A Taste of Wrath
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woohooligan Jan 11, 2016
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In 1947 a man named Bill Cimillo got so fed up with the monotony of his job as a New York City bus driver, he decided to try something different: stealing his bus and driving it across the country. :P Did he get in trouble? A little... but it also made him famous. Bill became a national icon because he'd done what just about everyone in the country wanted to do in 1947, he found a way out of the soul-crushing monotony of the nine-to-five workday.

What reminded me of Bill's story was talk of North Korea with an H-bomb (or pretend H-bomb as the case may be... maybe they meant F-bomb... they developed and tested F-bomb technology and Korean traslators mistranslated it into Engrish). We're not really in much danger from nuclear weapons, despite stockpiles that could destroy the planet hundreds of times over (by population, not literally smashing the planet)... but it is a reminder that none of us knows how much time we have. You, sitting wherever you are, reading this at your desk or on your smart-phone, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow, you could walk off a cliff, or Bruce Willis could leave you stranded in space on one of his planet-saving missions. We all know this, and somehow most of us still stick to our comfortable monotonous routines, binge-watching the latest season of the Walking Dead (just so we can be the latest season of the Watching Dead), instead of facing our fear of failure or rejection to chase our dreams. I think deep down we all know that none of us has any real excuse for not chasing those dreams while we still can. So we should all get out there and do it! :D

For me, chasing that dream is making you laugh! :D This comic is a big part of that, and it's been real work. I promised to put in 40hrs every week starting this year. In recent weeks that's meant reading books on marketing, reformatting the Woohooligan ebooks so there are now low-resolution versions for $1 for tablets and phones, setting up a mailing list (subscribers receive a free copy of our first ebook), and reworking our Patreon page, where this update now has a bonus page for all our patrons. :D

Speaking of H-bombs and destroying the planet hundreds of times over, Tiff and I saw Star Wars VII: the Force Awakens this past week. I must say, I have mixed feelings about this film. If you're squeamish about spoilers, then abandon all hope, ye who read below!

Okay, now that I've alerted the spoils, here's my review of The Force Awakens.

I think there's a lot to be said for the film. I think it was fun... the problem is I wasn't expecting "fun", I was expecting "a-freaking-mazing!"

In retrospect, I think it really should be a bit of an omen that when professional critics weighed in, we didn't hear "Oh, my god Kylo Ren!", or "wow, Han Solo is so cool again." They didn't even say, "Man, these new main characters, Rey and Fin are so cool." What they said was, "WOW, ALL THE TECH LOOKS OLD AND WORN! OH MY GOD, IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL, I'M GONNA CRY!"

This reminds me of a Matt Damon film from 2009 called the Informant. All the professional critics' reviews of the film kept saying how fantastically well done the music was for this film... and the composer (who to be fair did a fantastic job), thought he'd win an accademy award. It turns out the Informant wasn't nominated for any academy awards (though it did win some others).

The problem with all the critics reviews highlighting the music is this: when was the last time you heard a professional critic say "oh, the music was so awesome!" I don't generally hear that. You know why? Because they're too busy talking about the content of the film. They have limited space-time (see what I did there?) in their newspaper, magazine or radio show, so if they're commenting about the music, that means the rest of the film wasn't memorable enough to merit a premium-space-time mention. Or they're just digging for something nice to say about it because it's a film they really desperately wanted to like.

It seems to me like The Force Awakens suffered from this same problem. Fans, critics, etc. we all desperately wanted to love this film, so when we come out of the film only just sort of liking it, we scramble to find those things we did like to talk about. In this case apparently the big thing we can all agree on is that the film had better visual appeal (compared to the prequels) like the original trilogy. While that's a good thing, I don't think it carried the film.

There are other nice things about this film. I enjoyed the character of Maz Kanata and I enjoyed the return of Han and Chewie in the rathtar scene, despite feeling like the writers were "trying too hard" and made it a bit too campy. I also felt the running gag about Han never having fired Chewie's bowcaster or noticing how much more powerful it was than his blaster was trying too hard and campier than I'd prefer, but I was willing to overlook that.

My problems with Star Wars VII primarily boil down to feeling the writers didn't understand which elements should be retained from the original trilogy and which should be rethought. I think the writers broke from the pattern of the franchise in places that hurt it and then stuck with the pattern in places that also hurt it.

