It’s been two months since I posted here last. A lot’s been going on in my life, in the world, etc.. But I’m still around and for the first time in a while I have something I want to talk about.
Like a lot of people, I have been watching The Mandalorian. Unlike most of you, I’ve been…underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the first season! But this season has taken what I felt was something new and different in Star Wars and reduced to pretty much the same thing as all the other Star Wars stuff, and it’s just not for me.
I’m not here to complain about The Mandalorian, though. Trying not to rain on other people’s parades, etc, etc.. What watching this last season has shown me, though, is just how important audience buy-in is for something like Star Wars to work. And when I say “something like Star Wars,” I mean “tent-pole franchises that rely on an established fan base.” Because, let’s face it, if Star Wars didn’t have an established fanbase or a sizeable footprint in the scifi/fantasy zeitgeist, a lot of it just doesn’t stand up to even minor scrutiny.
It’s a truism at this point that Star Wars defiantly refuses to make sense at any point. Honestly, it doesn’t have to! Nobody cares that the Death Star makes no goddamned sense. The fact that there are no railings anywhere is a running joke, not an actual criticism. Stormtroopers are inexplicably punched in the helmet and for some reason this renders them unconscious and all people talk about is how cool the puncher is.
Why don’t they care? Well, because Star Wars as a franchise has already, somewhere along the line, done the work of earning the audience’s enthusiasm. For an awful lot of us, that enthusiasm was earned long, long ago when we were kids and our critical reasoning was less robust. For others of us, we stumbled across those scattered gemstones in the Star Wars canon that are honestly, legitimately good stories. And once we’re in, it can hold onto us for a goddamned LONG time.
The Mandalorian is an operative example of this phenomenon. As someone who had no interest in The Clone Wars series, the inclusion of Bo Katan was both perplexing and supremely uninteresting. Who is this person showing up Mando on his own show? Why should I give a crap about her problems? Well, if you were a pre-existing fan, then it’s great! If you weren’t? Well, tough luck, because the show is presenting you with no actual reasons to like or care about this character besides her cool outfit. If you don’t accept her coolness right off the bat, the rest of it won’t work, either.
Proving this is the inclusion of Luke Skywalker in the season 2 finale. Despite his appearance being completely random, his use as deus ex machina largely unearned, and the dialogue given to him wooden and stilted, I was still really excited to see Luke again. But that’s a cheap trick, though – it’s driven by nostalgia for how cool Luke was/might have been/is, not by anything actually present. If I didn’t know who Luke Skywalker is (somehow) and watched that episode, my reaction would probably be confusion and possibly even incredulity as he saws his way down that corridor and the Dark Troopers just sort of let it happen to them. “Why didn’t Mando just do that with the Dark Saber, then?” is one basic question one might ask. It is the purpose of a show like this to keep you from asking that question, because you are just too breathless from all the fun.
In cases like that, the “coolness” of the show exceeds the burden of realism. Star Wars is not alone here. Doctor Who does this (should have been shot by a Dalek long, long ago), every James Bond movie does this (remember in Golden Eye when Bond falls faster than the plane), Harry Potter does this (does Harry ever learn geometry?), Marvel does this (Cap’s shield makes no sense) – it’s a feature, not a bug. It’s just rare for me to experience both sides of that equation inside the same exact show or even the same episode.
Now, whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, a thing to aspire to or a thing to avoid – this I leave to you. But let me tell you, once The Mandalorian lost me, I couldn’t stop seeing all the holes in, well, everything. Even knowing what I know about Star Wars, I’d hoped for something more tangible.
The inevitable “Who Would Win: Star Trek Vs Star Wars” conversation I find endlessly tiresome these days. Oh, yes, back in my younger years I’d debate phasers vs turbolasers and Klingons vs stormtroopers all you’d want, but now I’ve come to understand that the argument is fundamentally pointless. Since none of the things introduced in either universe are real and any technical specifications given to them are essentially made-up numbers, there is quite literally no point in debating who would win in an “actual” fight, since there is no “actual” to be used and Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics simply cannot agree on common assumptions in order to have a reasonable argument.
Even as I write this, whole legions of people are out there in the darkness, sharpening their sticks to come for me if I don’t declare their faith the winner.
But I’m not here to argue this (again). I’m just not. The side which wins is whichever side the plot is on, ultimately. And anyway, my favorite answer is “Neither – it’s the Imperium of Man of Warhammer 40,000.” On that score, pretty much anybody whose spent much time delving into 40k lore are forced to concede the point, if only because the Imperial Navy of the 40k universe is RIDICULOUS in scale and destructive power and everything else.
And, of course, even as I write that, there are those people out there, sharpening their spears and baring their claws, ready to pounce.
So I’m here to do something totally different. I’m going to suggest that Star Wars, Star Trek, and Warhammer 40,000 all exist in the same universe. Don’t buy it? Okay, but listen to this:
The Galactic Empire
The Star Wars universe is described as being a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away. This means they can easily exist in the same universe, but the odds of them every crossing paths with the Federation or Imperium are exceedingly unlikely.
