Star Wars: The Force Awakens Impressions (No Spoilers)

Star Wars Force Awakens

So, I wanted to wait a little bit before posting because I wanted to make sure that I thought about what I wanted to say and phrase it carefully because I didn’t want to spoil in any of things in the story & also because I wanted to make sure of my own feelings toward this movie.

STAR WARS 101

I think that this movie is great!  If I was grading it, I would give it an A (95-98).  It wouldn’t get an A+ for reasons that I will discuss later (no spoilers), but this is an Excellent movie (going by the “grading scale” of many universities).

No offense to George Lucas (as creator of the world and characters), but this is the Star Wars adventure I was hoping the Prequel trilogy was going to be when it released.  This one had old characters and new merged into an exciting new adventure.

THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE

I love both the old characters and seeing them return, but I also like the new characters.  I like the characters and the actors portraying them.  I think that they have enough depth to carry them through a trilogy and the story definitely gave them room to grow in future episodes.

I won’t reveal any of the characters twists, but I will say that BB-8 has probably become one of my favorite droids.  Like R2, the audience can’t decipher what his “beeps” mean without another character translating, but as expressive as R2 is, BB-8 is more so.  They convey a surprising amount of emotion through the droid and it is well appreciated.

LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL

As many internet reaction videos will attest (and you should watch NONE of them until you’ve seen the movie for yourself), the humor is really good in this one.  I think one of the reasons that I like Star Wars so much is the use of sardonic humor.  Rather than slapstick, SW has this wry humor that pervades the action.  From the “cheesy” dice in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit in SW, to the way Vader “disciplines” Star Destroyer commanders & the “hyperdrive” subplot with both Han & Lando, to Han’s outlandish comments to Chewie during the tense scene when they are trying to pass themselves off as a shuttle crew when they are sneaking to the moon of Endor (“I knew it was going to work,” Han says.  He had just told Chewie moments ago to fly “casually”).

Again, without spoiling anything, I think that the wry humor is back and updated for the “new” generation.  I could definitely see some humor that would appeal to Millennials, but there were also some nods back to Gen X’ers like myself.

Whatever you do, keep a close eye on BB-8.  For a CG character, many of his humor beats are pure comedic gold.  He’s a scene stealer almost every time he is on the screen (can you tell I really like this droid?)

THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this is the best movie EVER.  When we were leaving the theater one young lady was remarking to her friends, “that was the worst movie ever–they way overhyped it.”  My mother was in instant disbelief.  Myself, I could only shake my head as it wasn’t the marketing folks who overhyped it–it was the young lady herself.  She went into the movie with the wrong mindset.

It is not an revolutionary movie like the original SW was, but an evolutionary one.  It takes the SW series back to the path it was on BEFORE the Prequels.  The Empire & Death Star were such an engaging conflict, of course we want to find out what happened AFTER those events.  SW:FA gives that opportunity.  It also gives us new characters with which to continue the adventure–just as Lando added history to the Millennium Falcon and Han’s backstory in Empire & Jedi, so to do these new characters give the audience a way to into the story.

The reason why I personally wouldn’t give this story an A+ is for 2 reasons: 1) while I like it and think that the movie is well worth the admission price, it isn’t my favorite SW movie.  I’d still have to rate the original series higher (nostalgia is coloring my perception, probably, but there it is).  I think this is the BEST movie I’ve seen in 2015, but I still like the original series of movies (as a whole) better and  2) they do have a lot of story elements from the original series as both a callback and as a structure.  If you have the original SW movies memorized like I do, then it will be EASY to pick out the story structure.  In one of the final plot elements, I had to willingly suspend my disbelief CONSCIOUSLY in order believe an element that happened.  Luckily, it was the only time and I felt that they were trying to appeal to nostalgia rather than just poor plotting, but I did have to do so.

THE FORCE WILL BE WITH YOU, ALWAYS

Still, even with those distinctions, I have no problems recommending this movie.  If you are a SW fan, you’ll love this movie.  If you’re not, or aren’t a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, you’ll be fine as long as you keep your expectations in check.

Remember, there can only ever be one REVOLUTION.  Everything else that follows is an EVOLUTION of the original.  Sometimes that evolution can be misguided and lower the value of the original (the Prequel trilogy in my opinion) or it can raise it to new heights (Empire and Jedi, again in my opinion), or it can reset the bar and establish a new course and new bar for the original (and that’s where I think SW:FA comes in and accomplishes wonderfully).

