Things that Bug Me: Moral Greyness and Star Wars

So it’s almost that time of the year again. The time when Disney releases yet another new product of the Star War saga with the same interminable regularity with which they release their Marvel movies. Huzzah for our new corporate overlords. Huzzah for Disney continuing to dominate the movie studio market and grasping ever wider. But enough about that, let’s talk about one of the dumber things to come out of the pre-release buzz: moral greyness in a morality play like Star Wars.

So ever since the first trailer dropped (and I am not linking to it because I’m assuming that everyone and their mother has seen it. If you haven’t, lucky you.), people suddenly started to get into one of a tizzy about the potential for one of the old Expanded Universe ideas making its way into the new canon: Grey Jedi!

To be quite honest, the very concept is one that is insulting to anyone with a working brain, but then again, there are a lot of people out there without one posting their arguments on the Internet.

So let’s list some of the arguments and refute them, shall we?

Argument 1: Grey Jedi make sense because Yin/Yang
This argument is stupid because it comes out of video game sensibilities that violate the themes of the original films while not fitting in the slightest bit with Taoist philosophy. When you watch the original trilogy, the message is clear: the Dark Side is a bad thing given that it requires negative emotions to really work and in many ways also represents taking the easy way out (Luke: “Is the dark side stronger?” Yoda: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”).

Unfortunately, it also lends itself well to power fantasies such as video games. Let’s face it, when you want to play a Force user in video games, chances are that you’d like to use the Dark Side to do things like blast lightning out of your fingertips or choke people to death. In a way, given the Dark Side’s emphasis on dominating others, it would make sense that the cool abilities it offers would be part of the lure to those tired of feeling weak.

Naturally, video game developers thus decided that they had to offer players a chance to live out their fantasies, which meant allowing players to use the Dark Side without falling to it. It’s fine in a game if such a thing is not meant to be canon, but when you start trying to apply this logic to that of the original movies, it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Return of the Jedi features Luke at his most vulnerable on a spiritual level. He is clearly detached and tempted to the Dark Side throughout the film, and near the end, finds himself poised to succumb to its temptations. While he does overcome Vader on a physical level, the scene plays out like a tragedy: the music is mournful and Luke has almost repeated his father’s mistakes. The moment of triumph comes shortly afterward, when Luke refuses this temptation despite seeing the easy path to power it promises. There is no moral grayness here suggesting that it was a good thing for Luke to use the Dark Side to beat Vader down. To believe that is to misinterpret the message of the scene, to focus on the power fantasy instead of the moral lesson.

Finally, it does not match up with Taoism at all. People seem oddly convinced that the Light and the Dark must both be perfectly in balance, but this is a credulous assumption. If one side is objectively good and the other objectively evil, to use both makes no sense. It would not be a loss if all evil was wiped out, because a world without evil is a Paradise. If everyone was selfless and no one selfish, they’d carry out what they had to for the sake of everyone else, like some sort of utopian worker’s paradise. It does not match up with Yin and Yang, which eschews human notions of morality and instead focuses on the harmonious duality found in nature. Good and evil simply do not need to exist in the same world, although they do.

Besides which, I wonder what Pablo Hidalgo had to say about this?

Argument 2: It’s okay, because Light should work with Dark
Again, why should Good and Evil coexist? We know that if you believe in morality, then they do, but the notion that Evil is something that should exist is a faulty one. One does not need to work with the Devil. One does not need to feed the evil wolf. We tolerate self-centered people because we need their help in areas in which they might be able to offer it if we give them something in return, not because we like them.

Argument 3: It’s great because it matches modern sensibilities
This one just plain annoys me for various reasons. It annoys me because it is based on immature conceptions, because it overstates the value of compromise, because it has poor ramifications given the nature of the religions that inspired the Force, and because it fails to understand what made and continues to make Star Wars what it is.

By immature conceptions, I mean that it is based on immature conceptions of just what a great lesson in morality such a thing would be for the series’ audience. The idea that everything has to be morally ambiguous to be mature is akin to that which states that making things dark makes them deep. In short, it is a failure to understand what real maturity is in that maturity is about examining themes in a manner capable of nuance and not simply pandering to the blind optimists or the hopeless pessimists. This “oh, think of the children” approach could better be thought of as “oh, think of the manchildren who demand that SW become more ‘mature’ so that said manchildren (and womenchildren) can admit in public that they enjoy a story aimed at young audiences.”

Next up is my issue with the idea that it promotes compromise. Now compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not an ideal solution, but it is one that makes sense in a pluralistic society where opinions are not necessarily based on good or evil, but rather about how to best go about solving an issue. In real life, compromise is important, and is often one of the better ways to solve a problem. However, as I mentioned above, compromise is not an ideal solution. There will be times when you should not compromise, when it might actually be better to fight because sometimes compromising only adds to the problem rather than helping to fix it. You can’t compromise with some people and then try to pat yourself on the back for ensuring peace in your time. You should never compromise when something clearly evil is going on right in front of you (at least ideally). In fact, you could make the argument (but that would require a post in itself) that a lot of the world’s problems came when people compromised when they should have fought harder (and while at it, fought where they should have considered compromise). You should never compromise with a Dark Side user, at least from what we’ve seen, given that the Dark Side has been portrayed as objectively evil, or at the very least selfish.

My third issue with this argument has to do with the ramifications of it in regards to religion. The idea that it is a good thing to balance the selfish and the selfless makes sense if you believe in mediocrity, because that’s already what the average person tries to do. Rather, despite getting overly dogmatic and far removed from the reality on the ground in practice, in theory, the Jedi seemed to have the right idea in many respects. You should try to control your passions. You should try to avoid too much attachment. You should strive for an ideal instead of merely sticking with mediocrity. It fits with philosophies like Stoicism and Buddhism which are still practiced today. To say that certain ideals the Jedi espouse are wrong is to say that the philosophies and religions from which these ideals came are wrong, and that’s just stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Finally, there is the issue of such an argument missing out on the history of the series itself. The 1970s was a cynical period in American history. The country experienced social, economic, and political tumult, and this was reflected in American cinema, which considered gritty realism and moral ambiguity to be hip. Antiheroes waged seemingly hopeless battles against forces far beyond their ability to properly confront. The idealism of the 60s had given way to something far more sinister. It must have been a breath of fresh air when some cheesy looking science fantasy flick with an asthmatic cyborg villain, laser swords, corny dialogue, and a willingness to embrace the silly idealistic morality of yesteryear came out.

Despite what those ignorant of history might otherwise claim, the cynicism of today does not find itself unmatched. The 70s were not an idealistic, naive time, and I’m willing to bet that the Cold War inspired all sorts of dread. Given how nice the human race has it today in comparison to the past, I’m willing to bet that the people of the past were not naive yokels holding on to a false idealism, especially given all the wars and famines and whatnot making life hard. The attitude of those who think that the modern environment and its sensibilities requires a more cynical, morally ambiguous approach reeks of Whig History.

In fact, given the cynicism of modern society, I would argue that Star Wars needs all the more to remain idealistic. I argue that it needs to remain a tale of good triumphing over evil. I argue that it must remain so in order to remind all of us, as it did back in 1977, that there is good in the world, and that it is worth fighting for.

 
It is for these reasons that I really hope they don’t go down this path with the new movie. It would not only suck, but in hindsight completely violate the message of the older films. I honestly hope that my fears are unfounded and that the writing team knew better. Perhaps they did and the whole “grey” thing will turn out to be a red herring. But then again, I’m just some shiftless loser on the Internet. What do I know of appealing to audiences today or good storytelling?

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Yet Another ‘Rogue One’-Related Article

Author’s Note: I’m just posting this to get it off my chest and maybe compensate for releasing such a short TTR/TTS compared to the usual, so the post won’t be all that polished (not that my other posts can be considered as such when you think about it), nor all that long.

I’m pretty sure we’re all sick and tired about any discussion of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I know I am. Still, because I have little better to do at the moment, I may as well bring up one issue I had with that movie which doesn’t get as much prominence as I feel it deserves.

Rogue One was billed by its creators as a grittier, more grounded war film. This was supposed to be something different from what was usually presented in the Star Wars setting, but when you think about it, that wasn’t really true so much as yet another claim to promote the film just like how The Force Awakens kept publicizing its so-called emphasis on practical effects.

The problem with the movie is simple: it suffered from a major identity crisis. By that I mean that RO could not decide whether it wanted to be a gritty war movie or a Star Wars film. Sure, there’s an emphasis on the darker side of the Rebellion and the oppressiveness of the Empire’s rule, along with an emphasis on characters who should not stand out nearly as much from the crowd as the main characters in the other films do. But at the same time, this attempt to ground the movie fails hard.

Take for example the continued poor showing of stormtroopers. In the original movie, the troopers were said to be well-trained and professional troops who managed to quickly overrun the defenders on the Tantive IV. When they failed to hit the good guys and let them escape, it was because the Empire wanted to track the Rebels to their hidden base. When the heroes did interact with them in other films, we figured that they could get away with humiliating these guys because these were supposed to be lighter films where good prevailed and the main characters were wearing thick plot armor. In RO, on the other hand, stormtroopers continued to be faceless mooks who got taken down with ease. For some inexplicable reason, characters could easily take out several of them with blunt weapons instead of blasters. A more grounded movie might have tried to emphasize that for “normal” characters, taking on stormtroopers was not nearly as easy due to the fact that they were “normal” people taking on professional soldiers.

A second issue is the fact that despite claiming that this was supposed to be a more grounded movie, it retained the soap opera aspects of the other films. By that, I referred to how the main character turned out to have a close connection to the people behind the Death Star. Of course, Jyn is related to the guy who ensured that the station was vulnerable to a proton torpedo fired directly into a small exhaust port (by the way, there was never a plot hole given that you wouldn’t expect anyone not using the Force to successfully make that shot).