Compared to Star Trek, vessels in this galaxy are much faster than those in the Star Trek universe. Hyperspace is clearly a superior FTL system – more than just a warp drive, it is something that actually punches through the material universe of spacetime into a hyperspace dimension, enabling speeds that would make Mr. Scot insanely jealous. Their weapons technology is comparatively crude, but very powerful – turbolasers and blasters, in terms of their effects on targets, seem to have a lot in common with disruptors or phasers. Blasters even have a stun function (if rarely used).
Shields and armor are less sophisticated than the Star Trek universe and many ships suffer from glaring design flaws, but the ability for the engineers in this universe to build macro-structures (like the Death Star) cannot be underestimated.
And then there’s the Force. The people of this galaxy are connected by some interstellar energy field, indescribable and extremely powerful. Those who can commune with it can navigate ships through hyperspace, move things with their minds, even transcend death. Star Trek has very little comparable with this, but this is because they are a galaxy of much younger spacefaring species, as will be made clear soon.
The Federation of Planets
Meanwhile, in a galaxy distant from the Star Wars world and many ages later, a new (nascent) series of starfaring species are seeded onto many worlds throughout this galaxy. These beings more-or-less achieve interstellar civilizations at about the same time, astronomically speaking – within a few thousand years of one another – and spread out, come into conflict, make alliances, and so on. Their method of FTL travel – called Warp Drive – is a more primitive version of hyperspace, in a sense. It warps spacetime, but does not puncture it; ships glide along the wave made by the dilation effect (subspace).
Ships in this environment are small in comparison to Star Wars. Given that these civilizations are very young and there is no purpose (yet) for larger ships, this makes sense. Their weapon systems are similarly effective as those in the Star Wars world, though their computational, sensory, and command systems are vastly superior. Shields are better, targeting computers are better, and so on. If a battle were to occur between the Galactic Empire and the Federation, individual battles would be determined by the commanders involved. However, the sheer scale of the Galactic Empire and the vastly superior interstellar speed of its (more numerous) fleets would eventually crush the Federation, almost inevitably.
Then there is the matter of the Force. The Federation has no weapons to combat this since they are scarcely aware it exists. They don’t know it exists because they have yet to puncture spacetime in a way that would lead them to become aware of it. However, such powers do exist in the Star Trek world: the wormhole aliens of DS9, the “subspace predatory” species from another dimension described in one episode of TNG (can’t remember the title – the one where they discovered some aliens were kidnapping crew members and dissecting them without anyone’s knowledge), and even the empathic powers of the Betazoids. These can be seen as certain manifestations of “the Force” being used in material space. Psychic powers.
Parts of the Warp…
The Imperium of Man
Star Trek is set in the 23rd-24th centuries. The Imperium of Man exists from the 301st to the 400th centuries. Yes, that’s right – as much as 37,000 years in the future. Humanity is an elder starfaring race – they have, at this point, forgotten more about space travel and technology than either the Federation OR the Galactic Empire have ever learned. The Imperium rules a million worlds, possibly more, and is engaged in deadly, existential-threat-level wars on all sides at almost all times.
Their means of FTL travel? They enter what they call “the Warp” – a vestige of the ancient term bandied about by early humanity’s conquests in the age of Star Trek. But this is not a simple dilation of spacetime – they rupture it entirely, traveling into a kind of hyperspace. However, this hyperspace is now full of the psychic shadows of all the creatures who have lived before and been perverted by their thoughts and ambitions and dreams. In other words: the Force has long since fallen massively out of balance. There were no Jedi to keep the peace or, if there were, the Sith long ago rose up and destroyed them utterly. Now, hyperspace/The Warp is a realm of pure, terrifying chaos. It can, however, blink fleets across vast distances at speeds even the Galactic Empire cannot duplicate. Alternatively, it can devour fleets whole or send them lost and spinning through the mutating swirls of a hell dimension for millennia.
Star Trek exists in what the Imperium’s historians refer to as “the Dark Age of Technology,” where humans achieved dizzying heights of power and progress, but never realized that the Warp was as dangerous as it was. Eventually, they were cut off by warp storms and their civilization collapsed. The Imperium rose from the ashes, fighting every step of the way. It has blighted entire planets at a rate that would make the Death Star blush. It has access to technologies that would baffle any Starfleet engineer. Their elite soldiers are genetically engineered soldiers that would make Khan look like a designer baby intended for a photoshoot, not a firefight.
The Imperium obviously wins any battles with those other settings. They have psychic soldiers and psychic hunters the equal of any Jedi (the Culexus Temple, anyone? The Grey Knights?), they seem to have actually assimilated the Borg at some point in their history (Servitors), just as Q predicted (“you will surpass us”). They have gone so far beyond exploration that now they are the moldy remnants of a once great species in a way the Federation could scarcely comprehend. Humanity did it – it conquered the stars – only to discover that the stars are a terrible, cold place where war is unending and death assured.
And all of that is part of the same history of the universe – the Galactic Empire, in the thousand years before their time and ours, doubtlessly fell to the same conflagration that threatens to devour the Imperium of the Federation’s far future. The refugees of the Star Wars universe possibly seeded the very galaxy where humanity was born. Star Trek is the placid island in between two war-torn eras, where humanity still sees endless potential and hope for the future. But sooner or later, the daemons of the Warp will twist the hearts of mortals, and the Fall will begin anew.
