One of Solo: A Star Wars Story’s Giant Explosions Was Inspired By the Slow Mo Guys on YouTube


Digital tools like 3D animation and motion capture helped revolutionize the visual effects industry, but there’s still plenty of room for practical effects to help bring the impossible to the big screen. Solo: A Star Wars Story’s VFX supervisor Julian Foddy revealed to the BBC that one of the film’s most memorable…

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Much to Learn You Still Have: 5 Things You Might Not Know About Kowakian Monkey-Lizards

Much to Learn You Still Have is a rundown of trivia and fun facts, both in-universe and behind-the-scenes, about the aliens, droids, ships, and species of the Star Wars galaxy. Whether you’ve never set foot in a cantina or you’re a well-traveled Jedi Master, you’ll find the intel you need.

Kowakian monkey-lizards are more than meets the eye. Star Wars fans met their first monkey-lizard in Jabba’s Palace from Return of the Jedi. But did you know that Salacious Crumb was almost an unnamed, background alien until George Lucas and the crew fell in love with him? Or that monkey-lizards are born from eggs and live in tree nests?

Here are five things you might not have known about Kowakian monkey-lizards.

1. Out in the wild, Kowakian monkey-lizards work as a team.

Monkey-lizards out in the wild have been known to move in packs and are not often seen roaming alone. Although their groups aren’t very structured, they do seem to assign members with different duties to maintain where they live.

Fun Fact #1: The leadership within a group of monkey-lizards usually goes to the oldest female.

2. That shrill cackle can be very useful.

Many know the monkey-lizards by their boisterous laugh, but did you know the sound is useful for more than reacting to jokes? In the wild, monkey-lizards will use their signature laughs to ward off any oncoming predators. Since they are known to roam in packs, their laughter builds up to a powerful clamor, which helps keep away any unwanted guests.

Fun Fact #2: The unmistakable laugh of Salacious B. Crumb came from crew member Mark Dodson. Sound designer Ben Burtt described it as a “funny, hyena-like laugh.”

3. They often have ties to the underworld.

Some monkey-lizards find themselves as pets to underworld kingpins. Salacious B. Crumb was the companion of Jabba the Hutt, the powerful gangster. Brothers Pilf Mukmuk and Pikk Mukmuk belonged to Hondo Ohnaka, the notorious pirate.

4. They’re more than just pets.

They may be small, but monkey-lizards can do some damage. In Return of the Jedi, we see Salacious B. Crumb attack C-3PO’s eye on Jabba’s sail barge. We also see Pikk Mukmuk at the controls of a gunner tank doing some damage on the planet Felucia, when his owner Hondo Ohnaka is fighting with Anakin Skywalker. Pikk’s brother, Pilf, has also put Anakin in a tough spot by trying to crush him with a chandelier, although he obviously didn’t take Anakin’s Force abilities into account when coming up with his plan.

Fun Fact #3: Kowakian monkey-lizards are closely related to the Kowakian apes, the creature that terrorized Poe and Kaz on board a freighter in Star Wars Resistance. They both share the facial features of a bony beak and tufts of fur, but the Kowakian ape is much larger in size and strength.

5. What’s in a name?

Ever wonder how Salacious B. Crumb got his name? The crew of Return of the Jedi and George Lucas had fallen in love with the little puppet  and Lucas tasked them to come up with a name for him. During a lunch outing with ILM’s Phil Tippett and others, Tippett noticed his shoe was untied. “Wait a minute guys while I tie my soolacious,” said Tippett as he bent down. A combination of the misspoken word and the name of comic artist Robert Crumb became the name of the most popular monkey-lizard.

Fun Fact #4: The original idea for the character of Salacious B. Crumb came from Ben Burtt. He said “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a little tiny creature that sat on the shoulder of one of the creatures and repeated everything that the big creature said during the argument?”

Ready to adopt your very own monkey-lizard now? Let us know what your favorite monkey-lizard facts are in the comments below.

And be sure to check out our “Much to Learn” segment feature on The Star Wars Show this week!

Sources: The Making of Return of the Jedi, J.W. Rinzler, Del Rey, 2013., Star Wars The New Essential Guide To Alien Species, Ann Margaret Lewis and Helen Keier, Del Rey, 2006.

