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We Watched a Star Wars Wayang Kulit Show @ Jaya One, PJ

It was a celebration of all things Star Wars at Jaya One recently, as “This is the May – Nar Shaddaa Day” – organized by the Star Wars Malaysia Fan Club (SWMFC) – held its first fan event after a two-year hiatus.

May, of course, is Star Wars month (May the 4th be with you!); and the event saw dozens of cosplayers, dressed to the nines in their best Star Wars outfits. There were also booths selling exclusive Star Wars merchandise, art exhibitions, games, puppet making workshops, and performances.

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I’m not a big Star Wars fan (I keep mixing up my Wookies and Ewoks), but I’ve seen the films, and I think the original Star Wars story was brilliant for its time, and yet to be paralleled in the world of science fiction and futuristic fantasy.

My main reason for coming here was actually to watch the Star Wars Wayang Kulit performance (more on that later!), but since we had some time before the performance, the Hubs and I explored the main concourse, where most of the booths were set up. There were some pretty nifty things on display, including limited edition toys, props, and collectors items from overseas.

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Among the cosplayers were troopers, Mandalorians, a Queen Amidala, a Princess Leia, and Chewbacca, some of them armed with lightsabers. Speaking of lightsabers, there was a booth from a toy company selling custom lightsabers with interchangeable colours!
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Loved these Star Wars themed earrings!
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The highlight of the event for me was the Fusion Wayang Kulit show, a unique performance featuring traditional Malaysian puppetry (wayang kulit) fused with modern pop culture elements; in this case, Star Wars. It was held at the PJ Live Arts centre next to Jaya One’s main building. The puppets are made from leather, propped on sticks, and moved by the puppet master behind a screen.

Fusion Wayang Kulit was founded by Tintoy Chua and Take Huat in 2012, aimed at revitalizing the dying art by incorporating modern elements into it. The pair approached Kelantanese wayang kulit master (Tok Dhalang) Pak Dain for their project, taking meticulous care to ensure the roots of the plays are respected while giving it a breath of fresh air. The rest, as they say, is history. Fusion Wayang Kulit has since performed not just locally, but overseas. It was even acknowledged by LucasFilm and featured in the official Star Wars magazine!

Pak Dain himself performed the show. There were two parts: the traditional story which is an adaptation of the Hindu epic Ramayana, and the modern part which had characters and a story inspired by Star Wars.

To be honest, while I found the traditional puppets beautiful, the story was difficult for me to follow as it was presented in Kelantanese Malay (a dialect that is very different from standard Malay).

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There was a break in between the two sessions, where we were introduced to the concept behind Fusion Wayang Kulit, and how they designed the characters for the ‘new’ story. They’re all based on traditional characters, so “Sang Kala Veda” (Darth Vader) is based on the villain, while Puteri Leia is based on Rama’s wife, basically the heroine of the story.

The character designs are mind blowing. There’s so much attention to detail and respect for the source material, both new and old. Take Darth Vader’s face – which has been designed with fangs (similar to the villain), yet retains that triangular motif. We were also told that Malaysian wayang kulit is distinctly different from its Indonesian counterpart in terms of looks and design. Malaysian wayang kulit characters usually ride on ‘dragons’ or a platform of sorts (the Javanese version does not have this). So to suit the Star Wars theme, they made Darth Vader’s platform a smaller version of the Executor. Brilliant!

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Pak Dain performed the Star Wars story in standard Malay, which made it much easier to understand. Here Puteri Leia gives R2D2 the Death Star plans. Did I mention how beautiful the puppets are? They look modern yet traditional at the same time. Perfectly embodies the ‘fusion’ theme!

When the show ended, the audience gave a standing ovation. I truly hope that with this modernization of an ancient art form, they can continue to keep it alive and relevant to a new audience.

Sadly, there are not many puppet masters left in Kelantan, where Malaysian wayang kulit originates from. Once popular at family gatherings and other communal events, puppet shows were banned in Kelantan after the Islamic political party PAS came into power in 1990 (they banned it in 1998), as they deemed it “un-Islamic” (they also banned the Mak Yong, a traditional dance, but lifted this ban in 2019, subject to conditions). Now, wayang kulit shows can ONLY be performed at the cultural centre in Kota Bharu. Can’t help but feel like it’s a ‘token’ that they use to attract tourists, rather than a genuine art form celebrated for its historic value and artistry.

But I digress.

Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, I highly recommend catching the Fusion Wayang Kulit show! Support the local arts, because I don’t think it’s promoted enough by the relevant bodies. To see ordinary Malaysians of different races and beliefs banding together to keep this old art form alive – not backed by any special funding, only driven by a love for the country and its arts – is, to me, the true spirit of Malaysia.

