Tag Archives: star wars

Rogue One Trailer Drops annnnd People Get Upset

I feel like I’ve put up a lot of stuff about Star Wars on my blog in the last year or so. In a way it’s sort of odd because my Star Wars fandom peaked when I was younger and as an adult I don’t have that same pull towards the franchise that I did before. I still really enjoy it for what it is, but the original trilogy don’t really do it for me like they used to. That doesn’t mean that I can’t have fond memories and that The Force Awakens didn’t give me goosebumps or make me emotional at times, because it did.

The trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out this week. Since it isn’t a continuation of the main story like The Force Awakens was there isn’t as much of that whole, initial ZOMFGOMGOMGOMG reaction. The trailer serves to introduce the lead character in the upcoming prequel to A New Hope and shows what the main plotline will be; following the character who stole the plans to the original Death Star. Along the way you see stormtroopers, rebels, hear klaxons, see a lot of capes, AT-ATs and hear a familiar, if not muted melody.

Essentially, we are getting another glimpse into the Star Wars universe and it’ll follow another kick ass female lead — Jyn — on her journey. Cool, right? Apparently not. A simple Google search of Rogue One right now brings up alleged “controversies” and a brief look at the YouTube comments on the trailer show the kind of shit that we’ve grown accustomed to; people being shitlords.

A tweet that I saw from Kumail Nanjiani of Silicon Valley fame on April 7th really kinda hammered home the whole thing for me.

He breaks it down so simply and eloquently. When he was a kid all of the stuff that he saw had kickass white guys as the leads and he, as a kid, had to wish that he was like the lead character. I’m a white dude, which puts me in a privileged class of people. No, my life hasn’t always been easy and I still have a lot of struggles that I deal with on a daily basis. That being said, I’ve never been left wanting or feeling left out when I want to escape into a movie, television show or book. I’m always represented.

In a way, I’m bummed that other kids didn’t get the same experience as I did growing up. I’m bummed that girls growing up had Disney princesses but didn’t have their own Luke Skywalker or Han Solo to play as. Sure, there was Princess Leia and she had her moments, but she still felt like an afterthought a lot of the time and like a built in love interest for first Luke, then Han. I could aspire to be a hero who fended off the bad guys because I was shown it, while female characters have historically been on the sidelines cheering for the hero and waiting for his manly return to plant a kiss on his cheek.

Being excluded feels crummy, we’ve all been excluded at one time or another, and having films, television, books and more excluding less and less people isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing. It isn’t a sign of an overly-PC society looking to simply not rock the boat or make people upset, it’s a sign of progress and trying to reach broader audiences. Nor is it a sign of some sort of strange, dystopian future brooding over the horizon of a female-dominated society where men are castrated and forced to do dishes in high heels at the whim of their amazonian female overlords.

Women have been doing the same shit as men for a long time now, sometimes without the same amount of credit or acceptance. Maybe instead of simply having a knee-jerk reaction of “WELL FUCK THIS SHIT, THIS ISN’T FOR ME, YOU JUST LOST A LOYAL FAN,” those who have such reactions should hold back a bit and reflect on how they feel. Those feelings are very real and are not actually wrong. It sucks feeling left out. Instead those people should stop and think about how everyone else felt while the straight white male rode roughshod over popular culture and society and everyone else was left feeling that way, but were told that their opinion didn’t matter.

There will still be kickass dudes in Rogue One, no doubt. There are a few top-billed guys in the movie who no doubt will do some cool stuff, not all of them are white, either. Because really, in what sort of future will there only be kickass white guys? I for one and excited about Rogue One and will do my damnedest to go see it when it opens just like I would for any other Star Wars movie.

It is Star Wars after all, right?