Saw a tweet from Sam Sykes the other day which has been kicking around in my head ever since. I tried to find it to post, but I can’t seem to track it down, so you’ll just have to put up with a loose paraphrase. Essentially, Sykes, in response to the newest Star Wars movie, Solo, observed that he kinda preferred not knowing exactly what the Kessel Run was or what Han and Chewie got up to. He worries that this “obsessive canonization” cheats the audience out of their own imaginations, which are more evocative and powerful anyway.
The thing that stuck with me here is the simple fact that I love worldbuilding (and I get waaay too obsessive about it), but I also very much understand that worldbuilding does not create story and, in fact, it can potentially take away from story. I think Sykes has a really important point there – leaving spaces in your world building allows the reader to fill in blanks in potentially wonderful and exciting ways. As a writer, you shouldn’t even try to explain everything – you merely need to fill in enough so that the audience can do the rest.
Reading is a collaborative process. That sounds weird – reading is done alone and writing is done alone, so how is this possible? Well, the reader and the writer are still engaged in a kind of collaboration, just one that is separated by space and time. If you read a book of mine, you are getting my end of a story. You, however, as reader fill in many of the gaps in that story. And furthermore, you fill them in typically in a way that makes the story more interesting to you. The more I fill in for you, the less work you have to do (which can be good), but also it makes your imagination do less for you. Imagination is key, though – as a writer, you want your book to set the reader’s mind aflame with possibility and wonder. Too much detail can kill that magic.
Star Wars is a perfect example of this. Much of the magic of the original trilogy was rooted in the fact that it hinted at a much larger world, but didn’t bother to codify that world. You were left to wonder what Kessel was, why Tibanna gas was valuable, what the Old Republic was like, etc., etc.. For every mystery it revealed, it hinted at more mysteries. People sunk themselves into that world because they wanted to explore (and they could explore!).
Think, then, of the let-down that the prequel trilogy was. We saw the old republic and fought the clone wars and they were, well, kinda lame. The Jedi were dull. Even Palpatine was a bit of a bummer. Anakin Skywalker? We didn’t even like the guy. The desire to reveal too much about the world – to canonize even more – was a killer. When you throw in the obsessive canonization contained within the EU, we quickly arrive at one of the major reasons The Last Jedi got such negative reactions from hardcore fans. They felt as though they already knew what could and should happen, and then the movie changed that. They felt as though they were dealing with an already explained world and that TLJ was breaking the rules. And, in a sense, they were right, except that the world they thought they knew was being rewritten, and so all the old stuff doesn’t apply anymore. This, incidentally, is good for the long term health of Star Wars, but it doesn’t seem that way to people who have gotten themselves invested in what is “canon” and what isn’t.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that every detail you nail down in a story is a detail you can’t change later very easily. The more you nail down, the less can change. The less that can change, the more stale the world becomes until, at last, it is rigid and boring and only appeals to those old hardcore fans (who are always the minority, anyway). As a writer, then, it becomes an important challenge to figure out how much to reveal to keep the story evocative and immersive and how much to leave blank so that the audience can build an even better world into their imagination.
Greetings, gutter-born sewer people of the industrialized and enslaved Wetlands! It is I, Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes. It seems I am yet again driven to bellow oaths of vengeance from my throne of skulls, even though it was scarcely a half-moon’s time since last I came to berate thee. But some things will not stand, and so Vrokthar inscribes his mighty words into his slate so that you might tremble at their utterance.
It has come to my attention that you have liked a Thing that I did not. It matters not what. What matters is this:
You are wrong.
It matters not what this Thing is! However, for the sake of argument, let us say that this thing is a tale of high adventure in distant lands in ages long past. Perhaps about a cadre of barbarous raiders who hath usurped the authority of their rightful leader and have, therefore, sought succor from an ancient, wicked sorcerer who will smite the king’s champion on the field of battle. Yes, let us say it is about that.
Let us therefore say, for the sake of argument, that Vrokthar did not enjoy this tale. In this case, it is impossible that you have enjoyed it. No matter how feeble-brained or malnourished you are, that which Vrokthar believes must, by rights, be the belief of all. This is the Order of Things. Vrokthar is the Keeper of Universal Truths. I know this because the previous Keeper of Universal Truths, Hodrank the Horrible, was slain by mine own hand and his head removed and skull polished so that I might keep the Truths therein (just as Hodrank kept the Truths in the skull of his predecessor). As I hold the skull, so too do I dictate your experiences. If I say you are wretched, cowardly wetlanders, it is doubtlessly so. If I say you are diseased, half-dead wastrels, likewise the truth is readily apparent to those who have eyes.
Of note, those who contradict me will have their eyes gouged out. So it is written.
But Vrokthar digresses! The main thing is this: your opinions are worthless. If the Thing is obviously bad to Vrokthar, it is bad by nature. There can be no argument, because Vrokthar is right. And yet you pack of whining dogs cannot cease your howling! “We loved it!” sayeth you. “It was everything we hoped it would be!” you continue. Fie on such untruths! Your weak beer and over-cooked meats have weakened your minds or, worse yet, you are seeking to spread sedition among Vrokthar’s tribesmen!
