Legends EU and The Force Awakens

Last week I wrote about my emotional response to The Force Awakens and commented on its quality. This week, I get to nerd out over the film in relation to the Legends EU. So what does that mean? When Disney bought the franchise they declared almost all of the EU, Expanded Universe, all the books and videogames and comics, got relegated to the Legends imprint so Disney could have a completely clean slate. This wasn’t surprising, as the EU had its fair amount of duds in it and had become so convoluted that a book was written to establish who in fact had gotten the plans to the first Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. A common expectation was that the new movies would be like the MCU, distilling the good ideas into a new form. Did that happen? Kinda sorta. Let’s jump into it.

BEWARE OF SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING STAR WARS YE WHO ENTER

 

 

First, a quick note on background. I stopped reading the EU after the Dark Nest Trilogy but have some idea about both the Legacy era and the Second Galactic Civil War. As such, this shouldn’t be taken as any sort of exhaustive or definitive look. If you’re interested in going down the rabbithole in anyway, you can follow along here.

The world of TFA resembles little of the world of the EU at the same point in time. By 30 ABY(After Battle of Yavin) The EU had just survived an invasion by an extragalactic species of aliens who use biotech and are invisible in the Force. The New Republic and the Imperial Remnant are at peace and Chewie is the only main character from the films that’s dead. Further to the point the timelines don’t even match up a few years after RotJ(Courtship of Princess Leia is the last book that isn’t explicitly discounted) So suffice to say there’s a world of difference, but what got carried over?

Kylo Ren seems like a good starting point as he’s a sort of composite character. On one hand, he resembles Jacen Solo, one of Solo kids who turned to the dark side. On the other hand, he resembles Kyp Durron, one of Luke’s first students who fell to the Dark Side and was redeemed. There isn’t much to say about the Jacen part, while Kylo feels like Jacen, he doesn’t really have much else beyond surface similarities. So that leaves Kyp Durron, and the Jedi Academy Trilogy, and Kevin J. Anderson, three things that aren’t particularly liked.

Kyp Durron was one of Luke’s first students, and like Ren, he fell to the Dark Side. Unlike Ren, he did so because of a holocron containing a Sith Lord, blew up a solar system, was redeemed by Han. The key difference being that Kyp was a bit of an asshole, and never actually paid for his crimes, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of many fans. Kylo on the other hand, is a far more interesting and understandable character.

That part about blowing up a solar system? Yeah, the Empire was really big on superweapons such as the Sun Crusher. It was almost comical. Starkiller Base didn’t read to me as a retread of the original Death Star, it was just something one should expect from the Empire, cause the Empire loves superweapons.

Yes, I know it’s called the First Order, which actually brings us to my next point. In Legends, the Empire never really stopped being the Empire. While it was a part of the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, it spent more time as either the Imperial Remnant or the new Empire. Instead it devolved into warlords and eventually settled into some sort of authoritarian regime as the Imperial Remnant. Also the Empire by and large doesn’t have anything to do with the Jedi or the Force as impacting their heads of state (save Joorus C’Boath) bringing us to the next point.

The Sith are still around in Legends…somehow. I never really understood how that worked but whatever. Going off of Maz’s comment in the basement of the cantina, the Sith ended at Endor, whatever Snoke and Ren are, is something else.

Going back to our protagonists. Fin doesn’t really map to anyone. One of the problems that the EU had, and this became more pronounced as the years went on, was that they stayed focused on Luke, Leia and Han. Their attempts at cultivating a new generation weren’t the best or most sustained. This was one of the reasons there was the timeskip to the Legacy era in the comics, a surefire way to say everyone died of old age. This is as good a time as any to discuss the differences of the prime three. Luke was by and large a successful Jedi Master, Leia and Han stayed married and remained important figures in the New Republic. Rey, on the other hand, carries over the tradition from Legends of strong women, and Rey has a fair amount in common with Jaina. They’re both Jedis, pilots, have a positive relationship with Han, and are strong yet human.

