Thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

What a disappointment.

I was going to avoid spoilers, but now that I’ve had some time to reflect, man oh man I’m just gonna vent about everything. Because there is so much wrong with this movie, and so many things that could have been awesome but instead turned into missed opportunities. So this post is full of spoilers. Consider yourselves warned.

First, taken entirely on its own, the story is just broken. I’m undecided whether the writers and/or director were too clever or too stupid for their own good. Half the plot of the movie turned out to be a red herring, which made Finn, Rose, and to a certain extent Poe Dameron completely unnecessary characters. It seemed like the writers were trying to play with tropes and plot conventions in an unexpected way, but it ended up completely breaking the story. The Dark Knight did something similar and pulled it off masterfully, but The Last Jedi is no Dark Knight.

The purple-haired feminazi who replaced Princess Leia for half the movie deserves a special measure of my wrath. How a woman with all the charisma of a dead fish became one of the chief leaders of the rebellion lite, aka the resistance, I don’t know. There wasn’t a single scene with her where I wasn’t screwing my face up and cringing. And her command decisions were just completely awful. If you know that you’re going to lose most of your starships anyways, why not ram the super star destroyer at light speed with the first damn one to fall?

I think my biggest problem with the new Star Wars movies is that, with the notable exception of Rogue One, they introduce a bunch of new characters and assume that you’re going to admire them simply because they show up. We’re told that Snoke is the new big bad, but we know nothing about who he is, how he rose to power, what his capabilities are, etc. So when he dies, the only thing going through my head was “well, that was interesting,” whereas when Emperor Palpatine dies, it was this big emotional moment.

We’re never made to admire the new characters, we’re simply told why we should admire them. Goggle eyes orange face is supposed to be this super well-connected smuggler type, but we never learn anything about her other than that Han Solo apparently admires her, and she ends up shooting things a lot. Who is she? Where does she come from? What’s her history? Who is she connected with, and how? Show don’t tell, dammit. Give us something to make us care.

The fridge logic really ruins this movie. Why did Luke tell Rey to go away, when he obviously left a map for them to find him? If ramming starships at light speed is a thing, why hasn’t anyone ever done it before now? If Kylo Ren truly wants to wipe out the past and start over, why is he still fighting the Resistance?

Which brings me to the greatest missed opportunity of the movie. When Rey and Kylo Ren team up, that was truly awesome. Great fight scene, great turning point. For a moment, you think that you’re going to see something new in the Star Wars universe. The whole movie has been building up to it. Luke Skywalker has already established that the Jedi deserve to die out because they’re really a bunch of zealous fanatics, and Kylo Ren has already refused to give himself to the dark side fully. He reaches out his hand to Rey, offering her the chance to join forces and create something new, something that transcends both the light and the dark sides of the force. And then they go right back to fighting each other as if none of this had ever happened, because this is Star Wars, where apparently nothing ever changes.

It’s not so much that Kylo Ren was the most interesting character in the movie, so much as that he was the only interesting character. At this point, he’s the only one I’m still rooting for. Rey is an idiot. Finn and Rose are useless baggage and dead weight, respectively. Princess Leia is apparently still around, but without Carrie Fisher playing the part I really do not care about her. Chewbacca is still alive, I guess. So are R2D2 and C-3PO. But they’re the last original Star Wars characters, and I really don’t think they can carry a story. Poe Dameron is cool, but perpetually hamstrung by the idiots running the Resistance, and that gets old real fast.

As someone who grew up with Star Wars—who ranks Empire Strikes Back as his favorite movie of all time—I hate to say this, but I’m not going to watch the next Star Wars movie to come out. Not unless it gets overwhelmingly positive reviews and all my geek friends can’t stop raving about it. Rogue One was good, but The Last Jedi? It’s crap.

Here’s my ranking of Star Wars movies from best to worst:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. Rogue One
  4. Return of the Jedi
  5. The Force Awakens
  6. Revenge of the Sith
  7. The Last Jedi
  8. Attack of the Clones
  9. The Phantom Menace

At this point, I don’t think anything below Return of the Jedi is worth rewatching.

Thoughts on Star Wars: Rogue One

The Star Wars franchise is in good hands.

