I finally, finally published something for Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game

The cover of the Star Wars Adventurer’s Journal, Issue 1.

Today sees the completion of a quest 25 years in the making for me–and if you just want the file, it’s at the bottom of the post. But first, some backstory. In the mid-90s, West End Games published a quarterly supplement for Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game called the Star Wars Adventure Journal. Each issue had fiction, adventures, settings, ships, NPCs, and so on, just loads of playable content for your Star Wars game. There were 15 or so issues between 1994 and 1997, and I bought them religiously for the first two years, and intermittently after that.

Lovely pen-and-ink work by Allen Nunis, who did a lot of the illustrations for the early WEG Star Wars RPG publications.

The coolest thing about the Adventure Journal is that fans could submit material for it. In fact, although it was published and edited by WEG, most of the content of each issue came from fans. And holy crap did I want to be published in the Adventure Journal. Not just anyone could submit, you had to have published something, somewhere first. Even letters to the editor in a newspaper would suffice, so I wrote one for the Oklahoma Daily, the OU campus newspaper. I sent a copy of my newspaper clipping with my forms and a printout of my adventure to West End Games, and I was very happy and proud of myself.

Another Nunis drawing, of a Dark Side sorceror consulting with Darth Vader. This one was from the Gamemaster Screen, I believe.

WEG rejected my adventure. The rejection letter was polite and constructive, and even at the time I knew they had made the right call: there was a plot hole in the middle of the adventure that was big enough to fly a spaceship through (in-universe, that was literally true). I couldn’t figure a way around it, though, and a few months later I got married and started doing actual research in paleontology and those two things diverted my energy into other, more productive channels. Publishing a Star Wars adventure became my dream deferred, at first temporarily, then more permanently: in 1997 WEG lost the license for Star Wars, a year later they went bankrupt, and that was the end of the Adventure Journal.

A third and final Nunis piece, this one evocative of the early Star Wars newspaper comic strips, which were full of crazy alien landscapes reminiscent of the old EC sci-fi and horror comics.

Fast forward to last year, when I was downloading scans of the WEG Star Wars books from the D6 Holocron (which you should absolutely visit and pronto if you dig Star Wars stuff). On the page with the scans of the old Adventure Journal I found something I’d never seen before: the similarly-titled Adventurer’s Journal, which had started publication in 2018. “What the actual hell?!” I said to myself, in wonder.

The cover of Star Wars Adventurer’s Journal, Issue 5.

The Adventurer’s Journal is an entirely fan-made publication for folks (like me) who play good old WEG d6-based Star Wars. Like the old Adventure Journal, the Adventurer’s Journal publishes fiction, adventures, setting material, locations, ships, NPCs, and so on. For d6 grognards like me, it’s like West End Games was thawed out of carbonite (or, er, bankruptcy in this case) and back in action.

The opening spread of my article. Art by Chris Gossett, repurposed from the WEG Platt’s Starport Guide, chosen and arranged on the page by Adventurer’s Journal head editor Brian Bird.

As soon as I knew the Adventurer’s Journal existed, I knew I wanted to publish in it, and finally fulfill the goal of giving something back to the RPG that has been the gravitational center of my gaming life for the last 30 years. Over this past Christmas break I started writing stuff for the Journal in my spare time. London and I have played a lot of Star Wars in recent years, and I have notebooks of adventure notes that just need to be polished up and submitted. The first one came out today, in Adventurer’s Journal Issue 5: Mercenaries and Miscreants. It’s not an adventure but an adventure setting, an Imperial dungeon ship called the Durance Vile. I loved the Accresker Jail setting from Simon Spurrier’s run on the Star Wars: Dr. Aphra comic book, and the Durance Vile is an earlier, simpler implementation of the same idea (with full credit to my source of inspiration, as you can see from the opening spread above).

AJ Issue 5 should be up soon at the D6 Holocron, at the bottom of this page, and in the meantime you can download it at the link immediately below. I hope you have even a fraction as much fun reading and running it as I did writing it. It starts on page 100.

Adventurers Journal 5 – Mercenaries & Miscreants – 2020-05-04

Art by John Paul Lona, from the WEG Twin Stars of Kira supplement.

The Adventurer’s Journal comes out twice a year, in May and November. I’ve already got a full-length adventure ready to submit for the November issue, and I’m going to keep writing for AJ until someone tells me to quit. At the risk of crossing universes (again), you can’t stop the signal. So stay tuned.

Parting shot: AJ sometimes repurposes old WEG art, and the illustration from the cover spread of my article was originally done by Chris Gossett for the WEG supplement Platt’s Starport Guide. It was chosen and arranged by the Adventurer’s Journal head editor, Brian Bird, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I offered to do a technical diagram of the ship, and Brian asked that I make it match the cover art, so here’s my illustration. I’m providing it in three versions: just the ship; the ship, title, and surround; and the fully labeled version from the article. I’m releasing this under the CC-BY 4.0 license, for you to do with as you see fit.

Posted in Adventurer's Journal, my creative writing, roleplaying, RPG adventures, Star Wars | 4 Comments

Yay Triops!

