The Official Blog of Author Tristan Vick
EXOVERSE Prologue (Free)
Guess what? I've been working on a top secret project -- it's a SciFi Space Opera book.
The premise of my upcoming book Exoverse: Invasion of the Draugr is an alien parasite (the Draugr) lands on Earth in a fiery meteor shower. The parasites then begin taking humans as their hosts, in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of way. Every attempt to rid the planet of the parasites fails. So in a desperate attempt to save Earth our heroes attempt to time-travel, go back in time -- to before the parasite invasion -- and prevent it from ever happening.
The catch, however, is they overshoot their time trajectory by not fully understanding wormhole travel and go back to the 60's, in time for Kennedy's Space Program. Meanwhile, the ship which fragments on its way through the wormhole sends several crew members to the 1947, where they crash land in Roswell New Mexico.
Then I follow both timelines until the 40s catches up to the 60s. At which point they realize some of the parasites have hitched a ride through space and time, and the invasion is beginning all over again, but this time in the past.
That's just the first part of the story.
At any rate, here's the prologue, hot off the presses, for you to read. Please, enjoy!
PROLOGUE to EXOVERSE: Invasion of the Draugr
SHIP'S PERSONAL LOG
Sixty years ago, the Draugr, a parasitic race of aliens crash-landed on earth in a fiery meteor shower.
At first the strange organic pods left in the wake of the stellar debris were collected and studied. Gathered up from the crash sites and taken to laboratories all across the world, it became abundantly clear that the brown, leathery cocoon-like brood pouches of the creatures, approximately 60 centimeters in length, pulsated with alien life. When news of the first hatchlings was reported entire societies rejoiced. Humanity had made first contact with an alien being from another world. It was all anyone within range of the Planetary Broadcast System talked or heard about for nearly a full month. It was the first solid proof that – in this vast expanse, in the farthest reaches of our galaxy – we were not alone. Looking back, however, I wish we were alone – because ever since the Draugr’s arrival, it’s been one long nightmare with no end in sight.
Breaking out from their brood pouches came dozens of hatchlings. At first they were as cute as a pill bug, and were roughly the size of a computer mouse. They had rigid, calcareous exoskeletons composed of overlapping segments which protected their bodies, and seven pairs of spiny maxilliped styled appendages like those of a beetle.
Eight weeks into observation, what the creatures fed one remained a mystery, although, for whatever reason, they continued to grow. Soon they became startling larger, and resembled most closely one of Earth’s largest isopods, a giant cousin of the woodlouse called a Bathynomus giganteus. Then the unexpected happened. The creatures, roughly the size of an American football, gradually began to disappear. Many thought they were perishing, slowly starving to death, and efforts were doubled to try and find them the proper nourishment. But the tiny brood’s numbers slowly dwindled away to practically nothing.
The strange thing about it though was that the bodies, the dead husks of the crustacean aliens, were nowhere to be found. Soon after paranoia began to spread, and people thought maybe a concerned animal rights group had stolen the alien crustaceans to try and safeguard them. As accusations were made and fingers were being pointed, the only thing that was certain was nobody had a clue as to the true cause the mysterious disappearance.
Due to growing concerns of losing the only alien life form we had ever encountered, the head of the International Scientific Administration, ISA, Mr. Edgar J. Carter, ensured that safety protocols were put in place to watch the remaining few surviving alien creatures and ensure their survival. They even froze two of them just for safe measure and sealed them away in a high security facility.
Like any other scandal, the media claimed negligence on the part of the scientific community and prompted ISA to launch an internal investigation into the matter. All while the alien conspiracy theorists had a field day with the whole thing. But no matter how much the talking heads complained or the public demanded answers, the only thing that was certain was nobody knew what was really going on. Not until it was already too late.
As it turned out, our new alien friends weren’t any ordinary creature, they were a very pernicious type of endoparasite. Entering into their host, the parasites would gradually override the human’s personality and replace it with the parasites. Due to a special chemical secretion which could be injected into the host through the creatures spiny claws, once attached to its host, the parasite was able to wipe the host animal’s short term memory. As such, no one was the wiser as to the level of the threat or the fact that Earth was slowly undergoing a real life Invasion of the Body Snatchers type scenario. It was only after drastic personality changes in co-workers and friends began to cause widespread panic and concern that the creatures began showing up on MRI’s and PET scans. By the time the ruse was up and the parasites, acting in coordination with one another, took their post-larval forms and revealed their true forms it was already too late for the infected.
Disfiguring their human hosts in unimaginable ways, the creature’s final stage caused their host bodies to transmogrify into humanoid decapods, crab-like creatures as detestable as they were hideous. What was once your brother, your sister, mother or father – it didn’t matter – whether loved ones or neighbors, the alien beings showed no preference and no mercy when it came to taking victims. Overnight, it seemed, people were turned into veritable walking corpses with split open rip cages, crustacean like scabbing where patches of calcareous shell began to grow, and perhaps the strangest thing of all is they grew extra limbs – crab-like, bony, and clawed.
The terrible alien louses nestled inside the chest cavity of their hosts, near to the heart which they wrapped tiny tendrils around and fused with, tapping into the central nervous system. Once bonded to the nervous system of their host, which also made it impossible to remove the parasites without destroying the host body, they imbued their host with extraordinary strength and could control their host’s mind and body as if it were a puppet on strings. We still don’t know if the person’s former personality survives and is subdued – pushed into the background – when the louse takes over the mind, or whether the person dies inside their own animated corpse which the louse then hijacks. Either way, I can’t imagine there being a worse fate than to be made a victim of the parasites.
It wasn’t long before the aliens were given the fitting nickname of Draugr, a term hailing form the ancient Norse legends of undead revenants. Like the draugr of Norse legend, these terrible new hybrid entities only seemed to have one agenda – kill all sentient life on Earth.
Whether a fluke of nature following out its primal instinct to fill the void of the universe by infecting entire planets and wiping out entire alien civilizations, or the perfect bio-weapon, decimating incalculable alien worlds, the Drauger were pure evil. What had started off for us as a celebration of life quickly turned into dreadful exasperation regarding the design of this cruel cosmic horror inflicted upon us.
