Detective Pikachu

*idk where to put this lol nobody gonna read it anyway

Ah…Detective Pikachu. Perhaps the most memed about movie on box office forums ever. Yet, as we approach release date, I think we’re heading for a relatively meh performance. Luckily, we have a good comp for this movie (family-targeted yet large fanbase) with Shazam, so that’s what I’ll use.

Domestic: Previews: $7M, OW: $63M (will be #2 to Endgame most likely), final: $170M. Word of mouth doesn’t look to be anything special, and May is crowded, but being younger-skewed will prevent this from dropping off disastrously.

China: It already began here with a pretty meh midnight start. Presales don’t look to be anything special, but reactions seem decent.

OW: $50M, Final: $110M

Rest: This is a staggered release so no OW prediction. But it should do a lot better than Shazam at least. However, it hasn’t done amazingly in Japan or South Korea. Final: $300M (this will probably be the worst prediction given I have little experience here).

WW final: $580M, not great for a franchise starter that had insane trailer views, but not really a flop either.

 

 

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD

Rating: 8/10

2018 Rating Matches: Solo, Crazy Rich Asians

Previous film in series: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (7/10)

(I’ve never written a movie review before so don’t judge. First time for everything right?)

Let’s get this out of the way. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is nowhere near as bad as you’ve been hearing. Is it perfect? No. But does it still stand up in this film series, which has always been entertaining but flawed? Definitely yes. Critical scores in the realm of Justice League are nowhere near justified. This one is worth the money.

Anyone going in expecting the playful vibe of the first Beasts movie is in for a disappointment, because from its deliciously dark, chilling opening scene Grindelwald proves that it, in the tradition of all Harry Potter sequels, is heading to darker territory. And that’s to the film’s benefit, as it’s able to (for the most part) jettison the odd push-and-pull that occasionally ground its predecessor to a halt. The beasts service the larger plotline now, instead of forking off into tonally jarring side-adventures that, while fun, definitely made the first film feel like a skin on the wrong bones. Now, don’t get me wrong, they’re still as cute, awesome, and brilliant as ever (and there are some great new additions), but this time they’re much better integrated. The movie’s focus is squarely on the battle against its titular villain, and its all the better for it.

And its villain is (surprisingly) a more than worthy one. Johnny Depp’s impressively restrained performance as Grindelwald is darkly seductive as he pulls the strings of his merciless henchmen, his clueless adversaries, and his frothing-at-the-mouth followers, hiding his true prejudice behind soft words and dogwhistles (sound familiar?). Grindelwald has style, he has power, and most importantly he has presence — and Depp, despite my initial doubts, proves to be the right actor to pull the role off.

The heroes are mostly more than a match. Jude Law steals the show as a mysterious, wise, yet obviously-in-agony young Dumbledore, bringing the same iconic twinkle in the eye to a new era. Eddie Redmayne gives another splendidly unconventional performance as the always-lovable Newt, and this time his arc is a bit meatier than in the first. Zoe Kravitz is convincingly tortured as the newly-introduced Leta Lestrange, and Jacob and Queenie both come to the screen with the same charming zing as before (and, again, with a somewhat more interesting plotline). Ezra Miller isn’t given a whole lot to do as Credence (which I mostly forgive due to the sheer amount of stuff in the film and the promise of greater things for him in the sequel), and the much-discussed Nagini ends up being a relatively peripheral role. Yet one character who doesn’t improve is Katherine Waterston’s Tina. Already the definition of generic-love-interest in the original, Tina somehow has even less to do this time, and though there’s a lot of fun to be had in her interactions with Newt, those have less to do with her character and more to do with the magnetic quirkiness of Scamander lighting up every interaction he has. Given the series’ history, Rowling should be more than capable of writing a strong, well-defined female character in her role, and this was definitely a subpar effort.

What wasn’t quite a subpar effort, despite reviews to the contrary, was the writing. Yes, there was certainly a bit too much crammed into this one, especially in some long flashback sequences, confusing character interactions, and shoddily-explained MacGuffins, but the movie as a whole holds together relatively decently. The many subplots aren’t too confusing to follow, and the focus on Grindelwald and Credence helps, as mentioned before, to hold the narrative together relatively well. On the macro scale, its an imperfect and mediocre (but not terrible effort) — but what really saves this movie is the writing in the individual scenes, where Rowling’s talent truly shines. Grindelwald’s rally, Dumbledore’s questioning, and other key scenes are brilliantly staged and written, lending the proceedings a weight and dramatic immersion that hasn’t always existed in these Wizarding World films and, most importantly, giving this franchise a much more relatable and realistic political theme than Voldemort’s more heavy-handed brand of fascism. Grindelwald is a silver-tongued species of snake, and the writing does enough to differentiate him from He-who-must-not-be-named — no mean feat with two such similar ideologies, yet the difference is made quite clear, injecting freshness into the most important narrative beats of the movie.

And the score, worldbuilding, and visuals, of course, only add to that freshness. James Newton Howard delivers a dark, finely atmospheric effort, one that surpasses his pretty-good first score into something extremely effective. As with its predecessor, this film’s universe is richly imagined, popping with interesting new creatures, locations, and ideas — the “spirit familiars” at France’s Ministry of Magic being one of the highlights. The visuals have been criticized for grayscale, but this is a storm-building movie, and the washed-out cloudiness matches the mood well (though I will agree that the Muggle part 1920s Paris was disappointingly generic). The action sequences are vibrant and thrilling, though one can still see the unfortunate David-Yatesian tendency to equate a wand with a Star Wars blaster on full display.

