Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 01:10 on 10-03-2018, Adrienne
Robinson L - well, there's never a surfeit of plot in the books; things do happen, of course, but the atmosphere and the mystery and the language are more salient to what the books are trying to do.

I'm not sure whether audiobook is a good way to read them, either - the beauty of the prose seems like it might get lost with a bad narrator? (But i don't like audiobooks all that well to start with, so i'm definitely not necessarily a great judge.)

But in any case - yeah, i expected to hate them and then thought they were fantastic; at least give it another few chapters. :)
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at 15:30 on 09-03-2018, Robinson L
Er, well, I only just started on Annihilation yesterday, and I'm pretty slow when it comes to books. I got it on audio, and I've only listened to the first chapter (which is apparently the first seventh of the book). So far, I'm not thrilled about the narrator - I'm pretty sure she's the same one who narrated the Hunger Games, and oddly, I think her voice felt more natural to those books, despite the fact that she doesn't remotely make a believable teenager. I also haven't emotionally connected with any of the characters yet, and the mystery of Area X is mildly interesting, but not particularly exciting yet.

Your post makes me hopeful that things will indeed pick up at some point. But I'm afraid it's going to take me a while before I'm able to talk about the substance of the book, let alone the whole trilogy.
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at 02:58 on 09-03-2018, Adrienne
Holy shit, i just finished Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy and i am dying for people to talk about it with. I didn't even expect to like the books, but they were amazing. I feel broken open by the experience.
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at 20:41 on 27-02-2018, Adrienne
As someone who loves basically all the Hainish novels, despite their myriad flaws -- i am all for there to be more stuff about them here, Arthur, and i look forward to your reviews!

(I haven't been around much recently for many reasons, but one is that i think Star Wars is fashy and terrible. But i'm glad y'all are having fun discussing it here!)
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at 18:01 on 24-02-2018, Robinson L
I have not, I'm afraid. A while ago, my sisters and my stepmother expressed some interest in going to see it, but then they looked up a spoiler that apparently a pet dies, somewhat gruesomely, and they decided "No, thank you." I probably would've tagged along, but I'm not so interested as to go out and see it on my own initiative.
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at 16:00 on 20-02-2018, Alice
Anyone seen The Shape of Water? Thoughts?
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at 15:30 on 15-02-2018, Robinson L
It took a while, but I've now seen The Last Jedi again twice in theaters. The first rewatch in particular brought up a number of fresh points, as well as new perspectives on some old ones.

First and biggest is that I think I previously overestimated the somberness of the film. It's still probably the broodiest Star Wars movie so far, with the fewest big action set pieces, but scene by scene, it's still more focused on the adventure dimension of the story than the Heavy Dramas. So I'm leaning more towards the side of it being a good Star Wars movie, as well as a good movie. (My sisters disagree on both counts, as do other members of the discussion, I realize, but I gotta call 'em as I see 'em.)

I also found it easier to accept a lot of parts of the movie which either rubbed me the wrong way or just felt out of place on first viewing. There's still stuff which made me cringe (like the bad comedy with Finn when he first meets Rose), or just angry (like the lack of Lando), but overall, it went down much smoother the second and third times. I've since listened to multiple podcasts where they talked about how a lot of people have said it's a better viewing experience if you know what to expect going in, so apparently mine was far from an isolated experience.

On the subject of podcasts, and before I get into my follow-up thoughts on the movie, I have to acknowledge the 9-point representation list compiled by Meg of Far, Far Away Radio. She raised a lot of points I hadn't considered and many that I have to agree with: the observation about deaths of female vs male characters in the movie was particularly striking, and not something I really noticed - even on the third viewing, which was after I listened to that particular podcast episode.

In terms of specific stuff I noticed:

- The soundtrack was incredible. This was especially noticeable to me in the big evacuation scene at the beginning, and really set the adventurous mood for me. I know The Force Awakens' score has been accused of being lackluster and unmemorable, and I think this movie's music really kicked things back up to standard.

- Likewise, the cintematography. This is a visually incredible movie, with so many rich, vivid shots - Rey on that rock on Jedi Island Planet, and Luke with his robes flowing around him on the same rock at night when he reopens himself to the Force and contacts Leia. (And yes, there's also the extreme silliness of Leia flying through space back into the Resistance command ship, but that's only one shot, and it's still an awesome moment.)

- I know Poe's clowning around with General Hux is controversial, with a lot of people finding that kind of humor out of place (like how a lot of the humor of Thor Ragnarok didn't really fit the tone of the movies and was more appropriate for Guardians of the Galaxy). This time around, I realized the reason it works for me is specifically because it takes the wind out of Hux's pontificating. To me, Hux's over-the-top speechifying was one of the most unintentionally hilarious aspects of The Force Awakens - second only to any time Adam Driver was out of mask - so I appreciated having it mocked so mercilessly in this one.

- I know the bombing run on the First Order dreadnought was supposed to be a mistake on Poe's part, but I wonder if, in hindsight, it might actually have saved all their lives. If they'd known the First Order could track them through hyperspace, would Leia have approved the bombing run? Poe calls it a "fleet-killer" - so perhaps if the First Order had had it with them when the Resistance first jumped through hyperspace, it would have wiped out all their ships in the first few minutes, before they could get out of its range. Hard to be sure, but an interesting thought.