Yes! I see your plot, now! Ha! You are undone! Your inexplicable love for the Thing can only be rationalized as a duplicitous ploy! Clearly you know the Thing to be terrible – even a half-blind child could see this! – so you are simply lying to gain favor among the weak and impressionable! But of course such an obvious ploy is doomed to failure! As Vrokthar knows the Thing is terrible, so too will his followers – they are loyal and, more importantly, know that I’m carrying around Hodrank’s skull full of Truths.
The logic here is clear and obvious! Vrothar is Right! As Vrokthar is Right, so therefore must those who disagree be Wrong. The Wrong must be purged so that the Right may claim their lands and loot their halls. That’s just Nature for you. Woe to thee who loves the Thing that Vrokthar hates! Thy name will be burned from the sagas, just as this terrible movie shall be expunged from the minds of the Righteous! Yes, flee from my wrath – the hunt only makes the kill sweeter. In time, you will see that mighty Vrokthar is right about that, as well.
Note: The movie’s been out a few months now, so any spoilers you stumble across herein are your own damned fault.
I loved Rogue One. It is my favorite movie in the Star Wars franchise short of Empire Strikes Back, just edging out Return of the Jedi for the second spot. A lot of people didn’t like it as much though. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion, but I think the movie deserves an explanation for the root of my glowing praise. So, let me answer the movie’s criticisms with why I feel those perceived weaknesses are actually strengths.
Critique 1: It Didn’t Feel Like a Star Wars Movie
Okay, so Rogue One does not have the same tone or style of the other Star Wars movies. This, of course, was intentional, as this movie is not meant to be exactly like the other Star Wars movies. This is one of its chief advantages, in my opinion.
First off, last week I explained how I felt that Lego Batman was a miserable slog primarily because the source material has been permitted to stagnate. Same thing has been happening to Star Wars for some time now. My chief criticism of The Force Awakens is that, while I love the characters, the plot of the movie was formulaic, dull, and often nonsensical – Abrams is just pushing the buttons labelled “Star Wars” and not really doing anything new and interesting in terms of plot, setting, or even dramatic tension. Star Wars, it is assumed, has to be a family story about the mystical struggle between the Light and Dark Side. Throw in an alien monster (at least 1 per movie, every movie), one lightsaber duel, one space battle, and one commando raid of some kind and I’ve just described every single Star Wars film with two exceptions: Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One.
Rogue One is not a family story. It’s not even a tale of good vs evil. It’s a war movie – specifically, a straight up homage to World War 2 movies like The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, and The Guns of Navarone.
This is a story about a bunch of rag-tag commandos with conflicting priorities who team up to to take out a fascist superweapon and, in the process, almost all die. They gun down stormtroopers. They go undercover. Get locked inside restricted facilities. They fight on top of high towers and/or mountains. They have a sniper. There’s always one dude you aren’t sure you can trust. The mission seems impossible. No one will remember their names. And on and on and on…
We always knew the Empire was the Nazis, but this is the first movie to actually show what that means.
Yeah, it’s not your average Star Wars story, but it’s a story that makes all the other Star Wars stories (1) make more sense and (2) gain a greater sense of what’s at stake. The Empire is depicted in its full brutality here in a way the other films don’t bother. We get a broader sense of the scope of the world and the risks people have to take. So, no – there are no Jedi, no Skywalkers, no glorious victories, no larger-than-life stunts. It’s regular people trying to do incredible things. I love that.
Critique 2: The Characters Aren’t Greatly Developed
Okay, on the one hand I can see what you’re saying – they could have done a better job in some spots of making these people more rounded and involved. That said, I actually liked the stripped down character development they got. First off, I don’t think the character development was weak, in particular – it just asked you in many places to draw your own conclusions. These aren’t people who discuss their feelings regularly anyway, so there was no Luke-and-Leia-on-the-Forest-Moon confessionals. For what it’s worth, I understood their motivations just fine. I know why Cassian didn’t shoot Jyn’s father. He wants to believe Jyn is right – he doesn’t want to kill innocent people anymore. It eats at him the whole movie. Does he come out and say this? No. He never does and, yeah, its unclear. Hell, I could be wrong (though I don’t think so).
Then again, what is gained here is that this movie allows us to connect with the characters not as characters but in the sense that they can (and are supposed) to be ciphers for us to occupy. This was the same tactic used in those World War 2 raid movies – character development was always sparse, and it was sparse to allow the audience (many of them actual WW2 veterans) to put themselves in the shoes of the characters. You don’t really give a crap what Clint Eastwood’s character’s name is in Where Eagles Dare. You just want to picture yourself with the MP40 gunning down Nazis.
In this same way, I submit to you the following: Rogue One is the film impersonation of every single time you and your friends pretended to be soldiers of the rebellion on school playgrounds from around 1980 until 1990 (with some variation given your actual age, of course). I know me and my friends used to play as rebels getting blown up (and blowing up) stormtroopers in my backyard for years and years. Did our “characters” have names? Not really – we were “the guy with the super-huge gun” and “the guy who knows jedi powers but isn’t a jedi and, oh yeah, he’s blind and really cool.” It’s that. They made a movie about that. Yeah, the character development isn’t super deep, but it doesn’t have to be to get the job done.
Critique 3: The Whole “Death Star Plan Transmission” Was Silly
Okay, first off: debating “realism” in Star Wars is a ridiculous place to start from. I’d follow up with this: if you gave this movie crap but didn’t get frustrated by The Force Awakens, you’re being a raging hypocrite, because this movie made vastly, vastly more sense than any single part of that movie.
