The YouTuber vs The Director: Why Hollywood Needs to Stop Being a "Closed" System

Gameplay capture from a “modded” version of Empire at War (Star Wars Fleet Battle Strategy Game)

Hi Everyone,

So sorry for taking an extended break from the blog. There are reasons, which I will articulate, but probably in a post sometime in the New Year. Right now, I just want to say thank you to those who have stuck with the blog by reading older (and liking) many of the older posts here. I will be posting more regularly here (I haven’t gone away from blogging; I just needed to take a break–again, I’ll go into those reasons later). Again, a big thank you for sticking with the blog!

Right now, however, I really want to talk about Star Wars for a moment, now that the newest movie has released. Now, I’ve NOT seen Rise of Skywalker as of yet. Will I see it (at the theaters)? I’m not sure–so far, the reviews that I’ve seen have been mixed. I think I will probably email a professor that I know who is an ardent Star Wars fan to see what their reaction is and, if the professor likes it, I’ll probably attend a matinee showing in January before the new semester starts again. However, while watching a YouTube video, I discovered another reason why the previous movie (w/Rian Johnson at the helm) didn’t work for me and that has to do with an “amateur” (as Hollywood would see them) seeming to know and care more about the Star Wars universe than the director (and “professional” as Hollywood would brand them) does based on the content that both have “created.”

The Case Against Rian Johnson (and the script of The Last Jedi)

So, I’m probably “blacklisting” myself as I have designs of writing screenplays in the future, but in watching the YouTube video that I linked to above (don’t worry–at over 50 minutes I don’t expect anyone to watch the whole thing, but watching 10 mins or so, especially in the middle, should make it clear to readers why I chose to include the video). Now, before I lay out my major argument, let me be clear: while I respect Rian Johnson as both a person and director (I’ve never met the guy, so I have no opinion on him outside of his work–for me, it is the “content of one’s character”) in ALL situations), I’m not a fan of his science fiction efforts. Looper was something thing I couldn’t even finish, while The Last Jedi was disappointing to me as a lifelong Star Wars fan. While I understand the need to distance the old characters and invite the new characters, I felt that there were so many better ways that this could have been accomplished. Going against conventions just to be “radical and new” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good. And that’s the main problem that I saw with The Last Jedi: its desire to show the main protagonists in the story in a different light that had already been explored. I won’t go into a long diatribe about it, but will ask all those who liked Knives Out–his currently critically acclaimed movie–a question: what if I took the characters in that movie and wrote a sequel in which none of them acted liked they had in the first movie and rewrote the ending so that none of it happened the way the first movie made it appear? (Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers as I’ve yet to see the movie) .Would you then think that this new movie was “cool and unique?” Chances are good that you would hate my script because neither the characters nor the world had anything that made them who they were–just changing them “to subvert expectations” would likely appear arbitrary, capricious, and dare I say, stupid (for an exercise, I may just write that script whenever I do see Knives Out just to show how subverting expectations isn’t really “clever” when it is done to something that someone else likes–when the person doing that subverting doesn’t really like it themselves–assuming, of course that I don’t like Knives Out).

Why Does a YouTuber Display More Reverence for Star Wars Than a Director (or Producer)?

Yet, for all my whinging on about Rian Johnson (and by extension, the producers of the newest trilogy), there are many people who are passionate about the series–but more importantly, who are knowledgeable about the Star Wars universe. In some ways, it seems like there are fans who know (and care) more about the property than the creators of that series. Now, there is a YouTuber who goes by the handle of TheXPGamers who produces quite a bit of Star Wars content. In this particular case (for the video that I linked above), he is playing a Star Wars game published by Lucasarts Games before the Disney buyout that deals with giant spaceship fleet battles between the forces of the Empire and the Rebels. Even though he is playing a “modded” copy (meaning that another software author has created a patch that changes the look, feel, and gameplay elements) of the original/base game, just from viewing a short portion of the video, one can see two things are evident: 1) his passion and 2) his knowledge about the SW universe. First, his passion is clear–he loves this series and learning more about it and he’s clearly invested in the lore. Second, he has both knowledge of the lore, but also strategy and how it applies to the SW universe. He is clearly a master of the game and of the tactics used to win.

