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The next wild Star Wars twist has emerged in a Darth Vader comic

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Enlarge / An alternate cover for Marvel Comics’ new Darth Vader #1 implies that this series will dig deeply into the history of Star Wars’ most iconic villain.

The “Skywalker Saga” of nine films may have finally concluded, but that doesn’t mean the Lucasfilm and Disney powers-that-be are done mining the original Star Wars films’ stories and characters. Barely one month after the finale of The Mandalorian‘s first season, the Star Wars universe has already thrown another curveball at fans—but not in another TV or film launch.

Instead, this week’s news comes from a brand-new Marvel series of comic books starring Darth Vader. We’re here to spill the beans—and offer context and guesses as to what might come next.

Noooooooooooo…?

From here on out, we’re in full-spoiler territory about multiple Star Wars properties. You’ve been warned.

Longtime comics writer Greg Pak has helmed a few Star Wars comics series since last year, and his latest, Darth Vader, debuted on Wednesday by rewinding to the end of the 1980 film Empire Strikes Back. The first issue opens with Luke choosing to fall to his potential death instead of taking his father’s hand. Unlike Empire, this comic follows Vader back to his Star Destroyer, where he immediately boards an Imperial Shuttle with a skeleton crew of soldiers and a single, brand-new droid.

This droid, Z-67, informs Vader that Skywalker hasn’t been found since his fall. “I will find him when the time is right,” Vader replies, as if to imply that he already knows his son is still alive. In the meantime, he privately tells Z-67 that their mission is to find the breadcrumb trail of whoever kept Skywalker safe through the years “and destroy them.”

I’ll leave most of the book’s details out for those who want to enjoy the book’s pacing and plot build-up, as it jumps to a few familiar locations with a mix of new combat and old-film flashbacks. But the issue’s ending won’t remain a secret for long, since its spoiler element will be front-and-center on the second Darth Vader issue’s cover. The first issue concludes with Vader finding a familiar face hiding on an distant planet outpost: Padme Amidala.

A different kind of “clone” war?

This is the first time we’ve received any indication that someone resembling Padme, played by actor Natalie Portman in the prequel film trilogy, somehow survived after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Since her latest appearance comes in the form of a one-panel cameo, however, we don’t have a lot of information to work with as of press time.

Vader is the one who greets his possible ex-wife with the call of “Padme?” as a question, so the second issue could very well begin with this person simply saying “No,” or “Actually, I’m her body double, Sabe.” If she turns out to be a projection or illusion, she is at least seen by both Vader and Z-67, implying that this person is not merely in his imagination. And, heck, this is Star Wars—a series that saw fit to insist that Emperor Palpatine was kept alive decades after the events of Return of the Jedi. By comparison, a Padme fake-out funeral seems milquetoast.

While we don’t have an encyclopedic recall of references to Star Wars in various novels, comic books, and animated series, we can point to one curious “Padme might have lived after all” tidbit: a mention in a YA novel retelling of Return of the Jedi. This 2015 book includes a question from Leia Organa wondering whether she had actually met or seen her mother Padme as a child. Otherwise, Star Wars fans have been led to believe that she died after giving birth to Luke and Leia.

Should Padme indeed be alive in this comic’s span of Star Wars time, we wonder how this will connect with the events of Vader Immortal, a VR-only series released by Lucasfilm in 2019. This series, staged shortly after Revenge of the Sith, hinged on Vader trying to bring Padme back to life, as he had apparently stored her life force in a “soul cube.” However, the series ended with this cube simply repeating Padme’s statements from previous films, as opposed to speaking from beyond the grave with anything new—which could mean he was merely manifesting his own memories, instead of interacting with a real-life Padme.

At any rate, this week’s comic-book reveal is a clear sign that the Lucasfilm empire would like to continue, ahem, bringing Star Wars possibilities back from the dead. Marvel Comics senior editor Mark Paniccia hints in the issue’s epilogue about upcoming stories revolving around “very cool elements from The Rise of Skywalker” that will be paid forward by various comics series (not just Darth Vader) to “touch on all three trilogies and explore the mysteries that led to the rise of Vader.”

Meanwhile, the above gallery, sourced from Marvel’s official site, includes this description from the series’ third issue, implying that “Padme” hangs around for at least a few issues: “In his quest to destroy everyone who hid the existence of his son, Luke Skywalker, from him, Darth Vader has formed an unlikely partnership with an eerie shadow from his previous life. Now they return to Naboo where a powerful new host of vengeful ghosts awaits them. Delve deeper into Vader’s past than you thought possible with this shocking tale of tragedy and revenge!”

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Arcade1Up pinball cabinet review: Fine for families, interesting for modders

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Enlarge / Say hello to the Arcade1Up Attack From Mars physical pinball cabinet. The chassis is physical; its games are all virtual. Read below to understand what the heck that means.

Sam Machkovech

If you’re of a certain generation, chances are you have imagined (or, at this point in your adulthood, built) your own home arcade that resembles something out of the golden ’80s era. One useful path to making this a reality, especially in tighter quarters, is the “multicade,” an invention that squishes multiple games into a single cabinet.

But what if your old-school gaming dreams revolve around something bigger and bulkier, particularly pinball? Until recently, your options were either buying a bunch of original pinball cabinets or building your own ground-up emulation solution. And the latter is complicated by the realities of how pinball plays and feels.

