Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Troops


See these guys?  These were my first Stormtroopers.  Yep, Dad bought them for me at K-Mart sometime in 1978.  They’ve been shot down by Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia, Lando, Admiral Akbar (I liked Akbar), Boba Fett (turncoat SOB), countless times.  They’ve been with me as I’ve traveled the world in the US Army.  They made it (obviously not unscarred) through a house fire in 1996, and have finally settled with me here in the Pacific Northwest.
So, why am I talking about these guys?  I realized something.  A few months back, when I decided I was going to make a custom built lightsaber to fit my personality, I was trying to settle on Jedi saber or Sith.  I couldn’t really.  I wanted to order a sticker for my car.  Empire or Rebels?  Republic?  Resistance? First Order?  I couldn’t quite settle.  Then it occurred to me.  It wasn’t Jedi or Sith or Bounty Hunters or Smugglers or Rebels or Imperials that really appealed to me, that I saw myself in when projecting into Star Wars’ grand tapestry.
It was the Troopers.
Clone Troopers, grown in a test tube, their free will subverted from birth, forced to fight in a war to control a Galaxy that barely sees them as human.  Struggling to establish their own identities among a million faces that look just like the one in the mirror.
Stormtroopers, men and women who were living on backwater planets and saw an opportunity to get out into the Galaxy by accepting Imperial conscription or even enlisting.  People who’s first time off-world or at hyperspace was probably to a training ground that taught you to look out only for yourself and your Empire; do what your told even if what you’re told is “die.”  Who didn’t get good enough training or equipment to win a battle through any other method but overwhelming numbers.
First Order Stormtroopers, many taken from their families as children and conditioned only to serve the brutal zealots trying to resurrect a dead Empire.  Some giving in because it’s all they know.  Some giving in because they believe.  Some just knowing there’s nowhere else to go…but fighting nonetheless.  
Sometimes on the side of right; sometimes thinking they are trying to make the best of a bad situation; struggling to be a person in a system designed to make you the political equivalent of a robot army.  There’s something in those faceless hordes defending a Republic, and Empire, and an Order I connect with.  No, I don’t think my own military service made me a Stormtrooper for the Empire. But, I think we all had our metaphorical moments when we were discouraged from being an individual for the good of the unit; when we were given the allegorical equivalent of a helmet with misaligned eyeholes and a blaster that can’t hold the same sight-picture twice; when we felt like a disconnected leader missing only a mechanical wheeze told us to stand there and get shot by the ragtag rebels so we can follow them back to their base instead of just shooting them before they get back to their transport. 
 Here’s to the Troopers, either Cloned, Conscripted, or Stolen as a baby.  May their nights be Ewok free.
By the way, instead of a saber, I got a DC-15A blaster; for a sticker, I got a Clone Trooper helmet.
And for Halloween, this was my Granddaughter.

Here’s to the losers in all of us, who hold out for the win.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Force is Still Waking Up.




New thoughts!

-Everything in my first review I said about how there were a few too many echoes of Episode IV is rubbish.  Those echoes (starting off in the desert; Resistance/Rebellion vs. First Order/Empire; Giant mega weapon blowing up planets needs to be blown up) exist to set a specific context and tone for our heroes’ journeys and to serve as a backdrop for how DIFFERENT they are than the OT heroes.  Finn, Poe, and Rey are NOT Luke, Han, and Leia, and that makes all the difference.

-The problem I had with too many open questions at the end of my first viewing quickly evolved into having a great time speculating.  Why does it seem Han knows Rey?  Why does Kylo Ren take such interest in a “girl” helping Finn and BB-8 to escape?  What power does Snoke still hold from Kylo, only offering to “complete his training” AFTER Kylo commits patricide?  JJ’s Mystery Box has me harkening back to days in grade school puzzling over Yoda’s declaration of “No, there is another.” Subsequent viewings have become an archeological dig for clues and red herrings, and it’s really a great time.