The continuity errors — McGonagall even being alive in 1927 (and 10 years before that), others which would be spoilers — niggle, especially ones which were clearly forced references. The plot occasionally groans under its own weight. Yet Grindelwald is an gripping and exhilarating ride, and the movie’s final big developments show that the magic has only just begun.

RECOMMEND: If you’ve seen the first one and read all the Harry Potter books/seen all the Harry Potter movies. It doesn’t at all stand alone, so if you’re not familiar then don’t bother.

 

The Adventures of Firbalus

Ok, let’s rewind.

You’ve been hearing a lot about me from the narrator — probably think I’m an arrogant p-I mean to say, an obstreperous, I mean — let’s just start over.

Why don’t we pick up where we left off. Dalwer. The Open City. A hub of agriculture trade, full of gangs, scum, and villainy. But after I’d been traveling with that idioti–I mean, foolish, ptero–I mean Anajia, for a couple weeks, I thought it would be a nice break.

That’s why you don’t trust your thoughts.

Break.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

The street was empty. Firbalus didn’t know why, or how. The Open City was supposed to be full of people. The Visitor had waited outside, of course. No sense in bringing a ptero into the city. And thank the Crystal for that.

Run.

That was what they had said. Who came into a city expecting the people to suddenly revolt against their ruler? Yet now the revolution was in the Castle, and the Duke’s family slaughtered.

Martial law declared — by the same people who’d rebelled for freedom. Soon the Southlands’ Imperial Army would arrive. Then they’d be crushed. Yet some of the things they’d claimed — they truly did warrant revolution. Taking hard-won crops for himself. Forcing the farmers to work without pay — sure, some of the lords in Qualga did that. But not once Destir had arrived. Not once Destir had saved them.

The screams of children in the castleIgnorant of revolutions and wars and oppression. Only knowing that their death lay upon them. Whose fault was it they were rich? Rich, scared, vulnerable…

Waiting for a hero.

Dalwer’s red fires still exploded in the sky, great flowers covering the stars. Dark buildings towered over him on all sides, their signs flashing, some still with those giant magical images of the Duke, great yellow outlines of his fat, bearded face floating like threads of dust in the cool night air. By tomorrow those would be down, and a new dawn would arise. A dawn of gangs. A dawn of the oppressed. A dawn of death. A dawn of liberty. A dawn of chaos. A dawn of revolution. A dawn of hope. A dawn of terror.

Flames burned from the towers. All the towers. Great spires of black, looming through the city. But black no longer, those mysterious balls on their tops glowing to mark the glorious uprising. They’d be executing those children soon. Children he was sworn to protect. A Duke he was sworn to protect. An Empire he was sworn to protect. This was his quest. He had to stop that fool sorcerer and from getting his Wendogiar-monsters across this peninsula.

But then he’d be one of those oppressors. Choke the revolution now, and he condemned the city to eternal suffering. But don’t act, and this city would be ripe for the picking by the enemy. And the enemy was gathering. If Kinast had a serpentseer, then he was planning an assault. But was not the Duke another enemy? What did he stand for if not justice? What was justice?

What side will you chooseThe craven or the murderer? The empty or the scarred? Submission or destruction? 

At least the children. They could be saved.

A torch-bearing crowd filled the street, chanting their slogans of Jinstarian freedom (blast that irritating wizard) and he ran. Time to be the hero.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Headless bodies on the glowing white stand. Tiny bodies, too young to understand why they’d been cut. Still standing. Fools in green yelling about, milling about. The stars grinning overhead, smiling through the redflowers that still surged up from the city’s revelers, laughing through the fireworks at the failure of the hero. At the…at the…nothing poetic was coming out — what a thing to be worrying about right now, this was exactly why he had lost…too focused on the status to see the need in front of him, too focused on-

The bodies fell to the floor. Thudding with his failure. He’d been too late to save the children, and the Duke had died long ago. He’d sworn to protect this Empire, but he’d done nothing to stop its fall.

And why should he? His goal was to defeat Kinast, nothing more. He was no Destir, or even a Thousand Swordmaster of old, who fought for honor and nobility. Yet he had to become one. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t in his blood. The hero’s magic didn’t course through his veins. His magic was always too late, his spells just an ounce too slow.

Tears spilled from his eyes. Well, if he was destined to fail, then he might as well keep doing it. It was done, anyway.

He walked off. Out of the Open City, through the gangs’ districts (if anyone fought him, he’d split their skull), out to the comforting darkness of the wild. Away from people, away from blood, away from iron fists and hunger and war and senseless death. His mission awaited. That was all that mattered. He wasn’t a hero.

But he had a job to do.

 

 

 

 

Land Not Your Seas on Our Rings

Ticking, ticking, ticking…

This is Earth-7 calling Saturn

      Tick, tick, tick

Reporting military forces, arriving, military forces arriving. The humans. They’ve come for us. I repeat-

Boom.

“Take our sovereignty.” Breathe. “Take our lands.” In. “Take our rings!” Out.

Floating in the cloudsea. The Saturnian cloudsea. And soon it would be again.

“Earth stretches their hand.”  Whispers from the flock. Jellies in the gas.

Clouds above. Shadows of Earth. Ships with humans. Work camps — all the work camps. Brown streaks across the sky.

Power is as power does. Can you blame them? Instinct is destiny. To kill is their nature. To breed like rabbits is their calling. To take is their destiny.

“The Voice of your MIND is false!” Thunders in the air.  “SLAVES among us! Let them take any more, and all shall fall.”

But they can do better. Is not consciousness the suppression of instinct? Is not base emotion the tool of the weak and the foolish? 