On top of that was the treatment of the Empire. Here, the Empire was portrayed as this totalitarian and monolithic government that the original movies had implied they were. However, the movie goes and ruins that with one scene.

If you haven’t guessed which scene I’m talking about, it’s the infamous scene with Vader on the Rebel flagship.

Why is that scene such a problem, you ask? Well, it goes completely against how the movie wants to portray the Empire. The Empire isn’t meant to be cool. It’s a terrible form of government that ruins lives, with its ranks being made up of monsters, backstabbers, and incompetents. It’s rather telling that the primary focus among the bad guys was Director Krennic, who is the closest thing to a mundane representative of the evil that is the Empire in the series. However, that one sequence goes against everything that has come before it by making Darth Vader look cool. Don’t give me any BS about it making him scary. If they’d made it scary, little kids would be too terrified to continue watching the film while Vader brutally slaughtered Rebels in a scene right out of a horror movie. No, this scene made Darth Vader look cool as he cut through Rebels like butter. The only people who would find the scene scary are the sort of wusses that are afraid to leave the house and post some of the more ridiculous content to the “Nightmare Fuel” pages on TV Tropes. Furthermore, the scene also overshadows the rest of the movie. It doesn’t help that the plot is forgettable and the characters so uninteresting, making it all the easier to forget about everything except for Darth Vader looking cool. So much for a story focusing on something outside of the main cast, huh?

And to be honest, the ending wasn’t all that special in how dark it tried to be. Sure, the main cast was killed off, but it was hard to care about them. Furthermore, the series had already given a darker ending in the form of Revenge of the Sith‘s ending, which ended with the Sith victorious, a lot of people dead or changed for the worse, and the good guys holding on to their last hope. Before that, The Empire Strikes Back had done a good job of establishing a much darker tone than its predecessor.

All in all, on top of its many other issues, RO just didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be. All we can do now is hope that the upcoming movies aren’t nearly as unsure of what they hope to achieve, and are worth watching beyond highlight moments uploaded to YouTube.

On Disney’s Mastery of the Crowd-Pleaser

I cannot help but feel a mixture of admiration and dread whenever I look at Disney’s spate of upcoming blockbusters. There is something amazing about how the company has seemingly perfected the science of creating a corporate production line of crowd pleasing tentpole films that not only make significant amounts of money, but also succeed in winning over the majority of critics. At the same time however, there is something almost horrifying in how efficient they are in polishing their products.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Disney has in recent years succeeded in producing a bunch of big-budget flicks that make make money on command while also getting fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores. The movies are spectacles in many senses of the word, if often forgettable; good but not great, but rarely bad due to being well executed on a technical level. They’re also safe and polished in their mediocrity so that while they won’t find themselves on lists of the greatest films of all time due to their lack of ambition, their aforementioned polish should at least ensure that few critics give negative reviews. They provide audiences their money’s worth, so viewers are unlikely to think poorly of the product even if they won’t remember it within a few years, if not a few months. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a family-friendly restaurant franchise.

These movies, while not original properties, do succeed in part because of their nature as continuations of franchises. They can take the form of live-action remakes (although the upcoming Lion King is taking a step further by presumably being an animated remake of the original film), entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the newly restored Star Wars Cinematic Universe.

The live-action remakes appeal to adults who wish to engage in nostalgia alongside their children and recapture their lost youths, rolling out in a format that is more appropriate for grown-ups too embarrassed to admit they enjoy animated movies for children (as they likely never emotionally developed past the adolescent phase wherein a teenager shuns the childish things they enjoy lest they be seen as anything other than ‘adult.’ Not to say that all adults who watch these movies are like this. Others might just be overgrown children who seek nostalgia and escapism to forget just how much they hate their lives).

The MCU is as assembly line as it gets. We get the standard three acts of most Hollywood screenplays for almost every introductory film: protagonist failing to meet their full potential comes across a (likely expendable) mentor or some other supportive figure who helps them achieve their potential (becoming a superhero). Hero battles and defeats forgettable villain, while somehow winning the love of a forgettable love interest. Cue sequel hook and tie-ins to the rest of the MCU.

This isn’t to say that I hate the MCU’s content. I rather liked Iron Man and even appreciated the pulpy period war movie that was the first Captain America. The first Avengers was a lot of fun, and the second CA movie was pretty good too. But even then, once you notice the formula (and don’t throw any bullshit about “different genres” with a superhero skin my way), it starts to get old fast.

Not only that, but there is often a lack of heart or a distinctive voice to the products. Compare that to one of the earlier superhero film series: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. The series was often corny, quirky, and melodramatic, yet was capable of genuine moments of heart and actual drama. The ending shot to the second film is more meaningful in leaving an impression about the true darkness lying underneath an otherwise happy ending than the ending of Civil War, which alleges darkness, but just can’t resist plugging future movies and showing viewers that the adventure will continue in its final shot. To stick to comparisons with SM2, I recall reading somewhere that the MCU wanted to create a more ‘realistic’ home for the Parkers by having them live in an apartment. Now sure, this is more realistic in the sense that they probably couldn’t afford a house with their meager income, but a similar thing was done with much more impact on both the characters and the audience in SM2. In that movie, focus is given to the reality of trying to be a superhero while trying to live a normal life outside the costume, something that has never come up in the lighthearted MCU. Furthermore, the Parkers’ living situation actually comes up in that movie, which has Aunt May losing the house. And let’s not get into the part when Aunt May gives money to a reluctant Peter. That right there is actual human drama of the sort that the MCU only pretends to engage in. Even the third SM film, while a weak point in the series, at least was bold enough to end things ambiguously in regards to the state of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship. The closest thing to that sort of darkness in the endings of any MCU films happens in the first Captain America movie (which might help explain why I’m so fond of it).

This isn’t to say that it’s wrong for the MCU to strike a light tone. It’s not a bad thing to be fun, even if the movies do get rather samey after a certain point, and the character arcs of the heroes often suffer. Remember how Tony Stark finally seemed to be moving forward with his life at the end of Iron Man 3? Unfortunately, because the studio likes money, and because the nature of comic book story arcs means that the adventure can never end, this happy ending was short-lived.

And then there’s Star Wars. The two movies released thus far can be summed up as fanservice and pandering. Fanservice and pandering. The scene with Darth Vader at the end of Rogue One was not enough to save a mediocre movie and you know it. The Force Awakens succeeded in spite of its script, and even then, there were little things that made it sometimes come off as less a SW film than a pastiche. I’m personally not hoping for too much from The Last Jedi (cripes that sounds more like a title for the final part of a trilogy than the middle section), and fully expecting the Han Solo film to be crammed with fanservice (and maybe show us the whole “12 parsecs” thing that should have just remained a cock-and-bull story that he was trying to pull on what he thought were a couple of yokels) and a story that undermines his character arc in A New Hope because the studio is afraid of having a proper anti-hero as its protagonist (which means we’ll be getting a jerk with a heart of gold who does the right thing at the end).

Hopefully, I’m wrong about at least one of these two movies in the best way possible.

Not that such descriptors apply to only those three products rolling out of the Disney factory. One can see this in their animated movies as well. Moana, which I actually liked, was as perfunctorily executed as it gets. The plot was standard, the heroine followed a basic outline, and the story beats could be seen from a nautical mile away. One can see the laziness of Disney’s factory-like efficiency in how they treat the predictable moment when a supporting character leaves only to come back near the end to aid the protagonist a la Han Solo. The moment is poorly built up, with the reasons for it being hinted as it occurs, but not before (unlike in the case of Han, where we get a brief scene that foreshadows his return at the heroes’ darkest hour). Zootopia (a movie so predictable that I correctly predicted exactly what lines would be said and how they would be delivered at several points) somehow won an Oscar despite the story and the characters being far less interesting than the themes and the world presented in it.

Still, for all my criticism, I would like to make it clear once again that there’s nothing wrong with what Disney is doing. They’ve figured out a formula that works for their business. Their movies please crowds and make money. Not only that, but since they can reliably pull of the former, the latter is more likely to happen. Even someone as cynical of their process as me has to admit to having liked some of their recent movies. The fact is, you don’t always need great art. Sometimes, people just want to escape the dreariness of daily life and the latest neorealist art film isn’t an ideal means for doing so. Fluff might be fluff, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. The subject matter of much of this blog is proof of that.

It’s just that sometimes I wish Disney would take a real chance rather than putting on the appearance of doing so. Aim for the stars even if it means increasing the likelihood of falling into the mud. But then again, that’s not good business, and who am I to tell the people swimming in cash what they should be doing?

Little things that would have improved ‘Rogue One’

So I finally got around to watching the new Star Wars spinoff: Rogue One. My thoughts? Eh. It was competent but unmemorable. And while I could easily write a whole essay on my issues with it and the often poor arguments put up by those who are attempting to defend it, I decided instead that since those are already being covered by countless numbers of clickbait writers and critics of both the amateur and professional variety, I figure that similar to The Force Awakens, I’d just offer a few points of improvement that could have been made with the benefit of hindsight. Beware of spoilers!

 
1. Less Vader
I never thought I would ever argue such a thing given that he’s one of my all-time favorite fictional characters (I only bothered to read the comics featuring him despite being lukewarm on the whole new expanded universe I’ll have to keep some track of now). However, the fact is that I could have done with a little less Darth Vader in the movie. His meeting with Krennic doesn’t really add much to the movie (I didn’t even mind his one-liner), but given the positive reception a certain later scene of his has gotten among various viewers, I would make the serious argument that something along those lines should have been his only scene in the movie.