- While I'm on the subject of Poe, I know Ibmiller didn't think much of Admiral Holdo's plan, but I thought the handling of Finn, Rose, and Poe's scheme was actually downright brilliant. Yes, the plan was ludicrous - but it was exactly the kind of ludicrous stunt the heroes in Star Wars stories pull on a regular basis, and it always, always works. Until The Last Jedi. It's a really neat bit of subverting the standard Star Wars narrative.

- The other thing I like about it is that the movie orchestrates things in such a way that it genuinely comes across as a good idea. That's an accomplishment, considering we've already had Poe's character arc for this movie established in his conversation with Leia. Too often in books and movies, when one of the protagonists makes a mistake, it's so heavily foreshadowed as such that I get frustrated waiting around for the inevitable disaster (Claudia Gray's otherwise excellent Bloodline was a major offender in this regard, and it was even largely justified in-story). But the "take out their tracking capability" plan doesn't feel like a mistake until the point where everything goes wrong, so there's no excruciating wait for the catastrophe to arrive.

- Rose's moral from the secondary climax on Crait, victory comes not from destroying what they hate but saving what they love, is neatly foreshadowed at the end of the Canto Bight sequence. After they've rampaged through the city on the freed herd of fathiers, Finn and Rose are about to be taken back into custody by the traffic cops. Finn comforts himself that it was worth it to stick it to the rich war profiteers in the city; Rose doesn't directly confront him on this idea, but just lets the last fathier free and says, "Now it's worth it." The execution is admittedly a bit twee (hey, it's Star Wars), but again, the resolution of the arc is set up in such a way that it only becomes obvious in hindsight.

- Artoo bringing out the famous Leia hologram from the very first movie to make a point to Luke is pretty shameless, but it works so well in-story that I can't fault it.

- I'm sure I mentioned this before, but I love Luke's first lesson to Rey about the Force. The merciless mocking as hilarious of course, but the montage of dichotomies ("life," and "death which feeds new life"; "warmth," "cold"; "peace," "violence"; and the Force between them all) is spectacular. I thought it was particularly clever how "violence" is not depicted by standard images like a predator attacking prey or two rival animals fighting, but a nest full of broken eggs being crashed around by waves.

- Something which only occurred to me on my third viewing was that even if everything Kylo Ren says about Rey's parents is right, there's still a mystery about her background: why has she been dreaming about Jedi Island Planet all her life? Unfortunately, the most I expect out of Abrams is "because she's a potential Jedi, I guess" - or, given his reputation, just ignore that question entirely. But it's a potentially interesting point.

- For the most part, I find Daisy Ridley's portrayal of Rey to be outstanding. She's strong, and she's kind, and she's loveable and she's smart and she's competent and so many other things. However, one weakness I did identify in her portrayal was her delivery of shouting accusations. Specifically, lines like, "Did you try to murder him?" come out pretty silly.

- Also, she never apologizes to the Keepers for constantly breaking their shit. Not so much as a simple "Sorry." What's up with that?

- Also, also, were we supposed to think there was really a possibility Rey would decide to join Kylo Ren? Because even with stuff like her going into the cave, I never for a moment believed there was a chance of Rey turning evil.

- Before the movie came out, there were theories flying around that Kylo would be redeemed and Rey would fall to the dark side. On paper, I think that would've been a great direction to take the story. But I'm so deeply invested in Rey's character and so deeply uninvested in Kylo Ren's that I'm relieved they didn't go that direction. (And I'm pretty sure I would still be uninvested in Kylo Ren even if he was played by a more suitable actor.)

- (On which note, brief tangent time: the second - and, unfortunately, final - season of The Shannara Chronicles is on Netflix here in the US, and it occurs to me that the guy who plays Bandon would've been a better fit for Kylo Ren. He'd have to play it a bit more incompetent while still being convincingly dangerous, but I'm sure he could pull it off.)

- Getting back to the movie: I think Leia's farewell scene with Holdo is fantastic. They only share, like, a minute of conversation, but by the time they part I was absolutely convinced these two people were old friends and colleagues with decades of history behind them. That's a big accomplishment. (I heard on a podcast that apparently, Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern basically wrote that scene together, which doesn't surprise me.)

- There was also an incident, just after Poe stages his mutiny and runs to prepare the Resistance flagship for a hyperspace jump; the movie cut to the next scene, and after seeing what was on the screen, my mother and I turned to each other and said, "Well that ship just looks like a clothing iron"; and I, for one, was disappointed because up to then the production values were more creative than that. Then the camera pulls back to reveal that it actually is a clothing iron, which was a great pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you moment; but the best part was, of course, that I'd had the exact same reaction on my first viewing, and then completely forgotten about it until after it had already yanked the rug out a second time.

