Rogue One: Adding to that Story from a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Away

My first blog post at this new location was all about Star Wars, written just after I had seen The Force Awakens. I won’t go over old ground too much because my views haven’t really changed since then. Suffice it to say, I was in the slightly younger edge of the target age for Star Wars IV: A New Hope when it first came out back in the 1970s, bang in the age bullseye for Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, and slightly over the target age range for Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi. I was disappointed by the first trilogy, but loved Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.

Having read some reviews and dipped into the new ‘established wisdom’ (or so it seems), I’ve been thinking about why I like the ones I like, and where I think the discordance is.

A New Hope remains a cracking good adventure that deftly introduces a bunch of characters you quickly begin to like. It helps that they’re tropes, to a large extent, but with elements of originality and played well to take the predicable edge off. Its place in the annals of successful blockbuster film-making is well-earned. Empire is the near-perfect sequel – characters and situations flow almost seamlessly from Hope. It doesn’t seem to be a re-hash, but actually the story beats are similar enough. Empire remains a firm favourite of mine, but truth be told I know it would struggle as a standalone. Jedi is immense fun, and while the adventure continues apace I have trouble with the character arcs. I think it’s where the flaws in how George Lucas approaches storytelling are first made obvious. I am referring to the jarring revelations about Luke and Leia’s relationship. I remain of the view that Lucas made that bit up as a tack-on.

Even though I was never part of Star Wars fandom, I did feel the gap between Jedi and Phantom Menace. In a way, it was similar to that experienced by Doctor Who fans of the original series that stopped regular TV broadcast in 1989 and didn’t return to TV until 2005. There were rumours, often quashed, and then when the rumours became real it never seemed quite real until cinemas were booked and tickets went on sale.

And, yes, I was one of those terribly disappointed by how Star Wars returned. I think that the main trouble was in the casting of Anakin (too young in the first, and the worst actor possible to play him as a troubled teenager and young adult). We should have seen a study in the descent from troubled good to pure evil that is yet redeemable by Luke’s innocent belief that his father cannot be all bad (or what does it mean for him?). Also, I don’t think the story beat was in sync with the middle trilogy. After all, why the need to have a whole series added in to tell the key story of the Clone Wars if it was all done so masterfully?

Having said that, though, I do still enjoy watching them.

I was wary of Force Awakens, but blown away by it. I rarely go to the cinema these days (lots of reasons why) so to go an see a film twice on its first release is a bit deal for me. I recognise that nostalgia plays a role in my love of it, but there is more to it than that. I’ve seen comment that it’s just a copy of A New Hope, but I don’t think it’s that simple either. I think people are confusing a particular plot structure that works because the characters and set-pieces flow (Jedi’s the same as Hope, only it didn’t work quite as well because the character arc rang a discordant note, in my opinion).

My ranking of the Star Wars films in order are: Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope, Force Awakens, Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, Attack of the Clones, and then Phantom Menace. My favourite watching order is IV, V, (I), II, III, VI, VII.

Which brings me to Rogue One.

I am aware of a lot of nonsense surrounding it connected to the horrible political space the world is in currently. Some of it surfaced around the time Force Awakens was released and is entirely in the GamerGate and Sad/Rabid Puppies world as far as I’m concerned. I’m a Doctor Who fan and I have never been able to fathom the ‘fan as hater’ thing. Rabid hatred totally out of all proportion, and so often targeted against people who are just making entertainment, and in some small cases trying to make said entertainment reflect and appeal to a wider audience than just white, straight, cis men who speak English as their first and only language.

I watched some of the trailers, which made me smile as I realised the whole object of the film was to tell the tale of the many Bothans who died bringing the plans of the Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. Only it doesn’t, really, but that’s okay. It tells the story of Jyn Erso and a rag-tag bunch of interesting characters thrown together – mostly reluctantly – to steal the plans of the highly secret Death Star to a Rebel Alliance struggling to stay allied. It’s a great romp, with real heart in terms of the terrible effects of tyranny on mostly ordinary people.

I have a feeling it has made as many continuity errors as it fixed.

I admired the CGI that brought back Peter Cushing OBE to the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, but was also distracted by it. The odd twitching of his facial muscles…

But, the character arcs were terrific, and the battles spectacular and actually awful. If you know the Star Wars saga reasonably well, then you knew the inevitable conclusion, and it drove to it in what I thought was perfect sense and with a chaotic sense of humour (the rebellion are clearly not great strategists). It neatly stitched the first trilogy to the second with Senator Bail Organa getting his adoptive daughter Leia into the action to take the stolen plans to safety from a terrible space battle via an old friend in hiding who might be able to help…

Nine Worlds Geek Fest 2016

I have been to each and every Nine Worlds to date, and have blogged my thoughts about them previously: 20132014 and 2015.