-Rey is as surprised at her progress as anyone around her, right down to discussing briefly with Finn how she’s not even sure how she was able to pilot the Falcon through the Graveyard of Giants.  It also seems she is seeing the future; when Kylo Ren interrogates her he sees an ocean with an island; this is after she has already touched the saber, so is it a blast from the future and the film’s last scene…or is it a memory and she has been to Luke’s hideout before?  For that matter, is the vision of Kylo and the Knights of Ren standing in the rain a flashback to the purge Kylo led against Luke’s Academy, or a view of the future where Rey will stand against them all?

-The sun above Starkiller Base going black as Kylo snuffs out the light within himself to kill Han is a beautiful dramatic moment.  Indeed, is Starkiller Base an allegory for Ren himself?  It destroys the Republic (kills Han), fails to kill the final target (Rey), and collapses into a burning ball of rage when defeated.

-Given that though, I am now quite convinced that Rey is Ben Solo’s sister, daughter of Han and Leia (whom they believe is dead, but begin to suspect has returned), and that when the Knights of Ren destroyed the Jedi Order, Ben could not bring himself to kill his sister, and HE hid her on Jakku as she suppressed her memories of what had happened.  Ben/Kylo wants to hide the fact he left the girl alive from Snoke, and it is why he becomes so very interested in both the mysterious “girl on Jakku” before he captures her, and in converting her once he has.  

-Folks who can't deal with Rey defeating Kylo in a saber duel: SHE IS THE HERO AND HE IS THE VILLAIN.  IT IS HER MOVIE.  THE TITLE IS ABOUT HER.  Enough said.


I will have another viewing Monday night; we shall see if any more clues emerge!  In the end though, multiple viewings really do improve this film, and it wiggles its way into the Star Wars canon very well.   It is not like episodes I and IV however, films that stand alone; this is the 7th in a series, and perhaps that is exactly how it should be.


Friday, December 25, 2015

The 2015 Holiday Letter!

Hello everyone!
Welcome to the Fosters’ Holiday Update, 2015! I don’t say “holiday” because I am ignoring Christmas, but don’t forget there’re many holidays this time of year: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”; the list goes on.  I hope all of them are treating you right.
The best way to describe our year I think is that we are putting the “tired” in “retired,” but in the most wonderful possible ways.  Early this year I took on a job as an academic coordinator for the Fort Lewis Language Center, and within about six weeks that turned into “Regional Manager.”  It’s an amazing job, surrounded by amazing people.  My staff is from such exotic places as China, Russia, Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, and California; I feel like a Bond Villain every time I show up for work.  There is a lot of work though, so it keeps me moving like the Millennium Falcon on the Kessel Run (too obscure?).  Still this year, I managed to get a book in print, and the first half of my next on digits.  Also did some great collaboration with a phenomenal artist here in Washington to do a small print run on the first of a series of graphic novels.  Need to find a way to reverse that “real job/writing” time ratio.
Also, Jennifer and I found time this year to have another wedding to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first one.  It was a small affair still, but with less tears or shotguns than the first, and a Priest who I think might actually be more of a Trekkie than I am.  We then had a nice honeymoon in Canada, where Jennifer let me do a drive-by (only) of the set to the new Star Trek movie.  There was no repeat of “The Doohan Incident” of ’92.  I behaved. 
We also made some trips this year down to New Mexico to see Zack, Toni, and Jade and their new house.  That Granddaughter, no offense to you all, is my favorite human right now, and she even dressed as a Stormtrooper for Halloween.  Brings tears of joy to this nerd’s eyes.  I’m sure it won’t be long until we’re out looking for droids together…
Jen and I also have been empty-nesters this year.  Hannah spent the first part of the year in Boise, then recently moved out into her own rental across town.  She’s still coming by to watch Doctor Who each week, but I can’t hold that against her.  She’s doing all right, and it’s neat to watch her Adulting all on her own.  Mostly.
Our animal family sadly shrunk by one this year.  Patches the Evil Cat™ turned 18 this year, but also got very sick, so we had to take her to the vet one last time.  Even the dogs miss her…well, Eightball does.  Luna and Patches had an uneasy truce, but I sure miss having her around.  She was Evil, but she was family.  I buried her out front hoping for a horror movie type resurrection, but I guess only some of the terrible things you see on TV extend into real life.
And as I wrap this up, I want to extend our love to you all.  All of you are proof that life is not as horrible as the TV would have you believe.  Yes, there are bad things in the world, but all of you are evidence of the good too, and so long as we stick together on that, there’s nothing the bad can do to win.  Unless “The Force Awakens” is bad, then it’s game over.
We love you all, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and May the Force Be With You.
Daniel, Jennifer, Eightball Tiberius, and Lunafish