Yep, after many years of casual interest that never quite got me to pull the trigger, I have decided to kick off my self-isolation by raising <i>Triops</i>, the little crustaceans that haven’t changed morphologically since the Triassic Period. The video tells all…for now.

 

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Yay shramps!

Perhaps inevitably, reading about marimo got me interested in red cherry shrimp, and now we have some. We started with 10 and had a couple of mysterious deaths in the first week. That’s stopped, thank goodness, and our surviving eight seem very happy.

Their container is a little weird. I was looking around in thrift shops for glass containers for keeping marimo when I found this 1-foot-diameter, ~3 gallon glass bowl. A previous owner had glued a narrow vase into the center. I thought that was pretty cool–I could keep marimo in the bowl and grow something else in the vase. I’m running a tiny air pump and an equally tiny sponge filter, and it all seems to be working just fine. I’ve added another pothos since the above photo was taken, this one twist-tied to the air pump clip so its roots dangle into the bowl, to help control nitrogenous waste.

Yesterday they were zipping around the tank a little more than usual, so I figured they might be hungry. I grow plants in jars of water on the kitchen windowsill, and they always get green thread algae, so I sucked up some of that in a turkey baster and shot it into the shrimp bowl. The shrimp loved it, and it was entirely gone in under an hour. They looked like a knitting circle drawing from a common basket of yarn as they sat around munching green algae.

If I take good care of them, in a few months we should have baby shrimp. Fingers firmly crossed.

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Yay marimo!

That’s Grand Moss Tarkin on the left.

When I blogged about my aquarium three years ago, I neglected to mention one of our favorite residents–and the only one of the original gang still alive at this point: Grand Moss Tarkin. GMT is a marimo “moss ball”. Marimo balls aren’t really moss, but they are really cool, so I’m going to yap about them.

As every marimo site on the net will tell you, marimo aren’t really moss. They’re filamentous green algae, Aegagropila linnaei. If they’re not periodically rolled around, some of the algal filaments strike out on their own, and the ball form gets ragged. The above photo of Grand Moss Tarkin shows some stray filaments on the left.

Aegagropila linnaei has three growth forms: loose filaments, a continuous carpet on submerged rocks and logs, and as a ball or marimo. Marimo form in cold, clear lakes in Japan, Russia, northern Europe, Iceland, the northern US, and Canada, where waves roll colonies of algae across smooth lake bottoms to form spheres. Japanese botanist Takiya Kawakami coined the term ‘marimo’ in 1898. ‘Mari’ is a bouncy play ball and ‘mo’ is a general term for aquatic plants.

Last weekend I transferred Grand Moss Tarkin from the aquarium to the vase shown at the top of the post, and I liked the effect so much that I decided to get more. Aquatic Arts sells marimo on Amazon, and they had good reviews so I ordered a batch of 10. As you can tell from the above unboxing photo, they actually sent 12, and all 12 were in good condition.

To revive the marimo from the rigors of shipping, I followed the instruction sheet that Aquatic Arts put in with the order: I put the marimo in a bowl of cold water for half an hour to revive them a bit (that’s why there are ice cubes in one of my photos), then swished them in the water and gently squeezed them to clean them, and hand-rolled them a bit to get them back into nice spherical shapes.

Now they’re in various containers scattered around the house. All of the containers in this photo cost a buck apiece. The three on the left came from the dollar store down the street, and the thing on the far right is from a snow globe kit I picked up on after-holiday clearance at Target.

Although this looks like an ecosphere, it’s not. Like most aquarium organisms, marimo do best with regular partial water changes, which I’m planning to do every week or two. The water changes will also swap the air in the two closed containers, which should be plenty frequent. Marimo do grow but they grow slowly, only about 5mm in diameter per year even under optimum conditions. There are giant marimo from lakes in Japan that are a foot across, and given the rigors of life in the wild, some of these are suspected to be 200 years old.

If you’re interested in keeping marimo, they’re easy to find. Most aquarium shops have them–I got Grand Moss Tarkin at the local PetsMart–and they’re available at lots of places online. I can’t vouch for most of the online sellers, but Aquatic Arts came through and I will certainly order from them in the future when I want more marimo. Here are their marimo on Amazon: link.

The most comprehensive care guide that I have found is at ballsofmoss.com. The short, short version is that marimo are pretty hardy and easy to care for. Being lake-bottom organisms, they don’t require bright light or warm water. Room temperature water and ambient indoor light are enough to keep them going. If they start to flag, an overnight stay in the refrigerator and a pinch of salt should perk them up–marimo do quite well in brackish water. You can hand-roll them back into spheres when you do water changes, to mimic the wave action that would maintain their ball shapes in the wild. And…that’s about it. Marimo don’t do much, but they’re pretty, easy to care for, and scientifically interesting, and that’s a good combo for a pet or houseplant or whatever you might call these things. Recommended!

 

 

 

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What did The Last Jedi leave behind?

This, we’re lead to believe, is pretty much the whole Resistance at the end of TLJ. So good luck wrapping up the trilogy, whoever comes next!