My two biggest problems with the Force Awakens are summed up in Kylo Ren and Starkiller Base.

Let's start with Kylo Ren.

One of the things Star Wars is most famous for is this dramatic, shocking reveal that Vader is Luke's father at the end of the Empire Strikes Back. When we all saw Empire, that was an awesome reveal and everybody loved it, with good reason. It was new and fresh, nobody had seen anything like it. That's when it started going downhill. Suddenly Leia is Luke's sister in Return of the Jedi and the kissy-kissy in Empire to make Han jealous just becomes gross. This creepy "all in the family" theme has bothered me in Star Wars ever since Return of the Jedi (although to be fair, I was willing to overlook it still by the end of the film). From then on apparently, 90% of the galaxy's Force adepts (on either side) are required to belong to the same family.

I totally expect it to turn out in subsequent films now that BB-8 was built by Kylo Ren when he was twelve years old, that Rey is Kylo Ren's sister and that oh, by the way, there are now TWO black dudes in this galaxy, they MUST be related! So the First Order must have kidnapped Lando Calrissian's son and that's how we got Fin!

To put this another way, it's as if instead of the X-Men having members from all over the planet, most of them were creepy, incestuous members of Xavier's immediate family, except for the token black girl (Storm) and maybe a token Russian (Colossus). In that scenario, it feels a lot less like the world against the globe-spanning phenomenon of mutanthood embodied in the X-Men, and more like someone gave superpowers to the members of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church. Like I said, creepy and unnecessary. It's also made all the more bizarre in Star Wars because we're not just talking about globe-spanning, this is an entire galaxy with a minimum of roughly one quadrillion citizens, and the writers are saying, "the Force is mostly just this one near-nuclear family."

I wouldn't even mind the fact that long-time fan favorite characters die in the film, as long as the new characters who are supposed to be ominous like Kylo Ren were actually ominous and not immediate family members.

Which brings me to ominous. For the record, the only reason Vader's melted mask even appears in the film is for the benefit of having it in the TV commercials. It's as though the writer's somehow felt that the dozens of other callbacks to previous films weren't enough, they had to get one more in there. (For the record, if they wanted something for that scene, I would have chosen a flashback to Vader torturing people in previous films and they could have made it super-personal and powerful by showing him specifically torturing Han Solo from Empire.)

Personally, I don't think the TV commercial is a good reason to have Vader's mask in the film. Is it possible that Ren went to the green moon of Endor and dug it up from Vader's cremated remains? Sure... why not? But then again, why bother? I feel like the long-established facts about the Star Wars universe are that the stuff is immaterial to the ways of the Force. So to Ren I think the mask shouldn't really mean much, it should just be an old piece of junk. After all, the entire Deathstar was "insignificant compared to the power of the Force." What then is one small, damaged yet ominous-looking mask? And the mask upstages Kylo Ren by being more ominous! It's a bad day for the dark side when their champion is upstaged by a prop.

But if we're going to talk about ominous, then we have to talk about Vader, because Kylo Ren is anything BUT ominous. To be honest his subordinate, Captain Phasma, who has lines in a grand total of three scenes, is more ominous than Kylo Ren in this film! There are two things that make Kylo Ren particularly non-ominous... well, three...

First, he doesn't act like a powerful person, he acts like a butthurt emo kid. I understand that in order to show him trying to emulate Vader, you also have to show that he's not Vader in some way, especially given that the writers stuck with telling us he was Vader's grandson. But for my part, I respected Vader's power in the original trilogy and I find it difficult to generate any sense of fear or respect for a character who's shown responding to bad news with impotent, child-like temper tantrums.

It's not as though Vader's responses to people were always calm, cool and collected. As a writer, however, you have to understand the consequences of switching from Vader who calmly snuffed the life out of subordinate officers who failed him, to Kylo Ren who apparently chooses instead to waste all kinds of energy throwing a tantrum and destroying inanimate objects like Donald Duck.

And then he takes off his mask. To be clear, I think it's certainly possible that he could remove the mask and it work in this film despite the fact that killing the mystery helps kill his ominous vibe. I think in order for it to work, he can't remove the mask and look like the lead singer for the Doors. That's the third problem: once his mask is off, he's just Joe Emo from down the street. If he takes his mask off, he should be disfigured in some way that makes him difficult to look at. At least if he were hideously scarred, we would have a sense that he'd experienced some kind of trauma, some explanation for why he's tortured and why he turned to the dark side... but no... what we get instead is "waah... nobody liked my band's demo tape! Now everyone has to die!" And to be fair, the climactic scene at the end of the film only works with his mask off, but that's only true because that scene depends on the "all in the family" theme that I've already said I feel was a mistake.

