Star Wars: The Force Awakens-A Fan’s Reaction

 

Nostalgic I am, yes.

Nostalgic I am, yes.

I love Star Wars.

My first experience was viewing the reissued special editions (you know, the Han didn’t shoot first kerfuffle) in theaters with my dad.  I became obsessed.  I cried for weeks when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite.  This was before the explosion of the internet and none of my friends cared so I was spoiler free until Jedi came into town a month later.  I started collecting figures and taking them out of the box to arrange scenes on my shelf.  It was one of the main things that brought my husband and I together.  I borrowed his character encyclopedia and left a note by Princes Leia’s profile.  I won us a limo ride to the premier of Episode 1 after entering an essay contest with our local paper.   (Talk about a perfect date.)

So when I say I was disappointed with Episode VII, you’ll know I’m not a hater and not just some casual critic.

I’m a writer.  Part of what has always drawn me to Star Wars is the story.  Steeped in mythic themes and the quintessential modern prototype of the hero’s journey, Lucas’s original space fantasy captivated my literary sensibilities.  It was also a perfect blend of humor, action, and romance.  I remember reading articles before the release of The Force Awakens talking about how director J.J. Abrams tossed around story ideas on long walks and thought “cool, that’s what I’d like to see.”  It made me nervous, but I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.  Unfortunately, that haphazard approach to storytelling shows in The Force Awakens.  The film is visually engaging, but it doesn’t hold up when you think about it from a storytelling perspective.

I agree with the general complaint of too much borrowed from A New Hope.  The movie became one long nostalgia trip with hyped up special effects.  But what bothered me the most was the lack of subtle and nuanced storytelling.  I didn’t feel invested in the characters and their conflicts because I wasn’t given a reason to care.  Who was the new hero Poe Dameron talking to by the fire when he put the plans into BB-8?  Who left this kid on a desert planet to collect scrap?  I had no idea what the Resistance was about and why the First Order was even around.  The last I saw a regime had toppled and the heart of the empire was destroyed.  If it all went to pot, fine.  I buy that.  But at least throw me a dialog bone as to why the galaxy is still in chaos.  Scrolling credits aren’t enough to justify an entire plot without any other questions answered.

The movie seemed to pitch forward at light speed, giving no ground to back story or character development.  The new Death Star, um, I mean Starkiller Base destroyed the Republic.  I’m sorry, what?  That’s about as much time as the film devoted to it.  But what does that even mean?  Was it a planet?  A system of planets?  Coruscant?   We reeled to the climactic death scene of ____ so fast that I couldn’t even react.  Normally I would have choked on popcorn wetted with tears.  Or maybe it was because I had seen the same thing happen before and the foreshadowing was so tangible, I could have hit it with a stick.

If Abrams wanted to go dark, maybe he could have waited until a bit later in the storytelling so that I was invested in the plot.  He took away Star Wars’ adventurous spark when he massacred a village thirty seconds into the movie and started to lose me from that point on.  If we’re going to borrow so much from Episode IV, then why not the homey scene of blue milk and Beru’s cooking?  Instead I got a slave girl overworked, underfed, and alone.  Yes, the Stormtroopers never hitting a mark got a bit old, but now they create carnage like a first person shooter video game.  Let’s face it, the film was a downer from beginning to end.  The lighthearted moments are gone.  It’s just one fire fight after another from a group of people with bleak lives.

One saving grace for the film was the addition of the new trio.  Poe, Finn, and Rey make for powerful and interesting characters if we just go by their words and actions.  Back story aside, Rey presents an intriguing raw force wielder.  Poe is just a cocksure as Han Solo but has no mercenary tendencies–he’s firmly committed to the Resistance.  Finn is all heart with a loveable lack of confidence but a strong conscience.  It’s clear this is where the film started and what anchors an otherwise piecemeal ship.  And the new baddies: very engaging and complex.  Maybe this is where the trouble started-grafting these new lives into an established galaxy where the previous head honchos still need their screen time.  Don’t throw tomatoes, but maybe it would have been better if the Princess and her scruffy nerf-herder hadn’t even shown up until later films.  On the other hand, we were given that outcome with another character and some clamor that was the awful part.  I didn’t mind that so much.