As much enjoyment as I’ve gotten from TLJ in the past (see this and this), I am coming to hate it more and more. Yes, J.J. Abrams left whoever was coming after TFA with a lot of mystery boxes–Rey’s parents, Snoke’s origin, Ben’s turn to the Dark Side, the origins of the First Order and the Knights of Ren. Rian Johnson clearly hates mystery boxes so he blew them all up, or just ignored them. Even Ben’s turn to the Dark Side is given short shrift; by the time Luke goes to confront him, he’s already been corrupted by Snoke (how? when?). But what did Johnson leave for the next director in line? Pretty much nothing. A dozen survivors on the Millennium Falcon is pretty damned small seed from which to grow a third movie.

If TFA left too many questions for the next movie, TLJ left nothing at all. Contrast it with the end of ESB. The Rebel fleet is a Chekhov’s gun, now we know the Rebels have a fleet with some big-ass capital ships, we can expect some stuff to go down in the next movie. Lando and Chewie are off to rescue Han, Yoda’s still out there on Dagobah, and Luke has promised to go back and complete his training. Even if George Lucas had been hit by a bus the day ESB opened, he’d left plenty of threads for someone to make a third movie. People are piling on J.J. Abrams for shoveling so much backstory into TROS, like Leia’s Jedi training, Luke’s search for Exegol, and just Exegol full stop, but hell, what was JJ supposed to do? TLJ left him nothing to build on, so of course the first chunk of Ep 9 had to be an alternate Ep 8 so there would be some stuff to resolve. Everyone and their dog is now saying that TROS should have been either three hours long, or split across two movies (and this started well before #ReleaseTheJJCut took off). Although they aren’t saying it in so many words, this is a tacit acknowledgement that Rian Johnson kicked the chair out from under whoever was coming after him.

Not that TROS is blameless! Remember that inspiring idea that anyone could rise up from nothing to become a hero? It’s flying away forever.

I think the convention wisdom on the sequel trilogy is going to go south, soon, and stay there. The prequels may have been the most woodenly-acted, bloodless exercises in pure worldbuilding that have ever made it to the big screen, but at least they gave us new things to look at (and, er, competent worldbuilding). The sequels are individually watchable, collectively kind of a storytelling dumpster fire, and ultimately just depressing. Because they could have, and should have, been much better.

(Yes, this is my grumpy old man hangover post on the whole sequel trilogy. And maybe just the first in a series!)

Posted in sequels, Star Wars, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker | 1 Comment

The inevitable Rise of Skywalker hangover

I didn’t see any of the Original Trilogy films during their original theatrical runs. The first time I saw a Star Wars movie on the big screen was the release of the Special Editions in 1997. I wasn’t crazy about all of the changes in the Special Editions, but they didn’t loom very large in my mind — any unhappiness over the changes was massively overshadowed by the excitement of getting to see my favorite movies on the big screen for the first time.

I remember being stunned by The Phantom Menace, because it was just so different from what I expected. It felt very staid and kid-proofed compared to the Original Trilogy. That didn’t stop me from seeing it 5 or 6 times in the theater, mind you.

I don’t like these two. They’re badly acted and boring and irritating and they get everywhere in this movie.

My enjoyment and appreciation of almost every subsequent live-action Star Wars movie has followed this specific arc: on the first couple of viewings I am so swept up in the excitement of seeing new Star Wars on the big screen that I frankly have a hard time thinking very critically about the film. Then after a few days the blush is off the rose, I settle down and start actually thinking about the movie, and I find all kinds of problems. For example, I remember thinking that Attack of the Clones was pretty much perfect after my first viewing. It was only later that I realized that the Obi-Wan plot is hilariously convoluted in its implications, and that the movie is larded with set-piece battles to distract from the fact that the Anakin-Padme romance is both boring and horribly acted. And Mike Taylor regularly reminds me of my initial gushing praise for Revenge of the Sith (on my old blog, here and here) — although rereading it all now actually I’m pretty happy with what I wrote back when, it’s not as obsequious as I’d feared.

The point is, after a brief period of infatuation, the flaws in each movie come into sharper focus, and eventually I just sigh and accept each new movie as the imperfect-but-still-entertaining weird thing that it is, and ponder to what degree I look back at the OT with rose-colored glasses.

I said this has happened with almost every live-action Star Wars movie of the 2000s. The exceptions are the Star Wars Story movies, Rogue One and Solo. I loved Rogue One out of the gate and never found any reasons to like it less. They had me as soon as they had the courage to kill the entire main cast at the end of the movie. I thought Solo was just okay on my first viewing, neither amazing nor terrible, and nothing has moved the meter on that movie either. I watch Solo and think, “Yep, that is a story set in the Star Wars universe”, and I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching it, but I don’t feel moved or wish for any more of that particular dish, thank you. (Thought experiment: if Solo had been the first live-action movie after the prequels, we might all have thought it was amazing. I think TFA got a lot of goodwill for just being competent entertainment in the wake of the prequels.)

Anyway, this has been a long walk to the title of the post. After seeing The Rise of Skywalker three times over the past week, I’m in a similar position to where I am with The Force Awakens. Which is, it’s an incredibly fun movie and while I’m watching it I am swept along by the story and I have a good time and it feels like Star Wars. But when I step back and think about it later, it has a lot of problems.