And here’s my ultimate point: Rian Johnson got criticized for many things, but one of the major things that people called “BS” on was his fleet interactions. Now look, I know how hard writing is, but this where being a “closed” system hurts Hollywood. How hard would it have been to call in TheXPGamers as a “consultant” or even as a reader to help “punch up” the scenes dealing with the fleet? And if he did a good job there, then perhaps touch on characterization and other things in order to improve the script? Oh, but that’s not the way Hollywood does things–they don’t want to be sued for “stealing ideas.” Granted, that is a thing, but Hollywood wants a hit, but isn’t always sure what will deliver one. In dealing with art, the only time they seem to want to take risks is when they already have an established property (a la SW) that has a built in fanbase–but to actually open themselves up to 1) original properties/screenplays or 2) allow outsiders to come in and help shape there projects–no, that is NOT allowed. Yes, I’m aware of the “guild” structure and the like, but my point remains: if you have resources at your disposal to help you and you chose not to use them, then you cannot very well become upset when the fans call “BS” on a story/story elements. The “chase” in The Last Jedi was central to the storyline, but based on what was written in the script and presented onscreen, the director knew little-to-nothing about the “boring” ship-to-ship battles in the SW universe, so let’s make it “exciting” with a “chase” sequence (because “chase” scenes = tension, see Bullitt). However, as linked in the video, TheXPGamers knows how large fleet warfare works in SW, can describe it effectively, and can illustrate the reasons and rationales for certain decisions to be made, so why not use him as a resource as well, not to mention Lucas and any other SW alumns who are still working with (Filoni, Chow, or even other SW directors/artists/conceptual designers, even actors) come quickly to mind. And that doesn’t even count the legion of fans who have produced content (via the internet or in other forms) who have massive amounts of knowledge as well (but because they aren’t “professional”–i.e., known in Hollywood industry circles–their opinions and knowledge doesn’t count). Look, I get it, we all have to “pay our dues” if we want something, but not all “dues paying” looks exactly the same. If some pay there dues through YouTube videos, some through extensive reading and writing, and some by directing, shouldn’t that count for the same? Why does directing a moderately successful Sci-Fi movie give you access to the reins of the biggest, most important Sci-Fi franchise out there, but producing content (in the form of YouTube videos) on that very same large, successful franchise earn you nothing but contempt and being ignored by the very movie studio/entity producing that franchise?

Until Hollywood realizes that not everyone who isn’t “in” the industry is not the enemy, I predict there will be more fan/community backlash to Hollywood’s seemingly increasing arbitrary decisions to their franchises. Instead of more control, it might be better in the long run to relinquish the tight grip on their franchises and bring in fans (especially fan-based experts) to help craft the stories and shape the ultimate direction of the narratives. Otherwise, like Princess Leia predicted to Grand Moff Tarkin: “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

P. S. Alien 3 and Me

And lest I be called a Rian Johnson hater (as I am pretty harsh about him in this entry), I’ve already had my moment with “fandom” with the release of Alien 3 and that is when I learned how horribly wrong a sci-fi movie can go in the hands of an “avant garde” director. Alien and Aliens were my favorite films outside of the SW universe and I was ecstatic when A3 was announced. I went to a showing at U.T. Knoxville, where I was a sophomore at the time. Words cannot express my disappointment in the film. As there was no internet at the time (not in the way there is now–AOL was just beginning to be a thing . . . I think, but it may have been a couple of years before even that if I remember correctly), there was no “fan outrage” that happened. However, I never saw another David Fincher film (I made sure to note the director of that travesty) and after the lukewarm Alien Ressurection, I’ve basically sworn off the Aliens franchise until the reviews indicate that they (the filmmakers) truly intend to make good movies again (so, no I’ve not seen Prometheus, nor Alien Covenant, nor the AvP films, nor do I intend to). So you see, I don’t hate on directors or franchises when they disappoint–I just deny them my business. That’s why Leia’s quote is so appropriate–a closed system means that you (the filmmakers) have no margin for error, so the director/writer/producer had better love the franchise as much as the fans because, like The Last Jedi (and Alien 3) shows, it is painfully obvious when they don’t.