In short, if you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk to the theater.  For myself, I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the things that I missed during the 1st viewing.

May the Force (Awakens) be with you!

Dream Chattanooga

Chattanooga,_Tennessee_Skyline.jpg

I’ve lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee for most of my life and I like the city–it’s large enough to have everything that a mid-size city should have (attractions, businesses, etc.), but not so large that it is impossible to move around and get things done in a timely manner.  It is familiar.

However, being the Fantasy/Science Fiction writer that I am, I tend to dream about Chattanooga being a more fantastic place than it already is–or perhaps I should say, “fantastical.”  I’ve noticed that I tend to dream of the city and when I incorporate it into my dreams, the results seem to mirror the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in some respects.

THE STRANGE

A particular theme of my dreams when I incorporate the city is the idea that I’m looking for something, well, in a word . . . fantastical.  There is an element akin to something like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, where it looks real, but in fact harbors the Strange and the Wonderful.  Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I always seem to be looking for some artifact in the dreams about the city.  I either find it and it is the best thing ever, or I go into the “dream world” remembering where it was and I’m always trying to find it again somehow, but (usually) it isn’t there anymore.  Dream interpreters, make of that what you will–I have my own thoughts about that however.

One dream that I can remember clearly where this happens is a dream that I’ve had at least twice since I was a child.  McCallie Avenue is a major artery into the city (downtown area).  When I was a child it was even more so as it was four lanes into the downtown area (about 14-15 years ago they changed it to a two-way in & two-way out to accommodate the increased college expansion on the other side of McCallie.)  When it was a 4 lane there was a small store/deli at the very terminus of the road where it split going to the left and the right.  Now in real life, I’ve never been in that deli/store, but it looks like a 1 story construction.  In my dream it was two stories and underneath was this mall-like area and there was a store that sold the most amazing things.  What were they?  I don’t know–can’t remember that part of the dream, but the impression was that they were awesome.  I made a promise to myself that I would come back and then I woke up.

Sometime later, I did dream that same dream, but when I went down to that area, and the “mall” area was still there, but the store that sold the “amazing” things?  Gone.  Nowhere to be found.  But, I would find it again . . .

DREAM GEOGRAPHY

Something else that I’ve noticed is the way my mind constructs the Dream Chattanooga.  It seems to meld places together.  As a child, my parents used to take my “around the mountain” to Tiftonia to buy fireworks.  Now, there’s no way to get there from Navajo Dr (a street off of Brainerd Rd and S. Germantown), but in my Dream Chattanooga there is and it will lead to this most amazing group of stands and stalls.  Imagine a farmer’s market, but instead of fruits and vegetables, you have trinkets, magic books, amulets, and the most amazing collection of fantastical “stuff” that you can think of.  This is where my store had gone.

Again, one night I found myself dreaming and on this same fictional road so I remember my dream-self saying, “Okay, let me see if I can find this store again.”  And I drove down the road, but where it should have been, it wasn’t.  And I continued to drive and drive, but could not find it again in that spot.

STILL DREAMING

So this “store” has popped up in many different locations all around the “dream city of Chattanooga.”  From a fictional “bookstore” located at the base of the McCallie Tunnels where the road splits and allows you to get on to Dodds Ave (there is no real bookstore there), to a fictional merging of Red Bank and Dodds Avenue where it appeared as a “superstore” (these two areas are on the opposite sides of the city.)

As late as two or three weeks ago, I dreamed of the store again.  It was on a fictional hill that is an amalgamation the “Ridge-cut” in the city along with Shallowford Rd blended with St. Elmo community.  All of these places are nowhere near each other (although St. Elmo and the Ridge-cut areas are not too terribly far from one another now that I think of it.)

THE DREAMERY

I’m writing this post for a couple of reasons.  1) I wanted to get this down in a fixed form because I’d like to write a story that features this “amazing store” in some way.  This idea of a “fantastical store” that disappears and reappears is appealing to me, and 2) to show that story ideas come from the unlikeliest of places.  I don’t know why my mind amalgamates streets and neighborhoods in the city like it does, or why when I revisit places in the dreams, the “amazing” things that I’m looking forward are no longer there.  I don’t know what any of this means, but I’m hoping that a story about might help me to figure it all out.