But okay, let’s entertain the debate for a moment. Why is it so hard to get the Death Star master plans, anyway? Here are my suggestions:
- They are made deliberately hard to transmit because they are super-secret plans.
- There is no precedent for nor is their evidence of any kind of “Galactic Internet.” Transmission of incredibly complex and dense data across interstellar distances is likely very, very difficult.
- The world-shield on the data haven planet made it hard to get the data transmitted.
- The data could not be instantly copied and distributed to multiple Rebel ships because of how large the files likely were and the rebel ships were not equipped to transmit such data easily.
- They had to keep it on that one chip because that chip represented the easiest, most secure method of transport for the data which, again, was of such size it could not be easily contained on the Tantive IV.
- R2-D2 is magic.
There, settled. Now it’s your turn to explain to me how the Starkiller Base is supposed to work, how some fringe group built it, and why it’s so damned easy to blow up, and the astrocartographical phenomenon that allowed people in star system A see the explosions in system B as two distinct points of light rather than one tiny blip.
Overall, I loved this movie. It was tense, it was different, and it makes me like all the other movies more, which is itself a reward for watching that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I hope to see more like this – more departures from the Star Wars script, more risks being taken to make the franchise last and be fresh and interesting. More franchises could use such treatment.
This is going to start with a gaming story and then will wrap up somewhere in the neighborhood of me talking about Star Wars, so set your Geek Shields to maximum, folks.
I ran an RPG once that was set in Medieval Japan. As the setting was ostensibly historical, I used the most realistic ruleset I could find, which was (and is) namely The Riddle of Steel. TRoS has a brutally realistic combat system, which I loved. I loved the idea of extremely high-stakes samurai fights. It was going to be so cool.
And then the samurai player took a samurai sword to the groin in his first fight (he engaged an armored opponent while wearing only a loin cloth, which was seriously cool and also really stupid), nearly died, and was laid up healing for the next few months of in-game time. He was also literally emasculated. Unsurprisingly, for the rest of the campaign all the heroes tried very hard to avoid combat with anybody. There were precious few samurai duels and way, way more “stab him from behind in the dark” kinds of things. Which was fine, but not exactly what I had imagined in my mind.
Because of its realism, TRoS basically robbed all main characters of their plot armor – that mystical force that makes main characters invulnerable to everyone but the really scary bad guys. This is fine if what you’re going for is gritty realism, but very much not fine if you’re trying to tell tales of high adventure. The more realistic you get, the fewer superheroes prove to exist. Batman gets taken down by a Saturday Night Special in the waistband of a punk he thought he put down. Inigo Montoya is out of action after that first knife in the guts. Han and Luke never make it off the Death Star.
I see a lot of people constantly ragging on Imperial/First Order stormtroopers for “not being able to hit anything.” It’s a constant meme at this point, and it kinda annoys me. For one thing, with the singular exception of the Battle of Endor (which, yes, was totally stupid), stormtroopers are pretty damned good at shooting things. They kill pretty much every other unnamed force they are faced with, from Geonosis all the way to Maz Kanata’s Tavern. It’s just they can’t seem to get many hits in on anybody who’s got a name. Why? Plot armor, obviously – you know it, I know it, everybody knows it. So why complain? Do you actually want Stormtroopers to be able to gun down main characters regularly? Do you want them to constitute a real existential threat to our protagonists?
If the answer is “yes,” then you’re asking for Star Wars to tell a different type of story – one less about pulp novel heroics and more about grim, gritty “cost of war” kinds of stuff. Less John Wayne and more Oliver Stone, right?
If the answer is “no,” then consider what stormtroopers, for all their inability to hit anybody with a name, add to the story. They make it bright and loud and exciting. Even though we know the stormtroopers won’t kill our heroes, they might get injured (Leia!), might have their ride destroyed (Poe!), might have to be rescued at the last moment by a friend (Finn!), and so on and so forth. They are an important plot device, one that forces the heroes to run, to fight, to undertake heroics, and so on – it’s what we want out of the movie. Stop being so dismissive of their point and pretending they’re inept when they aren’t actually portrayed that way at all.
Now, I guess you could just use them more sparingly and set things up so the heroes are harder to hit or something. Or maybe we can watch our heroes be more stealthy. But, in the immortal words of the late Han Solo: “Bring em on! I prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around!”
Which pretty much sums up exactly what the audience thinks, too.
Innumerable are the reviews and commentary on The Force Awakens, so I don’t want to pile on. Overall I enjoyed the movie, though I readily concede it was hardly spotless nor was it terribly heady. I do, however, have one thing I think needs explaining: Rey and the Force.
I would caution you against spoilers here, but the movie has been out for a month now, so if you’re that worried about having the movie spoiled, you probably should have seen it by now.
A lot of folks out there seem to have a problem with Rey and how Rey goes from “junkyard girl” to “OMG jedi badass!” over the course of the movie, seemingly on her own. Just a brief sampling of comments I’ve seen:
WTF? How does Rey figure out how to use a Jedi Mind Trick when it takes Luke THREE MOVIES to get there?
How is that Kylo Ren, who can stop freaking blaster bolts in mid-air loses to some chick who is just picking up a lightsaber for the FIRST TIME?
Why is it, all of a sudden, Rey can fly the Milennium Falcon better than Han and fight with a lighsaber better than Kylo and…(rant rant rant)
It goes on like that for a while. Now, this could turn into a post about the double standards for male and female heroic leads in action movies and how the objections to Rey are, at their heart, a basic rejection that a girl could be that badass. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to explain to you all why Rey’s sudden, amazing skills are not only totally believable but entirely in keeping with Star Wars mythology.
How does Rey magically go from nobody to proto-jedi without ever having instruction?
BECAUSE SHE JUST FUCKING DOES IT!
The Force is not a correspondence course. It’s not like working towards your bachelors or studying for the SAT. It is not a quantitative entity. What does Yoda tell Luke on Dagobah over and over and over:
You must unlearn what you have learned! Let go your conscious self!
Do or do not. There is no try.
Feel the Force flowing through you!
Luke: I…I don’t believe it!
Yoda: That is why you fail.
This message is carried throughout the series, even in the prequels. The Force is not some kind of thing you earns points in, like an RPG (and I feel RPGs have really messed with our heads about this.). It is not a linear model of progression, where you master simple stuff first and more complicated stuff later. There is no simple or complicated stuff. It is all just stuff.
The Force operates on instinct (Obi Wan: “Let go your conscious self and act on instinct.”). Instinct is not something you necessarily have to learn. Granted, instinct can be learned (through exhaustive repetition) and can be improved through discipline, hence why a Jedi Academy ever existed at all, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, a lot of people in the Star Wars universe go around using the Force all the time and never realize it. Consider little Anakin Skywalker and his superhuman pod racing abilities, or Luke’s capacity to bull’s-eye womp rats with his T-16. As for Rey and her “sudden” abilities, they really aren’t so sudden at all. She can do a mind trick because she’s already done one before! Remember this scene:
She just up and takes a valuable droid from a scavenger and tells him to scram. What’s he do? He scrams! THAT’S A JEDI MIND TRICK, PEOPLE!
Rey is able to become badass at the end because she actually starts to understand how she has been able to do things she has always done. It takes the stress of the New Order’s pursuit of her to unlock that potential. Then she does exactly what Obi Wan and Yoda and Qui Gon have been telling their students for ages: She acts on instinct. That’s how the Force works, folks.
I know this sounds implausible or counter-intuitive to a lot of you, but you really have to listen to the teachings of the Jedi Masters we have in the films. The Force is counter-intuitive! That’s what makes it so hard to use – you can’t think about using it, you should just use it.
Just like Rey does.
Star Wars is on everybody’s mind lately, so I figured I’d revisit this little topic: how to fix the Star Wars prequels. And boy, howdy, do they need fixing.
Now, in order for this post to make sense, you’re going to need to read my opinion on what to do about Episode I since, obviously, this builds off of that one. Also, this post stands to be a bit longer than the previous one, since Episode II is an absolute train-wreck of a movie that is watchable only because Sam Jackson, as Mace Windu, pulls out a purple lightsaber and says:
Oh, and Jango Fett, who is also cool, even if completely underutilized and involved in bizarre plot elements.
Anyway, here’s what I’d do in the (supremely unlikely) scenario that I was in charge of somehow overhauling the prequels:
Step 1: OH MY GOD, THAT CREEPY LOVE STORY!
The absolute most unbearable part of Episode II – so unbearable as to be completely unwatchable – is the love story between Anakin and Padme. I think I’d rather get shot in the leg with a BB gun seven or eight times than watch those scenes again. Ugh! Anakin with that creepy stalker vibe, Padme with her awkward dialogue…bleh.
The problem here (beyond the terrible, awful, no-good script) is that we, the audience, can never accept Padme and Anakin’s relationship as plausible. Anakin comes off as a lunatic and Padme’s attraction to him is wholly inexplicable.
The Solution: The film should begin with Anakin and Padme already courting. No “falling in love on Naboo” crap – Padme, who is already infatuated with Jedi (established in the last movie) and firmly put off by Obi Wan at the conclusion of Episode I (see my previous post on this) is making eyes at the attractive young Anakin. Since the first movie didn’t have their ages as far apart, the relationship isn’t as crazy – they are both teenagers, and teenagers are apt to do crazy things. So, along those lines:
- When Obi Wan and Anakin are assigned to guard Padme from assassins, we get a private moment between Padme and Anakin where they kiss and discuss their secret love and whether Obi Wan knows. Anakin says Obi Wan doesn’t, but Obi Wan totally does. Ani and Obi Wan fight about it. During the argument, Amidala is almost killed (since they weren’t paying attention). Cue chase scene.
- Anakin is so pissed at Obi Wan for the attack almost succeeding, he insists on guarding Padme personally over Obi Wan’s objections.
- They do NOT go to Naboo (if you’re trying to assassinate the Senator from Naboo, hiding her ON NABOO makes no damned sense). They go to Tatooine. Cue glorious homecoming for hero Ani, he reunites with his mom (now married), they have the best of good times. Padme sees what a great guy this Anakin is and Ani tells her how he doesn’t do what the Jedi Council just tells him to – he’s his own man!
- They are married by a Hutt, just for funsies.
Step 2: Clones and Fetts and Bug Aliens and…what the hell is going on?