Sidney


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Let’s Talk About the Mandalorian (on Disney+ Streaming)

Image of the Mandalorian (a man in sci-fi armor with a cape and a rifle strapped to his back) walking down a dusty sci-fi street.
Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/47935790

Okay, before I begin, I should note that I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan. While I haven’t been particularly impressed with some of the later Star Wars movies (The Last Jedi & Solo I’m looking at you), I have been a pretty ardent fan of the series since I was a child. According to my mother, I did see SW is the theaters (although I have no concrete memory of it as I was younger than 5 at the time), but my first SW movie that remember concretely was Empire Strikes Back (and yes, I’m old enough to remember the movies without the annoying Episodes numbers in front of them, so that’s how I’m going to roll). I remember being taken back to see SW again in a discount theater a week later (because I liked Empire so much and it was much better the second time around as I now had some context). I give you all this backstory so that you can understand that if my comments seem too positive, it is because I’m coming at this as a fan and not as a scholar and/or dispassionate viewer.

This is the Star Wars TV show that You’ve Been Looking For

So, let’s talk about what works. To me, Mandalorian represents a show that does the “Space Western” genre correctly. While I don’t want to “crap” all over Defiance as there are talented actors and crew members who worked on that show, Mandalorian represents a shift away from that nihilistic and “grimdark” show of Defiance that emphasizes recreational drug use and heavy doses of sex/sexual innuendo over storytelling. I’m not a prude, but come on, this is supposed to a sci-fi show where people are just barely surviving rather than (being uncharacteristically crude here) getting their “freak” on. Luckily (and blessedly), there’s none of that “grimdark” ambiguity here. The titular Mandalorian is no hero–he is a bounty hunter for whom remorse and emotions are a detriment, not an asset. This is no wide-eyed farmboy here (one of the many criticisms that early Star Wars fans had with Luke Skywalker. However, we’re only 3 episodes in, but we are beginning to see an arc developing for the Mandalorian. I won’t go into details as they could be considered spoilers, but suffice to say, we’re seeing new depths to the character. One of the things that makes this show so good is the high production values of the show. In many ways, this show looks like a Star Wars movie, but given to us in 30-35 minute chunks complete with storytelling arcs that work both on a shorter level (episodic), but also sustain a longer narrative (Episode 3 had consequences so I eager to see where Ep. 4 takes us).

No Disintegrations

So, what are the downsides to the show. Well, for me, not many. The show seems to really do a good job of presenting a live-action version of the Star Wars show (much like the live action remakes of famous Disney animated movies. If there was a downside, I would have to say length (although that could also be considered a plus as well). I really like getting wrapped up in the mythology of the world and so I hate it when the show ends–it feels like the foray into the world is all too brief. However, the fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome might also be one of its strengths, so I’m torn on whether or not this is truly an issue. For some, not me, the fact that the hero never removes his helmet might be a problem, but I like the mystery. I also like the “everyman” motif happening as well. And since there is a “matriarch” of sorts who also doesn’t remove her helmet, there’s even an “everywoman” vibe happening as well and I think there should probably be more of that. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that those who want “grimdark” storytelling (in which everyone dies a horribly gruesome and unfair death, people “crapping” all over each other just because they can) probably won’t find much here to excite their interests–it just isn’t that type of show (at least, so far, and thank goodness)!

Not a Mini-Review

While I’m enjoying my time with the show, this shouldn’t be considered a mini-review. I’ll wait until the show is finished its run to pass judgement over it. So far, however, I have to say that I like what I’ve seen and hope that it will finish its first series/season run out with distinction. Finally, a contemporary series that I can enjoy!

Sidney


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ReRead: Star Wars X-Wing Rogue Squadron — Battleground Tatooine

X-Wing Fighter destroying a Tie Fighter over an alien world.
Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Battleground-Tatooine-X-Wing-Rogue-Squadron/dp/156971276X

So, I reread Star Wars X-Wing Rogue Squadron (Rogue Squadron) over the weekend. I haven’t been reading much on my own except for school nights, but I thought I start to reread my collection once a week.