I’ve wondered how long it would take for that to change in the gaming-nostalgia market, especially as companies like Arcade1Up produce and sell more multicade cabinets for home use. The time for change is now, evidently, thanks to a handful of manufacturers producing pinball multicades. Arcade1Up in particular launched three distinct pinball emulation cabinets this year, each revolving around a different license.

Thanks to Arcade1Up, I’ve gone hands-on with arguably the most interesting product in its 2021 pinball line: a collection of 10 classic tables, all created by Williams during its arcade heyday but emulated for more convenient home play. What exactly does $600 get you in terms of emulation and build quality?

Time to get Mad and Medieval

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Game Boy Advance game gets split-screen multiplayer through new FPGA core

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Developer Robert Peip shows off some split-screen Game Boy Advance multiplayer gaming through his new FPGA core.

Here at Ars, we’re big fans of situations where emulation creates a classic gaming experience that’s actually better than what you could get with original hardware in some way or another. In the past, that has meant upsampling rotated sprites in SNES’ “Mode 7” games or adding “widescreen” support to NES games or mitigating the controller lag that was built into certain older consoles or overclocking an emulated SNES to remove slowdown without ruining gameplay timing.

The latest emulation-powered retro-gaming upgrade to cross our paths greatly simplifies an oft-overlooked capability built in to many Game Boy Advance titles. Namely, it adds the ability to play multiplayer titles in split screen on a single display.

This upgrade is the work of Robert Peip, a developer who’s spent years working on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). These days, Peip works primarily on the MiSTer FPGA an open source project that recreates classic gaming hardware extremely accurately through emulation “cores” that replicate every single logic gate involved in the schematics of the original system (most of Analogue’s high-end retro hardware is similarly powered by FPGA cores). Such cores are currently available for consoles ranging from the Odyssey 2 through the Neo Geo era and more.

Peip’s new “special version” of the Game Boy Advance FPGA core works relatively simply, running two GBA cores in a single MiSTer. As Peip explains, “you get 2 raw GBA cores, one connected to SDRAM, one connected to DDR3, communicating directly inside the FPGA. Sound is used from Core 1 only.”

Thus, games originally designed to be played on two consoles connected via link cable can now be played in split screen on a single MiSTer with a single connected display, as shown in this demonstration video. Peip says that “most multiplayer games should be supported,” a statement that presumably includes original Game Boy games (which work on a GBA link-cable through a supported secondary mode).

Playing these multiplayer GBA games on original hardware required two separate consoles, two copies of the game, and a GBA link cable, ensuring most casual players probably never even bothered (some GBA games offered limited multiplayer with just one cartridge). And while previous GBA emulators have offered link-cable support, even that required a LAN or Internet connection between two separate machines with two separate displays. While some RetroPie users have done a bit of finagling to get multiplayer games for the original Game Boy working via split screen, we’ve never seen a similar one-machine, one-display solution for Game Boy Advance multiplayer games before this.

Peip’s turnkey test core for multiplayer GBA emulation is currently only available by supporting his Patreon, and it is currently missing features like savestates, fast forward, and visual filters available on other GBA cores. Still, we’re excited to have a new, easier-to-use method to try the oft-ignored multiplayer modes in some classic portable titles. Now if we could only get split-screen support for those four-player GBA titles…

Listing image by Nintendo

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Peter Jackson’s 6-hour Beatles documentary confirmed for Disney+ this November

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Peter Jackson’s next six-hour epic is finally coming out this year—and in a first for the acclaimed director, the film will launch directly to a streaming service. It will also be broken up into episodes.

The Beatles: Get Back, an expansive documentary originally announced for a theatrical run this August, has had its release strategy tweaked. On Thursday, Jackson and Disney confirmed that the entire project will launch exclusively on Disney+ during this year’s American Thanksgiving holiday. Each third of the documentary will launch on the streaming service on November 25, 26, and 27. As of press time, Disney hasn’t said how the film will reach audiences outside of Disney+’s supported territories. Neither Jackson nor Disney clarified how the original theatrical run might have worked or whether the global pandemic forced anyone’s hand.

Today’s news confirms that Jackson had an abundance of footage to work with. Roughly three years ago, the remaining Beatles handed him access to a musical holy grail: over 60 hours of previously unseen video recordings, mostly capturing the Beatles working on the album Let It Be and rehearsing for, and then performing, the band’s legendary 1969 rooftop concert in London.

Jackson stitched the footage together with access to what Disney calls “over 150 hours of unheard, restored audio”—meaning yes, somehow Apple Corps. still has some tapes in hiding after this many Beatles special edition albums, anthologies, video games, and Cirque du Soleil collaborations. For further context on the Let It Be recording sessions, the film will be paired with a physical book full of photos and original interviews, now delayed to an October launch.

Jackson’s comments in today’s news, as provided by Disney to members of the press, imply that he indeed sought to release a long documentary: “I’m very grateful to the Beatles, Apple Corps., and Disney for allowing me to present this story in exactly the way it should be told.” He also commented on the original documentary footage, filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, as something that is “not nostalgia—it’s raw, honest, and human.”

The Beatles: Get Back will launch on a Thursday, thus breaking Disney+’s latest initiative of launching new series episodes on Wednesdays instead of Fridays. If anyone can break a newly sacrosanct Disney+ rule, it has to be the Beatles.

Listing image by The Walt Disney Company / Apple Corps / Wingnut Films

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