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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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Loki and Star Wars: The Bad Batch get Disney+ premiere dates

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Today is a red-letter day for Disney property announcements: release dates have been set for the Disney+ series Loki and Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and the new Spider-Man film has a new name.

We’ll start with Spider-Man. Following a marketing stunt in which three different stars of the movie shared three fake movie names alongside initial images from the film on Instagram, the actual title for the new Spider-Man movie has been revealed in a cheeky Twitter video and blog post: Spider Man: No Way Home.

The fake names that had circulated previously included Spider-Man: Phone HomeSpider-Man: Home-Wrecker, and Spider-Man: Home Slice.

Spider-Man: No Way Home will premiere on December 17, 2021.

And speaking of release dates and Marvel characters, the Disney+ series Loki premieres June 11. The series had been previously announced, but this is the first time we know the exact day to expect the first episode.

Here’s Marvel Studios’ description of the series:

Loki features the God of Mischief as he steps out of his brother’s shadow in a new series that takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Tom Hiddleston returns as the title character, joined by Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sophia Di Martino, Wunmi Mosaku, and Richard E. Grant. Kate Herron directs Loki, and Michael Waldron is head writer.

But Disney’s plethora of announcements today is not limited to Marvel. The new Star Wars animated series Star Wars: The Bad Batch will hit Disney+ on that marketer-and-fan-conceived Star Wars holiday May the 4th.

The first episode will premiere that day, while the second will hit shortly after on May 7. From then on, new episodes will go live each Friday.

The series is produced by Dave Filoni, Athena Portillo, Bead Rau, Jennifer Corbett, Carrie Beck, and Josh Rimes—all of whom worked on one prior animated series or another, such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Star Wars Resistance. Filoni also directed multiple episodes of The Mandalorian.

Here’s Disney’s synopsis:

The series follows the elite and experimental troopers of Clone Force 99 (first introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch, as they prefer to be called—a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army—each possess a singular exceptional skill, which makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew.

Disney+ still has more Star Wars and Marvel content coming, including The Book of Boba FettStar Wars: AndorStar Wars: Obi-Wan KenobiStar Wars: The AcolyteStar Wars: AshokaThe Falcon and the Winter SoldierHawkeyeMs. MarvelWhat If?Moon KnightShe-HulkSecret Invasion, IronheartArmor Wars, and I Am Groot.

Listing image by Disney

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EA, Bioware cancel Anthem’s sweeping overhaul

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Enlarge / Tears of an Anthem clown.

Aurich Lawson / Bioware / Getty Images

The story of EA and Bioware’s beleaguered action-RPG Anthem has apparently ended. According to an official Bioware blog post, the ambitious jetpack-combat game’s “overhaul” project is dead. The staff that had been assigned to rebuild the game into a better shape has been reassigned to work on other Bioware projects, particularly Dragon Age 4 and the next Mass Effect game.

A little over one year ago, Anthem‘s flight-combat skies looked a bit clearer, thanks to an announcement from developer Bioware that it intended to build a “substantial reinvention” of the always-online co-op adventure game. From what we saw in the game’s March 2019 launch version, EA and Bioware clearly intended for the game to receive regularly updated content, but negative reviews (including my own) made clear that Bioware needed to go back to the drawing board to rebuild the game’s basic building blocks before we had any interest in returning to the game.

No more singing of the Anthem

Then-general manager Casey Hudson made a February 2020 statement acknowledging those criticisms. After listing aspects of the game that needed work, he offered a pledge to fans: that Bioware would complete “fundamental work… to bring out the full potential of the experience… specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges, and progression with meaningful rewards—while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting.”

However, 10 months later, Hudson departed Bioware, as did Dragon Age 4 executive producer Mark Darrah. Bioware announced this news with assurances that projects like Dragon Age 4 would continue apace, but none of that day’s blog posts, including one penned by Hudson, included any formal assurance that “Anthem Next” was in similarly good shape.

Ttwo weeks ago, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier reported that Anthem‘s “reinvention” development was under serious review by EA executives, who would decide whether the project would continue or die. According to Schreier, Bioware’s pitch to EA would be to expand that team from its 30-person staff to a number closer to 90 in order to match the work’s scope. From the sound of Bioware’s Wednesday announcement, that reported meeting didn’t go well for Anthem.

That reassigned team will certainly have its hands full with other projects, particularly the previously announced sequels to Dragon Age and Mass Effect. As of press time, EA only has one announced launch date for an upcoming Bioware game: the remastered Mass Effect Legendary Edition, slated to launch on PCs and consoles May 14.

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Attack of the Murder Hornets is a nature doc shot through horror/sci-fi lens

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Enlarge / “What are you looking at?” The Asian Giant Hornet, aka a “murder hornet,” is not to be trifled with.

In November 2019, a beekeeper in Blaine, Washington, named Ted McFall was horrified to discover thousands of tiny mutilated bodies littering the ground: an entire colony of his honeybees had been brutally decapitated. The culprit: the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), a species native to southeast Asia and parts of the Russian far East. Somehow, these so-called “murder hornets” had found their way to the Pacific Northwest, where they posing a dire ecological threat to North American honeybee populations.

The story of the quest to track and eradicate the hornets before their numbers became overwhelming is the subject of a new documentary: Attack of the Murder Hornets, now streaming on Discovery+. Featuring genuine suspense, a colorful cast of characters crossing socioeconomic lines, and a tone that draws on classic horror and science fiction movies, it’s one of the best nature documentaries you’re likely to see this year.