The problem with Vader’s usage in the actual film was that his prior appearances kind of take the wonder out of that final sequence. By limiting his presence before then to brief mentions, anticipation can be built before he finally makes a memorable cameo.

Just have Tarkin tell his subordinates to contact Vader before we see his star destroyer enter the field of battle and wreck the remaining Rebel fleet. Afterward, maybe have the crew of the Rebel ship inform their comrades that an Imperial boarding party has arrived. Throughout this entire time, Vader has been absent from the movie, as if to emphasize that this spinoff is less about the usual gang than it is the supporting players that made things possible for the good guys to come out on top. Then, as they gather at the likely entry point, the lights go out and there is a silence. This is suddenly interrupted by a soft sound that grows progressively louder and louder. It’s a familiar one: the iconic breathing of a certain Sith Lord. The characters on the screen freak out. So does the audience. And then the lightsaber ignites.

 
2. Do something with Krennic
Krennic was completely forgettable. Of course, one could say that about pretty much any character in the movie. This was a huge shame given that there was material there for a character I wouldn’t forget about as soon as I left the theater.

For one, there was his friendship with Galen. Perhaps they could have given this more emphasis, maybe even have it so that as a friend of her father, Krennic could have represented how the Empire twisted talented people into monsters and tore bonds, be they personal or communal, apart, just like how civil wars can rip apart families and communities. Maybe make him a guy who Jyn may have once referred to as an honorary uncle before everything went wrong to contrast with her two father figures. At least give him something.

Also, all that traveling that Krennic did felt kind of silly. I could understand him going to check on the facility to figure out who leaked the info, but what about Scarif and Mustafar? I guess with the latter you could say that he was trying to play politics against Tarkin, but this went nowhere and added little to the film. As for the former, I guess the script needed him to be on Scarif for whatever reason (I’ve already forgotten why).

 
3. Trim the cast
Quite a few critics have argued that one of the film’s prominent weaknesses is a rather weak cast of characters. They’re poorly fleshed out and by the time of the movie’s end, you just don’t care all that much about what happens to them. I suggest then that the cast be slightly trimmed so that more can be done with fewer characters.

To be more specific, I’d have merged the characters of Jyn and Cassian. Perhaps have it so that instead of just being tortured and apathetic lead number 1138, Jyn could have been a Rebel agent trained by Saw who fought the Empire less out of ideals than out of a desire for vengeance. Maybe even this motivation is starting to fizzle as she finds herself more and more burnt out from carrying out dirty work like Saw’s or having to kill informants lest they leak information after being captured like Cassian does in the movie. However, this all changes once she discovers that her father leaked a message.

In this way, the focus could be on her rediscovering her desire to fight the Empire, except out of a desire to serve a higher cause rather than a darker one like revenge, paralleling how the series itself is about fighting for the right reasons rather than falling into dark paths and methods. Furthermore, this way she would have the standing needed among the Rebels to make her speech and gather like-minded volunteers before the climax.

This trimming should also allow for more time with developing relationships, be they the ones Jyn has with her two father figures or the camaraderie that develops among the Rebel group the movie follows.

 
Bonus: The stuff that bugged me
First of all, I couldn’t help but notice how the movie’s opening seemed to be based less on what the characters would do rather than ticking a few boxes. In this case, leaving the lead character alone because her mom was dead and dad taken away by the Empire. Her mom dies a pointless death after being told to run when it is clear that her acting as she did was stupid due to the fact that she was heavily outnumbered. Maybe just go for the cliche of having her mom killed in a surprise attack on the homestead and her dad taken while Jyn hides in a bunker.

Second, what was up with the inclusion of the two bar thugs that harass Luke in A New Hope? Why did those characters have to be there given that they were on Tatooine not long afterward? Apparently they left Jedha just in time to avoid getting roasted by the Death Star.

An Update on My Progress

This is an update for those wondering why it’s taking so long for me to churn out the next post. For the record, I’ve been using what free time I have to work on the Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked of the next Naruto arc on my list, and boy is it taking me a while to write despite the arc being shorter than the multiple arcs that were focused mostly on Sasuke. It’s going to be a real doozy too given that after writing quite a bit, I’m still not even done with the first draft. Only now do I realize just how much there is to talk about there.

Here’s a bit of something to chew on while I try to finally finish the review: my suggestions for minor changes to The Force Awakens that would have made it so Rey’s growth felt less controversial. First of all, make her less invincible. In other words, don’t be afraid to have her fail and land herself in serious peril despite her best efforts. For example, while she did escape from her shackles near the end, she manages to avoid getting captured just fine without the aid of her friends. Maybe make it so that despite doing fine for a while, she eventually finds herself cornered, only to be saved by her friends. This would better highlight the importance of teamwork among the good guys (to contrast with how individual villains don’t seem to like each other all that much), as well as to emphasize that her friends were willing to come all that way to save her (in contrast to the family that abandoned her), in turn shifting her further away from her loner tendencies.

Second, instead of letting Rey develop the ability to apply the Force in different ways over the course of the movie, instead, as with the original Star Wars, focus instead on one skill that is mastered by the climax. In the original, it’s Luke applying what Obi-Wan taught him when he was practicing with the lightsaber in order to pinpoint the thermal exhaust port and guide the proton torpedoes to it. Instead of a mind trick then, perhaps have Rey escape her bonds using telekinesis. It could even be hinted at by having her unconsciously moving objects when under high levels of stress, which could in turn be used to indicate both her potential as well as emphasizing whatever emotional issues she has that could lead to the Dark Side (and in turn working well to foreshadow the risks of her hostile state of mind during the final parts of the confrontation at the end of the movie). Going back to telekinesis, this skill would become more prominent each time she used it during the movie. This would then come to a head when she overpowered Kylo’s own telekinesis to nab the lightsaber.

And that’s not even getting into making it so that her fighting style is far dirtier and more pragmatic than what we got in the movie. You’d think someone who had to fend for herself against a hostile planet would understand the value of not fighting fair. That would have been a cool way to differentiate her from Luke and Anakin while also showing similarities over which she could bond with Han “Shot First” Solo. It certainly would have been one way to show her gaining an advantage over Kylo Ren during their duel, if she just kept fighting dirty to make up for her lack of experience with a lightsaber.

How the hell does my mind expend so much brainpower on this crap?

Video Games, the Escapist Character, and a Bunch of Thoughts

I’ve previously explored the concept of the escapist character and how they relate to the audience. Characters like James Bond and Indiana Jones are less about character arcs and relationships than they are about thrills and adventure—that is to say, escapism. Such characters are broadly defined in a manner in which their simplicity ensures memorability. They are not so much surrogates for the audience, as they are what members of the audience wish they could be. These characters benefited in the later stages of the twentieth century from the popularization of a medium that could effectively take advantage of them, as the escapist character’s relationship with the audience was perfected through letting said audiences become the character. The medium I speak of, as should be obvious in the title, is the video game.

In a video game, players can take control of a character, and through them thus do things that they could only otherwise dream of. Even the average geek gorging out on nachos and soda can pretend for a time to be Batman or whatever larger than life character they wish to be.*

I’ve also previously written on the perils of adapting a video game for the big screen. The ingredients that make a great game do not translate into a great movie. A game is an interactive experience while a movie is a presentation. That is why great care must be taken even as one transplants what should be a cinema-friendly element—the escapist character—from a video game. One risk lies in the importing of certain characters that might not be able to succeed within the same niche upon transplantation into a new medium.

Given my previous digressions on Star Wars, I suppose it oddly fitting to bring that franchise to the fore once again because the damn theme is still stuck in my head. Prior to the changes made to the canon by Disney, two notably escapist characters were introduced into the fictional galaxy far, far away via video games. Revan and Galen Marek served their roles as escapist characters well within the concepts of the games they were introduced in (Revan in particular even had an appearance that was decided upon by the player), however, upon closer inspection, one can see various ways in which they were a poor fit for the old canon unless certain changes were made.

Revan’s shortcomings as a character lie in the fact that in many respects, he (according to the wiki, Revan is, or rather was, canonically a he) does in fact embody the Marty Stu. While the traits that do define him as such work for an escapist character, they fail to make him properly fit into the larger framework of the franchise, which eschews such characters in favor of broad archetypes that have the potential for developmental arcs. He is described by others as having mastered both the light (ergh) and dark (ugh) sides of the Force without succumbing (argh) to the temptations of the latter. In addition, he is also highly skilled in a variety of disciplines, talked up by others, and even gets the girl at the end. Now granted, this works well for an escapist character. However, this doesn’t quite work all that well within the wider mythos. Looking at it from a more distant vantage point, Revan’s existence undermines the later existence of Anakin Skywalker, the so-called Chosen One of unprecedented potential who, despite all his natural talent and wide variety of skills, was also a highly flawed person who ultimately failed to achieve any of his goals, but at least came to be redeemed and fulfill his destiny in the final moments of his life. It’s why it is so satisfying to see Revan lose badly in his confrontation with the Sith Emperor**, and then suffer further humiliations later on. But as bad as Revan was, there was arguably an even worse example of an escapist character who was more of a Marty Stu when considering the broader context: Galen Marek.

As the protagonist of a game that promised players a chance to live out their fantasies of kicking ass with the Force, Galen excelled in that capacity, pulling off great feats of ability with the Force and shifting the course of the galaxy’s history—an exemplar of power fantasy within the realm of video games. If Revan was but a point in which the audience could insert themselves into the SW saga, then Galen was just a good old fashioned Marty Stu. To bring you an idea of the insanity, let’s bring up how he’s portrayed as possessing such a huge amount of potential in the Force that he tops Yoda by telekinetically moving an entire Star Destroyer (!!!).