Amanda Jean Camarillo is an associate producer for The Star Wars Show. She is a big fan of droids, space waffles, and Loth-cats and spending her time with watching movies, crafting, and visiting Disney parks. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram and tell her about all your favorite Star Wars things.

Much to Learn You Still Have: 5 Things You Might Not Know About Kowakian Monkey-Lizards

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Featurettes Give You the Option to Learn More About Netflix’s Experiment


Bringing Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ Black Mirror: Bandersnatch to life was a complex task that required much more than a simple dialogue tree. To show how the flowchart was made, Netflix has released not one, but two featurettes taking fans behind the scenes of crafting the streaming network’s first-ever

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Our Favorite Manga of 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

December brings shorter days, endless Christmas songs, and a strong urge to compile best-of-the-year lists. This was a good year for manga, with strong showings by blockbuster ongoing series and the launch of some intriguing new ones. Here’s a look at some of the manga we thought were the cream of the 2018 crop.

Best New Series

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, by Hideyuki Furuhashi and Betten Court
This spinoff of the mega-popular school-for-superheroes manga My Hero Academia may actually be more entertaining than the original—which is saying a lot. This one is about a trio of would-be superheroes who didn’t make the cut. Koichi has a quirk—a mildly useful superpower—but as he’s not hero material, he’s not supposed to use it. When he dons his Nice Guy suit, though, he does good deeds—picks up dropped phones, gives directions, takes out the recycling. Pop Step, another outlaw, uses her quirk to draw crowds to her idol-ish act; her scanty costume doesn’t hurt. And Knuckleduster: Janitor of the Fist takes out a different kind of trash—he’s looking for users of a new drug, Trigger, that amps up people’s quirks, allowing them to become supervillains. While some of the characters of the original series drop in from time to time, Vigilantes is really a whole new story set in the world of the original, exploiting a different set of possibilities, and completely enjoyable on its own. The creators add some notes about character development, and they make a number of allusions to American superheroes, which adds to the richness of this story.

Ran and the Gray World, by Aki Irie
Ran is a little girl who wants to be a sorceress, like her mother. Unlike other manga girls, she doesn’t need to go to a special school to learn magic powers—all she has to do is put on her magic sneakers. When she does, though, she also transforms into an adult—a beautiful woman, natch—but she’s still mentally a kid. Knowing the perils this will expose her to, her father and brother try to keep her away from the shoes, but she outsmarts them every time. Irie’s clear-lined art beautifully depicts the chaos of Ran’s world, and her elongated characters are reminiscent of Natsume Ono. Viz has made a good choice in giving this first volume the deluxe treatment, with a larger trim size than usual and a heavy cover with French flaps. It really shows off the distinctive art, and makes the book feel special.

Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, by Junji Ito
This pairing makes a lot of sense: Ito is a master of stories where ordinary things turn horrific and then spiral out of control, and that’s exactly what happens in Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. Ito’s adaptation is faithful to the original; the opening scenes are fairly deadpan, but when it comes to depicting the monster and its destruction, the manga-ka is in his element. This manga pulls out the stitches on the layers of clichés that have accumulated around this story over the years, taking it straight back to its roots.

RWBY: Official Manga Anthology, by various
“Various” is a good description of the creators of this anthology: each volume centers on a single character from the title quartet—Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long—and shows her in a variety of settings and situations, from baking cookies at home to fighting the darkest of monsters. Because the characters are so different, we learn details of their backstory and the quirks of their personalities, all in a series of short pieces. These books are a great companion to the hit animated series.

Ibitsu, by Haruto Ryo
This manga, complete in one volume, starts with an urban legend about a girl who lurks near a garbage drop, dressed in tattered Gothic Lolita clothing and holding an equally beat-up stuffed rabbit. If you’re thinking “Nothing good can come from an encounter with her,” well, you’ve obviously read horror manga before. Kazuki finds outas much when he runs into her and makes the mistake of answering her question, “Do you have a little sister?” Soon he is being stalked by the mysterious girl, who lets herself into his apartment and starts rearranging things, then attacks his sister and the rest of his family and their friends, chasing them down and killing them in grotesque ways. This is a straight-up horror story with enough variation in characters and situations to keep it interesting, even as you know that whatever comes next isn’t going to be pretty.