In less than a decade since the skies rained fire, the alien infestation has already spread across the entire globe and had infected roughly 89% of human life on the planet. The inhabitants of earth have been made into the host slaves of the Draugr – forced to do the bidding of this extraterrestrial scourge.
As a response to the invasion the Earth Planetary Union, EPU, took swift action and issued a global pandemic emergency. With humanity desperate to stop the spread of the parasites, a secret mission to eradicate the Draugr once and for all was implemented. Leading the Resistance was a brilliant young scientist named Edgar J. Carter. Carter headed the largest top secret operation ever known to man, codenamed: SALVATION. Aided by the United Global Defense Force, Carter mounted a massive counter-attack against the alien scourge. Being the genius he was, Carter was even able to reverse engineer some of the alien’s DNA making a bio-organic armor that helped the UGDF take the fight to the parasites. But after a long struggle, the mission ended in failure. The Draugr turned out to be much more cunning than initially thought, and had inserted sleeper agents into the Resistance. Infesting the deepest levels of the Resistance, the Draugr lashed out and Carter was expunged and the UGDF was left crippled.
Upon Carter’s death, the Lazarus protocol was initiated.
In other words, the countdown till the end had begun. It was a finite matter of days, weeks, and months until the Draugr would subsume the entire human race. By Carter’s calculations that meant thirty-seven years. But even this estimate was optimistic as it didn’t account for more sleeper agents or more brood pouches, which there were. The reality of the situation was much grimmer and about a thousand times more dire than anyone could have ever imagined.
Pooling every last ounce of Earth’s remaining scientists and engineers, the Armistice was built. The Armistice is a special spacecraft designed for one task and one task only – prevent the Draugr infestation and save humanity. It is not only the experimental prototype, but it’s the only one ever made – a ship capable of interstellar travel at sub light speeds. It runs on a hybrid system of five main ion drives, twin nuclear thermal rocket engines, and a special Exotic Matter Driver, or EMD for short.
Once we reach our destination in the Centauri nebulae, the Armistice will deploy the hyper-rings and spool up the EMD. Once the EMD reaches it threshold, the ship will be able to generate a functioning closed timelike curve by initiating the Casmir effect to basically fold space between the rings we set up just beyond the moon’s orbit and the rings we will leave in Alpha Centauri. The goal here is to pass through folded space and time via a manmade wormhole and borough into the past whereby we will prevent the infestation from ever happening.
The details of how the Armistice will do this are a bit technical, but in simplest terms it will use a special Zero-Point Negative Energy Drive, or simply Exotic Matter Driver as we prefer to call it, to produce a Casmir effect between the rings, thus folding space together enough for the ship to squeeze through what amounts to a pinpoint at the cosmic scale. Utilizing the gravity of Alpha Centauri to slingshot the Armistice through the gateway, the time dilation created by the EMD while inside the wormhole will, in theory, effectively allow us to travel into the past. The Armistice and her crew will emerge back in our home solar system approximately sixty years prior to the invasion – just in time to prevent the Draugr from taking over the planet.
The only catch is, it can only work in one direction. In order to make a safe arrival, we have to lay down hyper-rings. Massive EMD equipped rings which the ship will pass through, like an exit gate. Without these rings in place to generate the necessary negative energy phase transition, we could not pass through the wormhole safely.
I know what you’re thinking. Anyone who understands Einstein’s theory of special relativity is probably wondering how this doesn’t defy the laws of physics. If we are traveling into the past, then how will the rings be there? Don’t worry about that. All we need is the negative energy boost the rings provide which allow us to fold space time in on itself. Whether or not we physically pass through them does not matter. Just know that once we exit the gateway we will emerge sixty years into our immediate past.
Of course, if you hadn’t guessed it by now, all our work is all still ahead of us. First, we must traverse 4.7 light years to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth. Even then, traveling the expanse at 5% the speed of light, the top speed of the Armistice’s ion and nuclear propulsion engines, it will take us roughly 85 years to get there. After our arrival it will take another three months to lay the track, if you will, and deploy the hyper-ring gateway. Once set up, we will use gravitational assist while spooling up the EMD drive then rocket through the gateway. By our clocks, the return trip should only take us a few days.
Regrettably, the one caveat of this mission, of course, is that we have no choice but to leave Earth’s remaining survivors behind. If it were up to me, I would have brought you all along for the ride. Hell, maybe we could have even found a suitable planet somewhere in the Centauri system and settled down. But given our time constraints, such a mission simply wasn’t feasible. For that, I am truly sorry.
By the time we reach Alpha Centauri, humanity will be long extinct. All but for us. Everything is riding on us. If we fail, the Draugr win and humanity will be lost, erased from the annals of history forever.
The good news is, if all goes according to plan, none of you will remember any of this. History will have effectively been rewritten. Only the passengers of the Armistice will have any surviving knowledge or recollection of the Draugr and the threat they pose. It will be up to us to convince the world leaders of our recent past to spend trillions of dollars preparing for an invasion they know nothing about. Which is why I’m writing this final log entry before the long sleep. I want you all to understand the details of the plan so that you can take solace in the fact that there are people watching out for you. And if I had but one thing to say to you all, it’s that I love you.
And trust me when I say, we will not fail you. We cannot fail. It’s simply not an option.
This is First Lieutenant Rhianna Baum, signing off.
Standing on the observation deck of the Armistice, Rhianna Baum looked out her viewport and watched the majestic rings of Saturn pass by. It was breathtaking. She’d never seen anything like it in her entire life. The Armistice was embarking upon her 85 year mission, just as soon as it made its final slingshot maneuver around Saturn to get herself up to speed. Then it was nothing but deep space and a long cryosleep for the crew.
“Caretaker,” Rhianna said aloud, even though she was the only one in the room.
“Yes, Ma’am,” a computer voice chimed. The voice emanated from the ship intercom-system. The source of the voice would have gone completely undetected except for the glowing orange Armistice insignia pulsating on the obsidian like touch panel computer display which was built into the clinically white walls of the ship.