So if we're comparing Kylo Ren to Vader:

1) NEW! He takes his mask off! BOOO! - If you give us something new, you should give us something cool, like some new inventive dark-side power (I'm not counting freezing the blaster bolt in the air in the opening scene, which was done better by Vader in Empire when he caught Han's blaster bolts in his hand.)

2) OLD! He's an immediate family member! BOOO! - If you're going to give us something old, you should give us something cool, like a character who's ominous the way Vader was.

In a nutshell, I don't think we should feel sorry for the villain... (at least not at first - it was okay in parts of Jedi when Luke was trying to redeem Vader) But even if we want to feel sorry for Kylo Ren, the writers did a bad job of that too, because it's hard to feel sorry for someone who's throwing unwarranted temper tantrums. He doesn't seem to "have too much Vader in him" as much as "too much Kurt Cobain." I fully expect his next move to be overdosing on tranquilizers at the beginning of the next film.

So let's talk Starkiller Base. This extends the problems I had with Kylo Ren essentially to the rest of the film and the rest of the Star Wars world. On the one hand, I think Starkiller Base is sort of believable in the sense that we kept building bigger and bigger nuclear weapons throughout the cold war between the US and Russia. For some reason, ever since WWII ended with the bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both countries kept saying to ourselves "well, the enemy just went from destroying the planet twice over to three-times over. That tears it! We'll have to build enough to destroy the planet FOUR times over! That's one more Earth destroyed than them! Take that, commie bastards!" (Because for some reason international politics boils down to schoolyard grudges and we still think being born out of wedlock is a horrible insult.)

But while I think Starkiller Base is believable, that doesn't mean I think it's good writing for a film. I watched all three of the Atlas Shrugged movies, because I felt like I should at least do that if I was going to pick apart Ayn Rand's "objectivist philosophy." After five hours of film I realize it would have taken a lot of rewriting to ditch all the train stuff in Atlas Shrugged, but I think it would have made better films... not good films, mind you, but I think they could have produced a lesser evil (sort of like Kylo Ren). ;)

I feel like the writers got together for a first meeting to brainstorm about this screenplay and it went like this:

Head Writer: Okay, nobody liked the prequels. Why? What did the prequels get wrong? Any suggestions? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

Intern (weakly from the back of the room): No Deathstar?

Head Writer: Brilliant! Okay, the big plot device in this new film is a new, bigger Deathstar. Great meeting guys, everybody go home and celebrate! You, intern, what's your name? You're my new right-hand-man!

Even the characters basically complained about how old and tired this plot seemed, when Han says "okay, so how do we blow it up? That always works, right?" For the record, I don't think the absence of Deathstar is the reason us original generation Star Wars fans dislike the prequels.

Remember that when Star Wars IV: A New Hope premiered in 1977 it was the height of the cold war (roughly 1947-1991) and we all still had this image in our minds of the big bad Russians with all their nuclear weapons. So the vision of a giant tyrannical dictatorship (the Empire) blowing up whole planets was a big part of the American psyche. Unfortunately that doesn't really translate so well to a lot of new millenial Star Wars fans, who grew up in the 90s and for whom, the "big bad" in the world is mostly some combination of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Neither of those groups conjure that kind of "the Empire" imagery in our minds, the way the Russians conjured those kinds of images for us after we defeated Hitler's Third Reich.

But the writers decided to stick with "the Empire" imagery, despite the fact that the Empire was destroyed after Return of the Jedi (think "the Berlin Wall came down"). In the scroll at the beginning of this film, the First Order is described as a smaller group that "rose from the ashes of the Empire," and I'd hoped they would make analogies to ISIS, given that description, but no. The need to maintain the Third Reich imagery in this film seems particularly desperate to me. It's so bad that even in that opening scroll, General Leia's fighters are described as "a resistance" instead of the more accurate description, "the New Republic Navy." They are now officially the government of the galaxy, which means they're no longer a "rebel" or "insurgency" group.