Dementia 21, by Kago
Kago is a master of surrealistic horror, and this collection of short stories about a home health aid caring for patients with dementia allows him to show off his chops, as he creates a series of demented situations for the cheerful but hapless aide Yukie. Dentures that have a mind of their own, an addled woman causes people to snap out of existence when she forgets them, aging superheroes in diapers reprise their great battles, and a strange highway has different lanes for the dying and the dead… Each story goes barreling off in a different direction and doesn’t stop until it reaches the most absurd possible conclusion. There’s plenty of body horror in here, and it’s not for the squeamish, but Kago’s crisp, realistic style gives it an antiseptic feeling as well—which makes it all the more powerful when everything disintegrates.

Dr. Stone, by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi
You’d think that after all these years, the Shonen Jump people would run out of ideas for new series. Nope! This one is strangely original, yet it fits the template nicely: seems the entire world was turned to stone for 3,700 years, and a handful of survivors must recreate all of human civilization from shells, rocks, and bits of flora and fauna. Since this is a Shonen Jump manga, all the survivors (so far at least) are teenagers, and one of them is a pretty, bashful girl. That’s Yuzuriha. The others are a Senku, a science genius; Tsukasa, a powerful but amoral fighter; and Taiju, a regular guy with more brawn than brains and zero killer instinct. Since he cracked his stone shell, Senku has been devising ways to create everything needed to restore civilization, from the liquid that dissolves the stone to gunpowder—a necessity given Tsukasa’s violent tendencies. It’s a MacGyveresque survival story with a touch of Battle Royale, more than a little goofiness, and a sprinkling of fun science facts—how to make gunpowder, anyone?

Again!!, by Mitsurou Kubo
If you could do high school all over again, what would you do differently? For Kinichiro, the answer is “join the ouendan club.” Ouendan is a very particular type of cheerleading, different from the regular sort (with whom, in this series, the ouendan club is in competition). On his first day of school, Kinichiro was weirdly drawn to the captain of the squad—who was also its only member—but he never followed up. On graduation day, a fall down a flight of stairs sends him and a female classmate four years into the past, he this second time around he decides to get involved with the ouendan club and its odd captain. He could hardly do worse than he did before, as on his first try he graduated with no friends and no accomplishments to speak of. But the opposite is true of his companion on this trip back to the past, who is having a much harder time of it. The ouendan club puts an interesting spin on this time-travel high-school romance, written by one of the co-creators of the anime Yuri on Ice.

That Blue Sky Feeling, by Okura and Coma Hashii
This manga, which started out as a webcomic, is a refreshing break from the standard cliches of high school romance, particularly gay high school romance. Noshiro is the new kid in the class, and he quickly finds a crowd of his own, but he is fascinated by the loner Sanada. Sanada, for his part, doesn’t seem to be anxious to connect with anyone other than his sole female friend. When Noshiro learns that Sanada is being shunned because he is gay, his sense of fair play takes over and he insists on reaching out to the boy, refusing to be deterred by his standoffishness. By the end of the first double-size volume, the reader is a little ahead of Noshiro in realizing what is really going on—but that’s part of what makes this story feel so grounded and down to earth. For once, a high school romance in which the characters act like real people.

Hakumei & Mikochi: Tiny Little Life in the Woods, by Takuto Kishiki
This is a manga about two tiny little women who live in the woods, just as it says on the cover, although their tininess isn’t always obvious. Their cuteness is, however, always on full display. Rotund and adorable, they go about their business in this slice-of-tiny-life manga, riding beetles to get around, cooking up things from herbs and mushrooms, and meeting up with friends to have tiny little adventures. Kishiki’s art is both cute and super detailed, which is not an easy look to pull off. It works here: this series is delightful both visually and as a fun, relaxing read.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, by Akiko Higashimura
This is a smart comedy about a single woman who is worried her chances at marriage are dwindling, even though she’s not so sure that’s what she wants anyway. When career woman Rinko goes out drinking with her two best friends to celebrate her 33rd birthday, the food on her plate starts talking to her, questioning all her life choices so far. Not only does Rinko have to debate with a liver steak and a piece of cod milt, but she and her friends also get a scolding from a guy at the bar. Soon her world starts to fall apart, as she loses a scriptwriting gig thanks to that outspoken bar patron (who turns out to be a model) and the guy she thinks is going to propose asks out her barely-legal assistant instead. Fed up with it all, she decides she will get married by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020. That may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it’s a very entertaining disaster, especially when the talking bar snacks get into the act.

