How well do you know George Lucas?

Say what you will about George Lucas and his effect on the Star Wars universe, but the truth is we wouldn’t have one to celebrate without him. He brought science fiction to a new level of fandom in the film community, even though the studio heads and the man himself predicted the first film would become a financial disaster.

History, of course, would prove them wrong. Even 38 years after the release of the original movie, Star Wars is the fourth most profitable movie franchise of all time, behind James Bond, Harry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It also takes quite a mighty imagination to build such a vast story and universe. Most people need some kind of clinically prescribed, mind-alerting substance to dream up a world where futuristic samurais fight each other with swords made of photons and a smuggler flies a plane shaped like a giant toilet seat. So how much do you know about the man and his legacy? Find out with this quiz, the fourth in a series leading up to the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Then click here for all the answers and take our other quizzes to test your knowledge of Star Wars planets, Star Wars quotesand Star Wars weapons.

And if you are George Lucas taking this quiz, then you’re technically cheating.

  • How well do you know George Lucas?
    See how much you know about the man who created the Star Wars universe.
  • George Lucas was the first choice to direct which war movie before he decided to work on “Star Wars”?
    Which is not the name of a film Lucas made as a student at USC’s film school?
    Lucas once bet Steven Spielberg that “Star Wars” wouldn’t be as big as “Close Encounters.” What did Spielberg win in the bet?
    Which boy band did Lucas cast in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” as a surprise for his daughters, only to cut their scene from the final product?
    What did Lucas build on his ranch instead of the production studio opposed by neighbors?
    Lucas was standing next to which musician during “The Colbert Report” finale?

Stephen Colbert reveals he persuaded Harrison Ford to be Han Solo again

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You knew there had to be a backstory.

Star Wars is full of backstories, after all. Some better than others.

But as the makers of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” revel in glorious reviews, Stephen Colbert thought he’d offer one of the most significant backstories of all — the one in which Harrison Ford was completely disinterested in returning as Han Solo.

Three years ago, it seems, director J.J. Abrams met with Ford in some hotel lobby. Ford had no idea who Abrams was.

His reaction to reprising his role in Star Wars? “I did that. I did it, what, two times. Been there, done that.”

Enter Colbert, complete with 1970s sideburns. He seems to think the part is his.

His mere presence annoys Ford. His attempts at showing his Han Solo moves enrage the star.

How was it that Ford ended up taking the role? Well, you’ll just have to watch (Disclosure: CBS is CNET’s parent company).

In the annals of Star Wars, Colbert’s pivotal role can now be written — at least, if you believe this version of events.

You might also choose to believe Ford’s own words to Jimmy Fallon: “I got paid.”

We’re not remotely ready for a zombie apocalypse, prof says

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I tend to be quite sanguine about the zombie threat.

Wandering the streets every day, I see them. I believe their “zombieness” is only caused by what they currently see on this planet. Some, though, are more concerned.

If you’re looking for a piece of edifying Christmas reading, take a glance at “Zombie infections: epidemiology, treatment, and prevention.” This contemplative work was published in the British Medical Journal on Monday.

Its author, Kent State University associate professor Tara Smith, worries that we’re not ready for all the viruses coming our way.

Smith has a way with words. For example, her opening sentence: “Zombies — also known as walkers, Zed, Zs, biters, geeks, stiffs, roamers, Zeke, ghouls, rotters, Zoms, and runners — have become a dominant part of the medical landscape.”

Geeks are zombies. So much is explained in those three words.

Smith’s article looks at how the fictional Solanum virus, from movies such as “28 Days Later,” spreads. She writes that “prevention and treatment are largely unexplored” because of the “rapid onset of zombie outbreaks and their society destroying characteristics.”

What are the usual remedies in movies?

“Severing the bitten area from the body has proved successful in some cases, but is not universally preventative,” she writes. “It is sometimes impossible owing to bite location or the speed of viral incubation.”

Smith explained to me that her work was published in the BMJ because “zombie outbreaks are a global issue” and the journal allows for “humorous and more light-hearted articles in its Christmas edition.” Mainly the latter, she added.

Her current field of study is the evolution and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s no wonder that zombies are a fine example. “I love zombie movies, books, TV shows,” she said. “I just caught up on the last compendium of ‘Walking Dead’ comics and am anxiously waiting on the TV show to resume in February.”