The big change was the venue. Nine Worlds has shifted from Heathrow to Hammersmith, in part because of the trouble that the last venue caused, but also because of location and the plans the organisers have (as I understand it – apologies if I’ve got that horribly wrong! Happy to amend). This year we were at the Novotel West London, a large convention hotel quite close to the bus, overground and underground hub and near a range of food options. Ironically, perhaps, because the venue put on reasonably priced food and drink, and a decent range (given the usual caveats of convention food). Not a lot of choice, but they did cater as far as they could for diverse diets. Even though it was in the convention handbook,  I think people didn’t realise that the convention had a minimum spend to meet – I don’t know if they did, but I hope they did.

The main bar was fab, and we were lucky with the weather being sunny. It meant we could spill out to the outside areas. The bar staff were such a contrast to the staff last year it’s really not fair to compare them. They actually worked as you would expect bar staff to – actually serve you drinks you want, and then deal with the payment, in a reasonable time. They responded to peak times, and were efficient in clearing away mess. They also replenished the much-needed water supply in a way that I don’t think people really noticed – apart from those of us who had noticed the tardiness at the last hotel over that very matter. The other bars were a not quite as well stocked, but that was to be expected, and all the staff I interacted with during the convention were polite and keen to help. I learned during the convention that Nine Worlds had trained some of them in diversity matters, which showed. I heard and saw a few people say that staff had commented favourably about the convention, too, which is nice.

I had no problems at all with the free wi-fi in any part of the convention space, or my room. That was an astonishing contrast to the last four hotels I’ve stayed at either for Sf conventions or my work where it’s been abysmal.

(Outside of the convention the hotel was a little bit less brilliant; the check in on Thursday was slow even for those of us who had checked in online, and I noticed the difference in breakfast – and reflected how I was more used to better service once the convention deal had stopped. Nothing dramatic, by the way, but noticeable.)

The convention itself featured many cool cosplayers, and I massively rate the tokens method having been at another convention this year where they have a costume event. I have too many to list that were amazing – I did think the Zombie London 2012 Gamesmaker was fab, and I loved the two EU flags.

There was the same sense of learning from errors of the past, but also settling into an expectation of being a safe space for the diversity of sexual orientation and gender, and disabilities (including invisible), and for families and children of all ages. There is still a problem with being overwhelmingly white, but I am aware the organisers are painfully aware of it and trying loads of things to address it. My own personal commitment is to step down from any panel if there is a person of colour who wants to be on it but for whatever reason wasn’t invited.

My interactions with the various volunteers were all positive, and helpful. Clearly they knew what they were doing, and loved it.

I wasn’t involved at all in the organising, but have always been on panels. I knew they experimented with a slightly different approach to the past organisation along tracks. I think it worked quite well, but there were a couple of things that need improving for next time. Timing being one – seemed a bit long at some stages, and then at meal times a little rushed. Not a drama, and I wonder if it was because there was a lot to do with the change of venue, and four years in a row is a substantial commitment for any convention. Words can be hollow, but I would volunteer in a heartbeat (or two) if my job, writing life and health weren’t quite so demanding. I don’t want to volunteer and then not deliver. If things change, then I will reconsider. I love Nine Worlds and its ethos, and enjoy being a part of it.

I was on three panels, all of which were tops. Really good other panellists, and terrific audiences. They were the one on Star Wars and canon, Doctor Who canon (2005+ series, but of course we went back – timey-wimey allows that, nay encourages it!), and Ewoks! I had been a little bit nervous about the Star Wars ones because while I love the movies (in general) I don’t consider myself a fan. My fears allayed very quickly because both panels were about diversity of experience, of course. It’s Nine Worlds. Which meant that the usually fraught with danger discussion of Doctor Who‘s canon was lovely and fun. Little note: we were able to talk about Rogue One for the first Star Wars panel in the light of the new trailer released just before the panel; and in total contrast, we held a minute’s silence for the memory of Kenny Baker, who died over the weekend and we got the news just before the Ewoks! panel. We then celebrated his life, especially his role as an Ewok.

No blanket forts this year (as far as I’m aware), but there was Panel Panel before Bifröst (the disco bit of it). I do hope it returns next year.

But, mostly, for me the three days were full of great conversations about all sorts of things with an incredible range of people. If there’s a mark of how much I enjoyed it, it might be this. I am going to World Con in Helsinki next year. There’s a little bit of uncertainty with my job next year (nothing bad, but I am aware that until I know for certain what I’ll be doing after May next year I can’t really plan beyond my already made commitments) and I had decided to give Nine Worlds a break and just do World Con. But, instead, I’m going to incorporate planning around the potential to do both Nine Worlds and World Con, and have a bit of a holiday in and around Helsinki.

A Rumination about a Story from a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

I was nine when Star Wars first turned up, but probably closer to ten when I first saw it. Exactly the right age to be wowed by the space battles, the simple tale of good vs evil, even not be too bored by the lovey-dovey bits between farm boy Luke and kick-butt ‘princess’ Leia. I loved the crazy creatures, and the music. I think I saw it once at the cinema proper, but then we stayed at my grandmother’s during school holidays when it was on at the drive-in. From the front of her place we could see the screen. I watched it many nights in a row.