Voice ragged. Sounds not releasing. Power. Power. Power. Power.

Can you blame them? But then who can you blame? Fault is ever-shared, yet had they stayed where they belonged peace would reign.

“Their nature is their own business. Our nature is ours. And our nature is to FIGHT!

Breathe. Outbreathe. Air. Gas. Swirling particles. Flashes in the air. Ships in the sky. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow.

There is no fault without guilt. They have no shame. But if no fault without guilt then how can I cast blame? Or are blame and fault the same? Or is fault from me, and not them? Instinct — where does the line fall? They celebrate baseness even as they denigrate it. Some acts are natural, other are beastly. What is nature? Who are these men? 

Ships falling. Roars. Surging jellies — surging Saturnians. Surging Saturn. Roars. Roars. Zaps. Zaps. Lasers. Flashes. Bodies.

I sent them up. I told them where to go. And they followed. Yet the humans killed them. Yet sent them. What is blame? Who is blame? Blame is a beast, a paradox, a mirage and a pincer.  Fault

My fault.

Swirls. Air. Endings.

   

 

 

 

 

The Adventures of Firbalus

PART II – FALSE MASKS

 

The village burned. Flames poured off the distant shards of wood at the bottom of the grassy hill, and tendrils of smoke wisped up from the wreckage into Firbalus’ smushed nostrils. A lone green flag wrapped around a creaking wooden pole, fluttering in the murmuring wind, just a dot from so high up yet instantly recognizable as the Southland Starburst — a Starburst now slaughtered. Tears leaked onto Firbalus’ face, and his body shook with sobs, but he didn’t feel sad. Just…empty.

“I told you.” muttered the Visitor.

“So you did,” replied Firbalus. The Visitor had warned him this wouldn’t be pretty — would Wendogiar support anything that was? — but he hadn’t listened. He’d just…assumed he’d be okay…he’d just assumed he wouldn’t be deterred…no, that was still wrong…but who cared? Right now, it was a hero’s time for strength. And Firbalus was the hero of Qualga…or at least, he would be. He’d fight all the monsters, win all the battles, and finally become a noble. He’d win this one, too. By himself, if he had to. That was what heroes did.

The sunset painted the grasses in reds and purples as the fire smoldered out. And with it dried Firbalus’ tears, the drops caking in an unpleasant finish over his face. He didn’t really like tears, but a hero had to cry when the occasion demanded. It was his duty to show emotion, to be a man of the people. Yet sometimes he thought he never — but he would. Of course he would. Destiny…just had to keep on running.

The Visitor bounded down the hillside, brushing aside the grass as it sprang up, slicing the blades with his claws as his yellow body glowed with the halo of the sun and his violet wings flew against the deep red. Suddenly drained, Firbalus forced his limbs to thump down after, fighting the wind’s chill on his robes and the itch…that itch of dust.

And the stems flickered in the wind, brushing on his cloak as he made his way down through the greens and smoking blacks of the smoldered grass, to the browns and faded golds and burning orange of the village. The stench drummed in his nose like a clock before daytime, but all he could hear was the thumps of the Visitor and the sighs of the wind. The sighs. The endless chaos of sighs…

That green flag with its golden starburst inset whirruped above him, gyrating on its rickety wooden pole as the wind stiffened. A hundred years of Empire standing behind it, and Qualga would see it a hundred years more. Better to unite them than let the Southlands run in chaos, and the warlords overrun the precious North. The days of Kablaka would never return!

Firbalus stepped backward as the gust rippled across his cloak, letting his feet thump the dust, then stepped into the scene of death. Time to investigate.


 

Thump.

The bootprint flashed through his mind. A three-pronged claw in the brown mud, twice bigger than a human foot — no mistaking that — by which he meant, he could not have confused that with something…oh shut up.

“You see?” yammered the Visitor. How he wished that voice would’ve stayed in the Nest. “I was right. You doubted me, and look how that turned out!”

The clouds rumbled overhead. Grayer and grayer, and the air colder and wetter. He could almost feel the prickle on his skin. And that bootprint still flashing.

A piece of wood fell from the smoldering wreck before him and thumped on the ground. Khaz Inn, in bold paint on the untouched wooden sign beside — someone here must’ve hailed from the Peninsula.

Only one of Wendogiar’s soldiers, the deepest warriors of the Abyss, the Serpentseers, the nightmares of Old Anmer…only one of them could have made that print so real. Magic, of course, could do anything. But not like this. It was perfect. Each line traced, each curve perfect, all the right size…too perfect. Too visible. No real Serpentseer would leave a mark like this.

Or at least, no free one.

“They captured a Serpentseer.” he muttered…too loud.

“Captured? Put in a cage?” shrieked the Visitor. “Well…that’s just brilliant.”

“Could you just stop-”

“I will never stop.” announced the ptero, leaping across the village and kicking the wood across the bleached-white sand covering the ground. That sand was so coarse…rough, and it got in everywhere on Firbalus’ shoes. Even now he could feel it scrape against his skin. “I am the Visitor. I am the Anajiae. I am-”

“Cease your activities!” roared Firbalus, his chest groaning with the effort — too formal this time, he had to find a balance. His mouth curled in a cringe even as the words left his mouth, and the Visitor ignored him, prancing around the sand as it covered his yellow and purple in a ghostly white.

He couldn’t go to Thisar. This was too important for him to waste time with Golden City bureaucrats. If Kinast had captured a Serpentseer, then Firbalus had to go to his lair. Besides, this was his chance. He’d only receive one of them…to finally be one of the nobles, to rise to the ranks he’d always desired.