All you really need to know from Dark Empire.

It definitely feels like at least two movies’ worth of ideas smooshed into one film. I think it retrospectively makes the sequel trilogy worse in some ways. As a long-time Dark Empire fan I was amazed at how much of Dark Empire made it to the screen in TROS, but Palpatine’s return is so obviously tacked on as a new idea for this movie. Surely, surely, if JJ and Rian had known that Palpatine would be coming back in Episode 9, they would have built in at least some foreshadowing in Eps 7 and 8. As it is, we now know that pretty much everything happening in TFA and TLJ was just a sideshow, other than Rey and Kylo. That wasn’t the case in the OT — the stories of Han, Leia, and Lando don’t feel any less important or consequential than what happens to Luke.

Also, in the same way that it’s hard not to read TLJ as a “fuck you” to TFA, it’s hard not to read TROS as a “well, fuck you back” to TLJ. I wish we’d gotten a sequel trilogy that was more than a dick-measuring contest between two directors with very different styles and ideas on where the sequel trilogy should go.

Give…me…the…Star…Wars!

Originally I was relieved that they handed the reins to directors other than JJ Abrams after TFA, because I didn’t trust JJ to successfully resolve any of the mysteries that he had set up. In the end, I was fairly satisfied with his answers to those mysteries in TROS, except that answering them meant crapping on a lot of TLJ. So now I’m wishing they’d just given JJ the whole sequel trilogy. And I say that as someone who loves TLJ! But it definitely feels like a swerve from TFA, and TROS feels like JJ grabbing the steering wheel and giving it a hard pull in the opposite direction. My son read a review somewhere that said that the OT was made up of good movies that made a good trilogy, the prequels were bad movies that made a good trilogy, and the sequels are good movies that make a bad trilogy. I think that’s pretty spot on.

So, as a stand-alone movie, I love TROS. A lot of critics have bitched about all the to-ing and fro-ing on Pasaana and Najimi as the protagonists chase the Macguffins, but I love all that stuff. It feels more like a comic book or a roleplaying session than anything else on screen since the OT. I like how the plot feels like a funnel narrowing down on Rey and Kylo, I like the new Force powers and how they build on what we saw in TLJ (basically the only way in which TROS doesn’t crap on TLJ), and I found the climax moving and satisfying. But as the conclusion to a trilogy, in a way that retrospectively makes those movies better and not worse, it’s pretty rough.

My main beefs with the movie are that (1) the existence of Exegol and the return of Palpatine are not set up AT ALL in TFA or TLJ, and (2) those things make Luke retrospectively a moron. He knew that Exegol existed, enough to go hunting for it (so this movie tells us), so presumably he knew that there was a hidden world populated entirely by Sith cultists and they probably weren’t out there singing kumbaya and making care packages for the homeless or whatever. But what the hell, forget about the Sith being a whole planet of trouble now, it’s time for the Jedi to end. Oh, and Luke apparently also knew that Rey was a Palpatine, which makes his refusal to train her at the start of TLJ even more insane. Like, she’s a Palpatine, in a galaxy where Snoke and Kylo and Exegol would all like to get their mitts on her, but it would be better to turn her loose than to give her some guidance? As much as people were unhappy with Luke’s decision to exile himself in TLJ, TROS makes that decision a thousand times dumber.

Two pet hates:

  • Regarding the Knights of Ren, JJ can have Chewie get his friggin’ medal 42 years too late (apparently it was dropped off at the Resistance jungle base by Fan Service ‘R’ Us), but can’t be arsed to explain where his set of bad guy action figures came from?
  • The lightspeed skipping scene at the beginning. Not only does it break hyperspace jumps as we’ve come to know and love them, every other Star Wars movie said you can only track stuff if you put a homing beacon on the target ship. Then TLJ made a huge deal about you can only track stuff through lightspeed with a special thingy on a giant dreadnought. Now apparently Special Forces TIE fighters can do it just because? Anyway, like the Holdo maneuver, lighspeed skipping looks cool and it would have been fine if TROS was a stand-alone space opera movie, but there are 10 live-action movies of prior art here, you can’t just ignore all that for the sake of a cool-looking scene. Except YOU CAN because JJ. Grrr. At least JJ and Rian took equally large shits on how hyperjumps work, so they’re “tied”. Yay.

Ultimately the whole movie feels very ad hoc, like Kathleen Kennedy pulled over JJ when he was drunk, and to get out of a DUI he had to pretend to recite the story standing there by the side of the road, hoping that she wouldn’t notice that he was just making it up as he went along. At some point it’s just unexplained backstory piled on unexplained backstory. “Okay, so Palpatine’s back. AND he’s got a planet full of Star Destroyers that are basically Death Stars. AND he had a son who got married and had a daughter who by the way is Rey. And…” Aaaaand I’m pretty sure you’re just pulling stuff out of your ass and counting on the audience to forgive you because it looks cool and punches the nostalgia buttons.

And yet, for all its failings, it still feels like Star Wars. So maybe that’s a viable strategy, or maybe I’m just a victim for laser-sword movies.