GOOGLE MAPS

Chattanooga natives will probably know where all these areas are, but if you’re reading this blog and you’re lost, I’d just google or google map some of these names and it will give you an idea of the places mentioned in this post.  🙂

  • McCallie Ave. (Across from the Memorial Auditorium)
  • McCallie Ave. (Dodds Ave)
  • Navajo Rd
  • Red Bank
  • St. Elmo
  • Brained Rd
  • Shallowford Rd
  • The Ridge-Cut

xwing
So, in preparation for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie releasing soon, I went back and finished watching my 6 disc set of Star Wars Blu-Rays. I’d started watching them way back at the start of school, but I’d fallen away from them. I went from 1-4 (using Lucas’ numbering scheme), but needed to finish 5-6 (The Empire Strikes Back & The Return of the Jedi) for the uninitiated. Over the past two weeks, I finished these two movies and they rekindled my love for all things Star Wars and Science Fiction and Fantasy in general.

Child of Star Wars

I saw The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) first when I was a child. Heresy, I know, but when Star Wars came out, I was only 4 years old and my parents didn’t think that I would like it. As a matter of fact, we weren’t much of a movie going family per se. That changed in the early 1980s, when my preference for all things Sci-Fi & Fantasy began to emerge. My mother and stepfather took me to see ESB and I was immediately hooked. So much so, that they took be to the bargain theater the next weekend to see SW and the X-Wing trench run had me talking about it that entire summer.

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to subscribe to an oversized magazine called Life and in it, there was an extended interview with George Lucas. It talked about his early life, his car accident that nearly cost him his life, the movie American Graffiti and his making of Star Wars. I remember devouring that article.

In one interview, not sure if it was the one I mentioned above, Lucas mentioned that he kept the subtitles in his movie because he wanted to inspire kids to read. He wanted them to be so fascinated by the visuals that they would want to learn to read the text to figure out what they were missing in the scene. Or so was the gist of what I remember from the interview. I already was reading and reading well, but what Lucas’ movies did for me was show me that there was a niche of media available to me that focused on the futuristic and the fantastical. I began to search out those avenues wherever I could find them–in the library, on TV, in games (the Atari 2600 & Commodore 64 were my console and “PC” respectively).

Lucas took, for me, what was simply a preference and turned it into a passion. I can (& will) read non-genre works, but given the choice between a contemporary work or a genre work, I’ll almost always choose the genre (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) work.

Creating Science Fiction and Fantasy

Like many creators, I want to create my own works because (except for a few exceptions) people don’t seem to be writing the kind of things that I want to read/watch anymore.

I recently tried to read a fantasy work by an author whose cover art and cover blurb looked promising. When I started it, however, the F-Bomb was littered all through it. It completely turned me off–there’s no way that a “fantasy” milieu would use a vulgarity like the F-word in the same way and context that we would in today’s society, but that’s exactly what happened in the story. It was as anachronistic as playing the song “We Will Rock You” at a joust. At least the movie A Knight’s Tale used that ironically, but the author didn’t seem to even know how anachronistic his use of the word was. Its always dangerous trying to pretend to know the mind of an author, but it was almost like he thought, “Hey, this is how my friends and I all talk to each other, so sure, its okay that my characters in my fantasy novel talk this way too.” Um, no, it’s not okay. Even in Sci-Fi, if you’re going to use vulgarities, you need to take into account how the language might have shifted over time in your universe. Just shoving a contemporary vulgarity into your story because we (as a culture) use it now is, in a word, lazy. I loved Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for a while, but the vulgarities (among other things) eventually drove me away. King thinks we Americans talk like that, but in reality, we don’t (or at least we don’t in contexts that King writes about). In public spaces, we tend to moderate our vulgarities. It is only in small groups or online where anonymity reigns do most of us seem to cut loose.

Another area that I’ve talked about is the rise of the “Anti-Hero” in Fantasy. I stopped reading much of the Sci-Fi written in the 90’s because there was an “anti-Star Wars” reaction where everything had to be dark and gritty. The same movement is happening in Fantasy at the moment (the rise of Game of Thrones is evidence of this phenomenon). I’m beginning to read more Science Fiction now because it is more in-line with my own tastes due to the resurgence of military Sci-Fi at the moment.

I’m hopeful that the Force Awakens heralds a resurgence of the type of Fantasy and Sci-Fi that I personally like. Perhaps then, my stories will be able to find an audience and I’ll be able to read/watch more of the media in the genre that I love. I suppose only time will tell.