But he couldn’t just leave…

He stood like that for a long time, ignoring the Visitor’s calls, just finding his peace and letting the wind wash over him and the rain spill across his back, wetting his clothes and draping them on him. It was almost…priestly. Divine.

“What? What? What? Wha-”

“Follow me!” Firbalus’ voice thundered over the Visitor’s chatter even as lightning flashed its brilliant dagger through the clouds.

The village glowed with the Skylight. Jinstar thought he could control what the Spirits had made…but Firbalus knew different. No man could reach the skies like that.

“Where to?” whined the Visitor.

Firbalus grinned, yet he groaned inside.

“To Nalhen. And the Peninsula.”

And the continent’s southern edge. Weeks of monotonous journey with this ptero by his side every chattering step.

What luck he’d had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Adventures of Firbalus

PART I: THE VISITOR

Peace wracks the continent of Singenias. Groaning in the absence of enemies, the SINGENIAN EMPIRE that controls the continent has begun to unravel. Begging for help from the KINGDOM OF QUALGA, the Singenians struggle to keep the Southlands from devolving into banditry and secession, and when the twice-exiled wizard warlord PELMIEN begins to overtake over the Southlands’ Western provinces, Qualga dispatches one of their newest warriors, Firbalus, to help Lord Kinast of the Southlands restore peace and stability to the land…

Sun. An irresponsible amount of sun.

Firbalus groaned as the Singenian heat pounded his face. Too long away from Qualga, from the comforting folds of ice, and he’d go crazy. Sweat already soaked through his white robes and dripped onto the hard dirt path below. The smell of salt and earth and fires burning the earth and odd geikan rice (they called that food in these Southlands) assaulted his nostrils, quivering the hairs into a frenzy. Everything around him was full of boring grass, yellow or white (was there really a difference?) in the blinding, annoying sun.

“Help. Help. Help.” he muttered, savoring the taste of each word as he chuckled. Laughter was healthy. At least, that was what Jinstar had said.

His boots scraped the dust, kicking up billowing clouds that sifted onto his skin, a pack of mangy mosquitoes ready to bite his head off…or at least, like what he’d heard a pack of mosquitoes looked like. He’d heard Dawiar was full of mosquitoes. He’d never go there, though. Cold was good enough for him. He was cold in the heart and cold in the head, the hero of Qualga, the ruthless, dominant man of-

“AAAAAAHHHH!”

A dust speck had crawled up his leg. No, it had just been blown there. By wind, probably. He sucked in air and expelled it. A false alarm. Certainly — barely even an alarm. Nothing at all to be worried about.

He kept walking, striding off to the center of Thising, to the Golden City of Thisar, and to his destiny. Nothing — no rebellious dust speck, no minor snake, no thieving bird of prey — would stand in his way today.

He did wish he had armor, though.

________________

ZZZZZ.

He blinked his eye, then closed it again.

ZZZZZZ.

What?” he roared, opening his eyes to a yellow blur then snapping them shut. A yellow-

ZZZZZZZZZZZ.

“No.” he muttered. “No, no, no, no.” His nap was sacred. Nobody could — a yellow — but who cared?

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

“Ok…fine…what?” he snapped, blinking the tears out of his eyes. He lay spread on the yellow grass, barely noticing the roughness of the dirt below…though now he thought of it he could feel each stone turning under his whitecloth robes. Wind rippled through the fields, and the Thiris Mountains in the distance were hazed with cloud, just black knives peeking through a gray mist that lay over them like Firbalus’ own tattered robe. The sun’s rays still pricked here and there, but those rags of gray across the sky blocked most of its irritation. Yet something yellow was above him, beak buzzing in his face, barraging his nose with a horrible stench…it was the Visitor.

Glowing violet wings, spread twice Firbalus’ length, blazing with the light of the fire within them. Yellow beak, the size of his skull and stretching like a finely-honed dagger into the sharpest point he’d ever seen. Orange eyes that were more bulbs. Stretched yellow neck, fat yellow torso, and a yellow tail longer than two of him that ended in a point sharper even than the beak. One of the Anajiae from the Nest in Qualga, the only one to ever ally with humans instead of eating them. And…a good friend. But not a friend from here.

“Why…” Firbalus’ voice choked in his throat. “Why…ah…what I mean to say is…this is…highly irregular.”

Drat. Too slow. He had to get that language refined. It just wouldn’t do to-

“The only thing irregular is you trying to talk like a royal.” chuckled the Visitor as his eyes flickered in and out. “I’ve got something to show you.”

“Pelmien?” groaned Firbalus, trying to avoid looking right into those alien eyes. One day a friend, but the next day — you could never trust one of those dremped pteros, he might just go back to the Nest…

“No.” huffed the Visitor. “Worse. And stop looking at me. I don’t give a pel if you don’t trust us pteros.”

“Only because you always eat-” He’d forgotten his words again-

“Details, details.” huffed the Visitor, flicking his tail out of the grass as he began to bound with his two stubby legs across the blades, flattening and then letting them fluff again as the silver claws of his yellow-scaled feet pounded the earth.

“Come on!” he hissed, rumbling the ground beneath Firbalus.

“Fine…” Firbalus groaned, forcing his body up from the cracked earth. Too many gaps in that ground. Drought, and this sun was killing everything. That was why Pelmien was taking…but this wasn’t-

“What kinda…” Language. “How could any incident be more…detrimental-” Wrong word. “How could any incident be more…deadly…than-” No, still wrong. “How could-”

“Because a village was attacked…with weapons that came from the Abyss.” The Visitor’s snarl cut him off, and suddenly those orange eyes and that yellow beak were right in front of Firbalus and those whiteknife teeth and that horrible purple snake of a tongue were all in front of him and the pterobreath was seeping into his nose and it smelled like crocodont dung-

“The Abyss.” Firbalus repeated. Somehow those words didn’t sound right. “The Abyss.” Hmm. “The Abyss…the Abyss? Who?”