I'm sure this desperation to stick with formula also helped to inform the fact that ALL of the New Republic's heavy cruisers were destroyed in the initial firing of the Starkiller cannon when they destroyed the New Republic's capital (and several nearby planets)... because here in the United States we're sure to keep ALL our battleships permanently stationed in Washington DC where a single H-bomb targetted at our capital can take them all out. We would never dream of having our battleships spread out at strategic locations around the world. ;) But all that was necessary because the story demanded that Leia not have any heavy cruisers to call on for heavier fire-power to destroy the oscillator that will cause the chain reaction that destroys the planet exactly like we saw six movies ago. It needed to be exactly like it was six movies ago, with the oscillator ultimately destroyed by one expert X-Wing pilot, aided at the last moment by the exact same smuggler/wookie team.

If they really wanted to get in the head of new millenial fans, and not just offer up an orgy of fan-service for the die-hard fans like us (and yes, I am a die-hard Star Wars fan since I saw it on Laser Disk when I was like five years old), then they should have spent some time thinking about the real world their new fans live in, not just thinking about the world of the franchise that spoke deeply to a real-world that hasn't existed in twenty-plus years.

If they really wanted the First Order to have teeth with a new audience, they should have shown the First Order recruiting disenfranchised humans, offering them a chance to strike back at the New Republic and all the attrocities they committed against the Empire, dogging them repeatedly, killing thousands upon thousands of "innocent" men and women aboard two Deathstars, etc, etc... They should have shown the First Order committing acts of terrorism and framing the New Republic as the villains responsible. They should have been trying to destroy the New Republic from the inside, not just shooting at them with a bigger gun.

But as much as I feel the Force Awakens was off the mark, I don't feel it was a total loss. While I'm somewhat disappointed by the fact that both of the main characters, Fin and Rey, had so little character development, I'm willing to overlook that for the fact that I think Rey's character was spot on! I'm also willing to overlook the fact that Rey develops a great deal of Force power in the course of a few hours with no formal training. I think that contributes nicely to the mystery around Rey, who she is and why she's so powerful and helps us want to see her development in the final two films.

I'm pretty mixed about Fin to be honest. I've never liked the fact that regular people in Star Wars do this thing that nobody in the real world actually does. At twelve years old, Anakin supposedly built a droid and instead of naming that droid "helper" or "max" or even some cool acronym, he chose a random string of letters and numbers as though it's a serial number: C-3PO. Nobody in the real world does this. The only time you ever see this in the real world is when it's done by a corporation, the way BMW names their cars.

Even with corporations, the vast majority of them don't even do this. Mostly you have companies like IBM, the epitome of the most technical of tech companies, who named their laptop "ThinkPad", because that's easier to say and remember than "so buy the new IBM 3817-C9-10!" This really stems from early sci-fi writers who loved the science part, but felt like they had to "science it up!" and somehow could never seem to understand how real people work. So everything's got to be named the way universities name stars (NGC 2362), instead of the way sailors named them (Sirius, the dog star).

There's a reason why Lucas' first sci-fi film was wholly forgotten until recently as a bit of Star Wars trivia, because Star Wars is a far more compelling name than THX 1138. People actually enjoyed the film - it's rated reasonably well on IMDb, but nobody talked about it until it was brought up as Star Wars trivia, I think primarily because the name sucked so hard.

Okay, so Fin's designation of "FN-XXXX" (some ridiculous number) is ostensibly more of a corporate thing than a personal one, given the back-story that the troopers were stolen as infants and raised with brainwashing... but it still feels very clunky and wrong to me... When Captain Phasma calls him by his serial number it doesn't feel like the way a real Captain would talk to a trooper. "Who gave you permission to take off your helmet, FN-XXXX?" ... nope, doesn't work... it should be "Who gave you permission..., TROOPER?" (or possibly "soldier"). That feels natural.

I actually kind of like the idea of Fin being traumatized during his first battle, freaking out and leaving... but then they tried to shoehorn him into the role of C-3PO, as the comic relief character, despite the fact that they've also got him presented as a central character who's action-oriented and vital to the plot. Imagine if, during the production of Empire, someone had said "you know what's wrong with this film? Boba Fett doesn't deliver enough punchlines." Or conversely, "I think C-3PO needs more opportunities to beat the crap out of storm-troopers."