I know that size matters not, but holy shit. Galen is in fact, so skilled and so powerful to he manages to take on Darth Vader and win before proceeding toward a confrontation with Palpatine himself (!!!). Oh, and while he does die in the process, Galen does manage to successfully wound the Dark Lord of the Sith while also leaving behind a legacy of inspiring the founders of the then fledgling Rebel Alliance, the symbol of which is based on the Marek family crest (!!!). Are you laughing yet? I know I was.

Anyway, if Revan serves to undermine Anakin, Galen undermines Luke. He pulls off moves that make Luke’s development in the original trilogy look like a joke, and then proceeds to influence history to a degree that rivals that of the heroes in the actual films. It’s hard to see Luke as special and the last hope of the Jedi when others make him look like a noob.

While escapist characters in video games do have the potential to succeed when adapted to new mediums or within the context of a larger story, one should not immediately assume success without first ensuring that they are a proper fit.

 

 

 

 

 

* Afterword I: A Very Brief Digression into How the Video Game Narrative Can Be Manipulated By the Game Itself
Given its prominence, the concept of the escapist character and their role within the context of a video game has undergone some analysis within the context of video games themselves. Something other narrative mediums cannot do quite as well is outright mock the player for attempting to escape into a game.

For example, games like Spec Ops: The Line outright mock the players’ attempts to live out their fantasies of being a badass heroic soldier, taking apart the nature of such simplistic narratives in the face of the fog and fury of war.

** Afterword II: Author Inserts in Expanded Universe Works
Something that’s always irked me is how people writing material for expanded universes in established franchises often seem to feel the need to leave their mark by writing in blatant additions that either come into conflict with established canon or go too far in making their particular contributions bigger and better than what already is part of the franchise they are contributing to.

Look at the old SW EU and check out just how many authors felt the urge to write in characters, abilities, and devices that completely eclipsed what was presented in the films in terms of scale. In addition to the ridiculousness of Revan and Galen, we also had villains who rivalled Palpatine in terms of just what they could do despite Lucas outright calling Sheev the very worst and most powerful of the Sith Lords. We also had other superweapons that foreshadowed Starkiller Base and its ability to rehash, with visibly diminishing returns, the dramatic potential of the original Death Star.

It even expands to the serial escalation of The Force Awakens. It’s not enough that we have a new bigger and badder Death Star, no. It’s not enough that once again (remember what happened in the Star Trek movies?) J.J. Abrams has to arrange convenient methods of travel that cut down travel time for characters down to almost nothing (did anyone else think that Han’s new trick of going into hyperspace from or to enclosed locations was kind of ridiculous?). No, now, based on suggestions from materials beyond the movie, it’s suggested that Snoke has to be some sort of big bad villain whose scope makes Palpatine’s look minor in comparison. Palpatine, the closest thing to the Devil himself in the series. They knew they couldn’t top Vader, but they just couldn’t help themselves with trying to take on the other iconic villain in the franchise.

How Some People Miss the Very Point of Star Wars or Yet Another Star Wars Post Because It Won’t F-cking Get Out of My Head

Note that this is yet another Star Wars-related post because for some inexplicable reason the damned franchise won’t get out of my head. Hopefully it’s the last one for a while so I can get back to TTR/TTS. Also note that the opinions expressed herein are my own, and you are welcome to your own opinions regardless of whether or not they match up with mine, even if I personally think your opinions are wrong and you deserve to be laughed at for having them.

Point 1: The Tone
The series is not meant to be taken in any manner other than that of a callback to the adventure serials George Lucas enjoyed in his youth. While the series as a whole is not slavishly devoted to the pure pulp of the works that inspired it, as is evident in the darker turns introduced with The Empire Strikes Back, it is ultimately meant to, in the end, take those old stories and then proceed to tell them in new ways without losing sight of their essence.

Going all grimdark with Star Wars misses the entire point of the series, given that many modern audiences don’t appreciate the context into which the movies first entered the popular consciousness. After the rampant melodrama in mass entertainment in earlier years, cinema entered into increasingly dark, realist, and psychological periods, with the era into which George Lucas first made his mark being one known to some as New Hollywood, during which the biggest movies often were more artistic in their aims and often rather cynical. This in part explains how Lucas’ strange little movie managed to distinguish itself from all the other major releases coming out of Hollywood that year.

The movie called back to the films of yesteryear, which were more melodramatic, sillier, and more idealistic, even if they were also a lot kitschier in their stylings. Even with the darker turns the story took in the following installments, everything still managed to end on an idealistic note, which was fitting given the nature of the story.

It’s not that I don’t have a theory for why people seem eager to take the series apart and make it darker and edgier. People have grown weary of simplistic blockbusters in the modern age of Hollywood, an age that Star Wars’ massive success helped bring about. With this much saturation in the movie market, it’s hard to appreciate the earnest and simplistic way the movie communicates to audiences. In a way, the series is a victim of its own success. Some people want it to be different because what originally made it so different has been copied to death by other blockbusters, if to, for the most part, lesser success.

The problem with that is that once you take the franchise to darker places in side stories, the overall optimistic tone begins to seem questionable given the new information. How does one reconcile the inscrutable, yet seemingly benevolent Force with some writers’ later attempts to question this part of the premise? How does one reconcile the eventual conclusion that everything will turn out for the better at the very end despite the occasional victories of evil with the urge some writers have to say, no, in this case the darkness wins, and that’s final?

Point 2: Manichean Morality
Relating to the above points on the premise of the series is the rather simplistic morality of the story. Something that bugs me a lot about some of the non-movie material that was released as part of the franchise was a tendency to split the Force into a light and dark side, with the implication that both needed to be balanced out. This bothered me because one, it conflicted with how I interpreted the Force as laid out in the movies, and two, because it gave me the sense that people wanted to revise the morality of the Star Wars universe and make it into something more resembling that of Dungeons & Dragons or whatever other franchises are out there with moral ambiguity.

The Dark Side (note the capitalization of the words in the term) is not a different point of view. It is meant to represent a corruption of what is natural. The Dark Side is to the Force what cancer is to the body. There is no light or dark side, just the Force and its corruption in the form of what groups like the Sith espouse.

It’s why the climax of Return of the Jedi is so important. Luke’s physical triumph over Vader is not treated as such. Listen to the music during that sequence and you hear something mournful, because it represents the darkest moment of the story, when Luke finds himself sorely tested on a spiritual level upon seeing the benefits of giving in to the Dark Side. In fact, after disarming Vader, the music segues into the Emperor’s theme, indicating that the bad guys are this close to winning. Luke’s real victory comes when he rejects the pull of the Dark Side and decides to save his father’s life by affirming his decision to remain a Jedi instead of becoming Palpatine’s new apprentice. There is no moral ambiguity there. By making the choice that he does, Luke becomes the ideal Jedi and a pure force for good, in this way not only surpassing his father as a warrior, but also surpassing Yoda and Obi-Wan, who had been revealed as having manipulated a young man in the direction of killing his own father due to their lack of faith in the man who had once been Anakin Skywalker. It’s the culmination of Luke’s character development, as he has at that point mastered himself on both a physical and spiritual level.

People miss the point when they say that the Jedi were wrong to believe what they did about the Force, and that Yoda was simply biased in his teachings to Luke. Rather, what they should have taken from the movies is that while the Jedi had the right idea, the way they went about it was often flawed, just as the doings of a religion’s representatives do not necessarily reflect on the teachings of the religion itself.

It’s also annoying, if understandable given the at times questionable execution, when people completely misinterpret the Prophecy. There was no balancing in the Force by destroying the Jedi and Sith alike. The Jedi resemble Taoists in that they try to live in harmonious balance with nature, in this case, the Force.

While the original trilogy had the moment of triumph of all that was good be Luke’s rejection of the Dark Side, in the context of what was revealed in the prequels, the real victory thus comes after that moment. Anakin had seemingly failed to fulfill his part of the Prophecy when he joined the Sith and became Darth Vader. However, once Luke makes his decision, all the moving parts finally click into their proper places. It is Vader who can only look between his master and the son he wanted to so badly protect. It is Vader who says nothing as he is forced to choose between a continuation of his current life or certain death for the sake of saving someone he loves. It is Anakin Skywalker who makes the fateful choice to sacrifice himself in order to protect the person he cherished most. And in doing so, he destroys the Sith, destroys the corruption in the Force, and thus brings it into balance.

There’s no moral ambiguity there: good triumphs over evil. That’s all there is to it.

Well, at least that’s what it seemed to be until a certain storyline in The Clone Wars was confirmed as part of the canon. Honestly, I can’t even keep up with this franchise anymore. I’m too old and have too many responsibilities in the real world to geek out and memorize all sorts of minutiae like I could in my youth. But anyway, fuck everything; I still prefer my original conception of the story’s morality. Maybe if Disney sells the franchise somewhere down the line or something, a new canon will be established.

Still, regardless of the above, if I wanted moral ambiguity, I’d just check out another franchise which had such a thing as part of its overall premise. Star Wars is ultimately a very idealistic story, with a simplistic and idealistic morality to match. To take that away is to take away part of what makes it Star Wars and not some other story. Sure, you can play around with things as some entries in the franchise have, but to outright argue for some sort of moral ambiguity or balancing of the light and dark sides is to write stories that just aren’t Star Wars. When you introduce elements that contradict the very premise of the work, you either have to do them very well so that everything fits nicely, or you don’t do them at all. It’s why I didn’t mind when George Lucas clarified that anyone arguing that the Dark Side wasn’t necessarily a bad thing was just deluding themselves. In the end, for better or worse, the simplicity of the franchise is a defining part of it. It’s what makes it childish in many respects, but it is also what makes it easy to digest and relate to.

