I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it is Mine

The first part of this blog is SPOILER FREE. I’ll warn you when that changes.

Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens1Well, like seemingly everyone else on the planet earth with a movie theater within fifty miles of my ox-cart track, I’ve seen (or plan to see) the new Star Wars movie. It’s been a long wait. And, like many others, my response to the film is intensely personal. The film itself, the experience of it, the shared emotions in the dark–they belong, powerfully, to me. This film series has been important to us (I know it isn’t everybody, of course, but I’m addressing those to whom this matters) for very a very long time. The original Star Wars came out when I was 14 years old and locked in the deepest depths of my science fiction affliction. And at that time there was nothing much that was truly new. Mind you, my friends and I had a smorgasbord of superb books to read, such as Vonnegut, Bradbury, Asimov and Verne, and television ran Dr. Who and Star Trek reruns which we absorbed like sunlight into our bodies. But a lot of it, great as it was, was kind of old. When Star Wars arrived, the universe changed. My family was driving to a Florida timeshare on opening weekend. I managed to convince my parents to stop at a Florida mall and shop for two hours while I walked across the parking lot to see Star Wars in the movie theater there. Along with several gangs of friends, I ended up seeing Star Wars thirty-six times in its first run, to the point where we could recite every line of dialog and began to actually glaze over during parts of the movie (Oh, Jek Porkins, how much abuse you took). Star Wars, whether by design, the Hero’s Journey, or plain blind luck, plugged into the main circuit cable (to borrow one of my favorite lines from Apocalypse Now, here) of who we were and carried us away on its x-winged chariot. We knew every glitch, every continuity mistake, every illogical or coincidental turn, and it didn’t matter. It was perfect. And it was ours. And it was mine.

Original-Star-Wars-Poster-1977

I’ll say this now. I love Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It isn’t perfect by a long shot, and I’ll have a lot to say about that in the Spoilers section below. But I do love it. Why? Because it successfully captures it, that wonderful it, that indescribable, ecstatic, Star Wars it. After enduring three Star Wars films (episodes 1, 2, 3) that misfired horribly, we came home. Plugged back into that main circuit cable George Lucas built for us, the pleasure is titanic, and all internal mistakes are peripheral and forgiven. We, every single one of us, own the film like it was made for only us. I was lucky to see TFA at Disney’s El Capitan theater in Hollywood on Thursday night, with its wonderful projection system and a crowd of respectful, elated fans, and everyone was so happy because they were so excited, and because the film was speaking to all of us so deeply, on such a personal level, and, regardless of age, reaching out to us from our childhoods.

Below is my discussion of the film. It contains SPOILERS.

Once again, SPOILERS below.

finn-and-rey

Okay, I’ve only seen the film once so far, so my thoughts are more first-impression than anything else, without the benefit of finding explanations about anything that confused me. I have not read any reviews of the film because I wanted to spill this out of me first, flawed and lacking reflection as it might be, but uncontaminated.

I loved the movie. Let’s make sure you understand that. What follows is rambling fan chatter. And it involves SPOILERS.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens, like any film, has its problems. But like a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend, you still love it despite its flaws, even for its flaws, as you do a person. Below is a quick, first-impression list of things I liked, disliked or simply noticed about the movie.

1) The movie structure is too similar to the structure of Star Wars: A New Hope: I haven’t watched the two films to measure this exactly, but it seems like TFA is too close to a connect-the-dots parallel of the original film’s plotlines. Let’s take the journey of Rey, for example, and see how it matches up with Luke’s journey in the first movie. Rey/Luke is an orphan of uncertain parentage on a remote, desert planet. A droid carrying secret, vital information drops from the sky and Rey/Luke rescues it from a scrap scavenger. Pursued by evil forces, Rey/Luke escapes the planet aboard the Millenium Falcon. Rey/Luke is proven to be strong with the Force, is given his/her father’s light saber (I’ll get into that later), meets an alien teacher and has his/her mentor killed by a man he once trusted who has turned to the dark side, and with the help of new friends blows up a round death star This revisiting of the original hero’s storyline is intentional but I thought they repeated it with a bit too much gusto–perhaps a point or two as touchstones would have been better than copying almost wholesale.

