It seems everyone has been doing reviews, non-spoiler or spoiler, of the Last Jedi. I was going to give a full review, but then decided maybe instead of a full breakdown of the film and a critique, I thought it would be fun to just focus on a couple aspects of what I found interesting about The Last Jedi and where I think the franchise can go from here.
I should preface this that there are minor (very minor) spoilers.
The things I found most interesting about The Last Jedi nobody seems to be talking about. Like the Mirror scene with Rey multiplying herself, where she breaks through the glass wall to be stopped by herself.
It echoes the Luke training scene on Dagobah when he enters the cave to confront his fears only to discover Vader. Then, slicing Vader's head off with his laser sword, the mask explodes to reveal Luke's own face. Excellent foreshadowing for later in the movie.
But with Rey, her revelation has a different meaning. Whereas Luke couldn't understand the message the Dark Side was showing him, Rey knows that the Dark Side has deliberately withheld the answer she wanted.
Later she has to ask Kylo Ren for the answer. He ends up telling her without any resistance whatsoever.
And that brings me to the most interesting thing about these films. Kylo Ren treats Rey like she's the embodiment of the Goddess. All the way back in Episode 7, right after torturing Poe till he's bleeding out of his eyes and ears, Kylo Ren refuses to harm Rey.
During their fight in the forest at the end of Force Awakens, he offers to train her, even as they're mid-duel (a grudge match of wills, if you please).
Then, in this film, they share a bond through the Force that allows them not only to see one another but to feel one another.
Although Rey Refused Kylo's Offer to rule the galaxy as his equal, he looks genuinely hurt by her unwillingness to take him up on his offer. He even yells at her to let it all go. To let the past die, so they can rebuild something new.
She is saddened by the fact he still only desires power rather than peace, which is true balance.
Unable to persuade the other, they struggle for the lightsaber and it explodes sending them both flying backward. Ren is rendered unconscious and Rey escapes. The interesting thing, however, is that they fought over the saber at all. Ren still had his red lightsaber. He could have easily struck Rey down. He’s trained. She’s not. And this time he not wounded, yet she is. Instead, he tries to stop her from leaving rather than kill her outright.
Also note that each time they mind-link, they catch each other at their most vulnerable. When he’s getting mended up by the medical droid. When she's sitting in bed. When he's getting undressed. When she’s alone watching the ocean.
At the very end, when he's reaching out to find her...you can’t help but wonder. Does he search his feelings for her because he wants to locate the Rebels whereabouts, or because he's worried about her because he has feelings for her?
If the filmmakers are developing a romance for these unlikely star-crossed lovers, they’re taking the long way around. Rey still resents Kylo Ren for killing Han Solo, who Ren rightly noted she viewed as a father figure. "He'll only disappoint you," Kylo said to her in TFA.
But it's Ren who has disappointed Rey this time around, by choosing the Dark Side over her.
As The Last Jedi really doesn't have any cliffhanger, and the story is largely about individual failures, the story could go anywhere from here, really. But I personally would love to see Kylo Ren redeemed in the eyes of Rey. And, yes, I want them to rule the Galaxy together. Maybe not as lovers. But as two parts of one whole--the balanced Force--they would provide an equilibrium for what may come.
Now that the Jedi are gone and only one Sith Lord remains, it seems that Kylo Ren could reshape the very foundations of what it means to be a Sith at the same time as putting an end to the military reign of the First Order and bringing back the political world that, although problematic under Palpentine's rule, actually worked to bring lasting peace to the galaxy--just as Padme had always dreamt.
The Rebels could then integrate back into society without a fight. They'd basically have won the cause. But not because of their terrorist antics. But because Ren became what both Vader and Luke couldn't--perfectly balanced in the ways of the Force.
That would bring the series full circle. And that would be a fitting end. Rey could then rebuild the Jedi temple and Kylo Ren could ride off into the sunset, so to speak, as a kind of Ronin warrior.
I have the sneaking suspicion, however, that we're probably not going to get that. Even though the set up is certainly there. I think we're going to get another massive giant Death Ball, and another giant space battle.
And Rey will likely take front and center in leading the new wave rebellion against Ren, and the two will face off at the end when it is Rey, whose friends step in to save her, who survives. Because she had love on her side, she had people who cared for her, and Ren has nothing because he destroyed everything and everyone who ever cared about him.
Which is also good drama, albeit less interesting of a direction to take the franchise because nothing is learned from it. It's just a repeat of what's been done. But bringing the character arcs as well as the events full circle and having the characters learn from their mistakes--mainly in The Last Jedi--would be really great storytelling.
I just don't have confidence in J.J. Abrams to tell that kind of story. Although a brilliant filmmaker, his stories are typically cookie-cutter, paint by the numbers, granny’s apple pie—same ole formulaic thing. That is, he follows very standard plot devices and doesn't color outside of the lines.
And that seems to be what Disney wants for Star Wars. But true Star Wars fans will know that George Lucas was always bold with his storytelling choices. He dared to color outside of the box. Heck, he dared to think outside of the box. And I think we have too many in-the-box sort of thinking going on behind these new Star Wars films. They're not bad films. But they don't take any risks either. And so there are no moments of genuine brilliance because it's always culled back in the name of playing it safe.
I guess in time we shall see what we shall see.
The exciting fourth instalment to the Valandra series is here!