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Some more thoughts on The Force Awakens



Having not yet seen it a second time, but obviously thinking about it, and a few good discussions with fellow fans.  I want to quickly address two more minor quibbles (there’s that word again), then some other things I liked.

The score, though a John Williams score, was very lackluster.  There was no real standout motif or theme for me, the way “The Imperial March” or “Duel of the Fates” stands out. 

Secondly, and maybe I just missed this one, were there screen wipes between scenes?  I don’t remember them, though maybe I just didn’t notice.  I am a huge fan of those though in the previous six films, and they did not stand out for me here.

Now, a quick message for the 44 out of 45 detractors I saw on the comments section of theforce.net’s film review:  You don’t get to spend 15 years bitching about Lucas and complain that this didn’t feel like Lucas.  You don’t get to complain that a modern movie didn’t affect you the way one did when you were seven; you’re not seven anymore.  And to that one guy who “doesn’t want to sound sexist” but isn’t sure a female lead can carry the new series, I have two very non-Star Wars words:

Fuck. You.

Sorry, not sure how else to possibly deal with that kind of asshole.  Of course, I am sure Rey can defend herself quite nicely without my help, but I've got her back.  Besides, pay attention jackass; the movie is called "The Force Awakens."  That's about Rey, and I think she carried it just fine.

Now, some things that have sat very well with me in the last 48 hours.  I am increasingly impressed with Adam Driver’s performance.  When he’s beating himself in his blaster wound just to will himself to the anger and pain to tap the Dark Side, just heartbreakingly wonderful.

Hux and his red-faced speech to the masses.  Just excellent.  He's a horrible human, and I like that.

The First Order.  Their Stormtroopers can shoot.  I’m generally a fan of the Troopers—Clone or Storm—and I have long taken issue with the idea that Troopers can’t shoot.  Stormtroopers managed to keep an entire Galaxy under the Empire’s thumb for more than 30 years, and apparently a good remnant stuck around after that.  We seem to forget that they kept missing in Episode IV because Vader told them to.  

The idea that rather than Cloning or conscripting, the First Order is taking children and pressing them into service before they even know their own names is a chilling concept lending to a great villain.

And given that, I am making my official prediction as to the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke:


That’s right, the "Star Wars: Rebels" Grand Inquisitor.  Follow the link up there to see an image of  from the "Art of The Force Awakens" book, and then follow my logic here.  We never hear Snoke or Kylo Ren discuss “The Sith.”  They talk about the Dark Side a lot, but not the Sith.  There’s an unhealthy fixation on Darth Vader, and Snoke is obviously somewhat deformed.  Now, The Inquisitor in all the Rebels merchandising was played up as a very big deal; but, not Sith, just trained in the Dark Side.  His “death” would certainly have damaged him even if he survived, but he could not have gone back to Vader having been defeated by a half-trained Jedi.  So he waited.  With Vader and Palpatine gone at the end of ROTJ, The Inquisitor sees a chance to gain power again.  He’s familiar enough with the Empire to form the First Order from its remnants, and take the rest of the Inquisitors and give them a new beginning as a separate entity: The Knights of Ren.  We know the Inquisitors were out taking children to meet their goals, something the Grand Inquisitor, now going by Snoke (his real name?) implements into the First Order Army.  None of that “Rule of Two” either; more than happy to stock the Knights of Ren with Force sensitives and the Stormtroopers with people who can shoot.  Seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side was a coup, but incomplete due to Snoke’s limited power as not actually being a Sith.  Starkiller base?  A superweapon that perhaps used a kyber crystal to focus its power…like the crystal on the Inquisitor’s homeworld of Utapau in the Clone Wars story reel from the canon, but unproduced TCW season 7. 