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii
This charming single-volume manga, done in a loose, diary-comic style, is a memoir of the author’s romance and marriage. It’s also a cheery account of transgender life and the complications that come not only with being transgender but with going through the transition. It’s very down-to-earth, as Chii explains the practical aspects, including some legal matters that are specific to Japan, and it also reads nicely as a breezy, fun romance.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, by Inio Asano
Aliens invade Tokyo but are beaten back by the local defense forces. That’s not what this manga is about, though—by the time we meet high-schoolers Koyama Kadode and Nakagawa Oran, the invasion is three years in the past, and while the spaceship continues to hover over the city, as the story opens, the aliens themselves are nowhere to be seen. This sense of heaviness and anticipation pervades the two girls’ worlds; Kadode’s father disappeared during the invasion, and her mother is barely coping, while Oran is fascinated by conspiracy theories she finds online. The two girls go about what passes for everyday life, playing video games and texting each other, but this is Asano, so there’s a lot more going on as well, including Kadode’s attraction to her teacher and a lot of political-military stuff that shows up on the news although the girls mostly ignore it. Asano regards this as lighter than his other manga (Goodnight PunPun, solanin) , which isn’t saying a lot, but it’s definitely interesting to see him take his considerable talents in a new direction.

City, by Keiichi Arawi
Arawi, the creator of the surreal school comedy nichijou,brings his talents to a slightly more structured story about slightly older characters. City follows Midori, a broke college student, through the streets of a large city where she has one encounter after another with friends, her landlady, the local policeman…This series has a similar vibe to nichijou, with short scenes, goofy characters, slapstick humor, and plenty of non sequiturs, but it feels a bit more like a traditional narrative, albeit one that is still shooting off in eight different directions at once.

Silver Spoon, by Hiromu Arakawa
If you were asked how Arakawa would follow up her legendary shonen fantasy Fullmetal Alchemist, how many of you would have guessed “a comedy about animal husbandry”? Unexpected or no, this series is undeniably charming, a slice-of-rural-life tale follows high school student Yuugo Hachiken, who escapes from his overbearing father by enrolling in an agricultural school in Hokkaido. Of course, it’s not what he expects at all, and there’s plenty of humor to be found whenever a city boy winds up in the country. Brainy Yuugo quickly learns farming is about a lot more than book smarts, and his stiff demeanor soon begins to crumble under the onslaught of his charming classmates, all of whom are more attuned to agricultural life than he is (and herein is revealed the series’ shonen DNA). In the end, just as Fullmetal Alchemist was about growing up more than it was alchemy, Silver Spoon is about more than just cows and pigs—it’s the story of a young man coming into his own.

The Best Ongoing Series

The Promised Neverland, by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu
The orphans who live at Grace Field House are a happy lot, well fed and cheerful, and headed to good homes: almost all of them are adopted out by the time they turn 11. Or so they think: In fact, the orphans are being fattened up to be fed to monsters on the outside. Emma and Norman, two of the older children, discover what is happening and enlist their super-brainy friend Ray to help them plot an escape. It’s not easy, with the seemingly benign “Mom” (and later, a less pleasant “Sister”) looking over them and an elaborate security system keeping them penned on the farm. They have to outwit their captors and get away before they are “adopted”—and Emma insists they rescue all the children, even the youngest, something the others don’t believe they can do. This story has all kinds of tension coming from all different directions: some allies are untrustworthy, some seeming successes are really double-crosses, and danger lurks around every corner. It’s a smart, suspenseful, beautifully drawn dark-fantasy manga, and one of the most addictive series running.

My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi
My Hero Academia is a superhero story set in a world where almost everyone has a weird, limited superpower, called a quirk, and the most powerful and best known superheroes are celebrities. Izuku Midoriya is one of the few born without a quirk, but what he lacks in talent, he makes up for in earnestness and studiousness, and in the first volume a washed-up superhero, All Might, bestows his own power on the young man, which gets him into the prestigious Hero Academy, a school for superheroes. The students don’t spend much time on lessons, because there’s always some villain crashing in or a practical exam cooked up by the bizarre faculty, and in addition, there’s the competition between Midoriya and his longtime nemesis and bully, Katsuki Bakugo. My Hero Academia combines the earnestness of superhero comics with the core elements of shonen manga—a plucky hero, quirky side characters, plenty of battles, and a dash of fanservice. What really makes the story a delight, though, is Horikoshi’s endlessly inventive imagination, as he populates the story with scores of odd-looking characters with abilities that really are more “quirks” than superpowers.