“Wendogiar, maybe. Or Tharsi. But you know as well as I do the earth is breaking up north. Maybe a few of them can sneak out now, but when they mine the whole way through…”

Then monsters would overtake the planet. Beasts hidden for thousands of years would roil Singenias, then they’d sail to Helmiest and Gartiar, and…

“Show me.” spat Firbalus.

And as they walked through the distance sun turned to night, and the mountains faded under the stars, and the grass turned black then white in the moonshine, Firbalus’ mind whirred with plans — he had to contact the Emperor and the Nine Blackbows, and even that dreg Pelmien might have to be enlisted for the world to unite. They needed all of magic. If this was true, they didn’t have decades to plan like they’d thought.

The world would end in a year.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (and other, related stuff)

(I’m bored and I don’t have anywhere to put this so it might as well go here. Also this is really long but it didn’t even take that long to write so)

EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MAGNIFICENCE

Much has been made of the “perplexing” backlash to Star Wars: The Last Jedi — though in a fandom that harassed its own creator out of the franchise forever, I really don’t think this should’ve been much of a surprise — and much of it has been both true and well-intentioned. Harassment of actors and directors has no place in a fandom, and neither should alt-right trolls get to block an inspirational franchise from reflecting the diversity of our world. Yet sometimes in the media there’s a tendency to pretend this is all the backlash is — just a bunch of alt-right trolls and diversity-haters and neckbeards and lunatics. Usually it’s not explicitly stated, but this view is ever-present in the subtext of myriads of articles about the Last Jedi. Yet if this is so then one wonders why the equally diverse Force Awakens and Rogue One received only a fraction of the polarization that has engulfed this film. The other popular scapegoat, fan theories, hits closer to the mark, yet blaming the backlash to the film on external speculation rather than aspects of the movie itself still misses. There are plenty of reasonable people, with reasonable expectations of this film, who came away disappointed. And, after a few months to reflect, I’d count myself as one of them.

So if you’ve seen these articles about the Star Wars fandom and come to believe that they’re the whole truth, then hopefully a little more knowledge might light your way.

I still remember when the trailer dropped.

Not the first Force Awakens teaser. Honestly, my excitement for Star Wars had long since run dry back when that came out. It was a nice movie series from my childhood, and long ago I’d been a big fan, but I didn’t really like the prequels much anymore, and the originals were mostly just fond memories, and I wasn’t interested in the animated shows. Now Lord of the Rings, Star Trek… those were quality entertainment.

But then I watched that “kiddy animated series”, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and I realized just how much escapism, and wonder, and excitement the Star Wars universe had to offer, and I was more than ready to dive in again. It was like my inner elementary schooler waving around a lightsaber had never left. He’d only been waiting for the right moment to come out again.

And once I’d watched the prequels again and they’d become my favorite movies of all time, and once my love for the originals had been reignited…I was ready for that third TFA trailer. Sure, the second teaser had been more nostalgia trip than hype generator, but I was confident they’d come up with something new to tease Star Wars fans in our final drip of hype.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The trailer promised boundless new adventures, exciting possibilities…sure, the nostalgia element was present, but surely it wouldn’t overtake the movie.

Then the reviews came in. 97% on Rotten Tomatoes 2 hours after the embargo, and in the end only dropping to 92%. An 82 on Metacritic. Yeah, yeah, there was some babble about a Starkiller Base being a Death Star 3.0, but…surely it couldn’t be that big a deal.

Then it was Sunday, and I was ready for the movie. We waited over an hour in that line stretching out the whole theater. And “a long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away” scrolled up the screen, and the main title blasted and the theater went crazy, and that still-unforgettable hook “Luke Skywalker has vanished”….and I was hooked.

I don’t really have a habit of giving in to hype, or loving a movie unconditionally at first. I can really only think of two movies where my opinion has dropped drastically from the theater to now. Coincidentally (or not?) they happen to be the Force Awakens and the Last Jedi.

So as one would expect, I walked out of that theater with a cocky grin on my face and an exhilarated sprint in my step. As the Falcon had soared through Jakku my mind had whispered (speaking for the first time that night) that this might even make the top 3 Star Wars movies. Even after Han swaggered in and stole the show, and Plotkiller Base ground out all the narrative electricity of the search for Luke, there was enough nostalgic power in that final shot to get it to #5, just below a New Hope and above Empire (my rankings are weird, I know).

My dad yammered about how it wasn’t as good as the originals, but he’d said that about the prequels too, so I couldn’t really take his word for anything…and I couldn’t wait to watch it a second time! But when I finally did, two weeks later, I realized that something was missing. I couldn’t pin it down, and after a third time the experience, while still very enjoyable, was even further watered down…into being just a movie. My opinion had surfed on the tide of the most-hyped cinematic event of my lifetime, but over the next few months it would come crashing down to earth. From #5 to #6, and then to #7, as I realized what, exactly, I was missing from this movie. Because when I stripped away the hype, and the experience, and the thrills…it was the first Star Wars movie that didn’t stick in my mind. It was just…bland. Inoffensive.

Meh.