The Force Awakens was a great movie to bring the kids to. Rogue One is probably one you should watch by yourself. It’s a little bit darker, a lot more violent, and jam packed with nostalgia that would go over their little heads anyway.

Rogue one is to the Star Wars franchise what Halo: Reach is to the Halo franchise. The first Halo games were all about the plucky hero saving the galaxy from destruction, much like Star Wars (we won’t talk about the prequels). Halo: Reach was more about the people behind the scenes who set the stage for the main story, much like Rogue One.

I’m not sure if Rogue One has the same depth as Halo: Reach. I’d have to watch it again to decide. But the stories feel very similar.

One thing that Star Wars tends to screw up is the comedic relief, and here Rogue One happily breaks the trend. Some of the best lines in the movie were from K-2SO, the character equivalent in Rogue One for C-3PO and R2D2. Quite a few laugh out loud moments, and his particular style of dark humor fit the rest of the movie perfectly.

As much as I’m using the word “dark” to describe this movie, it’s actually not that dark. If you’re looking for Game of Thrones in space, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is definitely still Star Wars, and while it might be a bit darker than Empire Strikes Back, I’m sure there are plenty of fans who would debate me on that.

I really like the way that this movie develops Tarkin, which is to say that I hate him even more at the end of it. In A New Hope, Tarkin was always overshadowed by Darth Vader. Not so in this one.

Darth Vader doesn’t get much screen time in Rogue One, but the time that he gets is put to excellent use. His last scene reminded me a lot of the 2003 animated Clone Wars series (the one that isn’t canon).

All in all, Rogue One was an excellent movie. It didn’t quite rise to the level of the classics, but that wasn’t what it was meant to do. As far as paying homage to the original trilogy goes, this may be the best of the new Star Wars movies yet. I definitely plan to include it in my next Star Wars marathon, and that’s saying a lot.

Yes, the Star Wars franchise is in good hands.

On the way to 10k

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I plan to achieve my writing goal of hitting 10k words of fiction in a single day. The steps I laid out to getting there were:

  1. Write first thing every day.
  2. Write in timed, focused sessions.
  3. Strive to achieve 2k words per hour.
  4. Strive to hit at least 6 writing sessions.
  5. Pre-write each day for the next day.

I’m happy to report that the writing has been coming along very well! Ever since I started timing my sessions and keeping track of how much and how fast I write, it’s been as if someone turned on a switch inside my brain. The words are flowing, the story is coming along very well, and I’m a lot happier and more productive than I was only a month ago.

The main thing that does it is, ironically, forcing myself to stop every half hour or so. When I wake up in the morning and thing of how much I want to write that day, it can be a little daunting. By writing in short bursts, it helps to break the big goal down into parts. When you think too much about all the writing you want to achieve, it’s very easy to get caught up in the procrastination trap. But when you think of it as just a half-hour session of 400-600 words, it seems a lot more doable. And it is!

So things are coming along very well with Gunslinger to the Stars. My goal is to finish the first draft by February 6th and send it out to my first readers shortly thereafter. If things keep going the way they have been, I may actually finish it sooner.

As for reaching 10k words, I’m still a ways off but headed in the right direction. For now, I’m laying the foundation for it: building good habits and hitting a consistent stride. Once I’ve got that laid out, I’ll start to stretch myself, pushing the limits further and further until I’m ready to make the final approach to the summit. No sense in pushing too hard and burning out along the way.

In other news, I’ve sent Captives in Obscurity (Sons of the Starfarers: Book V) off to my editor, and should be getting it back in early February. The cover art should be ready around the same time. If all goes well, the book should be up for pre-order by the end of February, with a release date of May 15th.

I’m not sure when Patriots in Retreat (Book VI) will come out, since I’m still writing it, but as of right now I’m tentatively planning for a release sometime in August. After I’ve finished with Gunslinger to the Stars, I’ll move on to Patriots and see if I can’t knock that out before the end of February. If so, I might actually push the release date up to July.

As for other WIPs I intend to tackle, The Sword Keeper and Edenfall are on the top of the list. The free month for Genesis Earth went a lot better than I had expected, leading me to believe that there’s enough potential to make finishing the trilogy worthwhile. Besides, Edenfall is already plotted out, so if I can keep up the 10k pace it should be a cinch to write. Same with The Sword Keeper.