Tokyo Ghoul: re, by Sui Ishida
Tokyo Ghoul: re picks up its story directly from Tokyo Ghoul, and it’s almost impossible to describe it without spoiling the original series. Suffice it to say we are back in the world of ghouls and ghoul hunters, where the lines between humans and ghouls are sometimes blurred. This series follows a team of ghoul investigators who receive organ implants from ghouls in order to gain some of their powers without losing their humanity. Together they hunt the most notorious ghouls and try to tear down the ghouls’ organizations, but the past starts to catch up with them. Like the original Tokyo Ghoul, this series is filled with dark secrets, bloody battles, and unforgettable characters.

One Punch Man, by ONE and Yusuke Murata
One Punch Man should have been a one-joke manga, a spoof about a blasé superhero who is so strong he can dispatch any enemy with a single punch, which makes his life boring. The fact that ONE and Murata have been able to spin it out into so many volumes, and keep it entertaining, is a testament to their creative skills. Like My Hero Academia, it is filled with goofy superheroes and grotesque villains, as well as plenty of fighting, all done with tongue firmly in cheek. You get the feeling that both creators sit down and just dream up as many crazy characters as they can, then figure out a plot to set them all in motion at once. It’s funny, it’s full of action, and it never gets old.

The Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
Although it’s set in the northern region of Hokkaido, not the Yukon, this series has a Jack London feel to it. Saichi Sugimoto, who earned the nickname “The Immortal” during the Russo-Japanese War, heads north to prospect for gold, hoping to accumulate enough wealth to pay for medical treatment for his best friend’s widow. When a fellow prospector tells him of a hidden treasure, the game is afoot. The first complication is that the only map to the treasure is tattooed on the skins of a group of escaped prisoners, so Sugimoto must track them down one by one. The other complication is that despite his battle skills, he’s not really equipped to deal with the rigors of the Hokkaido wilderness. Fortunately, he meets Asirpa, one of the indigenous Ainu people of the region, and with that, this becomes a buddy story of sorts, as the grizzled soldier and the young native girl go after the human puzzle pieces, one at a time, while battling the others who are running after the treasure as well. Gory, action-packed, and beautifully drawn, this series is filled with intriguing details of Ainu life as well as quiet moments and suspenseful battles. Jack London would have loved it!

Delicious in Dungeon, by Ryoko Kui
When a foodie manga meets a dungeon-fantasy manga, you get Delicious in Dungeon,a series about a group of adventurers who run out of food so they start eating the monsters they are slaying. But how will Laois and his team know what’s edible and what to cook? Other adventurers contribute their knowledge, and a fair amount of experimentation goes on as well. Kui leavens the story with quite a bit of humor, and like Astra: Lost in Space, this series is filled with critters and plants that are familiar enough to be plausible but different enough to look weird—and a little unsettling. And lest you worry the dish will get stale after a few volumes, it’s also worth mentioning: there’s a compelling ongoing narrative here, too: not just about the strange secrets of the dungeon, but in the relationships between the lovable cast of misfits at its center.

Behind the Scenes, by Bisco Hatori
Hatori, the creator of Ouran High School Host Club and Millennium Snow, mixes up some standard manga tropes with a gang of creative characters in this story about a college student who joins the Art Squad, the crew that creates props, costumes, and settings for film students. It’s a bit like Paradise Kiss, with a fairly normal character finding not only self-confidence but a sense of belonging among a group of crazy creative people. Ranmaru, the lead character of Behind the Scenes, comes from a fishing town and doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, but it turns out that he has some unique skills that are valuable to the Art Squad. Of course, the Art Squad has some strong personalities as well, and Hatori makes the most of the many opportunities it offers for conflict and drama. This manga is not too demanding on the brain, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, by Akira Himekawa
The two-woman team that goes by Akira Himekawa has been drawing manga based on The Legend of Zelda games for years, but this series breaks new ground for them: It’s darker and more nuanced than their earlier work. While it follows the basic plot of the game of the same name, this series stands well on its own and is worth reading not just for the story but also for the characters and settings, as they bring the elements of the game to life. (Want to know more? Check out my interview with Akira Himekawa.)