Instead of a direct continuation of the series, this is a stand alone novella (roughly 20K) which focuses on the events of book 2 when our titular heroine, Arianna De Amato, is transported away in the middle of a battle with the fierce wraith knight, Ashram.
And although it's technically an en media res story involving alread established characters, the novella can be red as a stand alone. As it's an entirely self contained story, you needn't have read Valandra 1, 2, or 3 to understand it. But if you have read the prior books, it adds that much more depth to the events of book 4.
Because I chose to tell the first three novels in first-person present tense, however, many readers thought this meant my story was intended for young adult rather than epic fantasy readers. Naturally, this created a couple of complications. First, it seemed that some readers were put off by the first-person present tense narrative. Secondly, others voiced their opinions that it seemed that I skimped out on developing the other characters more fully.
Although I personally enjoy first-person narratives myself, I could see how this is a valid complaint. As for the second criticism, I fully agree. First-person writing limits you to one characters perspective; or at least one character at a time's perspective.
As such, I opted to go with the good old, tested and true, third person past tense narrative for this novella. It allows me to develop multiple characters without having to devote a chapter to each one. I can jump around to different povs within the narrative without having to use chapter breaks or start new sections. As such, I basically told a 60K first-person narrative in a condence 20K third-person narrative.
Okay, enough of the technical talk. You're probably wondering what this book is about?
The events of The Black Knight & the Golden Arm follow my main cast of characters in the absence of Arianna. I mainly focus on two people though, Queen Sabine De Atano of Bellera, and Sir Gromelin, the red bearded dwarf and machinist (e.g. Juggernaut mechanic). We also get glimpes into what Lisette, Lief, and the elf Alegra were up to during Arianna's three day absence.
Of course, as the title suggests, we learn how Queen Sabine gets a mechanical golden arm and we learn what happens during the dead army's siege of the holy city of Sabolin before the big climactic battle the kicks of part 2 of book 2, The Dragon Blade Cycle.
With book 4 you get action, a dash of romance (this time Gromelin hooks up with an mysterious ex from his past), and a lot of back story that occurs off page in book 2 is followed in detail.
I'm also planning on writing a novella that covers the 3 year time gap between books 2 and 3 from when Arianna enters the underworld, i.e. The Nether, and from when she returns and everything is different. That novella (book 5), however, won't be available till next year (2018). After that, I will launch Valandra books 6, 8, and 8 in which I kick off an entirely new story arc.
If you're interested in reading this exciting stand alone novella, you can get it on Amazon.com.
VALANDRA: THE BLACK KNIGHT & THE GOLDEN ARM (BOOK 4)
Also, look for the rest of the exciting Valandra series by getting books 1-3:
VALANDRA: THE WINDS OF TIME CYCLE (BOOK 1)
VALANDRA: THE DRAGON BLADE CYCLE (BOOK 2)
VALANDRA: THE GODDESS OF WAR CYCLE (BOOK 3)
I took my kids to Thor Ragnarok a couple weeks ago and we fell in love with the film. My daughter's favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film is the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Although she hasn't seen Spider-man Homecoming yet, and she's a huge Spider-man fan, so the jury is still out. But like me, she thought Thor Ragnarok was the best Marvel film to date.
I could go on and on about everything I liked about it and how it was superior to the first two Thor films and how ditching the dark tone was probably a good thing since all the recent MCU films have been embracing their bright and colorful comic book origins. But that would be a bore fest for everyone. So, instead, I'm just going to the MCU films according to my favorite to least favorite.
1. Thor Ragnarok
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. Spiderman Homecoming
4. Iron Man
5. Captain America The Winder Soldier
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
7. Doctor Strange
8. Ant Man
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
11. Captain America
12. Thor: Dark World
13. Iron Man 3
15. The Incredible Hulk
16. Iron Man 2
17. Captain America: Civil War
Now, I'm fairly certain Black Panther will make the top ten, but only time will tell.
As for why I rank Civil War at the very bottom it's because it is the weakest of the films narrative-wise. It also has the deficiency of being reliant on all the previous films in order to understand what's going on. Whereas, if you watch Avengers or Age of Ultron, you needn't have watched the entire MCU to know what's happening in the film. If you came into Civil War blind, however, the film simply makes no sense. And that bothered me to no end.
Also, the villain technically wins. It ends on three open ended notes with none of the conflict of the plot's premises resolved (and not likely to be). Although it has cool action scenes and stand alone moments with characters, it's all over the place in terms of story and plot and is actually a headache to watch. As a writer--those things are so glaring that I can't easily forgive the film. Also, for those that say Civil War is the best of the "Avengers" films, I strongly disagree. It's the best at being nonsensical and overstuffed with a story that fizzles out before it ends. It's just a bad film, no matter how pretty the fights are.
Thor Ragnarok, however, hit all the beats. It's story was tight. It had excellent character development of everyone involved, even supporting cast members and new characters like Valkyrie and Korg. It had three villains but it never felt overstuffed. The Hulk was amazing. Thor showed real emotional development. Loki grew as a character as well. The jokes were nonstop without ever feeling out of place. The films joins the cosmic universe to the real world stuff. A lot is happening in this film and still...even with all of this...it never feels weighted down or confusing. It's a fun action romp with great character arcs and brimming with jokes. I highly recommend Thor Ragnarok if you haven't already seen it.
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.