The Force Awakens also relates to a somewhat unexpected source, Knights of the Old Republic. These are just surface level similarities, but it’s still an interesting thing. Kylo’s mask is very close to Darth Revan’s. The game’s plot revolves around collecting maps. The sense of mystery we have with Rey’s backstory as we did with the main character of KOTOR.

And that is everything that I can think of, which again doesn’t mean it’s everything that was included or referenced. It’s also not an exhaustive comparative analysis. It does illustrate that the film has some strong ties, but by and large it’s doing its own thing. A move that I’m generally happy with, I’d rather get new stories with influences from the old ones rather than streamlined versions of the old ones. Next week, I don’t know what I’ll be writing about, but it won’t be about The Force Awakens. Till then

 

 

Advertisements

You Can’t Go Home Again: The Force Awakens and Nostalgia

Beware of spoilers ye who enter

Long time readers will know that I am a huge Star Wars nerd, but I wasn’t exactly excited about The Force Awakens. I avoided the trailers because it seemed like the thing to do, not out of any earnest spoilerphobia. Part of me wanted the film to be good; another part of me wanted it to be bad so I wouldn’t feel compelled to watch it. There was a general sense of burn out and as Brianna Wu put it on Twitter, Star Wars is a brand and what we feel is brand loyalty to average products. But enough people on Twitter, people whose opinions I trusted said it was good and I ended up buying a ticket. And it turns out the film is entertaining at the very least. One of the more interesting things with a commercial film, produced by Disney’s mass media empire and curated for maximum public appeal made me feel something. That and the reasons why make the film worth discussing. Let’s not waste any time and jump right in.

The emotional crux of the film isn’t Rey’s visions or Fin’s defection or Han’s death. It’s Han saying, “Chewie, we’re home.” That moment brings all the fanservice, all the nostalgia and all the copied story beats from ANH more than their individual parts. Star Wars is a galaxy that was empty and filled with wonder, populated and now depopulated for new wonders. That’s the home the viewer is promised, through the focus of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. There’s just one problem though: You can’t go home again.

While the film plays on nostalgia it’s also setting up a new generation of heroes (a generation of heroes that rebuke the monochromatic masculine view presented in ANH). But this also comes with an epilogue of futility to RoTJ, the Empire has remade itself, the Dark Side of the Force is again on the rise, the sorrow that Han, Leia and Luke all feel and express, the galaxy is a different place. The galaxy is a graveyard and whatever sense of home it engendered is an echo.

It seems fitting that the strong invocation of nostalgia would make me think back to Don Draper’s sales pitch in the season one finale of Mad Men, that “nostalgia literally in Greek, means the pain from an old wound…takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” This so conveniently explains why the film appeals to so many people. If this new trilogy is to succeed though, to have any sort of cultural impact instead of being a monument to box office hits with no cultural footprint like the recently dethroned Avatar, its creators have to realize that they can’t go home again, but maybe they can build a new home out of the ruins. The next generation can’t just retread the steps of the old.

Next week, I’ll be talking about The Force Awakens in relation to the Legends EU. Till next time.

 

 

Live Historic on the Fury Road: Mad Max and Disability

I was one of the few people who did not see Mad Max: Fury Road in theatres earlier this year. I knew next to nothing about the franchise and heard of how excellent it was secondhand. So I was intrigued when Tauriq Moosa was posting on Twitter about Max being disabled and his opinion piece about it, which you can find here. This intrigued me; it was a part of Max’s character that I didn’t know about at all. So when I finally got around to watching the film, I was specifically looking at the film through a disability lens. So let’s jump in.

The most striking thing about Fury Road is so many characters are disabled in some way. Max has his leg brace, Furiosa is missing an arm, Nux has some sort of chronic illness, Immortan Joe needs a respirator to stay alive. This is a powerful message in and of itself, while representation is just representation; nonharmful representation is more than just representation. While the morality of these characters covers a spectrum to say the least, they’re all competent. It’s also, with the exception of Nux needing a ‘blood bag’, is never commented on. This in and of itself is a positive step forward, but there is so much context to this film that make it greater.