Of Art, Viability, Respect and Genre; or, Self Reflection and Forgiving George Lucas

Some of the topics that I grapple with from time-to-time have to do with commercial viability and creator intent. As a writer, I’ve always felt that my strengths were more along the lines of the absurd, strange and thought-provoking nature. The first novel project that I worked on was predicated on wanting to make big, bold statements and to do so through a carefully-tuned, broken narrative structure. It may have been a bit of a large undertaking considering my lack of experience in writing novels and the commitment to the art of long form.

When I reflect on that story, sometimes I cringe and other times I get nostalgic and want to start it all over again and make it work. Basically, I always looked at writers who were presenting stories that were a bit different and looked up to them, wanting to be able to add to that lexicon of work some day. I saw writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami and even David Foster Wallace and that was what I wanted to do. Granted, my technical knowledge and interests might not line up with some of them, but I always wanted to create something that was frustrating for all of the right reasons and was left open to interpretation. A lot of my short fiction that I produced throughout college fell along those lines, including tales of god-like airline passengers that crash a jet to make a point, a young army veteran with a sheet of metal lodged in his head that kept him teetering the line between lunacy and lucidity and scenes of extreme, casual violence.

When I ventured off on my new journey into writing in late 2010 I found myself in a bit of an impasse. That crazy novel that I had began back in 2006 hadn’t gotten very far and looking back at it, well, it was a mess. I had some complicated ideas for it written out somewhere, but the actual novel itself had a lot of problems. Having never written anything longer than 20-or so pages before I found myself having a difficult time keeping tenses correct, which was only compounded by taking weeks and months off in between writing sessions and opting to write in a stream of consciousness fashion. This led to some utterly profound and interesting segments as well as some complete garbage that simply couldn’t be saved.

So the idea was to simply start over. The thing is, I was severely “out of shape” mentally. While I’ve tried to never masquerade as anything beyond what I am, I always considered myself a pretty smart guy, but not reading or writing on a consistent basis for a few years while working a menial, soul-sucking job left me without much left in the tank. Picking up old favorites to read was difficult, trying and frustrating, my mind quickly wandering elsewhere, which was a problem. I felt like I had simply let any intelligence and wit that I once had fade and degrade beyond repair. If you’ve known me for a long time, you’ll know how absolutely soul-crushing and difficult this was for me. But I persevered, I kept trying and eventually that hazy cloud began to roll back a little bit at a time.

I became deeply entrenched in MMA and kickboxing, simply because I had been involved in both for so long and it was the world that I knew, as well as the world that knew me. A large part of my identity after college was tied in with those sports and my work writing about both (kickboxing, mainly), so I rolled with it. One day I sat down and decided to work on a short story, with the concept being imagining what it would feel like for a down-and-out fighter who was once incredibly famous and successful to be to get out of bed with all of his physical and emotional aches and pains. I wrote for many hours straight and eventually found myself sitting on 14,000 words and a lot more left to say. I had unwittingly found myself a new novel project, which would go on to be “The Godslayer.”

Once again, in retrospect, I see problems in that book from on the sentence-level to the conceptual-level. Agents and publishers didn’t seem overly interested in it, but were encouraging for me to keep going and come back to them with something marketable. Men don’t buy books, never mind sports fans, they said. I shrugged, figured that with my contacts within the industry I could release it, get some support and go from there. I also wanted to do so without spending money, which was a very big mistake. I think that “The Godslayer” is a good story and I’m glad that I told it, but I think that my exuberance for releasing something and hoping for some commercial success may have clouded my better judgement in giving it the fine-tuning that it deserved.

I’m talking revisions, editing, the works. Maybe some day I’ll revisit it, or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll someday try to wipe it from existence, who knows. That cloud that I spoke of before had rolled back some, but I found myself back in a familiar place again; working hard, long hours and finding myself mentally and physically unable to do much else beyond work and be grumpy. My identity being tied to MMA and kickboxing led to me getting more and more work in the field, going deeper and deeper into the well.