I like Fin well enough, I just think they should have decided whether he was an action character or a comic relief character. I'd have been fine either way. If he's comic relief, then he can fire the guns on the TIE fighter (despite responding to standard video game controls as "oh my god, this is complicated!"), but he doesn't get a bunch of lightsaber duels (that he inevitably loses). If he's an action hero, then he can still deliver punchlines, but he doesn't turn into Kevin Hart when confronting Captain Phasma.

And there are several other nice highlights in the film. As droids go, BB-8 is pretty cool. The banter between Solo, Chewie and Fin about the cold and using the Force was a nice touch. Solo's confirmation that the Force and all the other surrounding "myths" are real is a great scene.

So, all told, I think the Force Awakens is a good film with a ton of problems. I think a lot of those problems can be fixed easily enough in the final two films. (Oh, Kylo Ren is adopted! it all makes sense now!) And I think the setup for Rey and Fin in this film has real potential to lead to some cool stuff in the last two films that hopefully we haven't seen before.

So there it is. For some cool nostalgia and a few nice highlights, I give Star Wars VII: the Force Awakens a rating of two meters, or in other words, I think it's "a new hope."

If you enjoyed this page, my review, etc. you can help support Woohooligan! Thanks for stopping by, and may the Force be with you!

Sam

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What's on your mind?
CMC Apr 22, 2016
Lots here, but I will stick to one point: "the resistance" is NOT the New Republic Navy. They are a proxy force funded (and perhaps advised or officered by "volunteers") by an outside government that wants to keep its hands clean in public. Like Hamas in Syria, or the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, or the Viet Cong in 'Nam. And Ren refuses to play the game--as if we said, screw this guerilla war, lets just nuke Beijing (or Tehran, or Moscow, or whoever is supporting the latest thorn in our side.) 'Cause he's got the firepower. Like that brief, glorious period when only US had the Bomb, but we weren't interested in using it that way--after all, we only have the one planet.
woohooligan Apr 22, 2016
woohooligan Thanks, CMC! I admittedly haven't read the novels, so I'm not familiar with some of the context of the wider Star Wars universe and that's the likely source of most of my confusions. So I appreciate you offering that extra context.

If that's the case, I'm thinking the story is that the Imperial Navy didn't want to mount the offensive and sent the resistance at the end of the film to keep their hands clean? Which... I could theoretically buy as a plot device, although it honestly feels like a bit of a stretch to me that they would avoid sending their own warships, knowing what was at stake after their capital had just been destroyed.

Anyway, thanks again for the context! :D
maarvarq Apr 23, 2016
A few points-
"it's as if instead of the X-Men having members from all over the planet, most of them were creepy, incestuous members of Xavier's immediate family". Maybe not Xavier's family, but for a while a lot of new characters had the surname "Summers"...

The bit with Kylo Ren taking off his helmet was particularly bizarre in the way it was played as a reveal, whereas it was more like "Just as I thought, I have no idea who this is supposed to be."

It would be interesting if the filmmakers doubled down on Rey being so powerful that her lack of training made her the major threat to civilization - extra points if Kylo could, for a good reason, become the agent of her redemption. I'm not holding my breath, though.

BB-8 was cute and all, but even apart from the pseudo serial number "name", another droid that only communicates with beeps and squawks? Voice synthesis chips aren't that expensive or bulky even today, and you'd want to know what it was saying without having to have *another* bl00dy droid to translate.
woohooligan Apr 24, 2016
woohooligan Thanks, Maarv.

X-Men: Yeah, I actually had stopped collecting comics around the early 90s when I got out of school and got real busy and didn't really have much cash or time. So I only just recently realized that Marvel wrote their daughter, Rachel Summers as a second Phoenix.

Kylo Ren reveal: Ha! Good point! I think that thought was just below the surface for me... I knew there was something missing in that reveal and I think you just hit the nail. It's like getting to the end of Clue and saying "and the murderer was... wait... who's that asshole?"

Plot Complications: interesting thought... I have a hard time imagining them pulling that off and making it work for the audience... I get that if they succeeded, it would be like the "I am your father" reveal, which would be really cool to see them pull off again... but man, it just seems like a stretch.

BB-8: Agreed on the beeping languages... yeah, that fits right in line with the serial numbers instead of names... it's a gratuitous environmental element added just to try and remind you (as if you could have forgotten) that "this is scifi! Woooo!" :P
What's on your mind?