Ways the Next Star Wars Movie Can Improve Upon The Force Awakens or How I Learned to Write a Clickbait-Style Post to Compensate for My Inability to Finish the Posts I Want to Write

Welp, now that the hype has died down for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I can at last move on and hope to the Force that I don’t have to see yet another bit of merchandising associated with the franchise for a while. Personally, having watched the movie, I thought it an adequate entry in the franchise. I didn’t love it, but I thought it was a decent enough stepping stone for future episodes to work with that certainly indicated some improvement from the previous trilogy. Still, there were some noticeable issues I had with the movie, issues that hopefully will be rectified in future installments.

Here are some basic ways that the next movie can improve upon what we got from the previous episode.

Warning: there are some spoilerish details in this post so if you don’t care for that sort of thing, watch the movie wherever before reading the following.

1. Improve the Writing for Rey
I’m kind of on the fence on whether or not Rey falls into the Sue category. On the one hand, she is perhaps a tad too competent to ever come off as an underdog, is quickly loved and trusted by others, has no notable (and persistent) flaws, makes no real mistakes that harm her and the people close to her, and never seems to be in any real peril. On the other, perhaps her character and any shortcomings could be explored in future films (although this would then raise the question of just why the writers didn’t bother giving her some sort of prominent flaw to work past over the series given that she pretty much accepts that she has nothing to look forward to going back to Jakku). If she’s not a Sue, she does come dangerously, dangerously close, and she also doesn’t have the excuse of being an escapist character a la James Bond due to such characters not really working in a series like Star Wars.

The writing for Rey seemed to be an issue that plagues a lot of male writers whenever they try to write a strong female character. Maybe they just don’t know how to write women. Maybe they are afraid of being seen as sexist. But what often happens is that they wind up creating a character devoid of actual flaws (ex. A female lead who is clumsy, but clumsiness isn’t really much of a flaw to work with compared to say, an actual shortcoming as a person such as greed, racism, vindictiveness, possessiveness, and so on) who can’t be challenged on any meaningful level whether physical (notice that a lot of female action leads don’t really get hit all that much or show any signs of damage when they do, in contrast to say, John McClane in the first Die Hard, who is brave and resourceful, yet a clearly flawed person that steadily takes on more and more damage and stress over the course of the story) or otherwise.

A rather well written action heroine was Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. Where modern films might portray her as a standard badass with survival skills, T2 instead was willing to portray her as a flawed human being who had suffered a lot of emotional and mental damage as a result of her experiences. She was paranoid, prone to acts of extremism, was unwilling to develop relationships with either her son or other people (note that in contrast to the rapid bond she builds up with Kyle in the first movie, she’s mentioned as having shacked up with guys simply as a means of helping John learn the skills he needs to fulfill his destiny). In fact, it’s young John, who we first believe to be a mere delinquent, that possesses traits more associated with femininity in that he is the one who provides a moral compass for both his mother and the machine assigned with protecting him. This is how you write nuanced characters without allowing their sex or gender to limit what they can become.

Here’s just one possible thing they might do with Rey. Play on the fact that she’s a prodigy when it comes to a great many things. Maybe, just like the man who crafted the lightsaber she brought to Luke, she grows cocky as a result of her successes. Maybe this combines with the habits she developed growing up alone and seemingly friendless on Jakku to make her think that she doesn’t need to rely on anyone and can handle things herself once she’s been properly trained and has attained the necessary experience. Maybe seeing Finn in such bad shape as a result of trying to protect her makes her all the more afraid of connecting with others too closely and obsessing over becoming strong enough that she not only doesn’t need saving, but also in ensuring that she can protect those who mean so much to her. Think Anakin, except with much better writing. It’d also serve as a nice contrast with Luke’s own character arc in the original trilogy, which suffered from the fact that he faced far less temptation than Anakin had. It’d also be a great way to play on the concept of an action heroine and that of the damsel in distress, in that Rey’s distress would be not the result of her being a helpless weakling, but because of the character flaws stemming from her own strengths. Take what’s there and expand on it to create a character with various nuances to her, including her own vices and virtues.

2. Make Snoke an Actual Character or at Least Give Him a Presence
It’s not going to be easy replacing Emperor Sheev Palpatine alias Darth Sidious. Whether you loved his low key ham in Return of the Jedi or his over the top scenery chewing in Revenge of the Sith, the guy was just a fun villain to root against. In the former, he managed to exude menace as the personification of all that was evil in the series, while in the latter, he was a breath of fresh air and emotion in a sea of vapid dullness. Hell, his first name managed to make him an even more memetic character once it came out.

Snoke clearly is meant to be the overarching villain of this new trilogy just as Palpatine was for the previous two. Just like Sheev, he’s the brains behind the bad guys, and appears before his subordinates utilizing hologram technology that makes him look huge and imposing. So far though, I’m not sure what we have to work with. He’s clearly the bad guy, but there’s been little revealed about him as a character. In contrast to Palpatine, he wasn’t left completely to the imagination in the first film of the new trilogy (compare that to the original trilogy, where the emperor is only mentioned in A New Hope, appears through a hologram for one scene in The Empire Strikes Back, and then finally makes his proper debut in ROTJ, thus serving as a shadowy reflection of Yoda).

Hopefully this time we actually get something to characterize Snoke because so far he feels like Palpatine 2.0, except with nowhere near as much charisma.

3. Don’t Make Another Into Darkness
I can understand why TFA was basically a Greatest Hits Collection of classic SW. As with Abrams’ Star Trek, the studio needed to revive a cash cow franchise while also making it accessible to mainstream audiences. Like that movie, they basically made a sequel that was actually a soft reboot of everything, hence all the familiar tropes and other story elements, while also hitting the reset button to make the good guys the underdogs all over again (boy, does the happy ending in ROTJ look like the Rebels jumped the gun a bit in hindsight), and bringing in their very own versions of Vader, the Emperor, and the Empire (making everything the good guys worked for three movies ago kind of pointless).

But now that the hard part’s done, they can surely go off in their own direction, right?

Unfortunately, this is the cash cow franchise. As seen with the Marvel movies, Disney probably doesn’t want to take too many risks given how much money there is to be made with an IP they bought for over four billion dollars. It’s why they’re planning on running the franchise into the ground by releasing an episode every two years instead of three like the previous two trilogies, and why they’re also release spinoff anthology movies in between. It’s why Disney is making such a big deal out of how “inclusive” the franchise now is whenever they get the chance (and why “progressive” media outlets are so keen to swoop in on such developments). SW is a product, it always has been, and Disney intends to outdo even George Lucas when it comes to making money off of it, and that means creating a product that will appeal to as many people as possible. It’s not about politics or art or what have you. It’s about getting to what’s in your wallet by any means.

It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if the suits altered whatever script Rian Johnson turned in so that it would be more marketable. Yeah, maybe they might true to make their very own version of Empire, but honestly, given Disney’s desire to create a multi-movie universe in the vein of Marvel, they’ll probably stuff it to the brim with allusions to other SW movies and maybe even lift certain parts verbatim from other movies, just like Star Trek Into Darkness did.

Maybe I’m wrong and Disney is confident enough in the IP and people involved to handle the next episode with a light touch, but given stories about the behind-the-scenes antics at Marvel, don’t be surprised if the movie only appears adventurous only to turn out to be just adventurous enough to make the average schlep think it so, when it reality it’s a fairly safe picture that markets itself as adventurous (you know, like a lot of the Marvel movies).

Bonus: If There’s Actually a Space Battle or Dogfighting, Do a Better Job With It
As with The Phantom Menace, part of the climax of TFA involved dogfighting and blowing up a command center. And just like TPM, I honestly could have cared less about what was going on there. This was because of much more than the whole blowing up the Death Star bit being highly overplayed by that point. It’s also because I had no reason to feel invested in what was going on.

In contrast to ANH, where the movie’s focus was on the battle at the Death Star, and where the stakes felt huge because the Empire getting off a shot would destroy everything the Rebels had worked for, in TFA the focus was on what was happening on the ground. Aside from maybe Poe Dameron, all the characters the audience was supposed to care about were directly on the planet. Furthermore, there was nothing particularly exciting choreography-wise or even new with the dogfighting. ANH was something different yet so familiar, making it stand out from everything else that came out during that era. ROTJ, while rehashing the Death Star plotline, at least had the advantage of this being a vital part of the climax of the original trilogy in addition to showcasing just how far special effects had come since the original Star Wars.

If anything, the filmmakers should take a page out of the playbook from, of all people, George Lucas. Go nuts with depicting the sheer scale of battles, but avoid making the mistake of not focusing on crafting characters that the audience cares about. People are way more willing to accept over the top sequences so long as they are not only done well, but also when much of the tension surrounds the question of just what these characters the viewer is invested in must do to get out of the sticky situation they find themselves in.

Bonus: Fewer Cameos
One thing about TFA that should cause it to age less gracefully than the movies it tries to be a pastiche of is its inclusion of celebrity cameos. Cameos are by their very nature distracting, because they take the audience out of the story so that they can make remarks about Celebrity X suddenly appearing in a movie. Cameos also tend to date movies. When any flick features a celebrity cameo, it immediately dates itself due to the fact that big names of any moment will eventually fade into obscurity at some point or another. TFA managed to avoid most of the usual issues with cameos by only including celebrities as voices, although hopefully future films will just focus on telling a story.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Akatsuki Suppression Mission Arc

Following an arc best known for comments about dicks, Kishimoto decided to venture out of his comfort zone away from softcore gay porn the usual, instead giving readers an arc that had the protagonists relegated mostly to supporting roles while a rather popular member of the extended cast got a moment in the spotlight. Known also as the Immortals Arc among fans, this one saw Naruto begin training in earnest so that he might become a powerful enough ninja to overcome the obstacles standing in between him and Sasuke’s return. As this was happening however, two new members of the Akatsuki were introduced, and having already nabbed another jinchuriki, they began to head into the Land of Fire. Standing between them and their goals is a special anti-Akatsuki task force that includes the members of Team 10, with Asuma and Shikamaru taking rather prominent roles in the fight against the Akatsuki’s dark plans.