“Thanks,” Rhianna replied, bowing her head she closed her eyes and thought about the importance one last message of hope might have for those she and the rest of the crew of the Armistice had left behind back on Earth.
“Will there be anything else, Ma’am?”
“No. That’ll be all.”
Opening her eyes again, Rhianna turned and looked back out the window at the giant celestial body adorned with rings of ice and dust that sparkled in the light form the sun, glinting like the gems of a necklace, and took a deep breath. It was time for her to meet the others back in the cryonics lab, but she wanted to take one last glimpse of the beautiful rings of Saturn before the long sleep. It might be the last time she ever saw them.
Spoilers ***Spoiler Alert*** Spoilers
Is Star Wars The Force Awakens too similar to Star Wars Episode 4? In short, no.
Suffice to say, anyone who has watched The Force Awakens (TFA) should know that it's not very similar at all to Episode 4 (A New Hope).
Even so, I was told by a couple of my friends -- who I know to be ardent Star Wars fans -- that it was. This baffled me, because these are guys, I felt, should know better. What were they seeing that I wasn't? Or what was I seeing that they weren't?
Several things. But before I get into it, let me just say that I probably wouldn't feel compelled to knock down, drag out, and beat this dead horse senseless if it simply wasn't the number one complaint about why people didn't enjoy The Force Awakens as much.
But I think they are making some very critical errors in their assessment here. In fact, they should be praising TFA for its originality and how much it changes in terms of the tired, worn out themes of Star Wars! But instead all I hear is complaints. And it really gets under my skin.
First off, let me preface this with the fact that I don't actually think anyone who doesn't like the film is an idiot (since, you know, I may have said some things in a few of my online rants elsewhere that may have made it sound like I think everyone who disagrees with me is an idiot). You're fine to not like The Force Awakens and we'll just have to agree to disagree.
What I cannot tolerate, however, are people using the *excuse that The Force Awakens is too similar to Episode 4 as the reason they didn't enjoy it. This is an invalid, not to mention illogical complaint, for reasons which will be made clear very shortly. But, hey, if you didn't like it, well, you didn't like it, and that's pretty much all there is to it. But it happens to be my favorite of all the Star Wars movies -- mainly for the reasons I will discuss below.
That said, I must explain why saying TFA is too similar to Episode 4 is a poor criticism -- if not absolutely the worst one you could make about a Star Wars movie.
Now, just to clarify, who am I to tell you that you're wrong about The Force Awakens being too similar or not to Episode 4?
Some random Inernet dude?
Well, basically. Yeah. And that should be good enough for you if my arguments are sound, which I think they are. If they're not, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section after the post explaining where I got it wrong.
The question you are likely asking yourselves is why on earth should what I have to say about it make any difference to you? Well, I don't expect it to make a whole lot of difference if your mind is made up about how disappointed you felt watching Star Wars TFA, but maybe I can diminish that disappointment somewhat by giving you something to think about which you may not have necessarily considered before.
As someone who is a professional writer who has seen his work appear both in television and print, and as an author of science fiction and fantasy genres myself, I think I might have thought about what sets a story apart in terms of plot and character a little bit more than, say, your average movie goer.
But like I said, feel free to disagree.
At any rate, I'm going to flat out say it -- The Force Awakens is NOT too much like Episode 4. In fact, it's not very much like Episode 4 at all. But it is like other Star Wars movies -- at least in part. And that's fine, since this has been an intentional design regarding all of the Star Wars films.
Yet The Force Awakens is something fresh and new, and it might just have what it takes to revitalize the entire Star Wars franchise. Just as certain as it is a great and entertaining action adventure story, it is also quite original. Contrary to the majority criticism, it's not a carbon copy. It's not a remake. At best it's a soft reboot of the franchise built in and around the previous films. But that's not technically what people mean when they claim it is too much like Episode 4.
What they mean is, and I'm paraphrasing one of my friends who summed up the criticism quite succinctly, that
Others have added that in the movie -- and yes, minor spoiler alert -- they hide the map inside BB-8, a droid just like in the original Star Wars. And that there is a big space battle where they blow up a death star via a trench run right at the end of the film. So let's add these to the list, shall we?
And instead of saying they had a similar wardrobe, which is to say the production design deliberately made everything look exactly like Star Wars (since it is Star Wars), let's say they visited all the same old planets -- making the alien world cliche of desert, ice, forest planet trope found in the other films.
All things tallied up, we have a total of six things that are sort of like Star Wars Episode 4. I say sort of like Episode 4, because on closer inspection we shall find that they're not actually all that similar.
In Return of the Jedi they blow up a Death Star too. So if anything, the blowing up the Death Star of the week is redundant of The Force Awakens, but we cannot say it's unoriginal specifically *because it copied Episode 4. Episode 4 isn't the only film with a Death Star that blows up. It also copied Episode 6.
Not liking it for this reason, however, doesn't make logical sense. It would be a lot like saying Episode 7 is unoriginal because a Tie Fighter blew up just like in Episode 4, ignoring all the other times Tie Fighters blew up in the series.
Spaceships blowing up is simply what happens -- a lot apparently -- in Star Wars films. Death Stars too. So unless Episode 4 is the ONLY Star Wars movie in which a Death Star is blown to smithereens, then it's an invalid criticism to say Episode 7 is copying 4 because they both happen to have Death Stars while ignoring the other films with Death Stars (e.g., Episodes 3, 4, & 6), or specifically Death Stars which blow up (Episodes 4, 6, & 7).
So really the criticism is either Star Wars is too much like Star Wars, which makes zero sense, or that I don't like watching Death Stars blow up every other episode.
And that's fine. That might even be a valid criticism, but it's not a comment about the similarity between the films but rather a familiarity of certain events which unfold within the films, a distinction which seems to be lost on most people.
If similarity was the problem, people would be complaining about the Death Stars never changing form or function rather than there being more Death Stars. See what I mean?
And I've actually heard the complaint both ways. But if you watch TFA closely, I think you'll find that the Death Stars are evolving in interesting ways too. Starkiller is much more menacing than any tired ole death star, but the pace of the film is so fast that they never really linger on this feeling of dread for what Starkiller is capable of -- and, well, that's my complaint.