One of the Few Star Wars Graphic Novels I Own

Surprisingly enough, I don’t own that many Star Wars graphic novels (although I plan to increase that through used bookstore purchases) as graphic novels became a “thing” after I was already moving away from “comics” in general and moving more into “writing/creative writing.” It may have been a good thing since most of the Star Wars comics/novels/graphic novels have been “removed” from canon once Disney acquired the license. However, I still like to dip into the world and universe, even knowing that most of the work is no longer “relevant” to the Star Wars world.

Good Story (Even Without the Lightsabers)

I tend to be a “lightsabers” kind of guy, meaning that I really like the ligthtsaber combat in the films. However, I also like the space combat as well. I feel that the new films have focused more on space combat than lightsaber battles, but I’d still like to watch them. And that extends into the graphic novel realm as I enjoy reading about the adventures of Rogue Squadron which is what this graphic novel is about. The story was good–not great–but good, as was the artwork. Finally, I thought the inclusion of a hard to find second story at the end was a nice touch.

Overall Grade: B (85)

While it could have been more dynamic, I still enjoyed the setup and the resolution of the story. Its a fun, “popcorn” story and one that I enjoyed. I’ll definitely look for others in the series.

Sidney

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Sunsetting Star Wars

Sunsetting Star Wars Two characters from Star Wars watch the twin suns set.
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2W5YPQJqUs

Okay, I know, a provactive title. And yes, The Last Jedi features into the discussion, but not nearly as much as one would think. I’ve known for a while now that the Disney version of Star Wars (at least for the last of the 3 Skywalker films) would be “sunsetting” the original characters and creating a whole new set of characters that we would follow through new movies for a “new” generation. My problem (at the time) wasn’t the sunsetting of the older characters–it was, would I like the new characters? Now, however, I have to say that it is isn’t the new characters that bother me (except the “grumpy Darklord”–Daisy Ridley’s term for Kylo Ren). What I really have a problem with is the way in which the old characters are being “retired.”

Be Fair to Your Audience

Yes, I know we live in an 18-35 year old world. I get it. This is where marketers focus their efforts on, this is where people really want to target their appeals to, but one of the things that I really dislike about the way Star Wars has treated its audience is that they haven’t honored the original actors/roles as much as they could have.

So, unless I get really heavily into spoilers, I can’t actually do a “deep dive” into the ways Disney has “disrespected” fans of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia from the original trilogy. Suffice to say, the resolution of the two men have not ended well. Carrie Fisher unfortunately, passed away, so I suspect we will see footage of her in the new movie, but I feel that they will be far more respectful to her character because she (sadly) is no longer with us (the Paul Walker effect, essentially).

As a long time fan of the films, I don’t understand why we can’t get a resolution of the old characters that doesn’t feature them going out in the way they do. I feel that both of the characters who’ve we’ve “resolved” so far from the original trilogy do not end in a way that is either consistent or satisfying to what we as fans were presented onscreen during Lucas’ original run.

Be Consistent

And this the cry that every fan asks every creator whether or not they originally created a character or not. Let me be absolutely clear–I don’t like The Last Jedi. One of the main reasons is that I don’t feel that the Disney Star Wars films are playing fair with audience expectations is that the characterizations are not even close to what the characters have exhibited in the past, nor do they honor the struggles that they originally had. For example, Luke struggled with redeeming his father from evil, yet his nephew “supposedly” (we see this off-screen) displays tendencies of “evil” and Luke most definitely (again, vague to avoid spoilers) does NOT try to even talk to the kid, let alone redeem him. That is antithetical to Luke’s characterization and doesn’t fit with what I know about the character. However, for plot reasons, we need Luke to ignore 20 years of history (his own history, btw) and act in a manner counter to what he has done previously.

The same is true for Han Solo’s character. While I can somewhat see what befalls him, he still has to act in a “dumb” fashion for his ending to occur. In the original trilogy, Han and Chewbacca rarely split up–it does happen, but it was in Jedi and close to the end. However, in Force Awakens, the split-up happens at just the right time for the “surprise” to happen and to allow Han to be “Solo” at just the right time.