While not perfect, it was far better than the previous arc, offering fans hope that the Penis Arc was nothing more than an aberration, and that the manga would soon return to a level of quality familiar to those who had fallen in love with it in years past.

Things that Rocked: A Supporting Cast Member Gets Prominent Panel Time
Something I did rather appreciate during this arc was the slight shift in perspective to a different member of the cast. After the previous arc, readers needed a palate cleanser, and by giving more focus to Shikamaru, the series returned to something that had contributed to its popularity—paying attention to its supporting players. While the overall execution wasn’t always the greatest, I did appreciate the growth Shikamaru went through over the course of the arc as he began to fully embrace the responsibilities of adulthood and being a ninja of Konoha.

Something I also rather liked that wasn’t in the manga proper was the episode where the entire running time was devoted to seeing Shikamaru’s delayed response to Asuma’s passing. It was completely different from anything in the series then and now, and despite featuring no action whatsoever, it did a pretty nice job of exploring Shikamaru’s character through an appreciable mix of writing, direction, and visuals. If there is any aspect of the manga improved upon noticeably by the anime other than seeing action scenes in motion, it’s moments like this, and I can’t talk enough about how I really wish that the episode’s contents had been in the manga.

Things that Sucked: Everyone Else Feels Extraneous
The problem with all the focus given to Shikamaru, however, is that in attempting to do something different it merely shifted one of the bigger issues with Part II. During this Part, the supporting cast was often ignored or left with skeletal writing in favor of focusing on the drama surrounding the main characters, particularly Naruto and Sasuke. By switching to Shikamaru, it gave a supporting character time to shine, but at the same time ignored every other character or treated them poorly, just as the story had when it was focusing on the main characters.

Naruto’s subplot felt somewhat tedious to read through, and the overall execution was rather lacking (more on that later). I suppose part of it could be attributed to Kishimoto perhaps trying to convey the point of view of how other cast members see the rapid developments of protagonists in these types of stories, but even so, what went on here just didn’t really mean all that much, nor did it really change anything given that all Naruto really achieved was a new technique that he needed a later bout of training to perfect, which happened right after he did pretty much nothing of actual substance over the next arc and then some. It was around here that one began to see the problems that arose as Naruto began to feel less and less relevant to his own story with the growing prominence of the Uchiha plotline.

Other characters who suffered during this arc were Shikamaru’s fellow team members. Ino and Choji were…present for the arc’s events, and while both displayed some new skills, they didn’t really prove all that relevant to the overall outcomes. Shikamaru got to avenge his mentor, and they managed to struggle with Kakuzu alongside Kakashi before Naruto showed up to try out his new jutsu on a live subject.

As for Kurenai, another theoretically important character in the context of this arc’s events, I’ll be getting into that in a moment.

Things that Bugged Me: Asuma Signs His Death Warrant
In contrast to the tragic story of Sasori and Chiyo and the very personal encounters with Sasuke and Orochimaru’s group, here the villains were given less prominence so that the focus of the story was instead Shikamaru and his bond with Asuma. While it did contribute to making this arc’s antagonists somewhat lacking compared to previous ones (see more on this below), it was understandable given the greater focus on a particular character’s development during the arc.

One issue with the emphasis on this bond, however, was how it marginalized the importance of Asuma’s bonds with other characters such as Ino, Choji, and perhaps most importantly, Kurenai. While the issue was somewhat rectified later on during the War arc for the first two characters, there was still the issue of Kurenai not getting much attention despite her relationship with Asuma and being the mother of his child. You would think that this sort of thing might be more important instead of just being brushed to the side for the rest of the story for the most part.

Furthermore, something else I took issue with was how transparent Kishimoto’s intentions could be when it came to killing off characters. Aside from the expected cliché of killing off mentors to fuel a hero’s growth, you could always tell what he was planning simply by virtue of his deciding to give a character significant panel time all of a sudden. It was obvious in the case of Asuma, and it was also obvious in the case of Jiraiya later on. What makes it worse is that while the deaths of Hiruzen and Jiraiya related to both themselves as people as well as with those they had mentored (in fact, those two have strong parallels to each other), in the case of Asuma, it wasn’t as emotionally gripping simply because we didn’t see him and Shikamaru interact with each other all that much beforehand (in fact, we didn’t see much of Asuma at all).

Things that Rocked: Akatsuki’s Surface Goals
I make no secret of my fondness for villains. Where heroes often fall into a basic mold for the sake of being sympathetic yet easy for audiences to identify with, villains can more often take a variety of shapes and forms that often make them far more memorable as characters. Naturally, even with all the clichés associated with villains, I still have a fondness for these tropes done right. This is definitely true for what appeared at the time to be the revelation of the Akatsuki’s goals.

Even if the plan was a bit too complicated for some younger readers to keep up with, it did a great job of reflecting the themes and conflicts in the story. Of particular note is Pain’s belief that conflict is an innate part of human nature that turned out to be important later. Here, it reveals just how warped the shinobi system is, in that even those that the audience would consider to be evil are warped by it even as they attempt to manipulate the nature of the beast for their own ends.

Something that does bug me in hindsight though is the whole bit about all the money the organization was raising. Like a few other things in the story, it turned out to be completely irrelevant given that funding was not an issue of any particular importance to either Pain or Obito as the story moved forward. Perhaps if the Akatsuki had been raising money to aid smaller nations and gain allies, or even mercenaries, this might have been a useful detail, but it wasn’t, so there’s not much else to say about it.

Things that Sucked: Shikamaru’s Schemes
One of the issues with writing a highly intelligent character is that of an author whose intelligence is dwarfed by that of the character. How does one hope to handle such a gap between potential applications of intellect? I suppose an author might leave things to the audience’s imagination to avoid the problem entirely, take some time out of their schedule to do plan things out in meticulous detail, or even consult an outside source for some perspective on how to proceed.

Given how Shikamaru’s plans were written this arc, it’s safe to say that Kishimoto failed to do any of these things. Shikamaru’s plan to kill, or at least debilitate Kakuzu by taking advantage of Hidan’s jutsu is a major offender in this regard. While seemingly clever at a glance, the entire enterprise falls apart the moment you take even five seconds to think about it. Somehow, Shikamaru was able to not only prepare things so that he would just barely dodge out of the way of any attack Hidan sent at him (all the more galling given that for all he knew, Hidan could have had other tricks up his sleeve), and then proceed, without Hidan, an experienced if not all that bright ninja, noticing that he’d avoided the attack and instead somehow squirted Kakuzu’s blood so that it looked like Hidan had successfully gotten a sample of his (Shikamaru’s) blood. Oh, and while at it, he had to make sure that he was able to make it look like he’d been cut by Hidan’s attack in the process. All of this while having to somehow come off as being so tired and/or afraid of Hidan that he, for whatever reason, wouldn’t bother trying to disrupt Hidan before he could initiate his rather tedious jutsu.

But wait, there’s more. After that plan is carried out, the next logical step involves revealing that he’s set up a trap involving a large number of wires and explosive tags. Somehow, he expected to get to this part without Hidan suddenly revealing some technique or weapon that might take him out long beforehand. Furthermore, this was all under the assumption that his team would even last that long prior to him capturing Hidan’s shadow (in fact, given how dangerous even individual Akatsuki members turned out to be, you would think that they would have waited for more backup before engaging).

Some of the best plans are the simplest ones because anything with too many moving parts has more areas in which failure becomes a possibility. Shikamaru’s plans during this arc have so many moving parts that it is ridiculous that readers were supposed to swallow the idea that he was anything near a realistically competent genius rather than a poorly written attempt at one, making Shikamaru a clear example of what happens when a very smart person is written by an author who can’t be described with the same term.

Things that Bugged Me: Kakashi’s Ridiculous Stamina
One thing fantastic settings often benefit from is a little verisimilitude. While escapism in stories is definitely not a bad thing in the slightest, it often helps to have a little something familiar so that audiences have a foothold of sorts as they interact with a world beyond the mundane. Stories often do this with things such as protagonists who are relatable and need to have things explained to them, hence Naruto’s hilarious ignorance of the very world he’s been living in back in Part I. Verisimilitude also comes in the form of making the unfamiliar familiar. In movies like Star Wars, the used future aesthetic serves to create a sense of the setting being one in which people have actually been living in. Of course those machines lying around need a little maintenance. Verisimilitude also means that conflicts and themes in such fantastic stories are often familiar, because they allow audiences to relate to things that they themselves are familiar with. Blade Runner asks questions about what it means to be human or a person, as well as the value of life even as it explores the nature of synthetic beings that can easily pass for normal human beings. Avatar: The Last Airbender brings viewers an ongoing war in which the protagonists battle against an empire interested in personal profit that espouses an ideology of bettering those they conquer. Even individual scenes can convey something familiar. Again, to come back to Star Wars, the famous Binary Sunset sequence manages to mix not only memorable visuals and now classic music, but also the familiar and the unfamiliar in one package. The setting and the visuals are unfamiliar to us beyond that of a sunset in a barren desert, as we pay witness to the striking image of a young man watching two suns set. At the same time, the young man could be any young man (hence the importance of the everyman character), and the emotions he feels, his desire for more than the life he currently lives, combine the offer something highly familiar to the viewer. What is unfamiliar melds with the familiar, and with that becomes relatable to us.