So similarity of the films for having Death Stars featured in them is not the big issue here. Familiarity is. We are familiar with Death Stars. We know their purpose. We know that if one shows up it will likely blow up some planets and shit before getting blown up in turn. Same old, same old worn out thing. But not brcause the films are the same, but because they both use familiar plot devices. Which, again, is a basic feature of Star Wars storytelling. It does that.
As for BB-8 hiding the map -- this makes sense from a story perspective. Just as in the first Star Wars film, Princess Leia hides the Death Star plans in R2-D2 knowing that her ship was being boarded by Vader -- the Dark Lord of the Sith -- who can rip her thoughts right out of her mind. Best to hide the plans in a droid then send it down on to a planet.
I'm assuming R2-D2 can jam long range censors -- as he did in the prequels -- making it so he cannot be easily found except by boots on the ground -- hence these are not the droids you're looking for.
Additionally, in Episode II The Clone Wars when Obi Wan sends the message about the clone facility to the Jedi council he is too far out of range for the transmission to go through, so he does a deep scan and finds that Anakin and Padme have returned to Tattooine for unkown reasons. R2-D2 picks up Obi Wan's message and holds on to it until he can take it to our heroes, who decided to go rescue Obi Wan, who has been captured by Count Duku.
So droids holding messages or secret information seems to be a common thing in the Star Wars universe. And it makes sense that Poe Dameron hid the map inside BB-8 for the exact same reason that Princess Leia did with R2. He knew it would be safer in a droid which cannot have its mind read and which can jam enemy scans. By now this is standard procedure for securing highly sensitive data, it is canon, and should be considered as such.
Complaining about droids carrying messages makes a person seem like -- well -- not a Star Wars fan. It's such a mundane complaint as to sound silly. It's like being angry because light sabers come in different colors. How do they get all those different colors? I'm furious! It's a rather strange thing to get worked up about.
Or, we could be reasonable and say it is well established in the canon of Star Wars that light sabers can be different colors and just accept that fact, just as it has been well established that droids can carry and safeguard sensitive information and just accept that fact.
But I will grant the Death Star of the week thing as being somewhat gimmicky, although not entirely unexpected. But I doubt that's reason enough to hate The Force Awakens as much as it seems people do when they level the criticism that it's too much the same as Episode 4.
And, yes, Episode 4 had a Death Star and a droid carrying a message first, so you could say this is a similarity to Ep4, but then you would also have to admit it is also a similarity it shares with the other Star Wars films as well lest you fail to meet the burden of proof.
Continuing on, the criticism that Luke = Obi Wan simply doesn't make sense to me. First of all, the fact that Luke has gone into hiding means he is simply following in the footsteps of his teachers before him. But Obi Wan isn't the only Jedi who went into hiding. In Episode 5, The Empire Strikes back, we learn that master Yoda is also in hiding. Luke seeks him out to further his training as a Jedi.
So, from a storytelling point of view, it makes perfect sense that Luke would do what he learned to do by way of example -- following after both Obi Wan and master Yoda. Again, the only reason the Luke = Obi Wan criticism could be valid is if there wasn't another master Jedi hiding on some distant world somewhere in the Star Wars films, which there is. So to say that Episode 7 is too much like Episode 4 because it adheres to the monastic mentality of the Jedi is not a valid complaint either, sorry to say.
Apparently hiding when the going gets tough is what master Jedi likes to do (they are an endangered species after all). I think what fans are getting hung up on here is Luke's beard. Oh, he has a beard! Well, then... he's just an Obi Wan wannabe. See, the same!
Oh, shut up.
Face it, that's a lame duck comparison at best and you know it.
So let me stress further how The Force Awakens is nothing like Episode 4.
Let's talk about female characters.
Excluding the Clone Wars animated series (which totally is canon, btw) -- and focusing on only the main films in the series -- in the original trilogy the only female character with any story or character development is Princess Leia. In the prequel films the only female character with any story or character development is Padme, who we all know turns out to be Leia's mother. And even then, these two are not the main protagonists of the series but supporting characters. They are woefully underdeveloped (which is why Ahsoka Tano remains my favorite female heroine in all the Star Wars canon).
Yet in The Force Awakens our main lead, Rey, is a woman! Then you have old General Leia, who has a substantial role in the film, including further character development (albeit not much of a story arc this time around). And then you have Captain Phasma, a high-ranking woman Stormtrooper, and although she was underused, she still played an important role in the story of Fin -- and stil has the potential to become a great female character. Hopefully they don't keep her a faceless female character (an entirely different problem).
Whereas the original trilogy and the prequels only had one female character each, and pretty much the same character at that (the quintessential damsel in distress), in The Force Awakens you have a battle hardened General Leia, you have a cunning and ruthless Captain Phasma, and you have a self reliant, can take care of herself, strong female protagonist in Rey -- who breaks the damsel in distress rule making her the very best female character in any Star Wars film to date (if we're not counting Ahsoka Tano -- who is still my personal favorite).
So far, it doesn't seem like The Force Awakens is anything like Episode 4. There is no damsel in distress this time around.
But like I said, I'm going to hammer the nail down and crucify that weaselly complaint -- of TFA not being original enough.
Let's consider the main plot and the sub-plots which thread together, usually in the second act. Let's just call it Plot A and Plot B.
In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, our Plot A involves an orphan boy who is a slave. Our plot B is about a princess in distress who calls upon the Jedi, including Obi Wan Kenobi, for help.
In Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope, our Plot A involves an orphan farm boy (not a slave). Our Plot B involves a princess in distress who calls upon Obi Wan Kenobi, a Jedi, for help just as her mother did.
In Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, our Plot A involves an orphan girl who is a slave (note that this is a parallel to Anakin's story -- not Luke's -- hence it's not Episode 4 we could even make the comparison with in the first place). Our Plot B involves a Stormtrooper going AWOL and defecting from the ranks of The First Order and then teaming up with our heroine, thereby helping one another to escape one precarious situation after the next.