First, there’s a matter of genre. Fury Road is set in a post apocalyptic wasteland where any sort of greenery is rare and trees aren’t commonly known. It’s the kind of world where many people assume that the disabled wouldn’t be able to survive in. While Max’s struggle with civilization is closer to survival than most, that’s because of his character as a whole. It’s the same thing, these are fully formed characters with greater aspirations than living to see the next meal. In a world that is physically hostile and bleak as the wasteland, this is a powerful message.

The other interesting thing about Fury Road is the ways in which the film can be read. There’s the literal reading, the events we see are what happen. Then there are more mythical readings, this is a new Deamtime. My own interpretation lies closer to the mythical. The film makes the most sense to me as an in-universe folk tale a la Robin Hood or King Arthur. In broad strokes, the film’s events as presented happened; the details aren’t strictly true. Immortan Joe, Furiosa, the Wives and the War Boys, they all existed. Max on the other hand, is an iconic character who doesn’t slot in neatly. Max is a heroic figure who may not even necessarily been alive when this happened, but this story has become a part of Max’s canon.

This view is mainly supported by the film’s style, which creates a sort of timeless, otherworldly feel. The passage of time in the film feels off and pushes my suspension of disbelief in a way that little else does. Characters’ presentation is a triumph of minimalist storytelling; we know so little about them but it’s clear that they exist in a greater world. This is information that a viewer or listener presumably wouldn’t need in a folk tale. Also considering that George Miller has stated that he can’t figure out the chronology of the original trilogy, extrapolating that something is off isn’t that much a stretch. Finally, it’s an interpretation that appeals to me as it’s more grounded in history and how we tell stories.

On one hand, this view means the aforementioned disabilities are prominent in the narrative means that the future isn’t engaging in disability erasure. These are who these people were. The lack of focus on the fact that these people are disabled means that it’s not something worth commenting on in the future. Taking that detail in conjunction with Furiosa and the Wives returning triumphantly to the Citadel is an incredibly optimistic ending. On the other hand, the film is very much Furiosa’s story, and the idea of it being grafted onto Max’s canon stinks. However, the events of the film show that Max plays a supporting role, he’s a wandering swordsman who helps those in need and moves on. The story may have been grafted onto Max’s canon, but it’s the same thing as say Galahad and the Green Knight, it’s connected to the King Arthur canon, but it’s not about King Arthur.

Fury Road succeeds because its disabled characters are more than their disabilities. They do more than survive; they live and strive as people. This is a seemingly simple task that only requires one to unlearn centuries of institutional ableism. Fury Road should be praised for what it did, but looking forward it is also important to consider what other things can do as well in showcasing different types of disability in a similar manner. Next week I’ll be reviewing John Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades. Till next time.

 

Review: Snowpiercer

Netflix did a shuffle up their streaming selection recently and one of the new films got my attention, Snowpiercer. I’ve heard a few vaguely positive things about it and the summary was interesting enough that I gave it a shot. That turned out to be a good decision as Snowpiercer is a very good film, so let’s jump into it.

The set up is pretty straightforward. Humanity has recognized the threat that global warming presents and has come up with a solution. The only problem is that the solution worked too well and it’s heralded a new Ice Age. The remnants of humanity still exist on a train with a highly stratified class structure. Our protagonist belongs to the lowest class and seeks to rectify this injustice. The film is a superb example of allegorical science fiction with excellent visuals that I highly recommend.

With me so far? Cool, let’s get into the gritty, spoiler-laced details. If you care about spoilers and are interested in watching this film, I suggest you stop reading this and go watch it. If you don’t care about spoilers or have already seen it, keep reading.