Star-Wars-Rey-Luke2) Rey is Luke’s daughter: though J.J. Abrams and Disney announced they abandoned all canon beyond the original six movies to begin afresh with TFA, it still appears to be the story of the original heroes’ children. I’m not familiar with all of the endless story development which occurred in the wildly expanded Star Wars universe canon, but I know the children of Luke, Han and Leia were heavily involved. Kylo Ren has been revealed as Han and Leia’s son, Ben, and the hints seem pretty heavy-handed that Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker and a yet-to-be-identified mother. She possesses Luke’s immense capacity for the Force (especially if the mother is still Mara Jade), receives his light saber from Maz Kanata (and experiences powerful flashbacks and more, including a memory of herself as a child wailing as her father’s space ship leaves–surely her father is Luke who, after retreating to a remote planet and starting a family, realizes his presence is now endangering his wife and child.) The final trilogy is probably designed to feature an ultimate face-off between the children, and if so, it seems like Rey must be Luke’s offspring.

star-wars-force-awakens-kylo-ren-finn-lightsaber-570x2853) GREAT action and lightsaber battles: superb action sequences. I loved the battle over the lake at Maz Kanata’s pirate hideout, which changed things up by feeling more like a WW2 dogfight than a space battle. And the final lightsaber scrap between Rey and Kylo Ren on the collapsing snowy planet was gripping and epic.

4) How did Rey and Finn aboard the Millenium Falcon manage to bump into Han and Chewie on the freighter? Doesn’t the Millenium Falcon have proximity sensors/warnings? There are a few lines about Han and Chewie searching for their ship but it seems bizarrely coincidental. And where did the two groups of space pirates suddenly come from? That whole sequence confused me, with the groups facing off and the accidentally released monsters, and I don’t know what purpose it served the story in general other that trying to add tension and action. But this also ties into my Point 8, below.

5) Did it HAVE to be another Death Star?: Yeah, I don’t remember the name of the new bad guy super-round-planetoid super blaster, but it is essentially an upgraded Death Star. When I saw that, I did ask myself why they couldn’t come up with something else fantastic and new, especially since they are already copying so much of the first movie’s storyline, including a separate insertion mission to disable part of the weapon’s system and the final blow being delivered by X-wings in some form of a structural trench.

TheForceAwakens_dls_wpw_rey6) Rey is a great hero: She is. She’s both vulnerable and gutsy, a great new hero for the series. Great performance by Daisy Ridley. In fact, I though all of the performances were top notch.

7) Great humor, but the nods to the earlier films are too numerous: I laughed a lot in the movie, in the places designed to make us laugh, but I also thought that the obvious and constant cute references to the first film sometimes disrupted my own engagement with the current story–maybe they could have thinned those out a bit and scattered them through all three films?

2F42DD6500000578-3360045-The_Force_Awakens_Peter_Mayhew_as_Chewbacca_and_Harrison_Ford_as-a-29_14501422539838) Does Han Solo’s appearance mess things up a bit? Did he force Kylo Ren to reveal himself too early?: Lastly, I’m gonna suggest something which even I hate. As presented, was Han Solo’s role necessary to the plot of the movie? I love Harrison Ford and Han Solo so It hurts to write this, but I’m speaking technically, not emotionally. Of course I want Han Solo to be there. Two things, though: the presence of his character crowds out the development of Finn and especially Poe Dameron, who will obviously take over as the Han Solo type once Han is gone. And, is Han even necessary to the story as he appears in TFA? It was great to see Han and Leia–don’t get me wrong–but I felt like their quest slowed down the narrative drive of the movie. Han really does very little to move Rey along on her journey that another character could have done, and the Han-Leia story line forces the reveal of Kylo Ren’s identity way too early for my taste. Wouldn’t it have been better to leave Kylo Ren inside his mask until the third film, as with Anakin inside Darth Vader, to maintain the same mysterious, ominous aura as Darth Vader? And why does Kylo wear the helmet? Darth needed his helmet. Is Kylo just hiding? Wouldn’t it have been better to bring Han and Leia in on the third film to effect the same heartwrenching reveal and their quest to save their son?

9) Okay, one more–Luke Skywalker’s appearance at the end was EPIC: Rey’s journey to find Luke and his cinematic appearance was a fantastic bit of filmmaking and a great landing pace to await the next film in the series. His reaction to Rey handing him the light saber also has added meaning if he is aware that she is his daughter (I’m dang sure she is.) Also, if Han and Leia had not been in this film (and the whole parents seeking son and Kylo reveal-Han death was saved for a later film) then the only appearance of an original would be this last moment with Luke, and that would have made it even more powerful.

There are a few of my thoughts. I love the movie. Author Chuck Wendig called Star Wars: the Force Awakens a love letter to the original Star Wars. I couldn’t agree more. It has a few story issues, glitches and coincidental turns and it can’t escape hewing too tightly to the structure of the original film. It doesn’t matter. It has finally arrived. It is perfect. It is mine. And it is ours.