I saw Empire Strikes Back at the cinema and it became a firm favourite. I remember the earnest discussions among my school friends about Darth Vader being Luke’s father, the blossoming relationship between Luke and Leia, and the complication of Han Solo. Empire is still my favourite of all of them.

We collected the action figures.

In 1983 my best friend and I scored tickets to the first night screening of Return of the Jedi. I still remember when the movie mags I devoured knew of it as Revenge of the Jedi. Then it changed. I remember loving the speeder bike chase, and laughing at C3PO and the Ewoks. Being dumbfounded by the revelation that Leia always knew she was Luke’s sister! Really? Er. Nope. Argh.

Was I a fan? Yes, to the level of loving the films. I read the books, and listened with fascination to the extended radio play versions of Star Wars. I watched them when I could, but while I played with the idea of writing some fanfic, I never completed any. Stopped collecting all the novels. Kept an ear out for news on the other six movies and then stopped thinking they would.

Then in the 1990s they announced they were making the first set of three films, and I didn’t believe them.

I saw the Phantom Menace at a midnight screening on its first day of release in Sydney, and wasn’t exactly blown away. It had some good set pieces, like the pod race that just went on a bit. I can see why people hate Jar Jar Binks, but I found him okay. The only thing was the odd possible racism, which I’m not sure about. Don’t want to reject it, but equally not sure it was intended as a bad thing. My main thought was: it was a dull movie. I wanted to be wowed, and instead we got slightly cod socio-economics and politics that didn’t quite add up. And as for Anakin Skywalker being that young? Nope. Didn’t work for me. And while the C3PO joke was fun I’m not sure it was entirely worth it. Suitable retconned later, though, so hey. [Imagine a shrug.]

But, the SFX were amazing, and the music. I don’t not watch it in re-watches of them all, but it leaves me cold. I did watch the DVD documentaries when I first got the releases and I remember the Lucas-chosen kid over another who looked a more credible age and from his show reel could act. Ah well.

The Clone Wars were something referred to in reverent tones in the various other movies and ephemera I had loved as a kid and young teenager. I keep renaming the Attack of the Clones to the Clone Wars, and I haven’t actually seen the series. I thought the film better than Phantom Menace, but still felt a bit flat. Hayden Christensen is terrible, but I enjoyed the whole Kenobi plot uncovering the strange order of a clone army. Laughed with joy at the idea that the Stormtroopers are all Maoris.

Revenge of the Sith plots the creation of Darth Vader and should leave us at a decent jump off point for what will always be the original Star Wars – A New Hope. Now if Anakin was played by someone who could act that might have been achieved. But, the horrors that Anakin unleash on the Jedi order in his service to Palpatine (who is brilliantly played by Ian McDiarmid) don’t quite work. Padme’s record-breaking pregnancy, and the strange dying of a broken heart thing. Just not quite right. Christopher Lee is brilliant, of course, and his casting brings a nice symmetry to the series that started with Peter Cushing as Vader’s man on the Death Star.

And that was that. Two excellent films, three okay films, and one dud – all in terms of my enjoyment levels. I’ve watched all of them more than once so there’s that.

Am I a fan? No.

Do I have a fondness for the films? Yes.

I was very sceptical when news broke about The Force Awakens. The title didn’t grip me (still doesn’t), and I’ve only seen one of the many teasers. The proper ones. The first one I did watch in its Lego version, and did shiver at some of the old tropes. The old music.

I didn’t book a seat immediately. Yeah, once bitten.

Then people started to tweet positive things about it. It was fun. Back to basics. I thought I’d book a seat before spoilers started to to leak, and I’m glad I did.

I’ve seen it twice now (and shall leave it at that at the cinema – I’m no longer the kid I once was and time is precious), and both times I was taken back to that time a long time ago, when I visited that galaxy for the first time.

No spoilers now, but what I love about the film is the fine balance of new (I love Rey, Finn and BB8) and old (ah Chewie, Han, Leia, Luke, C3PO and R2D2 – original actors back, too!), but also because it’s fun. Space battles, simplistic good vs evil (or is it?), and old mystics. Desert sands and lush jungles. That music.

There’s a lot more I want to say, but I won’t because of spoilers. But, I will share this little thing. First go around I laughed at Kylo Ren – so cardboard and arch, but a failure. (I love Emo Kylo Ren on Twitter). Then I watched all the films in this order: IV, V, II, III, VI and VII (I had seen I recently enough, so shush! But, you can watch I before II and it’s cool – it all works as a rather good flash back between all the revelations between Empire and Jedi). I was prepared to giggle at Adam Driver’s wooden performance only to notice he isn’t. Watch when Ren and Rey first battle each other and you’ll see what I mean.

Oh, last one I promise – but Snope or Snape? Am I the only one who things Snope is a little too much like Voldemort?