 

This film is unabashedly leftist in orientation. The conflict is class conflict and revolution. Most of the film is rather self explanatory on this part, there’s little to be said beyond a proletarian revolution. The climax however is what makes it stand out. The introduction of possibility of leaving the system, as well as the inherent corruption of the system gives the film much of its weight. In a lot of ways it’s similar to V for Vendetta, the difference between authoritarianism that is keeping people alive versus anarchism and seemingly certain possibility of extinction. The main difference is that the conflict is far more resonant*.

Another part of the beauty is how simple the allegory is. While there are certainly layers to the film, the main points are fairly simple. This eliminates the distraction of getting tied up in the specifics of the situation and applies a certain degree of universality to the situation. A universality that is rather easy to achieve given it’s commentary on late capitalism.

The characters aren’t exactly the most three dimensional, but there is a certain level of depth that can be appreciated. The only exception to this is the main enemy fighter, whose name I don’t believe is ever actually given in the film, as he acts more as a force of nature to keep conflict happening. A bit of characterization, or at least a name would have been appreciated. Even though at the same time you can argue that he’s meant to symbolize those who fight to preserve the system.

Speaking of conflict, the fight scenes in this film are very entertaining. It uses the setting of the train and humanity’s scarcity to create some interesting set pieces that are well executed. This is about all I can ask for, so no complaints.

The visuals in general are well done. Again, the train creates some novel sights. My one complaint was the two times that seeing something outside of the train was important to the plot: the Revolt of the Seven and the plane at Yekaterina Bridge, you really have to squint in order to see what they’re talking about. While this does tie into the aesthetic, it could’ve have been weakened for clarity. Also, the surrender or die tattoo gag is probably one of my favorite visual gags in recent memory.

The sound is fine. All of the sound effects work like you expect them to and the music didn’t stand out to me. As I normally don’t notice music in films unless it’s either really good or really bad, this is again, fine.

Again, I would highly recommend this film and give it a 4/5 stars. Till next time

 

*This includes the graphic novel

 

 

The Importance of Symbols, Science Fiction and the Many Problems of Star Trek: Into Darkness

I’m not what one would consider a Trekkie. The only Trek series I’ve watched fully is Deep Space Nine and I have no plans on changing on that anytime soon.  As a kid it rubbed me the wrong way and as I’ve grown older the promise of episodic series doesn’t really excite me. That being said, as a general fan of sci-fi I appreciate what Star Trek symbolizes: it’s bright shiny future where humanity has conquered its demons and is going out among the stars to push the boundaries. While in practice it was a bit more nuance and rougher than that, that’s not really important for this discussion. The ideals of Star Trek, without a deconstructionist view, matter. That’s what is and it plays a role in the media landscape. So with that idea in mind, let’s talk about the latest movie, Into Darkness.

BEWARE OF SPOILERS YE WHO ENTER FOR THE STAR TREK FRANCHISE

CAUTIONARY 

SPACING

OOOOOOOO

Alright, having gotten the intro out of the way and given some space for those who wish to avoids spoilers, let’s get started. If you’ve seen Into Darkness then what I’m saying next should come as no surprise: I really, really dislike Into Darkness.  While the beginning and the ending are quintessential Original Trek that’s much prettier, the middle of the film is something else entirely. The problems become apparent once Section 31 comes up.

Section 31, for those who don’t know, is a paramilitary organization of questionable legality that operates within Starfleet Intelligence. Among other things, they engineer a plague that is meant to win the Dominion War by committing an act of xenocide. It comes up as little more than an off-hand remark but it’s ominous for what is to come.  The idea that an Admiral is in bed with Section 31 isn’t surprising, the DS9 episode Inter Armin Enim Silent Leges used that as part of its conclusion. But again, it’s a throw away line, a bit of world building, why does it matter?

The answer is simple: the metatextuality of the line. The only reason to invoke Section 31 is to tie into the continuity of the franchise. The problem as mentioned before is that Section 31 is unambiguously evil, at best they’re represented as a necessary evil, an evil nonetheless. There’s a certain…coziness to the way that it’s brought up and serves as a prelude to the even seedier elements that are coming up.