You can learn more about Fusion Wayang Kulit here. They also have a gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

Experience Star Wars This Christmas @ Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

As one of the largest and most popular shopping malls in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, one can always expect interesting Christmas decorations at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur come the year-end holiday season. Past celebrations have seen themes such as Christmas Ever After and a Magical Christmas with Disney (featuring hundreds of Mickey figurines). This year, the mall rides on a much-anticipated film releasing in December – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – transforming the Centre Court into a Star Wars-themed exhibition.

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The ‘Starry Christmas’ theme begins at the entrance with a giant pink Yves Saint Laurent tree and a star-shaped gateway. Once you step in, visitors are greeted with booths selling YSL Beaute’s Holiday Look 2019 High on Stars Collection, where you can shop for exclusive gifts for yourself and loved ones.

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The Centre Court is bathed in neon blues and reds to give it that intergalactic vibe. On the sides are giant light sabres rising up to the ceiling, while Sithtroopers guard the Spanish steps.

 

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The centrepiece is the iconic Millennium Falcon, propped atop a giant screen playing clips from the upcoming film.

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Royal Selangor, the homegrown pewter brand, has partnered with The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia to come up with a Star Wars collection, featuring some of the franchise’s most beloved characters in pewter. You can drop by to view the exhibition, and if anything catches you fancy, buy some to take home.

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And who wouldn’t know this scene?

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Try your hand at the new Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order game at the PS4 booths.

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Or snap a pic in the Cockpit Access and Hyperdrive Tunnel.

As part of the experience, there will be shows and other programmes throughout the month of December, from appearances by C-3PO, R2-D2 & First Order Stormtroopers, Star Wars light shows, as well as the more conventional Santa meet and Greets, carolling, etc.

 

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m gonna risk offending the entire StarWars fandom by saying that I’m not a fan of the series (!!!). I only watched Revenge of the Sith on TV and that was many, many years ago.

So when the latest installment, The Force Awakens, came to theaters in Malaysia, I was initially ‘meh’ on watching it. But the hype has been so crazy, it’s hard not to get swept up in it. Everywhere I turned, there were StarWars related stuff, merchandise, ad promos, parodies.. and a whole bunch of other money-grubbing capitalist nonsense. There was even a black Stormtrooper roaming the streets of Kuala Lumpur, going about doing everyday Malaysian stuff – a photography project which caught the attention of the main news outlets here. You can read on that in this link.

Since all my friends were raving about how this was THE film of 2015, my interest was piqued. So I went to catch a late night movie yesterday with another equal StarWars un-fan. The movie house was packed for every show; we were lucky to get two seats as it is.

Synopsis: 

The story is set 30 years after the destruction of the 2nd Death Star. Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has disappeared. Now there’s a new baddie ala communist militia – the First Order, whose mission is to destroy the forces of Good and the Resistance. The good people need to look for Luke so that he can help in the fight against evil, but while carrying the map, resistance fighter Poe Dameron is accosted in the sandy planet of Jakku and leaves a tiny Wall-E-like robot, BB8 (which is damn cute, by the way!)  to somehow deliver the lost map to base. The droid is found by a scavenger called Rey.

Meanwhile, Stormtrooper Finn who was on his first mission to Jakku is appalled by the Order’s methods when they slaughter an entire village of innocent people. Disgusted, he helps Poe Dameron escape, but their ship crashes back into Jakku and Finn finds himself alone. He meets Rey the scavenger, and together they escape the Order’s airstrike by stealing a ship called the Millenium Falcon. StarWars fans will know that this is the ship captained by Han Solo, whom they later bump into (small Universe they live in, no?).

The rest of the film is a lot of action, light sabres, blaster guns and spaceships as the Resistance fights against the evil First Order, who wants to destroy everyone with a enormous Death-Star-like weapon called the StarKiller. Throw in some father-and-son issues with the villain, Kylo Ren, who happens to be Han Solo and Princess Leia’s child… and you have a blockbuster film set to rake in millions at the box office.

Verdict

Never having paid attention to the previous films, it was quite a confusing ride. I was particularly perplexed when the villain, Kylo Ren, called a mask of Darth Vader ‘grandfather’ (wait, what? I thought Luke Skywalker was his son.. so why is Han Solo his dad? I then realised Princess Leia was also Darth Vader’s kid. .__.”) The cinematography is superb: they spared no expense. The sweeping landscapes, detailed sets + vast and epileptic-inducing galactic battle scenes are on par. Story wise, it’s as good as it gets – young kid realises they have hidden potential and the Force, sets out with ragtag gang to defeat the forces of evil.. same old story but nicely packaged and shot. There is a small ‘twist’ at the end but nothing audiences didn’t see coming a mile away. 

Overall, it is a beautiful film with a solid storyline that is relatively understandable, even for non Star-Wars fans. For the fans, it’s the much awaited installment after a long time away from the galaxy far, far away.

8/10