Whoa there! What parts of Episodes 1 and 4 were about an AWOL Stormtrooper? Which parts of Episode 7 were about Rey calling upon the Jedi for help?
You want to know why?
BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT THE SAME STORY.
Now, there may be other criticisms lobbied at The Force Awakens. It has its share of fridge logic, for sure. Some people felt that Kylo Ren was a whinny bitch-face. Others liked that about him because, once again -- to stress the point, it made him unique when compared to the bland faceless villains of the Star Wars films (i.e. Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Captain Phasma).
It appears people complaining about Kylo Ren have forgotten (or blocked out due to trauma) teenage Anakin in The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith who, in my estimation, is a much more obnoxious and whinny bitch-face (and not at all the multifaceted and fascinating character study that Anakin was in the Clone Wars animated series). But that's just my opinion.
Speaking of the prequels, I've always wondered if people almost universally pan them and deride them as terrible films partially because of an underlying psychological response to these film's reversal of audience expectations?
I mean, we're accustomed to the heroes winning. In the original trilogy the heroes win at the end of the films, with the exception of Empire, in which it's a too be continued open-ended narrative. In the prequels, however, at the end of each film our heroes fail miserably and the villains win. Meanwhile, our heroes are forced to retreat and count their losses, dealing with it the best they can.
I've always felt that deep down this bothers people about the prequels without them even realizing it. As far as films go though, they're highly entertaining (although not without their fair share of faults), especially if you don't bring any preconceptions to table about what a Star Wars movie is or isn't. Just a thought I had.
But coming back to The Force Awakens, notice that the end is basically a draw--a stalemate between the forces of good and evil. It's the first time where there was no clear winner or loser between the good guys and the bad guys. Kylo Ren and Rey are interrupted by events out of their control and then get separated. So even the ending is different! (Note: the exception here is Empire, but Empire ends after the climax at Cloud City while The Force Awakens ends mid-climax).
So what have we learned here? Mainly that the criticisms traditionally given for why The Force Awakens is too much like Episode 4 simply are not valid criticisms. Mainly because they are arbitrary, ignore other plot points and events in the story that do the exact same thing in other Star Wars films, and which usually aren't following the same narrative path -- as TFA often takes things in a completely different direction.
That's one of the things I felt was brilliant about The Force Awakens though. It sets it up so you think it will play out like Star Wars Episode 4 but then takes it in an entirely new direction, or puts an unseen twist on things. Are you really going to tell me you saw it coming that C-3PO had a red arm?
More to the point, however, did you really find it predictable that Han Solo would die at the end? If so, maybe you felt it was too similar to Qui Gon's death? Or Obi Wan's? Or Yoda's? Or Vader's? It doesn't really matter -- whose death you feel it most closely resembles, because the truth is it's not like any of them.
Granted, Han's Death scene plays on the father / son trope that all the films seem, to one degree or another, be about. But it's perhaps a smarter death scene than many critics are even aware of. Allow me to explain.
The Kylo Ren and Han Solo death scene is a complete inversion of the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader scene at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Whereas in Jedi we had Luke, the son, help turn Vader, the father, to good, the reverse occurs in TFA. Han, the father, helps Ben aka Kylo Ren, the son, complete his journey to the Dark Side. In Jedi we have Vader, the father, save his son's life. In The Force Awakens you have Kylo Rend, the son, kill his father.
They are mirrored reflections of one another, but one of the reflections is wrongside up. The reason for this is clear, or at least it should be. The events are cyclical, something that is core to the Star Wars films and canon.
And that, folks, is goddamn brilliant storytelling.
Oh, and for what it's worth, doing a complete inversion of a theme is not doing the exact same thing as the theme -- it's doing something completely new and original with that theme.
And that's why The Force Awakens is nothing like Star Wars Episode 4. Whenever you feel the filmakers are being too liberal with their borrowing of time honored Star Wars tropes, suddenly they spin it in an entirely new direction (well, most of the time anyway, if you discount Death Stars of the week). Rather, Ep7 is like all of the Star Wars films to come before it, yet original enough to be its own thing -- just as any great Star Wars film should be.
Star Wars is cinematic poetry. It mirrors itself, it uses the same themes, it follows events in chronological order, often beat for beat, and with all these competing forces at work (pun intended) there is a fine balance to be found.
So while you could say Rey has her vision when she descends into the catacombs of the old ruins and after touching the light saber which is SIMILAR to Luke having his vision after descending into the cave and beholding Darth Vader in the mouth of the cave and might be inclined to cry foul and say that The Force Awakens is too much like The Empire Strikes Back, because it shares a similar scene, the rest of us recall our Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces, and realize that this is part of the hero's journey.
Personally, I was more than pleased that The Force Awakens fits so well into the established Star Wars mythos and universe. I think it found a nice balance of old and new while spinning things in new directions while sticking with familiar patterns of what works. I'm not saying it's 100% original -- but it tries a lot of new things while staying true to Star Wars.
The Force Awakens is quite literally the film Star Wars fans have waiting for since they fell in love with the original trilogy. To not like it because it maintains the same meter while adhering to the same aesthetic of a much grander poetic narrative, blending equal parts space opera with ancient mythology, seems to be nitpicky in my opinion. If you still feel that TFA is too much like Episode 4, whether it is plot structure or similar themes, familiar character types, or too many Death Stars blowing up, I'm sorry, but I don't know what to tell you -- that's the nature of Star Wars. If you wanted to see a novel space adventure film -- go watch Ridley Scott's The Martian. I promise you, you won't be disappointed. But if you want a fun Star Wars film that is true to everything that is Star Wars, then The Force Awakens is everything we Star Wars fans could have hoped for and more.
*Drops mic. Walks out.
I've already given my Star Wars: The Force Awakens non-spoiler review which you can read here (after the jump). Read that one if you haven't seen the movie yet. This review is the spoiler-filled version. So, you've been warned.
Again, proceed at your own discretion. This review contains major Star Wars SPOILERS.
Alright, so to preface this review, I will be doing things a little differently. Instead of gushing about how much I loved the movie -- which I did in my non-spoiler review -- I'm going to basically tackle some of the fridge-logic of the film while addressing numerous criticisms of Star Wars The Force Awakens (or SWTFA for short).