Asian giant hornets are what’s known as apex predators, sporting enormous mandibles, the better to rip the heads off their prey and remove the tasty thoraxes (which include muscles that power the bee’s wings for flying and movement). A single hornet can decapitate 20 bees in one minute, and just a handful can wipe out 30,000 bees in 90 minutes. The hornet has a venomous, extremely painful sting—and its stinger is long enough to puncture traditional beekeeping suits. Conrad Berube, a beekeeper and entomologist who had the misfortune to be stung seven times while exterminating a murder hornet nest, told The New York Times, “It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.” And while Japanese honeybees, for example, have evolved defenses against the murder hornet, North American honeybees have not, as the slaughter of McFall’s colony aptly demonstrated.

Director Michael Paul Stephenson’s credits include two documentaries: Best Worst Movie—about his experience co-starring in the 1990 cult comedy/horror film, Troll 2—and The American Scream. So when he pitched his idea for a documentary about the murder hornets to Discovery, some of that horror sensibility crept in, including B-movie-inspired artwork showing a gigantic hornet menacing beekeepers and scientists.

“I’ve watched a lot of documentaries, and a lot of them, it’s interview, B-roll, interview, B-roll, political statement, theme,” he told Ars. Stephenson wanted to do something different and shoot his murder hornet documentary through a horror/sci-fi lens.

<em>Attack of the Murder Hornets</em> is a nature documentary viewed through the lens of science fiction and horror.
Enlarge / Attack of the Murder Hornets is a nature documentary viewed through the lens of science fiction and horror.

Discovery Plus

Among those featured in Attack of the Murder Hornets: Chris Looney, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA); McFall and fellow beekeeper Ruthie Danielson; a government scientist and insect expert named Sven-Erik Spichiger; and Berube, who was the first to find and destroy a murder hornet nest in Vancouver Island, Canada. Stephenson’s team chronicled the race against the breeding clock to find and destroy a similar hornet nest in Washington state.

Ars sat down with Stephenson to learn more.

Ars Technica: What drew you to make a documentary about murder hornets?

Michael Paul Stephenson: I read The New York Times article last May and thought, “Murder hornets? What is going on? We’re all locked in our homes. Now we have murder hornets.” Immediately, I was like, “This feels like a horror movie. It feels like a science fiction drama.” I thought, “What does this look like through the lens of horror and science fiction? What is the Stranger Things version of this?” Discovery immediately connected to that sensibility. I’m always drawn to characters first, revealing themes through people who have something at stake. End of the day for me, it’s what’s the story, who are the characters, how do you tell it in a way that people remember? The story had this intriguing mix of government public service workers and scientists and beekeepers, all trying to stop an invasive species, having to deal with this gigantic hornet that is not native to the country.

Ars Technica: Can you talk a little bit about the camera technology and the overall look you were shooting for?

Michael Paul Stephenson: The majority of the film is shot on two RED MONSTROs at 8K. It was really important to us to embrace natural light as much as possible. We had to shoot with very high-speed lenses because we were dealing with low light. We wanted this to feel like science in real time. We wanted it to feel like we are there with these people in this moment. And we wanted to give it a sense of design. What would the narrative version of the scene look like? Let’s shoot it so that we can edit it as such. So it’s about multiple cameras and coverage and making sure that we’re not only covering our scientists, but we’re covering the reaction of the scientist.

I had planned on using drones early on—not too much because I think drones can be so overused. But I wanted to also shoot from the hornet’s POV. Hornets articulate themselves in a totally different way than just the normal drone beauty shot. That’s when I got tipped off about racing drones, which I had not used before. They’re smaller, and the way they can articulate through the forest on a dime is much different than the regular drone.

Ars Technica: I assume you also had to wear the special anti-murder hornet suit to avoid being stung.

Michael Paul Stephenson: With the hornets specifically, I had to wear the same special suit [as the scientists], and it’s its own form of terror. We had to wear those when we found the nest and if we got too close. The night of the eradication, it’s dark. We’re in suits. Nobody knew what was going to happen. We knew that these things can spray venom. They can sting.

There was a moment, ironically, when I was shooting the bees at night with Ted [McFall], and we were surrounded by bees. I had a regular bee suit on, not the crazy hornet suit. As I’m suiting up, it’s dark, and I see the silhouette of a bee crawl up right in front of my nose. And, I’m like, “Uh-oh. That’s not good. That’s on the inside of my mask.” I had left a portion of my suit open. Within a minute of noticing that, I got stung six times because more bees got into my suit. I guess when a bee stings you, other bees will find it and they’ll sting you, too.

Michael Paul Stephenson, director of Attack of the Murder Hornets, struggles to don his special protective suit. (Credit: Michael Paul Stephenson/Discovery+)

Ars Technica: A substantial portion of your film focuses on the efforts to track a murder hornet back to the nest. That whole sequence conveys just how hard doing science really is on a practical level. Things rarely work on the first attempt.

Michael Paul Stephenson: Science is an iterative process, it progresses in fits and starts—not unlike creativity or making a movie. You fall a few times, get back up. It sounds wrong, but I loved the failure, because it shows the persistence and the commitment that these public servants have and the slim chance that they will succeed. It’s easy to be critical of other people. “Oh, they should do this or they should do that.” But there’s few people who actually get in the ring and try to do the work, knowing that they face public scrutiny. Let’s face it—the odds of them finding the nest were slim at best. Seeing them not give up—even as the public is like, “Ah, they failed”—only makes me appreciate what they’re trying to do it for in the first place. I think that it gives you a real defining sense of their character and how important this is to them.

I probably would have quit. While we were filming, I was expecting at some point for them to be like, “Ah, we’re done. We’re just not going to find this thing. Who knows what’s going to happen? Maybe it won’t be that big of a threat. We’ll just roll the dice.” Never once did they ever give me that sort of thing. They are heroes.

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