I feel obligated to point out that George Lucas wanted the sequel trilogy to go hardcore into midichlorians and how they generate the Force, so as much of a mish-mash as the movies we got are, it could have been a lot weirder/dumber/awkwarder.

MAN did the sequels need a Kevin Feige to make the story build logically between movies and across the whole trilogy. Or maybe not a generic Kevin Feige, but just actual Kevin Feige. By now it’s old news that he’s going to be producing a Star Wars movie. I hope that morphs into “producing all the Stars Wars movies, or at least all the ones that are going to have to interlock with others”, because damn, if anyone has shown that they are up to that job, it’s him. And if there’s any IP that needs someone like that, it’s Star Wars.

So, obviously I’m going to go see it a bunch more times because it’s fun and it’s Star Wars. So I guess they got me in the end anyway. Oh well.

The ideas in this post, and much of the actual prose, are cribbed from an email conversation with my friend Jarrod Davis, who has a penchant for putting Star Wars ships in strange places.

Posted in Dark Empire, Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker | 2 Comments

Rey is not a Mary Sue

So this is infallible piloting, huh?

I think the idea that Rey is a Mary Sue is a lazy, stupid criticism, I always have, and I still do. This post explains why.

After The Force Awakens, people asked, “Why was she such a great pilot right out of the gate?” Well, let’s look at the facts:

  1. She’s shown riding a speeder as part of her daily routine. So the basics of piloting are right there.
  2. One of the first things out of her mouth once the Millennium Falcon gets into space is, “I’ve flown before, but never off-planet.” Implying that she’s flown ships before, just not into space.
  3. The movie makes it pretty freaking obvious that she is not a great pilot right out of the gate, with easily the bumpiest lift-off ever committed to film. She and Finn survive what comes next, but clearly out of desperation, a little dumb luck, the resilience of the Falcon (which gets hit by the TIE fighters several times), and maybe a pinch of Force.

And of course there is the point that Luke is shown to be a kickass X-Wing pilot on his first time out, despite having only flown airspeeders before, and that only by verbal report (“my T-16 back home”). Rey gets more on-screen pilot-background-establishment than Luke did, and the sum of her accomplishments is to barely get away from two TIE fighters. Whereas Luke fought TIE fighters, navigated down a trench, and blew up the freaking Death Star on what we’re led to believe is his first time piloting anything in space. So if people aren’t equally up in arms about Luke in ANH, I’m calling shenanigans – specifically, an ugly double standard.

This is how you give your Force-sensitive prisoner ideas.

The criticism that Rey can do Force stuff so quickly and easily in The Force Awakens is even stupider. It’s kind of funny that Kylo Ren offers to teach Rey to use the Force at the turning point of their battle at the end of the movie, because he already had been. A lot of critics have asked why Rey is able to affect the stormtrooper’s mind, without ever having been trained. Because – duh – Kylo Ren had already shown her how, in their immediately previous scene together. I mean, you can watch her figure it out right there on screen. Kylo opened a portal between their minds, and Rey realizes that it goes both ways, allowing her to read his mind. Rey’s proficiency in the Force is in part a problem of Kylo’s own devising. Every thing that she does, she’s seen him do before. She’s not a miracle, she’s a quick study – which is exactly why Kylo and Snoke are so interested in her.

Then with The Last Jedi, people ask why Rey is such a good fighter. Uh duuuh – she’s been fighting with a staff for years, and a lot of that previous fight training ports over to using a lightsaber. I mean, we should be able to figure this out on our own, given that we see her fighting very effectively with a staff in TFA, but the movie goes ahead and makes it explicit in her solo practice session, where she swaps her staff for Anakin’s old lightsaber. TLJ was also not her first time using telekinesis or telepathy or calming her mind and letting the Force guide her actions – all of those things happened on screen in TFA.

Finally, people complain that Rey is a Mary Sue because she can’t fail. I can’t figure out which movies these people have been watching. In TFA alone, she gets the Falcon shot up trying to get off Jakku, gets the ship captured by the big freighter, gets found by Han and Chewie when she was trying to hide, gets the big freighter overrun by Rathtars by opening the wrong doors, doesn’t want to listen to Maz about the lightsaber or the Force on Takodana, runs away from her destiny and gets captured by Kylo Ren. In TLJ, Rey voluntarily goes to Snoke’s flagship to try and turn Kylo, which fails; the whole Force contact thing with Kylo turns out to have been a trap laid by Snoke, which worked; and Snoke is able to get Luke’s location and disposition from Rey’s mind, and would have killed both Rey and Luke (either directly, or through subordinates) had Kylo not decided to kill Snoke instead. Throughout both movies, Rey comes off not as omniscient or omnicompetent, but curious, idealistic, a little desperate, and doing her best to do the right thing in a series of challenges that she was not prepared for — sorta like Luke in the original trilogy.

So in conclusion, can we please let this dumb, lazy, sexist idea die?

Yes, I cribbed most of this from this post and this one, because I wanted the full rebuttal in one handy place.

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More Rise of Skywalker spoilage

Just got back from a second viewing. I loved it.