Again, I have to be super-vague to keep from spoilers (& this may be hurting my argument), but I feel that a grave disservice has been done to the old school characters. Leia will probably get a “hero’s sendoff,” but why does she get to be the only one? And why after she’s passed away? My grandmother subscribed to the idea that we should give “people their flowers while they are living,” meaning that one should honor people while they are alive and not wait until they are dead. The actors in the original Star Wars did a wonderful job and their characters are well loved by millions of fans. Is it really so bad to ask the creators of the new series to honor that idea and to give the characters a “sunset” that is consistent with their characters and honors their actors in an appropriate way (which I don’t think is what has actually occurred).

Sidney

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Learning the “Flow”

Lightsaber of various colors.
Image Source: Kyberlight.com

So, learning Lightsabers and Lightsaber combat has been with us for a while. This Wired article that covers some of the basics is from 2013. However, as lightsaber prices have come down and there are more and more companies making them due to the resurgent popularity of the movies, lightsaber combat and training videos are popping up more frequently, and there are more and more websites dedicated to helping people learn the “art” of lightsaber combat.

As a child, I actually had a “lightsaber.” I put in quotes because it was an actual “lightsaber” like the ones we have today. Now, obviously, none of the “lightsabers” are “real” lightsabers that contain energy that can slice off a hand or melt doors. However, the lightsaber that I had as a child was just a more rudimentary version of the ones out now. My childhood lightsaber was two pieces of molded plastic. The hilt had the bumps and groves of a lightsaber handle with stickers to mimic the “buttons.” The second part was a colored piece of plastic “blade” that then screwed on to this saber’s hilt. Less than $10, this was a cheap plastic toy in all the ways it could be, but it still gave me the impression of being a “jedi knight.” The blade was even hollow with a bit of plastic on the top, so that when swung very fast, the air would make a “whooshing” sound that was reminiscent the distinctive sound that lightsabers make. However, my the lightsabers of my childhood do not hold a candle to the current lightsabers as the more expensive ones are made from metal now and have LED lighting effects and (most) have some sort of sound chip for accurate sound effects.

One of my projects over the summer is to try to learn lightsabers, lightsaber combat, and to buy myself a fairly good lightsaber.

The Flow

So, I’m in the process of learning what’s called, “The Flow.” It is a discipline that has some applications to martial arts, but is more of “trick”-style of manipulating the blade. I’d like to learn that first before moving on to more martial arts/combat/forms for the blade. The “Flow” is much more involved with flashy twirling moves than with actual combat or fencing. There’s a lot of spinning and manipulating of the blade going on with “The Flow.” Below is a YouTube video of a really good professional lightsaber combat artist who is proficient with the “flow”:

Michelle C. Smith — YouTube Lightsaber Spinning Video

She has a beginning tutorial on “The Flow” and links it to working with the staff. Her rationale: learning on the staff gives you all the requisite skills for lightsaber use and is much easier while learning on the saber is a lot harder (and, for me, the implication is that it won’t necessarily be transferable back to the staff).

I’ve learned one of the techniques so far that she has described in the following video, but haven’t yet learned the second (related technique).

“Basic Flow” for Freestyle Staff — Michelle C. Smith

I still have quite a way to go, but I’m hopeful that by the end of the summer I will have learned enough in the way of lightsaber “Flow” skills to advance to at least one or two of Michelle Smith’s “advanced” videos, but we’ll have to see how it works out. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome! 🙂

Sidney

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Goodbye Star Wars: Clone Wars, Hello Farscape

Image Source: https://reelgood.com/show/star-wars-the-clone-wars-2008

So, I’ve been away from the blog for a while due to school and reading for the tests for this semester. I’ve been consuming media on the weekends, but I just haven’t really had a chance to blog about it. There have been several major video game news items that I’ve wanted to blog about (& with luck, I still will), but basically, today I wanted to talk about the “streaming future” and the way it will work in the future.

Goodbye Star Wars: Clone Wars

After trying to get through the series when it was first released and not being able to due to the erratic nature of its broadcast schedule originally, I tried to get through it on Netflix when it first appeared. There was an episode that I couldn’t get through–the one where Padme and Annakin have to use Padme’s former boyfriend to get information on the Separatists–and so I dropped it. This was when Star Wars: Clone Wars (SWCW) had first entered the Netflix catalogue. I recently (this year) finally got past that odiuous episode and was making my way through the series when I got the notice that SWCW would be leaving the service on April 7th. As I was in the midst of studying for tests, there wasn’t really anything I could do about it–no major binges or anything like that–so I was only able to get to Season 3 (first episode) before the show was pulled. Now, it isn’t gone forever–more than likely this show is going to appear on Disney’s new “Streaming” service.