Smith’s paper is enjoyable, but her purpose is serious. Having analyzed the zombie viruses we have lived through in movies, she writes that the international community needs a lot more cooperation and funding to prepare for the potential of a devastating disease in real life.

She told me that Ebola simply isn’t the worst of it.

“Risk from infectious diseases is difficult to communicate, because it’s not static, and it’s not equal for each infectious agent,” she said. “Ebola is scary because it’s been hyped in works like ‘The Hot Zone,’ but in reality, it’s not that easy to spread, and when it causes death, it’s not as dramatic as it’s portrayed in that book and in other media.”

She contrasted this with influenza, which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which kills 23,000 Americans a year.

Smith isn’t the only one to use fictional zombies to encourage real safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued prepardeness suggestions for a zombie apocalypse. Theseinclude making sure you have enough emergency supplies and then planning an evacuation route.

Smith’s article takes the zombie analogy to its ultimate conclusion.

“We need a frank discussion of the ethical and potential criminal problems associated with dealing with zombies,” she writes. “Will people be prosecuted for killing a zombie or a person who has been bitten but has not yet ‘turned’? Is mass quarantine of those who have been exposed to a zombie but not bitten legal? How would it be achieved?”

Her conclusions aren’t too cheery. Either governments will have to accept that the living dead are alive and decide what place they should have in society, she writes, or there will be a human-zombie war.

Now, why weren’t the Republican candidates asked their views on this subject during Tuesday’s CNN debate?
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The SLK is dead, long live the SLC

Not every refresh needs to be some massively grandiose update, where the new car barely resembles the one it’s supplanting. Some updates are a bit more subtle, choosing to pay more attention to the workings underneath all that sheet metal. That’s the case with Mercedes-Benz and the new 2017 SLC-Class roadster.

The SLC, formerly the SLK, now falls in line with Mercedes-Benz’s taxonomic structure. All roadsters start with SL, and the third letter denotes its size class. Much as the C-Class used to be the smallest sedan prior to the CLA, the SLC’s name puts it as the smallest roadster the brand makes. We doubt an SLA is on the way.

Perhaps the most notable update to the SLC is its new pair of engines. Gone is the midrange six-cylinder and the honkin’ AMG eight-cylinder. The SLC will now come in two trims — the Mercedes-Benz SLC300 and the Mercedes-AMG SLC43. The SLC300 gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 241 horsepower, and the SLC43 packs a 3.0-liter six-cylinder putting out 362 hp. Both engines come mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The exterior has changed slightly for 2017. The grille is featured more prominently, the headlights are slimmer, and the taillights have all-new innards. Mercedes’ diamond-style grille is standard across all models, and the automatic folding hardtop can now be operated at speeds up to 25 mph. The SLC remains with its own look, not trying to chase its big brother, the SL.

Inside, changes are minimal, save for some minor adjustments to controls and a new, three-spoke steering wheel. The interior now includes a 7.0-inch infotainment screen (up from 5.8 inches in the SLK) and a 4.5-inch display between the gauges. The SLC also receives autonomous emergency braking for the first time.

Opt for the AMG model, and you’ll get more than just a powerful engine. The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 includes more aggressive fasciae elements, and the ubiquitous AMG quad tailpipes make an appearance, as well. The SLC43 also receives special suspension tuning and two unique options — adjustable dampers and a mechanical limited-slip differential.

Mercedes says the car will launch in the spring of 2016, but it does not mention specific markets or pricing information at this time.

2016 Toyota Corolla S review

Once upon a time, there lived the Toyota Corolla, a frisky little compact car by an eager little Japanese automaker. It wasn’t the fastest thing on wheels, but it was nimble and reliable and one of the best cars in its class. This isn’t a story about that Corolla, but about its great-great-great-(and so on)-grandchild, the 11th generation, 2016 Toyota Corolla S.

The new Corolla is larger than it’s ever been — model year creep has snuck the Corolla into the EPA’s mid-sized sedan designation alongside the current Camry. At about 182 inches long, the 2016 Corolla is 8 inches longer from nose to tail as the 1994 Toyota 4Runner that I learned to drive in!

The 11th generation is also the most aggressively styled model yet with sharply creased sheetmetal and glossy black trim. This ‘Special Edition’ model that I was able to test features sporty, gloss black alloy wheels and contrasting red interior stitching. This is one angry looking compact sedan, but beneath that wolf’s clothing is a rather dull sheep.