Biggest thing on my mind is that now that I’ve had a chance to pay attention to it, it’s obvious that Finn is Force sensitive. (1) At least three times in the movie he senses something outside of his line of sight or hearing. (2) When Poe is grumbling about Rey having left them on the Death Star wreck planet, Finn says that she’s dealing with stuff that Poe doesn’t understand. Poe shoots back, “And you do?” Finn says, “Yes, and so does Leia.” What Rey is dealing with at that point is her struggle with the Force.* (3) Finally, Finn has something he wants to tell Rey but not Poe. It’s nothing romantic, it’s nothing to do with the military aspects of the struggle (or he’d for sure tell Poe), and it’s something he doesn’t want to say in front of First Order troops when he thinks he’s about to be executed. If the First Order finds out he’s Force-sensitive, they may haul him off for special treatment by Kylo Ren, which might be a fate worse than death.

* The other thing Rey is dealing with at that point is her parentage, which is something that both Finn and Leia would know about struggling with. But I think the Force-sensitive angle makes a lot more sense in the context of that exchange, given all the other clues in the movie.

This plotline isn’t resolved so much as hinted at. Interestingly, recent statements from Lucasfilm have hinted that Episode 9 is the end of the Skywalker saga but might not be the end for all of the characters from the sequel trilogy. So I will not be terribly surprised if at some point we see a spinoff movie (or maybe TV show?) in which Finn becomes a Jedi. I’d be down with that. If it happens, I suspect we’ll see Rey using the old Lars homestead on Tatooine in some capacity. Otherwise I can’t see what purpose her roaming around there at the end of the movie served, unless she just wanted to get acquainted with a place that Luke had spent some time.

UPDATE: Finn being Force-sensitive is now confirmed by J.J. Abrams (link).

On the not-so-hot side, the 16-hour deadline to deal with the Sith fleet was unnecessary and stupid. Stupid because it compresses a huge amount of story–and implied travel of many ships back and forth across the galaxy and out into the Unknown Regions–into an impossibly short time. Unnecessary because a more nebulous time pressure, a la “We have to destroy that fleet as soon as possible, before they can blow up any more planets”, would have worked just fine, without destroying the timeless feeling that was a big part of the original trilogy. Star Wars is a fairy tale, not a technothriller, and ticking-clock countdowns feel out of place. It was a mistake in TLJ, and one I’m surprised to see JJ Abrams make in this movie.

New worlds or locations in this movie, in order of appearance:

  • Exegol, hidden planet of the Sith;
  • Sinta Glacier Colony, the iceberg in space where Poe and Finn get the message about the spy within the First Order;
  • Ajan Kloss, the jungle planet (or at least the planet with a jungle) where the Resistance fleet is hiding;
  • Pasaana, the desert planet where the protagonists run into Lando during the locals’ Festival of the Ancestors (which someone on Facebook hilariously referred to as ‘Alien Burning Man’);
  • Kijimi, the planet where the group encounters Zorri Bliss and Babu Frik;
  • Kef Bir, the ocean moon where the wreckage of the second Death Star fell.

In addition to those worlds, we also get brief scenes on Ach-to, Tatooine, and, in the victory montage, Bespin and Endor. The movie opens with a scene on Mustafar of Kylo and the Knights of Ren killing what are presumably Sith cultists to get to the Sith Wayfinder.

And speaking of the Sith Wayfinders, although this is not explicitly spelled out in the movie, it makes perfect sense that there would be only two: because of the Sith Rule of Two. One Wayfinder for the master, and one for the apprentice. The Wayfinder in the Death Star wreckage belonged to Palpatine, who presumably was going to use the second Death Star as his mobile throne for the foreseeable future. Presumably Darth Vader kept his Wayfinder on Mustafar, the world where his castle was located. During the events of ROTJ Vader was assigned to his flagship, the Executor, and given the Rebels’ proclivity for blowing up Imperial stuff, it would make sense to leave such a valuable artifact in the keeping of Sith cultists on Mustafar. And once Rey flies to Exegol in Luke’s X-Wing and broadcasts her path, it’s open to anyone.

Minor problem: how did Kylo get to Exegol at the end of the movie? It’s established in the opening chase with the Millennium Falcon that at least some First Order TIE fighters have hyperdrives, but the TIE that Kylo lands on Exegol is an older Imperial TIE, presumably looted from the Death Star wreckage so he could get off Kef Bir. Maybe he found a hyperdrive ring for it, or brought it in a larger ship and only used it as a lander, but as presented on screen it’s a minor plot hole.

Regarding the pace and momentum of the movie, I feel like there is a nice built-up and tightening from the rather scattershot swashbuckling of the early parts to a more linear (or converging) and propulsive ending.

A few things I’d forgotten since my first viewing, or just failed to notice the first time around:

  • I dig the elf-eared cyborg chimp armorer that welds Kylo Ren’s helmet back together.
  • I didn’t notice the first time around that during the victory montage at the end, the Star Destroyer over Endor has been split in two by the Holdo Maneuver. Love it or hate it, the Holdo Maneuver is canon now. It’s established in the new movie as something insanely difficult but still possible, so I thought it was a nice touch for JJ Abram’s Ep 9 to call back to Rian Johnson’s Ep 8 in that way.
  • I’d forgotten C-3PO saying, “I just thought of another way we might solve this” before Babu Frik turns him off for the reboot.