- Benicio del Toro's character was another beneficiary of the second and third viewings. I wasn't already a fan of the actor, and the first time around he seemed like just another boring male human character cluttering up the film. Second time around, I appreciated him a bit more for what he was, and his role developing Finn's character arc, especially towards the end where he provokes Finn into realizing the Resistance is worth fighting for.

- Despite how derivative the Prime Climax in the Throne Room was, I appreciate the way Snoke, Rey, and Kylo all go into that scene with foresight of what's going to happen which makes them confident. All of them saw truly, but none of them saw completely, causing each of them to have incorrect expectations. It's like that ableist parable of the blind guys trying to figure out what an elephant is. Or maybe it's a demonstration of how it's possible to have foresight of future events without negating free will.

- I still think the Prime Climax works very well despite being derivative, but it's unfortunate. Something which really hit me on second viewing was how dangerous Snoke is built up to be at the beginning of the scene. Those communications between Rey and Kylo Ren all through the movie? Snoke arranged them. The moral turmoil Rey felt in Kylo Ren? Snoke did that, too. If you haven't seen or don't remember Return of the Jedi (my mom was in the latter camp), you could seriously be asking yourself at this point, 'How the hell is Rey going to get out of this one?' If you remember Return of the Jedi, though, the answer is almost painfully obvious, which undermines the impact of Snoke's revelations.

- Something I only noticed the third time around is that once you accept Snoke is an unambiguous Palpatine Clone, he's a pretty okay character. If anything, he's more theatrical than Palpatine, and has more of a sense of humor - a nasty sense of humor, granted, but it's there nonetheless. About one third of his dialogue with Rey is taunting and mocking her, or delighting in her apparently useless attempts to resist him. There's also the time she tries to call her lightsaber to her, and he takes it over and pulls it back, having it bonk her on the back of the head in the process. And he's constantly levitating people or knocking them to the floor and turning them around, or tossing them away with a blast of lightning. At the end of the day, he's still a derivative character, who's undone by the exact same weakness as his template, but at least he's got some pizazz.

- I still dislike the part where Leia and the other Resistance members are in the command center on Crait, and they learn no one's responded to their call for help, because, according to Leia's diagnosis, they've lost hope. Throughout the movie, people like Rey and Snoke identify hope with Luke Skywalker, and others with the survivors of the Resistance. The implication being that the willingness of the entire rest of the galaxy to stand up against the First Order's oppression is largely dependent on this tiny, tiny number of people who are heroes of the Resistance. If the rest of the galaxy's will is that fragile and fickle, then freedom is probably a lost cause, anyway.

- I may have overstated the extent to which the build up to Luke's death goes over the top at yanking on the old heart strings. It's still mawkish, but perhaps not as much as I previously implied.

- I know people have complained that, say, Threepio and Chewbacca were barely in the movie. And while this may be true, when they are on screen, they're used to brilliant effect. (Well, that scene where Chewie's getting guilted out of eating roast porg is kind of inane - is he just supposed to let it go to waste? - but otherwise, I really like their roles.)

So yeah, three viewings later, and notwithstanding its real and serious flaws, I really enjoy The Last Jedi, and I think it's a solid entry in the series.


Coming up next for me: Black Panther.
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at 20:00 on 26-01-2018, Robinson L
@Ibmiller: Okay, I'll keep The Telling in mind for future reference.

The book in question is The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993) by pagan activist Starhawk, and, if you want to read a book with the title scheme [optional-preposition]-[number]-[positive-adjective-with-some-degree-of-mystical-connotation]-"Thing", definitely the one I'd recommend. The author spoke in an interview about The Dispossessed being one of her favorite books, and rereading it when she was working on the recent sequel she wrote. And I could easily believe there was an influence in terms of imagining a stateless, noncapitalist society. But where The Dispossessed dwells with questions of how an anarchic society could go wrong, the main question of The Fifth Sacred Thing is how such a society could defend itself from a fascist invasion without becoming as warlike as its' enemies.

The book obviously appeals to me because of my politics - indeed, it could've been practically tailor-made for me on that score - but I also fell in love with the characters and their struggles and their story arcs. I really appreciate the way the characters learn important lessons that feel true to their arcs, without it being telegraphed ahead of time that this is what they need to learn.

I was also blown away by the author's use of language, imagery, and symbolism - and I say this as someone who usually passes over rich, beautiful, vivid prose without much notice (*cough*God of Small Things*cough*). And it's one of the most emotionally intense books I've ever read, right up there with On the Jellicoe Road, containing so much joy and so much sadness. On the latter count, while the book ultimately has a happy ending, there's a lot of tragedy along the way, and the author pulls no punches in depicting the depredations of the fascist villains. But unlike grimdark literature, the point is not to revel in the depravity, or make a pseudo-insightful statement about "the real way the world works, man," but as part of the contrast the book sets up between humanity's worst side and it's best (as the author sees it). And, again, ultimately it's the best side which wins out.