Astra Lost in Space, by Kento Shinohara
The first rule of manga is that all school trips go awry. This one goes spectacularly awry, as a group of high school students go to space camp and end up on a deserted spaceship millions of miles from home. With no communications system and limited supplies, their only option is to hopscotch from planet to planet to collect food and water on their way back to earth. Each member of the group has a unique skill set that they need to survive—one is good at identifying flora and fauna, one has a good memory, etc.—but there’s also plenty of tension, especially after it becomes clear that at least part of their situation was no accident. This is a classic setup, enlivened by a varied cast of characters and the author’s talent for creating alien flora and fauna that are familiar and weird looking at the same time. The art is clear and uncluttered, making this an especially good read for newcomers to manga.

Descending Stories, by Haruko Kumota
A story about storytellers sounds kind of meta, but this series really is a great soap opera set in the world of rakugo, traditional Japanese storytelling. At the beginning of the series, the lead character has just been released from prison, and he goes straight to the home of the rakugo master Yakumo Yurakutei VIII, begging to be his disciple. At first no one takes the young man seriously—they nickname him Yotaro, or fool—but he sticks with it, and Yakumo becomes fonder of him he introduces him gradually not only to the world of rakugo but also to the stories of his own past, including the mysterious death of his best friend and strongest rival, the storyteller Sukeroku. The third member of Yakumo’s household is Konatsu, Sukeroku’s daughter, who blames Yakumo for her father’s death and resents his insistence that rakugo is a male-only art. As the series goes on, more characters are introduced and the focus shifts back and forth between the stories and the real world. Complete in 10 volumes, this is an enthralling and memorable series.

Erased, by Kei Sanbei
At 29, Satoru Fujinuma is frustrated with his lack of success as a manga creator. He delivers pizza to make ends meet, and he doesn’t have much of a life outside of that job and his manga. Then, out of the blue, he starts moving backwards in time just a few minutes, and continues doing so until he spots what’s wrong and prevents a disaster. Then, when his mother is murdered—and he is blamed—he skips all the way back to his childhood, and he knows that he will have to stop the murder of a schoolmate and track down her killer in order to save not only his mother but also the innocent man who faces execution for the crime. Sanbei plunges us into both of Fujinuma’s worlds, his childhood and the present day of the story, with plenty of key details and realistic characters, and the resolution of the story includes a very clever twist.

To Your Eternity, by Yoshitoki Oima
Another unexpected followup to a hit series, Oima’s first major work in the wake of A Silent Voice couldn’t be more different in tone or subject matter. To Your Eternity is an apocalyptic science fantasy of sorts about a strange lifeform that begins its existence as an orb that can take on any shape, but seems to be compelled to continually evolve into ever more complex living things. It goes quickly from a rock, to moss, to a wolf, which becomes the companion of a boy living alone in a frozen wilderness. When the boy dies, it takes on his shape—but it must continue to travel, to evolve, and to die and be reborn in order to gain human qualities (both good and bad). The next phase of its journey brings it to a village where a young girl is about to be sacrificed to the local god—and for the first time, we see a flicker of humanity. A Silent Voice, was ultimately a story about bullying and forgiveness; this series has a very different setting, but the same skillful depiction of human society and emotions. With beautiful art and an ever-expanding premise, it’s definitely a keeper—the central character’s resilience in the face of the worst humanity can throw at it is oddly admirable, even when you aren’t sure the world it inhabits is worth the trouble.

What new or ongoing manga did you love most in 2018?