Obviously, I don’t really like this. To the best of my knowledge, Disney’s new service will not be “free.” If it costs money, then I have to decide whether I need Disney’s service over Netflix’s service, or whether I can afford (notice I didn’t use the word need as I don’t need either service, but I want them for entertainment). I don’t really like this idea of starting new services when there are already market leaders in the market. I’ll explain why in a moment. For the moment, the point is moot as Disney’s service hasn’t actually premiered.

Hello Farscape

Farscape is a early to mid 90s Sci-Fi show that, like Babylon 5 (B5), I saw a few episodes when it first premiered. Afterwards, it was one of the first shows on streaming. I managed to see approx. the first 2 seasons before it went away (again, much like SWCW where it went away before I could finish it). I’m starting over again. It has been long enough that I really don’t remember the characters or the relationships well enough to try to pick up where I left off. I will try to finish this series this time around (again, like B5), and if I do so, I will post a review of the series on the blog.

Streaming: Hello and Goodbye

So the thing about streaming is that it is almost a lot like broadcast network: you are at the whim of the providers and licensors as to what you can watch when. It takes away choice. The providers go out and acquire the content and you watch it. However, not all providers have all the content, meaning subscriptions to multiple providers to get a good coverage of old and new content. Now, content provider sees these subscription fees as way of guaranteeing revenue (hence, CBS All Access, Disney’s upcoming streaming service, and the myriad of others who want in on the act, like NBC Sports). However, the market cannot and will not support all these services, so just like all other markets, most will fail until an oligopoly has been established of the main players (usually 2-3, sometimes more, but rarely) and equilibrium will be established. There will always be smaller players (a fair amount), but in the end, there will only be a few major players. The problem is that everyone, no matter how late they are to the party (I’m looking at you Apple) wants to be a part of the oligopoly. And while the consumer may ultimately win through competition, we’re about to enter a phase where the consumer will be the ultimate loser since the only way to get all the content will be to buy as many services as one can afford–not great on the consumer’s bottom line.

Until the shakeup happens and content providers stop there own services and partner with larger companies, the consumer loses. And will this happen? I point you to the immenient shutdown management platforms like VUDU and the like. They wanted to be a place where you dumped all movies that you purchased so as to diffuse the power and domination they felt Apple had in the marketplace. Now they are going away and Apple still maintains its dominance in purchased content, but has seceded its in content to the “streaming” platforms.

My point is that capitalism is NOT always good for the consumer, especially whenever there is market upheaval. The market doesn’t always work in the consumer’s favor and we need to stop gushing over capitalism as if it is a “perfect” system. Like all human inventions and endeavors, it has its flaws, and the fact that I no longer have access to watch a show through no action of my own that I hadn’t finished highlights just one of the many flaws in the system.

I guess I’m writing about this, not to gripe or to propose a better system, but in the hopes that by pointing out the flaws, someone (an economist or theorist) many be able to implement ideas that can correct these flaws.

Sidney

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Weekly Round-Up (February 3rd-9th)

potpourri

Writing

  • 2nd Draft–Starlight, Starbright: “Exposition” — I worked on the beginning of the story and reworked it to add in more characterization, more character backstory, and to revise the introduction of the story so that it matches the changes that I made in the middle of the story in the 1st draft (I didn’t go back and revise it as I figured I would get bogged down and not finish the 1st draft which is what I wanted to do.
  • The market that I’m aiming this for is a yearly one and it stops taking submissions on February 28th. I already missed a different market that stopped taking submissions on Jan. 31st (& will have to wait until June for their next period), so I don’t want to miss this one and have to wait an entire year (along with it having a different theme, to boot).