I also appreciate how none of the deaths in the book feel manipulative, or like cheap shots, or so heartbreaking that they threw me out of the story. (Sadly, the same can't be said for the recent sequel novel, which did a lot of neat and interesting things, but overall, I didn't enjoy nearly as much as the original.)
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at 16:53 on 26-01-2018, Ibmiller
Arthur - I would LOVE to read a review of the Hainish books that don't get read as much. The Dispossessed is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, and I really enjoyed The Telling, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusion. In honor of Le Guin's life, I'm reading Left Hand of Darkness for the first time (which review on ferretbrain prompted me to think that the ferret response was mixed), and plan to also read The Word for World is Forest. I may also reread The Dispossessed, since I love it so much. :)

My hesitance to read Left Hand so far has been my aversion to tragedy - though I did listen to the 2-hour BBC Radio 4 drama a couple of years ago, and loved that. But because of her death, I've finally gotten off my duff and am going through the book itself - and so far, it's very much Le Guin. Slow, thoughtful, painful, and beautiful.

Robinson - I think you would appreciate The Telling (2000). I find it a lesser Le Guin work, but it's still quite lovely, and the explorations of culture and religion I think you might appreciate. I'm curious which books The Dispossessed inspired - was that the book by Delany?
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at 05:15 on 26-01-2018, Robinson L
Good to know. As I said, I have deep respect for her contributions to the genre, and I always appreciate ferretbrain reviews of topics I have some interest in, but can't be arsed to go into blind (see: Moorcock, Lovecraft, and many more). So far, The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness are the only Hainish stories I've read so far. Who know, perhaps your review will inspire me to give some others a chance.
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at 21:10 on 25-01-2018, Arthur B
I am absolutely pro-Le Guin. I've been working my way slowly towards doing a review of the lesser-known Hainish materials and should probably shunt that up the priority list.
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at 18:00 on 25-01-2018, Robinson L
Actually, I suspect I'm an outlier on the site for not being hugely impressed by le Guin's fiction. I revisited the first three Earthsea books a few years back, and I just found them okay. Tried The Left Hand of Darkness once, and only sheer stubbornness got me all the way through, because I was so incredibly bored by it. The Dispossessed is easily my favorite of her stuff that I've read, and that's at least as much for the exploration of political ideas as any interest I had in the characters or plot. (It also apparently helped inspire one of my new absolute favorite books, so there's that.) But I still recognize and respect the enormous contributions she made to the genre. I suspect most of my fellow neurons would be much quicker to praise her works.
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at 22:00 on 24-01-2018, Ibmiller
So, Ursula Le Guin has passed away. I know she has kind of a mixed ferretbrain response, but I think she's a true great in science fiction and fantasy - not just politically, but from the sheer beauty and power of her prose and stories.
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at 18:02 on 19-01-2018, Robinson L
Whoops, I completely spaced out on finishing my scenario.

Sooo, anyway, after having his ability to use the Force for evil stripped from him, Kylo Ren is placed in Chewbacca's custody and permanently exiled to Kashyyyk, where he's completely dependent upon the locals for survival what with being way high up in the trees and all the dangerous predators on the lower levels of the planet. And also, every other person around him can literally rip him in half if he steps out of line. So he's not been redeemed, but he can still be made to do good (or else he says hello to the predators on the lower levels), and there's no way he can cause further trouble.

I could see me being okay with that ending, but I don't expect the movie to go that way; Hollywood likes to tie off its major plot threads a lot more cleanly and neatly than that.
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at 00:36 on 19-01-2018, Robinson L
Also in my musing, I came up with a scenario for how they could avoid redeeming Kylo Ren and still have it be satisfactory.

Before going into that, though, I want to talk a little about Anakin Skywalker's redemption to give context. I think Anakin's redemption is a hugely significant development in the saga, one that - mythologically speaking - has major, lasting consequences for the story.

However, in my view the importance of the redemption aspect of his character arc is often overlooked or downplayed. The old Expanded Universe had numerous stories taking place in the time of the prequels, many of which prominently featured Anakin. Of these stories, a substantial subset foreshadowed Anakin's descent into the dark side in various ways. While this is understandable, I noticed there were a lot fewer stories foreshadowing the Anakin's return to the light in the end. It felt as though those stories had lost sight of the fact that the character of Anakin Skywalker is ultimately a hero who loses his way and finds it again in the end, and treated him more like a villain waiting to happen. (Admittedly, the latter interpretation is bolstered by some weak acting and directing choices in the prequel films.)

I've also seen the rest of the Expanded Universe and the sequel films dwell heavily on the theme of a good character's fall into darkness, while the theme of bad characters becoming good has been much less prominent, and sometimes ignored altogether.

I think this is unfortunate, but what actively upsets me is when the impact of his redemption on the mythology of the franchise is undermined. I know Arthur has pointed out multiple times that in real world terms, the original trilogy heroes' victory and Anakin's redemption accomplished a great deal. But Star Wars is a franchise dripping in mythology, and so I think it's reasonable to ask that his victory have substantial mythological consequences as well.

I would suggest three logical potential consequences it could have, and submit that, for it to be as mythologically significant as it seems to be in Return of the Jedi, then at least the third and one of the first two ought to hold true:

1) he breaks the back of the Empire so that it never again grows powerful enough to take over the galaxy; 2) he destroys the Sith so that they can never menace the galaxy again; 3) he breaks the Skywalker family curse so that none of his descendants will fall to the dark side for at least the next 5 of 6 generations out.