Now, it goes without saying that fridge-logic isn't anything too awfully serious. It basically amounts to those thoughts you have after having seen the film where your brain is trying to make sense of plot points or character situations that just didn't make any logical sense. It's the stuff that you pause and say, wait a minute... but that doesn't make any sense?
Needles to say, fridge-logic isn't new to Star Wars. The worst example I can think of, the example that bothers me the most, is in Return of the Jedi when, on the suspension bridge in the Ewok village, Luke Skywalker asks Princess Leia if she remembers her mother. She says she remembers bits and pieces -- she remembers her mother was beautiful, kind, and caring.
Now, this is fine. Until George Lucas made episode III, Revenge of the Sith, and killed off Luke and Leia's mother in child-birth -- completely forgetting about the fact that Leia knew her mother while she was still a young girl, not a newborn infant. In episode III the babies never even see their mother -- as Padme dies and the infants are whisked away to their individual witness protection agencies in a galaxy far, far away.
Only to meet years later and make out a bit -- not suspecting they are siblings.
You think it would be something any one of the thousands of people who worked on the film would have caught and called George Lucas on -- because it is just so bad. But apparently not.
There are lots of things that don't make sense about the Star Wars movies. And The Force Awakens is no exception.
I want to address a few of these complaints and criticisms in this review, because most of them are pretty baseless while others seem to be confusing foreshadowing and plot intrigue for clumsy storytelling or seem to be missing the point altogether.
Let me point out the only real criticism I have agreed with.
Star Killer: It's a Trap!
In the film the Star Killer world, a planet retro-fitted to be mega-ultra-giagantic-scary-ass Death Star, is activated and fires a spread of beams that obliterate the entire star system of the Republic.
Many have complained that in the breakneck pace of the films storytelling, the emotional weight of the entire Republic's destruction sort of gets glossed over. I think this is true. And I think it's something they will definitely have to address in the next movie lest this one seem morally vacuous. I mean, you cannot just kill of billions upon billions of people, many of whom we got to know in Episodes 1, 2, and 3 and also The Clone Wars television series -- and then just not say anything about it. That would be a mistake.
Another thing I found to be problematic was that they didn't really explain what the Republic was. I mean, it's a given Star Wars fans will get it, but your average movie goer who is in tow with their loved ones and who may not have ever seen Star Wars will probably be scratching their heads asking "What's a Republic? And why did the bad guys want to blow it all up?"
It also doesn't make any sense from a storytelling perspective as the Empire is what usurped the Republic and replaced it. The First Order is technically what the Empire has become. So why would they want to kill off the worlds which were already under the control of the Empire if they are, in fact, just the latest iteration of the Empire? That made no sense.
What, did the Republic suddenly revert back to its old self after the death of the Emperor? Granted, there is a 30 year gap between Jedi and this film's story, but still. A lot of speculation could have been averted by just having a bit of filler. I get that J.J. Abrams didn't want to sacrifice the brisk pace of this film with bogged down monologues, but maybe throw in a line or two about how things have come to be the way they are.
Finally, I think they should have merely crippled Star Killer instead of killing it off. I mean, it plays a lot like the Death Star of the week, now that there have been three films with Death Stars and each one defeated as easily as the last. They really should have made this mega-destroyer more menacing by letting it linger. It can wipe out entire systems. It freakin eats stars to power itself. And in the end they do a trench run and blow it up. Easy as pie.
And that's a huge problem, because it cheapens the bad guys by making them seem like bumbling military degenerates that are a mere shadow of the Empire rather than an evolution of it. And, also, they don't show any of the bad guys getting off the planet before it blows. Sure, Supreme Leader Snoke orders them to fetch Kylo Ren and bring him to his world -- wherever that is -- but then they never show it. And apparently Captain Phasma, the silver Stormtrooper and first woman Stormtrooper, is waiting in a grabage compactor somewhere. And we see none of the main villains escape the planet before it blows.
Now to kids and people who might not be able to fill in the gaps of implied storytelling as easily as the writers might hope -- this could backfire. Little kids will be especially confused to see Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, and any of the other bad guys in the next film -- because continuity wise -- they ALL blew up with the planet in SWTFA.
These are the only serious criticisms I have with the film.
Now, let's move onto some less important complaints. Because, really, that's all they are. Unimportant complaints. But since it seems a large portion of people didn't like the movie specifically for the following reasons, I think we should briefly address some of them.
Retro-film or Soft Reboot?
Many are saying that this film follows the plot points of episode 4, Star Wars: A New Hope, too closely. (Yes, I will be referring to eps.4 as A New Hope because when I went to the re-release in 1981 it was accompanied by that title. Not many know that it was always intended to be titled episode 4: A New Hope but was altered because studio execs at 20th Century Fox thought it would be too confusing to movie goers to try and explain why it's episode 4 when it was the first Star Wars movie. Luckily, George Lucas put the title and episode number back onto the title screen for the 81' re-release of episode 4 after the success of Empire. I only cite this interesting Star Wars trivia, because I've already run into people saying I'm not a true Star Wars fan because I call episode 4 by its *actual original title). So much so that they say this film is unoriginal. But is The Force Awakens in danger of being unoriginal?
I don't think so -- for numerous reasons we shall soon get to. I think the reason people even offer this complaint is that they have observed that, just as with the previous Star Wars films, things move from point A to point B to point C in a similar fashion, and that they hit a lot of the same cinematic notes.
At best though, you could only claim this is a soft reboot, not a remake, and it's certainly not an unoriginal story -- but it does follow a Star Wars formula of storytelling.
Now what do I mean by "soft reboot"? Well, a soft reboot is a film that just carries on the torch of its forebears, so to speak, like this summers entertaining Mad Max, Terminator, Star Trek, and Jurassic World. A hard reboot, on the other hand, is a film that doesn't continue the story as is but entirely redoes it. The Amazing Spider Man is a reboot of the Sam Rami directed Spiderman movies, Dredd is a reboot of the Judge Dredd film, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies are a reboot of the popular 80s characters .