In some ways, J.J. Abrams could never win, and in most ways, he already has.  Ticket sales annihilated  records.  Merchandising is a machine that could rival a terminator.  I’m sure most people love the violence and dark storytelling-it’s what our modern culture demands, right?  Me, I’ll just have to look back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to find my escapist adventure and symbolic new hope.

Advertisements

The Restless and Ranting Writer Part II

I just needed a little push out the door...

I just needed a little push out the door…

Writing really is an ironic task. We want to tell stories and connect to people’s lives but the process of doing so usually means working alone. Without speaking we create words and conversations, describe scenes and journeys, and if we’re lucky, explain a little piece of the human condition. Blogging is one of the great oxymorons: we connect to the world socially without ever leaving our writing place. No wonder writers can become such maladroit companions.

Writing may be a solitary task, but writers need community. I tweeted that out last week after I realized that what was making me so frustrated was the solitude I had confined myself to. Even Bilbo had to step out of his shady hobbit hole to move his life into a new adventure.  Sure, I’ve shared in brief writing communities-too expensive conventions filled with promises from some in the publishing world, homegrown critique groups that gave way to life. I’d had little success because I didn’t venture much.   I’d like to make it to that dragon horde of success but first I needed a little push out of the door of my own dusty hovel.

After digitally lamenting my fate, a writer friend reminded me by her own efforts that actively seeking community makes a difference. Despite the fog of media, there are still ways to make connections and at times meet face to face. My search-engine fires stoked, I found a local writer’s group to meet up with and ventured out. I felt like I’d just taken a gulp of air after swimming laps underwater in the pool. I wondered where I’d been all my life. Will it cost money? A little. Take time? You bet. Is it one of the best things I’ve done for myself since I can’t remember when? Yes times one thousand.

Those folks in the middle ages had the right idea. If you worked a craft, you belonged to a guild.   You met with others to hone your craft, share ideas, swap success stories, cry about failures, and spur each other to keep on keeping on (they probably said “thou must keepeth oneth” though). It’s why we geeks trek to conventions-to meet with others of like minds (and costumes). If I’m willing to do that, what was holding me back from the one craft I’ve always clung to for identity? I’m not sure. But I am glad that I decided to stop along the way of my journey to get published and find some travelers to keep me company. I’m sure it’ll make the road seem shorter now.

 

P.S. If you want to follow me on Twitter, find me @CHthewriter.

P.S.S. Shout out to my hubby who was a great editor for this post!

The Restless (and Ranting) Writer

Ever feel like you’re just not in “the club?” I’m feeling downright ranty about the closed door of the publishing world today. Even as a member of a professional writing association, I’m the unchosen at kickball. Critique groups in your area: Click to page. Scroll. Open to new members? No. Or maybe if you send us a sample of your writing and we decide you might fit our writing style. What? Now I have to query to join a critique group? $#%##!&%$#.

Okay, I feel better now. Sorry you had to see that.

Writing is hard. Darn it, it’s a slow, lonely, frustrating, beautiful and very individual process. It’s even harder if you *gasp* write fantasy.

I’m trying to be in the trenches but I’m often overwhelmed by this social media world that demands that I connect on every share your stuff site, do cool things and take pics of my amazingly pinable creativity, snark my way into the hearts of millions, and lead a life besides all this. Can I just go into my little hole, create, then come up with a precious gem that I’ve hacked out of the earth after years of refining?  I don’t know.  I’m told writers need a brand.  But I wonder if my particular cereal will ever sell.  When I say I’ve had some great rejection letters from agents, my non-writing friends look at me like I’m crazy.  But even good rejection wears on the soul.

Conflicting information abounds in the “How to Get Published” circus. Don’t compare your book to other books in your pitch; give an editor or agent a comp (comparison) so that they can get a quick idea of how your book is like what’s already selling. Include a synopsis; a synopsis is evil! I’m not making this up people! but I’m trying to stop my head from a get-out-the-holy-water-spin-fest.