That just about does it for this post. I intended to write another Self-Sufficient Writer post responding to some of the craziness going on in the world right now, but that will have to hold off until next week. I’ve also got another trope post planned for Monday, so that should be interesting.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this video about how many twinkies it would take to power the Death Star. Take care!

Playing with Tropes: Pragmatic Villainy

So as part of my effort to blog more often, I’ve decided to bring back the trope posts. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, perhaps you remember the Trope Tuesday series that I used to do. Those were mostly just a rehashing of each trope’s tvtropes page, with a bit of commentary at the end. For this new series, though, I’m going to assume you’ve already read the page and are familiar with the trope, and focus on the commentary. I’m calling this series Playing with Tropes, and I’ll do a new post on the first and third Monday of each month.

To start off this new series, I’d like to take a look at Pragmatic Villainy. There’s something especially chilling about a villain who not only possesses power, but knows how to wield it too. In fact, one of the scariest villains is the guy who rises up the ranks through sheer ruthlessness and ambition, starting as an underling and rising to the top. These villains know how to inspire and manipulate their followers, how to use their limited resources efficiently, how to form secret alliances and backstab their enemies, and how to keep a strategic perspective while making brilliant tactical plays. It doesn’t matter whether they command an empire or whether all they’ve got is a cargo-cult following on some far-off backwater. No matter where you put them, these are the guys who are truly dangerous.

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of figures from history who fit this trope. A badass colonel when the French Revolution began, he took advantage of the chaos to rise to power, declaring himself emperor and restoring order to his broken country. He then took his armies and conquered nearly the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean, destroying the Holy Roman Empire, invading as far as Egypt and the Nile, and leading his troops through the gates of Moscow before suffering defeat before the Russian Winter. Ever the pragmatist, he developed the modern canning process in order to supply his troops with food. And even after the European powers crushed his armies and exiled him to the island of Elba, he still found a way to escape and very nearly did it all again.

And Napoleon is by no means the most prominent historical example. Hitler was extremely pragmatic, and probably would have won the war if he’d actually listened to his generals and not interfered with their ability to do their jobs. Stalin was also quite pragmatic, identifying and removing his rivals and ruling with an iron fist. Today, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are some of the best examples of this trope.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell whether a pragmatic villain is really a villain at all. This is because pragmatic villains often see evil as a means, not an end. You won’t see a lot of gratuitous puppy-kicking with these guys—in fact, you may even see them pet the puppy for the cameras… before quietly taking it out back to skin it.

That’s not to say that pragmatic villains are more redeemable than your average big bad. Far from it, in fact. As Darth Vader put it, “if only you knew the power of the dark side!” In the clash between good and evil, evil often has the upper hand right until the middle of the third act. Even when evil doesn’t have the upper hand, the old poem often applies:

Might and Right are always fighting
In our youth it seems exciting.
Right is always nearly winning.
Might can hardly keep from grinning.

—Clarence Day, “Might and Right”

To really pull off a pragmatic villain, it’s important to make sure that your villain is truly evil. Grand Admiral Thrawn from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe was a great example of this, as was Admiral Ysanne Isard. Even with limited resources, they pulled off some brilliant moves: Thrawn by placing a cloaked warship beneath a planetary shield, to make it appear that he had shield-busting weapons, and Isard by spreading a lethal pandemic that, while curable, was extremely expensive to treat, thus spreading panic and instability as everyone fought over the cure. Yet in spite of their pragmatism, it was clear that neither of them would stop at nothing in their rise to power.

What’s really awesome is when a pragmatic villain manages to pull off a Xanatos Gambit. In fact, pragmatic villains are the only kinds of villains who can pull that kind of gambit, simply because of all the planning and foresight that must necessarily go into it. For the same reason, there tends to be a lot of overlap between this trope and the Chessmaster.

When a villain falls short, it’s often because they were lacking in this trope. A huge example of this for me was The Hunger Games. When the villains in that book backpedaled after Peta and Katniss threatened to kill each other, I pretty much threw the book at the wall. The kind of people who can be manipulated by angsty lovestruck teenagers are not the kind of people who rise to power in a totalitarian dictatorship. And while there’s certainly a place for B movie villains, the Evil Overlord List exists for a reason.