But that's the most anyone could claim about SWTFA, because, in truth, it doesn't actually follow episode 4 all that closely. And it's a lot more original than its harshest critics would have you believe.
Yes, it has a desert planet that, low and behold, our hero hails from. But this motif is carried out throughout the Star Wars saga. And Rey actually has more in common with Anakin Skywalker than Luke. Luke was raised by his aunt and uncle, and was free to make his own destiny -- as he does when he runs off with Obi Wan Kenobi on a grand space adventure. But Rey is a slave, a scavenger, working for a white slave driver (or an alien slave driver as it were). She's even abused, like Ani was, when she doesn't polish a converter well enough. And she is treated bad by everyone around her, which has made her into a survivor.
As I have said before, complaining that SWTFA is too similar to other Star Wars movies is to blatantly miss the point that all Star Wars films are similar to each other.
Every Star Wars film relies on patterns of storytelling that are simple and straightforward. The plots begin with a McGuffin, in A New Hope they're chasing the droids, in Jedi they're rescuing Han Solo, and then go from points A, B, to C. Beginning, middle, and end.
All the Star Wars films revel in using the same mythological themes, tropes, and conceits. Every Star Wars involves the loss of a father or father-figure. Obi Wan loses Quai Gon, Luke loses Obi Wan, Luke then realizes his famous pilot father is actually Darth Vader, and he loses the lie of his father being this great hero for something much, much worse. Then, when he reconciles with his father, he loses his biological father too. So it's no surprise that we find the same motif brought up again in this film (a Star Wars film).
Which brings me to another complaint I've heard. Kylo Ren, aka Ben, is actually Han Solo and Leia Organa's son. At the end of the movie, we lose another father, as Kylo Ren murders his own father, Han Solo.
Many people have called this a cliche, tired, worn out plot device. Let's kill off a main staple character! Okay! Many have claimed this is overdone, or they predicted it would happen. Well, I think they give themselves too much credit.
Han's death is anything but cliche or overdone. It's actually genius. And here's why.
It's the inversion of the Luke / Vader dichotomy. In Jedi, Luke finally pulls the light out of his father and gets Vader to turn back to the good side of the Force. Vader then sacrifices himself to help his son. Meanwhile, in SWTFA, Kylo Ren asks Han Solo if he'd help him. Han says yes, he'd do anything for his Son. Kylo Ren then kills Han, thus completing his journey to the Dark Side. Whereas Vader turned good, and saved his son, Kylo Ren turns evil, and kills his father.
It's a complete inversion of the Luke / Vader dichotomy. And it's brilliant.
Funny that so many people should miss that.
Another minor, very minor, complaint -- but one I've heard at least on three separate occasions -- is that some people think "Ben" is a rather generic sounding name -- as though it doesn't sound "Star Wars" enough. I only ask them that they stop and think about it for a moment. I mean, what reason would Leia and Han have to name their son... Ben? I can only answer these types of naysayers by quoting Star Wars... "Maybe he means Old Ben?"
Yet another complaint I hear is that Rey and Finn are able to best Kylo Ren, a Sith, at the end of the movie in a light saber dual far too easily. But... really?
I think this complaint was best explained away by an online fan who posted his explanation on imgur (click to read the explanation). In summary, it has everything to do with Chewbacca's bowcaster, a bad-ass crossbow laser blaster.
Throughout the movie they build up the bowcaster. Chewie's blaster is demolishing Stormtroopers left and right from the beginning of the film to the end. In their first major skirmish, from fifty feet off it sent four Stormtroopers flying through the air like they were nothing with a single blast. Han borrows it a few times and comments on how much he likes it, because it packs that extra punch. Toward the end of the film, a Stormtrooper takes a hit point blank from the thing and the blast from the bowcaster picks him up off the ground and throws him twenty-feet backward -- straight into a wall. The Stormtrooper hits so hard that his armor shatters!
As the aforementioned fan observes:
"Let's not mince words here. Chewie's Bowcaster is like the unholy love child of the original fucking crossbow and a howitzer. The Empire should have just strapped this piece of weaponized fuck you to the front of an asteroid, aimed it Alderaan, and saved themselves the trouble of housing a giant space station. So...after being shown the pure unadulterated hell that spews forth from this hand-held death cannon in a deluge of destruction and demise, we can all agree that being shot with this thing tops a long list of things you don't want to happen to you."
A few minutes later, Kylo Ren kills Han Solo. Chewie lets out a lament filled roar as he mourns the death of his longtime friend, then fires a blast straight at Kylo Ren -- and hits him in the gut. Check another one off the list.
But wait... Kylo Ren merely takes a knee for a moment, wobbles a bit, then gets back up and pursues our heroes.
Now, Kylo Ren is obviously a badass when it comes to wielding the powers of the Force. He can throw people across rooms, rip the thoughts right out of people's minds, and even stop laser beams mid-air. Maybe he was distracted by his father's death, or maybe the bowcaster's high energy blast is a bit too powerful to stop adequately, whatever the reason though -- he gets shot. But then just walks it off.
Next we cut to the scene of Kylo Ren confronting our heroes in the snow covered woods. He temporarily knocks Rey unconscious thus forcing Finn to pick up Luke's blue light saber and fight. The dual is clumsy at best, as Finn isn't a trained Jedi and Kylo Ren is bleeding out of his gaping gut wound. Soon enough, though, Kylo Ren proves too much for Finn, and just about slices Finn in half. Rey wakes up in time to prevent Kylo Ren from ending Finn's life, and she too engages him with the saber.
By this point, Kylo Ren is pacing and slapping his side, causing jolts of pain throughout his whole body to jolt him awake and fend off the shock. Rey looks down at the blood pooling by his feet as he continues to bleed out profusely, and he jolts himself with another sharp jab to his side. But obviously, the audience is meant to understand that Kylo Ren is nowhere near 100%. He just took a direct hit from a laser blast that can wipe out four Stormtroopers at once. He's fending off shock. And he's already losing steam from having to fight Finn to get to Rey.