Probably not, but I am going with it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Official Black Owl Review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Spoilers!)




So, before I begin, there will be spoilers.  Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.  I am warning you there will be spoilers.  Got it?  OK. 


This is a page from my Dad’s diary, specifically from January 31st, 1978.  I was 5.  That last entry was important to me.  Very important obviously.  It defined a lot of who I was as a kid.  It was really in that theater, that day that the SF fan I am today was born.  As I have grown  I’ve had my problems with Star Wars (documented elsewhere on this blog) but I was really ready for Episode VII. The media blitz was perfect, and it looked like JJ Abrams-whose Star Trek I love-had made good on his promise to do Star Wars right.

I woke up this morning, and my the Lovely Jennifer had been sneaky, and I found this on the coffee table downstairs. 



This is the Target exclusive Hasbro version, and I played with it all morning.  I was all prepped, even took a dramatic, Icon selfie.  



Then, I went to the theater.  The movie played.

I liked it a lot.  A whole lot.  I know that sounds a little weak, but please understand it is really wonderful, but not the mind blowing experience I have seen others had with it.  That’s OK- I have some minor quibbles (which I will get to in a moment), but I am so happy to have this movie out in theaters, and still very glad I bought all the Action Figures before I saw it.  I came home to get them out even.  Of course, I had to shift a lightsaber from one character to another…

So, this is your last chance to look away, because here come the spoilers.  I have the Black Owl review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Just let it in.

This is the best opening crawl yet.  Despite it not being on all the promo material, it does explicitly say “Episode VII,” which took away the sting of not hearing the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It succinctly puts you in the action and brings you up to date on the major events since Return of the Jedi.  Then, minor quibble number one: We got frickin’ Max Von Sydow, who is introduced in the crawl as “an old friend” of General Organa.  He plays Lor San Tekka. 

Who? 

Yeah, I don’t know who he was supposed to be either.  He also is in the film for four minutes.  This could have been a nice nod to someone, anyone, but it isn’t.  It could have brought the wonderful Mr. Sydow into the franchise to appear again and again.  Nope.  Why wasn’t this General Madine, or Kanan Jarrus, or anyone we’d ever heard of?

And that leads me to my second complaint, though this isn’t really the film’s fault.  Disney told me I was getting an integrated universe.  Disney told me everything they do will tie together.  Disney told me there would be direct ties between this film and my beloved Star Wars Rebels.  I saw none.  There was speculation for a while that Kylo Ren was either Ezra Bridger or perhaps HIS son.  Nope.  I really love Rebels and wanted to see a nod; I don’t feel I got one.  As I have asked before, where’s Hera?



So I can move on to all the stuff I really liked, let me get my next couple of quibbles out of the way. (And, I am tired of using the word “quibble.”)  One thing that always struck me about the original Star Wars (you will not hear me call it “A New Hope”) was that it would stand on its own.  Though later the beginning of a trilogy, it was self contained really, certainly an artifact of the fact no one knew if there would ever be another.  Years later, love it or hate it, Episode I did the same thing.  You can watch Phantom Menace all by itself and not really need another thing.  Indeed, when I watch in the famous “Machete Order,” Episode I is so self contained, you don’t even need it.  I wanted a degree of that here.  Instead, this movie feels like a middle movie.  Yeah, I know, it is the first of a new trilogy, and the seventh in a series.  Well, it felt like that too.