Obi Wan is trying to unravel a mystery – clone army, Count Dooku, Separatist factions, etc., etc.. The thing about a mystery, though, is that we should feel some kind of suspense while it remains unsolved and we should understand the consequences of any given reveal. Instead, we watch Obi Wan walk around Kamino with a befuddled look on his face while we, also, are befuddled. And then Jango Fett tries to kill him for some goddamned reason. As cool as that fight is, we are left sitting there going, “What the hell, bro?”
The Solution: This needs to change. Obi Wan needs to know the stakes. Obi Wan needs to understand the urgency. When he arrives at Kamino, he should figure out the plot. He knows the Separatists are going to attack. He knows somebody ordered this army so the Republic could fight it. He knows they are about to get in a big goddamned war unless he can come up with a way to diffuse the situation. How do we do this?
- Jango Fett is the assassin on Coruscant. He gets away, but not before Obi Wan gets a good look at him.
- Investigating Jango Fett leads Obi Wan to Kamino, where he discovers the Clone Army of Fetts and learns the clones are going to invade Geonosis to start a war. Jango Fett tries to kill him. In the battle, Obi Wan’s long range communicators are damaged on his ship. There isn’t enough time to warn Coruscant of the battle plans, but there is enough time to go to Tatooine and get help.
- Obi Wan confronts Anakin, who has decided he wishes to leave the Jedi. Anakin refuses to go with him. Obi Wan tasks Ani with warning the Jedi Council, at least, and heads off on his own.
- Obi Wan is captured, as before. Count Dooku is revealed. Cue evil laughter.
- Anakin senses his friend’s impending doom. He tells Padme and his mother he must go to help him. Padme decides to go with.
- They are captured, they fight monsters, there’s a big battle, Dooku escapes, etc.. I guess Yoda also fights. Ani keeps his hand, though.
Step 3: Anakin Turns
Okay, but the movie ain’t over yet, right? We haven’t murdered any sand people yet. In the original, this murder seems to be proof positive that Ani and Padme wouldn’t get married, but they do anyway, causing everybody in the world to say “what is WRONG with you, Padme?” It doesn’t work and it doesn’t make much progress towards Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, either, since he seems to forget that ever happened by the start of Episode III.
The Solution: So, we change it up and, with that, change the ending.
- After saving Obi Wan’s life from Dooku and so on, the two of them shake hands and Obi Wan tells him he can go – the Jedi won’t keep him if he won’t stay.
- Ani returns home to find his mother stolen and dead, etc.. He loses his shit – this is Obi Wan’s fault, for dragging him away from where he should be. He kills all the sand people.
- There, sitting in the desert, his lightsaber in his lap, he contemplates the horror of what he’s done – no one can forgive him for this. He is doomed.
- Enter Palpatine: he strides out of the desert gloom, clapping. “Well done, young Skywalker. I knew you had potential.”
- Anakin turns (or starts to) at the conclusion of the film. He goes back with Padme, he stays with the Jedi, but as Palpatine’s agent.
There. This plan I feel manages to thin down the intrigue (which was perplexing and boring for the most part), amp up the action, and make the character development more sensible. And you still get the Clone Wars, except now, Ani has a shadowy mentor nobody else knows about, who has dirt on him and can expose him if he walks, and is gradually pulling him towards the dark side. In other words, Episode III.
Let me start off by posting a few memes I’ve come across in the past 48 hours:
Now, I’ve talked about this before, but I feel the need to reiterate. You might think I’m a bad geek for saying this, or insist that I don’t really love Star Wars (which would be utterly false), but let me say this right now:
GET OVER YOURSELVES, YOU RAVING NUTBALLS!
Look, I get it – you don’t want somebody spoiling Star Wars for you. Fine. That’s fair. Spoiling somebody else’s fun is a jerk move. That, however, doesn’t mean you get to tromp around the internet lighting fire to anybody who wants to discuss a movie they just saw and didn’t appropriately warn you beforehand. You’re acting like spoiled children. It’s embarrassing.
I don’t want the movie spoiled for me, either. If some jerk comes along and deliberately spoils the movie in the comments of this post, for example, that makes them a consummate ass and no friend of mine. But accidental spoilers are a different thing entirely. So is having a conversation about an experience other people haven’t had. Even beyond all that, there is the simple fact that it is just a goddamned movie and you should act like a fucking grown-up.
It’s times like this that make me feel like I’m not a geek after all. I mean, hell, I play (and sometimes write) role-playing games, I have a Warhammer 40,000 hobby, I write science fiction and fantasy, I’ve LARPed, gone to movie premieres in costume, I love Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and the rest of it…but I’m not a fanatic. I’m just not. I am not freaking out right now. I’m excited to see The Force Awakens (I see it tomorrow), but I’m not bouncing off the walls, eight-year-old-on-Christmas-Eve excited.
Irrational, blind enthusiasm for things is always, has always been, something that freaks me out. People who paint their chests at football games are basically an alien species. The people who scour every second of movie trailers to reveal the smallest hints at prospective plot points are as bizarre to me as Donald Trump supporters (well, maybe not Trump…how about Cruz supporters? Yeah, that’s still pretty freaking gonzo nuts). I do not get it. I recognize that it’s a central part of our species – fanaticism is as old as ideas themselves – but I am not comfortable with it. I cannot turn off my rational brain and allow the emotional one to take the reins. Not over something like a movie, anyway.