The extraterritorial extradition and assassination plot gets accepted rather easily by just about everyone. On one hand, you can make a case that this is a rather human reaction by seizing onto something to get even, to get revenge after what happened. The problem is that this is never shown, any sort of moral dilemma or objection is placed primarily on Scotty’s shoulders.  It’s almost as if Scotty is a sacrificial lamb, meant to bear the weight of this moral murkiness.

This doesn’t have the same problem the the Section 31 issue does above, but it is close. If Sta Trek is about moral issues then it requires the characters to interact with these moral quandaries in order to give them any weight. One of the most memorable episodes of DS9, In the Pale Moonlight makes a point of showing Sisko’s struggle as he goes deeper and deeper into the realm of immorality. Instead this serves to be a amorphously topical and nothing more, presenting the illusion of addressing the issue. Not really what one would expect.

The final issue that’s worth discussing is the alliance that Kirk makes with Khan. Kirk makes an alliance with Khan, a man who in Star Trek’s history is actually worse than Hitler. It’s mindbogglingly stupid on every level, not just a moral one but a common sense one as well. Yes, it is a matter of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, it’s just a matter that the lack of questioning or hesitation makes this sequence questionable at all.

Not really establishing who Khan is also highlights how hackneyed the concept of the film’s multiple homages to Wrath of Khan. Part of that film’s success was that it relied upon one of the memorable episodes of TOS as a launching point for the plot. Here it serves as the perfect example in one single example of how this movie is drifting aimless from the franchise.

All in all, those are the major problems with the film from this perspective and it serves as a good basis for the rest of this discussion. I started this post off by talking about the importance of symbols, and as I already stated Star Trek’s symbol is being the bright, shiny future an while it may not come easy it’s always the goal in mind. It is also to keep in mind that Star Trek doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exists in relation to other works in the canon.

When you look at the film in this context, it comes off much worse. The reason for this is that all the issues that Into Darkness raises, other works do that better. If the morality at hand interests you at all, you’re better off watching Babylon Five, Deep Space Nine and NuBSG.* Simply put, it can be argued that film doesn’t do anything, it has murky morality and a murky placement within the canon. It’s just there and it doesn’t do anything new or interesting, which is probably it’s biggest sin of all.

IF you have any comments or feedback, leave it in the comments, otherwise see you next week

*This raises an issue of how the newest series I named started over a decade ago, but that’s a discussion for another week.

 

 

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is Better than it has any right to be

 

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a web series meant to promote the next Halo game and can be seen here. When you get down to it that’s all has to do and the fact that’s a Halo game means that the bar to raising excitement isn’t all that hard. In spite of this they’re turned out an excellent web series that is better than a good many tv shows. The expectations game says that this shouldn’t be all that good, but it is. So let’s look at why. Beware of spoilers for Forward Unto Dawn

Well first there’s the fact that Halo in general has always had a good story, sure parts of it are duds but that’s true for any fictional universe with enough stuff in it. Good storytelling has never eluded the Haloverse.

The production qualities are good, the sets are good, the background CGI is good, the props are good. They also make due with conservation of these details. A good example is the Covenant ships appearing at the end of episode three, only 10 seconds at most but they leave an impression.

The acting isn’t bad, bad acting stands out more than good acting to me so it’s good enough for me.

Most of the story is good, the beginning parts of Chief being found are really more in line with traditional promo material and only the Cortana bit from ep. 3 stood out but that has more to do with building off of existing plot lines. The core of the story that’s technically a flashback is where it shines. The writers have presented a tight story and know how to tell it well. it also has a nuBSG feel to it and is going to make me more inclined to it.*

In a way I’m sad that this is only a five part web series but if it was longer then the quality might decrease. So instead I’ll just hope that more shows with this level of quality.

*nuBSG first two seasons+New Caprica and choice two parter in season four is some of my favorite tv. the rest of the series is some of my most hated.