I have writer friends in the area and right now I feel like I need to do what my daughter does with stuffed animals: pull all of them close to my face and smother my sweet little cheeks into their softness. I need a giant support/critique group hug. I should be noveling right now but that pesky writer’s itch has struck again. And despite my Gollum-like love-hate for social media, I get sucked in because it’s easier to watch other people’s stories than to write your own. It’s easier to say “it’ll never happen” than to hunker down and do it.

That said, there’s a tenacity that I and perhaps most writers have and after these periods, be they long or short, we slap ourselves in the proverbial face, dust off our fingers and type, scribe, tap or speak our way out of a “woe is me” slump. Even if it’s a paragraph and it isn’t that good. Because somebody, someday might read my words. And that makes it all worth it.

 

Here’s a brief bit of something I’ve been working on. Comments are welcome.

 

“The Faceless,” Wynn whispered to Finn. “They’re after me.”

Finn’s eyes grew wide and she redoubled her speed, pulling hard on the ropes with other sailors to unfurl the main sail. The ship began to glide away from the wooden slats and posts, its ropes dangling in the seawater.   “Jonah!” Finn cried, pointing to the end of the dock.

The Faceless were crowding onto the dock, their ceaseless walking undeterred by cries from other sailors. Most backed away but didn’t run. The Faceless weren’t interested in them. They advanced down the long boardwalk, hands at their sides, blank faces turned toward their prey.

Wynn felt cold pinpricks all over her body.   The pirates kept hurrying around the deck, lashing ropes and encouraging sails to collect wind. Balton, at the helm, kept his gaze on the horizon, guiding them out of port at a snail’s pace.

“We’ll never make it,” muttered Wynn. She backed up to the hold, hitting the knobs of the doors to the captain’s quarters with her back. She watched, helplessly as Jonah untied the last of the mooring ropes. The Faceless were within feet.

The Captain unsheathed his sword and swung at the Faceless as the nearest grasped at his throat. His blade cut right through its hand, dropping it with a thud to the dock. The creature made no sound and no blood ran from the wound. Wynn found this more terrifying than seeing the gore of severed flesh. The rest of the Faceless horde converged on Jonah. He swung madly but deftly, chopping limbs and kicking their bodies back, but they kept moving, like slugs over a log, toward the ship’s ropes.

“Haul in the lines!” Finn cried.

Jonah struggled, visibly tired as he fended off the Faceless bodies. He fell back against the dock, pressed down by two of the creatures. Others wrenched his sword from his hand and flung it clattering back down the dock. Jonah kicked and thrashed, but they held him fast. The Faceless not holding Jonah began to jump into the water and swim out to the Sleep in a steady track.

Suddenly, one of the Faceless holding Jonah slumped over, a dagger protruding from the back of its neck. Jonah struggled against the other, flipping both of them off the dock and into the sea. For endless moments, nothing surfaced until the Captain broke, gasping, to the surface.

Happy Birthday America

Enjoy your Independence Day.

Enjoy your Independence Day.

Remembering My 80’s Toys

It’s my birthday again and I’m nostalgic. There are a lot of things to remember as you step into those years well beyond the golden sparkle of post-college bliss. But for me, life is full of one thing at the moment: a playfully curious one-year-old whose toy collection (now thoroughly enlarged thanks to a first birthday party and wonderfully generous friends) spreads across the entire house. This has gotten me to thinking about some toys I grew up with that no redesign can better or some so obscure, I’m not even sure what a Google search would yield. Growing up 80’s meant some pretty rad playthings. Here are some favorites I remember. I know. It was awesome back then.

  1. Nerfuls
Photo from fanboy.com

An intrepid gang of Nerfuls ready for the playin’

When I talk about playing Nerfuls with Nathan, it sounds vaguely risqué, but it was just clean fun. There’s no toy on the market that closely compares. They were these interchangeable ball-headed-people-things with matchable bottoms and tops. They were goofy-looking and pretty gender neutral as a toy. They came with cars you could pop them into instead of their usual feet holders, skateboards and bikes for feet and all, and even little round houses with slides for the rolling. I wish I had saved them; goodness knows I have enough old junk lying around in my garage. Here’s a link to a glorious commercial for Nerfuls. Photo credit: fanboy.com

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L34OzpEifD8

  1. Jem and the Holograms Dolls and Cassettes

    Synergy was Truly Outrageous!