The same is true even for Naruto, which gives us questions of systemic flaws and the banality of evil, revenge, longstanding grudges, and so on. It also gave us a more ‘mundane’ form of verisimilitude by creating a combat system with its own internal logic and limitations. One object of importance was that of chakra limitations. Even a highly skilled ninja like Kakashi was limited by the fact that in between his implanted Sharingan and his physical limits as a mostly normal human being (by the standards of the setting), he could only use so many jutsu despite his personal knowledge of, according to the story, hundreds upon hundreds of techniques.

Which was why it was rather irritating to see Kakashi suddenly break out multiple uses of the Raikiri/Chidori like it was going out of style, in addition to other techniques and constant movements, after saying in Part I that he could use it about three times a day, suggesting that proper usage even once in a fight takes a toll on his body (it probably doesn’t help that using it to its full potential requires using the Sharingan). Given that mere usage of his Kamui technique a couple of times wiped him out earlier (we didn’t even see him use other techniques other than those necessary to chase Deidara, and at the end of this arc he claims that using Kamui after all his hard work would have only required bed rest), you would think that all the fighting he did this arc would have forced him to take a breather, if not rest in a hospital bed (isn’t it funny how the first arcs of each Part have Kakashi needing bed rest after using his dojutsu?). I can understand him getting into better shape over the time skip, but this kind of increase in stamina borders on ridiculous. While the later Pain invasion would bring back the problem of stamina, things later took a turn for the worst during the final arc, when seemingly no one ran out of energy, or did only to suddenly start fighting again after a quick boost.

Things that Sucked: Confused Themes
Something else that really stuck in my craw was the confused manner of handling the theme of how revenge is inherently self-destructive. Here, revenge was portrayed as something that was alright so long as you didn’t drag others into it (or not, given that Kakashi had to babysit), and even justified against a major douchebag like Hidan.

The problem with such a portrayal is that when writers write something that goes against a prominent theme (trust me when I say that there will be further explorations of this issue in future posts), it’s either poor writing or an intentional act. In the latter case, it’s not necessarily poor writing if such contradictions are deliberately invoked for the sake of examination. Perhaps Kishimoto could have used this arc to raise questions about whether earlier views were too heavy-handed, and maybe revenge isn’t as bad as it sounds. Maybe it could have led into an ambiguous situation as it became a question of whether Shikamaru was trying to take down Hidan out of duty or out of a personal vendetta. But it wasn’t, and we got what we got.

Plus, why even bother leaving Hidan in a hole? Unlike Kakuzu, he appeared to truly be immortal and even helpless at that point. Instead of interrogating worthless mooks, why not grab the head and start interrogating it? It’s not like he could have run away. It also would have made Konoha’s job much easier if Hidan had known anything of importance.

Things that Sucked: Hidan and Kakuzu’s Handling
Remember when I mentioned that I love a good villain? Well, for this arc, we got two interesting specimens: Hidan, a foulmouthed religious zealot, and Kakuzu, a strange mixture between Frankenstein’s monster and Ebenezer Scrooge.

Both of them had a lot of potential. Hell, the material we did get was actually pretty good. Hidan was hilarious as villains in this manga get, and Kakuzu served as the perfect straight man. They had abilities that were both pretty awesome, and at the same time, exotic enough to keep up with the transhumanist motif of the Akatsuki.

It’s a shame then, that much of their depth was relegated to the databooks.

As should be obvious, when a character is introduced in a story, they have to be given some characterization. But when doing so, it is only proper to do it in-story. To do it outside of the context of the story is lazy writing. Now sometimes, it works, as in the context of Watchmen, which provided material in-between issues and hid plot points and objects of characterization subtly throughout the main story in order to supplement what was already there. One didn’t need to read the supplementary material to appreciate and understand what was going on, but readers could do so anyway because of the further insights provided by said material, which offered greater depth to an already great story.

With Hidan and Kakuzu, we got hints of their stories, but we never really understood the why of their characters. And when we were given this material, it only came in the databooks.

It was like the Star Wars prequels all over again. Supporting characters were given little for the audience to work with, but we were expected to know who and what was going on because for some inexplicable reason, they expected us to buy all sorts of material that tied into the movies.

Let me repeat my earlier point: there’s nothing wrong with supplemental material. Done right, it can add richness to a story in a way that would otherwise be impossible within the confines of the plot. However, supplemental material should never be used to add depth to a shallow pool. A story should provide its own depth, but can afford to give an idea of the character. Supplemental material should do just what its name implies—supplement the story.

When you use supplemental material to provide depth that was not there in the first place, you’re committing the sin of bad writing.

Now, I’ve heard rumors from around about why this was so. Apparently, Kishimoto’s editors wanted him to speed things up so the story could get back to Sasuke (and look how that turned out). I also heard talk (the validity of which I question) that Kishimoto’s own personal life had its own issues at the time, further impacting the execution of the arc.

But before we go off on a tangent, remember that I’m here to talk about Hidan and Kakuzu’s poor handling, so let’s get to that.

Hidan was a fun villain. I’ve mentioned that. But his problem was that he was just so flat and so limited in his move set. We never got to understand how or why he became what he was, which stands out in a story that tries to provide sympathy toward a good number of antagonists. Now done right, this could work.

The Joker from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is a great example of this. So is Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. Part of the horror they inspire stems from the mystique that results from their lack of a past: it creates a sense that these characters are less typical psychos and more forces of nature or evil than anything.

Hidan however, just didn’t give off the same vibe. He came across more like a whiny psychopath. Could he be creepy? Yes. Could he be hilarious? Yes. Did he provide enough of each to stand on his own merits? Unfortunately, no, at least within the context of the manga. Maybe, as with real life psychopaths, he was meant to be a prick with no sense of empathy that lacked much in the way of depth. If so, then, as I said, he should have been entertaining enough that this lack of depth didn’t matter. Take a look at Palpatine from Star Wars. While a deliberately flat character who was written that way in order to emphasize his status as the story’s ultimate force for evil, Ian McDiarmid’s hammy performance was so memorable that not only was he an iconic character in the original films (all the more noteworthy given that he only really appeared in person for Return of the Jedi), but some would argue that he was easily one of the best parts of the prequel trilogy.

The second problem with Hidan is his extremely limited jutsu set. All we got was his predilection for sharp objects like scythes and retractable pikes, and his Jashinist curse jutsu, which may play a role in his immortality. That’s great, and while his being immortal would be enough to attract Akatsuki’s attention, and his fundamental skills were solid enough to go toe to toe with elite jonin, his limited skill set allowed for Shikamaru to quickly figure him out and deal with him accordingly.

It’s a real shame considering that Hidan’s motif appeared to be shinigami and curses, along with religion-based powers, all of which provide ample material for Kishimoto’s imagination to work with.

Instead, we got Hidan getting taken down by a lone chunin. A chunin with one of the highest IQs in the manga, but a chunin nonetheless. And one with a questionable series of plans at that (see above).

As for Kakuzu, he was basically like a bounty hunter. So think Boba Fett with ninja skills and a hair trigger temper. In contrast to Hidan however, he was an older and wiser “immortal”, preferring to play it smart during his fights, even if his defeat was controversial to say the least.

But one thing stands out for Kakuzu. It’s the back story provided in the databook. He started out as a loyal shinobi of Takigakure that was unlucky enough to be sent on the seemingly impossible mission of assassinating Senju Hashirama.

The same Hashirama whose influence is still felt in the manga. The same Hashirama who regularly went mano-a-mano with Uchiha Madara, a character whose very name inspires dread in characters old enough to know he was, and won.

So, to the surprise of no one, hindsight being what it is, Kakuzu failed. And was punished for his failure. Then he somehow became convinced that only money could be trusted and betrayed his village.

There’s a backstory with potential right there. I mean, come on. If you’re going to bring up several challenging themes in a manga where one of the main character’s goals is changing the system, then maybe this particular back story might be something to really look at.

It’d be great to question the value of staying loyal to a village that sees its troops as ultimately expendable soldiers. In fact, by having him meet with Naruto, Kishimoto could have added more substance to the character’s later desire to completely overhaul the shinobi world. It might even add something to Naruto’s later inner conflict over the matter of the villagers calling him their hero in spite of their earlier treatment of him.

Kakuzu even did battle with Kakashi, a guy whose father suffered for doing what he believed was the right thing instead of succeeding with what was apparently a rather important mission. This is the guy whose father was ostracized by his own team mates and fellow villagers for doing something that is consistently considered a good thing by Kishimoto. I’m surprised that Kishimoto never really explored such an interesting concept and tied it in with his larger exploration of the shinobi system.

Beyond all that, there’s also something that bugged me in hindsight. Why did the duo feel the need to go deeper into enemy territory despite all the attention they had attracted with their attack on a temple and killing of an elite jonin? Sure, Kakuzu’s defining trait is greed, but he seemed smart enough to realize that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to keep at what they were doing. Nabbing a jinchuriki would be even more difficult with every Konoha ninja alerted to their presence.

So what happened here? Was it Kishimoto’s own shortcomings as a writer? Was it his editor? Was it the higher-ups at the magazine? The answer’s not quite clear, but the results are. The villains just weren’t handled all that well.

Things that Sucked: Naruto
This arc was the moment when some readers began to realize that the protagonist they’d rooted for up to this point was in the process of undergoing a transition from loveable underdog to a train wreck of a character.

The first sign of this was the fact that he needed a training arc so early on into Part II in spite of not having really shown readers much in the way of how he had progressed as a ninja. It made the time skip seem somewhat pointless except as an excuse for Kishimoto to give characters new designs.

