Star Wars Episode VII: We Owe George Lucas an Apology

While waiting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week, I re-watched my least favorite Star Wars film: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. For weeks, as the hype built up and we waited with bated breath to see what director J.J. Abrams would do, I heard a lot of renewed hatred for the prequels.

At least it can’t be as bad as the prequels.

Thank god it won’t have Jar Jar in it.

J.J. can’t do any worse.

People really hate those movies. They have been ripped to pieces in the years since their release. Video reviews (longer than an hour each) have been created to talk about what trash they are. For the record – I think that pretty much every criticism of the prequels is valid. They are a poorly acted, wooden mess of a story. That said… I don’t think that any film, even Attack of the Clones, was outright horrible on its own.

That may be the reason, beyond the fact that it’s Star Wars, that the prequel trilogy inspired such hatred: it’s not entirely awful. There is some good there… but it’s broken. It’s too weighed down with all the problems going wrong to ever let the innocent, fun charm of the story shine through. I’ve seen – and forgotten about – many films that are just crap. The prequels, for all their faults, stand at least as memorable.

They attempted to add something real and new to the Star Wars universe. They failed.

I read the reviews, the hype of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It sounded like J.J. had done it, that he had done what Lucas could not and given fans the sequel we wanted.

Then I saw the movie… (minor spoilers to follow)

Let me say this up front: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a bad film. It’s fun, it has great performances (particularly Daisy Ridley as Rei and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren), and it has a lot of the heart that was missing from Lucas’ CGI heavy prequels. I absolutely would recommend seeing it in theaters.

The mix of practical effects and CGI give the film an excellent look, one that is evocative of the originals while still allowing sequences that used to be impossible to film.
The mix of practical effects and CGI give the film an excellent look, one that is evocative of the originals while still allowing sequences that used to be impossible to film.

That being said – this is not the “sequel” I was looking for.

The quotation marks should say everything. Let me give you a premise: members from the Resistance (not the Rebellion – totally different “R” word) have to get a droid that has secret plans to help them stop the First Order (doesn’t even start with an “E”) and stop their use of a massive super weapon capable of blowing up planets.

I'm almost surprised they didn't recreate this sequence as well.
I’m almost surprised they didn’t recreate this sequence as well.

Sound familiar?!

To be fair, the droid this time around does not have the plans to the Death Star, *cough*, excuse me – to the Star Killer, it has part of a missing map to find Luke Skywalker – the man whose absence seems to be dooming the galaxy. Still, the plot unfolds with quite a feeling of retreading. Even Rei’s origins as an orphan on an out-of-the-way desert world seem overly familiar.

And unlike Return of the Jedi, which had a similar structure to New Hope (start on Tatooine, finish by blowing up a Death Star) but different feel… Force Awakens never breaks the New Hope mold. Its climax hits nearly all the same notes as its predecessor.

The worst scene in the movie arguably comes when someone says "is it like the Death Star?" and another responds with "I wish!" So maybe the next movie will have a weapon that can blow up ten planets at a time and is even bigger?
The worst scene in the movie arguably comes when someone says “is it like the Death Star?” and another responds with “I wish!” So maybe the next movie will have a weapon that can blow up ten planets at a time and is even bigger?

Finally, we must mention the (maybe) main villain: Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by the one and only Andy Serkis). In general, the villains of Force Awakens are a little conceptually weak, but Snoke stands head and shoulders above the others in this regard. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a shriveled, scarred old man with vague desires of revenge – or some evil motivation – who likely has advanced knowledge of the dark side of the force. But he doesn’t wear a hood – so, you know, totally different from the Emperor.

While I was okay not having Thrawn, using such a boring villain as an alternative was such a shame to see.
While I was okay not having Thrawn, using such a boring villain as an alternative was such a shame to see.

At the moment, critics and fans are eating up the “nostalgia” of this movie, but it leaves me worried. Lucas’ prequels may have failed, but at least they were trying to do something different. This movie plays on the “remember how awesome this was/felt” feeling way too much.