    Synergy was Truly Outrageous!

Did you know there’s a movie in the works? I know, I’m really excited/terrified too. Unlike some digital download that comes with toys now, it was instant gratification (I really can’t type this word without thinking about this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_ubVVnWglk&feature=kp ) with the inclusive tape featuring songs from that particular band member. Of course I loved my Jem but I also had some black and hot yellow tapes from my Misfit dolls. You could jam out to their Glitter Rock at the same time you combed their hair or changed their clothes. Amazing. Photo credit: poprewind.com

  1. My Little Pony

    Surprise was a favorite.

    Surprise was a favorite.

I’m not talking Friendship is Magic, although, of all the remakes of my childhood, this one is probably the best, but the original, real deal, sweet-smelling plastic goodness. I had a duffle bag full of ponies that I would dress up with barrettes, use as mounts for my Jem dolls, colonize entire floor sections of my bedroom, and take pretty much anywhere. They were bigger than the new ones and very hollow. They originated the little insignia printed on their back haunch, which told you something about their personality, but unlike now, we basically picked our favorite by how much we liked the symbol paired with the color of the pony and their hair. Like so many of its 80’s counterparts, it was paired with a TV show and spinoff movies.  Photo credit: Flickr lazysundae

I had this one!

  1. Pound Puppies

Cuddly, cute and a bit sad, these adoptable pets were hard to resist. They had those big eyes and soft coats. I was always one to snuggle with a stufty (as Sara called them). I remember having this one dog with a gray coat, brown spots and big brown floppy ears. Yikes, they did a remake of this too? Will the HUB never leave my childhood alone?  Photo credit blog.thenostalgiablog.com

  1. Mc Donald’s Happy Meal Toys

It was a treat for me to get a Happy Meal. And the real reason wasn’t the food. I’d say a good portion of my favorite toys were birthed from a plastic wrapper that smelled faintly of greasy burger and had some flecks of fry salt clinging to it. Muppet Babies, Care Bears, Disney characters, you name it; they came from a Happy Meal. And they were good toys. Sturdy, dependable, and always a likeness to the original, these toys were prized my neighborhood over. When I was sick with chicken pox, one of my friends left a box of Happy Meal play things (that I didn’t already own) that saved my bedroom-ridden self from boredom that week. It wasn’t only the toys too, it was the tie-ins. They just don’t offer glasses, stuffed animals or Christmas ornaments from the latest family blockbuster anymore. I still hang my Cinderella mice and Rescuers ornaments on my tree. Imagine if today’s McDonald’s sold Avengers tumblers or Harry Potter house goblets for $1.99. We never knew how good we had it.

Muppet Babies were pretty much the best thing ever.

Muppet Babies were pretty much the best thing ever.

 

I still have some of these...somewhere.

I still have some of these…somewhere.

Still hang these bad boys on my tree.

Still hang these bad boys on my tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits Muppet Babieswww.rediscoverthe80s.com; Fraggle Cars www.openthetoy.com; Jaq and Gus Ornaments www.snarkcards.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just to prove my point, here’s a fellow blogger who agrees. This is a great list.  What do you remember?

http://snarkecards.net/the-25-best-happy-meal-toys-of-the-80s/

For the Love of Sailor Moon

sailor moon crystal banner

A Fan Girl’s Guide:

One Saturday morning in my teen years I was flipping channels. I noticed this cartoon full of people with ginormous eyes and over-exaggerated expressions. There was also this talking cat and these weirdly cute super hero girls. I was hooked. Yes, I was one of the throngs of girls who became an anime fan thanks to the short-skirted, strangely coiffured Champion of Justice named Sailor Moon.