The post Our Favorite Manga of 2018 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

None of the Visual Effects Magic Behind Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles Came From the North Pole


Long gone are the days when holiday revelers were satisfied with fake potato-flake snow or stop-motion puppets for their festive entertainment. Christmas movies are visual effects smorgasbords now, and Method Studios reveals all the digital magic it mustered to turn Kurt Russell into Saint Nick for Netflix’s The

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How Westworld VFX Artists Created Disturbing Illusion of Burning Flesh


Even knowing they’re robots, watching Westworld’s hosts go under the knife for repairs was even more gruesome than the bloody battles that sent them to the ER. But in addition to using lots of CG, visual effects studio Pixomondo employed some old-school special effects tricks to make those surgeries look as…

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How The Walking Dead Blew Up a Bridge Full of Zombies Without Actually Blowing Up a Real Bridge


Just a few weeks after it originally aired, Goodbye Kansas Studios has shared a behind-the-scenes video of its work on The Walking Dead episode “What Comes After,” where Rick, with some help from a pile of dynamite, blows up a bridge full of approaching zombies. Creating one of the series’ most complicated shots…

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Designing Star Wars: Cyborgs, Twisted and Evil

The look of Star Wars is unlike anything else in popular culture. Step back in time to explore the history and philosophy behind the concepts that define the galaxy far, far away in Designing Star Wars.

In a galaxy embroiled in conflict, where wars rage between peaceful ideals and a lust for power, the internal struggle of mechanically-altered men is a microcosm of the battles surrounding them, the clash between darkness and light.

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by Warren Fu

Flesh-and-blood intermingles with machine to allow these badly injured warriors to fight another day, yet irrevocably alters the core of their characters. In prolonging basic life-support, the organic creature deep within the metal exoskeleton becomes barely recognizable, assisting autonomic function in a body that is too far gone to exist otherwise.

Beginning with the mysterious helmeted figure of Darth Vader, himself more machine than man, and continuing to the more recent resurrection of Maul, no longer a Sith yet building a new life through the aid of myriad metalized parts, cyborgs have struggled to maintain their identity, while reflecting the greater hostilities surrounding them. Each one forces us to consider – when the natural world is fused with unnatural elements, how much of the character’s essence truly remains?

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by Luke Fisher

Darth Vader

For the man who was Anakin Skywalker, mechanical implants are simply a means to extend a life devoted to revenge and fueled by fear. Darth Vader rises, twisted by the Emperor’s machinations, the good in him all-but consumed by darkness, a sinister figure whose presence is punctuated by the shuttering gasps of his breathing apparatus.

But in peeling back the layers to expose the man beneath the mask, artists and designers who have shepherded Vader through his prequel transformation and to the quieter, vulnerable moments in a bacta bath on Mustafar, have uncovered more of the conflict within.

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by the JAK Films Art Department

Although his seething rage and fear of loss was already putting Anakin firmly on the path to be the Emperor’s apprentice, losing his right arm to Dooku only to have it replaced by a fine mechanical mechanism marks the beginning of his physical transformation into what he would become. Later, viciously cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi and burned beyond recognition, his Jedi robes fused to shreds of charred flesh, what remained of his humanity, and the man who was Luke Skywalker’s father, was essentially snuffed out.

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept sketch by Norman Reynolds

Concept art of Darth Vader.

Concept art by Luke Fisher

No longer being torn apart by the competing forces of darkness and light, the last pieces of Anakin’s former self went dormant, the last bit of good in him hidden, his organic systems still functional but the soul of Anakin atrophied and nearly obliterated by the Emperor’s lies.

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker on the gantry in the reactor shaft in the Cloud City of Bespin.

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Under Palpatine’s watchful gaze, Darth Vader was built from the ashes of his former life,  restored in a fashion, but warped beyond all recognition, stumbling off the operating table a monster of his master’s creation. Only his son, seeing beyond this horrifying façade, could save him and put his tormented soul to rest.

Concept art of Luke Skywalker's bionic hand.

Concept art by Norman Reynolds

The balance

Luke’s own bionic limb arguably deepened his compassion for the vestiges of his father left behind Darth Vader’s mask. His hand severed in combat during their duel on Cloud City, Vader attempted the same kind of manipulation that had worked on Anakin all those years ago. “Come with me,” he says. “It is the only way.” But Luke sees another solution, preferring to let go and free falling into the unknown.

Princess Leia and the injured Luke Skywalker with a medical droid and C-3PO aboard the Medical Frigate.

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Concept art from The Empire Strikes Back.

Concept sketch by Ralph McQuarrie

Luke’s connection to his sister, Leia, proved to be stronger than any mind trick or devious ploy, and safely aboard the medical frigate, like his father before him, he was fitted with a mechanical limb.