Female Characters in Sci-Fi are Second Class Citizens (according to HASBRO and DISNEY)

I don’t usually write blogs because something makes me angry. Firstly, I try not to respond emotionally when someone else has a differing opinion. Secondly, engaging in arguments on social media is like complaining to a lion while he’s eating you: he isn’t listening and nothing is going to change.

star-wars-rebels-poster(Warning: here comes my tempest in a teapot. But I don’t see it as a teapot.)

But I do mind when it comes to females and the world of science fiction and fantasy. The gamergate crowd is sickening. Some male authors and industry power players are cavemen. I get that. This isn’t new: we’ve all been painfully aware of our chosen genre’s shortcomings for a very long time. So, stick with me, because I guess I’ve hit a boiling point or been loaded with the last straw that broke my dromedary spine. But when a major corporation HASBRO and the biggest entertainment franchise in the world STAR WARS/DISNEY effectively kick the girls to the curb by the way they handle their toys, it shows a lack of social awareness/responsibility and personal gutlessness (because a corporation is a person, right?) which further chafes the sense of what is right in my soul.

http://www.newsarama.com/20366-exclusive-hasbro-confirms-hera-sabine-figures-for-star-wars-rebels.html

In a time when our embattled females and minorities deserve to be championed in an American society slowly awakening in fits and starts to the journey towards true equality, science fiction (supposedly the planet-hopping, utopia-imagining, prophesy-seeking harbinger of the future) as an industry is proving to be something of a disgrace. Don’t get me wrong, there are GREAT sci-fi people out there of every race and gender doing things right (the vast majority) and I deeply respect all of them. But the big players have to step up too. They owe it to us, goddammit. They owe it to the kids first and foremost, but they also owe it to us mothers and fathers who have grown up with STAR WARS and endlessly purchased their heavily produced comics, toys, etc. and made them rich by weaving Star Wars into the collective threads of popular culture.

http://www.starwarsunderworld.com/2014/07/hera-and-sabine-action-figures-revealed.html

The latest big product of the Star Wars universe, STAR WARS REBELS, is a high-quality animated show and I like it. Two of its four lead characters are male and two are female. When Hasbro released the first wave of Star Wars: Rebels action figure toys I took my Star Wars obsessed daughter to Target to pick them up and, lo and behold, the FEMALE characters were not available. Despite being two of the four leads, Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren had not been released. This, in a word, is Bulls**t.

Star Wars Rebels Characters

My daughter, digging through stacks of male character action toys, asked me why the girl toys weren’t here. I tried to explain that they would be coming later, and she bought it, but I saw the expression on her face. She was a little confused and a little hurt, because she, a collector of all things Star Wars, had never imagined that the female leads would ever be absent from the huge NEW Star Wars Rebels toy pile which so prominently displayed the male figures. I tried to explain it to her but on a certain level she understood that the girls were coming in second. And it pissed me off.

I’ve read how Hasbro says they’re just saving the female figures to release in their second wave, just as they waited for a convention following the BIG reveal of the male character toys (New York Toy Fair) to reveal the female character toys (ComiCon San Diego.) Hey, do you remember when DISNEY released their first Star Wars toys? The females were almost AWOL in that batch too, including anything to do with Princess Leia. Now they are making up for it, apparently. But the impression has been made.

WTF? No matter how you slice it, no matter how Hasbro and Disney spin it, they have, in their actions, relegated every female in the Star Wars universe to a secondary role in the eyes of the children who show up to buy them. Even in the new Star Wars Rebels, where it is impossible to argue that Sabine and Hera are anything less than equal partners and just as capable as the male lead characters on the show, Hasbro has put them in the back seat in the toy store. Don’t talk to me about ‘staggered releases’ and ‘secondary waves’ because normal people like me don’t care. All we know and all our kids know is that the toys CAME OUT and the main female characters, fully expected to be there, were NOT THERE. That is what my family saw.

Hera and Sabine at SDCCAs a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I try to make my male and female and other-than-white-or-human characters strong and alive, but it is impossible to argue that the females and minorities don’t have some ground to cover in order to achieve a prominence in sci-fi (and all fiction) equivalent to what their real place in the real world deserves, and if only (in this instance) to serve as a leaping-off point for the imagination.

But I’m not talking to writers or readers or toy purchasers here. I’m talking to Hasbro and Disney, though apparently they don’t hear me or anyone else. Their corporate officers, flesh and blood and real, male and female, have a RESPONSIBILITY to us. They are RESPONSIBLE because they are in a position to change the world, if only a little bit. Great profits rain down when you own and sell a popular modern mythology that appeals widely to CHILDREN. But as human beings and not Gods, perhaps such power and wealth means that you must consider some things more important than power and wealth.