The first thing that comes to mind here is the unimaginably uncreative aesthetic. X-wings and TIE fighters to eternity, completely ignoring the vast universe created by the prequels, the Clone Wars, and so many expanded universe novels (this will become a running theme). This bothered me from the first trailer, but I was willing to (and for a while, did) let it go as long as the overarching story went into new directions. Starkiller Base, uncreative. Rey’s power development made no sense. Han regressed to smuggling for no apparent reason. The whole thing felt uninspired, Yet the actors were great, the characters likable, John Williams delivered a godly score as always, the visuals were beautifully done, and most importantly the film set something up, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what.

That was why I stayed invested even though TFA had fallen to by far my least favorite film. Visions, tantalizing references to things to come, plotlines seemingly set up for a mystical new look at the Star Wars universe. A year after the Force Awakens I was chomping at the bit to see Rogue One (a film which received plenty of alt-right backlash, including the #BoycottStarWars movement), and to this day that film ranks just beside A New Hope for me as a classic of Star Wars. Even in a story set alongside A New Hope they’d managed to fill a galaxy with things I’d never seen before, new things, great action scenes, a Star Wars that felt both natural and startlingly fresh. The Force Awakens, I was sure, had just been a one-off, a cautious attempt at starting a new universe before things really got into gear. The as-yet-untitled Episode VIII would take Star Wars back to glory.

The marketing campaign had its twists and turns. The Grey Jedi aspect seemed odd, and I wasn’t sure where they were going with it. The title was weird too — The Last Jedi? After they returned 30 years and 2 episodes ago? — but eventually I got used to that too. And once again the final trailer was a homerun, promising an epic Star Wars adventure, more sweeping and grand than anything before (except maybe Revenge of the Sith). And the fandom responded. Nobody wanted their theories to be confirmed (okay, maybe a few did, but a small minority). People just wanted to find out the answers, to see where the plotline established in the Force Awakens would go, to see this new trilogy develop its world that the Force Awakens had so lazily tossed into place and finally step into its place as a worthy part of Star Wars. And most importantly, everyone…everyone…wanted to see the hero of Star Wars, Luke Goddamn Skywalker, step back onto the screen once again.

So 2 years later I was in the theater again, swayed to the peak of excitement by even-more-glowing reviews, and once again I was swept away…but even after the first time something felt off. Even as I extolled how it was the best fantasy movie I’d seen that year (now all 3 Marvel movies, along with plenty of others, rank ahead of it) it felt… emptyIt wasn’t the same thing as TFA — no, I could remember this one just fine. It was just…I’d convinced myself the portrayal of Luke as a depressed, broken hermit was realistic. That was character development! What else could be expected? Yet if Luke’s story was supposed to be an inspiring arc about finally becoming the legend you’ve always been held up to, then why…why did it feel like it was about how your victories will never last, and everything you do will just be torn down. If the movie was arguing against killing the past, then why did it make a big deal out of burning the Jedi texts, and only show Rey saved them in a 2-second, easy-to-miss, shot? That was what felt empty about the film — it marketed itself as being about hope even in the greatest darkness, but the emotional message I — and many others — got was one far more cynical. Because now Luke Skywalker was nothing, Leia was nothing, Han was nothing, every one of those characters who’d made us fall in love with the franchise was nothing because even Anakin and Obi-wan depended on Luke to actually make their arcs mean something. And maybe Luke projecting himself to save 12 Resistance soldiers means something, but it doesn’t balance out the coward we were shown for 75% of the movie in which he died. It was as if someone had waltzed through the original trilogy and claimed that all of this was just silly stuff for children, and here was reality. Tearing down the New Republic was realistic, the critics claimed in their showers of praise. It was about World War I becoming World War II! All those disgruntled fanboys just wanted their fanservice!

And when I saw that, I thought that they’d maybe seen the wrong movies. Because if the original trilogy matched any of those two wars, it was clearly the battle against fascism in the Second World War rather than the amoral muck of the First. Maybe our world is wracked by racism today, but nobody can say the Greatest Generation accomplished nothing, because the victories of that war lasted. Yet in a space opera about children redeeming their parents and morality and inspiration, the victory over fascism lasted less than 30 years. The “fairytale”, “unrealistic” ending of Return of the Jedi, the one the sequels wiped out so they could just do it all over again…that was what made Star Wars great. In the original six (as I now call them) there was an optimism at the core. There was a belief in giving the audience a world, not just a story. There was a belief in pushing the boundaries of special effects so they could show things never shown before instead of just banking on the glories of the past. There was a belief in family, and in the idea that great power requires hard training. And most importantly, there was a belief in human good. A belief in idealism. A belief in never giving up.

A belief in heroes.

And at their core, that belief is what the sequels lack.

EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CRITICISM

But, you might say, the Last Jedi doesn’t attack the idea of heroes! It just introduces complexity! How is that bad? It’s all about the arcs!

Ok, so if that’s true, then Luke’s arc should reflect that of a hero. And on the surface it does…it hits similar beats to a redemption just like the one Batman underwent in the Dark Knight Rises or Wolverine’s in Logan. The problem here is twofold — the justification for Luke’s fall and the execution of his rise…and the fact that he’s killed for seemingly no reason at the film’s end means that his grand redemption can’t really pay off, because this is the last we’ll ever see of a living, Mark Hamill-played Luke Skywalker on a big screen. This was it.

And it missed.