The Corolla isn’t an exciting car; it hasn’t been for the many generations. Yet, it manages to maintain a surprising level of success in the face of stiff competition with a long-standing reputation as solidly basic transportation and an old name that’s almost synonymous with simple reliability.

2016 Toyota Corolla S Special Edition

CVTi-S: Teaching an old engine new tricks

Toyota hasn’t taken many chances with that reputation of simple and reliable transportation, which is why the new Corolla’s specs don’t look much different now than they did two decades ago. At the base level, the formula is a simple one: a proven four-cylinder engine, a bulletproof automatic transmission and milquetoast front-wheel drive performance. The entry-point Corolla L is even available with a decades-old four-speed automatic transmission.

The Corolla’s engine room is occupied by Toyota’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder (2ZR-FE) motor, which makes a stated 132 peak horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. The engine uses the automaker’s dual variable valve timing system, but still uses port fuel injection — while the best of its competition have moved on to more efficient direct injection — which saddle the Toyota with middling performance and fuel economy.

Fortunately, not all of the Corolla’s tech is so dated. On LE and S trim levels, the sedan ditches the old 4-speed tranny in favor of a new and shiny Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence and Shift Mode — CVTi-S. Before you groan, I should state that this transmission is a pretty good match for the 1.8-liter’s power band and my expectations for the Corolla’s performance.

Around town the CVTi-S makes the most of the 2ZR-FE’s 128 pound-feet, resulting in acceptable, but not exciting, levels of acceleration and throttle responsiveness. The setup seems to reward a patient driver with a smooth right foot. Roll onto the throttle and the CVTi-S will crossfade into the right part of the engine’s power band for passing power. However, sharp inputs are met with hesitation and hunting for the right ratio.

There’s a Sport button on the center console that in theory should liven the powertrain’s performance, but in practice just makes the throttle response a bit too sharp — leading to the sort of hesitation I just mentioned, at best. At worst, it makes the transmission exhibit the sort of ‘rubber band’ behavior where the revs are in constant flux, the acceleration is unpredictable and the vehicle feels unsettled.

If you insist on driving the Corolla quickly, instead slap the transmission into its manual-shifting mode and toggle through six static ratios with the paddle shifters. In this mode, the CVTi-S behaves a bit more like a conventional transmission and is able to deliver more predictable acceleration, better throttle response and better access to the 132 peak ponies.

2016 Toyota Corolla S Special Edition

Even at its best, only the most inexperienced drivers will be fooled into believing that the Corolla issporty, but I did like that its front-wheel drive performance was predictable and that its modest handling limits were well defined and felt safe.

The Corolla S is good for 32 combined mpg according to the EPA’s estimates, which breaks out to 29 city and 37 highway. Not bad for an old engine design.

A Corolla ECO LE trim level is also available. Using a new Valvematic head on the same 1.8-liter block, this more efficient variant is able to achieve 30 city, 40 highway and 34 combined mpg while making 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque.

Advanced driver-assistance systems

This will be an exceptionally short section because advanced driver-assistance systems (or ADAS) are practically nonexistent on the new Corolla. A backup camera is available as part of an Entune technology package — which we’ll get back to shortly — but that’s about the extent of it.

‘Lost’ writer plans to make his Xena happier, and maybe fans too

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“Xena: Warrior Princess” was full of slapstick and suffering, skimpy armor and sly subtext. It was the kind of show where the heroines returned from the dead multiple times — and now they’re being revived again for modern TV.

The classic TV series, a spin-off from “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” ran for six seasons from 1995 to 2001. It traced the haunted heroine’s search for redemption and amassed a passionate and long-lasting fandom. Lucy Lawless, the actress who defined the title role, has been vocal on Twitter supporting a reboot.When a “Xena” reboot first started sounding like reality in August, fans everywhere speculated whether the show’s original stars would reprise their roles as Xena and her sidekick Gabrielle (Renée O’Connor).

It’s now known that Lawless is not part of the reboot, though the show’s original executive producers, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert (Lawless’ husband), are attached to the new production. Without the chemistry between the two original leads, what can we hope for from the reboot? A lot, it sounds like.

On December 14, NBC named the show’s executive producer and writer:Javier Grillo-Marxuach of “Helix,” “Lost” and “Charmed.” He was also the creator of the TV version of the comics series “The Middleman” — a campy sci-fi send-up with a buddy relationship and a female action hero. He spoke with us about what he has in mind for the update.