Gaming

  • So, I finished the campaign for Star Wars Battlefront II published by EA. I bought it on sale (9.99) and I bought a digital copy. I played the first one (only because it was Star Wars) “day one,” and while it was fun, I really did miss having a campaign (I rarely played the first game, so it was money wasted). I decided that this time I would wait until the game went on sale before purchasing it. I thought the campaign was good–although Iden goes through a character change quite quickly about a third of the way through–and while I liked it, I did find it abrupt. I didn’t even bother with the multiplayer which is this game’s bread and butter because I didn’t like the “loot box” controversy–just let us play games EA, stop looking at you gaming customers as stupid sheep to be fleeced for your shareholders. Not cool.
  • Speaking of multiplayer, this week saw the release of Apex Legends, a first person shooter which mixes the best of Battle Royale games (like Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBg), “character shooters” (Overwatch) and cartoony action/combat (Fortnite). This game was released on Tuesday or Wednesday and it has taken the gaming world by storm. 10 million players have played it in approx. 72 hours. Whether it has staying power remains to be seen. Oh, I also one my first match today. It is a three-person team, and my contribution was healing, revives, and calling enemies, but even though I wasn’t the “star” on the team, my help was both necessary and critical to the win! 🙂

Miscellaneous

  • So, not much going on outside of work–for school and for my second job.
  • Oh, I got new contact lenses, but I don’t think there going to work out. I’m extremely near-sighted so we added a “multifocus” lens so that I could do better at reading, but in doing so, the distance is now very blurry and limited and I’m not really “feeling” them. While I can’t go back to my old pair (too old), I may have to try to see if we can’t give up some “reading” clarity to get some clarity for my distant vision because of all the driving that I do.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Redux

Image Source: https://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2017/12/12/star-wars-last-jedi-review

During one of the orientation sessions, one of the other students happened to be talking about Star Wars and both Solo and The Last Jedi happened to come up. Now, I’ve not seen Solo (although it is on Netflix and I fully intend to watch it in the near future. One of the students thought that The Last Jedi was the best of the Star Wars films because it was by Rian Johnson and that it was “as close to an art-house Star Wars film that we were likely to get.”

I argued that the movie ignored the characterization in Return of the Jedi specifically where Luke is in danger of becoming the Emperor’s puppet when he cuts off Vader’s hand and comes very close to striking down Vader in cold-blooded anger/hatred. While we both didn’t change each other’s mind, we could see each other’s points without delving into the worst part of fandom–the endless bickering.

Main-line Star Wars

So, for me, I’m less inclined for things like experimentation and trying new things in the “main-line” Star Wars stories–the numbered stories. For those stories, I want awesome plot and action, great characterization and character moments, and new and inventive world-building. I really want to see some of the best that Star Wars has to offer in these “main-line” Star Wars movies, and I think that here is not the place for experimentation. You have a “prototype”/”blue-print” of what works in the original trilogy. While I won’t say, ‘just do that,” as it gives filmmakers the lazy way out, it would be awesome to have the original characters act consistent to their previous characterization and bring in the new characters and their quirks into the mix while slowly phasing out the old. The form is there, but it requires solid execution, which didn’t happen in The Last Jedi in my opinion.

Anthology Stories for Experimentation

In my mind, the best place for experimentation on the order of what Johnson did would have been better served for the “anthology” movies like Solo or Rogue One. As a director on one of these stories, I feel that Johnson’s more “art-house” aesthetic, as noted by the other grad student, would have been more appropriate and I would have had more inclination to give Mr. Johnston the benefit of the doubt on his interpretation of the Star Wars universe. The other grad student said unequivocally that he was “good on not ever seeing Solo again after having seen it once.” Now imagine what different viewpoint a more independent filmmaker like Johnson could have delivered for Solo. There have been many aspersions cast Kathleen Kennedy’s way as the new guiding light for the Star Wars franchise after Lucas sold it to Disney, but this is where, again in my opinion, I think everything went awry. She should have “saved” a more avant garde director like Johnson for the anthology projects rather than the “main-line” ones. Looper was a critical darling and made waves as “serious” Sci-Fi, but is totally anathema to the “main-line” Star Wars series. It would be like asking Ridley Scott to direct a Star Wars film because of Alien and/or Bladerunner. Great sci-fi for both films, but totally different in terms of tone, content, and form.