Obviously, all three of these potential consequences were thrown out by both the Expanded Universe and the sequel trilogy. (And unnecessarily, I'll add - as that review Daniel F linked points out, there are plenty of other stories you can tell in the Star Wars universe which don't require feeding old villains and problems from the previous movies through a copy machine. I personally would've liked something involving droids, because I want to see a Star Wars property tackle head on the question of how the hell you can have droids like Threepio and Artoo and BB-8, who are clearly alive for all intents and purposes and yet are not part of the Force.) At this point, in either continuity, the mythological consequences of Anakin's redemption are effectively nil, which I think is tragic, and I'd hate to see them walk even further by having his last descendant fall to the dark side and never be redeemed. "His failure is now complete" indeed.

... All of which said, here's how I could see Episode IX not giving Kylo Ren a redemption arc and avoid pissing me off even further:

Kylo Ren is defeated in a final battle with Rey, but remains unrepentant. The good guys take him prisoner, but they're going to rebuild civilization from a higher ethical standard, so they refuse to execute him.

The filmmakers then resurrect an obscure technique from the Expanded Universe whereby a Force-user can be permanently stripped of their power, and have Rey use it on Kylo Ren - either that, or they hand-wave things so that now a Force ghost can stand guardian over him and ensure he never uses the Force for villainous purposes again, under the right circumstances. The Force ghost in question, of course, is Anakin Skywalker, as portrayed as Hayden Christensen (hey, he can't be any worse than Adam Driver) for maximum irony.

Either way, to ensure he can never get up to any mischief again, Kylo is placed in

(Something else I heard in the podcast reviews of Last Jedi are many people assuming Kylo and Rey are going to hook up in IX, which presumably entails a redemption on his part in the process. I have to admit this is a plausible outcome from what's been set up in The Last Jedi, but the prospect is so appalling that I haven't let myself consider it seriously. Between that and no redemption at all, I can't work out which possibility is worse.)
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at 00:30 on 19-01-2018, Robinson L
Daniel F: There is room in this universe for creativity, once you unshackle yourself from familiar story beats.

Very true. This is why, while I love getting more adventures of the original trilogy cast, I'm annoyed that the second of the anthology films - the side movies - is all about a young Han Solo. Let's open up the universe a bit more, please?

The trilogies are all products of their era. Even the OT: heroic Rebels overthrowing an evil empire seems like a fitting narrative for the beginning of the Reagan era. The PT was widely interpreted as critical of Bush or Blair, with fears about tyrannical government overreach, corrupt government, and an executive head feeding a country lies to lead it into war.

Right, although the first movie came out 3 years before Reagan first ran, and was in the works for a few years before that - I've heard that it was based on the Nixon Administration and Vietnam. Likewise, I'm pretty sure Attack of the Clones was written and filmed before the September 11th attacks. And Rogue One and The Last Jedi were both in the tin before the 2016 election. I guess if you make a movie about rebellion against a warmongering, authoritarian government, the United States can be counted upon to provide real world parallels on a semi-regular basis.

But I was referring more to the mood and outlook of the films. The original trilogy consciously told an optimistic story with heroes who were thoroughly good rather than morally compromised anti-heroes - in direct and deliberate contrast to the gloomy, proto-grimdark films of the late 70s. The sequel trilogy, by contrast, I feel is more closely in step with the mood and outlook sensibilities of contemporary cinema.

My recollection is that you’re an anarchist of some sort? We might actually have more in common than you think. But you never know.

Well, I'm uncomfortable with labels, because I often find them limiting - but yeah, that's pretty much where I'm at.

However, I was quoting Ibmiller, and as he says, my response was specifically directed at him.

Ibmiller: I have no idea what could ever make me want to read Crucible.

Sorry, yeah, I was trying to come up with an analogy which fit the current conversation, and that was what came to mind. I actually was grudgingly impressed by some elements of Crucible, but yeah, it's not a worthwhile read on the whole - especially if you already slogged through the whole of Legacy of the Force (and maybe Fate of the Jedi?) instead of just half like me.

I mean, I would LOVE to see Mara back, even without her connection to Luke - that kind of slow redemption story, realizing that she's working for the wrong side - is great.

Same here.

Haha, I know your opinions on Captain Cardboard. I just like him. :)

I like him okay as a supporting character - though I'm a bit biased toward his brother Chak from Survivor's Quest - I just find him boring as a love interest for one of my favorite characters. But hey, I'm glad you enjoy him.

In other news, I finally started listening to some podcast reviews of The Last Jedi, and they've reminded me of a couple elements of the movie which have gotten me thinking some more about a couple of points. In particular, it reminded me of what bugged me so much about Luke's death. Not the part where both the soundtrack and camerwork go into what I can only describe as the musical and cinematography equivalent of hyperventilating to beat the message into me "Be sad now! Be sad now! Be sad now!" for what feels like a solid minute before he actually dies. Or how Rey flies directly in the face of the above when she claims his death was peaceful and not sad. Or the way that, for me, his death undermines the awesomeness of his parting shot to Kylo Ren, "I'll see you around, kid." Turns out, not so much. (Yes, he'll almost certainly come back as a Force ghost, but that's not the same. If he'd said that line as a Force ghost it might've been different.) But it's related to that last point.

I thought Luke's confrontation with Kylo Ren was fantastic. I particularly liked the part where it looks like he's gearing himself up to do the Obi-Wan sacrifice, and Kylo Ren takes a swing at him with the lightsaber and I'm thinking 'holy shit, they're really going to do this' - and instead it passes right through him, and he's been on Island Planet the entire time. That was an awesome moment.

... And then he up and dies for real five minutes later, which to me undermines the moment. If you fake out a character death, and then go ahead and kill the character off for real soon afterwards, the original fake out winds up feeling pointless. (This is also what frustrates me about stories where you're led to believe a supporting character is a villain, and then they're killed off only a little while after having their name cleared.)

I'm okay with killing off Luke in principle, but if that's what they were going to do, they really should have nixed the Obi-Wan fake out. (There were other potential ways to reveal he was on Island Planet.)

And here's the thing: setting aside the aforesaid Melodramatic Build Up, I thought the execution of Luke's death was well done. Very well done. As a matter of fact, it's the same way I feel about Han's death scene in The Force Awakens, though the build up here is less excruciating.

But as great moments go, the Obi-Wan fake out was better. A lot better. I think the movie would have been best served by leaving Luke alive on Island Planet - maybe telling himself 'that took a lot out of me, better not try it again' - and left it to IX to kill him off. Granted, now that would mean clearing out both Luke and Leia in IX, but 1) Johnson and company didn't know that at the time, and 2) while this would be a difficult task to pull off, it's far from impossible. (I think it could especially work if Abrams and his crew took my suggestion from way earlier and revealed Han to be alive after all, and the last of the Big Three standing.)
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at 16:03 on 17-01-2018, Ibmiller
Probably not a great topic for the playpen. If you want to send me a message on my blog, or hunt me down on another social media platform for a DM or PM or something, I'd be fine with that.
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at 08:18 on 17-01-2018, Daniel F
Do you feel like expanding, or should we leave it there? I suspect that my views aren't quite the norm here either... but then, I suppose I'm not sure what the norm even is.
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at 03:56 on 17-01-2018, Ibmiller
Um. Unless I'm a lot less unusual among the ferrets than I thought, not likely.
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at 00:33 on 17-01-2018, Daniel F
I thought we were mostly in agreement on structures?

Otherwise, oops, that's embarrassing.
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at 16:58 on 16-01-2018, Ibmiller
Robinson: I have no idea what could ever make me want to read Crucible. Even if you told me Wedge Antilles and Tycho Celchu save the day, I wouldn't read it. Denning is just that bad in my experience.

I mean, I would LOVE to see Mara back, even without her connection to Luke - that kind of slow redemption story, realizing that she's working for the wrong side - is great. I feel like they tried to do that with the new Battlefront character Iden Versio, but I just was not feeling the story when I watched through the first hour or so of it.

And no, they're not rationed. I hope!

Haha, I know your opinions on Captain Cardboard. I just like him. :)

Daniel - I think Robinson was talking about my ideas about the proper role of structures and institutions, not yours. :)
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at 04:58 on 16-01-2018, Daniel F
On Christie Golden:

Yes, she’s written a lot of garbage. I would single out Starcraft: Flashpoint and World of Warcraft: War Crimes as particularly bad, but it’s possible she’s written other awful novels and I haven’t read them. Those two in particular stand out as unnecessary ‘bridge’ books between two video games, written to a narrow deadline, with the requirement that they not effect anything in the surrounding games. So Flashpoint is supposed to bridge Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, but the fact is that HotS follows on directly from WoL with no intermission. So Golden had to invent a nonsensical two weeks or so to cram in the middle, all with the requirement that nothing happen, so that people who didn’t read the novel don’t get confused. It’s the worst sort of tie-in novel: just a shallow appeal to completionists.

But as I said, I liked her two orc novels, so I hold out hope that if she’s given more time to write a novel and more creative space to work in, she can do something a bit better. Neither Lord of the Clans or Rise of the Horde are particularly original, but the former is everything I want out of fantasy adventure pulp, and the latter does a reasonably good job of showing how nomadic hunter-gatherers transform into a bloodthirsty juggernaut of destruction.

Robinson:

Dawn of the Jedi is one of my absolute favorite Star Wars properties of all time. (Odd, considering I found Ostrander and Duursema's other Star Wars series at best "okay.") I loved the mythology and the way it played around with the mysticism of the franchise, and I'm a sucker for a "discovering the good within you" character arc. And I'll note that they accomplished all this telling a brand new fecking story that was true to the spirit and themes of Star Wars without cannabalizing and repackaging large chunks of the films, unlike some other stories I could mention.

Indeed. If you get away from the most well-mined areas of Star Wars history (tentatively, I’d say TotJ/KotOR, the PT, the OT, and post-RotJ), there are a lot of different stories you can tell. There is room in this universe for creativity, once you unshackle yourself from familiar story beats.

I think that's right - which shouldn't be surprising, given the 30 year time gap between the trilogies' productions, and the shift in real world sensibilities over that period. Then again, the sequel trilogy seems a lot like a reflection of modern attitudes and sensibilities, such as in the general sense of disillusion, and the feeling that the universe is crumbling around us with no clear sense of what a better alternative might be, and a brooding tone.

The trilogies are all products of their era. Even the OT: heroic Rebels overthrowing an evil empire seems like a fitting narrative for the beginning of the Reagan era. The PT was widely interpreted as critical of Bush or Blair, with fears about tyrannical government overreach, corrupt government, and an executive head feeding a country lies to lead it into war. And the ST, I think, has this sense of ennui that younger people in the West have now? There’s a sense that the old systems aren’t working, and that we have to grow out of the chains of the past and accomplish some sort of social action, and its skepticism of institutions (the collapse of the New Republic, collapse of the Jedi Order, the much more overtly fascist First Order compared to the merely authoritarian Empire, etc.) fits alongside a modern rejection of institutional religion or putative moral authorities more generally.

Sorry, I could go on about this for a long time. The changing religious and spiritual landscape of the First World is... something of a specialty for me.

That sounds accurate. I'm sure we have very different ideas about what the proper role of structures and institutions actually is, and how they ought to be organized, but a general breakdown and lack of clear understanding does seem to be at work.

My recollection is that you’re an anarchist of some sort? We might actually have more in common than you think. But you never know.
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at 22:30 on 15-01-2018, Robinson L
Ibmiller: I'm a pretty obsessive Holmes and Watson fan (and will defend my love of Elementary as canonical to the death ;) )

I knew the former, and the latter is something you and my sisters share in common. It's one of the very few shows my entire family can watch together - and my favorite of those, about even with John Oliver.

Interesting about the comics. I have so little interest in the subjects they're dealing with that I don't read them often, but I have enjoyed things like the Lando series, and the Vader series (even though I really don't like villain stories).

I really liked the Lando series, and Vader is quite good, and I say that as someone who likewise isn't into villain stories. I also recently read the Obi-Wan and Anakin and Han Solo miniseries and midway through I thought they were extremely good ... then came the resolutions, which worked over all, but had enough flaws that they brought down the overall quality a few notches.

I wish I liked the Poe comics, but they're so obviously "we want to squeeze money from you X-Wing fans, but we're not going to write anything that actually matters or is seriously engaging) that I was very disappointed.

Huh. I find them pretty engaging so far. I enjoy the character work for the most part, and the plots are good. Like I said before, not great, but well above average. Then again, I generally enjoy this sort of prequel "how did we get here?" type of storytelling, which I know you don't.

You make an excellent point that not redeeming Kylo would make the pathetic resurgence of the Empire even worse - but I still can't want it. I just hate him too much.

I don't blame you - as a character he's risible in almost every way possible. (Which is to say, I appreciate what they're trying to do with his character, but it doesn't work as portrayed by Adam Driver, and I hate that they decided to give that particular character arc to Leia and Han's kid.)

I do think Lucas has said that the Jedi in the prequels are not supposed to be ideologically admirable, but I don't think he was that great at communicating that

Huh. In that case, yes, I agree the films do a bad job of making that point clear, but that interpretation is still present in those movies, if you see what I mean. More so, say, than the interpretation of Faux Skywalker's Jedi Order as a paranoid, authoritarian organization is present in Troy Denning's Crucible, because we do see the negative consequences of the prequel Jedi Order's inflexibility, even if the movies do a poor job of attributing it appropriately.

It's too bad, because depicting a deeply flawed system which the people in charge are dogmatically attached to and actively suppress attempts to change for the lesser ultimately contributing to the rise of fascism would've been a terrific piece of social commentary.

how does Luke's last stand impact the galaxy?

Given this is Star Wars, we could hypothesize some kind of mystical significance, but that's pure speculation, not meant to try to convince you.

I don't necessarily want Mara Jade back - but I want a character who is as awesome as Mara Jade.

Ideally, I'd like to have both. They're not rationed out, are they?

she accomplished nothing at all and looked really dumb.

Not to mention uncritically swallowing his bullshit excuses for his transparently evil behavior from Swarm War all the way through to Sacrifice. Palpatine's former top agent, eh? Are we supposed to understand she was suffering early onset senility? Much as I disliked Anakin's death in NJO, it, like Chewie's, was heroic, and neither of them required knee-capping their characters to accomplish.


Daniel F: the need to work everything into a single consistent continuity seemed to limit the space in which authors could do anything creative and memorable.

Right, though my point was more that it limited space to for them to write more stories where my favorite characters (pretty much all of whom were either original trilogy cast or closely related) weren't either dead, complete jerks, or both. So 'personal canon' only applied so far.

As you say, the stuff that didn't heavily feature the original trilogy cast, and especially the stuff set in the past, had a lot more room to maneuver, creatively.

Dawn of the Jedi is one of my absolute favorite Star Wars properties of all time. (Odd, considering I found Ostrander and Duursema's other Star Wars series at best "okay.") I loved the mythology and the way it played around with the mysticism of the franchise, and I'm a sucker for a "discovering the good within you" character arc. And I'll note that they accomplished all this telling a brand new fecking story that was true to the spirit and themes of Star Wars without cannabalizing and repackaging large chunks of the films, unlike some other stories I could mention.

Unfortunately, I don't have time for video games these days, so I can't comment on The Old Republic.

Personally, I'm happy to see the original trilogy cast and EU characters in a new continuity - I'd just prefer that they be presented with new stories and new problems rather than the same stuff all over again. The old EU was very good at this in the New Republic and New Jedi Order eras, though the quality of those stories was very much hit and miss.

it feels to me like there is a difference of attitude, even if it’s one I can’t properly articulate.

I think that's right - which shouldn't be surprising, given the 30 year time gap between the trilogies' productions, and the shift in real world sensibilities over that period. Then again, the sequel trilogy seems a lot like a reflection of modern attitudes and sensibilities, such as in the general sense of disillusion, and the feeling that the universe is crumbling around us with no clear sense of what a better alternative might be, and a brooding tone.

Then again, the original Star Wars was a conscious pushback against the filmmaking attitudes and sensibilities of its time, with their anti-heroes and general cynicism, so this true feels like kind of a
creative regression.

Ibmiller: I think Del Ray's desire to speed up the "important" Star Wars books (which is to say, the ones that are actually moving the timeline forward, instead of fill-in novels like Tatooine Ghost) was the real problem. They forced the writers to all work from a 5 to 9-year timeline which was set in stone, with extremely controversial (which is to say idiotic) creative decisions set in stone.

Yeah, that makes sense. Also, the constant need to do big game-changing series.

Re: Christie Golden
I know our esteemed editor emeritus (oh hey, alliteration) was highly unimpressed with her Lich King Warcraft novel. I think the only book of hers I've read was Dark Disciple, based on an unfilmed Clone Wars arc. I found that story surprisingly good, with the major weaknesses coming from the translation from cartoon (where you can get away with some pretty silly plot points more easily) to book. I dunno if I would've read Sword of the Jedi. I might've been too broken on that period of the EU, as it related to the Skywalker/Solo families. Plus, both Jag and Zekk put me to sleep by that point (sorry, Ibmiller).

but it's a very large group of fans, based on the sales of the books about the SkySolo family vs. side characters.

I have to admit, the stories about the Skywalker/Solo family are the ones which most interest me (thus why the Legacy era hurt my enjoyment of the entire franchise), and I feel like the original trilogy, especially, is supposed to be this epic turning point in galactic history, rather than a historical footnote. So I guess that makes me part of the problem (although I do follow other stories, and get most of my books and comics from the library).

From my own perspective, which is likely not very common here, it's about a lack of understanding of the proper role of structures in actually building a society that functions.

That sounds accurate. I'm sure we have very different ideas about what the proper role of structures and institutions actually is, and how they ought to be organized, but a general breakdown and lack of clear understanding does seem to be at work.

KotOR 1 and 2 are definitely a great outgrowth of the prequels - and I would also argue that Battlefront 2 (the original), the Republic Commando video game, and the first two books of the Republic Commando series were also very strong. I don't like Stover, but people are fond of his Shatterpoint and Episode 3 books. And, of course, there's the Clone Wars animated television series, which has some very good (and some very bad) episodes.

Even if you dislike the prequels, there's a lot of great supplemental material associated with them. I would add Yoda: Dark Rendezvous and Labyrinth of Evil; and then later we got Clone Wars: Wild Space, by Karen Miller of The Innocent Mage fame (man, I'm just full of references today), though I found her follow-up Clone Wars Gambit duology a disappointment. I was also favorably impressed by Darth Plagueis, and while I personally found Cloak of Deception underwhelming, I've heard other folks give it high praise.

The first Republic Commando book was okay but not quite my thing. The second had some great character work but I feel like the plot fell apart by the end. My favorite Karen Traviss books were actually the Clone Wars film novelization and No Prisoners. The former in particular, surprisingly, had some really good character work and worldbuilding.
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at 14:52 on 15-01-2018, Ibmiller
I've skimmed a couple of Golden StarCraft novels at the bookstore, and they're just not very impressive. I haven't even tried her new Star Wars stuff.

Completely agree that the prequels were creative. Lucas wasn't rehashing or remixing plots and ideas - even the goofy "ring theory" is just him using visuals or symbols to bring unity, not reusing story structures or character types. (Though I think you could argue that Amidala and Leia are probably the most similar to each other in character type.)

KotOR 1 and 2 are definitely a great outgrowth of the prequels - and I would also argue that Battlefront 2 (the original), the Republic Commando video game, and the first two books of the Republic Commando series were also very strong. I don't like Stover, but people are fond of his Shatterpoint and Episode 3 books. And, of course, there's the Clone Wars animated television series, which has some very good (and some very bad) episodes.
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