“I watched the original ‘Xena’ as well as ‘Hercules’ during their initial run,” Grillo-Marxuach told CNET’s Crave blog. “Remember that was kind of a golden age for first-run syndication sci-fi at a time when the networks had precious little to offer us true believers. All of which is a long way of saying that I am VERY excited, both to be working with the producers of the original, as well as to be working on material that spoke to me from a time in television history that I remember very fondly.”

Fans are often concerned that a reboot will change a beloved series beyond recognition. Even though Grillo-Marxuach couldn’t reveal any juicy details yet, he did suggest one major change.

“Let me give you an itty-bitty peek at the store by telling you a few words you won’t be hearing from me: Grim. Gritty. Dire. Depressing,” he said. “What I want to do is to make something that is both fresh and new but that is also respectful and evocative of that feeling of fun and adventure that was so perfect in the original. I believe I heard it referred to somewhere as ‘the power, the passion, the danger.'”

That phrase from the original show’s intro may strike a promising chord for nostalgic viewers.

The strong bond between Xena and Gabrielle also made Grillo-Marxuach a fan of the original series, he said.
“These two characters were super-heroic women who appealed to me as a fan of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, as a fan of the sword-and-sandal genre, and as a fan of characters whose lives and struggles I found inspiring,” Grillo-Marxuach said. “There were a lot of action-adventure shows in first-run syndication in the mid-’90s, but the ones that endure are the ones whose characters truly spoke to the audience.”

Intriguingly, he added, “If we don’t get that central relationship right, and evolve it to where it can go in our modern televisual landscape, then we are sunk. And I don’t want to be sunk.”

The proposed “Xena” reboot is expected to debut in 2016.

Rinspeed’s ludicrous ∑tos concept actually exists, and it’s coming to CES

Back in October, Swiss auto company Rinspeed announced that it would bring an autonomous car concept called ∑tos to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this coming January. Disbelief was palpable, as all Rinspeed had to show for itself at the time weredrawings. Now, the company is back, complete with honest-to-goodness pictures and video.

The ∑tos (which is pronounced “Etos,” according to the video), holds true to many of the ideas laid out when the car was just a drawing. It’s still a BMW i8 and it’s still rocking a drone helipad under its rear canopy, although now the landing zone is loaded with LEDs so you can display images (or so Rinspeed can display the numerous suppliers that contributed to its project).

Rinspeed did a great job separating the ∑tos from the i8 off which the car is based. The front and rear are completely redone, with the front fascia sort of resembling a Dodge Charger. The rear, on the other hand, looks like something plucked straight from science fiction, as if the i8 didn’t already have that going for it. Yes, the pillar-hinged doors are present and accounted for.

The interior is both old and new. It’s new, in the sense that Rinspeed delivered on its promise of incorporating both dual widescreens and a steering wheel that folds into the dashboard during autonomous driving. On the other hand, the interior is a little old because most of it is swathed in thick, cream-colored leather that resembles so many 1980s-era concept cars.

So, now we have both picture and video evidence that the ∑tos is more than just some pie-in-the-sky Swiss dream. Head yonder Vegas way if you want to see this car in the flesh — flesh-colored interior leather, that is.

Microsoft to expand ‘promise of technology’ with new charity organization

Microsoft wants to bridge the technology gap.

The world’s largest software maker on Tuesday said it will expand its commitment to global philanthropy under a new organization called Microsoft Philanthropies. The organization will expand Microsoft’s existing charitable contributions like donating software to nonprofit organizations and supporting computer science education.

“Great technology alone is not enough,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “Despite global expansion, increased access, and democratization of technology, the benefits of technology are not yet reaching everyone in the world.”
Microsoft’s charitable initiatives are similar to other tech heavyweights in Silicon Valley trying to narrow the digital divide. Facebook, along with Samsung and Nokia through the initiative Free Basics, formerly known as Internet.org, are seeking ways to provide Internet and other technology to underdeveloped countries around the world. Among its endeavors, Google announced earlier this year it will award $20 million to nonprofits helping people with disabilities live more independently.

