have not seen those movies, I highly recommend them, even if you do not like sports-related movies.
Makeup used for the Trancers in the Trancers films
So what is a Trancer? The simplistic way of explaining it is that they are feeble-minded people that are easily controlled by the villain, Whistler. Whistler has a strong mental ability to manipulate an army of zombies to follow him. This is where the makeup comes into play, which gets better with each movie. Being a lower budget movie, they could not afford to spend much on prosthetics. So, for the makeup, they decided to darken around the eye as if they were sunken and to make the lips look veiny and chapped looking as if they were zombies. For a low-budget movie, I thought the makeup was effective and getting to the point of what makes the Trancers different from us.
The best effect they used (and I am saying this as sarcastically as I can) is a scientific item called the long second watch that slows down time…
Surprisingly, there were some interesting future locations and special effects that set the tone at the start of the movie. In the year 2247, Los Angeles is completely underwater, which does not seem too far off from the future if you ask me. At the start of the movie, the only laser effect is when Jack Deth shot and killed the first Trancer, which is understandable because of PLOT! He then goes back to the past with modern guns (duh). The best effect they used (and I am saying this as sarcastically as I can) is a scientific item called the long second watch that slows down time so that the user has a minute of slow-mo before going back to normal. It’s really hard to explain how cheesy the slow-motion is, so check out this short clip from one of the films:
The plot device on how people go back in time can be a mixture of, “Oh that’s cool and different,” to “That is the dumbest thing I have heard.” The characters use a certain drug to transfer their conscience back to one of their ancestor’s bodies and then use a different drug to go back to their original body in the future.
Not only are the Trancers mindless zombies, they are also genetically modified to be stronger and faster than the last two movies.
Trancers (1984) featured drug-induced time travel.
There are five sequels to this series, so how do they reinvent themselves to keep the series going? Across the sequels, they changed the way they travel through time and explain how the Trancers get stronger. In Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (1992), Jack is tasked to apprehend the new villain named Wardo (oddly enough Whisler’s brother from the first movie). Wardo somehow brought back an addicting drug to help create an army of Trancers who were faster than ever, all while trying to find the time pod that was supposed to help Jack and someone thought to be dead get back to the future (since the time drug is useless now).
Trancer 3: Deth Lives (1992) is a darker film out of the series where Jack is forced to take an assassination job now that the future is in peril with a new breed of Trancers. Not only are the Trancers mindless zombies, they are also genetically modified to be stronger and faster than the last two movies. I also need to mention that this was Helen Hunt’s last appearance, probably because she was getting more well known. This also has the funniest time machine in the series: the best way to describe the machine is a hexagonal tube with a yellow dome top so it doesn’t look like a Bill and Ted phone booth.
Trancers 5 poster in my office.
Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994) and Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (1994) were shot back-to-back in Bulgaria. The fact they were shot in a different country is a clue to how low the budget was for the movie. Jack was sent on a diplomatic mission while his time ship went haywire and sent him to a medieval dimension where the Trancers are the rulers. The biggest change on the Trancers is their physiology, which could be described as a vampire that sucks the spirit energy of the humans. Now these two films are definitely the weakest of the series, but Trancers 5 had the best movie poster ever! Just check out the photo I included here showing where I have that poster framed in my computer room.
So if you are looking to kill time or need a drinking game with friends by taking shots of terrible lines like “dry hair is for squibs.” I do recommend watching the Trancers series, especially if you need a break from the big budget movies that take themselves too seriously.
Have you seen Trancers? What did you think? Be sure to leave a comment and let’s discuss.
Forty years ago, video games were video games, and films were films. Video games were simple, and the film industry wasn’t eager to produce a Pong sports drama or a Pac-man action-adventure. But as game technology advanced and became more widely accessible, filmmakers started to see the marketing and storytelling opportunities in them. In the 1980s, films started inspiring games. In the 1990s, we saw the inverse with games inspiring films. By 2020, it was common for a franchise story to extend to both film and games in equal measure. Let’s take a look back at how all this started with the retro games that launched this merged storytelling.