For me, Johnson’s tone was completely off and his content wasn’t what I was hoping for even if he is an artistically and visually striking filmmaker while working with the form of Sci-Fi.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

So, I, Robot is a “bad” movie? What Gives?

will-smith-i-robot
Picture of Will Smith from I, Robot with handwritten words: THE hat.  (So wait, you’re telling this is bad movie ’cause you don’t like the main character’s HAT?  Really?–Sidney).  Image Source: popbabble

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 2428 (+71)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

I managed to add 71 words yesterday, well below my 250 word goal.  In my defense, I only had about 40 minutes in-between assignments, but I probably could have gotten it done, but I had to eat dinner, and eating ribs and typing on a computer keyboard is a recipe for disaster.  I also had time on my breaks, but chose not to work on it.  Instead I skimmed YouTube for most of break time.  Today, I’m going to make a concerted effort to use my break times for writing and save YouTube for the weekend.  We’ll see tomorrow if I make it happen.

I, Robot = “bad”?

So, towards the end of the day at the Writing Center, a discussion emerged about the concept of Artificial Intelligence in video games and movies, and I brought up I, Robot as an example.  Now, I know I, Robot isn’t regarded fondly in the Sci-Fi community, but I was surprised to hear a MA (Master’s level) student pull a “Freshman Fiat.”  This is my term for when a freshman (or any other beginning level student) pronounces that something is “fact” and then provides no evidence for this pronouncement.  He categorically stated that I, Robot was a “bad” movie, but without giving any shred of evidence (such as characterization, plotting, setting, tone, etc) to back up his statement and I was supposed to just agree because that is the general consensus.

But I don’t agree.

Not only do I not agree, but as a student learning more and more about Afrofuturism, I would argue that the general consensus has less to do with the movie’s quality in terms of story construction than it does with the appearance of the hero and the formation of the hero’s identity.

But Looper = “good”?

As a counterpoint to the I, Robot narrative, I would offer the (as evidence, which the other participant in the debate never gave, I must repeatedly emphasize), the movie Looper.  Looper is a time travel story, one which (minor spoilers–skip down if you want to know nothing about the plot) sets the protagonist against an older version of himself.

Looper was hailed as a “great” movie and was critically acclaimed.  It also made its director Rian Johnson a powerhouse in the Sci-Fi movie community (which ultimately lead to The Last Jedi and the splintering of the Star Wars fandom).  However, I found Looper (and The Last Jedi to a lesser degree) to be one of the least inventive, least original, and a movie so lacking in character motivation that it made the main character seem flat and uninteresting.  And yet, this movie is hailed as what we should aspire to in Science Fiction filmmaking, while I, Robot, which tries to explore the idea what a soul is and where does it reside, and can it reside in a machine created by man (i.e, first explored by “high” literature such as Frankenstein, and explored in many different movies, including the highly successful Terminator films).

What Makes It So?

I would challenge viewers to watch (or rewatch) each film and focus on the protagonists–the main characters.  I would also encourage viewers to take a moment to look at the way each character is defined and acts within the context of his respective movie.  Although one is a darker shade in terms of skin tone and borrows from his cultural heritage, I would argue that it is Looper’s protagonist who acts in a more stereotypical way.  The protagonist in Looper doesn’t emote (characteristic of the “strong, silent” type), his actor has the classic “Hollywood” face (“square-jawed”), and the character acts out of a misplaced sense of “love” (the character himself isn’t faced with any overriding conviction), whereas the protagonist of I, Robot hates the robots in his world as a way of displacing his own “self-hate” at the way his circumstances turned out.

I would argue that I, Robot challenges the stereotypical narrative far more than Looper does, but that the casting of the protagonist in Looper conforms more to the expectations of the viewers and thus, allows Looper benefit from a story that is far less engaging and far less revolutionary than the story that I, Robot tells.

If you happen to disagree, that’s perfectly valid.  I just wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the reasons why I think that I, Robot gets a bad “rap.”  At least, there’s no “Freshman Fiat” to deal with here–you have points that you can refute if you disagree.

And that was ultimately the point of today’s post: a little more reason and a little less fiat.  Thanks for reading!

Sidney




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