One of Microsoft Philanthropies’ goals will be to address a lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education around the world, Smith said. The company has previously announced it is committing $75 million to its computer science education program. Microsoft said it will provide details about the programs and partnerships next year.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said it also will expand its community outreach through digital literacy programs.
The company’s charitable organization will report directly to Smith and be overseen by Mary Snapp, a Microsoft vice president and the company’s first-ever female attorney. Lori Forte Harnick, a Microsoft general manager, will serve as the organization’s chief operating officer.

Microsoft said during its most recent fiscal year it gave away more than $1 billion, including in-kind donations of nearly $950 million and nearly $120 million in cash donations.

Paying via Apple, Samsung phones? More banks are ready to serve you

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Apple and Samsung have both picked up new bank partners in their battle to be your go-to for mobile payments.

Apple on Tuesday updated its Apple Pay page for participating banks and store cards to show an additional 66 banks, credit unions and other financial institutions in the US. That means the credit cards offered by those organizations can now be used for Apple Pay payments through an iPhone 6 or higher or an Apple Watch.

Samsung also announced that its Samsung Pay service has added 19 new credit card issuers, including PNC Bank and KeyBank, as well as several credit unions.

Apple Pay, launched in the US in October 2014, has about a year’s headstart over Samsung Pay, whichhit the US this past September. In the US, Apple Pay supports all the major credit cards through more than 850 card issuers, while Samsung Pay supports American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards from around 32 issuers.

Apple and Samsung aren’t alone in trying to turn your smartphone into a convenient way to pay for goods at the cash register. Google has its own mobile payments system called Android Pay and retailers themselves are getting into the game. Walmart, for instance, last week launched a payments app that works on both iPhones and Android devices.

For all their efforts, however, consumers haven’t been convinced that a phone is a more convenient way to pay for things than cash or a credit card. That could change as more banks partner with the services to make them more useful. Worldwide mobile payments are predicted to reach $1 trillion in value by 2017, more than double 2015’s estimated total, researcher IDC said in August.

Though Apple Pay leads the list in credit card issuers, Samsung Pay enjoys a technical advantage among retailers. Samsung’s payment system doesn’t require the same NFC (near-field communications) technology needed by Apple Pay and can work with any magnetic-strip card reader, making for greater appeal to merchants, who don’t have to upgrade their equipment. NFC is a mobile technology that lets a smartphone handle payments where retailers have the right gear in place.

Apple also leads overseas. Apple Pay is supported in the US and the UK through different banks and in Australia and Canada through American Express. Apple plans to push its payment service to Hong Kong, Singapore and Spain next year. Samsung Pay is currently available in the US and South Korea. Samsung plans to expand it to the UK, Spain and China.

Apple Pay works with the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus as well as the Apple Watch to pay for items at physical retailers. The service also works with the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4 and iPad Mini 3 for in-app purchases. Samsung Pay supports the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S6 Active and the Galaxy Note 5.

How ‘Jessica Jones’ is rescuing Marvel from itself

When the first “Iron Man”came out seven years ago, I shoveled popcorn in my mouth, loving Robert Downey Jr.’s top-shelf snark as much as anyone. But last summer, I sat in a theater watching “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and I was bored. Since Iron Man’s triumphant debut, almost every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the notable exception of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” has begun to feel like a giant, two-hour set-piece. Even the Netflix Original “Daredevil” disappointed, aiming for realism but falling back into bad comic-book writing.

Then “Jessica Jones” came out, and I was distinctly not bored. When the final credits rolled (only 48 hours after I clicked “play” on the first episode), I thought, “That wasn’t a good super-hero flick. That was a damn good show!”

Here’s how “Jessica Jones” is saving Marvel from itself:

It explores a new story. A superstrong woman faces off versus a mind-controlling baddie (who’s creepy as hell, to boot). Don’t be misled by the plot description: “Jessica Jones” tells a very real story of abuse, rape and survivor’s guilt, all under the guise of a straight super-hero story. The action’s great, but it never eclipses the story.

It plays off a new (to the MCU) genre. Before we ever see super powers on display, we follow Jessica Jones, slinking through the streets of New York City and snapping photos of cheaters for suspicious spouses — all the while accompanied by a soundtrack of lone warbling horns and tap-tapping cymbals. This is textbook neo-noir. But show runner S.J. Clarkson replaces the always-male detective of noir with the female title character. The femme fatale archetype is divided between characters who each cleverly fulfill and invert the role — the blonde is not a lover but a best friend, and the aloof love interest is a buff black guy.