Star Wars for Atari gameplay
Star Wars is the pioneer of linking film and video games. In the early 1980s, we got several Star Wars games for the Atari 2600 and other early consoles and PCs. Over the last forty years, there have been nearly 200 separate Star Wars video game titles, including consoles, PC, mobile, browser, and the Lego franchise games. [Wikipedia] In 2013, Lucasfilm established its Story Group, a division of the company responsible for verifying and maintaining Star Wars canon stories across film, television, games, and other media. Since then, the game-film connection has come full circle. Originally non-canon games like Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011) have had Story Group input in its expansions, and the original story created for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) is an official part of the broader Star Wars canon. [Wookieepedia, Park] We’ve also seen evidence of previously non-canon game lore, like Revan and the Mandalorian-Jedi-War, getting subtle references in canon Star Wars productions. [Mithaiwala, Dyce, Sherrill]
Goldeneye 007 video game for N64
But Star Wars is a special case. Other stories that originated on film had to find their own paths. Through the 80s and 90s, movie and television producers capitalized on the growing popularity and availability of video games as a way to market their films. We’ve seen some of these console and arcade games featured in Retro Replay with varying levels of quality: Die Hard, Goldeneye, The Matrix, and several others. Often, the stories in the game were the same as the film or a side story for the film. For a few games, there wasn’t much story, just an attempt to capture the film’s action in an interactive game experience.
(Sidenote: it’s hard to put comic-based video games into this conversation given that both the films and the games draw their core source material from the comics. I wanted to make this article about stories that originated in games and film rather than other media. But the comic-based video games definitely deserve their own retrospective!)
Mortal Kombat (1995) (New Line Cinema)
Let’s step back and look at the reverse trend: the movies based on video games. The earliest films in this category include live-action Super Mario Bros. (1993), Double Dragon (1994), and Street Fighter (1994). The more successful Mortal Kombat (1995) even featured actor Christopher Lambert, who was well-known for his role in the film Highlander (1986). Animated films and series also popped up, like Ninja Gaiden (1991) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1996), though often with less popularity than their live-action counterparts.[Wikipedia] Each film had varying degrees of success in creating an interesting story from a game that may not have had a rich plot or story.
Special effects can only propel the film so far without a compelling story for fans to latch on to.
Pokémon, which debuted in the late 90s, was the first franchise to really blur the storytelling lines between game and film. The Pokémon anime inspired by the game became so popular that the games and anime together became a tightly coupled franchise. Fans of the games would watch the anime, and fans of the anime would play the games. This success has kept the franchise flourishing for over two decades on both of those entertainment platforms. [Madnani, Britannica]
And speaking of serial television, remember that trend in the 1980s to create television shows to market a toy series, like G.I. Joe and Transformers? By the 1990s, the video games themselves were the “toys,” and the games were telling their own stories. Perhaps that’s why success in making a film or TV series based on a game started requiring that filmmakers engage the audience with a good story. If the game’s story wasn’t interesting to start with or made for a poor premise for a film or TV show, screenwriters had a difficult task on their hands. Special effects can only propel the film so far without a compelling story for fans to latch on to.
Warcraft (2016) (Legendary Pictures)
Over time, film and TV based on games started to shift into two camps: fun romps with a beloved character (like Sonic or Pikachu) or stunning action-adventure pieces that build on the rich stories from the game. It’s that second camp where story writers started getting comfortable telling stories across both games and films. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Resident Evil (2002) were incredibly successful and went on to have sequels in both film and games. Warcraft (2016) had a lukewarm reception in the U.S., but it had a big success worldwide, and it encouraged a resurgence of interest in World of Warcraft.[McFarland] Currently, The Witcher (2019-present) series on Netflix, starring long-time gamer and Witcher fan Henry Cavill, has inspired interest in both the original books and The Witcher video games. Does this mean a new Witcher game is around the corner, too?
But even among the films that are built on a rich game lore, there are still the occasional shortcomings at the box office. Assassin’s Creed (2016) was highly criticized for its style and how it interpreted some of the game’s central concepts. Thus, it wasn’t well-received by existing franchise fans, and it was difficult to follow for casual movie-goers not heavily steeped in the game lore. [Rotten Tomatoes] It’s not surprising, then, that fans are cautious about the upcoming film based on beloved story-centric game franchise Uncharted, featuring Retro Replay’s Nolan North. [Jones]
Suffice to say that video game’s history and culture itself has inspired its own storytelling.
Tron (1982) (Disney)
While we’re here, I want to mention the “meta” category of films inspired by video gaming culture. One of the earliest films in this category was Tron (1982), which featured a software engineer who was running a video arcade and was forced to play arcade-like games to survive the digital world he was trapped in. Films like The Last Starfighter (1984) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012) created fictional worlds tied to video games. Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, which made retro video games of the 80s a major component of the story, also came to film in 2018. Suffice to say that video game history and culture itself has inspired its own storytelling.
What does the future look like for storytelling across games and film? It’s clear that franchise consumers are looking for a cohesive story across all media associated with a franchise. I believe we’ll continue to see games, film, and TV making a single storytelling effort, giving all media properties a sense of cohesion. As we’ve seen with Star Wars, this extends to comics, books, and more. No matter how we choose to consume a story, we’ll be able to count on rich, engaging storytelling.