In fact, 3PO was great throughout. This felt like the first movie since ROTJ where he wasn’t wasted. I especially loved it when Rey says to him, “You know the odds better than anyone” and then asks what their chances are if he doesn’t do the mind-wipe procedure.

A lot of my happiness with the movie is stuff that I expected to feel cheap, instead felt earned. For the most part, the whole creative team really sold it. Nobody more than Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, who did a terrific job portraying their characters’ respective arcs (a point Mike Taylor made in his own review post, which you should read). Looking over the whole sequel trilogy, there’s a nice symmetry to how Rey is kinda fumbling around trying to figure out how to be a Jedi, while Kylo is stumbling around trying to figure out what kind of Dark Sider he wants to be.

Rey has a more convincing will-she-go-to-the-Dark-Side arc than any other character in the whole saga, I think. We see Luke tempted, briefly, in ROTJ, and Anakin’s fall in the prequels was a foregone conclusion, and also very poorly acted and directed (not that interested in which of those factors was more important, Hayden Christiansen’s other acting hasn’t been that impressive, and George Lucas hasn’t exactly shone as a director outside of delivering enough useful ANH footage that his then spouse Marcia could edit together the movie that we know and love). But for most of TROS it’s an open question which way Rey will go. In retrospect, teasing Dark Rey in the trailer to juice that uncertainty might have been a smart move. In fact, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have acted circles around every Force user in the prequel trilogy, other than maybe Ian McDiarmid. Who was great in TROS, in a performance that I thought nicely bridged his work in Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, while also letting him do some nice scenery-chewing.

It’s interesting that in the end, Rey was able to do what no-one before her had. Yoda tried to defeat Palpatine and failed, going into exile and allowing the Empire to rise. Luke thought Palpatine had been defeated, and he went into exile and allowed both the First Order and the Sith fleet to rise. Maybe Rey won because she didn’t try to defeat Palpatine by herself, but instead channeled the strength of all the Jedi who had gone before her. That’s a nice thought, and a fitting capstone to the Skywalker saga.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Some of the ideas in this post came out of a Google chat with Mike Taylor, whose own review is sharp and worth reading. My own first post on the movie is here.

Posted in sequels, Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker | 2 Comments

Spoileriffic first thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker

Okay, seriously.

Spoilers are coming.

Maybe a lot of them.

Want to jump out, this is your last chance.

Well, that was pretty goll-durn satisfying. I just saw it for the first time earlier this evening, and I’m still processing, because it was a LOT. People have made the argument that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones only exist to get us to Revenge of the Sith. I think when people look back on the sequel trilogy, it will be a similar thing. In retrospect, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi look like they’re just setting things up for The Rise of Skywalker, where most of the actual story of the sequel trilogy takes place.

A couple of days ago I posted a list of hopes for the new movie. Time to revisit them! I hoped:

  • that Rey’s coming-from-nowhere parentage isn’t undone (this is the point on which I most expect to be disappointed). Well, it did get undone, from a certain point of view. She’s Palpatine’s granddaughter, but her parents were still kinda nobodies. I expected to be disappointed, but at least after one viewing, I’m not. Mostly because this straight-up terrifies Rey and she spends a good chunk of the movie visibly dealing with it. I mean, it’s still kind of a dumb move and I think the movie would work just as well without it, but having lit this fuse, the movie at least takes it seriously, and it’s handled much more deftly than I expected.
  • that Luke’s ‘the Jedi don’t own the Force’ speech from TLJ isn’t undone. Hmm. I don’t know that it was undone so much as sidestepped. TLJ seemed to be setting things up for the Jedi to go away, but TROS instead redeems them. I’m okay with that. More to say below, but I was very surprised and pleased about how this movie handled the Force.
  • that the explanation for Palpatine’s survival is satisfying and not stupid. It’s basically the explanation from the Dark Empire comics–cloning and the transference of life essence via Dark Side magic. I’m a huge Dark Empire fanboy, so that’s just fine with me. In fact, there was a lot of Dark Empire in this movie, way more than I ever expected to see on screen or in any canon production. I mean, Exogal is basically Byss. As the kids are saying these days, I’m here for it.
  • that the movie does some retroactive worldbuilding to explain how the galaxy got from the end of ROTJ to the start of TFA, because that has been sorely lacking in the sequel trilogy so far. Dealt with pretty economically: Palpatine was pulling the strings, Snoke was his puppet, even Kylo Ren was just a tool to get at Rey. I’m not quite sure after one viewing if Palpatine was actually trying to kill her to eliminate a potential threat, or to turn her, but either way he was manipulating things on the galactic stage before TFA. That’s sorta Palpatine’s thing, manipulating galactic events to his own ends, so I can buy it.
  • that the movie ends with a different status quo than Return of the Jedi; things need to be resolved in such a way that what happened between Eps 6 and 7 can’t just happen again ad infinitum. I suppose someone could write a dark lord/superweapon story in the aftermath of TROS, but it would be pretty lame, because this movie was the ne plus ultra of a dark lord doing dark lord shit and having superweapons. So hopefully the last-word-ness of the Final Order will force Lucasfilm to find a new well for whatever comes next for Star Wars. I’m happy with that outcome.