For example: the cantina scene in New Hope – iconic. Seeing all the aliens gathered around, drinking and playing games, opened up the idea of a huge galaxy. The Force Awakens has the exact same sequence, intended to create the exact same feeling… except I had seen it before.

Poe Dameron was an interesting character who we really didn't get a chance to get to know.
Poe Dameron was an interesting character who we really didn’t get a chance to get to know.

“Do, or do not. There is no try.” These were the words of Master Yoda in Empire Strikes Back… and they seem to have been the mantra of the movie. Lucas tried and failed to do something new – so don’t try anything new. The Force Awakens is fun, but I have a feeling that – as time goes on – it will lose much of the praise it is currently receiving. It has too many new elements to be a good remake, and too many remake elements to make for a really interesting (or truly great) sequel.

For a universe so rich in original stories (Heir to the Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Knight) this may be a sign of the dark side. Disney’s bold plan for a sequel to Avengers was just… recreating the Avengers after all. The vision was lacking. We may never know what Lucas’ original idea for Episode VII was, but I’m going to guess it wasn’t “let’s just do A New Hope again.”

I will Finish what You Started: Sounds like Kylo Ren is just a Star Wars Fanboy

We’re a little more than a month away from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and you can feel the excitement in the air (or in life forms living inside your cells). Right now, the internet is alive with rumors and speculations, friends are discussing characters, even the people at work have theories. My last article on Luke Skywalker proved that I too have caught the Star Wars bug.

The excitement is out there, and the movie does look amazing – but there is one thing that is bugging me.

Kylo_Ren

Kylo Ren is a total Star Wars fanboy.

When examining the history the Star Wars franchise, one thing becomes apparent very quickly: they/we like toys. So much so that a throwaway character like Boba Fett (who is simply referred to as “bounty hunter” in Empire Strikes Back) became a central figure in the mythos based largely off of action figure sales. Hmm, maybe toys is too general – masked figure toys. I mean, it is largely what a lot of the most popular Star Wars characters – Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Jango Fett, General Grievous – they all have at least most of their faces masked, and all have been used as major merchandising figures.

From the 1990s on, nearly every Star Wars packaged design featured a masked villain on the box art.
From the 1990s on, nearly every Star Wars packaged design featured a masked villain on the box art.

Enter Kylo Ren, next in the “everyone looks cooler with a mask” way of thinking. So right away, Ren represents what Star Wars fans think looks cool. Yet that is just appearance, let’s hear him speak:

Okay, wow – obsessed with Vader much? It’s sounding more and more like Kylo Ren is part of the “Acolytes of the Beyond,” a group that is obsessed with collecting Star Wars action figures – I mean objects representing the Dark Side of the Force (Vader’s possessions appear to be all the rage).

So Ren is a collector… a moody, anti-social young man who spends his days talking about something that happened thirty years ago. Seeing it yet? Let me guess, is he pale under that helmet?

Oh wow, he looks pale. He should get out more.
Oh wow, he looks pale. He should get out more.

It can’t be by coincidence that Kylo Ren bears so much resemblance to the community he is becoming a part of. Some could also see him as director J.J. Abrams himself, trying to finish what Darth Lucas started so many years ago… but that is just going into specifics. Abrams is an admitted fanboy, who hates the midichlorians of Phantom Menace with as much passion as anybody.

Kylo Ren would not be the first representation of a fanboy gone bad.
Kylo Ren would not be the first representation of a fanboy gone bad.

The question is: will it work? Will it be intelligent? Will it be fun? Or will that scene of “I will finish what you started” be only a serious version of something like this:

Only time will tell… although it would be kinda funny to have Captain Phasma be the only “adult” villain in the movie.

Kylo Ren: “I will finish what you started.”

Captain Phasma: “Sir, are you talking to the helmet again?”