Dear Hasbro and Disney: I get that the sci-fi world is still having trouble pulling its head out of its ass. I get that your multimillion dollar research printouts tell you that “girl” toys might not sell as well as “boy” ones. But as a man who grew up with lots of other guys collecting Star Wars toys, I can tell you that I wanted to have both. And in the Star Wars: Rebels television universe you gave us both, and they are all well-drawn characters. Why can’t you  take the lead on this one, and put your money where your mouth is?

This is a world of males and females and variations on those themes, and to hold one sex of lead characters back from the high-powered premiere on store toy shelves is inexcusable because it proves, in actions louder than whatever words you choose to explain it now, that the trailing sex FEMALE is lesser, a second-class toy, a second-class life form, a second class citizen.

And you are proving it to children.

I just had to sugar coat your bulls**t for my daughter.

And it pisses me off.

Richard

“The Star Wars & Star Trek in my Steampunk” at Faraway Press Blog

I ‘m not sure how I missed posting this, but Star Wars author and fellow 47North scribe John Jackson Miller was kind enough to host me aboard his Faraway Press blog this month, here at this link: http://farawaypress.com/ I briefly discuss how my life and writing have been sledgehammered by the influence of Star Trek and Star Wars, with some vain efforts at humor tossed in. Thanks for the guest spot, John!

Also, John has a brand new Star Wars series book released, Star Wars: Kenobi, and it debuted at #12 on the New York Times bestseller list. Congratulations, John!

JJ Miller and Star Wars: Kenobi

JJ Miller and Star Wars: Kenobi

Author Guest Blog: John Jackson Miller on Steaming into Space

Today I am honored to welcome author John Jackson Miller as a guest on the blog.  He is a prolific writer who often inhabits the world of Star Wars and the realm of comic books, and his fantastic new novel Star Wars: Kenobi, just released on August 27.  Below, John talks about trains and the ever-present links between the future and the past.  Thanks, John!

STEAMING INTO SPACE: RAIL TRAVEL & THE WORLD OF OVERDRAFT

The Golden Age is twelve, or so says a friend of mine. I don’t know whether I was born too early for steampunk to be a part of my adolescent reading diet or if I just missed it, but my consumption always ran to hard science fiction of the Arthur C. Clarke stripe. I was interested in how theoretical gadgets worked, I suppose — but I hadn’t yet made the connection with existing mechanical conveyances of the past.

Enter my son, years later, who is just a year past twelve — and he’s proven to be the exact opposite. The kid has been train-crazy since he was a hatchling. I think I’ve gone to more model railroad shows than science fiction conventions since he got interested. He absolutely knows his stuff — the tour guides at the train museums listen in wonderment as he explains the workings of their own equipment to them. And he’s let it fire up his imagination.

OverDraft

OverDraft

To wit: it is his mission in life, he says, to figure out a way to replace the world’s diesel engines with new steam trains—which he intends to make both greener and more efficient than the machines that superseded them. He’s also planning to reestablish the defunct railroad that once went by our house. (I’m not sure I’m ready for the noise!)

Given all of that, I fully expect that steampunk fiction will be up his alley as he’s growing up, just as I was myself obsessed with Clarke and my other love, Star Wars. I think that’s what’s great about speculative fiction: it doesn’t speculate only in a single direction. There are plenty of onramps for readers’ imaginations.

It was partially his interest in railroads that inspired me to develop a rail-like aspect for interstellar travel in my SF novel for 47North, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive. The tale — which follows the misadventures of a conniving 22nd century stock trader whose failed scheme lands him on the farthest frontiers, trading to dangerous aliens while under the grudging guard of a team of high-tech bodyguards — is set in a universe with some peculiar physics. Only units of matter a little larger than a railroad car can travel between stars — meaning that interstellar commerce easily integrates with the container-traffic system that railroads gave us in the 19th Century. Large starships have to be broken down and shipped piece by piece: it’s a Lego kind of galaxy!

Star Wars: Kenobi

Star Wars: Kenobi

And Overdraft borrows some commercial dynamics from an earlier time, still: since there’s no instantaneous communication in that world, it shares much in common with the age of sail. They never know whether an expedition made it until someone returns with news. It’s a fun story — and while it’s obviously quit a bit different from my major hardcover release, Star Wars: Kenobi, from Random House/Del Rey, that one, too, has some callbacks to the past. Set during the earliest days of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s desert exile, there’s very much a western flavor to the novel.

So it’s definitely fun to mix up past, present, and future on the page. I’m not sure what the real future holds, but if you see a clean, green steam train picking you up in a couple of decades, I’m hoping my son has a piece of the action!

My thanks to Richard for the guest shot! You can find more about my works at http://www.farawaypress.com — or follow me on Twitter at @jjmfaraway.