Tag Archives: the force awakens

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.