My dream of being a successful novelist was still there, but I had placed it on hold in hopes of making enough money so that… I’m not really sure? There wasn’t really an end in sight, just this thin hope that if I saw enough success in what I was doing I could some day stop and leverage it into publishing books. No, it doesn’t really make much sense, but that was where my mind was at.

When I was thinking about my “career” as a novelist, I found myself frustrated and dejected. “The Godslayer” did pretty well considering that the marketing that I had was calling in favors with friends to publish articles about it, making podcast appearances and writing guest articles for websites to promote it. Also, yeah, like I said before, kind of a mess of a book that I should have been more careful with before releasing. I had always loved science fiction, dating back to my love for Star Wars and the expanded universe novels being what got me into reading when I was younger, pushing me off into other science fiction and later other books outside of sci-fi, so why not write sci-fi? Science fiction has that commercial appeal with readers and, in my mind, there was a lot of garbage out there already. I could probably do something pretty cool, pump out a series pretty quickly and follow the blueprint that a lot of self-published novelists had set over the past few years. I’m a smart dude, I could do this no sweat.

In summer of 2014 I decided to step away from as much of my work in MMA that I could and focus solely on this new plan of whipping up a science fiction series quickly, getting it out and getting some buzz going. My point of reference for science fiction literature ended somewhere in the late 90’s and I had grown to be of the mind that not much had happened that was worth reading or being concerned with after then. I had kept up with television and film, for sure, with some all-time favorites being Star Trek DS9, Babylon 5 and Firefly on the TV side and, well, not many new sci-fi movies were classics, exactly.

Anyway, I made another mistake here, that mistake was not respecting the genre properly and understanding it. I knew that there was stuff out there that did well, I have a general understanding of what they were, how they were written and how well-received they were, but I hadn’t really sat down and acclimated myself to a lot of the work out there. I knew the classics and knew that there was a market for science fiction so I went for it, hoping to churn out a ton of books in quick succession.

This is where “Terminus Cycle” came in. I’ve talked about disappointments with it before and I stand by them. Reflecting on it, I made some mistakes, and perhaps the biggest mistake of all was not having the respect for modern science fiction and understanding the market. My determination to be successful led me to push for something that I felt would be commercially viable as quickly as I could to build up a library of work. My intent for it was all over the place, with my stress levels on the rise because I wanted to release something that was really, truly great, something that would stand the test of time, but I wanted to do it quickly. That sort of devil-may-care attitude blended together with the pressure that I put on myself to not only write something substantial, but that would help to push my career forward led to some errors in judgement.

My intent was there, but man did it not translate into exactly what I had pictured for it. I honestly shouldn’t be talking about my own perceived failings that much because there were a lot of people that enjoyed the book and have been asking about the follow-up. In fact, those outweigh any of the more critical opinions that I’ve seen, but even then, I have a hard time with it, as just about any artist does with their work. Part of why I’m writing all of this out, though, is because I was watching the recent George Lucas interview from Charlie Rose. George Lucas has been put through the grinder over the past fifteen or so years, which the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has only stirred up yet again.

Personally I see a lot of what Lucas has done and find stuff wrong with it. There is a lot to poke holes into when it comes to his work, from dialogue to human interaction to pacing and his incessant meddling. But still, George Lucas was the guy who created Star Wars, doing so being a tremendous risk at the time. Yet he succeeded. What followed was a career of commercial films that ranged from huge successes to near misses, all of this from a guy that never wanted to create commercial, Hollywood-style films.

When faced with what he saw as another ten years of his life to create a third Star Wars trilogy and a few commercial busts on films that he helped produce, Lucas decided to hand the keys to LucasFilms over to Disney for a hefty chunk of change and to move on. His ideas for the next few Star Wars films were rejected outright by Disney and he decided that it was time to simply walk away from something that had both consumed and defined his life as an artist and a human being.

Undoubtedly George Lucas fucked up a few times in his career, with those fuck ups only amplified by the fact that Star Wars has been such a beloved franchise that many fans grew up with. Lucas claims that he’s making films again, but that they are more like his early works, the experimental kind that most likely won’t see the light of day but make him happy. Star Wars was an obsession for him, they were his creation, but he’s been forced to move on.

Star Wars, was, if anything, a part of his quest to prove that he was more than just the guy who got lucky with American Graffiti, that he could create a new sort of fairy tale that at the time was incredibly innovative with its use of technology and filming techniques. He, of course, looks back at all of his past work and hates most of it, which really resonated with me today while watching this, because I understood it.

I’ve been wanting to work my way back to what got me passionate about writing in the first place, but I’ve had a number of detours and each time I walk away with more knowledge and understanding, but I also walk away disappointed and frustrated with myself. Along the way, though, I’ve found a new found respect for science fiction literature by spending the past year consuming as much of it as I could, finding myself enamored with the likes of James SA Corey, Ann Leckie, John Scalzi and many more. I read some really great sci-fi and some really mediocre sci-fi. I’ve also read some sci-fi that I don’t really enjoy, but understand the appeal of.

What taking a crash course on modern science fiction has really done for me is to give me that newfound respect for the genre, but also to harden my resolve when it comes to writing science fiction. There is a lot of great stuff out there and I feel like I have a very good grasp on what I want to contribute to it now. I have the “Terminus Cycle” follow-up in a good place right now and I even have more ideas that are bubbling over in my mind, just ready to come out when I’ve got the time and will to work on them.

George Lucas definitely has his shortcomings, as do we all, but he helped to shape a genre for generations to follow while also pushing the world of filmmaking forward into a new direction. That wasn’t always his intention or what he saw for himself, but it became his legacy because sometimes that is simply what happens in life. For myself, I’m happy that I’m at a place where I’m seeing my own shortcomings while also seeing growth and understanding what I want to do as I move forward as a writer.

As I write this it is 2016 and it’s time for forgive George Lucas and respect what he did and how he changed all of our lives, just like we all need to give ourselves a break sometimes and not be too hard on ourselves. As long as we are all learning and trying to move ourselves forward there is no sense in beating ourselves up over silly mistakes or perceived past failures.

So I’m going to post this without proofreading it because, hey, it’s a blog post and I’m tired. So sue me.

The Force Woke Up Last Night, and It Was Great

This blog tends to err more on the side of my professional life and updates on my book projects. Seeing as though I’m currently going through the process of trying to find an agent for my next novel, there really isn’t a whole lot that I can say is going on right now with that. My next novel has been through a few rounds of revisions and I’m pretty happy with it, but for right now I’m testing the waters of traditional publishing after a few years of growth as a writer.

What’s funny is that I also am finishing up a first draft on another novel. This one is still science fiction, in a broad sense, but more closely in line with post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a story that I started working on back in 2004 as a group project of sorts, only to start it over again a few years ago. I really never saw myself doing much with it, but my wife read what I had at the time (which was about 10,000 words) and kept asking me when I was going to do more with it. Eventually that became my “distraction” when I needed a break from the Terminus Cycle follow-up and now I’m just about done with the first draft of that. Crazy, right? So I have essentially two books just about ready to roll, which I’m excited about. Whenever they happen.

Anyway, what mostly got me to sit down and write tonight was that I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens tonight. Going into it I was a bit torn, mostly because Star Wars has such a long, strange history. I’m not overly nostalgic or emotional about a lot of things, which can be a good thing, but also kind of a bummer to some people. I see a lot of the stuff that comes out pandering to my generation, hoping to loop in our kids into our depressing downward spiral of nostalgia with movies, toys, video games, apparel and everything else. Star Wars is perhaps the most toyetic and mass-marketed franchise in the history of man.

While that isn’t always an indicator of quality, it usually is a red flag that something might be worth skipping out on. Yet Star Wars, for all of its flaws and my complicated love/hate relationship with it, lives on and still endears me to this day. That’s something special, indeed. Even after the prequel trilogy (ugh) still hanging around the neck of the franchise like an albatross, hopes were incredibly high for The Force Awakens.

Even the trailers felt more like Star Wars than the prequel trilogies ever did, which was a big deal. The removal of George Lucas from the equation almost seemed key into bringing the series back to its past glory and beyond. I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to respect George Lucas and still find him to be more of a plague on the series over the past 20+ years or so.

Sure, JJ Abrams can take a lot of the credit for bringing the Force Awakens to life, but what was really exciting to me was the return of Lawrence Kasdan, a writer who is just as responsible for those great memories that we all have from Star Wars as George Lucas as. Initially brought into the Star Wars universe when George Lucas handed off the framework of a script to Leigh Brackett, who then passed away, Kasdan was brought in to finish the script for Empire Strikes Back. He quickly became the silent thread holding the whole thing together. While A New Hope was fine, in retrospect a lot of the problems that we all find in the prequel trilogy were also a part of Episode IV, just in smaller doses.

I’m not overly fond of publicly criticizing other writers, but George Lucas isn’t a particularly great writer, especially when it comes to stuff like dialogue, human emotions, characterization and pacing. Kasdan was able to bring the characters to life further in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and I’m really not sure why he wasn’t brought in for the prequel trilogies. Lucas handled the writing for The Phantom Menace on his own, collaborated with Richard Hales on the second prequel and then wrote the third on his own. Needless to say that simply didn’t work out.

Kasdan’s return, along with JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt put together one hell of a film in this that blended together nostalgia with new characters seamlessly. The new characters were center stage and their stories all felt important, while the older characters were there to add weight to their struggles. There was enough fan service to keep the old fans happy while still telling a new, valuable story and kicking off what should be a great series of films.

This movie was as close to flawless as a Star Wars film could get, which says a lot about it. Star Wars has never been overly weighty or grounded that much in reality, instead having more of a grand, sweeping fairy tale that has enamoured multiple generations. The story here definitely had weight, but there were also comedic moments worked in that fit the story, added depth to the characters without being as overt as some of the stuff that Lucas attempted to work in, showing that a deft approach at humor will always work out better than trying to bring in an animated comedic figure like Jar Jar Binks. The effects also felt a lot more in line with the aesthetics of the first trilogy, still feeling modern and fresh without having that overly polished, super CG look that a lot of films have.

Like I said before, I’m not an overly emotional person and I do get bothered by stuff like people trying to outdo each other with how hardcore of a Star Wars fan they are. I’m not the type of person who is going to show up at a premier like this all dressed up in a costume or being animated about much, but that’s just how I am. I’ve been a fan of these movies since I was a kid and have most likely seen the original trilogy dozens, if not over a hundred times now, as well as partaken in my share of merchandise sales. Hell, I’ve got well over $1,000 in Star Wars Legos lining my office right now. Still, you won’t find me publicly declaring myself THE BIGGEST STAR WARS FAN or anything like that, nor will I be changing my social media profiles with Star Wars images. That being said, there were quite a few times throughout the movie where I felt myself tearing up, stuff like the opening credits roll, nostalgia stuff or even some of the story points.

Maybe it was just being so damned happy that something Star Wars was finally working out, that it was finally getting the respect and attention that it deserved. This movie made me feel like a kid again and not just some analytical jerk looking for plotholes. There was definitely some magic in this film, which I can’t say for any of the prequel movies, which even on rewatches are incredibly difficult to sit through.

Oddly enough, 2015 has been a very good year for triggering what nostalgia is left in me, with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both coming out in the same year, both reviving long-dormant series that I grew up obsessed with, and both delivering far more than I could have ever imagined that they would. Hell, I’ll even take James SA Corey’s The Expanse being made into a show on SyFy and that show not disappointing as a win.

Seriously, if you enjoy science fiction and haven’t been up on your reading over the past few years, check out The Expanse on SyFy. Really, really good stuff. Stick through for the first four episodes, trust me, it’s worth it.

The Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Trailer Adds Gravity to the Universe

Years passed and my craving for science fiction never relented, I just moved on to different things. The Dune series, everything Star Trek, SyFy’s great relaunch of Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, the Expanse books and the truly fantastic Babylon 5. While it may be difficult to find a lot of truly great science fiction, there is some out there if you are willing to look and sift through everything else. Fans of science fiction tend to overlook faults when looking for something to grasp onto, so there are shows, books and movies that may not be that great that have gotten a pass over the years (I really don’t understand the appeal of Farscape after watching two seasons).

No matter what, though, I can’t seem to escape Star Wars. In fact, hundreds of dollars of Star Wars Lego sets adorn my office right now with that showing no sign of stopping any time soon. The announcement of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and who was attached to it did initially get me excited, but that quickly faded because of past disappointments. Disney went on to destroy the Expanded Universe of novels, games and comics that were built up over most of my lifetime heading into this, all to launch a new universe of novels, comics, television shows and games. What I’ve seen of this new universe thus far is far from inspired (outside of the Rebels show), instead run by a committee and most likely shackling any sort of creative decisions made by the authors.

Yet.

Yet the release of the Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens final trailer has made me a believer. Crazy, right? Truth be told this is absolutely everything that had been bothering me about the impending release was assauged by this trailer. There were questions that were left unanswered (was that Luke with the metal hand and R2-D2? Why isn’t he on the posters? Who is this new Sith? Is the new Sith Luke?). The new characters that we’ve had glimpses of in trailers and stills were framed in a way that made them truly interesting and left me wanting to know more about them and most importantly, this new saga looks to add some important framework that never really existed in the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars was an epic war story told through the eyes of the main heroes and villains of said war. The prequel trilogy was simply expanded backstory that did help to add some framework and sense of gravity to the original trilogy, but it was more jamming as much backstory in as possible than fleshing out the universe.

Even back to my youth it bothered me that there was so little seen outside of the black and white, good and evil of war. Who were the Rebellion? Why did they break off from the Empire? Who were they helping? Were there actually common people or was everyone just a Stormtrooper or a Rebel? Like I said, some of this was addressed in the prequels, but not much really was. Star Wars always lacked anything anchoring the universe to reality, to making the struggle seem valuable.

The Empire was evil, you see, run by SITH LORDS and the dark side of the Force, even though most of the Imperials thought it was an old, hokey religion. Sometimes the battle between good and evil felt like a choice of color palate more than an actual struggle of ideological differences. Imperial ships and bases were just filled to the brim with nothing but military and Rebel installments weren’t much different. The only planet really given any color was Tatooine and that was one of a forgotten border planet that was filled with smugglers.

Who manufactured the ships, the weapons and the clothing? Where were any of these things bought? Luke was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters, but what the hell did that mean (there was actually a later released deleted scene showing this, I’ll grant you that). Was that some sort of retail location? How was there an “Academy” where Luke’s friend Biggs could train and end up as a Rebel? Were they really so brazen about this? Over the years authors working on the Expanded Universe had helped to breathe life into these issues, but with those being wiped away now there shouldn’t be more excuses.

The films themselves lacked this context. Instead there was a laser focus on the struggle itself and the heroes and villains. What this new trailer has shown is indeed that there will be new heroes, heroines, villains and villainesses, but most importantly, how these people were impacted by everything else that happened.

“Those stories about what happened…”

“It’s true. All of it.”

Those few lines of dialogue alone help to build up and flesh out the Star Wars universe more than we’ve seen in so long. The derelict hulks of ships on Jakku provide context to what happened after that final, fateful battle in Return of the Jedi and each character that is shown, in just a few simple words, are given context, motivation and depth beyond what any character in the prequel trilogies were given over the span of three films. Bravo. I’m very much looking forward to this.

Finally, Star Wars has some gravity to it.