So go forth, enjoy the movie, discuss it with friends. But don’t go burning bridges with Uncle Hank because he accidentally let something slip. Don’t cuss out some teenage cousin because they “ruined” something so insignificant as a Star Wars movie. Yes, I said insignificant. Because it is. I might love it, you might love it, but ultimately it’s just a movie about things that never happened in a place that doesn’t exist. It probably doesn’t even rise to the level of art (and if it did, spoiling it would be impossible, anyway – you can’t “spoil” The Great Gatsby or VanGogh’s Starry Night). It should never rise to the level where we would jeopardize our friendships and emotional well-being over it. That’s childish.
I remember once I had a book spoiled for me (accidentally) by a friend. I snapped at her about it. She snapped back. It was then that I realized she was right. It was childish and selfish of me; I had no right to act that way.
Neither do you.
- The Iron Ring is coming off a hell of a run after being selected as Book Bub’s “Fantasy pick of the day” about a week ago. It peaked at #2 overall on Amazon for Fantasy e-books! It is still on sale for 0.99, but probably not for much longer. Act now!
- My short story, “Adaptation and Predation” has been published by Escape Pod science fiction podcasts. It’s the first time an audio recording of one of my stories has been done, which is pretty damned cool. The story is set in The Union of Stars, so if that world of mine had piqued your interest at all, go and check it out now – it’s free!
I just read a piece by Aliette de Bodard on Tor.com about how oppressive systems perpetuate themselves. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (good read, by the way – nice, fast paced, and very Star Wars-ish). Also somewhat coincidentally, I’ve been working on another book in The Saga of the Redeemed that, in fact, deals with popular revolution against an oppressive regime.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that revolution is very much on my mind.
(please pause as the NSA zeroes in its internet snoopers…)
De Bodard’s article has it exactly right – oppressive systems do not persist in spite of the people but with their approval (tacit or begrudging as it may be). One of the things I liked about Wendig’s novel is that he goes out of his way to mention and show how people put up with the Galactic Empire for so long because that was basically how it was done. That was just how the world was. Yeah, they sucked, but if you kept your head down and didn’t cause trouble and just went along to get along, you’d be more-or-less fine. Luke Skywalker, remember, was going to apply to the Imperial Naval Academy in Episode IV. Not the rebels. The rebels, I’m betting, didn’t offer much in the way of career options or recruiting centers. Yeah, young Luke wanted off the farm, but he didn’t want off it that badly that he was going to throw in his lot with a bunch of crazy terrorists.
Wendig also tries to demonstrate how messy the transition from Galactic Empire to New Republic is going to be, too. For one thing, as the tagline says, the war isn’t over. There’s a lot of Galactic Empire out there, folks, and it isn’t about to roll over and die. Well, not all of it. Some of it will, some of it will go rogue, other parts will keep fighting. Criminal syndicates will take over backwater systems. Vigilantes will run amok. Basic systems and services will break down. Lots and lots and lots of people will die. That’s just for starters, too, and during that time you are going to have a lot of people asking one question:
“Was the Galactic Empire really all that bad? Was it worse than this?”
In Crane Brinton’s The Anatomy of Revolution, he talks about something called the Thermidorian Reaction – the period of calm that follows the furor of revolution. Most interestingly, this reaction sees the relaxation of some revolutionary policies and, in the end, results in the new order sharing a number of potent similarities with the old order. In other words, the revolution, in the end, doesn’t change society half as much as it thinks it will. The Russian people weren’t a hell of a lot better off under the Soviets than they were under the Czars; the new system of the United States wasn’t all that much different than Britain; the current rulers of Egypt are scarcely any different than Mubarak. Heck, it’s basically the same people in charge. Again.
In the Saga of the Redeemed, particularly in the next book or three, I want to deal with the awkwardness and horrible mess that is involved in “fixing society.” Tyvian, bound by the ring’s influence, has to act to do what is “right,” but what is “right” doesn’t always translate to what is “best” (as he points out strenuously and at length). Indeed, there seems to be some doubt on his part that any improvement at all is possible, especially given that, in the end, all new world orders are made up of the same things: human beings.
While I am perhaps not as cynical as my protagonist (heaven forfend!), I do wonder if people understand what they’re advocating for when they propose to tear down an oppressive system. We make it sound so easy sometimes – the American Revolution was won at the Battle of Yorktown, and that was it (and yet, in 1812, we were basically still fighting it). One battle – one war – does not a revolution make. Society changes slowly, very slowly; it’s like the melting of a glacier. Sometimes a big hunk falls off all at once and there’s a huge crash, but that was made possible by a long, long process of the supporting ice melting out from underneath. Even then – even after it falls – it will just freeze back again come winter unless we are vigilant (or we raise the ambient temperature of the globe sufficient to…actually, you know what? Different discussion for a different time.).
The revolutions of the world are not just the stories of Luke Skywalker or George Washington. They are also the story of the pain, suffering, and deaths of thousands or even millions of souls trapped beneath the wheels of history. If you need a reminder of just how ugly a thing that can be, you need look no further than the barbed wire fences surrounding the nation of Hungary and the poor, starving people huddled on the other side.