Kylo Ren: “NO – what? No! I was just… meditating on the Dark Side! I have far, far too many things to do in my busy dark lord schedule… it is a cool helmet though, right?”

Captain Phasma: “Yes sir.”

Still better than Jar Jar.

S. is the Book for Anti-e-Readers Everywhere

If you are an avid reader/writer, chances are that you do not care too much for the e-readers (e.g., Kindle, Nook, Kobo). If you are not, do yourself a favor and find a reader/writer and ask them whether or not they prefer hardcover or e-reader. You will hear things like: “it doesn’t have the same smell,” “I miss the cover,” “I need to turn the pages.” Yes, avid book readers are junkies in their own right. For the most part, I agree with them. An e-reader will never be anywhere as good as a well-made hardcover. It just doesn’t have the same personality.

E-readers, however, do have their uses: mainly space-saving and book renting. I have a kindle and I love using it to ferret out future books to add to my collection. That said, not every author will even offer the choice to go digital. J.J. Abrams (yes, THAT J.J. Abrams) and novelist Doug Dorst (Alive in Necropolis) have come together to create S., a novel that absolutely cannot be read by e-reader. How was this accomplished? Take a look:

All of that is hidden inside the novel.
All of that is hidden inside the novel.

Anyone out there looking to get physcially excited to read a book, do yourself a favor and check this out. I may or may not have squealed with glee as I opened S. The hidden letters, the code-breaker, it all comes together to create an experience unlike any other. What is presented within the pages is a mystery, arguably the only genre that would work with this format. How is the story: couldn’t tell you yet, I’m still reading (it is nothing short of captivating so far). This is not meant to be a review for S. Let us instead examine the positives and negatives of this format, and whether or not authors have found a viable (if more in-depth) alternative to going digital.

For starters, the obvious good: this thing is FUN to read. The text itself is a complete novel. There are no nods or winks at the two commentators, whose notes provide a secondary story over the main source material. Anyone looking to blow through a book better just move on because S. will make a reader slow down and appreciate it. The format of the story draws the reader in as part of the mystery. Everyone (and when I say everyone, I mean us book geeks) has dreamed of finding that mysterious tome in the back shelves of a library and discovering something truly wondrous. No, this is not Tom Riddle’s diary, but expect to have fun nonetheless.

It is unclear which story is more intriguing, both succeed in keeping the reader entertained.
It is unclear which story is more intriguing, both succeed in keeping the reader entertained.

The obvious bad: there are pieces. This is not a book to be read on the train or while traveling, not unless one is extremely careful. Even reading in bed, I have had several occasions where one of the excerpts has nearly slipped free. If lost, there is no real indicator of where it belonged, short of reading the whole thing again to figure it out (another mystery!). There is a simplicity and convenience that can be found with most novels (and e-readers) that is lacking here. In most cases, it is not a bad thing. This is simply a book that demands one’s entire attention.

Even the outside of the book is specially designed to resemble a library book.
Even the outside is specially designed to resemble a library book.

I have seen other books attempt to do what S. accomplishes. The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force (no, I do not think I can get any more nerdy) also features notations from past readers, but these are little more than bizarre flavor and don’t really add anything substantial. There is also no extra material, allowing the book to be available via e-readers. Again, were S. not a mystery, I do not believe this format would work as well.

S. is not the only fascinatingly written book out there. For those seeking other experiences, I recommend House of Leaves. Simply put, there are some things e-readers can do, and some things they cannot. In the words of J.J. Abrams:

“It’s intended to be a celebration of the analog, of the physical object. In this moment of e-mails, and texting, and everything moving into the cloud, in an intangible way, it’s intentionally tangible. We wanted to include things you can actually hold in your hand: postcards, Xeroxes, legal-pad pages, pages from the school newspaper, a map on a napkin.”

Now that is a cool idea.

One last note, I know that Benedict Cumberbatch is rumored to be a villain in the book. I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors.