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.
@Arthur: I have a question about Ramsey Campbell. I'm interested in reading him, but don't quite know which of his works is a good introduction. The works of his that are available on Archive.org are
Ghosts and Grisly Things
Night of the Claw
The Count of Eleven
The Long Lost
The Last Voice They Hear
Pact of the Fathers
The One Safe Place
I know you've written reviews for several of these, but there are also some titles I don't recognize. I think Obsession seems as good a place as any to start, but do you have any higher recommendations?
@Arthur: thanks for sharing the Kickstopper link; I found it comparably interesting and enjoyable to your other Kickstopper articles.
Fortunately, I'm also incredibly stubborn, and it takes a lot worse than this to get me to abandon a project (including an audiobook) midway through, so no worries about my putting Annihilation down.
It's just that, so far, I don't have a whole lot of interest. I listened to another chunk yesterday, and so far, the only part I've felt an emotional connection to the story is when the narrator (
didn't affect me, because 1) I'd been forewarned by the narrator, and 2) I hadn't seen enough of her character to feel anything.
I'll carry on with the book regardless, I'm just hoping I get more reason to care about the story and/or the characters.
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. :)
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.
(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!)
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.
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.)
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.)