Concept art by Christian Alzmann

Concept art by Christian Alzmann

Yet, unlike Vader, Luke never lost sight of his humanity or his identity. His new hand served as a reminder of his own mortality, and allowed him to empathize with Darth Vader after his green-bladed lightsaber left his father’s own hand a smoking stump of exposed wiring. Luke delivered the blow (and several more) in defense of his sister, enraged by Vader’s threat to try to turn her, but confronted with his father’s vulnerability, he realized not only that he’d moved beyond defense to blind, spitting rage, but that he and his father were not so different. A hand for a hand had settled the score. If he continued and murdered his father, he would be no better than the monster he once believed Vader to be.

Concept art of Maul

Concept art by Luke Fisher


For Maul, a body fused with mechanical pieces salvaged from a garbage heap may have fueled his madness, but was not to blame for his journey down the path to the dark side. When Obi-Wan cut down Darth Maul, cleaving the agile Sith Lord in two and seemingly destroying the Zabrak warrior, he was left for dead by his master Darth Sidious.

Concept art of Maul
Concept art of Maul

His shattered body delivered to the junk planet of Lotho Minor to waste away, Maul lost his mind, cobbling together a hideous set of spindly spider-like legs to scuttle among the refuse until he was rescued by his brother, Savage Opress.

Two claw-like appendages eventually restored Maul to a closer approximation of his original silhouette, and his powers grew, disassociated from the Sith and seeking his own stake in the seedy world of crime bosses and criminals. As Maul’s legs were refashioned and upgraded, he never lost sight of his quest for vengeance.

Concept art of Maul

Concept art by Jake Lunt Davies

Given Maul’s upbringing and training with the Sith, it’s difficult to know how much the loss of half his physical form impacted whatever compassion he may have been capable of, exhibited only in glimpses through his relationship to the brother who came to his rescue when all others had abandoned him. Groomed to be a calculating and cunning warrior, he already exhibited a cold android-like demeanor long before gaining his metal limbs.

Concept art of General Grievous

Concept art by Warren Fu

General Grievous

Then there’s the gruesome droid-general with haunting alien eyes, General Grievous, a monstrous fusion of metal and organic material that makes it impossible to disassociate the two. Circuitry was grafted directly to brain tissue, red Kaleesh flesh peeking out from behind his helmet and armor protecting the vital organs that co-mingled with his cybernetic implants.

Concept art of General Grievous

Concept reference by Aaron McBride

His organic systems essentially scooped out and contained in a battle-ready droid body, Grievous retained but a fraction of his former self, revealed by little more than watery yellow pupils shielded by a fearsome mask and a hacking cough that betrayed his biology.

Sequestered in his lair on the third moon of Vassek, a labyrinth of chambers that suggested a connection to an alien warrior and a macabre fixation on collecting trophies from the Jedi he killed in battle, Grievous maintained some control of his modifications, keeping his own droid doctor and spare parts on hand for painful but necessary upgrades and repairs.

Concept art of General Grievous

Concept art by Aaron McBride

But with a well-placed blaster bolt, igniting whatever parts of his original form still remained – referred to in concept art reference materials as “Grievous’ gutsack” and inspired by real-world biological components and textures as well as the viscous nature of dish soap — Grievous was damaged beyond repair.

Concept art of Lobot.

Concept sketch by Ralph McQuarrie


Among these characters fusing mechanical capabilities with the limitations of their natural qualities, there is perhaps no sadder tale than Lobot. Lando’s loyal aide made a tragic sacrifice, voluntarily giving up his humanity for the greater good and allowing himself to become a blank organic host to a computerized brain.

The cyborg construct so prominent on his head was leftover from Imperial employment, a fusion to increase productivity and give him a droid-like ability to run battle calculations and communicate with computer systems.

For a time, Lobot retained his identity, but ultimately surrendered his humanity during a failed theft aboard Emperor Palpatine’s personal yacht — tapping into the network to unlock the escape pods so he and Lando would have a chance at survival. Lobot gave himself over to becoming an emotionless body controlled by the machine and continued to serve by Lando’s side, using his last moments in control of his mind to send a message to his friend that he believed that the scoundrel was capable of more.

Featured concept art by Christian Alzmann.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver what you love most about Star Wars!

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