There are questions about characters that do get answered: who is Kylo Ren, why did Luke disappear, where did Han and Leia go wrong.  That story is revealed and I like it.  But who is Snoke?  Why is he leading the First Order?  Who left Rey on Jakku?  There seems to be hints that she’s Luke’s daughter, but no real confirmation.  These are obviously threads to pick up later, but I think they are dangling out there to a distracting degree, to the point that I am left not with an eager curiosity, but rather a feeling of being let down that we don’t tie those lose ends up.  This movie ends like Empire; worse yet, like Fellowship of the Ring.  Yeah, I know there will be more, but too much is left hanging out there for me.  To much JJ mystery box is left unopened for me in the end.  On these questions, I don’t walk out with any sense of closure.

My last problem is how much this movie really borrows from Star Wars (which I am still not going to call “A New Hope.”)  There are a lot of familiar scenes that feel lifted from the OT for me; the final assault against the planet destroying citadel; Maz’s palace feeling a lot like a certain Cantina; Jakku feeling a lot like a certain Cantina’s homeworld; Opening with a droid carrying important information fleeing across the desert.  If you felt Star Trek Into Darkness borrowed too heavily from Wrath of Khan, you may feel JJ did that here too.  Oddly, I didn’t feel STID was too derivative, but this one felt a little too familiar in places. 

OK, that’s all out of the way.  Let’s talk about some good stuff, and there’s a lot.

Captain Phasma is definitely the Boba Fett of this film.  She’s awesome every second she’s on camera, and you just want more.  Fett in fandom went on to earn a following (myself included) that perhaps wasn’t really too well deserved given the short screen time and ignominious ending.  Phasma they say will be back in a big way in Episode VIII and I can’t wait.  So glad she didn’t get Darth Mauled or Fetted here.



I fell in love all over again with the Millennium Falcon.  She gets some great moments here, and I was worried she was going to be the older cast member who died, but no, she makes it, and I want to see years and years of Rey and Chewie in her cockpit. .

Oh, and Rey. Finn is solid as a Stormtrooper with a conscience, but that Rey. I had gotten the sense from the social media leading up to this film that Daisy Ridley was something of a find.  What I did not know is that she is a precious jewel to be treasured, worshipped, and venerated.  Watching her slowly come into her powers was a delight.  Watching her not have to be rescued was a joy.



Watching her was the high point of the film…even if she apparently is not General Leia Organa’s daughter.

Leia and Han are great here.  Ford is in fine form in his last outing, and when he and the former Princess are on screen together, it is magic.  My brother-in-law told me there would be tears, but when the major tragic act happens ending Han Solo, I did not shed a tear…until they cut away to Leia sensing it in the Force.  That got me, and I am so glad they just let Carrie Fisher be her in this film.

And I loved the Kylo Ren stuff.  The tragedy of Ben Solo plays out very well for me, and that is very much due to the wonderful performance by Adam Driver.  The Lovely Jennifer felt he was a little too emo, but I liked watching the battle between light and dark ravage him, liked how he was in no way the smooth Sith Lord of films past, but the unhinged child of war who made the wrong choice when it all came down to it.  I am really ready to hear just who Snoke is so we can see how that all played out as Ben turned on Luke.  I certainly look forward to seeing Kylo and Rey with their sabers drawn on one another again, him now scarred by his first confrontation with her.  That’s the type of string I DID want to be left to later be plucked.  Looking forward to it.

So, aside from some things that keep it from leaving me astounded, I got a well delivered and performed film, that was lovely to look at, and a very worthy sequel to the saga.  I hope the rest of this trilogy brings home the things set in motion here, because now that the Force has Awakened, I am really ready to see where it wants to go next.  It isn't The Empire Strikes Back, but maybe it would be if I was the same age I was in 1981.

Oh, and next time, more Poe.  I liked Poe.  I hope he and Finn both spend a little more time in the back of the Millennium Falcon.

Even if Rey makes them both a little superfluous.


(Official content is property of Disney, no infringement intended, used for review purposes only.)