I also wrote, “the new movies have made the Force powerful, mysterious, and unpredictable again, in a way that nothing after ROTJ (and arguably, nothing after ESB) had done. I hope that TROS builds on that.” And holy hell, did it ever. Force healing (first shown just a few hours earlier in episode 7 of The Mandalorian). Dark-Empire-style life transference (not shown, but told, and built up to). Force ghosts interacting with physical objects, way beyond ghost-Yoda calling down a lightning strike in TLJ. Palpatine’s Force lightning on crack. And above all, the ambiguity of whether the Rey-Kylo Force connection was purely mental or also physical is decisively and plot-changingly resolved, many times over. I judge it rad.

If it seems like I gave up on some points I felt strongly about a couple of days ago, it’s because this movie made me care about its own story more. I didn’t expect that. Frankly I expected this movie to be a trainwreck of missed opportunities and botched deliveries, and I honestly did not think that JJ Abrams would be able to wrap up all the plot threads from the sequel trilogy in a satisfying way. In fact, not only did he wrap up the things I was worried about, he did some retrospective worldbuilding, particularly with Leia, that I think makes the whole sequel trilogy better. To pick a minor example: Luke’s sunken X-Wing on Ach-to turns out to be a Chekhov’s gun.

I suspect in time that the cracks in the movie will become apparent, as they usually do when the first blush of excitement wears off. But TFA is still fun as hell, despite its problems, and I think this movie will be, too.

Speaking of, I suspect that TROS will catch hell from many critics and some fans for the pulpy adventure bits on the festival planet, and the to-ing and fro-ing right after as the protagonists chase Macguffins. I’m fine with all of it. After seeing TFA for the first time, I wrote, “I just loved the general sense of regular people kind of flailing around, fumbling through saving the galaxy. Very ANH.” There was a lot of that in TROS, and I thought it was a nice counterpoint to the grand destiny bits near the end. I want grand, universe-altering showdowns in Star Wars, but also speeder chases and running from stormtroopers and the good guys making things up as they go, with a lot of desperation and a little luck. In short, I want that balance of swashbuckling and mystical and gee-whiz-lookit-them-spaceships that the OT hit so well. And I feel like I got it.

So, yeah, happy. Waaay happier than I expected to be. Can’t wait to see it again.

Posted in Dark Empire, sequels, Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker | 2 Comments

Getting ready for The Rise of Skywalker

Episode 9 is almost here, and before it premieres I wanted to write a little about what I’ve enjoyed from the sequel trilogy, and where I think The Rise of Skywalker has some heavy lifting to do. Beyond hoping that it’s fun, feels like Star Wars, and does justice to all that has come before (to the extent that is possible!), my specific hopes for the movie:

  • that Rey’s coming-from-nowhere parentage isn’t undone (this is the point on which I most expect to be disappointed);
  • that Luke’s ‘the Jedi don’t own the Force’ speech from TLJ isn’t undone;
  • that the explanation for Palpatine’s survival is satisfying and not stupid;
  • that the movie does some retroactive worldbuilding to explain how the galaxy got from the end of ROTJ to the start of TFA, because that has been sorely lacking in the sequel trilogy so far;
  • that the movie ends with a different status quo than Return of the Jedi; things need to be resolved in such a way that what happened between Eps 6 and 7 can’t just happen again ad infinitum. We got enough resurgent-dark-lords-building-superweapons from the old Expanded Universe, and two trips to that well are quite enough for the canon universe.

How did the Republic get taken out by this schmuck?

Having just rewatched Eps 7 and 8 in prep for 9, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most is that each movie has added to the Force. TFA gave us invasive mind-reading, paralyzing enemies, and stopping blaster bolts in mid-air, but TLJ went bonkers (in a good way) with the projection of self across space, both for Rey and Kylo and amazingly for Luke at the end. I love it that the ‘contact’ scenes between Rey and Kylo are shot in such a way that it’s hard to tell whether the projection was purely mental or also possibly physical. When Kylo squeezes the water off his glove, is that just sweat from his forehead, or rain from Ach-to? The movie doesn’t make it clear, and I think that ambiguity is really cool. Ultimately, the new movies have made the Force powerful, mysterious, and unpredictable again, in a way that nothing after ROTJ (and arguably, nothing after ESB) had done. I hope that TROS builds on that.

Also, the scene in TLJ of Luke teaching Rey to reach out with her feelings, and the conversation between Luke and Yoda’s Force ghost, are among my favorite scenes in all of Star Wars. I’d love to get something that moving in the new movie, but that’s a big ask. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m wary but still stoked. What do you hope for from the new movie?

Previous posts on the sequel trilogy, starting before the release of Episode VII:

Posted in sequels, Star Wars, The Last Jedi | 1 Comment