At the beginning of the film, of course, Luke is in a troubled emotional place, just as he (by all accounts) was in Lucas’ original treatments. Where The Last Jedi takes it too far is that Luke has given up. Looking at Luke’s character in the original trilogy, giving up and wallowing in failure is the one thing antithetical to both his arc and to the themes of the saga. Luke was an inspirational hero, one who never strayed from his undimmed conviction in the power of the light. Having him travel to Ahch-To just to die, having him not even care about his sister and his best friend because he’d fallen into nihilism — that’s the opposite of inspirational. That’s pathetic, just like his flimsy justifications for his random and contrived Jedi-hate (when did the Jedi ever claim to own the force? and since when did being defeated by Palpatine undermine a thousand generations of peace?), and his refusal to train Rey even though he knows the galaxy is under the attack of darkness, and his igniting that lightsaber over Kylo in a slap-in-the-face to everything his character had supposedly learned in Return of the Jedi. Yes, people in real life regress and repeat their mistakes. But Star Wars is not real life, and in stories character moments should mean something. If Kylo Ren decided to randomly put on the mask again, I suspect many defenders would raise an outcry about JJ regressing him, yet they defend the exact same with Luke.
“Okay, but people can change in 30 years!”

Sure they can, but removing the exact traits people love about a character is a sure way to make people think they’re seeing a different person. How could the Luke who cared so much about his friends in both Empire and Jedi be so…apathetic? The only answer is that he lost that compassion and courage.

“Yes, but it returned when he came to help on Crait!”

There are two problems here. The first is structural (and The Force Awakens takes a lot of the blame here as well). The Sequel Trilogy has managed to systematically burn every single accomplishment of the original trilogy, and Luke’s cowardly depiction amplifies that cynicism so much that it’s hard to really connect to that single moment (well-executed and acted as it is). The second is that Luke then dies. Yeah, he became a hero at the very end, but that’s not what many wanted from him. We’ll never get the chance again to do this, and Luke had a few minutes of awesomeness and then got killed by a Force projection that was seemingly no sweat for Snoke. Beyond that, Crait Luke seems no different than post-ROTJ Luke. He never grew in those 30 years. It was all just running in place, just like this whole saga. No accomplishments last, all great legacies get torn down. To quote a much more naturally cynical trilogy, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.

And beyond that, Luke’s arc shows symptoms of the same disease plaguing so much of the rest of the film — forced character arcs. There was an end goal here — cynical Luke on an island — and so everything that defined his character was pulled and twisted to reach that. Yes, much of writing works in this way, but at some point one has to consider whether the goal is even worth all the reaching one has to do to get there. In the end, what does Jake Skywalker really teach us? His “insights” about the Jedi are both trite and false, his grand comeback was only what was expected in the first place, and though Hamill’s acting is consistently amazing, the arc really seems to only exist because nobody could think of a better way to both give Luke screentime and not have him overshadow the rest of the protagonists. And because they couldn’t, his core was redefined, and the entire uplifting message of his original trilogy arc ripped apart into something darker, and more cynical, and more depressing. Key moments weren’t fleshed out — it’s still not clear why Luke thinks the Jedi are a curse on the galaxy, or why he decided that instead of owing it to Leia to make up for his failure with her son by fighting alongside her he, like a coward, should retreat into the shadows and sit around milking, or what he’s guarding those Jedi texts and living in the first Jedi Temple for if he just wants to die…

It just feels fake.

And for everything that Star Wars has been, that emotion was new to me.

EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SAGA

There are several other complaints I have about TLJ — the aforementioned one of forced character arcs, the lack of subtlety and nuance in political scenes, too little politics, inconsistent thematic storytelling, storytelling disconnects with its predecessor. But to end this one I’ll focus on something that’s been the core of Star Wars so far — worldbuilding.

I love worldbuilding. When I draft my fantasy novel it’s always a joy to get immersed in that realm, to feel yourself be somewhere else, a land of infinite possibility…

And Star Wars once met that ideal. From the masterful introduction of ANH to the grand sweep of the prequels, it was immersive to the fullest degree. There was a mystery behind it, a scope and a sense of a larger universe. In fact, Rogue One and Solo fit right into this world, introducing new possibilities even though they, unlike the sequels, are hamstrung by the original trilogy’s constraints.

Yet in the sequels something has been off. Existing alien species have just been ignored — the Force forbid they show any Rodians! The originals were filled with namedrops (and the prequels just went ahead and showed huge parts of the universe) but the sequels seem to actively shy away from referencing any larger scope. Star Wars is known for its action scenes, yet the sequels again seem to actively avoid trying to wow the audience, preferring to skulk in the originals’ shadows. The political situation of the saga, so contradictory to everything set up in the previous episodes, is given lip service, never even given a short scene like that wonderfully effective Death Star boardroom  in A New Hope. Both the logic and the possibilities of a fictional universe are consistently ignored in favor of doing the bare minimum to make the movie look like something resembling Star Wars. Planets, ships, situations…everything is just ripped straight from previous films and given a new coat of paint.

And that, more than anything, is the sequels’ greatest crime to the spirit of Star Wars. In the modern age, the 80s nostalgia prevails…

Some might say that criticizing this movie so many months after release is excessive, yet so many thinkpieces have been written about its supposed greatness. If there’s no timeline for praise, then there isn’t one for criticism. And if writing this long a piece about Star Wars seems excessive, that’s because it is. Yet for me, an aspiring storyteller, Star Wars for a long time has represented the power of exactly the kinds of imaginative fantasies I want to tell. So this piece is less about one movie series and more about an entire category of storytelling, and how creativity can fade from even the brightest of franchises.

But that’s not to say nobody is doing the job of providing awesome, powerful escapism, because one company is in fact doing it extremely well…but AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (and other, related things) is a story for another time.

Perhaps it’s a story for a long time ago, or a long time in the future, or in the next couple of weeks (though I’ll probably have something else to write about then), in a galaxy so, so close to home.