To add to this, despite Naruto’s supposed desire to grow into an adult by crossing the metaphorical bridge by handling Kakuzu all by his lonesome, in the end, he wound up completely screwing up the first time, and needed the real adults to save his sorry butt. Had this failure been not only pointed out but also expanded upon, it might have meant something. Instead, it was merely brushed aside so Kishimoto could give Naruto yet another Rasengan variant so that the people making the video games had something new to work with.

Also, when you think about it, Naruto’s solution to the problem with perfecting the unfinished (and when one considers the cost of using it given the nature of the jutsu at the time, highly impractical) elemental Rasengan technique wasn’t all that amazing given that it was pretty much a retread of how he managed to use the Rasengan despite his less than stellar chakra control back in Part I. Problems getting multiple steps done? Get a clone to carry out at least one of them.

Another nit to pick has to do with Naruto’s clone training and how such a potentially broken training method didn’t pop up as an option before. I suppose that when you think about it, the training method used during the arc simply hadn’t been considered before due to the impracticality of a normal person trying to speed things up by dividing their chakra among shadow clones. Only someone with a massive amount of chakra available to them could have even considered such a thing, yet said amounts of chakra often come with a less than cooperative biju, impacting chakra control, to say nothing of having to actually know how to use the shadow clone technique in the first place.

Some of these issues fit into my next topic of interest.

Things that Sucked: Telling, not Showing
A rather bad habit Kishimoto has is his tendency to tell rather than show. All fledgling writers learn early on that one of the hallmarks of quality writing is the ability to show rather than tell. For example, rather than going into a detailed back-story on how hard the life of a particular character is, one might instead show this by depicting the psychological effects of said life on that character, or even display physical traces of this back-story. If said character is a traumatized soldier for example, the author might include details such as a thousand yard stare and various battle scars. Or if a character is said to be a good influence on a certain person, this should be illustrated by showing how their shared interactions are rubbing off positively on that particular person. The point is, when writing, one must show rather than tell, as failing to do so is both poor and lazy writing.

There are plenty of examples, including the fact that the “elite” ANBU are often turned into chew toys for elite opponents, but one example that stood out in the earlier stages of Part II of Naruto is the level of skill possessed by the main character. Early on into the time skip, Naruto is constantly being praised as having grown stronger, which is shown in what little is seen of his displays during the second bell test. However, Kishimoto went overboard and made it so that other characters were not only saying that Naruto had gotten stronger, but went as far as to imply that he was quickly becoming an elite ninja. The reader gets statement after statement saying that Naruto is altogether amazing, even though what is seen fails to communicate this for the most part.

It felt particularly atrocious after the first training session during this arc, as after somehow overcoming Kakuzu with a basic trick and learning a new jutsu (along with the fundamentals of chakra shape and elemental manipulation), Kakashi started exclaiming that Naruto had perhaps surpassed him. This in spite of the fact that while one shiny big jutsu is a pretty awesome addition to any character’s arsenal, it doesn’t change the fact that fundamentally speaking, it did not seem that Naruto had surpassed his teacher. An amateur basketball player might be able to dunk on par with Jordan, but it means little if said amateur is lacking in the fundamentals compared to the professional player he’s having a one on one game against, especially if said professional is skilled enough in all areas that, while he may not be Michael Jordan, he is good enough to school said amateur in all other aspects of the game.

I know that Kishimoto had to rush that arc, and as a result, this ended up making a lot of things look odd, including Naruto’s sudden development into a ninja on par with Konoha’s best jonin as well as Hidan’s being a one trick pony despite being a member of the frigging Akatsuki. I just wish that, as rushed as Kishimoto was, Naruto was portrayed as developing in all areas of being a ninja, such that when he did take down Kakuzu, it was clear to even the most casual readers that he had truly grown.

This may have had side effects later on, as Kishimoto proceeded to rush Naruto’s skill development by having him master both Sage Mode and use of biju chakra in a ridiculously short time frame, both in-story and on a meta level. The first of those in turn led to another moment where characters stated that Naruto had surpassed his benchmarks; this time, they were referring to Jiraiya and Minato. I can understand the former to some extent given Naruto’s mastery of Sage mode even if his other skills were comparatively lacking, but the latter? We hadn’t even really seen the Fourth in action up to that point, so the claim fell rather flat.

Things that Rocked: World Building
If I did appreciate something about the arc, it was the way it served to expand readers’ understanding of the world. Two things stand out: the elucidation on the various chakra elements and the sociopolitical landscape of the five great nations.

The nature of chakra affinities, the five primary elements available to the general population and the mixes that required a genetic predisposition, were all rather fascinating. There was even a hint at the concept of yin and yang manipulation. While there was some retconning of the mokuton element given earlier implications that it was a secret technique limited to the First Hokage, on the whole it did serve to crystallize the nature of chakra affinities and the limitations of an individual shinobi’s skills.

Meanwhile, we also learned quite a bit about the current situation on the continent courtesy of Pain’s monologue. The explanation of the issues that arise when a group of war-based economies finds itself forced to adapt to an increasingly stable geopolitical situation in a way reflects many real life issues surrounding military-industrial complexes and the ever changing nature of warfare over the past century. Elements like this not only relate the one of the ever present conflicts of the story, but also serve to breathe further life into a fictional world. It’s a shame then that aside from foreshadowing some of Amegakure’s grievances and being brought up at the Kage Summit later, the issue wasn’t really explored again. It’s also a shame that the later War Arc proceeded the way it did, given that if Tobi had thought about it, he could have set up a situation where mercenaries and smaller villages might jump at a chance to get back at the larger countries that were content to bleed their livelihoods dry (kind of like how the legacies of past foreign policies and colonialism by wealthier nations have fed into a backlash highly visible in today’s geopolitical landscape).

Conclusion
After the hot garbage that was the previous arc, readers needed an arc that was at the very least readable to not immediately dump the series. What they got was an arc with some very clear flaws and wasn’t all that great, but at the same time managed to get some things right in a manner that differed from the previous format of Part II. It was a sign of hope, a light in the wilderness. Little did readers know that darker times lay ahead, and while this arc wasn’t a complete waste, it was but an indication that Naruto was long past its prime, even if it didn’t seem that way at the time.

What followed this arc was an event that split the fandom, an event some would call THE YEAR OF SASUKE.

P.S. As you may have noticed, for some reason, I peppered this review with references to Star Wars. That wasn’t intentional. It’s everywhere, and it’s even planted itself into my thoughts. In fact, I blame Disney for saturating every single little thing with the franchise. I’m a fan of the series, but geez, at this point I’m on the verge of running off into the woods just so those damn marketers will stop getting into my head and infecting my brain with the desire to see the new movie and buy the new merchandi—AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

So About a Certain Movie Coming Out This December…

With about a month to go until a certain franchise about battles in space releases its latest installment, the Disney hype machine has been in overdrive. Casual moviegoers are being inundated by a flood of marketing geared at making sure that butts will be filling seats in December.

As for me, I’m kind of wary given my skepticism of certain revealed elements of the plot and the memories of disappointment associated with the prequels. Let’s go into the latter element for the sake of this post.

I can still recall the major hype leading up to The Phantom Menace, and just how excited seemingly everyone was. There was nothing quite like it. You had nerds and normal people alike open to waiting in line weeks before the movie came out. Mad Magazine was able to dedicate an entire issue to the phenomenon that was Star Wars Mania around the time of the film’s release. You kids who were too young (or not even born yet) might not remember, but it didn’t feel like a movie release so much as an event. Take the hype you see for any product’s release nowadays, and multiply it by a factor of insanity. This was all the more amazing given that the Internet was not nearly as prominent as a means of mass communication as it is today. Kids might think that today’s blockbusters are huge, but if they think that, then it’s clear that they were not around for the original release of TPM. As big as this new movie looks to be, it just doesn’t quite match the madness of 1999. And how could it?

TPM was, like the new movie, released quite a while after the previous film: 16 years, in fact. To know that the iconic cash cow franchise was releasing a new installment after all that time was too amazing to describe for anyone who was a fan of the original trilogy. There was so much excitement as people were willing to wait in line for so long and among such crowded masses that you would have thought that TPM was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. There was no way it could have met the hype even if it was as good as the unedited version of The Magnificent Ambersons. Even then however, we all hoped that it would at least be on the level of the previous films.

So just like everyone else, I waited in line despite the fact that doing so at the local theater was akin to waiting in line at Disneyland at peak hours. Like everyone else, I was caught up in the frenzy that was the anticipation for a new Star Wars film. And like everyone else, what I got out of it was The Phantom Menace.

Now I sit here with a lot less anticipation and a little wariness. I’ve been burned before. As with many other fans of the originals, I still recall the sting of disappointment that was TPM. I still remember the disappointing follow-ups, but even then, they were merely the cherry on a shit sundae. To think that people had waited 16 years for TPM. No movie could possibly hope to disappoint as many people and as many expectations so harshly. Yeah, Age of Ultron and The Dark Knight Rises* were letdowns, but they didn’t have nearly as high a series of expectations, as huge a pairing of hopes and dreams, associated with them.

But who knows, maybe Abrams will find a way to make a worthy successor to the originals. But until then, I just can’t buy into the hype.

P.S. I might just have done a very bad thing. Yesterday, I caught my mom, who, while not a fan of the franchise, still was into it enough that my childhood included watching (and re-watching) VHS copies of the original movies (and I’m not talking about the 1997 re-release with its edits), watching all sorts of documentaries and fan films pertaining to the franchise on YouTube. She even went as far as to watch the Christmas Special!

Seeing that she appeared to be in the mood for anything Star Wars, I recommended that she check out Red Letter Media’s Plinkett Reviews. After the fact, I wonder what I have done.

* It’s telling that the best thing to come out of the latter film was Baneposting.