As he's fighting Rey, he is growing weaker and weaker by the minute, meanwhile, at the same time Rey is growing stronger and stronger. She finally has learned, by trial and error throughout the course of the movie, how to use the Force -- at least rudimentarilly. And, let's face it, she's gifted.
Before anything else can happen there is a quake and the ground splits and a fissure opens up between them. Pushed to the brink, quite literally, Rey manages to best Kylo Ren, but the fissure opens wider and pushes them apart. They stare at each other realizing that this little fracas will have to be continued at a later time. Just then Rey turns around to see the Millennium Falcon rise up over the ridge and Chewei comes to her and Finn's rescue.
So that deals quite thoroughly with that complaint.
FINAL TWO CENTS
I have to say that a lot of the complaints about this film being predictable or not original as it seems to repeat themes present in *all of the Star Wars films are just coming from a small vocal minority that didn't seem to get this film.
Personally, I find these complaints annoying. If you pause two seconds to think about the film, you'll be able to see that the story is laid out quite clearly -- in the traditional easy to follow A, B, C fashion. Beginning, middle, and end. This is what most mean by saying it's predictable.
I mean, it's not. The film isn't predictable. Nobody knew when Luke would show up. Nobody knew that Han would die. Nobody knew that Kylo Ren would have famous parents. Nobody knew that C-3PO would have a red arm. So don't tell me this was a predictable movie. It wasn't.
And I highly doubt that people predicted the reveal of the Millennium Falcon. I flat out laughed -- because the reveal was so humorous. When Finn asks Rey why they don't take that ship (off screen) and she replies, "Not that -- that's a piece of junk," only to have the ship they were running for blown up -- only to say that piece of junk will do -- only to turn and see the Millennium Falcon parked there -- that was predictable? No, no it wasn't.
Did anyone predict that Captain Phasma would be a kickass female Stormtrooper? Nope. Did anyone predict that Supreme Leader Snoke would be a fifty-foot tall alien creature? Nope. And then did they predict that, then again, he might not be since it was just a hologram? Nope. And did anyone predict that they would reveal Chewie's girlfriend? Nope. Did anyone predict that Darth Vader would have a small cameo appearance? Nope. And I could do this all day long. But if you want to say it was a predictable movie because it had a beginning, middle, and end, and something similar to another Star Wars movie just happened to occur in each beat of the film, then you're missing the point -- because that is the whole point of Star Wars.
Personally, I think this was one of the funnest films I've seen in a long while. I'd say the only other movies this past year that really enthralled me were Mad Max and The Martian, but each for different reasons. I still stand by my opinion that this is the best Star Wars film to date, but it's hard to separate it from the whole -- as it was made as a retro film, or a soft reboot, rather than a straight up continuation. And you will either like it or hate it for that same reason. But I absolutely loved it.
New Years Resolution
Happy 2016 everybody!
I usually am not a big fan of New Years Resolutions. I find them redundant because I am a goal oriented person. I usually set my goals and then don't really stop until I accomplish every last one. If, for whatever reason, something should prevent me from accomplishing any one of my goals -- I simply put it on the back burner until I can figure out a way to do it. Then I do it.
One of the downsides of being goal-oriented is that I often get tunnel vision and tend to neglect other things. So for the last few years I've been trying to find greater balance in doing what needs to be done in everyday life, like shaving, taking baths, and spending time with my kids, and accomplishing all the things I need to do.
So instead of just sharing an insincere New Years resolution with you, I'll share with you some of this years goals instead.
I told myself I wasn't going to write any more non-fiction this year, but alas I have had two ideas for non-fiction works that I want to get made. So those will be thrown in with everything else I'm planning. Which is a lot.
As for contracted work, I will be coming out with BITTEN 4: Ancient of Dread Days and The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston: A Slice of Grilled Americana.
Initially I said I'd have BITTEN 4 in the can by April, but due to my publisher having me do major rewrites on BITTEN 2 which pushed back BITTEN 3, it looks like I won't complete BITTEN 4 till the very end of the year. So, basically I will be writing both BITTEN 4 and the second installment of Scarecrow & Lady Kingston simultaneously.
As I work on these two novels, I have plans to write a Steam Punk Fairy Tale based on a short story I did which was itself based on the Little Red Riding Hood fable. It's called Little Red Gauntlet, and if I stick to a strict schedule I should be able to have all three novels finished by the end of the year. Luckily all three are plotted out and all I have to do is sit down and get the words down. So it's just a matter of grinding the grindstone.
I was able to write BITTEN 3: Kingdom of the Living Dead -- which came out to 87K -- in about 3 months. Of course, I burned myself out doing that as I handled the rewrites of BITTEN 2 simultaneously, so this time I'm going to pace myself a little better.
If that wasn't enough writing -- there's always more!
Last year I wrote the script for a full length graphic novel, and I'm going to try and get that made this year with my artist friend. We might be crowd funding it, but this is still in the early development stages. I'll keep you posted.
As I work on these I will of course be blogging less frequently (or more infrequently, I should say). About the only thing I'll have time to blog about are movie reviews. Last year I was in talks with my friend Patrick of getting together and starting a movie review podcast. Again, it's a work in progress, but now he has a nice new house with a nice big office where we can set up shop. So it looks like this might actually move forward sooner rather than later.
As for personal goals, I'm bound and determined to lose 30 lbs. this year. I want to get down to 175 to 180 lbs. I'm already jogging 3K to 5K a day, depending on my schedule, so things are looking good. I've run every day for a full week and, strangely, don't feel like I'm hitting any walls yet. I might mix things up and through in some stairs and maybe some intervals to really kick-start the calorie burn.
Also, a new job opportunity opened up and if things work in my favor I may be switching teaching jobs this year to a much upgraded position. After a decade of teaching ESL in Japan it seems I may actually have landed a halfway decent TESOL job.
And, well, that's about it for goals.
But this year is looking to be a busy one. My daughter starts elementary school in April and my son will be old enough to start a preschool soon. So, family life will fill up all the rest of my spare time.
So thanks for sticking with me, and reading my stuff. Be sure to check back here regularly for updates on things -- both regarding my novels, book, and other written works as well as my daily life.
Happy New Year folks! Be wise and live well.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.