P.S.: I wrote a lot of this in a very fast and continuous way, so it honestly didn’t take nearly as much time as it probably looked like, and there are probably a lot of stylistic and grammatical issues. I haven’t been wasting my life on this, I promise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rip

Well, I’m glad that’s over.

Junior year was a bit of an odd mix for me, with a first semester that in retrospect was pretty uniformly terrible and a mercurial second semester that mixed great highs with some pretty rough lows. In first semester, nothing seemed to go right for me, with even things that I thought would be easy (like Physics C mechanics tests), transforming into inexplicable struggles. My self-esteem was lower than ever, and my grades, performances, friendships, and overall well-being suffered as a result. Going into winter break, I thought the next half of the year would be little better.

The second semester, however, did provide some welcome benefits. I was able to mend friendships that I thought I had irreparably lost first semester, and in all my competitions my performance was greater than it ever had been. However, I continued to feel the pangs of worthlessness and despair from first semester, sometimes with even greater intensity. One of the biggest things I learned from this semester was how to truly commit myself to a goal; I studied more systematically and regularly for especially UIL than I had before, and my success resulted naturally even as I perpetually feared failure. However, if I had to pick one thing that I need to improve from this year it would be my confidence, especially in social situations. One of my worst hangups is my inability to go up to people and start a conversation, and its prevented me from ever feeling like I fully belong among my friends. Hopefully I can submerge this idiotic hangup and realize that nobody would ever talk to anybody else if someone didn’t begin.

My plans for the next 5-10 years are nebulous, but I do have some idea of where I want to go in life. I’m probably going to major in computer science, and I’m hopefully going to start a business in that area. I also want to write a book about a fantasy narrative that  I’ve been ruminating upon and revising since 1st grade — if I die without having that completed, it will probably be my biggest regret. As far as concrete action, I’m currently doing research in computer science (specifically analysis of social media) in order to help build my skills, and I have a goal of finishing at least the first draft of the book this summer, which will at least give me a solid foundation upon which to revise. In the end, my biggest desire is just to have some sort of major influence upon the world and to feel like my life has been lived to its fullest potential.

 

 

 

 

 

LOL

One of the most irritating words to ever exist is the expression “lol”. In its original usage, it is a perfectly valid expressor of amusement. However, this seemingly innocent word has morphed into a monstrosity, a general-purpose word used for acknowledgment or to signify disinterest. The disease of “lol” infects conversations, destroying their flow and creating tonal confusion.

The current usage of “lol” is utterly amorphous. For example, when I am attempting to tell an interesting story via text, the response from a disinterested “friend” may be a simple “lol”. Taken at its original meaning, this would seem to mean that the “friend” found the story amusing. However, the current usage of “lol” means that the expression gives no impression of the listener’s interest in my story, and in fact seems to be more commonly a signal of apathy, filler if he or she cannot be bothered to actually engage in the conversation. Its appearance in a text is especially irritating if my previous text was not anything that a reasonable person would find funny.

Even worse, the degeneration of “lol” into meaningless garbage seems to have been a precursor of a similar process occurring with other words. For example, “lmao” was also a signal of amusement, yet its current filler status is second only to that of the dreaded “lol”. What makes this degeneration so idiotic is that texting English already possesses designated filler words such as “K”, “alright”, and the thumbs-up emoji. Why, then, must expressions of amusement be corrupted in such an irritating way?

The most annoying quality of “lol” and its equivalents is the way they easily break the flow of a conversation. Responding forces me to plow past the implied awkwardness that an abrupt “lol” provides, and awkwardness is already a quality that is far too prevalent in my life. The forced double meaning of “lol” is what provides this awkwardness — using a generic filler such as “kk” eliminates the problem entirely. Overall, “lol” is an expression that has outlived its usefulness and should be killed without mercy. Its time has ended.

 

 

Letters from a Birmingham Jail Analysis

Martin Luther King’s syllogism in “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” is deceptively simple. King’s first premise is that people have a moral responsibility to obey just laws and disobey unjust ones. His second premise is that Jim Crow laws are unjust. Thus, his conclusion is that disobedience of Jim Crow laws is a moral responsibility. Why is this syllogism “deceptively” simple? Well, although the conclusion of this application of King’s syllogism may seem obvious to many modern readers, its underlying logic often fails to permeate societal consciousness, which places an emphasis on “law and order” at the expense of true justice.

King’s syllogism certainly applies to the present day, and it does not have to just apply to laws but rather to any societal institution which is unjust. For example, protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement have been labeled as anti-law because their demonstrations criticize the frequent police shootings of African-Americans. However, those who make these criticisms seldom consider whether this racial disparity in shootings makes the police force as an institution unjust, and an institution that should be defied (within reason). Overpolicing in general does constitute a strong injustice against many minority communities, increasing incarceration rates and tearing apart families. Although these situations are not the same because racial discrimination today is not legalized like that in the 1960s, the core of King’s argument still applies — fighting for justice supersedes laws or institutions.

In addition, King’s syllogism can apply to my own life. Although my problems at school pale in comparison to those faced by Dr. King, his logic can still be applied. Many times, I have been told not to argue against an answer on a test that is obviously incorrect because of the belief in the infallibility of the teacher. However, since said teachers are being unjust in their grading due to the incorrectness of their answer keys, I know that it is my responsibility to disobey them, and to argue for the correctness of my answer. This example may seem petty or comical, but that only adds to its illustrative power. That King’s syllogism can be used in both minuscule and societal situations shows its universality, both across time and situations. Fighting against injustice never gets old.