Of course I had to read the manga. Now I was in full fan mode. Takeuchi’s character designs were beyond gorgeous. They were angelic. I would read the story after studying each of the panels. Then I wondered where all the deep story arcs had gone when I watched the continuing seasons of the anime. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Miraculously in time for the 20th anniversary of Sailor Moon (cough, clever marketing ploy, cough) is a series reboot that, like so many franchises in this modern age of storytelling, promises to stay true to the original storyline. You had me at “closer to the original character designs.”

In honor of the coming remake and Usagi’s birthday on June 30th (yes, it’s sad but I know that), here’s a squee-worthy post of all things new in the world of Sailor Moon.

 

sailor moon crystal usagi pose

5 Things You Need to Know About the Sailor Moon Reboot

  1. Watch the reboot on Crunchyroll!

Although Niconico, a Japanese video streaming service will be steaming the first episode worldwide on Saturday, July 5th,, Crunchy Roll will also be streaming the show. This site will probably be a better bet for English viewers. Tune in at 6am Eastern, 3 am (ouch) Pacific. New episodes will air at 6am EST (come on, really?) on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

 

  1. New Series, New Title

The series is officially called Sailor Moon Crystal. Here’s the very pretty and very Japanese website. http://sailormoon-official.com/

 

  1. Sailor Moon in America

VIZ Video has the North American licensing rights but is also planning a re-dub of the original anime. This time, they’re releasing all five seasons (200 episodes) with a new voice cast. They’ll be debuting their revamped series on the same day as Crystal.

 

  1. For Sailor Moon News…

Check out this great Sailor Moon website I found for all your news updates: http://clubsailormoon.com/

 

  1. The Official Trailer is Stunning

In case you haven’t seen it, or just want to gawk at it again, here is a link to the official trailer for Sailor Moon Crystal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9Ft3viBgtQ

A Tribute to Dianna Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle Cover 2When I’m with a book, I’m never alone.

I said this the other day and promptly realized it is not dorky, or a cry for help, but a truth about book people.

I’m a fan of rereading my favorite books because they’re like best friends. You want to catch up and remember the good times after you haven’t seen each other for a while. This is also true of certain authors. Their voice becomes familiar, like a warm blanket you keep on the couch. One of my favorite blankets authors is fantasy writer Dianna Wynne Jones, who recently passed away. I just finished her last book, The Islands of Chaldea, with a melancholy satisfaction. It was full of her usual quirk and humor in a United Kingdom-esque realm, but it’s sad to think there won’t be another new story from one of the most enjoyable and prolific young adult fantasy writers of all time.

Jones is undervalued in academia and the YA marketing machine. I’ve rarely seen a book of hers on a reading list or found a title of hers on a “Top 100” list. But if Miyazaki loved her world enough to turn Howl’s Moving Castle into a film, I’m clearly not alone in my thinking her a storyteller to reckon with. She exemplifies one of the most ethereal qualities in writing: voice. Each of her books are fresh and unique, but you know who’s telling the story. She also does subtle conflict startlingly well. Jones doesn’t write action-packed tales chalk full of page-turning suspense. She writes life-like journeys. You finish the book and regret that the trip is over.

Another facet of Diana Wynne Jones’ storytelling is its completeness. None of her books are screaming for a sequel, yet some have it. Each story is a full package. My first encounter with Jones was actually the fourth book in a series of four. I was so entranced by the story, which was itself immersive and entertaining, that I finished that one outright, went back to the beginning and then reread the last book.

So here’s to you, Diana Wynne Jones. You will be missed but thankfully, your words live on. You’ve inspired me to be a better writer. You’ve made me realize that character details and quirks are important enough to drive a story. You’ve made me wander in realms concocted from your boundless imagination. Your stories make me want to return and hear the voice once again of an old friend.

My Favorite Diana Wynne Jones Books/Series

*Sadly, some of these are out of print but hey! Remember that place called the library?

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (a series of 6 plus short stories starting with Charmed Life)
  3. The Dalemart Quartet (starting with Cart and Cwidder)
  4. The Islands of Chaldea

Have a favorite author that’s unappreciated? Something to say about Diana Wynne Jones? Let me know below.

Previous Older Entries